Friday, August 05, 2016

Appeal to Cardinals: Letter in The Tablet

Happy feast of Our Lady of the Snows, 5th August. An image from the
Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
Last weekend The Tablet responded to the publication of the Appeal to Cardinals over the interpretation of Amoris laetitia - an appeal for a clarification of the document - with a feature article by Fr Gerald O'Collins SJ, a retired theologian. O'Collins' line was that the Church does not do clarifications, because that would lead to an infinite regress. He goes on to defend a liberal interpretation of Amoris laetitia. This weekend The Tablet has published a letter from me in response.

Fr Gerald O'Collins comments on the appeal to the cardinals by 45 Catholic academics which seeks a clarification of the teaching of Amoris laetitia (Features, 30th July). He claims that clarifications of teachings and documents are alien to the Church's usual practice. Anyone who takes the trouble to look in Denzinger, the handbook of Catholic teaching, will see, however, that it is stuffed with clarifications. Nor has the stream of clarificatory verbiage dried up. Indeed, the Vatican Press Office seems recently to have taken on a semi-official function of clarifying papal remarks in real time.

The test of whether a clarification is needed is the degree of confusion a document has generated. If there is broad agreement about what a document means, and the author is happy with this agreement, then further clarification is not necessary. If a document is generating diametrically opposite interpretations, then only a clarification will enable it to convey the meaning its author intended.

In the case of Amoris laetitia, as Fr O'Collins admits, we find some theologians, bishops, and Cardinals, saying that it has changed Catholic practice and teaching fundamentally; others say that it has changed nothing. Fr O'Collins claims that the first group is applying 'what they rightly take to be the teaching of Pope Francis'. Would he not like to see this interpretation made clear to everyone? The fact that he doesn't want to see a clarification suggests that he isn't as confident as he claims that his favoured position is really the Holy Father's. The 45 signatories would seem to have more confidence in Pope Francis, and in the Holy Spirit which guides the Church.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Joseph Shaw

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  1. Sadly, the Tablet does not let me comment. You must tell me the secret sometime.

    On the question of Church teaching, we are in to the question of definitions. If that means doctrine, it cannot be changed but can be confirmed by a Pope and in a way which is clear, aimed at the whole Church, specifically stated to be so and is a belief which is already held to be infallible within the the Magisterium as derived from Scripture, Revelation, and Tradition.

    None of these conditions apply to Amoris Laetitia. Therefore, it expresses personal reflections of the present Pope and is not required to be accepted, in part or in totality by Catholics.

  2. Would that be the same O'Collins who defended the heretic Jacques Dupuis after his work on "religious pluralism" received a notification from the CDF?

    If so, I would suggest that he doesn't have the theological literacy to pass comment on the appeal in the first place. He is another one of these self-aggrandizing "theologians" who really lost the plot during their First Communion classes and never got it back again.

  3. The latest clarification (for the benefit of English speaking Catholics only) is that Pope Francis did not say there are Parish Secretaries who are disciples of Satan but merely that they are ungodly.