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The Silence of the Cardinals

by Christopher A. Ferrara
January 25, 2017

LifeSiteNews has just brought the attention of the Anglophone Catholic world to what was first reported by the French journal Le Figaro: “as many as thirty cardinals expressed their reservations to Pope Francis about his Exhortation Amoris Laetitia [AL] prior to its April 2016 release” and that “writing to Francis either individually or in small groups, [they] attempted last year to dissuade the pope from releasing Amoris. They warned that it would not only weaken the Church’s teaching on marriage, but on the Eucharist and confession as well…”

In other words, some thirty cardinals warned the Pope that, should it be published, his “apostolic exhortation” would be an apostolic disaster of historic proportions unlike anything the Church had ever witnessed before. And, indeed, that disaster is now unfolding: the perennial discipline of the Church barring the reception of Holy Communion by public adulterers as “intrinsically impossible” — no matter what the subjective disposition of the recipient — is being maintained in some dioceses in order to prevent mortal sin and sacrilege, but abandoned in other dioceses as a show of “mercy.” Never in 2,000 years has the discipline of the Church been fractured in this manner, which threatens the very oneness (if that were possible) of the only Church that is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. 

So, what happened to the thirty cardinals?  Why have only four of them (Burke, Brandmüller, Caffarra and Meisner) come forward to publish five dubia (questions or doubts) concerning the orthodoxy of AL? With all due respect, this is ridiculous. As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, regarding the famous example of St. Paul’s rebuke of St. Peter on account of the scandal the first Pope caused by refusing to eat with the Gentiles (thus threatening the universal mission of the Church):  “It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith…”

In keeping with that teaching, which is only a reflection of natural justice and the duty to defend the truth of Christ against error — no matter what its source — Pope John XXII (r. 1316-1334) met with vigorous public opposition when he insisted on teaching the error that the Beatific Vision is not granted to the blessed departed until the Day of Judgment.  As Father Victor Francis O’Daniel, O.P notes in his commentary on the episode:  “The news of such a doctrinal lapse on the part of the Church’s Supreme Head, beginning at Avignon, rapidly spread over Christendom, everywhere causing consternation and arousing great indignation. The Catholic world was profoundly stirred. Controversies waxed strong and vehement.” The pressure upon John XXII was finally so great that he publicly retracted his error on his deathbed, having already affirmed that he never intended to impose his view upon the Church.

In the present case, any further attempt at “private” correction of Francis will be utterly useless.  He will ignore further private entreaties in the same way he has ignored the previous entreaties and even the published dubia. He is obdurate in his error. Therefore, the same cardinals who have privately warned Francis that his flawed document would endanger the faith by “weaken[ing] the Church’s teaching on marriage, [and] on the Eucharist and confession as well” have a duty before God to do immediately what Saint Thomas counsels: “if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith…” 

Moreover, here there is no mere imminent danger of scandal concerning the Faith, but actual scandal — a scandal of epic and growing proportions. The only means by which this public scandal can be remedied is public correction of the Pope who has caused it. It is a disgrace that, aside from four courageous members of the College of Cardinals, members of the laity and lower-ranked clergy have been left to fend for themselves in dealing with the unprecedented scandal of Amoris Laetitia while the rest of the Princes of the Church observe a timid silence, even those who warned Francis that AL would be harmful to the Faith but have declined to join the four cardinals in their urgent dubia.

Perhaps the silent vast majority of cardinals should ponder what the Pope who created them said when he bestowed upon them the red biretta and cardinalatial ring: “[This is] scarlet as a sign of the dignity of the cardinalate, signifying your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of the Holy Roman Church.”

May Our Lady of Fatima obtain for all the cardinals the grace of the courage to do what they must: raise their voices in a public defense of the Faith in keeping with the demands of the truth of Christ they are sworn to defend under pain of martyrdom.