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Cardinal Burke on the Pope: Part III (Conclusion)
Formal Correction Coming Soon?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
August 25, 2017


Removing the papal stole before speaking.
Is Francis trying to tell us something?

In my previous two columns, I discussed the distinction drawn by Cardinal Raymond Burke, rooted in the thinking of medieval canonists, between the person of the Pope and the papal office of Vicar of Christ, exercised as such. While the Pope as a human person may have erring opinions, and may even be so bold as to express those opinions to the world, as did Pope John XXII regarding the Beatific Vision in the 14th century and as Francis does today, an erring opinion cannot belong to the authentic Magisterium, which is the teaching office of the Holy Catholic Church, not the magisterium of a particular Pope who is free to depart from the personal magisterium of other Popes in ordinary pronouncements and documents short of infallible definitions of dogma.

In other words, there is no such thing as a “fallible ordinary Magisterium.” What the Church has always taught by way of her “ordinary Magisterium” is no less infallible than dogmatic definitions of the “extraordinary Magisterium,” which, after all, are only the culmination of the constant, infallible teaching of the ordinary Magisterium down through the centuries (e.g., the dogma of the Assumption merely proclaims what the Church had always believed since the time of the Apostles).

Thus, when paragraph 25 of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (LG) speaks of the “religious submission of mind and will … to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra,” it is not referring to every utterance by a Pope but rather to exercises of the teaching office of the Vicar of Christ by which he clearly intends to bind the entire Church. Nor is it self-evident that any particular papal document in ordinary course belongs to the “authentic Magisterium” for the sole reason that a Pope has issued it. As even LG makes clear, whether a given document belongs to the binding and authentic ordinary Magisterium depends upon an examination of “the character of the documents” as well as the Pope’s “manner of speaking.”

Both Francis’ manner of speaking and the rambling, ambiguous, discursive and distinctly opinion-laden character of even his major documents (Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’ and Amoris Laetitia) do not evidence any clear intention to compel belief in some particular “new” doctrine of the Church. Moreover, even if such an intention were expressed, it would be void and of no effect, for as Vatican I (infallibly) declared in rejecting the notion that a Pope can announce new doctrines:

“For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by His revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”

That is precisely Cardinal Burke’s point. And it is also the point on which Father Gruner insisted in the many conversations I had with him on the novelties of the post-conciliar epoch: a novel doctrine is not part of the “authentic Magisterium” (LG) because the Church has never taught it, and if the Church has never taught a novel doctrine it cannot be a true doctrine. And if it is not true doctrine, it can only be the mere opinion of the Pope who uttered it, speaking in his personal capacity.

Here it seems to me most telling that Pope Francis seems averse to wearing the papal stole, a symbol of the Roman Pontiff’s authority, and that he wears the same pectoral cross he wore as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, rather than the gold cross of the Roman Pontiff. As America magazine observed of Francis’ first appearance on the balcony of Saint Peter’s:

“That Francis chose not to wear the … gold embroidered papal stole… went unnoticed to most, but to those who understood the language of ecclesiastical garments, this was a shout. Moreover, instead of the gold pectoral cross, Francis emerged wearing the silver cross he had worn as bishop of Buenos Aires. He donned the stole for the papal blessing, then promptly removed it.”

Most curious. Why promptly remove the stole after having donned it to give a papal blessing?  If this were merely some sort of prideful aversion to “finery,” why wear it even to administer the blessing? What was Francis trying to tell us with this abrupt doffing gesture? Or was it the Holy Ghost prompting him to remove the symbol of the Vicar of Christ before saying things inappropriate to the office?

Having said all this, however, the fact remains that Pope Francis has provoked disastrous confusion and division by attempting to insert into the life of the Church what amounts to his personal theology, practiced as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, through ambiguous pronouncements and winks and nods to those who are doing what he would like to see. Thus, whether or not Francis has acted in his official capacity as Vicar of Christ, his errant opinions must be corrected because they are causing grave harm to the Church.

In the second part of his interview with the Wanderer, Cardinal Burke does indeed indicate that, notwithstanding a distinction between the person and the office of the Pope, he will issue the promised formal correction of the errors of Amoris Laetitia:

“Q. Setting aside the question of timing, please explain how the process for the execution of a ‘formal correction’ would proceed should a response to the five dubia not be forthcoming? How is a formal correction officially submitted, how is it addressed within the Church’s hierarchal structure, etc.?

“A. … It seems to me that the essence of the correction is quite simple. On the one hand, one sets forth the clear teaching of the Church; on the other hand, what is actually being taught by the Roman Pontiff is stated. If there is a contradiction, the Roman Pontiff is called to conform his own teaching in obedience to Christ and the Magisterium of the Church.

“The question is asked, ‘How would this be done?’ It is done very simply by a formal declaration to which the Holy Father would be obliged to respond. Cardinals Brandmüller, Caffarra, Meisner, and I used an ancient institution in the Church of proposing dubia to the Pope.

“…. Pope Francis has chosen not to respond to the five dubia, so it is now necessary simply to state what the Church teaches about marriage, the family, acts that are intrinsically evil, and so forth. These are the points that are not clear in the current teachings of the Roman Pontiff; therefore, this situation must be corrected. The correction would then direct itself principally to those doctrinal points….

“…. The Pope is the principle of unity of the bishops and all the faithful. However, the Church is being torn asunder right now by confusion and division. The Holy Father must be called on to exercise his office to put an end to this.

“So then, the next step would be a formal declaration stating the clear teachings of the Church as set forth in the dubia. Furthermore, it would be stated that these truths of the Faith are not being clearly set forth by the Roman Pontiff….”

Clearly, the Cardinal knows he has a duty to the Church and to souls to make the promised public correction. Let us hope and pray that he does his duty to confront a situation he himself has so rightly linked to the failure to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.