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An Athanasius for Our Time

by Christopher A. Ferrara
June 6, 2016

On May 26, 2016, Bishop Athanasius Schneider did me the honor of allowing to be published his reply to my open letter to His Excellency on the scandal of Amoris Laetetia, with its blatant opening to the admission of public adulterers (the divorced and “remarried”) to Confession and Holy Communion without an amendment of life, thus trampling on the words of Our Lord Himself and the teaching of Francis’ own predecessor, John Paul II, to the contrary.

The bishop’s reply demonstrates anew what was already apparent: that his name is no coincidence but a Providential sign that we have in him what the Church so desperately needs in the midst of the epochal crisis-within-crisis represented by the current pontificate. 

Like Saint Athanasius of Alexandria during the Arian Crisis of the 4th century, Bishop Athanasius of Kazakhstan stands nearly alone among the hierarchy in speaking out against the wave of diabolical disorientation now sweeping the Church.  It is not that every bishop in the Church, save he, is a victim of this disorientation.  It is, rather, that he is the only one willing to state publicly without equivocation what is at stake. As he writes in his gracious and nobly condescending reply to a letter from a mere layman:

I am agreeing with your observations as to those expressions in AL (“Amoris laetitia”), and especially in its VIII’s chapter, which are highly ambiguous and misleading. In using our reason and in respecting the proper sense of the words, one can hardly interpret some expressions in AL according to the holy immutable Tradition of the Church….

What is at stake are the natural and logical consequences of the ambiguous expressions of AL. Indeed, they contain a real spiritual danger, which will cause doctrinal confusion, a fast and easy spreading of heterodox doctrines concerning marriage and moral law, and also the adoption and consolidation of the praxis of admitting divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, a praxis which will trivialize and profane, as to say, at one blow three sacraments: the sacrament of Marriage, of Penance, and of the Most Holy Eucharist….

If only a hundred bishops would speak in this way, if only a dozen cardinals would do so, much of the damage this pontificate has already caused would be undone, and the faithful would be armed against the “spiritual danger” in which Francis has placed them.

Regarding Francis’ authority to do what he clearly wishes to do, every bishop in the Church should issue a statement echoing what Bishop Athanasius has written in his reply:

In these our dark times, in which Our Beloved Lord seems to sleep in the boat of His Holy Church, all Catholics, beginning from the bishops up to the simplest faithful, who still take seriously their baptismal vows, should with one voice (“una voce”) make a profession of fidelity, enunciating concretely and clearly all those Catholic truths, which are in some expressions of AL undermined or ambiguously disfigured. It would be a kind of a “Credo” of the people of God. AL is clearly a pastoral document (i.e., by its nature of temporal character) and has no claims to be definitive.

We have to avoid to “make infallible” every word and gesture of a current Pope. This is contrary to the teaching of Jesus and of the whole Tradition of the Church. Such a totalitarian understanding and application of Papal infallibility is not Catholic, is ultimately worldly, like in a dictatorship; it is against the spirit of the Gospel and of the Fathers of the Church.

Like Archbishop Lefebvre before him — whose conscientious resistance to the ruinous changes in the Church will someday merit his canonization — Bishop Athanasius Schneider is an Athanasius for our time. Would that every bishop emulate his courageous example, that the crisis in the Church be brought to an end without the chastisement that now seems inevitable.

The last word must belong to the bishop himself: “I am convinced that in later times the Popes will be grateful that there had been concerning voices of some bishops, theologians and laypeople in times of a great confusion. Let us live for the sake of the truth and of the eternity, ‘pro veritate et aeternitate’!”