Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals

The Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has designated today as Red Wednesday. Mancunians know this tag for another reason, but it is being coopted and elevated by ACN to signify the day on which we take time for special remembrance who are persecuted for their faith. We are encouraged to donate if we can, or to pray and ideally to attend Mass, and as a sign to the world, to wear something red today.

As much red as this monk can reasonably manage today

Given the headlines in the Catholic press and blogosphere the last week or two, it is hard not to think of certain red-clad cardinals. The letter of i quattro cardinali—Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner—seeking papal clarification of five dubia, doubts, that have arisen as a result of the conflicted and confusing reception of the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (following last year’s Synod on the Family), Amoris Laetitia (“the Joy of Love”, not “The Joys of Love” as The Week put it, which makes it sound like an instruction on sexual technique. Of course, the choice of amor(-is) does refer to the fact that it is sexual love being discussed, not the more supernatural caritas).

The five doubts are:

  1. Whether the validly married who gave civilly divorced and remarried now be admitted to Holy Communion, despite the perennial traditional doctrine of the Church, most recently reaffirmed under Pope St John Paul II;
  2. Whether there now remain absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and which are thus binding on all without exception;
  3. Whether one can still say that someone who has adopted a lifestyle that contradicts the commandments of God is living in a habitual state of objectively grave sin;
  4. Whether St John Paul II’s magisterial teaching that intentions or circumstances can never change an intrinsically and objectively evil act into a subjectively defensible or even good one in individual cases;
  5. Whether the teaching on the role of conscience as magisterially clarified as recently as the pontificate of St John Paul II still stands, namely that conscience can never legitimise an intrinsically evil act by reference to their object (and so we can now say that the end does justify the means).

The letter is dated 19 September and has been released because the Holy Father, having acknowledged receipt of the letter, has not answered it. Thus the cardinals are invoking Pope Francis’ own exhortation to parrhesia (candid and free speaking of one’s mind) in the Church, and so adding another voice to the public debate, the voice of tradition and magisterial doctrine. They are calling on the Holy Father to act as popes are called to, to confirm the brethren in faith, and so prevent the birth of confusion, and its bastard child division, in the Church. The letter accuses the pope of nothing, only asks him to resolve a crisis that has developed in the wake of his teaching. It is respectful in tone and letter, wags no fingers and names no names. The cardinals have acted as cardinals properly should, as advisors and counsellors to the pope.

Yet the reaction has been extraordinary in some quarters. Cardinals Cupich, Tobin and Farrell (nb all Americans) have issued subtle, even-toned rejections of their brother cardinals’ letter. Most recently, however, the President of the Greek Catholic Bishops’ conference, Bishop Fragiskos Papamanolis (who notoriously declared at the Synod that it is not easy to sin!), has issued an open letter to i quattro cardinali, in which is almost hysterical ion tone and reasoning. He accuses the cardinals of heresy, apostasy, fomenting schism, scandal and consequently of celebrating sacrilegious Masses. Even in Italian, there repeated sound of “s” conveys the hissing tone in which he writes.

Bishop Fragiskos Papamanolis

No doubt the Greek considers this an act of fraternal correction. If so, it is far more brutal, far ruder, for more shrill, far less reasoned than the letter seeking clarification from i quattro cardinali. And that is the point: the cardinals are not making a correction, but seeking clarification. But even if they were correcting the pope, why should their act of fraternal correction be condemned yet the Greek feel free to make his own hysterical “correction”. It can only be that he holds an extremely ultramontane understanding of the papal office.

Yet in his Letter to the Galatians, chapter 2, we read one apostle, St Paul, admitting without blushing that he had opposed the Prince of the Apostles, St Peter, to his face when the latter undermined the gospel by temporising in order to satisfy the Jewish circumcision party. By such an accommodation “even Barnabas was led astray” and so St Paul felt he had to remind St Peter of “the truth of the gospel”. And St Peter, as we know, acknowledged the point that St Paul made and resolutely put an end to Judaizing tendencies in the life of the infant Church.

Paul rebukes Peter

I quattro cardinali have not acted anywhere near so boldly and defiantly as St Paul (justifiably) did, and far from correcting the pope they are inviting the successor of St Peter to correct his erring brethren who are misusing his own words to undermine the truth of the gospel. Rather than acting like St Paul, they are inviting Pope Francis to act like St Paul, as well as St Peter.

As soon as it was released I was convinced that this letter of i quattro cardinali marked a watershed moment in the life of the post-conciliar Church. Far from an act of schism or heresy (for pity’s sake!) it was an invitation to the pope to affirm the eternal teaching of the Church and so put an end to the false hopes,sly accommodations and destructive compromises being touted by certain prelates. Having nailed their colours to the mast, the cardinals have produced a situation in which all, including the pope, will have to nail their colours also to the mast or hide in the crevices. Some will affirm the truth, some will affirm error, and no doubt some will affirm their cowardice (or to put it more positively, their pragmatism). Some will side with truth, some will side with the world and the demands of their own secular society.

It is striking that only a few anglophone, Western, cardinals have spoken against i quattro cardinali. The overwhelming majority have not condemned them. Their silence implies consent. That is of far more concern to the liberalising party around the pope than the letter itself. The cardinals are not accepting the line peddled by the Greek prelate, that the pope is under attack, nor we can reasonably hope will they be doing so. Popes have much entrusted to them, and so from they much will be demanded. They are responsible for the Church, and they are responsible also to the Church as the Body of Christ.

Today’s gospel at Mass was apposite. Here with it are included the preceding verses that the editors of the lectionary chose to omit:

Then Jesus said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.

It is not schism we need really to fear. It is our own failure to stand up for the truth as we know it to be that we should fear. We should fear our own accommodation to the socio-political order and our failure to “bear witness”. It is the internal schism of the heart that is the real danger to us individually.

Christian faith has always made difficult demands on Christians and they way they live their lives. It has always demanded that we accept the consequences of our choices in this life, if only that we might not endure consequences far more negative, and eternal, in the next. It is all about salvation, and there is no salvation without the Cross. There is no salvation without truth, for charity cannot exist without it. Both led Christ to the Cross. It leads martyrs today—in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, inter alia—to a real sharing in the Cross. Why should we affluent Westerners be exempted? More to the point, why should any Catholic be denied the saving blessing of sharing  in the Cross?


28 thoughts on “Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals

  1. Father you gave me quite the chuckle this morning when I opened my reader and saw what I knew to be your foot staring me in the face—and I think that is more pink than scarlet but perhaps the computer is misleading 🙂
    During this time in the US when we are looking toward the notion of in can we stop the madness of commercialism over the impending Black Friday / Christmas shenanigans, as well as the hysteria we are currently living in these post election days, just long enough to focus on the thought of true thankfulness—I am most thankful and grateful for you Father and your ever sound yet strong observations of the often misguided the direction in which the Church seems to be drifting, if not barreling towards at engines on full steam.
    Your words “It is not schism we need really to fear. It is our own failure to stand up for the truth as we know it to be that we should fear.” are at the heart of the matter Father…that we the faithful must stand up for the truth—those of us here in the US who the politicians and mainline media and the ever growing secular and wanton sinful populace works to silence… as well as the for all of Western Civilization who is doing its darnedest to remove nay notion of God, Savior, Salvation, repentance, Grace, contrition, responsibility, sin….from society….
    If I can find the address to the Abbey—I’ll send you some new socks 😉


  2. Thank you, Father, for the light. “the part the lectionary chose to omit” ! … that is distressing in the very fact that they did choose to omit it. We are constantly finding ourselves searching in the dark, with a flashlight for our poor eyes, in search of truth. It is glossed over, or, omitted. Even in our weekly diocesan newspaper.

    I hope I will not be a victim of the internal schism of the heart. It is most necessary to go back to our catechisms of old and read them over and over, begging for fortitude to speak up.

    I see now that the letter of the Cardinals was of the most charitable nature. It is difficult to believe that anyone would think otherwise. The words of Sister Lucy of Fatima come to mind, ie: “diabolical disorientation.” There are so many now who are over us, responsible for guiding our souls to heaven, who seem to have lost the way. Modernism? Situation Ethics? They are victims too.

    We have our prayers. Thanks again.


      1. Yes, I have CCC 1994 and 2007 + my Mothers Catechism Joseph Deharbe 1905 I read them all and know they are all good. Prayers for you as you asked today, Sat. for your thesis. God Bless you, Father! Thanks.


  3. Father,
    While I am a layman and in no way assume to criticize the cardinals for their “dubia”, I think it was not prudent to publicize this. I am a son of the church but also a son of earthly parents. My parents have made mistakes and I have had opportunities to correct them. I do not then go out and publish their faults.

    By publishing the letter of the “dubia” the cardinals are guilty of the sin of Ham Noah’s son. While Noah was truly in error by getting drunk and naked it was Ham who publicized it and was cursed by Noah himself in the Book of Genesis.

    It is my opinion that not all correction should be public and as my many years in education have taught me, public correction hardly ever leads to conversion.


    1. But Mark, this was not a correction, but a request for clarification in order to deal with confusion in the public domain of the Church. The Church has the right to see and hear that its pastors are attempting to resolve the confusion. Even popes occasionally have to be reminded to be popes.



      1. Father,
        With all due respect, I hardly think the cardinals are publicizing their dubia so as not to convict the pope in court of public opinion. This pope is very popular and to question him in this way is tantamount to a rebuke. If we look at the dubia we see that there is not clarification that is asked but philosophical traps that if answered will lead to the unraveling of the document.

        It is similar to the philosophical traps of the Pharisees. Jesus on most occasions did not engage them either.


      2. Not a valid analogy but one that would go down well in the liberal press. Read Professor Bullivant on the Catholic Herald website about how putting dubia forward to authority is bread and butter for theologians. If your want to read it as a rebuke that is up to you. Theologians mostly won’t.


  4. Excellent post, Father. If I may be allowed to pick just one liturgical nit: weren’t those earthquake verses omitted by the lectionary because they had been read the day before?


    1. Touché! Indeed they were.

      However, this is one of those moments when the editors would have been justified in giving us a larger single gobbet of scripture as dividing this section of Luke up weakens its force and coherence. My suspicious mind tends to think that is precisely what was intended by the editors. They give us huge blocks, especially from the OT, in order to get a whole story or episode in one go; but if there is a darker, more ominous sweep in scripture it is either omitted or broken up.



  5. Thank you Fr. Hugh! God bless you and yours and his work at your hands.
    “The cardinals have acted as cardinals properly should, as advisors and counselors to the pope.” – According to Tradition, their action has more weight when seen as Bishops being brave like Paul before Peter. [Cf. Bishops: Be Brave before Pope Francis as Paul before Peter | Online Petitions – The cardinalate is by the Church vs. Divine Origin and belongs to the hierarchy of jurisdiction within the Church []. In the sacred deposit of the faith, it is the precedent of the episcopate correcting the papacy [the next step according to Card. Burke one of the 4 brave Bishops who are cardinals].
    “They are calling on the Holy Father to act as popes are called to, to confirm the brethren in faith, and so prevent the birth of confusion, and its bastard child division, in the Church.” – I am afraid it is beyond the confusion stage, nor is it simply the pope clarifying Amoris Laetitia because the pope’s position, if there was any doubt about it, has now become clear because of the pope’s endorsement of the Argentine bishops’ document on Amoris Laetitia insisting that “there are no other interpretations”. The pope, we pray, like you said would have to act both as St.Paul and St. Peter in that he would have to acknowledge his error and correct it. It just doesn’t seem that that is going to happen.


  6. Mark said: “While I am a layman and in no way assume to criticize the cardinals for their dubia’… By publishing the letter of the ‘dubia,’ the cardinals are guilty of the sin of Ham, Noah’s son.”

    Those two sentences are contradictory.


    Mark further said: “Father, with all due respect, I hardly think the cardinals are publicizing their dubia so as not to convict the pope in court of public opinion.”


    The pope can put an end to the whole affair by saying five simple words.

    He could call his secretary in, dictate the answers to the dubia, then go to lunch. Would take less than 90 seconds.


    1. Indeed, Dennis, to convict the cardinals of sin yet to claim not to be criticising them is an oxymoron that will not stand much examination!

      And again, indeed, this would be easy for the pope to solve. The crux of the matter is his silence, which is pregnant with possible meanings, from which stems the current crisis. Fr Hunwicke, following Newman, calls the pope’s silence a suspense of the Petrine magisterium.

      Magisterium is something that should never be suspended or held in suspense. If truth is true, it needs always to be proclaimed, affirmed and defended.



      1. If I have been oxymoronic I apologize. I should have put my comment in the form of a question. I guess by publicly criticizing the cardinals I am the one guilty of the sin of Ham. I repent publicly of any sin. I will also in my confession.

        I guess I defend the Holy Father because I feel that he has been attacked so often. I also feel that the motivation for the attack is because he espouses different views than most prelates. I also fear that the motivation might be because of his race/culture. Since his election I hear so many criticisms. I will defend the pope and pray for him to be protected from ALL harm.

        Father, I did mean “with all due respect” it was not just a phrase. If I was in error please forgive me.


      2. Don’t get too caught up on accusing yourself (let alone anyone else) of sin. Your heart was in the right place in wanting to defend the pope. And I would defend him, also, from any ignorant or intemperate attack. But it is possible to critique a pope on the exercise of his office, in one particular instance of it for example, without denying him the obedience and the respect that is his due by virtue of his office. Post-conciliar decades were full of those who attacked the pope without discretion and with real vitriol at times, demanding he follow their clearly secular and quite ungodly agenda, be it in sexual morality, women’s ordination, liturgy inter alia. Those attacks could not, and could never, be justifiable.

        The trick is not to equate every instance of what appears to be a challenge to the pope with the intemperate and vicious attacks of recent decades. See what agenda the critique follows. If it is asking the pope to affirm Catholic teaching and avoid the spread of dangerous confusion in the Church, then this is not an attack but an exhortation for the pope to be more papal! If it seeks to move him to act contrary to the magisterial teaching of the Church and follows what is essentially a secular agenda, then we are right to stand up for the pope and critique the critics. If their critique is soaked in vitriol, then they need to be firmly rebuked. But that duty is best left to those who hold offices to which such a response is proper; we can however support publicly those who exercise their duty properly, and as always pray for all concerned. We could all do a lot more praying.



  7. Pingback: | 2016: Apocalypse
    1. He articulates what I have been implicitly doing for some time: what is helpful from the pope, I embrace; what is disturbing I try to ignore. Try, because it is not always easy. But the Church is bigger than any one pope. It leaves me wondering yet again if we, as the Church in toto, have been failing in our prayer for popes.



  8. Perhaps we have been failing in our prayer for Popes, or taken for granted that they have little need of our poor prayers. It was inevitable that a Pope would come along, however, who would fully embrace the confused “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council. Such a one is Pope Francis.


  9. The Universal Church prays at each and every sacrifice of the Mass for Pope Francis as well as local bishops. I presume that our individual prayers are efficacious as well, but isn’t the Holy Father already receiving the pentultimate prayer? If this isn’t moving his heart, what on earth (or/nor in heaven) will? God help us.


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