Cowardice in the anti-Francis brigade

This story appears in the Amoris Laetitia feature series. View the full series.

by Michael Sean Winters

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A group of 45 "scholars, prelates and clergy" have sent an appeal to the world's cardinals, asking them to implore Pope Francis to correct what they deem to be "erroneous propositions" in Amoris Laetitia, according to this report from the National Catholic Register's Edward Pentin. 

Pentin reports:

'We are not accusing the Pope of heresy,' said Joseph Shaw, a signatory of the appeal who is also acting as spokesman for the authors, 'but we consider that numerous propositions in Amoris Laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.'

Phew! I am so glad this group doesn't think the pope is a heretic, at least not necessarily, and provided he agrees to withdraw the propositions in question. And, at least only parts of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation are "scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous" not the whole thing.

It would be nice to see the entire text, not merely what Mr. Pentin chooses to share with us. For instance, do these scholars and prelates and clergy acknowledge that Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation followed quite closely the consensus document produced by the synod, a document in which each and every paragraph received a two-thirds majority vote?

According to Pentin, the appeal asks the cardinals "to approach the Holy Father with a request that he repudiate the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris Laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true." I am guessing that, since the pope wrote the document just this year, he thinks the items at issue are "possibly true." Why then would he retract them? Do the scholars and prelates and clergy who penned this appeal think he should lie? Isn't lying an intrinsic evil? If they are inviting the pope to commit a sin, isn't that itself the sin of scandal? 

These people will not even publish their names. One of the organizers told Pentin they chose to remain anonymous because they "fear reprisals, or they are concerned about repercussions on their religious community, or if they have an academic career and a family, they fear they might lose their jobs." This is rich. The people losing their jobs in Catholic establishments these days are not those who have memorized the "Theology of the Body" talks by St. Pope John Paul II. That Pentin did not challenge the assertion is remarkable. Just last week, when asked about why he has not removed those cardinals who so obviously oppose him, the pope said he does not metaphorically cut off heads or, put differently, he recognizes that even those who oppose him, but who have served the Church all their lives, have something to contribute and should not be sacked merely for a lack of personal loyalty to himself. Me? I wish he was a little more willing to sharpen the blade of the proverbial axe.  

I am sympathetic with any Catholic who has trouble with things a pope says or does, especially when what the pope says or does appears to be a change. If they feel moved in conscience to publish a public letter voicing their disquiet, they have every right to do so. If they prefer to send a private communication, that is fine too. But, what is despicable is when you "ring and run away," as a conservative friend put it last night, declining to sign your name, and then dashing over to Edward Pentin to publicize your complaint. That is mere cowardice. If I were a cardinal, and we can all be glad I am not, and I received an unsigned missive like this, having read about it the day before in the press, it would be placed immediately in the circular file.   

Why would Pentin even report on this? After all, he is a reporter and reporters are called upon to ferret out the news and provide some initial analysis, but I am not sure why this qualifies as news. In a worldwide Church of more than 1 billion souls, the fact that there are 45 malcontents is not exactly stunning. I would note, as well, that Mr. Pentin does not really work too hard getting a quote from anyone who is inclined to defend the Holy Father. There is not a single comment from anyone who thinks the appeal was a bad idea. He notes a divergence of opinion between Cardinal Christophe Schonborn and Cardinal Raymond Burke, but not as to the appeal. Of course, Pentin works at the pleasure of the leadership of EWTN, which owns the Register. The key question: Does the EWTN/Register leadership, which constantly tells its viewers and readers that they are the purveyors of "authentic" Catholic news, whose on air commentators frequently complain about the distortions they perceive in the secular media, do that leadership approve of Pentin's relentlessly biased articles attacking the pope, or not? Is this opposition to Francis an expression of "authentic" Catholic faith?

During the 1952 presidential election, the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, pastor at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York and known for his "power of positive thinking" preaching, declared that Adlai Stevenson was unfit to be president of the United States. The witty Stevenson, when asked about the remark, replied, "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling." This unsigned appeal, broadcast by Pentin, is appalling.

[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

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