Recently I made use of Frank Sheed to suggest that the cloud of papal silence over the Amoris Laetitia crisis, and in particular the dubia of i quattro cardinali, might perhaps carry with it a silver lining. In a nutshell, Sheed explained that papal infallibility can be secured by the Holy Spirit in a positive way, definitive teaching for example such as that on Our Lady’s assumption, or in a negative way, in that even the most scandalous of popes were preserved from teaching error ex cathedra. In that case, their silence was at least silver, if not golden. So too now, papal silence might not be as bad as we think.
For we do well to remember that the papacy does not exhaust the teaching authority of the Church. Historically popes have not been doctrinally very active, save as courts of final appeal. The dubia were presented to Pope Francis precisely in his capacity as the final and magisterial arbiter of doctrinal contention. It would be wonderful if he answered them by reaffirming the teaching of Christ.
However his silence is not the end of the world, nor grounds for his deposition as a heretic as some commenters have suggested.
Bishops are also teachers of the faith, with magisterial authority especially when they teach as a college. The first responsibility for teaching and defending the faith and practice of the Church is the local bishop’s. If the pope is silent, nothing is stopping the bishops of the world from reaffirming the teaching of Christ. As we have been seeing, many have been doing so, while a few are temporising. There is nothing like a crisis to sort the sheep from the goats.
So while we should be praying for the pope, and praying that he bring to an end the current fractious debate, we can be also praying that our local bishops step up to the plate and start hitting some doctrinal home runs. Pope Francis has expressed esteem for collegiality. So the bishops can start employing it to a good end, teaching clearly and with charity what Christ has revealed as the truth on marriage and family life, and human sexuality. The combined weight of their positive teaching will itself encourage the strengthen the pope to do the same. This presents at least one positive aspect to the often problematic conception of collegiality.
And instead of searching out scandal like bloodhounds—and if we have to search for it then there is probably little scandal in the proper canonical sense of the word—let us examine the Church’s teaching and the current situation in western society and what how we might both uphold Christ’s teaching and deal with real pastoral care for those who have entangled themselves, or been entangled, in complex and morally problematic relationships.
To that end, may I recommend you all go and read an article by Christopher Altieri, recently of Vatican Radio and now of Vocaris Media. He parses the controversy, and very helpfully, by identifying two basic camps and doing so without casting one or other of them as agents of darkness. Rather he identifies what the motivating principle is for both of them. Then he sets about trying to reconcile them in light of the teaching of Christ and the Church.
The article is long but lucid, and I need to reread it to comprehend more adequately the lineaments of his argument. He raises pertinent issues such a motivation, firmness of intent in repentance, and other categories of sinner who, it might reasonably be argued, get off much lighter than some remarried divorcees of goodwill.
Mr Altieri also implies that the role of conscience needs to be more fully and adequately taught. For many conscience is little more than a manipulable inner voice that we invoke to get us off hooks we find too uncomfortable. But when we invoke personal conscience we must remember it comes inevitably with personal responsibility. Are we truly confident that we can stand with heads held high before the Judgment Seat of God with the various decrees of our personal conscience in hand? Are we truly sure that God will see it our way? Are we truly sure, indeed, that we see it God’s way?
Therein lies what should always be our first prayer, or first quest: Lord, what is Your will? Let Your will be done, not mine.