Friday, October 20, 2017

A friendly warning to Opus Dei

I don't want to single out Opus Dei; what I have to say is applicable to a number of conservative Catholic organisations. But Opus Dei does rather single out itself.

We had the organisations 'number 2', the Vicar General, Mgr Mariano Fazio, criticising the Filial Correction for 'correcting a father in public':

Any faithful, bishop, cardinal, lay person has the right to tell the pope what he sees fit for the good of the Church. But it seems to me that he has no right to do so publicly and to scandalize the whole Church with these manifestations of disunity.

I've responded to that in the linked LifeSite article.

Mgr Fazio is simply following, however, the line of the head of Opus Dei himself, Mgr Fernando Ocariz, who wrote an article for L'Osservatore Romano on December 2, 2011, indicating the kind of obedience which the documents of the Second Vatican Council have: remarks which presumably cover any reasonably high-level official documents of the Church.


A number of innovations of a doctrinal nature are to be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council: on the sacramental nature of the episcopate, on episcopal collegiality, on religious freedom, etc. These innovations in matters concerning faith or morals, not proposed with a definitive act, still require religious submission of intellect and will, even though some of them were and still are the object of controversy with regard to their continuity with earlier magisterial teaching, or their compatibility with the tradition. In the face of such difficulties in understanding the continuity of certain Conciliar Teachings with the tradition, the Catholic attitude, having taken into account the unity of the Magisterium, is to seek a unitive interpretation in which the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the preceding Magisterial documents illuminate each other. Not only should the Second Vatican Council be interpreted in the light of previous Magisterial documents, but also some of these earlier magisterial documents can be understood better in the light of the Second Vatican Council. This is nothing new in the history of the Church. It should be remembered, for example, that the meaning of important concepts adopted in the First Council of Nicaea in the formulation of the Trinitarian and Christological faith (hypóstasis, ousía), were greatly clarified by later Councils.


(Link to the whole article on the Opus Dei website.)

The problems with this paragraph are many, and I don't want to give his article a detailed critique, so to keep it brief I invite the reader to answer for him or herself the following two questions:

1. Given that Council documents and other official documents contain both statements of the Ordinary Magisterium and other kinds of proposition, such as historical and scientific claims (such as are not inseparably connected with teaching), prudential judgements, and theological speculations, would the loyal Catholic not need to apply his mind first to determining what was actually magisterial in a document before submitting intellect and will to it?

Anyone who thinks that the non-magisterial content of one official document cannot contradict that of another simply needs to read a few. The mutually-contradictory Papal Bulls of the Franciscan property debate would be one place to start.

2. When the meaning of putatively magisterial statements in Council or other official documents are disputed, and where such disputes are themselves legitimate, how is it possible to submit one's intellect and will to them? How can one submit one's intellect to a statement whose meaning one cannot determine?

What seems reasonably clear is that the top two officials of Opus Dei are inviting Catholics to adopt an attitude of pre-emptive intellectual submission towards anything emanating from Rome, without making use of the right - which can also be a duty - to inform our fellow Catholics of their concerns about such emanations. Yes, they say, there can be ambiguities and problems, but obedience of the intellect comes first, acceptance come first, and attempts to smooth over the problems can follow later.

I've been told in comments on this blog, what I already knew, which is that Opus Dei contains many Good People. Of course it does. These are, in fact, among the most good-hearted and faithful Catholics whom one could hope to meet. It is through no lack of charity towards them that I write as a I do: quite the contrary. While I know that what I write will have no effect at all on the leadership of the organisation, I want to warn those who are members, and those associated with the many other organisations which include what we call 'conservative' Catholics, of the dangers of the road you are going down, when you start thinking of obedience as the chief or even the only virtue, instead of humility, justice, courage, charity, and the virtue of faith itself.

The first danger, which follows obviously from what I have just said, is a spiritual distortion arising from a failure to recognise and cultivate the full set of virtues. This should be obvious enough.

The second is that it leads into anti-intellectualism. Perhaps this doesn't look like a big deal, but it will destroy the intellectual prestige of your communities and drive out those of your members of an intellectual bent. People with an intellectual formation who are honest will not be able to stick it: it will drive them nuts.

The third problem derives from the fact that when the wind changes direction, the internal policy will follow also. This isn't some uncharitable speculation on my part, it is exactly what Mgr Ocariz is saying. A new Pope, a new policy, and a new document, and all the 'faithful Catholics' who follow his advice will be reading the 'innovation' back into previous documents, submitting their intellects, and tying themselves into knots to say that what they'd previously said was black is actually, now you come to look at it, white. You may think we'll have to wait for a new Pope to see this happening, but no, we can see it happening with the current Pope.

It is a fact, and not a particularly disturbing one in itself, that Papal policy changes. Again, anyone doubting this just needs to do some reading, but a nice example is the maddening succession of policy reversals the Popes made towards the 'Chinese Rites'. Now it may be that such changes of policy require obedience on the basis of the disciplinary authority of the Pope, but anyone living through a period such as that who tries to justify each policy as correct, as in continuity with previous rules, and as based on fundamental magisterial principles, because he does not want to admit that official documents should ever be disagreed with, has got a problem.

He has got, in fact, the problem that the British Communist Party had in and just before the the Second World War. First the Party Line was that the Nazis were evil, as they were persecuting communists in Germany. Then the Party Line was to be neutral in the war against Germany, since the Soviet Union was allied to the Nazis. And then the Party Line was to support the war with Germany, since the Soviet Union was at war with them itself. Each had to be passed off as eternally true for fundamental ideological reasons.

Although in France and Italy the Communists were able to retrieve some self-respect by their resistence to occupation, in Britain the flip-flopping did irreparable damage to the Party's credibility. The same thing is going to happen to any organisation which claims to base itself on objective principles which does repeated 'backflips', to use Cardinal Pell's phrase. To put it bluntly, this will destroy your community.

Am I applying this to Opus Dei? Let me correct that impression. Really, what I have been saying applies to the Catholic Church as a whole over the last half-century. We have all seen it: good-hearted and loyal people twisting themselves into pretzels to make everything seem ok, but other Catholic intellectuals just dropping out of the whole game because it looks incompatible with intellectual self-respect. And yet others, observing all this, concluding that the Church doesn't really stand for anything much any more.

That's a lesson we should learn from. If we don't, we are going to repeat it till we do.

Update: my attention has been drawn to this: see the paragraph beginning 'I could write a huge volume'.

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20 comments:

  1. "Bernard, I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I had believed in all their policies, I would have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I would have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel. And of denationalising it and renationalising it. On capital punishment, I'd have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolishionist. I would've been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac; but above all, I would have been a stark, staring, raving schizophrenic."

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    1. Yes exactly. Although the question of policy changes ought not to be problematic, because they're not a question of dogma, the refusal to distinguish dogma from anything else falling from the lips of the Pope makes it problematic.

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    2. What else can one say? You are absolutely correct in what you said, Augustine. Today, the Vatican leaders and elsewhere want to have a flock of yes-men, people without brains, those who like CARROTS even if laced with poison. Because these prelates have quenched their thirst for NOVELTIES and MODERNISM, about which Pope St. Pius X said:" The church has no GREATER ENEMIES than MODERNISTS", they are bent on not only spreading their errors, but forcing these errors down the throats of the naive, simple, uninformed and gullible poor Catholics. We owe our allegiance to the TRUTH and nothing but the truth. It was told to me 50 years ago that for me to keep the faith, whole and entire, I should keep close to what the Magisterium of the Church taught up to 1962. Given the MESS and CONFUSION and DISORIENTATION that followed VATICAN II, I am more than convinced that I was given the PERFECT ADVICE. To "PROVE" this I recall what Pope Paul VI himself lamented about on June 29, 1972, just 6 + years AFTER the COUNCIL, " Through some crack or other, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church." The smoke now has become a menacing huge conflagration.

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  2. Having attended Opus Dei for about a year, I am not at all surprised at their attitude to the Fillial Correction. You are absolutely correct in your concern that Opus Dei fosters an anti-intellect approach to faith because their emphasis is very much on blind adherence to Church authority. Opus Dei has many good points and provides a valuable charism for those people it suits, but it discourages them from developing a mature, reasoned faith wand this does have serious moral implications for them if, as seems probable at the moment, the Church leadership goes astray.

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  3. I appreciated your Correctio to the point where I signed up for the "also-rans" declaration of support. But I think you are getting a bit over-heated.

    The VG of Opus Dei is reported as saying we should not "correct our Father" in public. Well, that is a point of view I can respect, if not endorse. After all, there are many considerations of filial piety, and of justice and charity, to take into account. Tricky stuff; he comes down on the side of private persuasion. I hope it works; the public stuff does not seem to be getting very far.

    As for the Osservatore article, I just take that as saying that the Magisterium must be understood in the light of the Magisterium - a "unitive interpretation". Both forward and backward. To a non-theologian like me, I don't see the problem.

    Clearly the adducing of a unitive interpretation takes wisdom, intellect, perseverance and faithful prayer, which is what good theologians do. Jolly good. Above my pay grade. Set to it, chaps!

    None of this applies to some of the junk passages which manage to slide into documents these days; slices of boiler-plate claptrap about areas where the Holy See has no especial competence. But Mgr Ocariz was writing in 2011, when the world was different. And referring to Magisterial documents.

    Yes, times are darkening, shadows lengthen, and prayers (seem to) go unanswered. But let's keep our friends onside, and cut them a little slack.

    Tony McGough

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    1. Well Mr McGough this post was stimulated by your earlier comments so I hope you are pleased. The easy-going evasion of the substantive issues in your comments is characteristic of a certain organisation which it is superfluous to name.

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    2. To be fair,that scandal-ridden organization makes Opus Dei look Angelic yet (relatively) Professional.

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    3. With Due Respect Mr. Shaw,if I were to choose between Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and St. Josemaria Escriva,then I would choose the former many times(in responding to the ongoing Post-Counciliar Crisis since 1965).

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    4. Well, at least I admit that I might be wrong: about the prudence of public correction, and about the role and freedom of the intellect while sussing out these documents.

      But, of course, I think I'm right!

      Tony McGough

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  4. Thank you so much for having the courage to express publicly what I know so many are thinking (also inside the prelature). As someone with years of experience in "the Work", I speak from personal experience and knowledge when I say that you have absolutely hit the nail on the head, Mr Shaw. I pray the many good - and the many misguided - people in the "family and militia" wake up ('ut videant!') and learn from this disastrous mishandling. There is no point in continuing to play evasive shenanigans and blustering about (as some commentators even here are clearly doing, I might add) to justify cosying up to heresy. It won't wash – and I personally know several intellectual supernumeraries have already left Opus Dei because of it.

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  5. Opus Dei has always thrived in its lack of criticism & unquestioning obedience because of the seemingly "orthodox" teachings of the 20th c. Popes. Now it is going to be in difficulty.It was interesting to see that when the new Prelate had his first audience with Pope Francis,he and the Vicar General wore black suits and not the customary cassock. I have been close in many ways to Opus Dei for over twenty years but I have seen a number of changes lately: there is much less emphasis on doctrine;this one of its greatest strengths. A friend of mine received Fraternal Correction from an Opus Dei priest because of her irregular/invalid marriage situation - he was the only priest who spoke clearly to her about it.I wonder if that would happen now ?

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  6. This type of "obedience of the intellect" - like the one mentioned by Mgr. Fernando Ocariz - is NOT Catholic at all. Actually, this is an "invention" similar to that famous opinion of Albertus Pighius ( = the false idea according to which a Pope cannot fall into heresy).

    Until the end of the Middle Ages none of the saints who created religious orders never asked their followers for such an obedience. For instance, in the approved Rule of Saint Francisc of Assisi (1223) we can read:

    „Brothers who are ministers and servants of other brothers must visit and admonish their brothers, and they should correct them humbly and lovingly, prescribing nothing against their soul or our rule. Brothers who are subject to authority must remember that they have surrendered their own wills for the sake of God. Thus I strictly order them to obey their ministers in all those things which they have promised the Lord to observe and which are not contrary to the soul and to our rule”.

    This is the right and real Catholic obedience: any of us has as a sacred duty to judge in his/her internal forum everything that touch our supernatural Faith and Moral Law (and everything related to them - as the Holy Mass and the Sacraments). This is precisely the attitude demanded by Saint Paul in his epistle addressed to the Galatians (1:8):

    "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema."

    So, any Catholic ought to discern the True Gospel of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, from the false Gospel spread by false prophets. That is why catechesis and doctrinal formation were the main activities of any Father and/or Doctor of the Church. And I dare to say that the involvement in such activities is the usual main sign of good priests and faithful Catholics.

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  7. "Update: my attention has been drawn to this: see the paragraph beginning 'I could write a huge volume'."

    Whooaaa - that is one very scary attitude to obedience. Either contraception is intrinsically evil because it is contrary to the Divine Law or it is not. One Pope cannot overturn the testimony of Sacred Scripture and all his predecessors to turn something which has always been evil into something which is now good. We must always obey God before we obey men, as the first Pope himself testified to the Sanhedrin.

    As a previous commenter has mentioned, Opus Dei has been able to wing it with this view of obedience because even the post Vatican II Popes have been very careful not to meddle in dogma (for the most part). But if they and similar organizations (Church Militant TV, the Neo Cats, Regnum Christi etc.) do not recognize that we are now in a very different situation where the faith itself is under attack from those who should be defending it, then they will be dragged down to the same modernist hell as the Hans Kungs and Charles Currans of this world. The time for silent, passive resistance is long over - the salvation of souls on a huge scale is at stake.

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  8. Great post. This is indeed a deep an unchangable stance of Opus Dei. I noted the anti-intellectualism decades ago and was involved almost two decades. At the root, they place the active over the contemplative life. While there are good members, I question the ceiling of that goodness. They do not preach or teach the virtues you point out, those most important, indeed the only necessary ones. They long have and its part of their fundamental error or mis-first-step to place activity over contemplation and to mistake submission to the Faith and confuse it with obedience (which is a virtue for our actions not for matters of belief). In any case Opus is the paradigm of false and blind obedience.

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  9. Yeah, I love these guys. Hey, I know how to make the problem go away! Let's shoot the whistleblower!

    Pay no attention to that rampaging elephant in the drawing room!

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  10. Thank you Mr Shaw for your clarity and charity,

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  11. Dr Shaw,

    Do you think we can learn anything from the Donatist controversy of St Augustine's time and apply it to our own? Is the motivation of those who do not wish to publicly question or challenge the Holy Father, although perhaps misguided in your view, not Catholic or at least earnestly orthodox? As you have said, once this is all straightened out, being able to finesse one's position 'back to orthodoxy' (as if submitting to the Pope's authority was otherwise) is something our faith allows because Our Lord is magnanimous? I would not attribute to those who wish to give the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt a cynical or self serving motive. That seems rather harsh.

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    1. If a Catholic rejects a teaching of the Church and embraces error, he separates himself from the Church. Obviously canonical consequences depend on canonical processes, but this is what we are talking about. Heresy separates us from Christ.

      Please don't say 'oh it's not too bad to reject the Faith, because it is just so politically convenient to be on good terms with the Pope.'

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  12. I am not saying that. What I am proposing is that it is not correct or accurate to suggest that those who do not wish to publicly criticise or oppose the Holy Father are at the same time embracing error. Silence and responding to a sense of filial obedience doesn't make people de facto apologists for doctrinal rupture or innovation that cannot be reconciled with the Faith. What matters is what people do and teach in the name of the Catholic religion, at which point if one veered from orthodoxy it should of course be pointed out.

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    1. I see you choose not to mention the concept of indiscreet obedience. If you are not familiar with the idea you'd do well to look it up.

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