I have received this from an authoritative churchman and have agreed to publish it without revealing his name.
EVERYONE IS RESPONDING TO THE “DUBIA” EXCEPT FOR THE POPE. THIS TIME IT WAS SCHÖNBORN’S TURN
On July 13, 2017 Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, spoke for four hours in two conferences and a question-and-answer session at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland.
The Austrian cardinal spoke in the context of the event “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family,” which is part of a series of assemblies organized in preparation for the world meeting of families (1), under the direction of the dicastery for the laity, family, and life, which will be held in Dublin from August 21 to 28, 2018.
After reading the reporting on the event offered by the main specialized media outlets (2), I cannot help but note that when it comes to the “dubia” submitted to the pope by four cardinals, everyone is answering them except for him; and that in this way to the chaotic chorus of the most disparate comments and interpretations of “Amoris Laetitia” – which do anything but clarify for the faithful and confessors the problems raised by the document – there has been added a new voice, or better, a new fog.
This because the arguments offered by the archbishop of Vienna – at least according to how they have been reported by the most reliable media – are anything but convincing. Let’s take a look at the main ones.
1. An inopportune reprimand
In the first place, Schönborn reprimands the cardinals of the “dubia.” Because they asked respectfully for an audience, he accuses them of having pressured the pope. They could have asked for an audience, but without saying so publicly. Here are the exact words of the Austrian archbishop:
“That cardinals, who should be the closest collaborators of the pope, try to force him, to put pressure on him to give a public response to their publicized, personal letter to the pope – this is absolutely inconvenient behavior, I’m sorry to say. If they want to have an audience with the pope, they ask for an audience; but they do not publish that they asked for an audience.”
I wonder if Cardinal Schönborn has read and/or believes in these words of the pope, in regard to the discussions that had already arisen over the course of the latest synods of bishops and then continued after the publication of “Amoris Laetitia.” I present just a few passages:
“One general and basic condition is this: speaking honestly. Let no one say: ‘I cannot say this, they will think this or this of me….’ It is necessary to say with parrhesia all that one feels. After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which the family was discussed, a Cardinal wrote to me, saying: what a shame that several Cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, perhaps believing that the Pope might think something else. This is not good, this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome, with an open heart, what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two approaches.” (3)
“Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.” (4)
“The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.” (5)
“Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than to raise walls!” (6)
Pope Francis does nothing other than speak of parrhesia, of synodality, of making not walls but bridges. He has said that he would have been concerned and saddened if there had not been animated discussions during the synod. He has written in the very document that is the object of these animated discussions, meaning in “Amoris Laetitia,” that there is a “need for continued open
discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.”
And now this same pontiff, in spite of the aforementioned words, decides not to receive four cardinals who have humbly and legitimately asked for an audience. . . And these were supposed to have said nothing? Cardinal Schönborn really has a strange concept of parrhesia!
2. Doctrinal confusion
But after this baseless complaint on the part of the archbishop of Vienna, we come to the more doctrinal questions.
– “Moral theology stands on two feet: Principles and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality.”
– In ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Francis “often comes back to what he said in ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, that a little step towards the good done under difficult circumstances can be more valuable than a moral solid life under comfortable circumstances.”
– “The ‘bonum possibile’ in moral theology is an important concept that has been so often neglected. […] What is the possible good that a person or a couple can achieve in difficult circumstances?”
Let’s begin to analyze the first statement. What are the prudential steps for applying the principles of morality to reality?
Prudence, “recta ratio agibilium,” selects the means in view of the end; it does not select them arbitrarily, but is bound to the truth. As a result, prudence, in order to be such, cannot choose evil means, or intrinsically evil acts, that are necessarily always imprudent. In fact, a prudent act must be good in itself; if it is not good, it is not prudent. And to make an act good – and therefore potentially also prudent – intentions or circumstances are not always sufficient.
This is what the Church infallibly proposes for belief. Saint John Paul II taught this in the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor”:
“Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts.” (7)
The end never justifies the means, therefore the end never makes an evil action prudent or proportionate to the ultimate end. Therefore, if it is true that “moral theology stands on two feet: Principles and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality,” the cohabitation “more uxorio” of two persons who are not man and wife will never be a prudent application of the principles to the objective reality. (8)
The second statement praises small steps toward the good, above all those that are taken in a state of difficulty. But those actions which are always evil, regardless of the circumstances, are never a small step toward the good, but a step – more or less grave – toward the bad. Many small steps toward the good can be taken by persons living in a state of sin (charity, prayer, participation in the life of the Church, etc.), but what brings them closer are certainly not the acts that constitute their state of sin: these are inevitably opposed to the journey toward the good, to the movement of the rational creature toward God, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say (9).
The third statement affirms the category of the possible good. This is a wonderful category if it is interpreted correctly (we think of the saying “Be good if you can” of Saint Philip Neri). But it is misguided if one forgets the words of Saint Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (10). It is misguided if one goes against what has been infallibly defined by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, should consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one should use that rash statement, once forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified.” (11) It is misguided if, against the Catholic doctrine of justification, the doors should be opened – albeit in other terms – for invincible concupiscence of a Jansenist flavor, or to making social factors more influential than grace, or even than free will itself.
3. “Amoris Laetitia” is Catholic: Schönborn guarantees it
The website “Crux” also reports one episode that the cardinal himself recounted:
“Schönborn revealed that when he met the Pope shortly after the presentation of Amoris, Francis thanked him, and asked him if the document was orthodox. ‘I said, Holy Father, it is fully orthodox,’ Schönborn told us he told the pope, adding that a few days later he received from Francis a little note that said: ‘Thank you for that word. That gave me comfort’.”
This account, if on the one hand it reveals the humility of Francis in asking for a judgment from his trusted theologians, does not change the fact that it should be the pope who gives responses to the theologians, to the bishops, to the cardinals who with the required parrhesia and the encouragement of the pontiff himself express to him their grave preoccupations over the state of the Church. This, in fact, is truly divided and wounded by the contrasting interpretations with which “Amoris Laetitia” has been proposed by various episcopates.
Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, in a speech before the scholarly committee of the “Veritatis Splendor” Institute of Bologna (12), identified some of the current challenges to which Christians have to respond: relativism, amoralism, and individualism.
About amoralism, the then-archbishop of Bologna said:
“I have spoken of amorality in a precise sense. In the sense that the statement according to which ‘there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong’ (Ap. ex. ‘Reconciliatio et Penitentia’ 17; EV 9/1123], has no foundation, [according to the present-day mentality].”
Cardinal Caffarra then warned against some pseudo-solutions to the aforementioned problems:
“One first pseudo-solution is the evasion of the true and serious confrontation with these challenges. An evasion that generically assumes the face of fideism, of the rejection of the truthful dimension of the Christian faith. It is a real and proper lack of engagement, not necessarily intentional, in the serious and rigorous confrontation on the properly cultural level. It is evasion in a faith that is solely articulated and not examined, solely affirmed and not considered.”
Evasion “in a faith that is solely articulated and not examined!” How many times do we hear the articulation of the words mercy, conscience, maturity, responsibility, etc., but with the rejection of a true search for the “intellectus fidei,” of the profound understanding of the reasons for faith.
Schömborn’s argumentations have been situated “ante litteram” precisely by these considerations of Cardinal Caffarra concerning the substantial rejection (not necessarily intentional) of the “truthful dimension of the Christian faith”:
– “etsi veritas non daretur,” as if the immutable truth about man and the sacraments did not exist;
– “etsi bonum non daretur,” as if there there were not an objective good to be done and an equally objective evil to be avoided, both of which are not determined but are discovered and chosen freely by man in conscience;
– “etsi gratia non daretur,” as if man were forgotten by God in a situation-trap, where there is no other choice but to sin.
(1) For more information see: http://www.worldmeeting2018.ie
(2) Because Cardinal Schönborn’s statements have not been published in their entirety, I refer to what was reported on the website “Crux”, which among the websites consulted was the one that seemed most complete to us. The editors themselves define Crux as “an independent Catholic news site, operated in partnership with the Knights of Columbus.” All of the texts English are taken from this site. Another fairly exhaustive report can be found on “Catholic Ireland.”
(3) First general congregation of the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, words of the Holy Father Francis to the Synod Fathers, October 6, 2014
(4) Speech of the Holy Father Francis for the conclusion of the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 18, 2014.
(5) Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” 2.
(6) In the course of the prayer vigil with young people at the Campus Misericordiae, during the 31st World Youth Day in Krakow.
(7) Encyclical letter “Veritatis Splendor” 115, August 6, 1993, emphasis added.
(8) It is enough to present, by way of example, what is stated in the Declaration from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith on certain questions concerning sexual ethics “Persona Humana” of December 29, 1975: “According to Christian tradition and the Church’s teaching, and as right reason also recognizes, the moral order of sexuality involves such high values of human life that every direct violation of this order is objectively serious.”
(9) “De motu rationalis creaturae in Deum”: Summa theologiae, Iª q. 2 pr.
(10) 1 Cor 10:13.
(11) Decree on justification of January 13, 1547, Sessio VI, cap. 11 (DS/36 1536).
(12) “Il cristiano e le sfide attuali“, Meeting of the Scholarly Committe of the “Veritatis Splendor” Institute, June 3 2005.
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)