The Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has designated today as Red Wednesday. Mancunians know this tag for another reason, but it is being coopted and elevated by ACN to signify the day on which we take time for special remembrance who are persecuted for their faith. We are encouraged to donate if we can, or to pray and ideally to attend Mass, and as a sign to the world, to wear something red today.
Given the headlines in the Catholic press and blogosphere the last week or two, it is hard not to think of certain red-clad cardinals. The letter of i quattro cardinali—Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner—seeking papal clarification of five dubia, doubts, that have arisen as a result of the conflicted and confusing reception of the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (following last year’s Synod on the Family), Amoris Laetitia (“the Joy of Love”, not “The Joys of Love” as The Week put it, which makes it sound like an instruction on sexual technique. Of course, the choice of amor(-is) does refer to the fact that it is sexual love being discussed, not the more supernatural caritas).
The five doubts are:
- Whether the validly married who gave civilly divorced and remarried now be admitted to Holy Communion, despite the perennial traditional doctrine of the Church, most recently reaffirmed under Pope St John Paul II;
- Whether there now remain absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and which are thus binding on all without exception;
- Whether one can still say that someone who has adopted a lifestyle that contradicts the commandments of God is living in a habitual state of objectively grave sin;
- Whether St John Paul II’s magisterial teaching that intentions or circumstances can never change an intrinsically and objectively evil act into a subjectively defensible or even good one in individual cases;
- Whether the teaching on the role of conscience as magisterially clarified as recently as the pontificate of St John Paul II still stands, namely that conscience can never legitimise an intrinsically evil act by reference to their object (and so we can now say that the end does justify the means).
The letter is dated 19 September and has been released because the Holy Father, having acknowledged receipt of the letter, has not answered it. Thus the cardinals are invoking Pope Francis’ own exhortation to parrhesia (candid and free speaking of one’s mind) in the Church, and so adding another voice to the public debate, the voice of tradition and magisterial doctrine. They are calling on the Holy Father to act as popes are called to, to confirm the brethren in faith, and so prevent the birth of confusion, and its bastard child division, in the Church. The letter accuses the pope of nothing, only asks him to resolve a crisis that has developed in the wake of his teaching. It is respectful in tone and letter, wags no fingers and names no names. The cardinals have acted as cardinals properly should, as advisors and counsellors to the pope.
Yet the reaction has been extraordinary in some quarters. Cardinals Cupich, Tobin and Farrell (nb all Americans) have issued subtle, even-toned rejections of their brother cardinals’ letter. Most recently, however, the President of the Greek Catholic Bishops’ conference, Bishop Fragiskos Papamanolis (who notoriously declared at the Synod that it is not easy to sin!), has issued an open letter to i quattro cardinali, in which is almost hysterical ion tone and reasoning. He accuses the cardinals of heresy, apostasy, fomenting schism, scandal and consequently of celebrating sacrilegious Masses. Even in Italian, there repeated sound of “s” conveys the hissing tone in which he writes.
No doubt the Greek considers this an act of fraternal correction. If so, it is far more brutal, far ruder, for more shrill, far less reasoned than the letter seeking clarification from i quattro cardinali. And that is the point: the cardinals are not making a correction, but seeking clarification. But even if they were correcting the pope, why should their act of fraternal correction be condemned yet the Greek feel free to make his own hysterical “correction”. It can only be that he holds an extremely ultramontane understanding of the papal office.
Yet in his Letter to the Galatians, chapter 2, we read one apostle, St Paul, admitting without blushing that he had opposed the Prince of the Apostles, St Peter, to his face when the latter undermined the gospel by temporising in order to satisfy the Jewish circumcision party. By such an accommodation “even Barnabas was led astray” and so St Paul felt he had to remind St Peter of “the truth of the gospel”. And St Peter, as we know, acknowledged the point that St Paul made and resolutely put an end to Judaizing tendencies in the life of the infant Church.
I quattro cardinali have not acted anywhere near so boldly and defiantly as St Paul (justifiably) did, and far from correcting the pope they are inviting the successor of St Peter to correct his erring brethren who are misusing his own words to undermine the truth of the gospel. Rather than acting like St Paul, they are inviting Pope Francis to act like St Paul, as well as St Peter.
As soon as it was released I was convinced that this letter of i quattro cardinali marked a watershed moment in the life of the post-conciliar Church. Far from an act of schism or heresy (for pity’s sake!) it was an invitation to the pope to affirm the eternal teaching of the Church and so put an end to the false hopes,sly accommodations and destructive compromises being touted by certain prelates. Having nailed their colours to the mast, the cardinals have produced a situation in which all, including the pope, will have to nail their colours also to the mast or hide in the crevices. Some will affirm the truth, some will affirm error, and no doubt some will affirm their cowardice (or to put it more positively, their pragmatism). Some will side with truth, some will side with the world and the demands of their own secular society.
It is striking that only a few anglophone, Western, cardinals have spoken against i quattro cardinali. The overwhelming majority have not condemned them. Their silence implies consent. That is of far more concern to the liberalising party around the pope than the letter itself. The cardinals are not accepting the line peddled by the Greek prelate, that the pope is under attack, nor we can reasonably hope will they be doing so. Popes have much entrusted to them, and so from they much will be demanded. They are responsible for the Church, and they are responsible also to the Church as the Body of Christ.
Today’s gospel at Mass was apposite. Here with it are included the preceding verses that the editors of the lectionary chose to omit:
Then Jesus said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
It is not schism we need really to fear. It is our own failure to stand up for the truth as we know it to be that we should fear. We should fear our own accommodation to the socio-political order and our failure to “bear witness”. It is the internal schism of the heart that is the real danger to us individually.
Christian faith has always made difficult demands on Christians and they way they live their lives. It has always demanded that we accept the consequences of our choices in this life, if only that we might not endure consequences far more negative, and eternal, in the next. It is all about salvation, and there is no salvation without the Cross. There is no salvation without truth, for charity cannot exist without it. Both led Christ to the Cross. It leads martyrs today—in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, inter alia—to a real sharing in the Cross. Why should we affluent Westerners be exempted? More to the point, why should any Catholic be denied the saving blessing of sharing in the Cross?