Questions and Answers on the ‘filial correction’

Steubenville, Ohio, Sep 29, 2017 / 03:19 am (CNA).- Dr. Jacob Wood, an assistant professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, offers answers on some frequently-asked-questions about the ‘Filial Correction on the Spread of Heresies” a letter sent to Pope Francis by a group of bishops, priests, and scholars, who released the letter this past weekend.

What is fraternal correction?

Fraternal correction is an act of charity (CCC 1829), in which we call a brother or sister in Christ, who has fallen into serious sin, back to the way of the Gospel. Fraternal correction is explained by Jesus in the Gospel (Mt 18:15-17).

Why is this called a “filial” and not a “fraternal” correction?

Christ established a hierarchy in his Church (CCC 877), and the signatories on the letter are not on equal footing with the pope in that hierarchy. Out of respect for the pope’s authority, they appeal to the pope as his spiritual sons and daughters, not as spiritual brothers and sisters.

Why is this correction being issued?

Some of the signatories issued a filial appeal to Pope Francis last year, asking him to clarify the Church’s teaching with regard to marriage, sin, and grace. When they did not receive a response, they prepared this correction. The correction was originally sent to Pope Francis privately in July.

Why is this correction being made public now?

When the signatories received no response from Pope Francis to their appeal or their correction, they were concerned about the possibility of scandal, and so they made it public.

Was it right to make the correction public?

Not necessarily, no.

In Donum Veritatis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stipulates that theologians who wish to critique the timeliness, form, or substance of non-infallible magisterial documents should address their concerns to the “responsible authority” rather than the “mass media” (DV 30). The responsible authority for the Church’s teaching on faith and morals is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The responsible authority for the interpretation of canon law is the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

Moreover, the principal concern of a filial or fraternal correction should be the amendment of the one who is thought to have sinned. But the publication of the document (as opposed to its private submission) was not undertaken primarily with a view towards correcting a supposed sin of Pope Francis. Rather, the cited reason for the publication of the correction is the avoidance of scandal to others, not the correction of Pope Francis himself.

Furthermore, although the correction seeks to avoid scandal, the correction itself has served as a cause of scandal. It insinuates that the pope is a heretic, it thereby weakens people’s trust in the pastors of the Church, and it provides the mass media with the opportunity to paint a false picture of the Church, in which those who believe the Church’s teaching about marriage, sin, and grace are seen as somehow opposed to the pope.

What authority does the correction have?

The correction is a private act on the part of the individual signatories, which they have undertaken in their capacity as baptized members of the Church (Can. 212, §3). The correction therefore has no magisterial authority in the Church.

Are Catholics required to follow the correction?

No. Since the correction lacks magisterial authority, Catholics are not required to agree with it or to follow it.

What is heresy?

“Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same…” (CCC 2089).

Does this mean that the pope is a heretic?

No. Despite the document’s title, the signatories acknowledge in the document that they lack the authority to judge whether the pope has committed the sin of heresy or the canonical crime of heresy. The difference between the sin and the crime of heresy, and an answer to the question about whether the pope can be a heretic, are discussed here.

If the signatories cannot convict the pope of heresy, what sin do the signatories claim that the pope has committed?

The signatories claim that the pope has failed to stop the spread of heresy, rather than that he has committed the sin of heresy himself.

What heresy do the signatories claim that the pope has failed to stop?

The signatories claim that the pope has failed to stop the spread of seven heresies. Most of these concern the Church’s teaching on mortal sin. The Church’s teaching is that we cannot with full knowledge and deliberate consent choose to perform grave evil without cutting ourselves off from God’s grace (CCC 1857), and that we cannot live in a state in life which is contrary to God’s law without cutting ourselves off from the Sacrament of the Eucharist (CCC 1650).

Are those heresies contained in Amoris Laetitia?

None of the passages of Amoris Laetitia cited by the correction explicitly denies that a person who knowingly and willingly commits grave evil cuts himself or herself off from God’s grace.

Amoris Laetitia does explore the possibility that a person who commits grave evil may in some cases not have full knowledge or deliberate consent when doing so, but precisely insofar as they lack full knowledge and/or deliberate consent, such a person is not necessarily committing mortal sin.

Amoris Laetitia also explores the process of healing the gravely sinful elements of a state in life which is contrary to God’s law, without necessarily abandoning that state in life altogether. Amoris Laetitia only speculates as to what may be possible in this context, and its teaching is not clear. The Church teaches that in ambiguous cases such as this one, “everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.” (CCC 2478) That means interpreting ambiguous statements in continuity with the faith and practice of the Church, not in terms of a rupture with that faith and practice.

How can we gain clarity about the teaching of the Church on divorce and remarriage?

With magisterial authority, St. John Paul II declared that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a “sure norm for teaching the faith” (Fidei Depositum 3). We may therefore look to the teaching of the Catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (1601-1666), sin (1846-1879), and grace (1950-2029). Four Cardinals of the Catholic Church have also submitted five “dubia” to Pope Francis. A “dubium” is a question about faith and/or morals to which the faithful would like a magisterial answer, and “dubia” is the plural of “dubium.” Should Pope Francis answer the dubia, it would give us further guidance as to his intended teaching.

What should Catholics do now?

Catholics should pray for the pope, for the signatories of the correction, and for the Church. Jesus Christ himself promised to send his Holy Spirit so as to lead the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13), and to defend the Church from error (Mt 16:18). Jesus is always faithful to his promises.

 

Dr. Jacob Wood is assistant professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. His opinions are his own.

3 Comments

  1. It usually isn’t a good thing when the person who is supposed to be the teacher presents the lesson in a way that makes things more cloudy than they were before… and then refuses to answer questions about it. The man who likes to be thought of as the humblest man on earth takes an “I know you are but what am I?” approach to those who are supposed to be his charges…

  2. Dr Jacob Wood is in his own opinion politically correct, objective, fair minded. He judges in his article there is nothing erroneous in Al. It all complies with the Apostolic Tradition. He by implication judges that many astute, credentialed Catholic scholars are mistaken. That would include myself, including scholar Dr Josef Seifert recently fired from the Granada seminary by the Spanish Archbishop Martínez Fernández for the following in AL 303, “‘Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized’. Catholic philosopher Dr. Josef Seifert logically deduced from this paragraph that if Pope Francis believes that adultery — to quote the exhortation — ‘is what God himself is asking’ of couples in ‘irregular’ situations, then there is nothing stopping any other intrinsically evil act, such as contraception and homosexuality, from eventually being justified” (Pete Blakinski Lifesite). Where in 2000 years of Church doctrine is that premise found? That God does not provide sufficient grace to amend one’s life and repent. 303 is couched in the context of footnote 351. Either the person living in a state of adultery, and as Seifert indicates those living in any “irregular” situation can conscientiously by personal discernment, or the discernment of a priest determine they are meeting God’s minimal requirement considering that their “given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel” for receiving the Eucharist. Personally I’m disheartened that the touted Franciscan University of Steubenville is represented by Dr Wood. The Church is not simply faced with insidious craftiness but with crass incompetence.

    • ‘Catholic philosopher Dr. Josef Seifert logically deduced from this paragraph that if Pope Francis believes that adultery — to quote the exhortation — ‘is what God himself is asking’ of couples in ‘irregular’ situations, then there is nothing stopping any other intrinsically evil act, such as contraception and homosexuality, from eventually being justified”’

      However, the key there is the word IF, viz., IF Pope Francis believes that…

      But it looks like a different reading of AL 303 is possible. To demonstrate this, imagine if AL 303 read as follows: (words added in UPPERCASE as a thought experiment and to stress the point)

      ‘…Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also RIGHTLY recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to RIGHTLY see with ABSOLUTE moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal…’

      If Pope Francis had used wording such as what is shown above, that would indicate that he was stating ‘we can know with “a certain moral security” that God himself asks us to continue to commit intrinsically wrong acts’.

      But on the contrary, actually it looks as though the Pope is simply pointing to situations wherein some people in certain situations are recognizing ‘with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God’ >> but that recognition by such people ISN’T being endorsed as right as such.

      Rather, he seems to be saying: let us discern and meet people where they are – this is the situation in which some people find themselves. Without ‘throwing a stone’ at such people (or ‘locking the prison door and throwing away the key’), he then says ‘this discernment MUST remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.’

      (A loose analogy would be to claim that merely because Spirit-inspired Scripture mentions wives taken by a man, – example: 2 Sam. 5: 13; 2 Chron. 11: 21; Ex. 21: 10 – that automatically implies a divine approval of polygamy.)

      The Pope is NOT saying that ‘continuing to live in what constitutes objectively a grave sin’ is the will of God. Rather, he is saying that in some cases, some people may recognize that to be the will of God. (Whereas in reality it isn’t God’s will, but in some cases, such recognition MAY be – I submit – due to what # 7 of the section on ‘Pastoral Guidelines for Confessors’ in the Vademecum for Confessors (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/family/documents/rc_pc_family_doc_12021997_vademecum_en.html ) calls “an inculpable error of judgment”.)

      I suspect that the Pope in AL may, inter alia, also be asking pastors to discern if # 8 of the section on ‘Pastoral Guidelines for Confessors’ in the above-mentioned Vademecum for Confessors applies in a given situation; viz. the following: ‘The principle according to which it is preferable to let penitents remain in good faith in cases of error due to subjectively invincible ignorance, is certainly to be considered always valid, even in matters of conjugal chastity. And this applies whenever it is foreseen that the penitent, although oriented towards living within the bounds of a life of faith, would not be prepared to change his own conduct, but rather would begin formally to sin…’

      It appears therefore that AL may be trying to build a ‘skeleton’ guidance that may be useful for pastors as they accompany those who are in irregular situations; – situations which can be further complicated by inculpable errors of judgment and/or subjectively invincible ignorance.

      There does not therefore appear to be a doctrinal break with previous pontificates; rather, this appears to merely be a development of the pastoral way back to the Father’s house for CERTAIN (NOT ALL) instances. [Bear in mind that AL itself carefully speaks of CERTAIN (NOT ALL) cases in footnote 351.] This naturally involves discernment on the part of pastors to see how best people who find themselves in such situations can be helped to get back on track.

      (It is noteworthy that AL 2 says: ‘The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.’

      Also to be noted is AL 3 which says: ‘Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.’)

      Pastors may have to go ‘down’ some terribly dark ‘holes’ to encounter broken souls. In such situations, they would look out for even the faintest glimmer of light in a ‘dimly burning wick’ (cf. Mt. 12: 20) – which can then be slowly, prudently, patiently, prayerfully ‘fanned’ into a ‘flame of conversion’.

      In this context, Pope Benedict’s comments on condom usage by a male prostitute > https://www.ignatius.com/promotions/light-of-the-world/excerpt.htm and the subsequent clarification from the CDF > http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20101221_luce-del-mondo_en.html are recalled.

      If we were to look at that Pope’s logic as one which threatens to destroy the entire moral doctrine of the Catholic Church, would we not have missed his point?

      Mutatis mutandis, the logic in AL.

      Naturally, all of the above are only my personal musings / speculations and it is only Peter (whether the current or a future occupant of the Chair) who can authoritatively clarify.

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