Thursday, October 05, 2017

A challenge for Fastiggi and Goldstein

You know you've had an influence when the Vatican Insider addresses you by name.

Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein write:

It seems that the case for the Amoris laetitia critics’ self-proclaimed “Filial Correction” (1) of Pope Francis is weakening. Dr. Joseph Shaw, one of the signers of the Correctio filialis, recently wrote: “It is not that we’re saying that the text of Amoris cannot be bent into some kind of orthodoxy. What we are saying is that it has become clear that orthodoxy is not what Pope Francis wants us to find there.” (2)

Shaw’s claim that Pope Francis doesn’t want orthodoxy, however, is based on subjective impressions derived from mostly non-authoritative statements of the Pope. This does not seem to be a very strong foundation for accusing the Roman Pontiff of promoting false teachings and heresies.

What interests me about this is less the attempt to suggest that the Correction's signatories are shifting their position--we haven't in the least, although we are getting used to our critics using calling us names and being economical with the truth--but the second paragraph I quote. For the information of Fastiggi and Goldstein, 'impressions' are always subjective, but they are our window onto the world. What we can determine about what what is going on, based--obviously--on what we can see and hear ('impressions'), is indeed that 'Pope Francis doesn’t want orthodoxy'.

And I would go further than what F & G say: our impression is not based 'mostly' on non-authoritative statements, but entirely upon non-authoritative statements by Pope Francis, plus his failures to speak. It should be obvious that it is impossible for the Supreme Pontiff to guide the Church away from the Deposit of Faith authoritatively, since his authority is given him to confirm the brethren in the Faith. What we find, indeed, is that Pope Francis has singled out modes of communication which cannot possibly be mistaken for authoritative statements, when he indicates the kind of interpretation he wishes people to have of Amoris laetitia. These include his remark in a press conference that Amoris makes a 'change'; a private letter to the Bishops of Buenos Aires; the printing of the guidlines drawn up by the Bishops of Malta in L'Ossovatore Romano; and most eloquent of all, his refusal to answer the Four Cardinals' Dubia.

It is not our impression only: it is the impression gained by many theologians and bishops who regard themselves as loyal to the Pope, who are taking the hints, the nods, and the winks, and are writing, and promulgating guidlines for their flocks, which are impossible to square with the constant practice and teaching of the Church, or indeed with Canon law as it currently exists.

My challenge to Fastiggi and Goldstein is a simple one. What would they do if they thought that the pope of the day were doing this: indicating non-authoritatively that bishops and ordinary Catholics should act and believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church? What would they regard as the correct response to the situation we believe we are actually facing?

This is clearly not an impossible situation. Even those with an exaggerated view of the authority of the Pope must surely admit, unless they have left common sense entirely behind, that it is theoretically possible for a Pope, who can after all teach non-infallibly, to say things about faith and morals, when not teaching, which are not correct. What should the Faithful, and particularly academics and pastors, do in this situation?

The answer which comes to mind, inspired by Canon 212, is that those who think that this is happening should make their concerns known to the proper authorities, without ruling out that they should make them known to their fellow Catholics. In light of Matthew 18:15, it makes sense to go public when private communications have had no effect.

What Fastiggi and Goldstein point to instead, is the passage in Donum veritatis which tells dissident theologians to talk to their superiors rather than to appeal to the mass media. F & G appear to imagine that this imposes silence on all educated Catholics whatever the situation might be. But Donum veritatis cannot be read in this way.

First, it speaks of theologians who reject the Ordinary Magisterium, not to those who wish to uphold it. Secondly, it speaks of theologians who have (or easily could have) dialogue with their superiors. It would be a very different matter for Donum veritatis to say that theologians should not publicly support the Magisterium, or for it to contradict Canon 212 by saying that lay Catholics in general should not make clear 'concerns' to their fellow Catholics, or indeed to contradict Matthew 18:15-17 about making problems public when private admonitions have failed. For DV to have said any of those things would, obviously, have been insane.

It is not the signatories of the Correction who are ignoring the Ordinary Magisterium: if it were not enough to cite Canon Law and Familiaris Consortio, we could cite canons and magisterial documents going back centuries, all the way, in fact, back to St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27, and beyond. It is this teaching, the teaching of the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, which Fastiggi and Goldstein do not want us to reiterate in this moment of crisis.

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1 comment:

  1. Dear Dr. Shaw,

    Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein and I wish to thank you for your tone of civility. We hope to reply with equal civility regarding your post: “A Challenge for Fastiggi and Goldstein.”

    Our points of response are the following:

    1. You are correct that “impressions” are subjective. Our point, however, is that your subjective impressions regarding papal words and actions are not shared by all. In justice there is always a need to determine what people mean before making judgments of potential heresy. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examines cases of possible heresy, it follows strict norms of procedure in order to insure justice for the one accused (See CDF, Regulations for Doctrinal Examination, Ratio Agendi May 30, 1997; AAS 89 [1997] 830–835). If so much care is given to the examination of individual theologians before making judgments of heresy, should not the same be extended to the Roman Pontiff? Canon law tells us: “The First See is judged by no one” (CIC [1983] canon 1404).

    2. You object to the word “mostly” when we say that your claim of Pope Francis not wanting orthodoxy is derived “mostly [from] non-authoritative statements of the Pope” and not, as you assert, “entirely [from] non-authoritative statements.” Mostly is correct because, in addition to citing references to non-authoritative sources, the Correctio filialis speaks of “the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and by other words, deeds, and omissions of Your Holiness.” As a papal exhortation, Amoris laetitia would carry the same authority of the ordinary papal Magisterium as St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio of 1981.

    3. You mention the private letter of Pope Francis to the Bishops of Buenos Aires as an example of something that is “impossible to square with the constant teaching of the Church.” Cardinal Müller, however, in his Sept. 28 National Catholic Register interview with Edward Pentin, said: “[If] you look at what the Argentine bishops wrote in their directive, you can interpret this in an orthodox way” ( What you consider “impossible” to square with orthodoxy, others find possible.

    4. You ask what we would do if we thought the pope of the day were indicating non-authoritatively that bishops and ordinary Catholics should act and believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church? This is something purely hypothetical. Neither of us believe Pope Francis is asking people to act or believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church. If, though, we thought we were facing such a situation, we would make our concerns known to our Ordinary first and then, if need be, to the papal Nuncio or the Holy See. We would not have recourse to the mass media.

    5. Your point about Donum veritatis referring to theologians who reject the ordinary Magisterium begs the question because you have not established that Pope Francis is going against any teaching of the Magisterium. You cite canon 212§3, but you fail to mention that it also requires manifesting opinions with reverence toward pastors and attention to “the common advantage and the dignity of persons.” We question whether accusing Pope Francis of propagating heresies is really showing reverence, and we question whether this serves the common advantage of the Church and the dignity of persons. We also do not believe that the Correctio follows the guidelines of Donum veritatis, as we explained in our article.

    6. You mention that Matthew 18:15–17 allows for making problems public when private admonitions fail. This text, though, advises taking a brother to the Church for correction. It does not advise correcting the head of the Church.

    7. Like you, we wish to affirm the teachings of the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. We are not questioning your faith or sincerity; we are only questioning your methods.

    Oremus pro invicem,

    Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. and Dawn Eden Goldstein, S.T.D.