First, I've noticed a pattern in Pope Francis' last few homilies. Today's homily sums them up pretty well. The Pope is teaching from Acts. He, as he seems to do often, speaks of two groups of people. One group is docile to the Holy Spirit, open to everyone. The other group is the doctors of the Law, that built a system of commandments that chase people away.
What exactly is the point that he keeps trying to make? Who does he see as today's equivalent of those two groups? And what did he mean in his previous day's homily that the Holy Spirit keeps moving the Church forward, more and more, beyond the limits, onward? It almost sounds like he is preparing us for doctrinal change, to be part of the first group, open, not [t]he second, closed. Please tell me I'm way off base here.
What prompted me to write this email was that while contemplating what Pope Francis was trying to say, I'm reading that his hand-picked secretary of the Italian bishop's conference, Bishop Galantino said today, "My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality," and “With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs."
The reader has obviously done his homework and certainly has a right to be concerned, as do we all. Mark Shea, however, thinks the reader is “way off base.” With the keen re-interpretative myopia we’ve come to expect from our Neo-Catholic experts, Shea then plucks words from Bishop Galantino’s quotes, washes all context away, and then micro-analyzes the words in a vacuum.
Shea’s response leads us to believe Bishop Galantino is referring to nothing more than the possibility of changing Church discipline on married priests, giving the Eucharist to the divorced who are not remarried without annulment, and simply treating those with a homosexual orientation as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
But is this truly all that the bishop is saying? Is the bishop calling for us to “listen without taboo” to arguments promoting what the Church already does? Is the bishop stating that, with Pope Francis, the Italian Church has the “extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual, moral, and cultural beliefs” by continuing to give Communion to divorced Catholics who can already receive it? Is he saying we have an “extraordinary opportunity” under Francis to continue to treat those with a homosexual orientation as “brothers and sisters in Christ?” Seriously?
The Pope is not going to alter essential doctrines. He's just not going to. He can't. It is a guarantee of the Faith. So whatever he does do, we should relax, learn from him, and try to see the Faith from his perspective. He's a good shepherd and a good teacher. Everything will be fine.
Thus the reader at least seems to get the concession out of Shea that the Pope is not going to alter “essential doctrines.” However, this is really not much of a concession. Why? Because it leads to the obvious question as to which doctrines Shea believes are “non-essential.” Is there even such a thing as “non-essential” Church doctrine? Pope Pius XI didn’t seem to think so. In Mortalium Animos he states:
…in connection with things which must be believed, it is nowise licit to use that distinction which some have seen fit to introduce between those articles of faith which are fundamental and those which are not fundamental, as they say, as if the former are to be accepted by all, while the latter may be left to the free assent of the faithful: for the supernatural virtue of faith has a formal cause, namely the authority of God revealing, and this is patient of no such distinction.
Is the teaching against divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion an “essential doctrine” to the Neo-Catholics? It seems we will only find out if and when Pope Francis makes a pronouncement on the matter after the upcoming Synod. If the Pope supports changing the doctrine, then they will no doubt say it was non-essential or even a mere discipline. If the Pope instead reaffirms the doctrine, then they will say it was essential…at least until the next pope takes the matter up for consideration.
The reader then continues to express his concerns:
I really am trying to learn from Pope Francis. I see Jesus in much of what he says and does. But he is surprising sometimes in his willingness to go against the grain, so it is hard for me, though I guess you're saying it shouldn't be, to take the possibility of some doctrinal change off the table.
Shea then responds with the astonishing opinion that Church doctrine can change:
…Just to be clear, there is a possibility of doctrinal change. There is no possibility of doctrinal error. The Church's doctrine develops. What it does not do is mutate or contradict itself. So there was a change in the Church's teaching after Nicaea. Before that, we did not say the Nicene Creed. After it, we did. But the Nicene Creed did not mutate the Faith. It simply clarified it.
It seems now that we not only need a hermeneutic of continuity to interpret the Council, but we also need a hermeneutic to give ambiguous and confusing Neo-Catholic apologetics a Catholic interpretation.
Just to be clear, there is no possibility of doctrinal change in the Catholic Church.
The common meaning of the word change is to make a thing different from what it once was or to transform, convert it, or substitute it for something new. Thus it is extremely dangerous to use this term in relation to unchangeable Church doctrine.
For the record, there was no change in Church teaching after Nicea. Shea attempts to say there was a “change” since Catholics said the Nicene Creed afterwards when they did not before. But this was not a change in “Church teaching” at all. It simply made explicit a belief that had always been held implicitly by the Church. One aspect of this teaching was made explicit since it was being challenged at that time by a misleading novel doctrine. It may be that this is all Shea was saying. However his word choice, like Pope Francis, was ripe for confusion.
The reader continues:
Some of these things that bishops and cardinals close to Pope Francis are saying in interviews causes concern. One says the church isn't timeless,
Shea then agrees with this statement:
...which is perfectly true. The Church develops and grows over time. It's not frozen in amber. But it does not mutate.
The Cardinal the reader is referring to is no ordinary Cardinal. He is Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod on the Family. Once again it seems that Shea has plucked the words out of context and reinterpreted them in a vacuum.
Evidence of this is that even Shea’s own newspaper, The National Catholic Register, agrees that Baldisserri’s words are causing people like Shea’s reader to grow anxious. In a piece entitled, “Synod Secretary General Wants Change in Church's Teaching on Marriage,” Edward Pentin writes:
In a development likely to cause more unease about the upcoming synod on the family, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops has given an interview in which he says he wants a change in Church teaching on marriage.
According to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri says it is time to update Church marriage doctrine, for example in connection with divorce, the situation of divorcees and people who are in civil partnerships…
"The Church is not timeless, she lives amidst the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today," Cardinal Baldisseri says…
After reading this, does anyone think Baldisseri is merely reiterating Cardinal Newman’s “development of doctrine” description of Church teaching? If not, does Shea’s reader not have a right to be concerned?
The reader then continues:
one says with Pope Francis we can reposition the church on moral beliefs...it seems we're hearing a lot of we need to change with the times.
In response, Shea makes the following shocking statements:
We can reposition on moral beliefs. Again, the Church develops over time and changes as it comes to understand the deposit of faith more deeply. That's why Paul can tell Masters to treat their slaves justly and the modern Church can take that to its logical conclusion and demand that masters have no slaves at all. It's why the Church can progress from saying "Error has no rights" to recognizing that "While error has no rights, persons in error do have rights." It's why the Church can repent such sins as Jew-hatred or accepting the cultural norm of the use of torture.
To be clear, the Church cannot “reposition” her moral beliefs. The reader was again referring to Bishop Galantino’s earlier cited statement which Shea now, apparently, agrees with. Thus, using Shea’s interpretation, Bishop Galantino can argue that allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried is simply a “reposition” of moral beliefs that the Church developed over time and changed as it came to “understand the deposit of faith more deeply.”
Further, the examples Shea gives of the Church’s history read like something out of a Jack Chick tract. A full response to these anti-Catholic charges would go beyond the scope of the present article. That said, it is worth noting the irony that Shea, by his own logic, would have to grant adherents of a pro-slavery, pro-torture, anti-Semitic religion (persons in error) the “right” to publicly practice and preach said religion, per Vatican II’s novel doctrine of religious liberty
The reader then goes on to fear that the Pope, while not officially changing doctrine, will nevertheless undermine the doctrine through other means:
The Anglican Church didn't change their teaching on same sex marriage, but everyone knows they aren't going to enforce it, and are officially allowing churches to bless same sex unions in a special service. I pray the Catholic Church, with all the influence that liberal bishops and cardinals are getting, doesn't head in this direction. "We didn't change the teaching, wink, wink."
Of course it won't. We're not the Anglican Church. I do think the Church, having fought a long rear guard retreat against civil unions, will probably throw in the towel on that. It was a prudential judgment, aiming at preserving natural marriage. But I think at this point the Church will be better off to say "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's". If Caesar is bound and determined to delude himself that there is such a thing as gay "marriage", the Church can't stop him. So the Church should decouple sacramental marriage from Caesar's delusions and conduct marriages apart from what the civil authority wants to pretend.
Thus, after almost two years I have the depressing privilege to say I predicted the Neo-Catholics would arrive at this conclusion. Back in August of 2012 I penned a commentary entitled, “ of liberal priest Fr. Bob Pierson. In the video Fr. Pierson argues that Catholics in Minnesota should vote against a state ban on same-sex marriage. In my commentary to that video I wrote the following:
[Fr Pierson] tells us that the Church should not be concerned with "civil marriage" as the Church does not recognize "civil marriages." To the Church, nobody is married except those who enter into sacramental marriage. Thus, in effect, he appeals to the separation of Church and state, which Neo-Catholics like George Weigel praise on a daily basis. It is the classic Neo-Catholic argument: let the state govern its realm without interference from religion and let religions do their thing without interference from the state. If the state wants to define marriage as between same sex couples that is no business of the Church as it is not their "realm"…
I would be very curious to see how Neo-Catholics would respond to this priest, since he arrives at his liberal conclusions by following their very same premises. This is a perfect example of how Neo-Catholicism and liberalism are really two sides of the same coin. Two world-views fashioned from the same premise--the radical spirit of Vatican II.
Nearly two years later, I have my answer. Neo-Catholics have so caved in to the secular assault on marriage that they are now espousing the exact same position as radical liberal priest, Fr. Pierson did a mere 21 months ago! As I stated in my 2012 article, I saw nowhere else they could logically go since they are wedded to the idea of religious liberty. Thus, we see before our eyes how fast the shifting sands of Neo-Catholicism can move beneath our feet.
In the final analysis, we see that Neo-Catholicism has no answers or any real reassurance for this poor reader. The reader was thankfully being awakened out of his spiritual sleep by the unprecedented looming danger posed by the present pontificate. Even though he is a Mark Shea reader, he still retained enough of his common sense to understand that something unusual is going on in the Church.
But was he congratulated on finally starting to awake from the delusional land of “eternal spring” and welcomed to reality? No. Instead he was hit with a few Neo-Catholic tranquilizer darts as Mr. Shea sang him a lullaby.
As a public service, I would encourage you, unfortunate Mark Shea reader, to please write to the Remnant for a second opinion on your well documented fears. If you do, I promise a full response to your letter. After receiving both my response and Mr. Shea’s response you can choose to take my “red pill” or Shea’s “blue pill.” (See video below) I pray you choose wisely….