Further Thoughts on Papal Silence

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. Continue reading “Further Thoughts on Papal Silence”

Words of wisdom (not mine, naturally)

Since recovery from the cold/throat infection etc is slow, and the latest papal offering (11,000-odd words) is too long for me to face at the moment, I will plagiarize a little. Consider it a nod to a great tradition.

With all the renewed guff from campaigners for the impossible dream of women’s ordination; and those who seek to minimize the Church’s teaching on abortion, the admission to Communion of remarried divorcees or publicly pro-abortion politicians, or other moral issues, a decades-old reflection from Frank Sheed seems apt. Frank Sheed was an Australian layman who was doing the New Evangelization before it was even a twinkle in a future pope’s eye, a street-corner apologist who was both remarkably faithful to Church teaching and wonderfully clear and direct in its expression; he was the “Sheed” in the great Catholic publishing house Sheed & Ward.

Invariably when dissenters pipe up, they bring up the matter of conscience, usually a rather skewed version of it. So many of them use “conscience” as a pretext for acting for “justice” outside the earthly boundaries of the Catholic Church, even as they profess to be more faithful to God in doing so. Mr Sheed is dealing with sensitive issues, writing at the time of Humanae Vitae in 1968, and admits that there may be occasions when a rightly-formed conscience might move one to reject a particular precept or teaching of the Church (he is speaking mainly of non-dogmatic, non-infallible teachings). Let what Mr Sheed writes sink in:

Following conscience and acting against some Church ruling might mean being deprived of the Blessed Eucharist. And that could mean anguish. It would not be a reason for leaving the Church: the only reason for belonging to it is the belief that it is Christ’s, and it does not cease to be His because its officials have judged wrongly or acted unjustly. The anguish must be borne, must be offered to God. must not turn into bitterness against the authorities. Seeing things as he does, the man has no choice. He must remind himself that the authorities also, seeing things as they do, have no choice… The troubled Catholic’s belief may be right or wrong, but if his love for the people who have barred him from sacraments is not diminished but increased, then he is suffering not only for his belief but for the Church, and his suffering works for its renewal.  (Is it the same Church?, F J Sheed, 1968)

Again it must pointed out that Sheed has in mind here matters of Church discipline and the consequences of its moral teaching. Nevertheless, it is even more apt for those who deny magisterial and dogmatic teachings of the Church. But the principle is clear whatever the case: if you think the Church is wrong, you will only ever be vindicated and the Church changed (should either actually be possible) not by leaving the Church, not by disobedience to her, but by humbly suffering what you see as injustice. That is what “works for its renewal”. And if you are wrong, as chances are you might be, then you have the merit of obedience to your credit. Why is such suffering obedience so crucial? (Think about that word – it comes from crux, “cross”.) Because Christ could have achieved nothing without his own obedience.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.     Philippians 2:8

Has the universe known a greater injustice than that worked on Christ by humanity? Yet he endured it, though he was indisputably in the right. How much more, then, should we, so rarely right, endure our petty little sufferings for his sake.

dali Christ

As St John the Baptist so profoundly taught about Christ,

He must increase, but I must decrease.  John 3:30

Until we fully grasp these truths, I suspect we can never fully be Christians.