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Some remarks on the Roberto de Mattei interview

It is disconcerting to see the Second Vatican Council, an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, listed alongside Modernism, a pernicious heresy, as if both could have been contributors to our present woes.

(Ilya Yakover/Unsplash.com)

Italian historian Professor Roberto de Mattei was interviewed over at OnePeterFive. The professor musters some evidence for his interpretation of recent ecclesiastical events but some alternatives to his interpretations seem reasonable, too. I’ll mention a few here.

De Mattei: “The present crisis in the Church did not originate with Pope Francis, and it is not focused in one single person; rather, it dates back to the Second Vatican Council, and, going back even further, to the Modernist Crisis [of the early twentieth century]”.

Perhaps that came out wrongly, but it is disconcerting to see the Second Vatican Council, an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, listed alongside Modernism, a pernicious heresy, as if both could have been contributors to our present woes. Ignorance, even betrayal, of conciliar teachings by many of those responsible for its implementation is not the fault of a council, and an ecumenical council should not be listed alongside a heresy as a possible source of disaster.

De Mattei: “The fact that the guidelines of the Argentine bishops and the approval of the Pope have been published in AAS has made it official that ‘no other interpretations are possible’ of Amoris Laetitia other than that of the Argentine bishops, which authorizes communion to be given to those divorced and remarried people who are in an objective state of mortal sin. The letter was private, but the publication in AAS transforms the position of Pope Francis into an act of the Magisterium.”

This is simply wrong, and at several levels.

First, content and authorship of ecclesiastical assertions are crucial—crucial—in assessing what counts, and what does not count, as “magisterial”.

At the risk of over-simplifying, the great majority of “magisterial” assertions convey doctrine not discipline (however much disciplinary provisions might serve doctrinal values, they themselves are rarely doctrinal—thus ‘magisterial’—in nature). Now, the Buenos Aires directives do offer some doctrinal assertions (mostly aspirational, vague, and excessively wordy) that in my view are either sound or at least cannot be proven as heterodox, and they offer some disciplinarypoints that, again, are either sound or do not directly contradict Canon 915 (see below).

Second, the publication in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis of a dicastery official’s memo about what a pope apparently told him about one of that pope’s letters to a group of bishops concerning a document that the bishops had written does not transform said memo or pope’s letter or bishops’ statement into “magisterial acts” no matter what labels might later be attached to them. In the interest of time, let’s just focus on the weight to be accorded the Argentine’s document itself.

Episcopal conferences cannot issue doctrinal statements unless such statements are “unanimously approved by the bishops who are members [of the national episcopal conference], or receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the Bishops belonging to the Conference and having a deliberative vote.” John Paul II, ap. con. Apostolos Suos (1998) Comp. Norm 1, emph. added. The “Bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region”, authors of the Buenos Aires directives, are not the Argentine episcopal conference.

Moreover, sub-groupings of episcopal conferences cannot, under any circumstances, carry out acts of “authentic magisterium”, as John Paul II made clear in Apostolos, Comp. Norm 2: “No body of the Episcopal Conference, outside of the plenary assembly, has the power to carry out acts of authentic magisterium. The Episcopal Conference cannot grant such power to its Commissions or other bodies set up by it.”

I see, in other words, no “magisterial act” from an episcopal conference that could be ‘re-magisterialized’ in the first place or ‘magisterialized’ by the several-steps-removed publication process outlined above.

(By the way, this whole notion that publication in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis means something is “magisterial” and/or that basically nothing is ecclesiastically important unless it appears in the AAS will not survive two minutes’ reflection. Great swaths of material in the AAS have nothing whatsoever to do with magisterium, and boatloads of, say, John Paul II’s magisterium never appeared in the AAS (e.g., most of his Wednesday addresses on Theology of the Body); moreover, some important Church documents took effect in virtue of their publication in, say, L’Osservatore Romano (e.g., CDF penal decree of 2008 against attempting the ordination of women) or even in Roman academic journals (the tribunal instruction Dignitas connubii of 2005). So, yes, the AAS is important (Canon 8), but it is not the only show in Rome.)

Third, no matter what theory might find some kind of ‘magisterium’ operative in the Argentine’s document or in the pope’s endorsement of it, the simple fact remains that neither the Argentines nor the pope has ever directly said that civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics may (outside of the narrow application of the internal forum option known as “brother-sister”) be administered holy Communion in disregard of the divinely-rooted and pontifically legislatedprohibition against such administration set forth in, among many other places, 1983 CIC 915 and CCEO 712. As far as I can see, the Buenos Aires directives never quite confirm what Amoris laetitia never quite says. It is a situation ripe, of course, for exploitation by those bent on avoiding, among other things, the implications of Our Lord’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, which brings me to my next point.

De Mattei: “The line of thinking of those cardinals, bishops, and theologians, [and canon lawyers] who maintain that it is possible to interpret Amoris Laetitia in continuity with Familiaris Consortio 84 and other documents of the Magisterium has been reduced to dust.”

I strongly disagree with de Mattei’s bleak assessment of the state of this debate and I say that as one who has steadily opposed the implementations of Amoris being wrought by, say the bishops of Malta and German episcopal conference committee. The point, as I see it, is not whether these bishops are implementing Francis’s “desires” (I have no window into the pope’s intentions, so how would I know?), the question is whether they are applying his words, and I say, they are not applying his actual words.

De Mattei: “Amoris Laetitia is a document which serves as a litmus test: it must be either accepted or rejected in toto.”

How can anyone make such a stark, all-or-nothing claim about a +50,000 word document so replete with pastoral insights, tiresome platitudes, scholarly applications and embarrassing misappropriations, and clever insights, as is Amoris?

Reasonable minds should “examine everything, and keep what is good.”

About Edward N. Peters 96 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.

37 Comments

  1. Somehow Peters is not especially reassuring. If it is this hard to figure out what is and is not part of the Magisterium, how is this very different than Protestants invoking an infallible Bible with so many varying interpretations. Vatican II have a foothold to Modernism by its format of highly prolix documents that allowed diverse readings…. much like this papacy.

  2. I really hate using the term, but… the neo-Catholic band marches on.

    Of course AL is a litmus test. As Peters’ response suggests, there are some bad parts that we should reject–but what’s wrong with a little leaven?

    To use a the words of AL itself, it can no longer simply be said that small errors infect the whole. Leo XIII must have left mercy at the door when he taught: “There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition.”

    • Sorry, I’m not that bright, but Pope Francis and Pope Leo XIII can’t both be right. I have more confidence in Pope Leo if I am forced to choose.

  3. . I wonder how many very intelligent human beings look into Catholicism and turn away because of this endlessly complex area of what is authoritative…what isn’t….and what might be but authorities vary on that too….where is it printed…how many times did he say it. It seems endless. Two dissenters on Humanae Vitae were periti at Vatican II…one a previously conservative moral theologian, Bernard Haring,….the other Karl Rahner who edited Denzigers Enchiridion Symbolorum which calibrates what’s authoritative. It’s simply off putting…the endless non clarity of the whole topic. Then when no Pope censured either of those two men in their dissent…the fog thickened. We convert often people from the African bush and parts of Asia but are we turning off many educated who see this said area of the doctrinal as endlessly foggy measured by the pedigree of those within the Church who disagree on what is definitive. It seems endless especially when Popes censure virtually no one…unless a writer attacks something mega major like the Trinity…then there’s excommunication.

  4. “Ignorance, even betrayal, of conciliar teachings by many of those responsible for its implementation is not the fault of a council, and an ecumenical council should not be listed alongside a heresy as a possible source of disaster.”

    No; but writing the documents of a council so poorly that they permit ignorance and misinterpretation and provide cover for betrayal is the fault of a council. And is a possible source of disaster.

    • In my experience, 97%+ of Catholics have never read the documents, or even the four Constitutions, of the Council. That even goes for many priests, who spout nonsense about this or that being “of the Council”, even though it’s simply not the case.

  5. I’ll stick with Dr. Peters and Canon 915 on a better technical understanding of the actions in this papacy.

    At some point, Pope Francis will have to show his hand in a manner that will not need the intricate explanations of a seasoned canon lawyer.

  6. I love and admire Dr. Peters, and I know that he is right about Canon Law and authority.

    But in practice (I.e. the gaming of the system by Ivereigh’s Team Bergoglio) the gigantic problem is mentioned in para 7: a lot of the content of AL and the associated letters, memos etc etc (and V2 documents) is sound theology and moral teaching, and the other parts “cannot be proven to be heterodox.” And then in a later paragraph – Dr. P states the main problem (I.e. the intention of Ivereigh’s Team Bergoglio): all of this can be exploited.

    I must admit that Ivereigh’s Team Bergoglio, and “theologians” like Cdl. Kasper (a Cardinal! is the Church out of its mind?) and Massimo Faggioli et al are post-Catholic. Their “theology” doesn’t have to cohere with authentic Catholic teaching – their job is polluting and dissolving the Catholic Faith – and then substituting the “new authority” to replace the Apostolic Faith – that new authority being THEIR GIGANTIC SELVES.

    And as Cdl. Kasper stated about V2 (I believe he stated it live on the air in an interview with Raymond Arroyo) it was purposefully written to be ambiguous to admit conflicting interpretations.

    That’s the game: ambiguity.

  7. And no, I haven’t read every V2 document, but I have read SC over and over and over, and it is utterly ambiguous, and the “practical result” of exploiting SC is what the faithful Laszlo Dobszay called “the Bugnini Mass.”

    Grief seems to be the apt emotion.

  8. I think I owe Dr. Peters an apology for missing his point.

    He is reminding us that we, as Catholic people, are all people under the law, and per the memorable movie scene (in A Man for All Seasons) as St. Thomas More reminds us, the law is there to protect us from tyranny, including tyranny in the Vatican.

  9. Dr Peters does not reassure me when he references writings of John Paul II. The powers in the vatican can simply continue on as if those writing are not important. No?

  10. “Reasonable minds should “examine everything, and keep what is good” is a good start in assessing AL. Dr Peter’s is most often pertinent except regarding the intent evident in AL. Perhaps it’s that he cannot or declines to distinguish between canonical stricture and reasonable opinion [“I’m not a mind reader”]. The Pope has personally affirmed intent. Anyone who reads AL intelligently cannot gloss over intent to permit communion for D&R [that position of Hierarchy is what’s exacerbating division and error]. Roberto de Mattei is well intended but as Peters says is wrong in his assessment of Vat II. De Mattei is excessive in his condemnations there and elsewhere which harms his overall credibility. I agree with de Mattei on Vat II insofar as Dignitatis Humanae [Modernist Fr Courtney Murray SJ authored Dignitatis Humanae and believed God himself could not demand we deny our conscience] is a theological disaster placing preeminence on conscience v doctrine [in tandem with Cardinal Kasper who recently said conscience is a secret conclave between God and Man as if Christ’s words don’t exist]. Although there was effort that it be declared dogmatic it never was raised to that level and is not binding. Only Lumen Gentium and Verbum Dei were declared dogmatic. I strongly agree with de Mattei’s bleak assessment of the state of this debate in stark contrast to Edward Peters’ assessment who figures the Maltese Argentine German Philippine flights of heresy must be like derailed trains off the track of AL’s orthodoxy. Doesn’t the fact that the Pope hasn’t corrected or even criticized these heretical derailments mean anything? Edward Peter’s salient point however is “the Acta Apostolicae Sedis does not transform said memo or pope’s letter or bishops’ statement into “magisterial acts”.

  11. So…. a few simple questions: Are divorced and “remarried” people committing adultery, or are they not? Is the gravity of a sin erased by the length of time it has been going on, or is it not? Does either question matter, or not? To interpret anything said or written by Pope Francis, we now have to depend upon the good will and orthodoxy of a whole busload of canon lawyers. This article clarifies nothing. It just adds to the confusion.

    • Since the D&R people were not remarried by a Catholic priest in a Catholic ceremony, they are not married. They are living in a free union, in concubinage. Concubinage is a mortal sin, a sin as serious as fornication or adultery.

  12. I fully agree with Dr. Peters that the document of the Argentinian Bishops of the Buenos Aires province has not become part of the magisterium, but what about Francis’ answer? He promulgated it as an Apostolic Letter, maybe the lowest degree of the Magisterium, of course, but yet as a magisterial document, it seems.

    • The letter to the Buenos Aires bishops, as it was published in the AAS includes a special rescript as an addendum by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State. This rescript declares that Pope Francis expressly intends that BOTH documents – the pope’s letter and the Buenos Aires guidelines themselves- bear the character of his “authentic Magisterium”.
      Even if canonically the specialists can say that the documents are not “authentic Magisterium”, the huge majority of bishops will say they are and implement the communion to D&R in their dioceses.
      The is no other alternative.
      Unless the Fraternal Correction is issued and the Pope declared a heretic, the change will become irreversible.

      • Jack if you say there is no other alternative you imply agreement that the letters per se regardless of the affirmation by Cardinal Parolin are binding. Cardinal Parolin is not the Pontiff and doesn’t share his authority. If you mean the large majority of bishops will follow suit as the only alternative we have to wait and see. Remember the majority voted in favor of Bishop Naumann to manage pro life agenda rather than the Pope’s favorita Cardinal Cupich. And the law matters. This Pontiff cannot abrogate the necessity to personally in writing or by his own spoken words definitively state his intention for communion for D&R. Many bishops are well aware of that.

      • A fraternal correction can be issued on particular ambiguities; but that doesn’t mean the Pope can be declared a heretic [even if he is].

  13. “Perhaps that came out wrongly, but it is disconcerting to see the Second Vatican Council, an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church”

    Latin traditionalists will have arguments for their claim that the council is not dogmatic. But non-Latins may question whether it should be regarded as an ecumenical council at all.

  14. Peters does an excellent lawyerly job defending a client. But who is his client? Certainly it is not Bergoglio, who does what he wants and makes it pretty clear, to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, what he is doing and means to do.
    There is no excuse for anyone to be “confused” about it. Bergoglio is, in fact, intent on undermining the very basis of the Church’s moral doctrine, replacing reason and logic with a debased casuistry that also goes by the names consequentialism and proportionalism. The AAS publication of the Argentine correspondence is his response to the Dubia: In your faces. Whether or not that publication is or is not a magisterial act — or whether or not a magisterial act may include error — are questions of little moment. Bergoglio certainly isn’t interested in the answers. He speaks and acts as an exercise of raw power.
    The problem with all well-meaning efforts to fit Bergoglio into some kind of continuity with Wojtyla and Ratzinger, or with the pre-Vatican II magisterium of the ages, is that he patently is not and obstinately and pertinaciously does not want to be in continuity. Thus, the Dubia, for example, though they profoundly and comprehensively raise all the “right questions”, come across as disingenuous (“Say it ain’t so, Father”).
    Peters leads by saying: “… it is disconcerting to see the Second Vatican Council, an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, listed alongside Modernism, a pernicious heresy, as if both could have been contributors to our present woes. Ignorance, even betrayal, of conciliar teachings by many of those responsible for its implementation is not the fault of a council, and an ecumenical council should not be listed alongside a heresy as a possible source of disaster.”
    Here again, though, the question is not a matter of magisterial weight or authenticity. The real question is the use (or abuse) of power. Sure, one can pick through all of the Vatican II documents and find a way to reconcile them with the perennial teaching of the Church. (To a certain extent, that was what Wojtyla and Ratzinger believed to be a foundational task of the hermeneutic of continuity). But every “exegetical” exercise of this kind misses the main thing about Vatican II: it was a raw exercise of power to transform the Church under the inspiration of Modernism. The same can be said of the Council’s ongoing “implementation”.
    The great virtue of de Mattei’s history of Vatican II is that he has documented the use of raw power that characterized the acts of the Council and its promoters.
    Bergoglio truly is the heir of Vatican II.

  15. Edward Pentin has a Dec.13 piece on part of this at NCRegister citing a number of diverse Catholic voices on this Argentine letter event. But here is yet another position by the AAS editors…with which I think Ed Peters would differ…
    ” The Vatican made clear in Acta Apostolicae Sedis that this private papal letter congratulating the bishops on their guidelines would be raised to the magisterial status of an apostolic letter (less magisterial than an encyclical but more than an apostolic exhortation). It also included a special rescript — an official papal decision on doctrine — written June 5 by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, which declares that Pope Francis expressly intends that both his letter and the Buenos Aires guidelines are “authentic magisterium”.
    The busy Catholic biologist, dentist, school teacher with endless homework correcting…does not have any spare time to sort out which Catholic canonist, Vatican secretary of state, theology prof, AAS editor….is correct that this letter is magisterial, non magisterial, lacking pan Bishop participation, etc. ec. etc.
    Peter and Paul were simply preaching Christ. Those were the good ole days prior to 2000 years of nuances.
    I imagine a father now telling his son to clean the basement…and the son asking….” how magisterial is that disciplinary exhortation, dad,( and can it be magisterial at all with no doctrinal assertion that the cellar is dirty) …is it less magisterial than marry a good woman but more magisterial than take out the garbage…what say ye?”

  16. This excerpt from Prof Pink’s essay Conscience and Coercion 2012 is relevant to Dignitatis Humanae and the discussion here on conscience v Church doctrine and papal authority.
    “The Catholic debate about religious liberty needs to move on from what is, where religion is concerned, the secondary issue of the authority and competence of the state, and address what is fundamental: the authority of the Church over those subject to her. We particularly need what is currently lacking—a theology of the Church that properly addresses her traditionally claimed authority to coerce individual belief and practice while explaining the doctrinal basis of and limits to the Church’s power of coercion. This will involve an appropriate theology of baptism and in particular of the obligations to the Church incurred through baptism. These are the very obligations that, as traditionally understood, could take political form and thus underpin state involvement in coercion, and which Dignitatis Humanae so carefully undertakes to preserve, but not to explain”. Thomas Pink is professor of philosophy at King’s College London.

  17. Just as murdered people are in fact dead so a marriage is in fact ended when there is a divorce plus sexual intercourse with the new spouse. This is why adultery is so evil. A Catholic can be dedicated to the sanctity of marriage without declaring marriage indissoluble in all cases. A Catholic can be dedicated to the sanctity of life without having to declare the murdered person to be still alive. Murder, among other reasons, is evil precisely because the victim dies. Divorce and remarriage is evil precisely because there is disobedience toward God and because the bond of marriage is indeed broken. The first marriage no longer exists. Adultery is not an ongoing sin just as murder is not an ongoing sin if there is repentance. Just as the repentant murderer cannot bring his victim back to life so the repentant divorced and remarried cannot bring the first marriage back to life. In fact, an attempt by the spouse to go back to his first spouse after having divorced and remarried is condemned in the Bible. See Deuteronomy 24:3-4. The remarried persons must publicly confess the sinfulness of their actions and then publicly resolve to be faithful in the second marriage.

    My wife divorced me and I was able to get an annulment from the Catholic Church. I never remarried though. I now see that this annulment to be more damaging to the Catholic Church’s determination to defend marriage than if the Catholic Church would have declared the marriage dead when my divorced wife remarried. Up until the remarriage, my wife and I could have reconciled. But the remarriage ended that possibility per Deut. 24:3-4. My former wife was now one flesh with her second husband. I believe my take on this subject to be biblical.

    • Rowland, Christ’s words contradict you in John 4:
      ” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” 17 The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ 18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
      Christ is saying her real husband even now is a previous husband. A theologian from Boston College had your view of dead marriages but Christ did not. Theologians nowadays sometimes ignore Christ’s words…e.g. the head of the Jesuits says we don’t really have a tape recording of what Christ said…which of course means every human on earth can substitute their idea in place of Christ’s idea on any subject. Insanity is the name for that.

  18. What is disconcerting is that Dr. Peters (and many others) doesn’t seem to understand the following:

    1. Divine law trumps human law.
    2. Canon law didn’t even exist for centuries.
    3. The Magesterium trumps canon law.
    4. Vatican II was declared by Pope Paul VI AND Pope John Paul II to be a PASTORAL council on 2 occasions each.
    5. The implementation of the ‘teachings’ of Vatican II were carried out with papal sanction. Say not so all you want, the fact that no Pope after Vatican II has done anything to “correct” the implementation is all the proof necessary to one who sees reality as it truly is.
    6. It is a matter of record that the documents that now comprise Vatican II are not what was originally drawn up to be voted on, and that the liberals at VII screwed with the whole process.
    7. So called “conservative catholics” with the mindset of Dr. Peters had for decades trashed Traditional Catholics claiming that the Traditional Latin Mass was abrogated, that is until Pope Benedict XVI set the record straight in 2007.
    8. These same people love to claim that the pope would never promote a heretic to the status of Cardinal, especially Pope John Paul II. I have 2 words in response to that assertion. Cardinal and Kasper.

    The bottom line is that Dr. Peters is attempting to explain away something that has never happened in the history of the Church, rather than standing against it.

    Too bad, since he has done a lot of good work in the past.

  19. I am very grateful for the cogent analyses that Dr Peters has been offering in these confused times.
    At this point, however, it just seems to me that no matter the proper distinctions to be made ( and that should be made), in the end, no one will pay much attention and a lot of damage is being done. I’m not reassured…

  20. I wouldn’t say it was Vatican II, but rather how Vatican II was interpreted, or even misinterpreted that has caused a lot of problems for the Roman Catholic Church and faithful. Some religious and lay people seemed to think that Vatican II had given the Church its Protestant wavier and that all of a sudden Priests could marry, Nuns could marry, women could be ordained as Priests, you didn’t have to go to Mass, you didn’t have to do anything you didn’t want to do. Except, that wasn’t true. Most just seemed to think they knew what was in Vatican II, rather than actually reading it to find out. The problem persists to this day, unfortunately.

  21. Am I missing something? The Pope knows that a valid marriage is forever; however, if the marriage is not valid, and the Pope has given Bishops the authority to guide those in such non-marriages, and with their guidance bring the persons back into the Church and allow them Communion – how can that be wrong. If there is no mortal sin (three things needed to be mortal), isn’t that person allowed Communion?

    • Yes, Eva, you are missing a lot (that, or you’re being all wide-eyed disingenuous). We are not talking about people who were in invalid marriages, whose marriages were declared null, and who then married someone else. We are talking about people whose marriages are presumably valid, who divorced their spouses, and then, despite still being married (since divorce is a purely civil affair and Christian marriage is indissoluble), “married” someone else and are living in a state of adultery, which is a mortal sin.

      • Quote from Pope Francis:

        “A lasting and consummated marriage, with everything in order, continues and will continue to be indissoluble, and the Church can’t do anything about it because her Lord and Master did not grant her that authority. We are all disciples before Christ: only one is the Master, only one is the Guide, only one is the Lord,” he (Pope Francis) stressed.

        This above quote doesn’t match how some people are interpreting and understanding what the Pope is saying. Maybe people are picking and choosing phrases out of context?

        • “This above quote doesn’t match how some people are interpreting and understanding what the Pope is saying.”

          What he’s saying when, exactly? That’s the problem. He’ll say something orthodox, and then proceed to undermine it by saying other things that are most definitely not. And then when the unorthodoxy of the undermining statements is pointed out, people say, “But how can you say he’s unorthodox when he said something quite orthodox at some other point?”

          If nothing else, such confusion and lack of clarity is very uncharitable.

  22. Reference to “We are talking about people whose marriages are “presumably” valid,…”

    Here, Leslie, I believe the Pope was indeed talking about marriages that are invalid and not “presumably” valid. (He previously made the comment that he believed a lot of marriages that were in the Church could be considered invalid.
    I believe he is offering the Lord’s mercy to those.

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