A short reflection on the critics of the four cardinals

Bishop Papamanolis, President of the Greek Bishops’ Conference, says they are guilty of apostasy, sacrilege and heresy and their actions will lead to schism. Msgr. Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, suggested that the Pope should take their titles away. What have the targets of such strong accusations done, and who are they?

They are the four cardinals who, earlier this month, published a letter to Pope Francis, asking for clarification on several points from his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, which I wrote about two weeks ago. Apparently, sincere and honest questions deserve such mindless reactions.

Cardinal Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner went out of their way to prevent contributions like this to the debate. They acknowledged not just their own duty as cardinals, but also the authority and respect due to the Holy Father, and hoped “to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect”. Well, Bishop Papamanolis, Msgr. Pinto, and more than a few others, your contributions are about as far removed from calmness and respect as possible.

Any scandal in this affair does not come from the four cardinals. Their letter flows from their duty as cardinals and reflects Pope Francis’ clear and frequent request for an open and honest debate. That other prelates (and not only prelates) resort to namecalling and unfounded claims of heresy and threats of punishment is a scandalous denial of their own pastoral and fraternal obligations, and can only detract from what the Church needs and the Pope so clearly desires.

Four cardinals to the Pope – An honest contribution to the debate

Four cardinals – in some ways, four usual suspects – have written to the Pope about Amoris laetitia, asking for clarification about certain issues which have given many writers a lot to write about already. And while some – although fewer than I initially expected – have chosen to see this as a challenge against Pope Francis, it is an attempt to insert some clarity into a sensitive and difficult issue.

4cardinalsCardinals Walter Brandmüller (President emeritus of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences), Raymond Burke (Patron of the Order of Malta), Carlo Caffarra (Archbishop emeritus of Bologna) and Joachim Meisner (Archbishop emeritus of Cologne) published their September letter to Pope Francis today, after having received no papal reply. In the foreword to the letter, which can be read in full here, they express an awareness of the risk they run of being disregarded “as adversaries of the Holy Father and people devoid of mercy”. This is a real risk, as too often any sense of apparent disagreement with Pope Francis, or even, as here, a request for more clarity, is seen as an adversarial attack on the Holy Father. What many forget is that Pope Francis has frequently asked for such debate, not least during the Synod of Bishops, but certainly also in its aftermath across the world.

The fact that this letter has received no response seems perhaps a bit at odds with this request for open and honest debate, but perhaps it is wisest to see this, as the four cardinals do, “as an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect.”

The format of the letter is interesting, as it does not invite for a long explanatory answer, but a simple yes or no. This reflects the fact that underneath our pastoral action, there is a solid basis of doctrine, which does not change with the situation. This basis does not exist for itself, but for us, as it shows the way towards the objective truth that is Christ and His teaching.

There is more at stake than being nice in the discussion about marriage and divorce, and sin and mercy. The letter reflects that, as it raises important questions that need asking. It is not a matter of using the writings of one Pope against that of another, but taking the writings of both seriously.

The letter of the four cardinals deserves to be taken seriously, even though it is not something that can be directly applied in pastoral practice. Rather, it concerns itself with what comes before, what dictates the forms our pastoral practice can take. Hopefully, it will one day receive an answer from either Pope Francis or Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to whose attention the letter was also addressed.

More than just receiving – After Amoris laetitia, some thoughts on Communion and being Catholic

Communion-WafersAlmost a month since the publication of Amoris laetitia, it becomes untenable to claim that the notorious footnote 351 somehow opens the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. The debate is far from over, but over the course of the past weeks there have been an increasing number of authorities who explained that, no, this is not what the Pope intended to say. Cardinals Christoph Schönborn – named by Pope Francis to have given the right interpretation of the entire document -, Walter Brandmüller and Gerhard Müller are among these. The teaching on the subject as written down by Pope Saint John Paul II in Familiaris consortio remains current. And it couldn’t be any different, as Cardinal Burke also emphasised: an Apostolic Exhortation does not have the intention or authority to change doctrine.

I have been among those who have accussed Pope Francis of being unclear on this topic, but he isn’t really. It’s just that he never intended Amoris laetitia to give an authoritative solution, but to urge pastors and faithful to be creative and come up with solutions within the framework of the teachings of the Catholic Church. We must read the text with his emphases and focus, not our own.

Personally I find one of the clearest, and most often overlooked, points to be that the Catholic Church knows seven sacraments, of which the Eucharist is one. The footnote speaks only of ‘sacraments’, which in certain cases may be a help to couples who live in socalled irregular situations. This must, the Pope clearly indicates time and again, be decided on a case by case basis, conscious of the sensitive situation they might be in, and I can imagine that the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Confession can all certainly get a look in in these decisions. The possible solution presented in footnote 351 is therefore of a greater scope than what the vast majority of commenters – on both sides of the issue – have been saying.

And here we find a major cause of the problem: apparently, so many people think, you’re not really a part of the Church unless you receive Holy Communion. And not only that, there exists a right to receive Communion. This is both blatantly untrue. Our Catholic identity is in the first place not based in Communion but in Baptism, and secondly it extends far further than the act of receiving (or, in too many cases, taking) Communion. Unless we realise that, we are doomed to remain focussed on the question of who can and can not receive and thus, who is and is not really a part of our Catholic community. Pope Francis is determined to fight this latter idea, and if we are to side with him in that fight, we must re-evaluate our ideas about Holy Communion.

But let no one think I consider Eucharist and Communion not really that important. The Eucharist is the most valuable treasure the Church has. It is Christ, and the Church physically gives Him to the people. There can be no greater gift. This dictates how we relate to this sacrament. An honest desire to receive Communion is a good thing: we desire to receive Christ, make Him a part of ourselves, or ourselves a part of Him (Communion is like eating, but also completely unlike eating).

However, the Eucharist also inspires us, enables us to be Catholic, live a Christian life. This is expressed in prayer, in charity, in the works of mercy (both spiritual and corporal) and in every part of our lives. Or it should be. The proper understanding and relation with Christ in the Eucharist is a necessity in making it work in us. I have compared it to medication (in a field hospital, if you will): if we don’t change our lives and avoid what makes us sick, no amount of pills is going to make us better.

Holy Communion is a gift, and we are asked to not only accept it but make it fruitful in us. And sometimes we can’t. The situation of a family in which one of the spouses was previously married, but who both have the responsibility for children born in that second relationship, is an example. It is an objective fact, in which accusations and responsibility play no part, that this couple lives in an irregular situation and therefore can not receive Communion. But our Catholic faith is greater than that, and by no means are these people excluded from the most holy. Even being in the presence of the Holy Eucharist can be a sanctifying event, which is why the Holy Father emphases the importance of Adoration. The sacrament of Confession, to which footnote 351 is also open, can be a powerful help for people in this situation, even when they can’t change their objectively sinful situation.

We must not downplay the value of Communion, but neither should we deny the power of the Eucharist and the inspiration and strength it gives us to live Christian lives, even if we can’t physically receive it. Prayer, Confession, charity, mercy, solidarity are all fruits of the eternal sacrifice of Christ which, ever new, comes to us through the Eucharist. Let us emphasise what we can, and not what we can’t.

Pope Francis settles some questions

pope-francis-interview-1980284w300In a new interview for Argentine daily La Nación, Pope Francis settles some quite determined rumours. We’ve heard some already, from either the Holy Father or various level-headed commentators. I want to highlight a few, which I think shed a new or valuable light on matters.

Pope Francis offers some criticism of how some people write, speak or think about him.

“In general people don´t read about what is going on. Somebody did say to me once, “Of course, of course. Insight is so good for us but we need clearer things”. And I answered, “Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I´m permanently making statements, giving homilies; that´s teaching. That´s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out, it´s very clear. Evangelii Gaudium is very clear”.

I’ve said it about Pope Francis’ predecessor, but it is equally true (if sometimes a bit more difficult) of Pope Francis: want to know what the Pope said? Read the Pope, not the media.

About the reassignment of Cardinal Raymond Burke, considered by many to be the result of some disagreement with the Pope:

“One day Cardinal Burke asked me what he would be doing as he had still not been confirmed in his position, in the legal sector, but rather had been confirmed “donec alitur provideatur“. And I answered “Give me some time because we are thinking of a legal restructuring of the G9”. I told him nothing had been done about it yet and that it was being considered. After that the issue of the Order of Malta cropped up and we needed a smart American who would know how to get around and I thought of him for that position. I suggested this to him long before the synod. I said to him “This will take place after the synod because I want you to participate in the synod as Dicastery Head”. As the chaplain of Malta he wouldn´t have been able to be present. He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer, I even think he liked it. Because he is a man that gets around a lot, he does a lot of travelling and would surely be busy there. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.”

And lastly, about Colonel Anrig, the commander of the Swiss Guard, who was recently dismissed:

“Last year, two months after my election, [Colonel Anrig’s] five year term expired. Then I told the Secretary of State – Pietro Parolin wasn’t there yet – that I could neither appoint him or dismiss him, because I didn’t know the man. So I decided to extend his mandate with the typical formula “donec alitur provideatur“, “until provided otherwise.” It seemed unfair to make a decision at that time, one way or the other. Then I learnt more about all that, I visited the barracks, I spent an afternoon with the Swiss Guards, I also stayed for dinner one evening, I got to know the people and I felt a renovation would be healthy. It was a mere renewal, because his term was over and it is healthy to know that nobody is eternal. So I talked to him and we agreed that he was leaving by the end of the year. He knew that since July.

[…]

It is a change, a normal change. He is an excellent person, a very good Catholic, a family man.

[…]

He is a good Christian, a believer, a very good man, I have an excellent relationship with him, so I talked with him face to face and said: “Look, I prefer a renewal”. There was is nothing unusual in it. There’s no fault in him, no blame.”

Rumours and gossip are appealing, because they present events that are more interesting and exciting, or suit our own understanding and wishes better. They are not, however, by definition, true, as these explanations by Pope Francis show. He is, after all, one who should know better than any of us what really happened.

Musical chairs in the Curia – some thoughts about the latest changes

There’s much to say about Pope Francis’ most recent Curia reshuffle, and a lot has already been said. But, whether you think the changes are good or bad, they are most certainly interesting.

Cardinal-BurkeThe most visible change is of course the transfer of Raymond Cardinal Burke from the Apostolic Signatura to the Order of Malta. Many see this as a demotion, and in a way that is understandable. As Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura his influence on what the Church does with marriage annulments and other difficult legal issues was great. Now he is the Patron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, a body which offers medical and emergency aid to people all over the world, boasting about 20,000 medical personnel and 80,000 volunteers to make a major difference in disaster areas and for refugees and the sick. The Order retains a level of independence from the time when it was sovereign over Rhodes and later Malta. It has the status of Permanent Observer at the United Nations and issues its own passports. Cardinal Burke has become the Patron of this order and as such does not lead it (that is the duty of the Grand Master of the Order), but is responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and its relations with the Holy See.

There have been Patrons of the Order of Malta only since 1961, and all were cardinals who ended their career in the Church in this position. Cardinal Burke is 66, and many say that his career should be far from over, so this position seems hardly fitting for him. So has Pope Francis promoted Cardinal Burke away because he was an obstacle? The simple answer is that we don’t know, because neither the Pope nor the cardinal have made statements about it. Cardinal Burke did announce that his transfer was coming up (which is unusual in itself), but that is about as far as it goes. However, there are plenty of grounds to make assumptions, and many have done so. I don’t want to that, because, quite frankly, it doesn’t interest me to do so and I think that assumptions and gossip do more bad than good.

Cardinal Burke has been quite present in the media before, during and after the Synod, and he has been a consistent defender of the Catholic faith. It is sad that many don’t hear him because, in my opinion, his communication skills are less than optimal. Too often have there been statements which just begged to be misunderstood, such as when he said that there are faithful who feel as if the Church is sailing without a rudder. Many have seen this as outright criticism of Pope Francis, something that Cardinal Burke has denied. And a reading of his words support this, but that’s not what the audience hears. Subsequent corrections rarely reach their target. That has been a major problem for Cardinal Burke in recent months. It’s not that his words are wrong or his intentions are bad, on the contrary: he deserves to be heard, for what he says is valuable and wise. But communication is difficult, especially via the media. It is never objective, and people for images of people. Cardinal Burke, sadly, has generally become to be seen as a mean old traditionalist who hates mercy and doesn’t understand people. Fro what I gather from certain people who personally know the cardinal, that is far removed from the truth.

This, at least, gives a bit of a bad taste to his transfer, but it’s not all bad. When we heard from Cardinal Burke, it was rarely because of his function at the Signatura. And as Patron of the Order of Malta he is as free as ever to speak, explain and comment, even when his focus is on the charity work of the Order and the spiritual needs of its members.

***

tn_giobbe_gifMuch has been made about the fact that Cardinal Burke is very young to be named Patron of the Order of Malta. But is that really true? When we look back at previous Patrons, we see that 66-year-old Cardinal Burke is only slightly on the young side. Below I list his predecessors since the position was created in 1961, and their age upon their appointment:

  • Cardinal Paolo Giobbe, Patron from 1961 to 1969, aged 81 (pictured at right)
  • Cardinal Giacomo Violardo, Patron from 1969 to 1978, aged 71
  • Cardinal Paul-Pierre Philippe, Patron from 1978 to 1984, aged 73
  • Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Patron from 1984 to 1993, aged 71
  • Cardinal Pio Laghi, Patron from 1993 to 2009, aged 71
  • Cardinal Paolo Sardi, patron from 2010 to 2014, aged 76

So yes, Cardinal Burke is the youngest Patron to date, but the difference in age between him and the three next youngest is only five years. And even when we look at the number of previous assignments and offices held, Cardinal Burke does not stand out. He has held six previous offices, which is more than Cardinals Sardi, Philippe and Violardo. Only Cardinals Laghi and Baggio have held significantly more positions before being made Patron of the Order of Malta.

So, according to the numbers, Cardinal Burke stands out only slightly when it comes to age. The patronage of the Order of Malta has a reputation as being an end station with little importance. The members of the Order will perhaps conclude otherwise, and there is always the example of Cardinal Baggio, who combined it with the office of Chamberlain of the Church…

***

But the other two appointments that make up this round of Curia changes are also worth the attention as they raise their own questions and conclusions.

mambertiReplacing Cardinal Burke as Prefect of the Supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (and also as President of the Supreme Court of the Vatican City State) is Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. The Morocco-born French archbishop is a career diplomat, which makes his new appointment somewhat unexpected. As a diplomat, Archbishop Mamberti was Apostolic Nuncio to the ‘difficult’ countries Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia before being called to Rome in 2006 to become the second man at the Secretariat of State, the Secretary for Relations with States, often described as the Vatican ‘foreign affairs minister’. In recent years he has been especially concerned with the plight of Christians and other persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Archbishop Mamberti is titular archbishop of Sagone, and may well be a future cardinal. What the experienced diplomat will bring to the ecclesiastical courts remains to be seen, but a wide outlook influenced by various cultures and societies across the globe seems to be one aspect.

gallagherIn the final act of this curial musical chairs, the new Secretary for the Relations with States comes from England by way of Australia. Archbishop Paul Gallagher is the first Anglophone foreign minister and although he is also fluent in Italian, French and Spanish, his being a native English speaker should be a boon to the international outlook of the Secretariat of State and the Holy See.

Archbishop Gallagher comes from Liverpool and was a priest of that archdiocese until joining the Holy See diplomatic service in 1984. He served in various countries, but his first posting as Apostolic Nuncio, to Burundi, saw him succeeding an assassinated predecessor and he himself was the target of a bombing in 2008. He escaped unscathed as he was abroad at the time. He was later Nuncio to Guatemala and most recently to Australia. He is the titular archbishop of Hodelm and will likely remain so, as the position of Secretary for the Relation with States is traditionally not a cardinalatial position.

Once again, these changes show that Pope Francis does not necessarily choose the obvious candidates for the post, but does attach much weight to diplomatic experience. We see that in the choice of Archbishops Mamberti and Gallagher, and even in the transfer of Cardinal Burke, which may well serve in giving him additional international experience.

Two approaches – Cardinals Kasper and Burke

Catholic News Service has two video interviews out today, one with Cardinal Kasper, the other with Cardinal Burke. These two opponents in the debate about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics could not be more different in their thoughts about this, although both are united in emphasising that the upcoming Synod will be about so much more than this single question. On the other hand, Cardinal Kasper’s eagerness to grant interview after interview about it does seem to indicate that he thinks it is a very important topic indeed.

First, let’s listen to Cardinal Kasper:

Some thoughts: It is hard to get to the bottom of the cardinal’s argument here. Everything he says is nice and understanding, the sort of things we want to hear when we’re in a crisis of whatever sort. What strikes me is that the cardinal only speaks about the second marriage. What about the first? Was that not a loving one, where there no children there, did both spouses not have the intention to make it last? We know that, for some reason, it failed, so in the end it did not last. We know that in hindsight. How can we than say, beforehand, that the same will not be true for a second marriage? We hope it will last, that there won’t be any storms leading to a shipwreck, but we can’t know that.

A sacramental marriage can’t be broken. It can be, after due consideration by competent authorities, judged to have been invalid, after which there is no obstacle to enter into a proper valid marriage. But if the marriage has been valid, it can’t suddenly become invalid. What God has joined, let no man break asunder, after all. Sacraments are the bonds God forges with people and between people, which people freely accept (a sacrament, a marriage, is not valid when someone has been coerced into it).

Cardinal Kasper is right, though, when he says that we need to be careful in our language. Accusing a couple of adultery will probably do more bad than good. After all, the Church wants to help, and that’s impossible when you immediately accuse people, even if that accusation is correct according to the letter of the law.

Cardinal Burke then:

This a very factual approach. A true one, but very factual, and people who are divorced and remarried need much more than that. This is what the Synod is about: not about changing teaching, but about improving the pastoral approach to people, making the help and care of the Church be so much more effective and comforting.

Cardinal Burke also mentions the confusion that the whole debate has apparently caused for many people. People have the duty to be critical about what they read and hear, but the Church has a duty to be crystal clear about her teaching and the whys and wherefores of it.

The Synod will undoubtedly be discussing the proposals and the criticism against them. I dont expect, as Cardinal Burke hopes, that it will be settled so easily, but in the end, the focus will be much more on the pastoral care for divorced and remarried couples and not on adapting the teachings of the Church to suit the perceived needs of the times.

And that is, in the end, a far more interesting discussion: how can the Church, all the faithful, forever grow in living, sharing and communicating the Gospel?

The bigger question – Bishop Mutsaerts on the Synod

The Dutch bishops have not yet spoken much in public about the upcoming Synod, but today Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary of ‘s Hertogenbosch, does. And he makes a point that has been emphasised before by both Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke: the Synod is not about divorce, remarriage and admission to the Eucharist. The question is a bigger one, as Bishop Mutsaerts explains:

Bisschop Rob Mutsaerts“With the extraordinary Synod of the Family which opens on 5 October, Pope Francis mostly aims for a greater appreciation of the Christian marriage as a sacrament. It is clear that in today’s culture the Biblical vision on marriage and family is considered to be virtually unattainable, and is seen more as a burden than as good news. Perhaps that is the reason for Pope Francis to have scheduled the beatification of Paul VI at the end of the Synod, as a closing statement.

Paul VI was a staunch defender of Christian marriage. His famed and infamous encyclical Humanae Vitae, however, achieved the opposite according to public opinion. The Biblical ideal was almost completely forgotten. It is to be hoped that October’s  Synod will not result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. Expectations, after all, are high. Some fervently hope that the Pope will change the Church’s teaching about divorced and remarried people; others fear he will. That would result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. And that is exactly what Pope Francis is afraid of: “I have not been happy that so many people – even church people, priests – have said: “Ah, the Synod will be about giving communion to the divorced”, and went straight to that point”, the Pope told reporters on the return flight from Israel.

The questions is much broader. The family is in crisis. Young people rarely choose marriage. They choose others ways of living together. The family is in crisis because marriage is in crisis, according to the firm opinion of Francis.

I hope that the Pope will get the Synod he has in mind, and not the Synod which is mainly concerned with the single question of divorced and remarried faithful. That is certainly a genuine problem, but a far more complex problem lies at its root: few understand marriage as a Christian vocation, strengthened by sacramental mercy. Not without reason did the Pope give  it “The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelisation” as title, and he placed it as such emphatically within the context of evangelisation. Evangelisation is without meaning if we consider it without the Gospel. The words of Jesus to both the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery was hard to accept for those who heard it then and those who hear it now. Don’t forget that the Apostles thought that Jesus’ teachings about marriage were so difficult that it would be better not to marry. If the Synod is true to the Gospel – can she be otherwise? – she can expect the same response, and it will be her duty to inspire confidence that the Christian marriage is still recommendable.

Pope Francis is keen to emphasise that Christian marriage is a sacrament. Much of the confusion surrounding marriage and divorce arises when we lose sight of the fact that marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is not indissoluble because two people make a promise for life. The Church can dispense people from their promises. That is een true for the vows of religious. But the Church can’t undo a sacrament. Marriage is indissoluble for the same reason that we have tabernacles: a consecrated host can’t be ‘deconsecrated’, just like Baptism or the ordination of a priest can’t be undone. Even a priest who has ben laicised remains a priest, even though he can’t exercise the office of priest (although he can hear confessions in emergencies). Nobody, no Synod and also no Pope, can undo a valid sacrament. That’s simply how it is. We shouldn’t therefore expect a relaxation of rules regarding divorced and remarried people in regard to their receiving Holy Communion. Those who do expect this will be disappointed from the outset.

Most Catholics are unaware of the sacramental character of their marriage. Marriage, by the way, is the only of the seven sacrament which is not administered by a priest or deacon, but by lay people, by husband and wife when they say yes to each other. This is the sacrament that gives strength and mercy to be able to keep promises. That is what it is about for the Pope.”