The opposition to Pope Francis doubles down

by Michael Sean Winters

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We have grown accustomed, sadly, to hearing Cardinal Raymond Burke bemoan the "confusion" caused by Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, specifically the section that deals with how the church should accompany those who are divorced and remarried. Now, he has been joined by two others who share his given name, Fr. Raymond De Souza of the National Catholic Register and Raymond Arroyo of EWTN.

Cardinal Burke, a canonist, can't wrap his head around the fact that the church's mission does not consist in merely repeating the Catechism. Burke repeats, endlessly, that Pope Francis' exhortation could lead some to diverge from what he terms "the constant teaching of the Church," although in fact the church's teaching on what does, and does not, constitute a valid marriage changed enormously at Trent, and again with the issuance of the universal Code of Canon Law in 1917. Pope Pius XII later tweaked the teaching too. Burke and three other cardinals, since joined by a fifth, submitted five dubia, or questions, to the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Fr. Lou Cameli, the archbishop's delegate for formation and mission in the archdiocese of Chicago, responded to the dubia in this article at America. I wish to associate myself with every word of Cameli's argument. It was especially brilliant of Cameli to point to two moments in the Gospels when Jesus addresses the subject of marriage. The first, found in both Matthew and Mark, shows Pharisees trying to catch Jesus in a bind, an almost perfect parallel for the dubia. The second, in John's Gospel, shows Jesus meeting the woman at the well, and his interaction illustrates the kind of accompaniment Pope Francis wants the Church to mimic. Jesus saves his anger for the doctors of the law but showers the sinning woman with kindness.

Fr. De Souza, writing at the Register, repeats the combative arguments put forward by Burke, but he also dabbles in the kind of distortion, almost a deceit, that would be worthy of Sean Hannity. For example, he writes of the text of Amoris Laetitia:

It came very quickly. Despite being the longest papal document ever published in the entire history of the Church, the first draft arrived at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from the papal household in early December 2015, barely six weeks after the conclusion of the second synod. Given that such post-synodal apostolic exhortations often appear two years after the relevant synod, the rush to get such a long and complex document to press was remarkable. It meant that widespread consultation in the drafting was avoided.

Widespread consultation was avoided? De Souza had just offered a brief history of two synods, synods that the participants said were among the most open, dialogical synods in history. And, the text of Amoris Laetitia largely followed the final document from the synod, as well as teachings from previous popes. Would De Souza have found the arguments more to his liking if Pope Francis had waited six months to deliver the text? The implicit suggestion is that the Holy Father knew in advance what he wanted to say, which is ironic because De Souza's hero, St. Pope John Paul II, held synods that were the least consultative in history. And, famously, in 1974, when still a cardinal, John Paul II actually did write the text of a synod document in advance, only to have it rejected by the full body.

De Souza chastises the pope for changing the teaching of the church without owning up to it. He writes, "Several key footnotes do not in fact support the text where they appear, citing only portions of passages to pervert their plain meaning." Pervert? Forgive my French, as my mother used to say, but who the hell do you think you are Fr. De Souza? Another example of his bias is evident when he complains that Pope Francis does not cite Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II's 1993 encyclical on moral theology, which De Souza deems "the principal magisterial document on the moral life since the Council of Trent." That is quite a claim and shows precisely the narrow focus on what constitutes "the moral life" so indicative of Pope Francis' critics. Populorum Progressio, and Laborem Exercens, and Caritas in Veritate are all significant magisterial texts, no? What about Gaudium et Spes? Alas, they deal with the church's social teaching and when conservative Catholics think about morals they tend to be thinking about sex.

Finally, there is Raymond Arroyo, host of "The World Over," a weekly new program on EWTN. This past Thursday, his final segment included a discussion of Amoris Laetitia with Fr. Gerald Murray and Robert Royal. Fr. Murray speaks as if he has videotaped Cardinal Burke's interviews and memorized all the lines. Mr. Royal is more thoughtful, but still prone to the kind of arguments that were settled at the synod. Viewers learned nothing new. Here is the video:



What was galling, however, was that after the discussion of Amoris Laetitia, Arroyo referred to "reports" that Pope Francis is backsliding on his commitment to the protection of children. (This discussion begins at 18:5​0.) On the screen, below the speakers, the ticker said "sexual abuse crisis." I know of one such "report," a poorly done article at The Week by someone who is not a Vatican reporter, Michael Brendan Dougherty, that was filled with inaccurate information and was obviously poorly sourced. I did not respond to that article last week because it was so badly done. Yet, to hear Fr. Murray and Arroyo discuss it, and if you did not know any better, you would think the pope was relaxing his efforts, even though he sent a letter to all bishops just last month reaffirming his commitment to the protection of children.

They cited the case of an Italian priest who had been defrocked but had since had his sentence changed to "prayer and penance." In the event, I think the church is well advised to assign "prayer and penance" to perpetrators, because defrocking them merely cuts them loose, with no oversight. In a monastery, they won't be around children in the first place. You can only assign prayer and penance if the person is willing to be monitored. Defrocking should be reserved for those who will not so submit.

But, what really got my goat was when Fr. Murray said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had taken the lead in the case against Fr. Marcial Maciel. What he neglected to say is that the CDF's report on Maciel was ignored by Pope John Paul II. And, then, in an effort to come full circle, Fr. Murray suggested that this fancied backsliding on child protection was akin to the development of doctrine in Amoris Laetitia, that is, both are instances of mercy unmoored from truth. This is a family newspaper, so I can't write what I said to myself as I watched this deplorable performance, but it begins with "b" and runs to nine letters.

It is time for the bishops to step up to the plate. EWTN owns the Register and neither outlet posts their board of directors. At the time of Mother Angelica's death, Archbishop Charles Chaput, who presided at her funeral, was identified by the network as a member of the board of governors. Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus said his order and EWTN "partner regularly on important projects." Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore is the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights. Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles, did an ad for the Register in which he said the paper presents "the Catholic context and perspective" and offered a "robustly Catholic take on the world." Bishop Robert Baker is the ordinary in Alabama where EWTN is based and Bishop Kevin Vann is the ordinary in Orange County where EWTN has its new West Coast headquarters. So, Archbishops Chaput and Lori, and Bishops Barron, Baker and Vann: Do you approve of this nonsense? Do you think this is "the Catholic context and perspective?"

The opposition to Pope Francis is not big, but it is loud, it is well organized and it is very well funded. They are not reporting on any "confusion" bred by Amoris Laetitia: They are fomenting the confusion. Why so many bishops continue to support this sedition is beyond me, but it is time that they stop. 

[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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