Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lofus: the charge sheet, an introduction

Perhaps the most harmful thing Mgr Basil Loftus does in his lengthy columns is disinformation. Writing at length, with a scattering of references to canon law and Conciliar documents, he makes what looks like a plausible case for the inverse of the truth. This is harmful because it reinforces false assumptions about the teaching of the Church, and distorts the basis of debate. We should be able at least to agree on matters of Church law, or what documents say, but Loftus, taking advantage of the fact that few of his readers are experts in these things, and few will trawl through the original documents to check, is able to lend his authority (I'm a Monsignor, you know!) and that of the Catholic Times, to completely false claims.
Paul VI: never lifted the prohibition on CITH

Here I'll look at two columns from some time ago, which are available online, which illustrate his modus operandi.

I've already explained what was wrong with what he said about altar girls. He did exactly the same thing about Communion in the Hand. Just after the Motu Proprio was issued in 2007, he wrote:

The reception of Communion on the tongue was never a matter of rubrics - but of habit or custom.

After defending this method to the exclusion of Communion in the hand, in 1969, the Holy See the following year relaxed the practice and permitted Communion in the hand.


The 1969 document he mentions is (presumably) the Instruction Memoriale Domini. This does indeed reaffirm the illegality of Communion in the Hand, and on the basis of 'custom': 'this manner of communicating, ...is now to be considered as prescribed by custom'. Why does Loftus stress the distinction between 'custom' and 'rubrics'? The custom is binding. Communion on the tongue is prescribed.

The next little trick is to say that the Holy See permitted Communion in the Hand 'the following year'. This would be bizarre if true. So Paul VI said CITH was forbidden one year, and allowed the next? No: the exceptions to the general rule against CITH are made in the very same document, even if the first permissions made under the conditions it set out weren't given until 1970. Where the practice of CITH had become established, and with a two-thirds majority of the bishops of the country asking for it, and with the express permission of the Holy See, CITH can be allowed. In other words, where it happens (ok, so everywhere), it is under a derogation from the law of the Church. It is an indult, and as Redemptionis Sacramentum makes clear, this is always on the condition that it does not lead to a profanation of the sacrament (section 92).

The provisional and precarious nature of CITH is something which Loftus wants to disguise. So his words quoted above, while technically correct, are grossly misleading, and presumably designedly so. 

He goes on in the article to say that CITH, lay readers, the 1970 Lectionary, and communion under both kinds are all perfectly ok at the Traditional Mass. The 2010 Instruction Universae Ecclesiae makes it clear that this is not so, the 1962 Missal has its own liturgical law. It was because of people like Loftus that this Instruction was necessary. But the fact is that it is perfectly obvious to anyone not desperately trying to justify the opposite conclusion:  the right to use the 1962 Missal includes the instructions at the front of that Missal, about not having altar girls, the readings given for each Sunday and feast, and the customs which pertain to it.


The second issue is the right to dissent from Church teaching. In a column appearing in December 2009, he suggested that the Syllabus of Errors was overturned by Vatican II, on the subject of freedom of conscience. I've blogged before about this claim being made in a Tablet editorial, so I can refer readers to that and be brief.
Pius X: not contradicted by VII

Loftus quotes Vatican II's Dignitatus Humanae as follows:

'In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God for whom he was created. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the otherhand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.'

So far so good. Then he characterises the rationale of previous teaching, as per the Syllabus of Errors, as follows:
'no-one is forced in conscience to be a Catholic, but once someone has chosen to follow Christ within the Catholic Church, then they must follow the rules of that club. So the power of the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, takes precedence over the primacy of conscience within the Church.'

This is not quite right but is close enough for present purposes (see here for a better analysis). What is important is that the two quoted positions are only incompatible if you reject the Church's teaching on what conscience actually is. Of course the teaching of the Church takes precedence over the conscience of a Catholic: a Catholic's conscience is formed by the teaching of the Church. Where else is it going to take its principles from? Cosmopolitan? A properly formed conscience is one which is formed by exposure to the truth.

Loftus then goes into a long digression about the Temporal Power of the Popes - the papal states. I've blogged about that issue here, but I can't for the life of me see its relevance here. But with this as a kind of diversionary tactic, and via the bizarre claim that Garibaldi's (failed) attempts to stimulate an uprising in the Papal States were inspired by the Holy Ghost, he ends with a long quotation from John Courtney Murray, who was involved in the drafting of Dignitatis Humanae but whose view, which really was inconsistent with the immemorial teaching of the Church, was not, in the end, adopted:
'A more detailed examination of the rights of conscience within the Church is well overdue: “inevitably, a second great argument will be set afoot now on the theological meaning of Christian Freedom. The children of God, who receive this freedom as a gift from their Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, assert it within the Church as well as within the world, always for the sake of the world and the Church. ..." '

Well that may be what John Courtney Murray thought, and it appears to be what Loftus wants us to think, placing it as a conclusion to his column. But what Holy Mother Church wants us to think is something quite different. As far as the consistency of Vatican II with the previous teaching, this is the passage of Dignitatis Humanae which Loftus does NOT want his readers to see:

Alexander Pope: had seen this type before...
Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.

Shall I go on? I hardly think it is necessary. Loftus has a sort of apostolate to mislead, in very much the manner described by Alexander Pope (Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot):
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.

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