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Some remarks on the de Mattei interview

December 12, 2017

Italian historian Professor Roberto de Mattei was interviewed over at OnePeterFive. The professor musters some evidence for his interpretation of recent ecclesiastical events but some alternatives to his interpretations seem reasonable, too. I’ll mention a few here.

De Mattei: “The present crisis in the Church did not originate with Pope Francis, and it is not focused in one single person; rather, it dates back to the Second Vatican Council, and, going back even further, to the Modernist Crisis [of the early twentieth century]”.

Perhaps that came out wrongly, but it is disconcerting to see the Second Vatican Council, an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, listed alongside Modernism, a pernicious heresy, as if both could have been contributors to our present woes. Ignorance, even betrayal, of conciliar teachings by many of those responsible for its implementation is not the fault of a council, and an ecumenical council should not be listed alongside a heresy as a possible source of disaster.

De Mattei: “The fact that the guidelines of the Argentine bishops and the approval of the Pope have been published in AAS has made it official that ‘no other interpretations are possible’ of Amoris Laetitia other than that of the Argentine bishops, which authorizes communion to be given to those divorced and remarried people who are in an objective state of mortal sin. The letter was private, but the publication in AAS transforms the position of Pope Francis into an act of the Magisterium.”

This is simply wrong, and at several levels.

First, content and authorship of ecclesiastical assertions are crucial—crucial—in assessing what counts, and what does not count, as “magisterial”.

At the risk of over-simplifying, the great majority of “magisterial” assertions convey doctrine not discipline (however much disciplinary provisions might serve doctrinal values, they themselves are rarely doctrinal—thus ‘magisterial’—in nature). Now, the Buenos Aires directives do offer some doctrinal assertions (mostly aspirational, vague, and excessively wordy) that in my view are either sound or at least cannot be proven as heterodox, and they offer some disciplinary points that, again, are either sound or do not directly contradict Canon 915 (see below).

Second, the publication in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis of a dicastery official’s memo about what a pope apparently told him about one of that pope’s letters to a group of bishops concerning a document that the bishops had written does not transform said memo or pope’s letter or bishops’ statement into “magisterial acts” no matter what labels might later be attached to them. In the interest of time, let’s just focus on the weight to be accorded the Argentine’s document itself.

Episcopal conferences cannot issue doctrinal statements unless such statements are “unanimously approved by the bishops who are members [of the national episcopal conference], or receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the Bishops belonging to the Conference and having a deliberative vote.” John Paul II, ap. con. Apostolos Suos (1998) Comp. Norm 1, emph. added. The “Bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region”, authors of the Buenos Aires directives, are not the Argentine episcopal conference.

Moreover, sub-groupings of episcopal conferences cannot, under any circumstances, carry out acts of “authentic magisterium”, as John Paul II made clear in Apostolos, Comp. Norm 2: “No body of the Episcopal Conference, outside of the plenary assembly, has the power to carry out acts of authentic magisterium. The Episcopal Conference cannot grant such power to its Commissions or other bodies set up by it.”

I see, in other words, no “magisterial act” from an episcopal conference that could be ‘re-magisterialized’ in the first place or ‘magisterialized’ by the several-steps-removed publication process outlined above.

(By the way, this whole notion that publication in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis means something is “magisterial” and/or that basically nothing is ecclesiastically important unless it appears in the AAS will not survive two minutes’ reflection. Great swaths of material in the AAS have nothing whatsoever to do with magisterium, and boatloads of, say, John Paul II’s magisterium never appeared in the AAS (e.g., most of his Wednesday addresses on Theology of the Body); moreover, some important Church documents took effect in virtue of their publication in, say, L’Osservatore Romano (e.g., CDF penal decree of 2008 against attempting the ordination of women) or even in Roman academic journals (the tribunal instruction Dignitas connubii of 2005). So, yes, the AAS is important (Canon 8), but it is not the only show in Rome.)

Third, no matter what theory might find some kind of ‘magisterium’ operative in the Argentine’s document or in the pope’s endorsement of it, the simple fact remains that neither the Argentines nor the pope has ever directly said that civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics may (outside of the narrow application of the internal forum option known as “brother-sister”) be administered holy Communion in disregard of the divinely-rooted and pontifically legislated prohibition against such administration set forth in, among many other places, 1983 CIC 915 and CCEO 712. As far as I can see, the Buenos Aires directives never quite confirm what Amoris laetitia never quite says. It is a situation ripe, of course, for exploitation by those bent on avoiding, among other things, the implications of Our Lord’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, which brings me to my next point.

De Mattei: “The line of thinking of those cardinals, bishops, and theologians, [and canon lawyers] who maintain that it is possible to interpret Amoris Laetitia in continuity with Familiaris Consortio 84 and other documents of the Magisterium has been reduced to dust.”

I strongly disagree with de Mattei’s bleak assessment of the state of this debate and I say that as one who has steadily opposed the implementations of Amoris being wrought by, say the bishops of Malta and German episcopal conference committee. The point, as I see it, is not whether these bishops are implementing Francis’s “desires” (I have no window into the pope’s intentions, so how would I know?), the question is whether they are applying his words, and I say, they are not applying his actual words.

De Mattei: “Amoris Laetitia is a document which serves as a litmus test: it must be either accepted or rejected in toto.”

How can anyone make such a stark, all-or-nothing claim about a +50,000 word document so replete with pastoral insights, tiresome platitudes, scholarly applications and embarrassing misappropriations, and clever insights, as is Amoris?

Reasonable minds should “examine everything, and keep what is good.”


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