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Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's baaaaaack!

I have been assured, over and over again, sometimes condescendingly and sometimes not, that the Kasper Proposal is a dead letter. 

First it was Cardinal Muller's letter in L'Osservatore Romano. Then it was some random papal comment affirming marital indissolubility (which ignored the fact Cardinal Kasper swearsies he's all about keeping marriages intact). Then, most recently, it was the supposed door-slamming vote at the end of the Synod, which asserted that the matter was--this time for sure, how could you ever doubt it?--done. Over. Locked into a safe, wrapped in chains and dumped square in into Challenger Deep, where it could never be seen again, thanks to our Papal Guarantee of Unassailable Orthodoxy. Take that, Huns!

Well, I was skeptical about that. Very much so.

And it appears my skepticism was warranted. Like the villain in a bad horror movie, the damned thing keeps rising from assured death to menace the protagonists again. Behold Question 38, straight from the Pope's handpicked secretary at the Vatican:

38. With regard to the divorced and remarried, pastoral practice concerning the sacraments needs to be further studied, including assessment of the Orthodox practice and taking into account “the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances” (n. 52). What are the prospects in such a case? What is possible? What suggestions can be offered to resolve forms of undue or unnecessary impediments?

So much for the matter being closed, shut, finito. There's a wake-up call, for those so inclined to grab the receiver.

And then there's the Pope's words, just this week, offered in the Time-Honored Magisterium of Newspaper Interviews:

[Q:] In the case of divorcees who have remarried, we posed the question, what do we do with them? What door can we allow them to open? This was a pastoral concern: will we allow them to go to Communion?

[A:] Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration. They have not been excommunicated, true. But they cannot be godfathers to any child being baptized, mass readings are not for divorcees, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach Sunday school, there are about seven things that they cannot do, I have the list over there. Come on! If I disclose any of this it will seem that they have been excommunicated in fact!
Thus, let us open the doors a bit more. Why cant they be godfathers and godmothers? "No, no, no, what testimony will they be giving their godson?" The testimony of a man and a woman saying "my dear, I made a mistake, I was wrong here, but I believe our Lord loves me, I want to follow God, I was not defeated by sin, I want to move on."
Anything more Christian than that? And what if one of the political crooks among us, corrupt people, ate chosen to be somebody´s godfather. If they are properly wedded by the Church, would we accept them? What kind of testimony will they give to their godson? A testimony of corruption?
Things need to change, our standards need to change.
 "Communion alone is no solution." That's an...interesting formulation. There are other problems with the interview, too, as someone less biased on the topic than I am has noted. This one is particularly insightful, and warrants a careful read.

Those of you who are Anglicans will have seen this movie before: dialogue does not end until the proper result is reached. Then it becomes the Laws of the Medes and Persians, hater.

Given what the Vatican just issued, the most recent interview shows the Pontiff's mind quite clearly (not that it was particularly opaque before). Throw that in with the papal power-invoking rhetoric in the wildly-overpraised speech he gave at the conclusion of the 2014 Synod (reinforced by more explicit authority to depose), and I think it's more likely than not that he forces through some variation on the Kasper proposal in 2015.

Welcome to horribly interesting times. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pope Benedict's Big Edit.

It appears that Pope Benedict XVI did not care at all for Cardinal Kasper's attempt to press-gang him into supporting the latter's assault on indissolubility. 

How do we know that? According to the largest newspaper in his homeland, the Pope Emeritus has removed his previous (1972) support for giving communion to civilly-remarried divorcees from the official collection of his theological works. Instead, he now favors a revised annulment process. The editorial framing notes this development with disapproval, calling it "political."

For those who have made politics a substitute religion, I imagine it is.

For those who care about the Catholic teaching on marriage, this is big news. And a most welcome note of support.

[Update, 11/19/2014: Father Zuhlsdorf has more detail about the story, including the fact Pope Benedict addresses his change of mind in the introduction.]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The problem with letting a smile be your umbrella?

You get soaked.

Never go full ostrich, son.

Yes, Burke was purged. The happy-clappy interpretations are...less than, he says as gently as possible.

Two critical facts missed in all of the "hey, it was term limits!" arguments:

First, this is the second kick from the Pope this year, with the first being from the Congregation of Bishops. After which, we got Cupich in Chicago, for starters. Anybody else gotten a double removal like Burke? Nope.

Second, Burke being shuffled to a sinecure means he won't be able to participate in the 2015 version of the Synod. Just when his voice will be needed most, after a year of Cupich-y or Leow-ish appointments to the episcopate, he'll be on the outside looking in.

But, you reply, what about Muller and Pell?

It is true that Muller has been a godsend on marriage, but he's also a fan of liberation theology. I don't know how that squares with any sensible definition of "conservative," and his stance on liberation is no doubt a big plus in the pontiff's book. 

Pell is the best argument to the contrary, I grant. But it would be hard for the pope to boot Pell from the inner circle after inviting him there in the first place. It would reflect on his executive judgment, in much the same way a President will stick with one of his cabinet appointees, come hell or high water. Still, I think it would be worth watching to see if the Australian cardinal is gradually frozen out as the 2015 synod session approaches. And, yes, while it is nice that Melbourne got a good appointee, it's worth noting that Australia's Catholic population tops off at 5.6 million, whereas there are 2.3 million in the Archdiocese of Chicago alone. Put differently, Pell won't have any say in selecting bishops for my neck of the woods.

Still, why should you care? 

Number 1, "Vatican politics" gives you your bishop. Cupich, remember. In other words, "Personnel is policy." If it's "clericalism" to worry about who your shepherd is going to be, then we should all be clericalists. 

Second, there's a trend here, and it's pretty much all bad:

Pope Francis has made statements against the two tendencies of progressivism and traditionalism, without however clarifying what these two labels encompassed. Yet, if by words he distances himself from the two poles which confront each other in the Church today, by facts all tolerance is reserved for “progressivism”, while the axe falls upon what he defines as “traditionalism”.

Precisely. If you're a solid progressive, you get high-profile invites to significant Church events even if you're a coddler of abusive priests. [Read more about the dreadful Danneels in the reliably rad-trad Tablet.] Sadly, it appears that mercy is only for those of confirmed progressive bona fides. Whereas demotions, removals and defenestrations of entire orders are reserved only for those with the odor of Tradition.

But I'm sure none of that would ever percolate down to the local level, right? 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Of head pats and postings.

From time to time, you'll hear of some really tradition-heavy or hermeneutic-of-continuity-ey (spelling deliberate) statement from the Pontiff. 

Last year saw two, both of which I thought were heartening and are helpfully collected here

The first is a big salute to the Council of Trent--and in Latin, no less!

The second is to an Italian cleric and historian of the 21st ecumenical council, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto.

Now, from what I've been told, the Archbishop's book is not so much a narrative history as a historiographical answer to the so-called "Bologna School," which interprets the most recent ecumenical council as a novus ordo seculorum, most definitely from a "hermeneutic of rupture." Still, Archbishop Marchetto's work is reputedly a solid, if not comprehensive, response to his Italian confreres.

[If you're looking for a fuller critical narrative of conciliar doings, here is a good place to start. Warning: de Mattei is one of those promethian neopelagian bats, so watch out for the cooties.]

Be that as it may, veteran Italian church correspondent Sandro Magister reported then that the Pope had fulsome praise for Archbishop Marchetto:

I once told you, dear Archbishop Marchetto, and today I wish to repeat it, that I consider you to be the best interpreter of the Second Vatican Council. I know that this is a gift from God, but I also know that you made it bear fruit. I am grateful to you for all the good that you do for us with your witness of love for the Church and I ask the Lord that he reward it abundantly.

OK, interesting. Good, even.


What, Mr. Negative?!

Alas, earlier this week, Magister reported that the Pope has appointed the current dean of the Bolognae (Editor: roll with it), Friar Enzo Bianchi, as an adviser to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Bolognae can be remarkably open-minded in their ecumenism, going to so far as to state that no councils after Nicaea II can be considered truly ecumenical:

 For the “Bolognese” as well, in fact, only the councils that preceded the schism between West and East are fully ecumenical, as can be seen in their multi-volume edition of the “Conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta,” criticized precisely for this reason by “L’Osservatore Romano” of June 3, 2007 with an unsigned official note attributed to Walter Brandmüller, today a cardinal.

And Friar Bianchi hit the ground running after his appointment:

Immediately after the appointment, in an interview, Bianchi revealed his expectations in the matter of ecumenism:

“I believe that Pope Francis wants to reach the unity of Christians in part by reforming the papacy. A papacy that is no longer feared, in the words of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, with whom the pope shares a bond of friendship. The reform of the papacy means a new balance between synodality and primacy. This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and of the governance of the bishops.”

Well, now, what's the problem? Didn't Pope St. JPII say something similar? No, not really. Ut Unum Sint invited other Christians to discuss how the primacy might be exercised in an ecumenical context (see paragraph 96). But the Pope was careful to preface that invitation by noting the authority of the papal office two paragraphs earlier:

With the power and the authority without which such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the communion of all the Churches. For this reason, he is the first servant of unity. This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church's mission, discipline and the Christian life. 

It is the responsibility of the Successor of Peter to recall the requirements of the common good of the Church, should anyone be tempted to overlook it in the pursuit of personal interests. He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith. When circumstances require it, he speaks in the name of all the Pastors in communion with him. He can also—under very specific conditions clearly laid down by the First Vatican Council— declare ex cathedra that a certain doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith. By thus bearing witness to the truth, he serves unity.

So, no, not the same. Not at all. What Fr. Bianchi proposes assumes that "synodality" is the touchstone by which the papacy must reform itself--a finding which fits well with the worldview of the Bologna school first millenium uber alles ecclesiology--if not Catholicism. At least not Catholicism as it was understood all the way back in 2007.

The bottom line? The Pope gave a tradition-minded historian a nice compliment and one of his theological opponents a job. Which, in the long run, is more important? Especially given the Pope's hyper-focus on ecumenism. The PCPCU is going to be very busy.

There is an old bureaucratic proverb which says "personnel is policy," and it applies to ecclesiastical bureaucracies, too. You might not be much interested in church politics, but church politics has a way of percolating down to the pews.

If you're happy with head-pats and sweet nothings, you'll probably get a few. But that's not where the action is. 

You'll start noticing eventually. Until then, keep squeezing off rounds at the messengers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Um, Republicans....?

Keeping your bad habits (a/k/a reverting to form) would be a bad idea.


The American Electorate.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Thoughts on a gray Election Day in Michigan.

I'm voting, but with my eyes wide open. My Congressman will leave office only at the behest of death or retirement, and the opposing party insists on running token opposition, so that part of the ballot remains closed.

The open Senate seat will go to a man who hates me and mine in large measure because the opposing party chose an awful candidate to run against him. So, yay--no voice on the national scale. 

At the state level, things are no great prize either. The AG is solid, but I get the distinct impression our Governor, rather like the national movers and shakers in his party, has a strained patience toward the more traditionally-minded. A pro-corporate technocrat...yay.  

Would you like another serving of Romney, sir? And if not, could we interest you in our fine selection of Romneys?

Granted, his opponent is an empty suit who couldn't get the endorsement of the state's premier African-American newspaper, but he's a sure defender of the cultural left, so...ack.
I've come to the conclusion that I have a choice between people who hate me and want to stab me in the chest (Democrats) and people who claim to like me but stab me in the back when I become inconvenient (Republicans). Heads I lose, tails I lose more slowly (maybe).

Yes, the franchise is important, but more so at the local level. So, I'm off to vote on some ballot initiatives that actually might be of some benefit.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The best thing you will read on Ebola this year.

Calah Alexander questions why we should trust the experts when they've been so consistently wrong in their prognostications.

The problem is, the “science” behind Ebola has been shifting almost as fast as the virus itself is spreading in Africa. First it was extremely unlikely that we would see Ebola in America, then it wasn’t. First it was very difficult to transmit from person to person, then it wasn’t. First any hospital in the country could safely handle Ebola, then they couldn’t. First it couldn’t be spread through droplets, then it could. Is it any wonder that the unwashed masses are having a hard time believing that it can’t be spread without symptoms? What if next week, it can?

This crisis is one of confidence in leadership. And on that point, we've been horribly served by those who have been more interested in public relations than honestly dealing with the public. Read it all.

Sometimes, the "Translation!" defense is valid.

Namely, the Pope does get worked over by the occasional bad translation. 

How they ever got "divine being" out of demiurgo is beyond me.

The Law of Contradiction

The usually-solid Dr. Jeffrey Mirus wrote something of a shocker last week, asserting that the Kasper proposal was a mere matter of sacramental discipline surrounding the Eucharist and did not implicate doctrine.

It was the essence of the Kasper Proposal to request a consideration of precisely this possibility. In other words, the Kasper Proposal was not intrinsically unorthodox. Proponents of that proposal are not (for that reason) heretics, and could have positive reasons for examining the issue. If Pope Francis wanted the proposal seriously considered, this does not call his personal orthodoxy into question.

But clearly other factors affect sacramental discipline as well, such as the possibility of scandal, which is closely tied to the public nature of certain sins—not least sins against marriage, which is by its very nature a public institution subject to the jurisdiction of the Church. Moreover, the Church, in her pastoral wisdom, ought to employ sacramental disciplines which tend to support rather than undermine the truths of the Faith, even though pastoral results cannot be perfectly predicted or measured. On this point, the Church’s persistent refusal in earlier periods to justify a change in this particular discipline, while it may not be conclusive in new circumstances, is immensely cautionary.

Thus, while it was not theoretically impossible for the Kasper Proposal to be implemented in some form, it was ultimately rejected at the Synod because the assembled bishops could not see how anything like it could be used without seriously undermining Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. In other words, the bishops as a body concluded that the proposed cure would worsen the disease.

Emphasis in original.

He followed it up with a thoughtful scenario explaining why he thought it wouldn't be heretical. I like his writing, and appreciate his carefulness and charity. However, the follow-up fails remedy the problems with his initial argument.

The problem with this is twofold. First, the Kasper proposal isn't dead--a majority of bishops were willing to discuss it, and all rejected paragraphs were included in the issued Synodal document for continued "discussion purposes." If anything, its proponents sound reassured. The well-heeled (if parishioner-impaired) church in Germany and its influential sympathizers will be sure to keep the pressure up over the next year.

The second is more substantive--namely, it will not do to simply describe something as "disciplinary" as though that disposes of the matter. All sacraments are subject to the strictures of and disciplinary functions of canon law.  Moreover, at least some sacramental discipline is doctrinal in scope. 

For example, canon law restrict holy orders to baptized males. Can it be said to be merely "disciplinary" to require candidates for orders to be baptized? Can this be dispensed with as a "disciplinary" gatekeeper function because of new circumstances? After all, baptism of desire has had considerable development over the years. Could actual sacramental baptism be unnecessary, then?

I cannot see any way this could be so. Baptism is central to the Christian life, so much so that rare indeed is the Christian offshoot that does not mandate it. The Church has always required that candidates for orders be given water baptism. Christ's explicit commandment would seem to lack loopholes in that regard.

To argue otherwise is to negate the notion of the ordained as, inter alia, an alter Christus, one baptized as Christ was baptized. Such a change would also reverberate, in a profoundly negative way, across the Church's understanding of the Eucharist, and what it means to be united as the Body of Christ. Thus, any removal the baptismal requirement would fundamentally alter the understanding of Holy Orders, and calling it a mere discipline would not change this.

Likewise, Christ commanded that there be no remarriage after a divorce, going so far as to call it adultery. Thus, the Church has followed the Master's direction and held that marriage is indissoluble, prohibiting remarriage after a civil divorce.

And yet, we have a proposal, described as "disciplinary" or "pastoral," which would permit those who have remarried after a civil divorce to receive the Eucharist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to be given the Body and Blood of Christ which seals our unity with Him and signifies our willingness to accept what He taught and to try to conform our lives to Him.

In other words, you would have Christ's doctrinal teaching on marriage existing right alongside its negation, both in full communion, judged to be equal in the eyes of the Church.

The Church would be contradicting herself. Full stop. This is old-school Aristotelian/Thomistic logic at work. The bottom line is that it is doctrinal, no matter how carefully packaged it might be in the soothing language of  "discipline" or "pastoral solution," and it would be recognized as such. I am not suggesting that Dr. Mirus is playing games here--he is sincerely wrestling with a hard case. But for me, it's hard to see how explicitly contradicting Christ could be seen in any other way. It is dubious to restrict it to a matter of "discipline," and to do so opens the gates, as Cardinal George correctly notes:

Pastoral practice, of course, must also reflect doctrinal conviction. It is not “merciful” to tell people lies, as if the church had authority to give anyone permission to ignore God’s law. If the parties to a sacramental marriage are both alive, then what Christ did in uniting them cannot be undone, unless a bishop thinks he is Lord of the universe. The difficulty of giving communion to parties in a non-sacramental marriage doesn’t stem from their having sinned by entering into a non-sacramental union. Like any sin, that can be forgiven. 

The difficulty comes from avoiding the consequences of living in such a union. It is foolish to believe that a publicly approved although “restricted” exception to the “discipline” around the sacrament will remain “restricted” very long. When speaking of acting “pastorally,” a bishop has to ask what is good for the entire church, not just what might be helpful to an individual couple. How the entire pastoral conversation around marriage will change with a change of “discipline” is a question that must be answered before making any other decision.