Thursday, October 30, 2014

We are not facing a heretical Pope

Douai Martyrs painting
The English Martyrs: triptych at Ushaw College. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP
I've said it before, but the recent spate of articles by good-hearted but panic-stricken conservative Catholics makes me think it necessary to say it again. The worst-case scenario we are facing in the wake of the Synod, supposing things go pear-shaped after next October, is not a Pope announcing in an authoritative document 'We hereby declare, pronounce and define that a valid sacramental marriage can be dissolved leaving the parties free to re-marry, that marriages may be contracted by persons of the same sex, and that sex outside marriage is not gravel sinful.' It is not going to happen, and I can say that on both natural and supernatural grounds.

The supernatural grounds are, of course, the indefectability of the Church. It is conceivable that a Pope could have a thought at odds with doctrine, and even give voice to that thought. In fact, it has happened more than once over the very long history of the Papacy. But it will never be imposed on Catholics as requiring their belief by a properly formulated magisterial act. The Holy Ghost will prevent that. This is something Catholics must believe.

The natural grounds are two-fold. First, everyone knows it would be suicide for the Church simply to say 'sorry everyone it seems we've been wrong all along!'; not only suicide, in fact, but self-defeating, because how can you attempt to make authoritative any new teaching when you've just said that previous claims to authority were a load of nonsense? Secondly, and perhaps connectedly, the liberal modus operandi does not make use of properly formulated magisterial acts. 

I'm glad the conservatives are taking seriously the threat to the Church posed by the latest liberal push, in favour of giving Communion to public sinners, of 'recognising the value' of immoral ways of life, and so on. But I fear that their excessive focus on the Papacy is distorting their identification of how, exactly, the problem is going to manifest itself. We don't need to talk about the complicated possibilities involving heretical Popes, schism, and 'what happens then.' What might happen in the future is what has happened over and over again since the Second Vatican Council. Let me spell it out.

1. You get a fairly authoritative document (in terms of its format and origin at least) which is nevertheless vague and disinclined to define its terms, let alone the content of its teaching. Passages of this document lend themselves to a heterodox interpretation, but as a whole the thing can be read in an orthodox sense.

2. The document is given a clearly herterodox interpretation by the liberal media and liberals in the Church. They claim support in interpretations coming from bishops, Cardinals, and even the Pope; on closer examination these interpretations continue to admit a degree of ambiguity in proportion to the authority of the interpreter.

The rule is: the greater the teaching authority, the less clearly heterodox the interpretation.

3. The document is implemented, or at least things are done in its name, in relation to both practice and teaching (for example, how the doctrine is presented in Catholic schools), in a way which leaves the observer to say: this new practice, this way of teaching children, is clearly not inspired by the traditional doctrine. The people doing this do not have the traditional doctrine in mind.

4. If you challenge liberals about this, they will tell you the teaching of the Church has changed. If you challenge reasonably high-up officials, they will tell you that it has not changed, it is just being expressed and implemented differently to suit the circumstances of the times we live in. The latter may even produce the odd document stressing the more clearly orthodox passages in the original document.

5. Twenty years later, if you mention the traditional doctrine in mainstream Catholic circles, they look at you as if you're speaking Chaucerian English. They simply have no idea that the old teaching might still be the teaching of the Church.

I'm not being overly optimistic in presenting this scenario. In my view it is far more difficult to deal with than open heresy. It is a long, grinding campaign of inuendo, appeals to authority, silencing awkward questions and those who ask them, and steadily feeding poison to the Faithful. It is going to take a lot more courage, intelligence, and stamina to deal with this than it would to 'go into schism', whatever that means.

Just ask yourself: what happened to the teaching of the Church that the Mass is a sacrifice? How is it that this has completely disappeared from the way the Mass is discussed, explained, and celebrated? No one with serious authority ever stood up and denied the doctrine. But for practical purposes it is gone. Except that it isn't: the Church's teaching has not been changed, and so it is still there, even if it is actually maintained by only a handful of eccentrics. This is what could happen to the indissolubility of marriage.

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. Anonymous12:40 pm

    A heretical pope does not have to purport to make an infallible declaration regarding the truths of the Faith or morals, to be a heretical pope and do catastrophic damage to the Church, and to souls on a vast scale.

  2. I am sure that you are right about the "teaching" of the Church. The teaching of the Church will (probably) remain.
    However as you know as well as most the teaching of the Church and what the Church teaches are different things.
    To those who have the time, inclination and desire to search for these things they may well remain.
    But to the vast majority of, even practising Catholics, what the Church teaches is what they are taught on a Sunday morning and what they were taught at Catholic School.
    As my eldest son was told at school " The Church teaches that Same Sex Marriage is wrong but we believe that this is unfair". When they can add, "and Pope Francis agrees with us" they won't even bother with the mention of Church teaching unless they refer to it as what your parents were taught but this has now changed. It will no longer be what the Church teaches, except in some files hidden away.
    It may not change teaching for you and for me. For you it may not change your relationship with God.
    But for most. The State says something. The BBC agrees ( not even opposed by the Telegraph or Mail) and now even the Pope agrees. How long do you think serious opposition will last?

    With Latin Mass that's not a State issue. They don't care, particularly as you are not forcing anyone to attend Latin Mass. It is already difficult to object to "gay marriage" without being bullied by the State. At least at the moment it pays lip service to allowing private opposition and allows churches to refuse to perform such travesties. That will go entirely if the Church gives in or even APPEARS to give in. How long will it be before the Church is blessing "gay marriages?"

    Elton John has said that "Pope Francis is my hero". The fact that he can even say this means that something is going very wrong in the Church, even if it is only in the Media department, which I doubt.

    Whether he is a heretic I will leave to you and to others far more knowledgeable than I in Church history
    But whether he is leading the Church into a culture of "niceness " and "liberalism" is not in doubt. Capitulation seems to be an appropriate summary.

    You say that it would be suicide for the Church to admit it was wrong all along.
    But would it?
    The decline of the CofE would suggest so.
    However, there is no doubt that Pope Francis is very keen on ecumenism. Bring everyone together. He is not interested in gaining members from the CofE objecting to women priests etc. That he has made clear.
    I wonder why? Of course the problem with those people is that they are the conservatives. They are not what he wants.
    By turning to liberalism he can attract all the nice woolly liberal Christians and there are plenty of those around. They can join the big worldwide Church founded by Jesus and don't actually have to believe in anything. (Abortion will be next, bit by bit).

    When David Cameron was elected as leader of the Conservative Party as a liberal himself, his plan was to attract the liberals. Some members would be happy, most would just carry on and after all where would the right go? As it turns out many of them have gone to UKIP at least temporarily.

    When Jorge Bergoglio became leader of the Catholic Church as a liberal himself his plan is to attract the liberals. Some members will be happy, most will just carry on. And after all, where will the right go?

  3. First, everyone knows it would be suicide for the Church simply to say 'sorry everyone it seems we've been wrong all along!

    They have said that about extra ecclesiam nulla salus and you are teaching it at Oxford.
    Is it not said that the Church has changed its teachings on the dogma and that Fr.Leonard Feeney was excommunicated for holding the centuries old interpretation?

    1. As is clear from the texts on the link. Fr Feeney went too far in his interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam:

  4. Anonymous4:25 pm

    Dear Dr Shaw,
    Thank you for your post.

    I feel that you have omitted something important:

    For the Church to say "sorry everyone it seems we've been wrong all along" it may also entail saying "sorry everyone it seems that Jesus has been wrong all along".

    This is particularly the case with the Indissolubility of Marriage, since it is not something that the Church has defined using her Ordinary or Extraordinary Magisterial Authority (such as in the case of the Assumption, or the Immaculate Conception).

    An attack on Indissolubility of Marriage is an attack on the Person of Jesus Christ, and the Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture.

    Of course if the Church has permitted a perversion or betrayal to the teachings of her Divine Lawgiver (as given in the Gospels), then the Church, should, and must repent.

    In the case of the sin of Sodomy, the present attack, is not so much on the Person of the Divine Lawgiver, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Nor is it so much an attack on the Inerrancy of Scripture. It is more an attack on the Tradition of the Church.

    The law regarding the sin of Sodom comes from the Old Testament, and unlike certain other Old Testament Laws, the Divine Lawgiver did not give any further clarification (such as in the case with Indissolubility of Marriage), so it remained as is.

    That which remains, such as that which is passed down through oral tradition, is in the custody of Sacred Tradition.

    I think that these are important points to weigh in on your considerations.

    Yours respectfully,

    1. The teaching on sodomy is reiterated by St Paul. Rom 1:27

      The problem is that with marriage a new teaching will always be presented as an interpretation, not denial, of Scripture. The reason Catholics are more secure in how we understand Our Lord's words on divorce is because we have an authoritative interpretation through Tradition.

    2. Anonymous10:20 am

      Dear Dr Shaw,

      Thank you for reminding me about the passage in Romans. So the teaching regarding Sodomy, is continued in the record of Sacred Scripture. But what I said still stands, that Our Lord did not need to further clarify the old law (unlike the old law regarding divorce), the law regarding Sodomy remains as is.

      I have come across an outstanding article which may be of great interest to you in these musings. Catholic Laws on Marriage and Divorce by Monsignor Matthew Smith, 1921"

      Yours respectfully,

  5. Thank you for this, Dr. Shaw.

    It is interesting to read the conservative Catholic backflips over the Synod. They stress repeatedly that "doctrine won't change," as if that were what was at stake. It is a terribly impoverished notion of the faith that treats it as nothing more than a laundry list of intellectual propositions to be affirmed in a merely intellectual way, which can be safely and easily abstracted from the distinctly Catholic way of life in which those doctrines are incarnated. And it is a small comfort to say "at least doctrine hasn't changed" (i.e., "at least that which is in principle impossible has not yet happened") while souls fall into Hell like snowflakes, led astray by confusion, ambiguity, and deliberate silence, born of an attitude that treats ignorance of doctrine as if it were an eighth Sacrament.

    1. Anonymous1:12 am

      This is what the faithful bishops and priests need to be saying. It is the truth - and it's being ignored to the detriment of countless souls.

  6. Points well made. An openly heretical Pope would be far easier to deal with than what is likely to come out of this de facto apostasy. We must hope and pray that enough bishops will be resolute in defending both the teaching and the practice of the Church.

    What the liberals seem quite oblivious of is that if the clear words of Christ are trashed by what is permitted in "pastoral situations", then the clear words of Christ become worthless and lend no authority to all other areas of Church life. Everything can be "interpreted" to mean the opposite of what Scripture says and everything will be permissible in the new world of false mercy.

    I don't think there is any realistic prospect of people "going into schism" about this. The de facto schism has already happened, and again its roots are German.

  7. Spot on. I just published a piece along similar lines on Oriens ( I also note that the ground has been prepared for winking at Sacrilegious Communions by a half-century of not only bad Eucharistic theology, but bad liturgy.

    In a similar vein, the Pope has recently made a statement about the death penalty ( in which he does not assert that capital punishment is wrong per se - in contravention of the Church's ancient teaching - but merely assumes this, and urges us all to go out and campaign against it.

  8. Anonymous2:24 am

    Our Lord's explicit teaching on the nature of marriage was given and set down in the Scriptures, because there was an error that needed to be corrected in what people were being taught by their religious leaders.

  9. A good example of what you say is in this week's Catholic Herald. On page 2 the article about Cardinal Nichols pastoral on the synod is headed "Cardinal: let's see the goodness in cohabitees". Many will read that as "Let's see the goodness in cohabitation" and next they will think good things come from fornication. It is similar to the suggestion that they are special gifts arising from the practice of sodomy. To-day I see an article about how the Education Minister is going to decree that no faith school shall query the merits of "gay marriage". No doubt if asked she will merely respond that the Church is clearly moving in that direction.

  10. The real answer to this problem is to encourage young Catholics to marry other faithful young Catholics.

    We need to encourage marriage. How many marriages amongst Traddies were there last year?

    We face a crisis in Marriage due to the high lapsation rates amongst Catholic school-children and the lack of interest of priests in preaching and encouraging Catholics to marry other Catholics.

    A notable exception being the Brompton Oratory who have talks for young Catholics of marriagable age. The wine and general good atmosphere at these talks for Young Catholic Adults help young Catholics to chat and meet with each other. I hope many fruitful married couples will be able to say that they met at the Oratory talks.

    What does the LMS do to encourage Marriages amongst Tradies?

    1. If you are unaware of the events for young Catholics and married couples with children the LMS runs or sponsors, you have not been paying attention.