Monday, December 19, 2016

The joys of polarisation

Cardinal Burke in St James', Spanish Place, for the Latin Mass Society

It is interesting to see EWTN giving Cardinal Burke the interview I posted yesterday, and the general pro-dubia stance they have taken. A similar editorial line is being taken by Church Militant. Less surprising is the support for the dubia coming from LifeSiteNews, which has long had a robust editorial line.

From a Traditional Catholic point of view, each of these organisations has come in for criticism over the years. Christopher Ferrara wrote a book, EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong with some stinging criticisms of their TV broadcasts, which showed a marked tendency to tone down their attachment to the Church's traditional teaching and spirituality after the retirement of Mother Angelica. I myself criticised Michael Voris's absurd and inconsistent vow never to criticise the Holy Father; in fact his 'Vortex' videos have continued studiously to avoid the subject of the dubia, which has been covered for them, as far as I can see, by Christine Niles. Even LifeSiteNews failed, in the end, to back up Hillary White when she was attacked some time ago by Ultramontanist fanatics for reporting something about the Pope which they simply wished hadn't happened.

Reporting on the dubia in an even-handed way, giving the dubia the oxygen of publicity, is precisely what the Pope's self-described supporters do not want, and doing so pushes these organisations away, or further away, from the institution mainstream of the Church. That means things like the degree to which bishops' press people would return their calls or help them arrange interviews, the degree to which people in the Curia in Rome would regard them as a respectable Catholic news service, and things like that.

The same process can be seen with what we might call the intellectual heavyweight conservative Catholic blogs and journals, such as Crisis, Catholic Culture, and First Things. These have never been 'traddie', on matters liturgical and spiritual, and often writers on these platforms have gone to a lot of trouble to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, to promote his initiatives, explain his ideas and so on (as, in fact, have I on this blog). But with the crisis over the dubia they have been carrying some very hard-hitting stuff in support of the Cardinals.

As with the news services, there is a price to be paid for not taking the party line on something as contentious and important as this. There are many Catholic institutions, for example, which would allow their members to have associations with some kinds of Catholic publication, but not others, and the quickest way to become persona non grata in lots of places where lots of resources are controlled is to allow oneself to seem to be not 'with the Pope', when the pope was going in a liberal direction. So the writers on these platforms may end up losing certain opportunities, and the editors may for the same reason find it harder to recruit writers.

But we can see individual Catholic figures, with their own personal careers and reputations and influence to consider, coming out in support of the Cardinals, in the various joint letters, and notably with Professors Finnis and Grisez. These two of course don't need to worry about getting promotion, but they are still taking a risk with the considerable influence they have had over the years with Bishops' Conferences and over younger scholars, if they cease to appear to be balanced, mainstream, people who basically 'support the Pope'.

So, first, on a personal note I would like to express my admiration and gratitude for and to the people involved in all of these ways, nearly all of whom have more to lose than I have in speaking out. What they are doing is their duty: and I should emphasise that this is so even if they (and I) are mistaken. Perhaps there is a perfectly sensible explanation of the meaning of Amoris laetitia in combination with other statements and hints. We are still right to ask what that explanation is.

The wider point is that the move of Catholic intellectuals in support of the dubia is so marked that Austen Ivereigh was obliged to acknowledge it, suggesting that the reason all these academics and writers were supporting the dubia is that they are too intellectual, attached to reason, and not sufficiently pastoral: indeed, he tells us that Amoris can only be understood by Pastors. A weak argument, of course, as many supporters of the dubia are indeed pastors (unlike the Holy Father, Cardinal Burke has been a Parish Priest), but a very significant admission. What happened to the Church's liberal intellectual leadership?

Modernism at the turn of the 19/20th centuries, and neo-modernism from the 1950s to the 1970s, was not led by pastors, or indeed by a popular upswell from below. It was led by theologians. It is amusing to read so many arguments about liberal 'pastoral' strategies on contraception, and about 'pastoral' liturgy, being made, in the mid 20th century, by the high-brow denizens of universities and monasteries respectively.

That school of thought has gone now, leaving only vestigial traces, particularly in the English-speaking world. They lost the argument in the end, and fashions changed. A few of them labour on in great old age; a few others have adopted liberal positions as the path of least resistance, but neither are capable of producing new and interesting ideas. And now push has come to shove, the conservative Catholic intellectuals of the Pope John Paul II generation have been forced into open opposition to what is presented as a Papal initiative.

This is clearly not what was supposed to happen. I can only imagine that the architects of 'liberal Amoris' (for want of a better term) imagined that the instinctive loyalty to the Pope of Catholic conservatives would triumph over their attachment to a sane view of marriage and sexual morality, but the opposite has happened. It is the conservatives who've stuck with the view of Cardinal Kaspar on the basis of various Papal hints who look isolated and weak, and not very 'conservative' after all, and it is the intellectually weakest of them who have taken this line, people like Mark Shea and Rebecca Hamilton (who?) on Patheos, while a number of others have lapsed into embarrassed silence. (Jimmy Akin? Fr Longenecker? Are you there?)

This is a very interesting situation. What it means is that a very large proportion of our conservative Catholic voices have been forced to reconsider the narrative, which has been a favourite of their school of thought, that everything which has gone wrong has gone wrong because of people misunderstanding or mis-implementing Vatican II or the post-Conciliar popes. When a pope has made it clear that his personal view is something nor really consistent with the Tradition--Paul VI on the liturgy, John Paul II on the death penalty or the authority of the husband over the family--they have tended to side with the Pope against Tradition, despite the fact that the Papal statements on the subject tended to lack magisterial weight.

From now on, that strategy isn't going to be attractive to these conservatives. They've been asked to do it once too often, they have refused to do it, and things are not going to be the same again. What happens to ultra-montanist Catholic conservatives who finally realise that some at least of the Church's problems go right to the top--who take, as the metaphor of the hour has it, the red pill?

Ask a Traditionalist. Almost all us have gone through this process personally: I certainly have. Once the dust has settled, and people think through the implications of what they have realised, we will be entering a new phase of the history of the post-Conciliar Church. I don't think the liberals will enjoy it.

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  1. Anonymous1:43 pm

    Joseph, thank you for this excellent point. Indeed, I can say that after my conversion from the Eastern schismatic "orthodox" Church to the Catholic Church, I have gone through this process - from "conservative" Catholicism to "Traditionalist" Catholicism. Now, I will emphasize that there are not two fundamental, different types of Catholicism. Just one, committed to the perennial authority of the Tradition - the presence of the Holy Spirit in history - under who's guidance every ecclesiastical authority has to act. What is incredible important for us is the understanding that this ineffable presence has His Own expressions in the universal history: the Gregorian Liturgy, for instance, is one of this "expressions". The Holy Bible is another plenary "expression" of this divine presence. Works like "Civitate Dei", "Summa Theologica" and "Theologia Moralis" are - to say the least - partial expressions of this presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the context of our history. That is why we cannot accept their elimination/changing for the sake of those theologians who want to adapt to the modern "values".

  2. A must read is Ivereigh's latest:

    It is beyond all belief; Ivereigh praises Pope Francis for being a Peronist politician.

    1. I always thought Francis was a Peronist, in style and politics, but Ivereigh confirms it. Thanks for the link.

  3. Thank you for voicing the point I have been making, "what is a Pastor, and where are they?" I have been ordained 10 years this May, 9 those years serving as a Pastor; I have assisted dozens in the annulment process, all of which were granted, with a second review. It is painful for people to be denied the sacraments, but the Church can't "fix" everything this side of heaven and people know that. Further what about the justice owed to those spouses and families abandoned by divorce? Keep up the good work. Fr. Stevens

    1. Anonymous9:33 am

      Definitively, Our Lord Jesus Christ makes things clear (especially to address doubtful thoughts about "the justice owed to those spouses and families abandoned by divorce") through His Own teachings: "...he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery" (Matthew 19:9). So, if God himself allows for someone's faith to be tested through the "defection" (i.e. adultery) of his/her wife/husband, that person must accept with patience such a difficult situation and must continue to pray for the conversion and repentance of that one who has abandoned his/her family. And this without getting "re-married". In fact, Our Lord himself was many times betrayed by His people, and He never has abandoned them/us... a priest ought to strengthened those abandoned spouses and teach them how to live - as single persons - a holy life. And I assure you that that is not impossible, even though sometimes is really difficult. But for the Holy Spirit nothing is impossible...I can swear it. May Our King and Lord Jesus Christ help you, Father, to deal in a real Catholic manner with such difficult situations!

  4. There has been a huge shift in a very short time, and non-traditionalist conservative Catholics are having to process a massive (and very disconcerting) realisation.

    Prior to Amoris Laetitia, such Catholics always regarded the Pope as their bulwark against heterodoxy. No matter how crazy things were locally in parishes, seminaries, dioceses or bishops’ conferences, the Pope (they thought) was on their side. With this bedrock to support it, their Catholic faith held together. But this type of ultramontanism is now untenable, as Francis is clearly pursuing (or abetting) agendas which would have horrified John Paul II. What happens when the figure who is supposed to be the bedrock―who does all your thinking for you, as it were―comes out on the side of the nutty liberals whose views you have always despised?

    The key issue now is whether Edward Pentin is correct in his analysis that the unanswered dubia could lead to what he describes in his interview with Regina Magazine as “a fairly rapid unravelling of this pontificate.” Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends entirely on whether the successor of Francis is Bergoglio Mark II or whether he is a less polarising and more conventional figure. We hope and pray for the latter.

    1. "Prior to Amoris Laetitia, such Catholics always regarded the Pope as their bulwark against heterodoxy."

      It may well be that Hilary White is correct in thinking that this was a *necessary* pontificate for a lot of Catholics.

      And I don't even mean "necessary" in the sense that it will make them all wake up and flee to traditionalist fortresses (though obviously more Catholics discovering the treasures of tradition is welcome, and some have done so in this pontificate). I merely mean that it is necessary for many (including more than a few trads) to rethink the instinctual ultramontanism so many have assumed over the past five decades and more. More rethinking about other questions can develop down the road.

  5. "[Church Militant's] 'Vortex' videos have continued studiously to avoid the subject of the dubia, which has been covered for them, as far as I can see, by Christine Niles."

    Actually, I have been enormously edified to see that CM is now batting pretty vigorously for the 4 Cardinals and their dubia, especially on their discussion panel show "the Download" (e.g., the episodes of Nov 16 and Dec 7, available in full to subscribers here:

    Nothing mealy-mouthed of late in their criticism of the situation Amoris L has put us all in.

    1. Glad to hear it. I just looked at the list of recent Vortex episodes and there was nothing about the dubia. Is Voris keeping his vow privately, and not imposing it on Church Militant as a whole?

    2. That's certainly possible - the Vortex is very much his personal programme - but if memory serves he does seem to take an active part in the AL discussion on at least one of the recent Download episodes. He began that discussion (16 Nov.) with saying something like, "Now at last the competent commenatators on AL - the four Cardinals - are tackling the issues we can legitimately discuss the case for their challenge."

      What is beyond doubt is that CM is now firmly on the side of those who are very concerned by what AL says and how the Pope is responding to that concern, as well as being highly critical of those who are attacking the 4 Cs for their challenge.

      This has to be good news, it seems to me.

  6. "When a pope has made it clear that his personal view is something nor really consistent with the Tradition--Paul VI on the liturgy, John Paul II on the death penalty or the authority of the husband over the family--they have tended to side with the Pope against Tradition, despite the fact that the Papal statements on the subject tended to lack magisterial weight."

    Speaking of which, why is *this* suddenly a bridge too far? JPII's musings on patriarchal authority refuse on principle to take seriously the entire corpus of Catholic tradition, thought, and teaching on the topic, yet nearly no one objected then or objects now to them. Amoris Laetitia may even be more defensible than Mulieris Dignitatem, if anything.

    1. A very fair question, which only the conservatives at issue can answer. It is fair to say, of course, as I have set out on this blog, that Mulieris is pretty vague. And I suppose they'd say that calling the 6th Commandment into question is as serious as it gets.

    2. I might take a stab at it (as a former "conservative"):

      The major premise which so many conservatives seem to have adopted was one of obedience - obedience to the Pope above all. It did, indeed, amount to a kind of ultramontanism, one which had been developing since the 19th century, but was also in reaction to the main characterization they could make of liberal dissenters: "disobedience." So we'll do the opposite.

      And from Humanae Vitae onward, the papal line seemed to be that quite a lot could be open to change, ad intra and ad extra - the liturgy, catechesis, ecumenical and interreligious relations, priestly formation, social teachings, and so on. But one thing the Church would remain constant on was moral doctrines (well, more or less). And so long as Popes did just that, the way was clear for obedience to reign with a clear conscience, even if the actual result was a kind of sacramental Protestantism. And that is just what happened from 1968 to 2015 or so.

      But now we see this final pillar getting chopped. So many devotees of John Paul II planted their flag on this hill, from the JPII Institutes on down to Catholic Answers and parish "JPII priests" (and yes, many Patheos bloggers). If even marriage, sexual morality, and the Eucharist are now up for grabs, that hill is now naked, save for the person of the Pope. Maybe that's still enough for Mark Shea to withstand the winds, but it's becoming an ever more awkward stance for a man who has devoted his career to an activity (public evangelization) that the incumbent pontiff seems to regard with great disdain.

  7. Anonymous3:28 pm

    We interpret Church teaching according to the living magisterium. I think most Catholic forgot that we don't do private judgement, wither of scripture or tradition. If this is the true Church of Christ if they say black is white it is. Either the Lord is testing our faith or Catholicism is false, for faith is believing even those things we can't see simpy because God said so.

    1. I assume this is intended sacastically. The teaching of the Church is that black is black and white is white.

    2. Anonymous10:18 am

      A subtle mistake: to limit the Magisterium of the Church just to the living ecclesiastical authorities... actually, the Magisterium of the Church is composed especially from those popes and bishops who are in Kingdom of Heaven... and they are more than those who are on earth. Consequently, any real Catholic ought to believe any teaching of this perennial Magisterium - which is really guided by Our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. If any ecclesiastical authority - even a pope - is not faithful and loyal to those teachings of his predecessors who were proclaimed and confirmed by the Church in different historical contexts as true teachings of Jesus Christ, he cannot be followed.