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Francis Surrogate Fires Warning Shot

High-ranking Vatican official threatens to strip four dissenting cardinals of their rank

Er, wow:

Archbishop Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, told a conference in Spain that Cardinal Burke and the three cardinals who submitted the dubia to Pope Francis “could lose their Cardinalate” for causing “grave scandal” by making the dubia public. The Dean of the Roman Rota went on to accuse Cardinals Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner of questioning the Holy Spirit. Archbishop  Pio Vito Pinto made his astounding accusations during a conference to religious in Spain.

Archbishop Pio Vito’s indictment against the four cardinals, and other people who question Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia, was that they not only questioned one synod of bishops on marriage and the family, but two synods, about which,  “The action of the Holy Spirit can not be doubted.”.

The Dean of the Roman Rota went on to clarify that the Pope did not have to strip the four senior cardinals of their “cardinalate”, but that he could do it.

Deacon Nick Donnelly, author of that post, cites the canon law statute granting the cardinals the right to say what they said. The text of canon law reads (emphasis is Dn Nick’s):

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. (Can. 212 §3).

If the archbishop tried to pull that, the Vatican would be in an extremely grave public crisis. But what if the Pope did it directly? Canon law states:

Can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

So, would Canon 212§3 be a valid defense for the four cardinals if Pope Francis ordered them stripped of their cardinatial rank for insubordination? Or does the pope’s “supreme, full, immediate, and universal” power over the governance of the church give him the right to overrule that canon, inasmuch as doing so would not contravene dogma or doctrine? I have no idea; if you’re a canon lawyer, please weigh in. No matter what the answer, that kind of confrontation would be an ecclesiastical bomb going off on in the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope would be saying that simply asking him to clarify a muddy teaching is enough to have your consecration elevation as a cardinal revoked. That would be the act of a tyrant, and will be seen as such by many. It’s hard to imagine how a schism would be avoided.

Are you wondering why this is so important, and why the four cardinals are demanding that the Pope clarify church teaching? John Zmirak has an FAQ explaining the issue and the stakes. Excerpt:

Q: So what does this mean for the authority of your church?

A: If Pope Francis does not reverse course and reconcile his teaching on divorce and remarriage with perennial church teaching, but instead makes a new teaching binding on all Catholics, then he will be teaching heresy — full stop, and imposing it on the whole Church. If infallibility doesn’t stop that, I don’t see what use it is.

Q: Can’t you just declare him a heretic and depose him?

A: No, we cannot. Vatican I in 1870 taught that popes can teach infallibly, and that they cannot be judged by anyone or ever removed from office.

Q: But God can’t contradict Himself either. He can’t let you teach one thing at the Council of Trent, then the opposite today.

A: No, He can’t.

Q: How can the doctrine of papal infallibility survive this?

A: Fans of logic will note that it can’t. If Pope Francis continues on the course he has chosen, he will prove, empirically, that this teaching was never true in the first place.

Q: What will that mean for the First Vatican Council?

A: That council, and every other council the Catholic Church has held since the great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054, will be called into question. The Orthodox theory, that it was Rome which went off the rails back then, will start looking pretty persuasive. Last time I checked, making the case for that was not the Roman pontiff’s job.

You, reader, might be thinking: Rod, as a former Catholic turned Orthodox, must be pretty happy with this.

Well, no. In fact, what Pope Francis wishes to teach on communion and remarriage is closer to the Orthodox view of things, which I believe is true. So why does it bother me if a) Pope Francis wishes to reform Catholic doctrine (or pastoral practice, depending on how you look at it) to be more in line with what Orthodox Christians believe is true, and b) if the current crisis were to reveal the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility to be false, and therefore causing at least some Catholics possibly to move to Orthodoxy?

Only for this reason: stability. The reason the Catholic Church is in this theological crisis at the moment has to do with pressure by the world to change its ancient teaching for the sake of accommodating a Western world that is post-Christian in its view of marriage and sexuality. Zmirak, I think, is right about this: if the Catholic Church changes its position on marriage and communion, the house will come tumbling down.

In the Catholic system, theological teaching is deep and complex, with doctrines building off of each other, and all of them developing out of binding tradition. It is not as simple as saying, “This teaching is hard now, and people don’t like it, so let’s get rid of it.” With some things, you can do it. But not the teaching about marriage and communion. It would be like having build a mansion around a tree, using the branches to support the internal structure, only to find that, over time, the tree is growing in ways not predicted, making the mansion difficult to inhabit. If you go in and start lopping of branches to make the mansion more comfortable, you might discover that the whole thing falls in, because the tree has become more fundamental to the core of the structure than you realized.

This, I think, is the danger that the four cardinals see. I don’t know enough about Catholic theology and canon law to say whether or not the Pope is right in this instance, but you don’t have to be an expert to read the dubiathe questions the four cardinals put to the pope for clarification — and to see that they are reasonable. This is a question of papal power versus papal authority. The Catholic Church, as Zmirak sees, is having to confront some unforeseen consequences of its doctrine of papal infallibility, which was formally defined at the First Vatican Council in the late nineteenth century.

Now, there might be serious Protestants and Orthodox who would like to see the Roman Catholic system collapse, because in their view it was built on error. But they should understand that if the Roman church falls into schism and disarray because of this, it will not be because the Catholic masses wish to be more countercultural in their marriages and in their reception of communion. Plus, the authority of all Christianity is waning in the post-Christian West; should Rome’s collapse in schism, the resulting earthquake will shake all of us Christians to the core, whether we realize it or not. To be pleased with what’s happening with Rome now in this fight is like taking pleasure in the possibility that the guy down the street’s house might fall down because he didn’t listen to your advice for building it, without considering that if his place falls, the entire neighborhood is going to be a much worse place to live.

It must be said that this whole mess is another example of how the church left never, ever brings a knife to a gun fight. The same is rarely true of the church right.



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