Wednesday, November 27, 2019

On Catholicism and Nationalism

It's no secret that identity politics have entered the Church in a big way. It seems that very public Catholics from all sides are talking about it: Dawn Eden Goldstein, Sohrab Ahmari, Matthew Schmitz, Faith Goldy, Nick Fuentes, etc.

We see a lot of denunciations and counter-denunciations, disavowals and counter-disavowals. What we don't see much of is serious, articulate discussion of the ideas upon which the issues rest.*

In the hope of facilitating such discussion, I'd like to propose a list of questions. They're obviously heavy on the theoretical side, and this is intentional. I'm not particularly interested in practical applications until universal principles have been sufficiently clarified. As I've said before, a society can endure disagreement in its members with regard to the means whereby the end of society, i.e., the common good, is to be achieved. But where there is fundamental disagreement as to the nature of the end itself, there is, in fact, no society at all. And this is particularly true in the present case.

That is to say, without clarification of these fundamental issues, debate among Catholics over the current political situation becomes pointless and even counter-productive.

I think it's high time for those who enjoy engaging in these issues to get down to brass tacks and tell us exactly what they think the Catholic position is or should be on these questions.

Questions regarding Catholicism and Nationalism

  • What is the Nation? What is the State? What is the People?
  • How does the Nation differ from the State?
  • How does the Nation differ from the People?
  • What is Nationalism? What is Civic Nationalism? What is Ethnic Nationalism? 
  • How does Nationality differ from Nationalism?
  • Is Nationality a natural good? If so, when is the State obliged to respect it? To defend it? To supress or intervene in it?
  • Does Catholicism have a preferred State model with regard to Nations and/or Nationality?
  • Is Nationality an obstacle or an asset to the proper functioning of the State? To the life of the People?
  • What is the Catholic understanding of the Nation-State?
  • To what extent, if any, is the modern Nation-State a manifestation of the demise of Catholic Christendom?
  • What is the Catholic understanding of the Multinational or Plurinational State?
  • To what extent, if any, are Civic Nationalism, Plurinationalism, and Ethnic Nationalism at odds with each other? To what extent are they compatible?

*NB: I exclude Dr. E. Michael Jones from this accusation. Unfortunately, his work is so politically charged  - in the age of political correctness, one can say "toxic" - that few public Catholics are willing to seriously and thoughtfully engage with it, and are instead happy to summarily dismiss it as "fringe," "cranky," or "antisemitic." Their loss, frankly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Not Traditionalist, Simply Catholic: An Interview with Fr. Bernhard Gerstle (FSSP)

The Society of St. Pius X should be known to many. But the Fraternity of St. Peter? In this interview, Father Bernhard Gerstle, German District Superior, speaks about the objectives of the Fraternity.

Over at OnePeterFive, Maike Hickson provides a few choice quotations from a recent interview with Fr. Bernhard Gerstle of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). For those who would like to learn the context of the various statements quoted in Hickson's report, I provide a full translation of the original article below, without comment. - RC


Fr. Bernhard Gerstle, FSSP
Q.: Fr. Gerstle, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) arose by breaking away from the Society of St. Pius X. You were directly involved. What exactly happened? 

A.: I entered the Society seminary in Zaitzkofen in the Fall of 1985, and hoped that there would be a reconciliation with Rome as soon as possible, as there were favorable indications at that time. A shift occurred in 1986 as a result of the interreligious summit at Assisi, which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre rejected. Efforts were made on the part of Rome, especially by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to prevent the unauthorized episcopal consecrations of 1988 and come to a mutual understanding. This was almost achieved via a written agreement, which was signed but then rejected by Lefebvre shortly thereafter. I think the whole thing came about due to a lack of trust toward Rome.

Q.: And you, as well as other members of the Society, didn't want to go along with the coming break?

A.: The decision was clear to me from the beginning: in case of a break with Rome, I would stand on the side of the pope. Many of my confrères desired reconciliation with Rome, but didn't risk taking the leap. Thus, it was only a few priests and seminarians who then left the Society. The foundation and ecclesial recognition of the Fraternity of St. Peter - which came about largely as a result of the efforts of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger - was unforeseeable at that time.

Q.: In what ways does the FSSP distinguish itself from the Society of St. Pius X?

A.: First, one has to recognize that there are different currents within the Society. One must distinguish between the moderates and the hardliners. There exists a larger number of moderate priests, especially within the German-speaking region, who want to avoid a permanent break with Rome and are interested in an agreement. Then there are the hardliners who largely reject the Second Vatican Council - for example, freedom of religion or ecumenism - and of these, there are some who even doubt the validity of the new liturgy. The Fraternity of St. Peter, on the other hand, agreed to undertake an impartial study of the documents of the Council and has come to believe that there is no break with earlier magisterial teaching. Nonetheless, some documents are formulated in such a way as to give rise to misunderstandings. Since then, however, Rome has issued relevant clarifications, which the Society of St. Pius X should recognize.

Q.: Are there any additional differences?

A.: It is for us a matter of course that the 1983 Code of Canon Law is normative. It appears to me that, for the Society of St. Pius X, there remains here a need for additional clarification. Also, phrases such as "Institutional Church" (Amtskirche) or "Conciliar Church" (Konzilskirche) are to be avoided. We reject them not only because they suggest a kind of distance, but also because, for us, there is no "pre-" and "post-Conciliar" Church. There is only the one Church, which goes back to Christ. Additionally, our apostolate always operates with the consent of local bishops and priests, and we work to maintain good relations. Almost everywhere we are active, our priests have a good relationship to the local ordinaries. We do not want to polarize or divide; on the contrary, we attempt to convey an ecclesial attitude to the faithful in the communities we serve. This means that, while those grievances and abuses which undeniably take place in the Church must be addressed, this must be done in a differentiated and moderate manner.

Q.: Nonetheless, the FSSP, like the Society of St. Pius X, is described as "traditionalist." Do you like hearing that?

A.: I don't like hearing the term at all. We are not "traditionalists;" we're simply Catholics. And as Catholics, we treasure Tradition. But not in the sense that we completely block ourselves off from organic adaptations and changes.

Q.: What are the core objectives of the FSSP?

A.: First and foremost, the celebration of the liturgy in the Extraordinary Latin Form. To strive for the reverent celebration of Holy Mass combined with faithful preaching is an important service in the interest of the Church. Concern for salvation of souls, as Pope Francis is fond of stressing, must remain our central objective. We must once again communicate to people that eternal life is at stake, which is decided here on earth. Especially the message of Fatima, where the Mother of God appeared a century ago, should be brought to the fore in the minds of the people. Unfortunately, the Last Things have been pushed into the background by matters of secondary concern over the past few decades, such that many Christians no longer understand what life is about. This has led to a downplaying of sin and a large-scale collapse of the discipline of confession.

Q.: Do you reject the new liturgy?

A.: We recognize the new liturgy as valid and licit. But we do not close our eyes to the fact that the liturgical reform brought with it many developments which have taken on a life of their own and which lead away from the meaning of the Mass according to the Faith of the Church. The sacrificial character is frequently pushed into the background, or there is a lack of reverence shown toward the Blessed Sacrament. We are very thankful that Pope Benedict XVI pointed out these negative developments. For example, celebrating ad orientem and the reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue are barely practiced today. The question poses itself whether the changes made to the external form have facilitated a rather protestantized understanding of the Mass among priests and laity.

Q.: This wouldn't have happened if we had retained the "Old Mass," in your opinion?

A.: Presumably not to this extent. Surely, this isn't to be attributed solely to the changes in the liturgy. The training of priests today must also be reconsidered. But the liturgy is an important part of the whole - after all, it is the visible expression of the Faith. It is precisely the many signs of reverence and adoration prescribed by the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, as well as its prayers, which make explicit the sacrificial character of the Mass and express the great Mystery taking place on the altar.

Q.: The Council called for a more active participation of the faithful. How can this be realized in the old liturgy when the priest is more or less the sole actor and the Latin language represents an obstacle to conscious engagement?

A.: One must examine the conciliar document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, very closely. One observes significant discrepancies in comparison to what was later put into practice. For example, the text never mentions that the Latin language should be abandoned, merely that the local vernacular should be given due place. And this is something that we actually practice insofar as, for example, the readings in our Masses are recited in German. Nearly all the faithful who come to us have a German-Latin missal, and they manage quite well. I don't see language as an obstacle to conscious engagement in the Mass.

Q.: But what about the active participation of the faithful?

A.: In my opinion, the Council didn't intend for as many laypeople as possible to serve as liturgical actors within the sanctuary. Rather, that the faithful should be drawn more intensly into the unfolding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This does not mean activism, but rather that they participate through reaping greater spiritual fruits. In the past, many simply prayed the Rosary during the Mass. The Council wanted to put a stop to that and motivate the faithful to a more conscious participation in the Mass.

Q.: With his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI granted a general allowance for the celebration of the old liturgy. Are things supposed to go back to how they were before the reform of the liturgy?

A.: I realize that we can't simply re-introduce the old liturgy in parishes everywhere and, as it were, impose it upon the people.  That just won't work. As I see it, Pope Benedict intended to set a standard for the Reform of the Reform. Both forms of the Rite should enrich each other mutually. I am convinced that certain elements of the old liturgy could improve the new, and also that elements of the new liturgy could enrich the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite: I'm thinking, for example, of the broader lectionary, or a period of quiet reflection after the reception of Holy Communion. Likewise, the calendar for the Extraordinary Form should be updated in the foreseeable future.

Q.: So, you're expecting a new liturgical reform?

A.: I don't think this is an issue at the moment. Pope Francis is not as concerned with the liturgy as was Pope Benedict. He has other priorities. Nonetheless, it should be noted that interest for the old liturgy, especially among younger clerics, is growing. An increasing number of priests celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form at least occasionally. This, in turn, influences the manner in which the new Mass is celebrated, so that the Sacred becomes more apparent.

Q.: In the German Church, dwindling vocations are a big problem. Does the FSSP share this concern?

A.: Of course we are impacted by the problems of the age. After all, we don't live in isolation. Though, we did have a total of 16 priestly ordinations last year. Both of our seminaries - in Wigratzbad in Allgäu and in Denton in the US - are filled with over 100 seminarians. The average age of our priests is currently 37 years. All in all, we're doing quite well, but it's not as though we are drowning in vocations.

Q.: What about the number of faithful?

A.: In the German-language region, we have 23 branches or houses through which other apostolates are conducted. The number of faithful varies considerably. In the larger communities, between 100 and 180 faithful attend Sunday Mass. The trend, however, is upward. Moreover, all age groups are represented, though in our communities, the average age of the faithful is considerably younger than in other parishes.

Q.: Why is that? Do young people feel attracted to the old liturgy?

A.: In a certain sense, the old liturgy is the new liturgy for young people. They read about it on the internet and become interested.  They come to our Masses out of curiosity, and are often fascinated by the atmosphere of the sacred. Of course, this has to be followed up with good catechesis and pastoral services. When that happens, then people come to see that we can offer them the spiritual food that they need.

Q.: Rumor has it that an agreement between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X is on the horizon. How is the relationship between the Fraternity and the Society today, and what does the future hold?

A.: Recently, there have been multiple indications that an agreement with Rome is coming. It cannot be overlooked that there has been a certain opening on the part of the official leadership of the Society over the last few years. Some of their priests are also strengthening their contact with us. The moderate wing is apparently ready for an agreement, which is being energetically pursued by Rome and the current pope. Still, the hardline wing remains. The Society has to accept the possibility of significant losses, perhaps even an internal split. I think that the current Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, will have to decide between unity with Rome and unity within the Society. The realists among the leadership will hopefully recognize that there is no alternative to reconciliation with Rome.

(Original [German]:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

On Vacation

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Carmel. It also happens to be my birthday, as well as the first day of my children's summer vacation. I shall be taking some time off - perhaps as much as a few weeks - to spend with my family, to refocus my prayer life, and to decompress from the recent events in the Church and the world. If you've enjoyed and/or benefited from this little blog-shaped effort, please consider saying a short prayer for its editor, a sinner.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Last week, the good people at OnePeterFive were gracious enough to publish an article I wrote entitled Pornography and the Prophet: Islam, Feminism and the Myth of the "Willing Whore." In the article, I discuss the very real threat that unregulated immigration from Muslim countries represents to European women. If you haven't read it, you can do so here.

I admit that, after having done a fair amount of research for the article, I have become more sensitive to the issue than I was before. But I don't go scouring the internet for stories which might substantiate my findings. Nonetheless, when they pop up in my news feed or Twitter timeline, I pass them along. Today, I started re-tweeting them with the hashtag #ShariaRape. This made me aware of just how many cases there are right now. These all appeared within the space of an hour:

I'm not a hashtag activist or whatever, I just decided to start indexing cases to make it easier to find them in the future. If you're on Twitter, please consider doing the same. If there is any kind of response, I might do a follow-up story in the future.

Christian Initiation in the Third Century

Reading N°56 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

In the third century, initiation into the Christian life was by Baptism, preceded by the catechumenate, and immediately followed by Confirmation and participation in the Holy Eucharist. When a pagan, disillusioned from the mysteries of his religion or touched by the courage of the martyrs or by the example of Christian virtues, comes to the bishop to ask for a share in the Christian mysteries, the bishop first makes him undergo a probation, vaguely mentioned by Hermas[1] and St. Justin,[2] clearly organized in the time of Tertullian,[3] and called the catechumenate. For several days, the postulant remains at the entrance to the Christian meeting during the celebration of the mysteries, for, right after the first prayers, the deacons exclude the catechumens. But the Church gives him instruction apart.[4] She then requires that he "renounce the devil and his pomp and his angels,"[5] that he prepare for the solemn initiation by prayer, fasting, vigils, and confession of his sins.[6] Such, at least, was the rule at Carthage, as described by Tertullian. He says that the Church is thus exacting with the candidate for Baptism in order to be assured that he will not fall back into sin once he is baptized.[7] The Church should be composed only of saints.

3rd century representation of Baptism
Catacomb of Ss. Marcellinus and Peter
Then comes the day of Baptism, "illumination," "reconciliation," "palingenesis" (new birth) as it is called.[8] Regularly the candidate is dipped three times in the water, in memory of Christ's burial; his threefold coming out of the water symbolizes the mystery of the Resurrection. At each immersion, the name of one of the three divine persons is pronounced.[9] In case of necessity, however, especially in case of sickness, Baptism was conferred by sprinkling or pouring. Some paintings of the third centtlry depict ceremonies which may go back to the end of the second century, showing the candidate standing in the baptistry, with the water reaching to his knees, and being sprinkled on the head.[10]

The days especially reserved for the initiation of the catechumens are the Saturday before Easter and the Saturday before Pentecost, but Tertullian declares that, strictly speaking, Baptism may be conferred on any Sunday or even on any ordinary day.[11]

When the baptismal ceremony is over, the new Christian is clothed in a white garment and introduced into the assembly of the faithful. The bishop, seated, presides at the meeting. The priests, at the bishop's side, and the deacons, whose duty it is to maintain order, are the only ones occupying places of honor. The rich are shoulder to shoulder with the poor, the freemen with the slaves. The newly initiated comes up to the bishop. The head of the Church, by the imposition of hands and anointing with holy chrism, confers on him the Sacrament of Confirmation, which makes him a perfect Christian and is looked upon as the complement of Baptism.[12]

At length the newly baptized is admitted to participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice. We have already given St. Justin's description of the principal ceremonies of this rite. Passages from Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and the canons of Hippolytus[13] enable us to complete the picture. From the middle of the second century, the "breaking of bread" is finally separated from the fraternal meal which accompanied it. The sacred function henceforth appears in all the purity of its rite, free from the abuses that so greatly afflicted St. Paul. We can easily imagille the neophyte's feeling when, for the first time, he was present at the mystery so long awaited.

3rd century representation of the Eucharist
Catacomb of Commodilla

A movement among the deacons and inferior ministers is a sign that the sacrifice is about to begin. Some go among the assembled faithful to see that each one stays in his proper place and to direct the liturgical acts; the others place on the altar the bread and the chalices prepared for the sacred repast.

"The Lord be with you all," says the bishop. "And with thy spirit," they respond. "Raise up your hearts," the bishop then says. To which they answer: "They are with the Lord." He continues: "It is fitting and just."

After several prayers, the chief of which is an invocation to the thrice holy God, the bishop, amid profound silence, slowly pronounces over the bread and wine the mysterious words first uttered by the Savior the night before He died. The mystery is consummated. Christ is on the altar, in the midst of His faithful, under the mystical veils of the consecrated elements. Again the prayer begins, more earnestly, addressed to the God here present, though invisible. Suddenly a deacon's voice cries out: "Sancta sanctis" (holy things are for the holy). "Amen," the people respond. The bishop receives communion, then the priests and deacons, and lastly all those present. The bishop lays the consecrated host in the communicant's right hand, which is open and held up by the left hand. The deacon holds the chalice, from which each one drinks directly. At each communion, the bishop says: "The body of Christ," and the deacon: "The blood of Christ." Each communicant responds "Amen."

When the communion is over, the deacon gives the signal for prayer. All pray, sometimes kneeling or even prostrate, in sign of humiliation and penance, sometimes standing up, with arms extended and the hands open like Jesus on the cross, to testify that they are ready to endure every suffering. Says Tertullian:
Thither [toward Heaven] we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed. [...] With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us - the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment.[14]


[1] Hermas, Visions, III, vii, 3.
[2] First Apology, 61.
[3] De praescr., 41. Tertullian's De poenitentia was addressed to catechumens.
[4] Idem, De baptismo, 1.
[5] Idem, De corona militis, 3.
[6] Idem, De baptismo, 20.
[7] Idem, De poenitentia, 6; De baptismo, 20.
[8] Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, I, 6.
[9] On the triple immersion, see Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 26.
[10] De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, II, 334.
[11] Tertullian, De baptismo, 19.
[12] On Confirmation, see St. Irenaeus, Haereres, IV, xxxviii, 2; Tertullian, De baptismo, 7f; St. Cyprian, Letters, 73. The Sacrament of Confirmation is sometimes called consignatio.
[13] The authority of Tertullian and St. Cyprian is well known. As to the Canons of Hippolytus, Batiffol says, "we possess no more complete and explicit description of the institutions of the early Church: it is a document of the highest rank." (Anciennes littératures chrétiennes, p. 158.) Save for a few easily recognized retouchings, the Canons of Hippolytus agree admirably with whatever we know about the liturgy in use at the beginning of the third century. (Ibid.)
[14] Tertullian, Apol., 30.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Ghost of John XXII: Prelates, Clerics & Scholars Request Clarification of Amoris Laetitia

Pope John XXII
During a sermon delivered on Gaudete Sunday, AD 1329, Pope John XXII made a statement - repeated on the Feast of All Saints, AD 1331 - which the pious considered scandalously offensive and the learned deemed potentially heretical: that the souls of those who have died in Christ will not enjoy the beatific vision until after the general judgment at the end of days. The statement might have received less attention than it did had it been made at some other period in Church history. As it happened, however, the Second Council of Lyons had solemnly defined in 1274 that "the souls of those who, after having received holy baptism, have incurred no stain of sin whatever, also those souls who, after contracting the stain of sin, either while remaining in their bodies of being divested of them, have been cleansed [...] are received immediately into heaven." While Pope John XXII's statement was not a direct contradiction of this definition - he did not deny that the blessed departed enter heaven immediately upon death, but merely that they enjoy the vision of the Divine Essence prior to the Resurrection - it came close enough to a contradiction that it raised serious concerns among the faithful. Theologians felt duty-bound to respond, and in 1333 a number of them gathered in Paris to evaluate the question on its theological merits, concluding that the opinion of the pope was, in fact, erroneous. Though John XXII initially attempted to quell any opposition to his view, going so far as to have a Dominican, Thomas of England, thrown into prison for contradicting him, he was eventually brought to his senses and retracted his statement before his death in AD 1334. His successor, Pope Benedict XII, went on to effectively censor John XXII's opinion - uttered not as pope, but as a private theologian - as heresy in his 1336 dogmatic constitution Benedictus Deus.

While not a particularly glorious moment for the papacy of John XXII, this incident nonetheless represents a victory for the Church insofar as it underscores the fact that all Catholics - including the Pope - are bound to uphold the truth and eschew error, regardless of its source.

And it is a lesson which bears repeating.

It cannot be denied that, like John XXII, Pope Francis has a penchant for dropping theological bombs in his sermons. It was, for example, in a sermon that he accused the Blessed Virgin Mary of doubting God, of wanting to say "Lies! I was deceived!" as she looked upon her Son suffering on the Cross. Note that this was not some unfortunate slip of the tongue: he repeated the scandalous claim, almost verbatim, two years later in a talk given to a group of gravely ill children. Though it appears to directly contradict the certain teaching of the Church on the freedom of the Blessed Virgin from all personal sin, this is evidently what Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, believes and teaches. A century ago, such a statement would have been unthinkable, and had it been uttered, would have provoked widespread shock and vociferous objection. Today, such things are hardly noticed, and when some poor soul feels obliged to speak up, he's shouted down as an uncharitable troublemaker. After all, we're told, only the weak of faith are scandalized by such things.

Pope Francis has made so many statements which are offensive to pious ears that one has to wonder whether this is an integral part of his method of evangelization, i.e., to garner attention by making a statement which smacks of heresy but, upon close inspection, merely flirts with it without crossing the line.[1] Engaging in this kind of rhetoric has a three-fold effect: (1) it thrills the heretics who are already on their way out of the Church, suggesting to them that they should bide their time as the Magisterium is about to give in to their demands, (2) it provides just enough cover to enable moderate commentators to run interference for the Pope, maintaining the illusion that "everything is awesome," (3) and it frustrates the orthodox while simultaneously rendering them virtually powerless in their efforts to restore doctrinal and liturgical order: if they remain silent, they are seen as giving tacit approval to the implied heresy; if they speak up, they are reprimanded for impugning the impeccable orthodoxy of the Pope and fomenting a "schismatic mentality".

While many have grown tired of parsing the sloppy theology of the Pope's private sermons and disarming the pastoral zingers he regularly delivers at 30,000 feet, prelates and scholars have remained attentive to the official statements made by Pope Francis wherever they touch upon matters of faith and morals. As done retroactively with John XXII, Pope Francis has been given more or less carte blanche as a private theologian; it is when he speaks in his capacity as Supreme Pontiff that his words are held to the loftier standard of Tradition. Thus, when the Pope issued Amoris Laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation which followed the 2014-15 Synod on the Family, his words came under an appreciable amount of careful scrutiny by cleric and scholar alike.

  • U.S. Jesuit James V. Schall has described key sections of Amoris Laetitia as "an exercise in sophisticated casuistry."
  • German philosopher Robert Spaemann remarked that "chaos has been turned into a principle with one stroke of a pen. The Pope should have known that he will split the Church with such a step and that he leads her into the direction of a schism - a schism that would be not at the periphery, but in the middle of the Church."
  • American professor of philosophy and theology Peter Kwasniewski noted that Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia poses "a serious problem in moral theology and contradicts not only Veritatis Splendor but the entire framework of Christian ethics that we see in the New Testament, in the [Church] Fathers, in St. Thomas, in [the Council of] Trent, wherever you look."
  • Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in response to an open letter from the president of American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Christopher A. Ferrara, noted: "In using our reason and in respecting the proper sense of the words, one can hardly interpret some expressions in Amoris Laetitia according to the holy immutable Tradition of the Church."
  • U.S. philosopher and former dean of the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America Jude P. Dougherty observed: "Authors and telecasters use [equivocation] when they are not sure of the facts. Politicians often employ it in creating legislation that subsequently permits freedom of contradictory interpretation by courts, regulators, and prosecutors. Pope Francis, who never speaks clearly, uses it to such an extent that in doctrinal matters what was certain before has become problematic."
  • Cardinal Carlo Caffarra recently remarked: "His Holiness realizes that the teachings of the Exhortation could give rise to confusion in the Church. Personally, I wish - and that is how so many of my brothers in Christ (cardinals, bishops, and the lay faithful alike) also think - that the confusion should be removed."

While each of these men is to be commended for speaking out, it is clear that, as individuals, they can accomplish very little in the way of moving Pope Francis to clarify the true intent behind the words of the Exhortation. Together, however, such critics might have a better chance. It is, therefore, unsurprising to learn that a group of prelates, clerics, scholars and professors have done just that.

A statement released by Dr. Joseph Shaw yesterday reads as follows:
A group of Catholic academics and pastors has submitted an appeal to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome, requesting that the Cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition His Holiness, Pope Francis, to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from a natural reading of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. During the coming weeks this submission will be sent in various languages to every one of the Cardinals and Patriarchs, of whom there are 218 living at present. 
Describing the exhortation as containing “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals,” the signatories submitted, along with their appeal, a documented list of applicable theological censures specifying “the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris Laetitia.” 
Among the 45 signatories are Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world. They have asked the College of Cardinals, in their capacity as the Pope's official advisers, to approach the Holy Father with a request that he repudiate “the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris Laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.” 
“We are not accusing the pope of heresy,” said a spokesman for the authors, “but we consider that numerous propositions in Amoris Laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.” 
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “According to the knowledge, competence, and expertise which they possess, they [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful” (CIC, can. 212 §3). 
The thirteen-page document quotes nineteen passages in the exhortation which seem to conflict with Catholic doctrines. These doctrines include the real possibility with the grace of God of obeying all the commandments, the fact that certain kinds of act are wrong in all circumstances, the headship of the husband, the superiority of consecrated virginity over the married life, and the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances.  The document also argues that the exhortation undermines the Church's teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who have made no commitment to continence cannot be admitted to the sacraments while they remain in that state. 
The spokesman said, “It is our hope that by seeking from our Holy Father a definitive repudiation of these errors we can help to allay the confusion already brought about by Amoris Laetitia among pastors and the lay faithful.  For that confusion can be dispelled effectively only by an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching by the Successor of Peter.”
In a subsequent clarification, Dr. Shaw revealed that, though the names of the 45 signatories have not been released to the public, they are attached to the document sent to Cardinal Sodano and will be known to all 218 Cardinals and Patriarchs of the Church. The reason for this anonymity appears to be less the fear of reprisal and more the fear of causing additional public scandal. As Dr. Shaw noted on Twitter:

It would be naive to assume that this action alone will move the Cardinals to make a formal petition to Pope Francis to repudiate any erroneous propositions contained in Amoris Laetitia. Nonetheless, it is a potentially significant step in that direction, particularly if it contains the request that Pope Francis provide "an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching." Admitting that the document contains error is one thing. Refusing to publicly confirm authentic Catholic teaching, on the other hand, is an altogether different matter. Pope Francis can easily avoid the former; the latter is much more difficult to avoid and, if done intentionally, can be used as evidence of obstinacy - something even Pope John XXII was careful to avoid.


[1] This is not unlike the popular "shocking statement" meme, of which there are literally thousands of iterations:

In modern parlance, one could say the Pope is "trolling" us.