Rorate Caeli

Correctio: a challenge for Fastiggi and Goldstein

You know you've had an influence when the Vatican Insider addresses you by name.

Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein write:

It seems that the case for the Amoris laetitia critics’ self-proclaimed “Filial Correction” (1) of Pope Francis is weakening. Dr. Joseph Shaw, one of the signers of the Correctio filialis, recently wrote: “It is not that we’re saying that the text of Amoris cannot be bent into some kind of orthodoxy. What we are saying is that it has become clear that orthodoxy is not what Pope Francis wants us to find there.” (2) 

Shaw’s claim that Pope Francis doesn’t want orthodoxy, however, is based on subjective impressions derived from mostly non-authoritative statements of the Pope. This does not seem to be a very strong foundation for accusing the Roman Pontiff of promoting false teachings and heresies.

What interests me about this is less the attempt to suggest that the Correction's signatories are shifting their position--we haven't in the least, although we are getting used to our critics using calling us names and being economical with the truth--but the second paragraph I quote. For the information of Fastiggi and Goldstein, 'impressions' are always subjective, but they are our window onto the world. What we can determine about what what is going on, based--obviously--on what we can see and hear ('impressions'), is indeed that 'Pope Francis doesn’t want orthodoxy'.

And I would go further than what F & G say: our impression is not based 'mostly' on non-authoritative statements, but entirely upon non-authoritative statements by Pope Francis, plus his failures to speak. It should be obvious that it is impossible for the Supreme Pontiff to guide the Church away from the Deposit of Faith authoritatively, since his authority is given him to confirm the brethren in the Faith. What we find, indeed, is that Pope Francis has singled out modes of communication which cannot possibly be mistaken for authoritative statements, when he indicates the kind of interpretation he wishes people to have of Amoris laetitia. These include his remark in a press conference that Amoris makes a 'change'; a private letter to the Bishops of Buenos Aires; the printing of the guidlines drawn up by the Bishops of Malta in L'Ossovatore Romano; and most eloquent of all, his refusal to answer the Four Cardinals' Dubia.

It is not our impression only: it is the impression gained by many theologians and bishops who regard themselves as loyal to the Pope, who are taking the hints, the nods, and the winks, and are writing, and promulgating guidlines for their flocks, which are impossible to square with the constant practice and teaching of the Church, or indeed with Canon law as it currently exists.

My challenge to Fastiggi and Goldstein is a simple one. What would they do if they thought that the pope of the day were doing this: indicating non-authoritatively that bishops and ordinary Catholics should act and believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church? What would they regard as the correct response to the situation we believe we are actually facing?

This is clearly not an impossible situation. Even those with an exaggerated view of the authority of the Pope must surely admit, unless they have left common sense entirely behind, that it is theoretically possible for a Pope, who can after all teach non-infallibly, to say things about faith and morals, when not teaching, which are not correct. What should the Faithful, and particularly academics and pastors, do in this situation?

The answer which comes to mind, inspired by Canon 212, is that those who think that this is happening should make their concerns known to the proper authorities, without ruling out that they should make them known to their fellow Catholics. In light of Matthew 18:15, it makes sense to go public when private communications have had no effect.

What Fastiggi and Goldstein point to instead, is the passage in Donum veritatis which tells dissident theologians to talk to their superiors rather than to appeal to the mass media. F & G appear to imagine that this imposes silence on all educated Catholics whatever the situation might be. But Donum veritatis cannot be read in this way.

First, it speaks of theologians who reject the Ordinary Magisterium, not to those who wish to uphold it. Secondly, it speaks of theologians who have (or easily could have) dialogue with their superiors. It would be a very different matter for Donum veritatis to say that theologians should not publicly support the Magisterium, or for it to contradict Canon 212 by saying that lay Catholics in general should not make clear 'concerns' to their fellow Catholics, or indeed to contradict Matthew 18:15-17 about making problems public when private admonitions have failed. For DV to have said any of those things would, obviously, have been insane.

It is not the signatories of the Correction who are ignoring the Ordinary Magisterium: if it were not enough to cite Canon Law and Familiaris Consortio, we could cite canons and magisterial documents going back centuries, all the way, in fact, back to St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27, and beyond. It is this teaching, the teaching of the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, which Fastiggi and Goldstein do not want us to reiterate in this moment of crisis.