Thursday, November 24, 2016

What could happen next?

Proclaiming the Gospel: Dominican Rite
The letter of the 'four Cardinals' seeking a clarification of the meaning of Amoris laetitia raises the question: what could happen next? In terms of official process, Cardinal Burke has answered: a formal 'correction' of the Holy Father. This kind of thing is so rare in the Church that the way this could happen, and the implications it could have, are simply not mapped out by custom, but only by theological speculation.

The theoretical possibility of the condemnation of a reigning Pope for heresy, in such a way that has canonical consequences, is explained helpfully by Robert Siscoe here. Although this account seems sensible to me, I'm no expert and no doubt some will find fault with it. I don't want to get into the details, however: Siscoe's analysis can serve as a reference point, the view of a traditionalist, but definitely not a sede vacantist. My point would be: if this is what people like him think, then the hoops people are going to have to jump through to make such a thing happen are, for practical purposes, insuperable. Call a council of the Church? Get it to meet? Get it to denounce him? Get it to recognise such a denunciation as activating his loss of office? Elect a new Pope? We'll all be having snow-ball fights in hell before this happens.

But if that is so, what will happen? Or, perhaps better: what is happening?

As Cardinal Burke noted, a formal correction of the Pope might come from just a single cardinal - or, we might add, of non-cardinals. If this doesn't depose the Pope (it certainly wouldn't be enough on the Siscoe analysis), what is the point of it? The point is that it is part of process, in some hypothetical situation, in which it becomes clear to at least some people that the teaching of the Church is one thing, and the published opinion of the Pope (or what can be drawn from his publications and his silence with moral certainty), another. If that becomes clear, then it has implications, at least for the people to whom it becomes clear.

Bear in mind that, in fact, the Church is permanently in this situation, according to some people. The Greeks told us back in 1054 that the Pope was in error for adding the filioque to the Creed. In 1870 the 'Old Catholics' thought that the Pope and the First Vatican Council was in error over the definition of Papal Infallibility. In both cases, they, like many, many, groups in between, went into schism, which is to say that they stopped accepting the authority or communion of bishops and others who sided with the Pope.

In many ways this is a self-defeating strategy, since it leaves the Pope and his supporters on their own with their supposed error. It is particularly problematic if you believe in the Papacy as an institution, since the schismatics lost it. So most people who have, over the centuries, thought the Pope was wrong, have simply muddled along in the Church, sometimes acting disobediently, sometimes keeping their heads down.

That's not to say that it doesn't make a difference that a pope's error be publicly demonstrated, in some manner with serious moral force. It makes a difference for the people who accept this demonstration, and if they are numerous then it will have an affect on the Pope and the Church. The kind of affect is the kind of affect we quite standardly see in the Church, or come to that in any institution, when a large number of people regard the leader as going off the rails, even if they can't remove him. The leader in question will find it harder and harder to get things done: his moral authority and practical power will ebb away.

This can happen to a greater or lesser extent. At the lesser end of the scale the leader can eject or simply ignore the disaffected people and carry one. At the greater end he will find his job impossible, and the institution ungovernable. The general loss of authority will be magnified where the disputed matter is at issue; even if the leader can't get things done on that topic, in other aspects of his job he may find everything carrying on as normal.

It is important to remember that this is a perfectly familiar process in human affairs, and usually far preferable to violent revolution. Under Pope Benedict, many prelates and curial officials seemed to be opposing his initiatives simply by not being very helpful, by ignoring them, quietly contradicting them, and so on. Pope Benedict's most memorable moves were cooked up 'motu proprio', by his own initiative, which is to say that they did not emerge from the curial machinery. The sidelining of the curia has gone even further in the present pontificate, but the policy can be traced back to Pope John Paul II and even to Pius X. All these Popes encountered massive and entrenched opposition, within Rome and around the world. A feeling that the Pope is not just wrong-headed, but acting contrary to the Faith, among a significant proportion of people, would make things much more difficult. But the ways it would make things difficult, for the most part, would be the ways that opponents of papal policies have always made things difficult.

I don't want to suggest that the current crisis is not more serious than what was going on, say, in the 1970s and 1980s, although we should not imagine that was any kind of golden age of Church unity. The attacks on Cardinal Burke and his co-signatories from a small number of other prelates have been peculiarly unrestrained; the silence of many more prelates who are in office may be even more significant. The tone of Bishop Frangiskos Papamanolis is reminiscent of something from the 16th century. If enough people line up on either side of the argument, publicly or not, and if the strength of feeling is great enough, the Church will become ungovernable very quickly. Official documents will cease to have weight if they are regarded as emanating from one party or the other, rather than from the Holy See. Unrelated issues will become impossible to resolve if ordinary civil relations between bishops and Cardinals can't be taken for granted, and if routine meetings are cancelled because of the danger of confrontation spilling over. Outsiders will become unwilling to deal with the Church's representatives if they start looking like the partizans in a civil war, instead of the officers of a unified body. People will be reluctant to give money to the Church for the same reason. This could all happen in a few months, if the crisis continued to build up steam. Or it could fizzle out.

In this situation, leaders can change tack, resign, or soldier on. On the last option, institutional trench warfare can go on indefinitely, interspersed with purges perhaps, but purges tend not to be totally effective, and can only reach so far down the chain of command. Any minimally sane new pope arriving on the scene will be keen to make a big reconciling gesture, even if one side of the argment has been quite effectively subdued (Leo XIII offers a precedent). Even if things develop in the most dramatic way in the coming months, the crisis could still go on for a long time, and when it ends, end with more of a whimper than a bang.

But this being the Church, and not just any other institution, it will have to end with the clarification of doctrine. It can come soon or late, but it will come.

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  1. If I may point out though, I got a very depressing view reading your article because I think you failed to mention some important points. Because as your article stands, anyone who is opposing the Pope does look like they are going the way of the schismatics.

    When the Old Catholics or Orthodox when into schism, their objections were not simply left unaddressed. The Church provided evidence for her doctrinal and dogmatic teachings by drawing upon Tradition and Church history. Even the Protestants got a council (Trent) to address their accusations.

    What we have had in the past 50 years are Popes acting as if there was no explanation necessary to reconcile their actions with pre-Vatican II teaching. If their actions can be interpreted in consistency with statements from Vatican II, it is all that seems to matter.

    THAT, is the actual problem.

    I do not find the actions and statements of Pope Francis or St. John Paul II problematic because I refuse to look at the explanations. NO, I find them problematic because they clearly contradict prior positions of the Church and no explanation has been given by the Church herself on how to reconcile them with the past.

    Simply saying that we have a hermeneutic of continuity without actually demonstrating it is the problem.

    1. You are right; I wasn'5 addressing the substantive issues in this post.

    2. Personally I do see Vatican II in continuity with Tradition but beyond the "Spirit of Vatican II" there are problems with Vatican II itself that lend themselves to misinterpretation and have been made worse in the new universal catchechism (which is unfortunately is the only anchor most orthodox Catholics have against the Pope Francis sophists).

      Take LG 16-17. LG 16 says that non-Catholics can go to heaven through God's mercy if they honestly seek to live in the truth of God to the best of their abilities but LG 17 says people tend to be lead astray. While this is true, the softness of the tone in LG 17 has lead many to believe that most people go to Heaven. Worse, the new catechism refers only to LG 16 and makes no mention of LG 17 so we're left in the state where Catholics who don't know Tradition simply assume most of their non-Catholic neighbours and "Wedding and Funeral" Catholic relatives will go to Heaven since God is merciful.

      Worse, our modern Pope no longer believe in limbo so they teach unbaptized babies likely go straight to heaven and original sin is downplayed which feed back into the "you don't need to evangelize" since original sin doesn't need to be washed away and the sacraments Jesus instituted really aren't all that necessary. Limbo is this laughed off as just a scholastic innovation and if left unchecked original sin will follow suit. And if the sacraments aren't really that important, neither is the liturgy so we have flexibility in how we can "make the mass more relevant".

      Personally I see this von Balthasarian heresy as so toxic that a future Pope will have no choice but to condemn it, so there is hope of a restoration. Perhaps limbo might not be viewed as "the top level of hell", but it must make a comeback, even if it is just "the limbo of the Just" or "the garden of Eden". Regardless, the people in limbo might be happy and not suffer, but they will not have the Beautific Vision. So to not evangelize or fight abortion or ignore the sacraments would be the ultimate injustice that would put our souls at risk.

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful article.

  3. A”correction” is not necessary.

    The Pope is the Keeper of the Keys and his job is to ensure that Catholic Truth as expressed in Scripture, Revelation, Tradition and the Magisterium is guarded. He has no ability or authority to do otherwise and so far, whatever he has said, he has not done otherwise.

    So as yet, let's all take Cpl Jones' advice and not panic.

  4. I was struck by the following sentence in the article you referred us to:

    "For the opinion of Albert Pighius, which Bellarmine indeed calls ‘pious and probable’, was that the Pope, as an individual person or a private teacher, was able to err from a type of ignorance but was never able to fall into heresy or teach heresy."

    I wonder whether at this stage we are not dealing with a certain type of ignorance rather than heresy. Reading Amoris Laetitia I am struck by the different styles of writing in each chapter and strongly suspect that much of it is the work of people other than Pope Francis. I see Pope Francis as someone of half-baked views who is simply not up to the job. He seems to have absorbed some ideas only half understanding them and I suspect Germany, where he failed to complete his studies, is the source of many such ideas half-learnt.

    It is said that Chapter VIII was written by a colleague in Argentina and I wonder whether Pope Francis really understood the import of what was written and like many half-learned people is now just being obstinate and is flailing about not knowing what to say or do.

    As to what could happen now my understanding is that an imperfect General Council could be organised if only over the internet but it is a pity we do not have a Holy Roman Emperor to corral them!

    Idiotic statements seem to be coming from the papacy at ever greater rapidity and I suspect that in the long run it may be a question of men in white coats removing him to some asylum which presumably does not require a General Council. Indeed what is the position of a Pope who becomes mentally unstable?- I do not think the article you refer to addresses that point.