Monday, November 3, 2014

On Mercy and the Synod

An Interview with Fr. Marcel Guarnizo
October 30, 2014

Fr. Marcel Guarnizo
(Photo: M. R. Stafanik/CNA)
Q. Prior to the Synod, you had some concerns over the direction of the debate. How did the Relatio address those concerns, and/or confirm them? 

A. I think to understand the nature of these concerns (which are shared by many), a few things need to be established regarding the nature of the synod itself. A synod is a gathering of bishops from around the world who meet to, "… foster a closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, to assist the roman Pontiff with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing faith and morals and in preserving and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline…" (Canon 342.) The current synod on the family is not an ecumenical council. It is not a Church council - a Vatican III - or any such thing. A proper understanding of the synod’s authority should put what is taking place in its proper perspective. A synod cannot overturn ecumenical councils or remake the Church’s definition of dogma. 

Second, as a Catholic I believe firmly that the office of Peter cannot teach error. When Peter, as universal shepherd of the Church, speaks regarding faith and morals, his pronouncements are unerring throughout the universal Church regarding matters of belief. Defined doctrine cannot be changed by any human power, so I have no concerns in this regard. 

The charism of infallibility though, is only a negative protection of the office of Peter as universal shepherd of the Church. What I mean by this is that God has promised to prevent, or impede, Peter from teaching error or heresy as doctrine for belief of the Catholic Church. Infallibility does not, however, guarantee that the Pope will further the promotion of truth and faith. It also does not insure that he will not err or fail to communicate effectively and forcefully the truth of the Gospel in homilies, interviews, and the like. 

I think the present concerns are due to weeks and weeks of Cardinal Kasper's prominent role in the synod and his multiple reiterations of proposals which seem, upon review, not just theologically unsound but philosophically and logically contradictory. The concern of which you speak, has been shared by many bishops and cardinals around the world. This has been openly stated by many in attendance at the synod and was evidenced by the book and articles authored by Cardinal Burke, Brandmuller, Carfarra, De Paolis, Pell and others as a response to the proposals of Cardinal Kasper and Kasper's co-thinkers. Cardinal Gerhard Muller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith), had made his own negative views of Cardinal Kasper's proposal known as well. I agree with their concerns and am grateful for their articulation and studious elucidation of the facts surrounding the question of marriage and other doctrinal issues. 

I think there is legitimate concern that, regardless of the doctrinal facts, speculative theories on the doctrine of marriage, homosexual unions, cohabitation, and other fractious issues, cause tremendous confusion and even scandal among the faithful, Catholic and non-Catholic. In practice, ambiguous and imprecise statements send a signal that these doctrinal matters are perhaps no longer relevant in our day and age. 

If discussions of these "hot button" issues are not treated with great care, the signal can be sent that fundamental doctrinal teaching of the Church may be irrelevant, or up to the subjective judgment of each priest or bishop in pastoral practice. Clearly, there is political and media pressure seeking impossible doctrinal change and we should be careful not to give the illusion that any change is possible or forthcoming. 

The Relatio must cause astonishment and concern. Even the main relator, Cardinal Peter Erdo, openly stated that some of the most controversial paragraphs had been inserted in the final draft and he was clearly not about to defend them or even explain them. Instead he called publicly on Archbishop Bruno Forte, the author of the controversial statements, to assume responsibility for his own words. 

To see Cardinal Erdo's concern and the objections voiced by bishops from Africa, Poland, and elsewhere on the synod floor must cause concern. If one of the goals of a synod as stated in the Code of Canon Law is the, "… preserving and strengthening of ecclesial discipline…" but openly there seems to be a faction proposing to change not preserve, and weaken not strengthen, the discipline of the Church, then I believe there is cause for concern. If this is so, some of the goals of the synod, seem to me are not being met. It also seems to me, that Cardinal Kasper's proposals have not served as a vehicle to foster unity among the bishops and cardinals. 

This I do not mind, as unity in the Church can only come as a communion (common union) vis à vis the true and correct doctrine of the Church. Unanimity in accepting to support the proposals of Cardinal Kasper and others would be very preoccupying, indeed. 

The doctrinal issues at hand do not, in my view, require heroic powers of discernment. But the Relatio, I think, lacked rigor, precision, and operational definition of terms. Given the circumstances of today and the need for clarity, it was not helpful in this regard. My impression is that, in many paragraphs, it was not grounded on a solid, philosophical, biblical, or theological ecclesial foundation. The international reaction to it, was telling of the final result. Given the partiality of the document, to release it to predictable public clamor was bound to increase pressure for doctrinal change, augment confusion, and frankly promote scandal among many. If the actual statements of all the bishops speaking about these matters are not accessible what is the point of releasing such draft documents? 

Q. Do you see the effort in the Relatio as strictly pastoral, or does it raise doctrinal issues? 

A. There is no such thing as "strictly pastoral." Pastoral practice cannot contradict Church doctrine. Pastoral practice depends on doctrinal teaching. Practice follows necessarily from theory. 

Pastoral practice exists to teach, to implement in practice Divine revelation as mediated and defined by the Magisterium of the Church. It is not within the jurisdiction of pastoral practice to decide what is true in the deposit of faith. Pastoral practice necessarily takes its guiding principles from the dogmatic teaching of the Church, not the other way around. Pastoral "theology" is the praxis which depends necessarily on the dogmatic teaching of the Church. To think that pastoral practice, rules or even guides dogmatic theology is a mistake. 

Theoretical science and its principles, in this case given by the Divine person, are in no way subject for their truth and certitude upon pastoral concerns. If Divine doctrine could be settled by votes, popular opinion, or the opinion of a few theologians, such doctrine would be anything but of Divine origin. God's word and its teaching by the Church is immutable - not because some are not with the times but rather because God cannot change and His Divine Word for the salvation of mankind is - unlike man’s testimony - immutable. It is immutable because it is true. 

Theology requires much intellectual humility. God cannot deceive or be deceived. God is not the consultant from whom we seek opinions to determine what is true and good. He is Truth and Goodness itself. 

Pastoral practice cannot determine or grant the promise of truth. Truth of a Divine origin has been true before there were any pastoral agents in the Church. These new "pastoral theologians," need to be reminded of their function. Judging revelation is not one of them. 

The granting of communion to the divorced and remarried without a previous annulment is evidently a doctrinal issue in the Catholic Church. To claim that this is a disciplinary issue and does not touch doctrine is at best an error in thought by the proponents of such a theory. The merciful obligation to deny communion to individuals in situations which are objectively gravely sinful in the teaching of the Church is a solemn duty. Simply put, to attempt a second marriage while still validly married is taught by Our Lord and the Church to be adultery. Sexual relations in such invalid marriages are also grave matter and clearly forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, ergo those who engage in them cannot receive communion. Communion is denied in practice by the Church, as an act of mercy. 

The commandments are commandments, not suggestions or proposals. From a philosophical point of view, to change pastoral practice and grant communion and maintain the condition of such communicants to be objectively disordered, would be a logical contradiction which cannot be exercised at a practical level. Both cannot be maintained simultaneously. 

Furthermore, to grant communion touches the doctrinal teaching of the Church in matters regarding grace, the sacrament of confession and the authority of the Magisterium of the Church. Cardinal Kasper has proposed a mysterious "penitential path," which somehow would conclude with confession and absolution. But this is also a logical contradiction. Of what would these divorced and remarried individuals be absolved? If they are being absolved for attempting a marriage outside of the Church or for illicit sexual relations outside of marriage, how is it that it would be sinful for that one confession concluding the penitential path and then, they could go back to commit and persevere in the same actions which a priest has just absolved and recognized as sinful? How were such actions determined to be sinful once and the same exact actions thereafter are perfectly fine? It makes no sense. No priest in a confessional could solve these illogical and irrational dilemmas. Are they to absolve them once and then say that the same actions are fine? If they are morally sound after the confession why weren’t they acceptable the day of the confession at the end of the penitential path? No theology is needed to see the problems. A previous science, namely logic and philosophy, disqualifies these proposals as contrary to reason. 

Finally, all priests are held to serve and protect their faithful from spiritual damage. To "do no harm," is the most basic and fundamental ethical principle of human action. The Church teaches with St. Paul, who taught that, "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm and a considerable number are dying." (1 Cor. 11: 29-30). 

It is of no benefit to the communicant who is objectively in a condition of serious sin to receive communion. Since we have a moral obligation to endeavor for the good of souls, we must not give to people what de facto will do damage to them. It is in my view, positively unmerciful to give communion knowingly to such individuals. We hold to the doctrine of the proper reception of communion and counsel souls not to receive if they are not in a state of grace, for many reasons. The fact that mercy obliges us to do this is one of them. There should be no shame, fear, or discomfort in this; we cannot give what would harm another person. 

Communion without conversion is an impossible proposition, morally and theologically. Our Lord taught the conditions for discipleship, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24). This is the order required by wisdom and true discipleship. We must first deny ourselves that which God forbids. This will not be easy, but with God’s grace we must carry our cross and then and only then, does He invite us to follow Him. Cardinal Kasper's proposal, supported by others as well, is in my view, the antithesis of the Divine requirement. If Communion without conversion were possible, Our Lord would have perhaps stated: "Do not deny yourselves, do not pick up your cross, just follow me." 

It seems to me, that it is a grave oversight to forget that the sacrament of Confession is the visible and effective sign, instituted by the Divine person as an endless fountain of mercy for humanity. Confession is the sacrament of mercy. Mercy as a virtue cannot exist outside of that which is true and it cannot exist without the proper observance of justice. It is unjust and unmerciful and a bad error to propose or imagine human solutions that offer guarantees which may depart in doctrine or practice from Divine teaching. 

The Relatio's review and proposals on all other issues, including that of cohabitation and homosexual unions, compounds all these problems. But, in my view, there is little complexity to the proposals being offered. They all follow, from the same erroneous start, to multiply the dangers for the souls of the faithful. If the teaching of Our Lord and the Sixth Commandment is to hold any relevance, all types of sexual unions outside of marriage (between one man and one woman), fall under the same logical and doctrinal judgment. Sexual relations outside of marriage being forbidden by the Sixth Commandment also would forbid adultery, homosexual relations, the sexual relations of those who cohabitate and are not married. All of these are simply a different specie or kind of the same sin forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, namely fornication. None of these can be advised without contradicting the Sixth Commandment. There is really in my view, very little complexity to the proposals being deliberated. 

Q. The paragraphs on homosexuality seem to be gaining the most attention in American media. Do you see these as the most troubling and/or remarkable? 

A. It seems the analysis and focus on trying to accommodate these relations  are futile efforts within the context of Catholic doctrine. I do agree that a pastoral plan is needed, given the extraordinary changes in our culture and the public lobbying by a small but vociferous group of people. Most men and women with homosexual tendencies are grateful to have a father and a mother, and do not want to destroy marriage or change any Church doctrine. 

The missing pastoral plan to which mercy obliges us, is to minister to men and women with homosexual tendencies for, as of now, they have been like "sheep without shepherds." The pastoral plan needed would be for every diocese in the world to open up a ministry to counsel and lend a merciful ear to those with such non-normative tendencies, who wish to speak about them. To celebrate and congratulate people "coming out," cloaks a great deal of moral irresponsibility. There is real suffering in many of these cases, about which we should feel great mercy. 

Sufficient for those who at present want to make such relations normative, would be to ask them to enter into dialogue with men and women with homosexual tendencies. If they did this, they would discover the immense number of our brothers and sisters who have suffered sexual abuse, family dysfunction, and other psychological and physical harms. 

Many of the people with homosexual tendencies in fact are seeking someone to talk to. They are not ministered properly if some shepherds continue to pretend there is no issue at hand. Many young people who have been sexually abused, have developed homosexual tendencies but they cannot easily find a responsible adult to speak to about their situation. If institutionally we close our doors, exclude them from our ministry by pretending there is no issue, we ignore our duty in mercy to be available to all people regardless of their situation. The real pastoral plan is not, through theological acrobatics, seeking to ignore the presence of non-normative sexual tendencies and therefore refuse to seek solutions. This position of the Church, may be a sign of contradiction in our day and age but nonetheless, mercy obliges us not to tell falsehoods, scientifically, morally or theologically. The Church has been very clear on this matter. What is needed in my view is not accommodation but a realization of suffering and pain which requires the mercy of our ministry. 

Furthermore, there are great questions of justice which are owed to children. Namely, the right of every child to be nurtured by a father and a mother in a family, and the social, psychological, cultural, and moral benefits such an arrangement affords them. 

Q. The Relatio is a work in progress, and already some participants have called for changes to walk back some of the language released. Do you expect that the second draft on Saturday will address those concerns? 

A. It all depends apparently, on who deals with the final redaction of the document.  Certainly a great number of bishops and cardinals oppose Cardinal Kasper’s proposal as being inconsistent with logic, sound philosophy, morals, Church law, and Catholic theology. But the response should be thoughtful. And I do think the counter arguments to Cardinal Kasper & company, have been thoughtful, steeped in Catholic tradition and theology, and consistent with the aim of theology, pastoral practice, and the discipline of the Church, namely the felicity and happiness of man. A respect for human dignity requires clarity and precision when conveying the doctrine of salvation. 

Q. How does the "law of graduality" as mentioned in the relatio impact the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage? Does this tend to give license to those who want access to the Eucharist regardless of the status of their communion with Church teachings, and why? 

A. The law of graduality in my view does not apply to marriage. One is either married or not. A determination by the Church may be needed to discover and assess the fact. The process of annulment exists to determine this, if a marriage is called into question. But one cannot be partially married, somewhat married, married but not fully. There is no possible graduality here. To make an analogy to ecclesial communion by different ecclesial communities or particular churches in this regard a false analogy. The Church can be in communion on some points with other ecclesial communities and not in communion on other points, that is, the degree of unity may vary. Sacramental communion, communion of faith, and hierarchical communion are all needed to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. Therefore, different degrees of communion are possible. 

In the case of marriage the determination is singular and unique. A couple married or not, period. There is no such thing as married in some respects and not married in other respects. If it were possible to have degrees of marriage, it would be to propose yet another logical contradiction, that one could be married and not married at one and the same time. It is analogous to a mother being pregnant. She is either pregnant or she is not, she cannot be somewhat pregnant or gradually pregnant. Seeking some status to accommodate other "unions," is in my view, again, a futile exercise. Sacraments affect the grace they signify upon completion of the sacrament, after the rite of baptism you are baptized. Before baptism, you are not. If there is a valid, sacrament the reality of the sacrament takes effect immediately. 

The commandments and the law of God are also not subject to graduality. It is not possible to believe that the prohibition against fornication applies as a prohibition gradually to different people. If not, someone could therefore be licitly fornicating for some months, others for some years as the commandment applies differently to each person. Who could with certainty of truth imply that for some couples the prohibition of the commandment does not apply yet? This is to empty revelation of its clear meaning. It matters little if they cannot change doctrine; the effect in practice is to make the teaching of Christ and the Church vacuous, in practice. Again, all this is impossible from a philosophical, theological, and ethical perspective. 

Q. There has been a lot of talk about mercy before and during the synod, what is your view on mercy as the justification for these new pastoral approaches? 

A. It seems to me at the heart of the matter lies yet another problem that has been afflicting the opinions of more than one bishop at the synod. This problem is the lack of and great need in the age of postmodernity for proper operational definitions of terms. There seems to be in our day and age a great deal of confusion about the meanings of all sorts of things, family, unions, gender, homosexual tendencies, doctrine vs. discipline, dogma vs. pastoral practice, and much more. Mercy as a virtue is most necessary in the Church, but it unfortunately does not escape the deconstruction of postmodern thinking in our times. Mercy denotes, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, "...a kind of sorrow" (Summa Theologica II-IIae, Q.30, a.1-a.4) – sorrow for the plight of another. The origin of this sorrow is originated necessarily from the recognition of a privation of a good in the person for which one feels "… a kind of sorrow." This privation of a good could be physical, moral, spiritual, or for any other reason. Therefore, to properly understand mercy as a virtue one must first recognize the inadequacy, defect, lack of a perfection or goodness in the person one feels sorrow for. This implies, of course, recognition of the privation of good in all the cases being addressed at the synod – divorced and remarried (without a previous annulment), those cohabitating outside of marriage, homosexual "unions," and the rest. Mercy is impossible even as a feeling without the recognition of the objective deficiency present, for it is in the recognition of the deficiency that mercy as a feeling originates. 

But more is needed to actually attain mercy as a virtue. A feeling is not a virtue. We all have feelings, many beyond rational control. But a feeling of sorrow for someone’s plight is far from constituting the virtue of mercy. Thomas distinguishes between "a feeling of sorrow," which is not more than a movement of the sensitive appetite, a passion and mercy which is the virtue. The feeling by itself does not constitute the virtue of mercy. For mercy to exist as a virtue, (which I take is what really is of value), mercy must be "…a movement of the intellective appetite…" This movement, for mercy to be an actual virtue, must be ruled, "…in accordance with reason and in accordance with this movement regulated by reason, the movement of the lower appetite (the feeling of sorrow), may be regulated." 

The "feeling of sorrow," is not mercy. It must be regulated to be a virtue by adherence through right reason to the good and to that which is true. It seems to me much of what we have today is feeling sorry that someone cannot receive communion. But to assert that this feeling is a manifestation of the virtue of mercy is just simply a bad theoretical error. 

Furthermore, to determine the defect in a relationship for which one "feels sorry," requires a judgment. Therefore to oppose a judgment of the mind to mercy is to be speaking of emotive mercy (irrational feeling), vs. the virtue of mercy which requires reason and judgment. Much of what today is being called mercy is nothing more than a feeling by which no serious judgments, let alone pastoral practice or doctrinal determinations, can be made. 

Finally as Thomas teaches, quoting St. Augustine, the virtue of mercy exists as, "… this movement of the mind (i.e. not feeling) obeys reason, when mercy is vouchsafed in such a way that justice is safeguarded, whether we give to the needy or forgive the repentant." (De Civ. Dei ix. 5). 

Pseudo mercy or emotive mercy - just feeling sorry for someone - is what sustains flawed arguments in cases such as euthanasia, "mercy killing." Indeed one may have "a feeling of sorrow," for the plight of an older person who is suffering. But this is not a virtue it is just a sentiment. To propose putting them to death to alleviate their suffering is a departure from reason and does not secure the obligations of justice to the sick and disabled. This is not the virtue of mercy. Equally to destroy the unborn, for reasons of mercy” - they have Down syndrome, they will suffer, they are not wanted - is irrational and unjust. 

I think much of the debate has been between those who think mercy is an irrational feeling, emotive mercy against those who are upholding the real virtue of mercy, which requires, reason, a judgment of the mind, the recognition of the lack of good in a situation and the absolute need for securing through right thinking the ends of justice, truth, and goodness. 


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