Father Thomas Weinandy, who was canned by the USCCB for telling truth out of season about the current pontificate, go here to read about it, has given a speech at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, detailing how the current pontificate is harming the Church:
Challenge to the Church’s Oneness
Much of Pope Francis’s pontificate is admirable and praiseworthy. One only needs to observe, to note a few, his defense of the sanctity of life, his concern for the poor and the marginalized, and his encouragement to the young. At times, nonetheless, it would appear that Pope Francis identifies himself not as the promoter of unity but as the agent of division. His practical philosophy, if it is an intentional philosophy, seems to consist in the belief that a greater unifying good will emerge from the present bedlam of divergent opinions and the turmoil of the resulting divisions. My concern here is that such approach, even if unintentional, strikes at very essence of the Petrine ministry as intended by Jesus and as continuously understood by the Church. The successor of St. Peter, by the very nature of the office, is to be, literally, the personal embodiment and thus the consummate sign of the Church’s ecclesial communion, and so the principle defender and promoter of the Church’s ecclesial communion. Thus, a manner of proceeding that allows and even encourages doctrinal and moral divergences undermines the whole of Vatican II’s teaching on ecclesial communion, as well as that of the entire magisterial and theological tradition going back to Ignatius. By seeming to encourage doctrinal division and moral discord within the Church the present pontificate has transgressed the foundational mark of the Church – her oneness. How, nonetheless, does this offense against the Church’s unity manifest itself? It does so by destabilizing the other three marks of the Church.
Challenge to the Church’s Apostolicity
Firstly, the apostolic nature of the Church is being undermined. As has often been noted by theologians and bishops, and most frequently by the laity (those who possess the sensus fidelium), the teaching of the present pontiff is not noted for its clarity (12). As the one most responsible for the unity of the Church, the pope is the one who is most responsible for ensuring the bond of faith. To be in full ecclesial communion with the apostolic Church, whether it is the pope or the newest convert, it is necessary to believe what the Apostles handed on and what the apostolic Church has consistently taught. For Pope Francis, then, as seen in Amoris Laetitia, to re-conceive and newly express the previously clear apostolic faith and magisterial tradition in a seemingly ambiguous manner, so as to leave confusion and puzzlement within the ecclesial community, is to contradict his own duties as the successor of Peter and to transgress the trust of his fellow bishops, as well as that of priests and the entire faithful. Ignatius would be dismayed at such a situation. If, for him, heretical teaching espoused by those who are only loosely associated with the Church is destructive to the Church’s unity, how much more devastating is ambiguous teaching when authored by a bishop who is divinely charged to ensure ecclesial unity. At least heresy is a clear denial of the apostolic faith and so can be clearly identified and as such properly addressed. Ambiguous teaching, precisely because of its murkiness, cannot be clearly identified, and so is even more troublesome for it fosters uncertainty as to how it is to be understood and thus how it is to be clarified.
Moreover, for Pope Francis to then take sides in the ensuing debate, a debate for which he himself is responsible, concerning the proper interpretation of the uncertain teaching is disingenuous. He has now allowed others to be the arbiter of what is true, when it is precisely the apostolic mandate of the pope to be the one who confirms the brethren, both episcopal and laity, in the truth. Furthermore, to appear to sanction an interpretation of doctrine or morals that contravenes what has been the received apostolic teaching and magisterial tradition of the Church – as dogmatically defined by Councils and doctrinally taught by previous popes and the bishops in communion with him, as well as accepted and believed by the faithful, cannot then be proposed as magisterial teaching. The magisterium simply cannot fundamentally contradict itself concerning matters of faith and morals. While such teaching and confirmation may be enacted by a member of the magisterium, such as the Pope, such teaching and confirmation is not magisterial precisely because it is not in accord with previous magisterial teaching. To act in such a manner, the pontiff, or a bishop for that manner, is acting in a manner that places himself outside the magisterial communion of previous pontiffs and bishops, and so is not a magisterial act. To act in a magisterial manner one has to be, including the pope, in communion with the entire ever-living magisterial tradition. In the matter of faith and morals the teaching of no living pope takes apostolic and magisterial precedence over the magisterial teaching of previous pontiffs or the established magisterial doctrinal tradition. The magisterial and apostolic import of a present pontiff’s teaching lies precisely in its being in conformity with and so in living-communion with the abiding historical magisterial and apostolic tradition. That Pope Francis’ ambiguous teaching at times appears to fall outside the magisterial teaching of the historic apostolic ecclesial community thus gives cause for concern, for it, as stated above, fosters division and disharmony rather than unity and peace within the one apostolic Church. There appears to be, as a consequence, no assurance of faith.
Challenge to the Church’s Catholicity
Secondly, as we saw in examining the ecclesiology of Ignatius and especially Vatican II, all of the bishops throughout the world, who are in communion with the pope, are together responsible for the apostolic oneness of the Church. The universality of the Church is visibly manifested in that all of the particular churches are bound together, through the college of bishops in communion with the pope, by professing the same apostolic faith and by preaching the one universal Gospel to all of humankind. We saw this clearly expressed in Ignatius’ letters. Traditionally, this catholic oneness is most clearly exercised within universal councils and extraordinary synods. Moreover, as Lumen Gentium acknowledges, national bishops’ conferences, while attending to pastoral issues that pertain to their own culture and locale, also exercise this catholicity by safeguarding and promoting the universal doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church as well as insuring that the universal sacramental and liturgical disciplines of the Church are properly observed. Thus, as exemplified in Ignatius and Vatican II, the entire visible hierarchical governance of the universal Church is structured precisely to maintain and promote ecclesial communion – a communion that embodies the one apostolic faith. This mark of catholic oneness is also presently challenged.
Pope Francis’ espousal of synodality has been much touted – the allowance of local geographical churches more self-determinative freedom. On one level this decentralization is welcomed for it encourages national bishops’ conferences and local ordinaries to take more governing responsibility. As envisioned, however, by Pope Francis and advocated by others, this notion of synodality, instead of ensuring the universal oneness of the Catholic Church, an ecclesial communion composed of multiple particular churches, is now employed to undermine and so sanction divisions within the Church. This rupture is not simply on matters of local and national significance, but on issues that bear upon the doctrinal and moral integrity of the one Church of Christ. We are presently witnessing the disintegration of the Church’s catholicity, for local churches, both on the diocesan and national level, are often interpreting doctrinal norms and moral precepts in various conflicting and contradictory ways. Thus, what the faithful are instructed to believe and practice in one diocese or country is not in conformity with what the faithful are instructed to believe and practice in another diocese or country. The Church’s mark of oneness, a unity that the pope is divinely mandated to protect and engender, is losing its integrity because her marks of catholicity and apostolicity have fallen into doctrinal and moral disarray, a theological anarchy that the pope himself, maybe unwittingly, has initiated by advocating a flawed conception of synodality. To put this erroneous notion into practice, then, is to violate the catholicity of the Church herself.
Challenge to the Church’s Holiness
Thirdly, this brings us to the fourth mark of the Church – her holiness. This mark is equally under siege, most especially, but not surprisingly, in relationship to the Eucharist.
For John Paul, Eucharistic communion “confirms the Church in her unity as the body of Christ” (ibid. 23; cf. 24). Because “the Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist, it follows that there is a profound relationship between the two, so much so that we can apply to the Eucharistic mystery the very words with which, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, we profess the Church to be ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’” (ibid. 26). Of all the sacraments, therefore, it is “the Most Holy Sacrament” (ibid.). Likewise, it is apostolic for Jesus entrusted it to the Apostles and to their successors (cf. ibid. 27). “The Eucharist thus appears as the culmination of all the sacraments in perfecting our communion with God the Father by identification with his only-begotten Son through the working of the Holy Spirit” (ibid. 34). Since the Eucharist conveys and nurtures most fully the four marks of the Church, John Paul insists:
“The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order. The profound relationship between the invisible and visible elements of ecclesial communion is constitutive of the Church as a sacrament of salvation” (ibid. 35) (13).
In this proclamation, John Paul confirms, as seen above, the teaching of Vatican II, as well echoes, inadvertently, Ignatius’ Eucharistic ecclesiology. To participate fully in the Church’s Eucharist, a liturgy that embodies and cultivates the four marks of the Church, one must also embody the four marks of the Church, for only in so doing is one in full communion with the Church so as to receive communion – the risen body and blood of Jesus, the source and culmination of one’s union with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Quoting from a document promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul insists: “In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible form, that is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (ibid. 39) (14). In the light of this, John Paul proceeds to address those issues that contravene this doctrinal understanding of the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion.
The first issue John Paul addresses, and the one that concerns us here, pertains specifically to holiness (15). While one must profess the Church’s one apostolic faith, faith itself is insufficient for receiving Christ in the Eucharist. Referencing Vatican II, John Paul states that “we must persevere in sanctifying grace and love, remaining within the Church ‘bodily’ as well as ‘in our heart’” (ibid. 36) (16). At the beginning of the Second Century, Ignatius, as we saw, made this same point – that one can only receive communion “in a state of grace” (Ad. Eph. 20). Thus, in accordance with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Council of Trent, John Paul confirms: “I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, ‘one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin’” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 36) (17). In accordance with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, John Paul, therefore, insists that the sacrament of Penance is “necessary for full participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice” when mortal sin is present (ibid. 37). While he acknowledges that only the person can judge his or her state of grace, he asserts that “in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved” (ibid.). John Paul intensifies his admonition by quoting Canon Law. Where there is “a manifest lack of proper moral disposition,” that is, according to Canon Law, when persons “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” they are “not to be permitted to Eucharistic communion” (ibid.) (18).
Here we perceive the present challenge to the Church’s holiness and specifically the holiness of the Eucharist. The question of whether divorced and remarried Catholic couples, who engage in marital acts, can receive communion revolves around the very issue of “outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm,” and, therefore, whether they possess “a manifest lack of proper moral disposition” for receiving communion. Pope Francis rightly insists that such couples should be accompanied and so helped to form properly their consciences. Granted that there are extraordinary marital cases where it can be rightfully discerned that a previous marriage was sacramentally invalid, even though evidence for an annulment is unobtainable, thus allowing a couple to receive communion. Nonetheless, the ambiguous manner in which Pope Francis proposes this pastoral accompaniment permits a pastoral situation to evolve whereby the common practice will swiftly ensue that almost every divorced and remarried couple will judge themselves free to receive Holy Communion. This pastoral situation will develop because moral negative commands, such as, “one shall not commit adultery,” are no longer recognized as absolute moral norms that can never be trespassed, but as moral ideals – goals that may be achieved over a period of time, or may never be realized in one’s lifetime (19). In this indefinite interim people can continue, with the Church’s blessing, to strive, as best as they are able, to live “holy” lives, and so receive communion. Such pastoral practice has multiple detrimental doctrinal and moral consequences.
First, to allow those who are objectively in manifest grave sin to receive communion is an overt public attack on the holiness of what John Paul terms “the Most Holy Sacrament.” Grave sin, by its very nature, as Ignatius, Vatican II and John Paul attest, deprives one of holiness, for the Holy Spirit no longer abides within such a person, thus making the person unfit to receive holy communion. For one to receive communion in such a, literally, disgraced state enacts a lie, for in receiving the sacrament one is asserting that one is in communion with Christ, when in actuality one is not. Similarly, such a practice is also an offense against the holiness of the Church. Yes, the Church is composed of saints and sinners, yet, those who do sin, which is everyone, must be repentant-sinners, specifically of grave sin, if they are to participate fully in the Eucharistic liturgy and so receive the most-holy risen body and blood of Jesus. A person who is in grave sin may still be a member of the Church, but as a grave-sinner such a person no longer participates in the holiness of the Church as one of the holy faithful. To receive communion in such an unholy state is, again, to enact a lie for in such a reception one is publicly attempting to testify that one is a graced and living member of the ecclesial community when one is not.
Second, and maybe more importantly, to allow those who persist in manifest grave sin to receive communion, seemingly as an act of mercy, is both to belittle the condemnatory evil of grave sin and to malign the magnitude and power of the Holy Spirit. Such a pastoral practice is implicitly acknowledging that sin continues to govern humankind despite Jesus’ redeeming work and his anointing of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe and are baptized. Jesus is actually not Savior and Lord, but rather Satan continues to reign. Moreover, to sanction persons in grave sin is in no manner a benevolent or loving act, for one is endorsing a state wherein they could be eternally condemned, thus jeopardizing their salvation. Likewise, in turn, one is also insulting such grave-sinners, for one is subtly telling them that they are so sinful that not even the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to help them change their sinful ways and make them holy. They are inherently un-savable. Actually, though, what is ultimately being tendered is the admission that the Church of Jesus Christ is not really holy and so is incapable of truly sanctifying her members.
Lastly, scandal is the public pastoral consequence of allowing persons in unrepentant manifest grave sin to receive Holy Communion. It is not simply that the faithful members of the Eucharistic community will be dismayed and likely disgruntled, but, more importantly, they will be tempted to think that they too can sin gravely and continue in good standing with the Church. Why attempt to live a holy life, even a heroic virtuous life, when the Church herself appears to demand neither such a life, or even to encourage such a life? Here the Church becomes a mockery of herself and such a charade breeds nothing but scorn and disdain in the world, and derision and cynicism among the faithful, or at best, a hope against hope among the little ones.
My conclusion will be brief. Much of what I have said, as you may have gathered, has been stated by others. Some will dismiss it as excessive or even mean-spirited. But that is not my intent or spirit at all. As stated earlier there is much in the character of Pope Francis to admire, and we owe him our daily prayers for strength in facing the burdens of his ministry. However, that cannot excuse us from speaking the truth in love. Anyone experienced in religious life – or for that matter, in a marriage – will understand that sometimes the truth must be spoken bluntly – not out of bitterness, but out of fidelity to the persons involved and to safeguard the purpose they share.
What I have attempted to do, and I hope has been helpful, is place the contemporary crisis within the Church in its proper theological and doctrinal setting, that is, within the Church’s four defining marks. Only when we grasp that the Church’s very oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are at stake, what makes the Church truly herself, can we fully appreciate the degree and the consequence of the present crisis. The Church’s very identity, our ecclesial communion, is being assailed, and because she is the Church of Christ, Jesus himself is being dishonored along with his saving work. What is presently being offered in its place is an anemic Church, a Church where the Holy Spirit is enfeebled, and so a Church that is incapable of giving full glory to God the Father.
By attempting to manifest the perilous nature of the crisis, my goal was not simply to make this misfortune known, but to encourage all of us, bishops, priests and laity alike, to embark on an adequate response. Such a response cannot be merely negative, a rebuttal of all the erroneous views and ambiguous arguments, though such is necessary, but rather it must also be a response that is robustly positive. From the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the time of the Second Vatican Council and St. John Paul II the Church has continually proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ and so the good news of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, a Church he conceived through his death and resurrection and to which he gave birth to in his sending forth the Holy Spirit. This constructive proclamation is what will renew the Church and so restore the fallen world to life in Christ.
Moreover, we must defend and promote a proper knowledge of and love for the Eucharist, for here, as we saw, the four marks of the Church are most fully expressed and abundantly nourished. In the Eucharist above all the Church’s identity is most clearly enacted and made visible. For in the Eucharist we are made one with Christ and one with one another as together we profess and joyfully acclaim our one apostolic and universal faith, a faith that is imbued with the holiness of the Spirit, and so as one ecclesial community we worship and glorify God the Father – the source and end of all. Within the Eucharist, then, the Church’s four marks most beautifully shine.
(1) Within his seven letters, for example, Ignatius so argued against those who denied that the Son of God existed as an actual fleshly man but only appeared (docens) or seemed to do so, that is, the Docetists, so as to anticipate the doctrinal teaching of the Council of Chalcedon over three hundred years later (451 AD). For Ignatius, Jesus is the one and the same person of Son of God who existed from all eternity as God and who came to exist truly as man in time. Because of this incarnational reality all that pertains to the divine Son’s humanity – such as birth, suffering, and death, could rightly and properly be predicated of that one divine Son.
See T.G. Weinandy, “The Apostolic Christology of Ignatius of Antioch: The Road to Chacedon,” in Jesus: Essays in Christology (Sapientia Press: Ave Maria University, 2014), pp. 59-74. This essay was first published in Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, ed. A. Gregory and C. Tuckett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 71-84.
(2) All quotations from Ignatius’s letters are taken from Early Christian Writers, trans. M. Staniforth, (Penguin Books: Baltimore, 1968).
(3) For Ignatius, bishops, priests and deacons form an “Apostolic circle” or “council” and so only those who possess “these three orders” can rightly be named a “church” (Ad Tral. 3). The Trallians must always be in unity “with Jesus Christ and your bishop and the Apostolic institutions” (ibid. 7). Bishops, priests and deacons are ultimately “appointed” by Jesus Christ and “confirmed and ratified, according to his will, by his Holy Spirit” (Ad Phil, greeting).
(4) Ignatius is the first to employ the term “catholic.” Here it refers to the universality of the Church. Only around 200 AD did it become a title – “the Catholic Church,” which designated it as the universal Church and so distinct from localized heretical sects.
(5) Not without significance Ignatius makes reference to the other churches within his letters to the individual churches, especially at the conclusion of each of his letters. This referencing of the other churches testifies to their being in communion with one another and so to their individually and communally possessing the defining ecclesial characteristics – that of being one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Cf. Ad Eph. 21; Ad Mag. 15; Ad Tral. 12-13; Ad Rom. 9-10; Ad Phi. 10-11; Ad Smyrn. 11-13; Ad Poly. 7-8.
(6) All quotations are taken from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, (Scholarly Resources Inc.: Wilmington, 1975).
(7) The Constitution footnotes St. Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. 23; St. Augustine, Serm. 71, 20, 33; and St. John Damascene, Adv. Iconocl. 12. In the above paragraph I have placed in italics those words and phrases that speak of the four marks of the Church, though not designating them as such.
(8) The Council does articulate an important aspect of the four marks of the Church that, while hidden in Ignatius’s theology, is never openly expressed, that is, the eschatological nature of these four ecclesial marks (cf. Ibid. 5). The Church fully becomes the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church only when Christ returns in glory. Then, his Body, the universal and apostolic Church, will be fully one with him in the Holy Spirit, thus sharing fully in his holiness. Again, as the Council later states: “While she slowly grows and matures, the Church longs for the completed kingdom and, with all her strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with her king” (ibid. 5).
(9) The Constitution footnotes St. Augustine, Bap. C. Donat. V. 28, 39: “Certe manifestum est, id quod dicitur, in Ecclesia intus et foris, non in corpore cogitandum.”
(10) For a more concise teaching on the four marks of the Church, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 811-835.
(11) John Paul quotes Lumen Gentium, 26.
(12) Pope Francis consistently uses the term “doctrine” in a negative manner – as being bookish and lifeless, far removed from the pastoral concerns of daily ecclesial life. This pitting doctrine and pastoral practice against one another is a false and dangerous dichotomy. The truths of doctrine are the guides and guardians of wise pastoral practice. Without doctrine, pastoral practice has no objective authentic anchor, and so is subject to sentimentality, pop-psychology, and the prejudices of contemporary culture.
(13) At times one gets the impression that Pope Francis, as with the notion of doctrine, perceives the visible Church in a negative light. For the pope, the visible Church appears to assume the character of an impersonal governmental bureaucratic institution – created to make rigid rules and harsh regulations that often, again, have little bearing on the daily pastoral life of the Church – where the real Church exists in all its human tangled complexity. This view also comprises a false dichotomy. Yes, as with any big organization, there can be ecclesial bureaucratic red tape that is far from being constructive and helpful, and even pastoral, but the visible Church is, nonetheless, the sacramental sign and effective means by which, in which, and through which Jesus, through Holy Spirit, works his salvific wonders as Lord and Savior to the glory of God the Father. For this, love of the visible Church is not simply obligatory but a cause for rejoicing.
(14) Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion, Communionis Notio (May 28, 1992).
(15) He later addresses the issues of inter-communion with Protestant denominations, as well as the norms governing communion in relationship to the Eastern Orthodox Churches (cf. 43-46).
(16) John Paul is quoting Lumen Gentium, 14.
(17) John Paul is referencing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385 and the Council of Trent, DS 1647 and 1661.
(18) John Paul is quoting Canon 915.
(19) This understanding that negative moral norms are no longer absolute but goals to be achieved can be applied not only to those who commit adultery, but also to those who commit any other grave sin – fornication, homosexual acts, contraception, the molestation of children, stealing, etc. – and even murder. As long as they are attempting to do their very best, they can obtain the Church’s blessing and receive Holy Communion. Obviously such a pastoral practice is morally absurd.
Go here to read the rest. A Pope has one overriding duty: to defend the teachings of the Catholic faith. Pope Francis has not only failed in that duty, he is actively, in some areas, seeking to undermine the teaching of the Church. There can be no more damning verdict on any Pope.