Pope Francis’s scarlet letter

Disunity is inevitable in any family when a father shows a double standard toward his children.

Pope Francis gestures during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 4, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Consider two groups of Catholics:  First, divorced Catholics who disobey the Church’s teaching by forming a “new union” in which they are sexually active, thereby committing adultery.  And second, traditionalist Catholics attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (i.e. the “Latin Mass”), some of whom (but by no means all) hold erroneous theological opinions about the Second Vatican Council and related matters.  In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis radically altered the Church’s liturgical practice in order to accommodate the former group.  And in Traditionis Custodes, he has now radically altered the Church’s liturgical practice in order to punish the latter group. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter famously portrays an unmerciful society in which adulterers are forced to mark themselves off from others by wearing a scarlet A on their clothing.  Pope Francis clearly would disapprove of such cruelty, and rightly so.  Yet the cruel treatment of the community of those attached to the old form of the Mass – the innocent majority of them no less than the minority with problematic theological opinions – amounts to something analogous to the affixing on them of a scarlet letter: the letter T for “traditionalist,” the one group to which the pope’s oft-repeated calls for mercy and accompaniment appear not to apply.

Accompanying adulterers?

Let us consider just how radical each of these papal moves is.  The Church has consistently taught that a valid sacramental marriage does not end until the death of one of the spouses, and has condemned as gravely sinful any sexual relationship with anyone except one’s spouse.  Hence those in such a marriage who divorce a spouse and then form a sexual relationship with someone else are guilty of grave sin, and cannot be absolved in confession without a firm resolution not to continue the sexual relationship.  This is grounded in Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce in passages like Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12.

The gravity of this teaching cannot possibly be overstated.  Christ acknowledges that “Moses allowed” for divorce.  But then he declares: “And say to you” that divorce is forbidden.  Now, the law of Moses was given to Moses by God himself.  So who has the authority to override it?  Who would have the audacity to declare: “Moses allowed” such-and-such but “say” differently?  Only God himself.  Christ’s teaching against divorce is therefore nothing less than a mark of his very divinity.  To put ourselves in opposition to that teaching would thus implicitly be either to deny Christ’s divinity or, blasphemously, to put our authority above even his.  It would be to declare: “Christ said such-and-such, but say differently.”  Absolutely no one other than God himself, not even a pope (whose mandate is precisely only ever to safeguard Christ’s teaching), has the right to do that.

If the teaching in question sounds “rigid,” blame Christ.  His own disciples thought it so, going so far as to opine that if that is how things are, it would be better not to marry (Matthew 19:10).

Now, no Catholic in a state of mortal sin is permitted to receive Holy Communion until he is validly absolved in confession.  And no Catholic can be validly absolved who is aware of the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce, violates that teaching by having a sexual relationship with someone other than his spouse, and refuses to end this sexual relationship.  Hence no Catholic who refuses to end such a relationship is permitted to receive Holy Communion.

This teaching too is extremely grave, grounded as it also is in scripture, specifically in the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29.  According to St. Paul’s teaching, to take Holy Communion while refusing to end such a sexual relationship is nothing less than to profane Christ’s very body and blood and therefore to bring judgment upon oneself.

These doctrines are as clear, consistent, and authoritative as any Catholic teaching is or could possibly be.  They are as ancient as the Church herself, are presented by her as infallible and absolutely binding, and have been unambiguously reiterated again and again and again.  This is, of course, why Amoris Laetitia was so controversial.  For it seems to allow that, in at least some circumstances, those who refuse to stop engaging in adulterous sexual activity can nevertheless take Holy Communion.  To be sure, Pope Francis has not explicitly rejected any of the teachings summarized above.  But he has also notoriously refused requests from several of his own cardinals (in the famous “dubia”) explicitly to reaffirm that traditional teaching, and thereby decisively put to rest any worries about the consistency of Amoris with that teaching.

That the Holy Father himself is aware of how grave the issue is, and has even had his conscience troubled by it, is evident from a conversation recounted by one of his defenders, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.  Crux magazine (not exactly a traditionalist outlet) reported:

Schönborn revealed that when he met the Pope shortly after the presentation of Amoris, Francis thanked him, and asked him if the document was orthodox.

“I said, ‘Holy Father, it is fully orthodox’,” Schönborn told us he told the pope, adding that a few days later he received from Francis a little note that said: “Thank you for that word. That gave me comfort.”

End quote.  Note that the pope himself had at least some doubt about the document’s orthodoxy – enough that he took “comfort” in being reassured about it – even after it had already been finalized and published!

My point here is not to rehearse all the details of the controversy over Amoris.  The point is simply to note the extreme lengths to which the pope was willing to go to try to accommodate the weaknesses even of those who obstinately refuse to obey the teaching of Christ and St. Paul.  Even if you think Amoris itself does not cross the line of heterodoxy with regard to that teaching, it cannot be denied that the document is extremely gentle with and accommodating to those who do cross it.

Shaming traditionalists

The contrast with the treatment of traditionalist Catholics in Traditionis Custodes could not be more stark.  Note first that, in the accompanying letter explaining his decision, Pope Francis claims that attachment to the old form of the Mass “is often characterized by a rejection… of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”

The first thing to say about this is that, even if it is true that some people attached to the old form have this attitude, it is by no means true that all of them do.  On the contrary, as Pope Francis himself notes in the same document, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI affirmed that many who are attached to the old form “clearly accepted the binding character of Vatican Council II and were faithful to the Pope and to the Bishops.”  All the same, Pope Francis’s severe restriction of the old form of the Mass punishes these innocent Catholics along with the guilty.

Secondly, we need to consider the precise nature of the purported heterodoxy and/or schismatic tendencies of which some of these traditionalists are accused.  There are, of course, some extreme traditionalists who deny that we have had a valid pope for decades (namely the sedevacantists), and others who are in some less radical way in imperfect communion with the pope (such as the SSPX).  But precisely because they are not in regular communion, the errors of these groups are irrelevant to the intended audience of Traditionis Custodes – namely, traditionalist Catholics who are in regular communion with the pope (such as the FSSP, and attendees at Extraordinary Form Masses offered at ordinary diocesan parishes).

By definition, the latter groups are not in schism.  And though there are no doubt some among this small group within the Church who might nevertheless be said in some sense to have a “schismatic mentality,” the same is true of the untold millions of liberal Catholics who casually dismiss the pope’s authority to tell them what to believe or how to act – including the adulterous Catholics the pope accommodated in Amoris.  Clearly, the pope feels no urgency about dealing with the schismatic mentality among countless liberals.  So, why the urgency in dealing with the schismatic mentality of a small number of traditionalists?

Then there is the question of what it means exactly to “reject” Vatican II.  Typically, with those traditionalists who are in full communion with the pope, what this means is that they reject some particular teaching of the Council, such as its teaching about religious liberty.  Now, I disagree with those who reject that teaching.  My view is that Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty can and should be reconciled with the teaching of the pre-Vatican II popes on the subject.  (My favored way of doing so is the one developed by Thomas Pink.)  But for one thing, the teaching of Vatican II on this subject is not one that has been proposed infallibly (even if, of course, that does not entail that we do not owe it assent); and for another, how exactly to interpret it in light of traditional teaching has been a matter of controversy among theologians faithful to the Magisterium.  So, if the pope is going to be gentle and accommodating with those who obstinately defy the ancient and infallible teaching of Christ and St. Paul on marriage and Holy Communion, then how can he reasonably be less gentle and accommodating with those who have problems with a non-infallible teaching that is only a little over fifty years old?

So, the offense of which the traditionalists to whom Traditionis Custodes is addressed are accused is (a) not one of which all of them are guilty, and (b) manifestly less grave than that of Catholics who reject the Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and Holy Communion.  Yet those who reject that teaching are shown mercy, whereas traditionalists, the innocent as well as the guilty, are shown harshness.

And the punishment is very harsh.  The pope aims to banish the Extraordinary Form of the Mass from ordinary parish communities, to restrict future ordinations of priests interested in celebrating it, and effectively to quarantine from the rest of the Church those communities which are still permitted to use the old form of the Mass until such time as they are prepared to adopt the new form.  As Cardinal Gerhard Müller observes, “the clear intent is to condemn the Extraordinary Form to extinction in the long run.”  The pope is essentially telling traditionalist Catholics attached to the old form of the Mass that as individuals they are suspect, and as a group they are slated eventually to disappear.  As Cardinal Müller writes:

Without the slightest empathy, one ignores the religious feelings of the (often young) participants in the Masses according to the [old] Missal… Instead of appreciating the smell of the sheep, the shepherd here hits them hard with his crook.  It also seems simply unjust to abolish celebrations of the “old” rite just because it attracts some problematic people: abusus non tollit usum.

This is bad enough when the harm done to traditionalists alone is considered.  But it is the whole Church that suffers from this decision, not just traditionalists.  For one thing, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that the preservation of the Extraordinary Form was by no means a matter merely of catering to the needs of a certain group within the Church.  Rather, it had to do with reestablishing the connection of the Church as a whole with her own past in the liturgical context.  That is why, though Benedict too hoped that there would in the future be only a single form of the Mass, he wanted the old form to exert an influence on the new no less than the new would exert influence on modifying the old.  This was part of Benedict’s general insistence on a “hermeneutic of continuity.”  Traditionis Custodes shows no sensitivity whatsoever to this dimension of the issue.

For another thing, while the pope says that he took this decision in order to foster greater unity in the Church, it is manifestly likely to foster instead only greater disunity.  That is inevitable in any family when a father shows a double standard toward his children.  Indeed, it is precisely this double standard, and not the old form of the Mass, that has generated the disunity of recent years.  What has done more to lead some traditionalists to question Pope Francis’s orthodoxy?  The fact that they hear the Latin Mass every week?  Or Amoris Laetitia and the pope’s refusal to answer the dubia?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Traditionis Custodes will not put out the fire Amoris started.  If anything, it will pour gasoline on it.

He is still the Holy Father

Some will say that the pope is merely acting like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  The resentful older son in the parable, on this interpretation, represents traditionalists, whereas the prodigal son represents Catholics who do not obey the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce.

But the analogy is ridiculous.  For one thing, the prodigal son in the parable repents and explicitly declines special accommodation.  He does not say “I intend to keep living an immoral life, but I demand some of that fattened calf anyway.”  For another, the father does not treat the older son at all harshly, but rather gently reassures him that he loves him no less than he loves the prodigal son.

All the same, the pope is, when all is said and done, a father – indeed, he is still the Holy Father of all Catholics, traditionalists included.  And while the Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances, this cannot properly be done except with humility, respect, and restraint.  The pope is not some politician or corporate executive whom we might see fit to mock or to fire or vote out of office.  He is the vicar of Christ, and he has no superior on earth.  We may respectfully urge him to reconsider some course of action, but if he refuses, then we have to leave it to Christ to resolve the problem in the manner and at the time he chooses.

Moreover, because he is the pope, we must in this case even more than in any other follow Christ’s command to turn the other cheek and pray for those who harm us.  We must be willing to embrace the suffering this entails and to offer it up for others – including for Pope Francis himself.

(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared, in slightly different form, on the author’s blog and is reposted here with his kind permission.)


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About Dr. Edward Feser 19 Articles
Edward Feser is the author of Five Proofs of the Existence of God and co-author of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, both published by Ignatius Press.

99 Comments

  1. The thesis of this essay is wrongly premised. There was and is already a division in the church when the pre-Vatican mass was openly permitted by Benedict XVI. This mass has become the focal point for border schismatics who deny the Second Vatican Council and the Vatican II mass. Whereas the papal intention was simply to accommodate schismatics like the SSPX with hope that they return and recognize Vatican II, it has however become a weapon of the militant bashers of anything Vatican II which generated this division which Pope Francis has now fixed.

    • That is absolutely incorrect, and I highly recommend actually reading Summorum Pontificum (it’s available in English) before offering opinion on this important issue.

    • Ah, that explains why Benedict XVI addressed his motu proprio to “SSPX members” and “beloved schismatics”! Now we’re getting somewhere. (Sarcasm alert)

    • Congratulations, Marie Victoria! You managed to ignore every point the author made, while being inaccurate in the process!

    • The thesis is NOT wrongly premised. “Rather, it [ending the invalid suppression of the Latin Mass] had to do with reestablishing the connection of the Church as a whole with her own past in the liturgical context.”

      By “reestablishing” is meant to remove the false premise that the Latin Mass had been fully abrogated–rather than developed–by the Second Vatican Council. Instead, it is retained as a form of the one Novus Ordo rite which in practice vastly exceeded, especially in the beginning, the guidance actually adopted by the Council Fathers.

      Yes, there is the problem of those Latin Rite followers who are also “border schismatics,” But Pope Francis might better have simply instructed his bishops to tend their shops where appropriate (one of his instructions), rather than prohibiting all Latin Rite Masses from all “parochial” (parish) churches (another of his instructions).

      This, at the same time as dealing in an equally effective and precise manner with all those other poorly uninstructed, schismatic and even heretical dissidents claiming leadership positions. Wonder-boy/photo-op James Martin comes to mind, as well as the enabling Marx and Batzing and the many bishop lemmings in Germania. Even a United States president…

      An historic time, ours, to preserve the unity of the Church. Mixed messages don’t work.

    • Can you please define “militant bashers of anything Vatican II”? Can you please tell specifically how and what they did which “generateed this division which Pope Francis has now fixed.” And then can you please tell us how you know that the division is ‘fixed’?

      In all sincerity and charity, I ask because I desire to know and to understand.

      • Indeed. Nothing has been said, as far as I can tell, about the traditionalists’ simply responding appropriately to those (activists, we can call them) who took Vatican II as a carte blanche to innovate in any way they saw fit “in the spirit of” Vatican II and did so in ways that “betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’” Who fairly can blame them (the “Traditionalists”), except those who have a notion of the “true Church” of their own?

        • You nailed it, “innovate in any way they saw fit” is the crucifixion the post Vatican II legacy fabricated for the poorly catechized and there are millions. I dare say many of the priests come from that mass of humanity.

    • Is this a rad fem blaming those who are traditional for the apt description of the pope who only wants to “walk & dialogue with” those who are on the road to perdition…
      Enjoy the ride, the road is wide…

    • And thank God he fixed it. Bishops who think they can use dispensations or status quo directives to indefinitely prolong the TLM in their dioceses are wrong. They need to wean Trads off the TLM and bring their whole diocese into unity celebrating the Novus Ordo. The TLM is a dead man walking.

      • Mr. King: Who do you think you are to exercise blatant anti-Catholic bigotry? With blatant hatred towards those you reduce to caricatures no less. And in your willful ignorance of the Catholic Religion, where do you get the idea that Francis has the authority to prohibit The Latin Mass. What are your canonical sources. And what line of reasoning do you use to believe that any human being can “FIX” the ecclesial, moral, theological, and spiritual reality of other human beings, especially someone so lacking in his understanding of the Catholic religion as Pope Francis?

      • The TLM is no more dead than the Byzantine, Mozarabic, Chalden, nor Malabar Rite. Francis is enacting selective enforcement for some bizarre reason which is consistent with his other heterosexual pronouncements.

    • There’s that word “weapon” again. The bad Rad Trads are “weaponizing” the Latin Mass the same way some bishops and their supporters want “weaponize” the Eucharist! What silly junk is offered up to justify the agenda of these tyrants. At least try to come up with some new similes.

      • You mean like Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who pointed out that the Traditional Mass had never been abrogated? Most of the people attending the Latin Mass are not as you describe.

        For some people, anything that happened before Vatican II was bad bad bad. They therefore implicitly say that all the Popes before that time were bad.

        • Leslie, it is not as you paint it. For quite a few people The Modern, APE, Parallel and Fake Church following Vatican 2 is the evil institution. I do not say that all those who disapprove of Pope Francis placing the TLM in the hands of the local Bishops are in this group. Many of these Catholics are still faithful members of the Church who simply want the TLM to be available. Well, we know that it is. If a Bishop is reluctant to do so, then people should make their views clearly and loudly known.
          But, you cannot deny that there are a new group of anti-Church and anti-Pope people around since Vatican 2. They are behaving just like all protestant sects have done in the past (and still do)(.

          • “ But, you cannot deny that there are a new group of anti-Church and anti-Pope people around since Vatican 2.“

            And you can’t deny that there are new groups of people around since Vatican II who have a hatred of and have tried to destroy anything traditional even though that was not called for in the documents of Vatican II.

    • And many Catholics who attended the EF will now be joining the ranks of the Society of Pius X. Expect the latter to inaugurate new Pius X parishes all over the globe. So much for unity.

    • Fixed? Must be joking surely. You will see the TLM grow and spread because of the restrictions, which are both heavy handed and unfair. Immensely more dangerous divisions are now occurring in the German church, with bishops and priests openly defying Bergoglio (see the revolt against the veto on blessing SS unions) yet he came down like a ton of bricks on people praying the mass of the ages. Even a confirmed fideist should see the double standard.

    • The same could be said of the Novus Ordo. All dissenters from even the most basic Catholic teachings on faith and morals prefer the Novus Ordo. Your average parish is a mixed bag of orthodoxy and outright heresy. The Novus Ordo has given rise to all sorts of liturgical abuses. Does this mean we ban the Novus Ordo? No. An abuse of something does not negate the legitimate use of that same thing. The problem with Francis’ Motu is that it’s unjust in both its scope and impact. It’s based on stereotypes and faulty reasoning and untruths.

      PS: If Francis and the hand wringing bishops want to know why so many people are interested in the TLM they have only to look at how the Novus Ordo is celebrated at the average parish. The deep irony is the the Pope and the Bishops have only themselves to blame. The Pope has ultimate authority? With ultimate authority comes ultimate responsibility. Blaming traditional Catholics for the problems in the Church is as weak as it is unjust.

    • Sorry, Marie, you are entirely wrong. NOTHING in Summorum Pontificum indicates that the reason for its existence was to allow the SSPX to reconcile. While it does mention that in passing, it is by no means the only reason for the document. Benedict was a very precise man, and he would have let us know if that was the truth. No, he saw a much deeper problem with the abuse of the Novus Ordo, and he believed that the two forms could mutually enrich each other.

    • To suggest that anyone (which you do by your statement) who wants to be a part of the Tridentine Mass is a schismatic is false. THere are some, there are also many who simply love the tradition of the Church and its Tridentine Mass in Latin. To deny that and focus on those who “deny Vatican II” is not just incorrect it is wrong thinking. Vatican II was in fact positive in many ways, it also has its negative results in that many in the CHurch took it too far from the original intent. They decided that since Vatican II opened doors to the laity to be more involved, “then why not go as far as we can” including changing of the language of the Mass, having lay people who are untrained as Eucharistic ministers any time, expanding their role beyond that which Vatican II intended. That apparently has either gone unnoticed or just ignored by those who want a more modern, lax, more accomodating and liberal Church different from that which Christ himself founded. Some say Vatican II gave the CHurch more compassion and empathy, rather what it did was open the door to abuses that continue to this day. So when you suggest that those who attend Tridentine Mass are opposed to Vatican II, some may be, most, a large majority are opposed to the abuses that have come from Vatican II by Church leaders, its priests and its laity.

    • Disagree. The vast majority of faithful of whom most are young people and young families embrace unity and they love and respect the Pope. Don’t you think that James Martin is a bigger problem and one of those many who create enormous divisions? Promoting sodomy is far more schismatic than loving Latin and the Latin Mass, don’t you agree?

    • Marie Victoria, May I say that you and Francis have the same heart. I thank the Author for this consolation. I’m 62 and I began to practice my faith at age 15. By accident or Divine Providence, I read books that were all pre-Vatican ll. I fell in love with Christ’s Church, a greater love than any love I have ever experienced. Then at 18, I joined a Charismatic prayer group where everything I had come to love in the Catholic Church was being ripped apart, all in the name of Vatican ll. Along the way, Vatican ll kept popping up. I was not enthusiastic. I began coming across those who opposed the Council and why they opposed it. Many of us Catholics have serious questions about the Council and the Church has never addressed those problems that are there. Why are the legitimate questions that concern Vatican ll not being addressed? This is where we Traditionalists accuse the shepherds of abandoning the flock. Instead of answers, God’s sheep are thrown to the wolves. The greatest reform needed in the Church today is to reform the shepherds starting with Francis. We aren’t holding our breath, we can only hope for a new Pope to deliver and liberate Christ’s Church.

    • When you write from total ignorance of the SSPX and other groups, the people who attend the Traditional Latin Mass, and Summorum Pontificum, you cannot be expected to be taken seriously.

    • Can you prove your argument with, for example, the percentage of Latin mass attendees who hold schismatic views?

    • No this is absolutely false or at least that is what Pope Benedict emeritus says in his last book The Last Testament.
      Cardinal Burke gives the specific page number in his comments on the letter but it is made quite clear by the Pope’s own words. “Many people believe I issued the document as a concession to SSPX but this is absolutely false…”

  2. “the papal intention was simply to accommodate schismatics like the SSPX with hope that they return and recognize Vatican II” – This is a blatant lie! Have you ever read Summorum Pontificum?! It states explicitly that the Usus Antiquor has never been abrogated! And that the purpose of the document was to preserve the liturgical treasure of the Church!

  3. Thank you – helped to look up that particular General audience , that has good teaching on the Eucharist – was trying to figure out which words would have gone with that intense expression on the Holy Father pictured above – likely with words to ‘kill what is opposed to the Gospel and Jesus love ‘ – or ? on warning words about gossip .
    https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2018/documents/papa-francesco_20180404_udienza-generale.html

    The pageantry too a good one –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zp1ALZBAqKQ

    As to the Amoris Laetitia , the concerns of the Holy Father very likely that it might be distorted from the not so difficult intent that he had all along , to help in situations in which couples could find it very difficult to go through formal annulments , yet their conscience telling them that the first marriage has been invalid , that they could be helped in discreet and authorized measures to lead lives in peace and grace of Sacraments .

    Blessings !

    • Annulment today is a dime a dozen..
      So, you convince yourself that you are doing well and Jesus ‘congratulates’ you…
      Popcorn prophet… Pass the butter…

  4. “ situations in which couples could find it very difficult to go through formal annulments , yet their conscience telling them that the first marriage has been invalid ”

    And of course their opinions are utterly unbiased and unselfish.

    • According to Francis, men who abandon their families and shack up with their mistresses are doing so to bring “comfort” to the life of his “new family.”

      Who are we to judge his wisdom. Anyhow, a lot of philanderers have new pick-up lines.

      • I will give you two quotes which clearly show the Pope’s Catholic view of marriage.
        “Marriage is something so beautiful and so wonderful that we have to look after it, because it is forever.”
        “It’s sad when this is not news: the newspapers, the TV news shows, don’t consider this news. But this couple, together for so many years… it’s not news. Scandal, divorce, separation – these are considered newsworthy. (Although at times its necessary to separate, as I said, to avoid a greater evil). The image of God isn’t news. But this is the beauty of marriage. They [the couple] are the image and likeness of God. And this is our news, the Christian news.”

        • Mal: You can find a quote or action from Francis that supports almost any position; and that’s the problem. He is not a clear teacher. This is why he has become a source of confusion and disunity in the Church…the exact opposite of what his ministry as Pope should be.

    • The photo is intentional in creating a perception of character. I think it unnecessary and a strong indicator of prejudice.

        • Ok, thanks for the clarification that the photo was the choice of CNS. I had no particular agency in mind when making my comment. I would assume the author of the article would consent to the photo being used. Out of many photos one is selected. CNS and the author are not beyond critique in this regard?

        • Thanks again for the clarification Carl. You are the editor, You can pick what photo you think most appropriate. I made a come t that I stand by saying what I think about your choice. We probably do not agree with each other. I made the assumption the photo was chosen to depict Pope Francis as aggressive with respect to the main thesis of the article. You are free to explain why you chose that particular photo. My assumption may be false, however:
          In journalism, photography plays a key role in representing the situation that is being reported.

      • I think it unnecessary and a strong indicator of prejudice.
        Correction: I think it unnecessary and a strong indicator of Jorge Bergoglio’s prejudice.

        • Gary, I think you have just made my concern with the use of this photo very clear. The Caption under the photo:
          Pope Francis gestures during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 4, 2018. (CNS
          What does this general audiences the Pope’s dated April 4, 2018 got to do with the article’s subject?

  5. A most excellent and reasonable response (rebuttal) to the pope’s disciplinary actions as regards the faithful members who leave the new order of the liturgy and attend the Latin liturgy.. This article should be read by all the American bishops, at least reported to them by their staff.

  6. Dr. Feser, I too fully support the Church’s view of marriage. And so does the Pope. He has said so on numerous occasions.
    In the Bible, we read about the time a bigamist was brought before Jesus. The Jews reminded Jesus about the law which called for such sinners to be stoned. However, Jesus defended her so beautifully. He did not condemn her but did ask her to sin no more. I believe that if she was brought again before him for the same sin, he would have defended her again. He would have done it seventy times seven.
    I have never lived and worked with people who live in the slums – sick, abandoned and ostracized. Have you? Pope Francis and so many people, including priests and nuns have. What would you tell a woman with two little children in the slums whose husband has left her for good, and she is living with a man who took them in and provides for them? It is her duty to save the lives of her two babies, isn’t it?
    Yes, Dr. life is very different for millions of people far from the madding crowd.

    • First, Jesus didn’t “ask” her to sin no more. He said, “Sin no more.” And he did call it a sin. He didn’t refute the law or the sentence. He did forgive her of the sin. And thank God and no doubt, he would have forgiven her again … of the sin. But, it was, nonetheless, a sin.

      Because some have never lived/worked in deplorable economic conditions, it does not exempt them from knowing the truth. Situating Amoris letitia among the poor is a red herring. Thinking that poor people are incapable of moral living is condescending and offensive. Many poor people live saintly lives. Many poor parents raise their children to do what is right and to avoid doing wrong.

      • I believe that Jesus would like us to follow him and his teachings out of love. That is the way of the New Covenant. If anyone does something because he/she is ordered to, then that is simply carrying out a duty. Because of our free will, our Lord wants us to choose him and his teachings.
        Are you sure, John, that you truly appreciate the abject conditions in which ostracized and utterly dependent people live?
        We know that sin is a disobedient act against God and his people, even the Pope knows that, but do we really recognize the full nature of our sinfulness – the things we do and do not do? The Pope asks that we all recognize that we are sinners because “even recognizing oneself as a sinner is a grace. It is a grace that is granted to you. Without that grace, the most one can say is: I am limited; I have my limits; these are my mistakes. But recognizing oneself as a sinner is something else. It means standing in front of God, who is our everything, and presenting him with ourselves, which are our nothing — our miseries, our sins. What we need to ask for is truly an act of grace.”

        • Actually, I have been in the most abjectly poor areas of India. If you are excusing the poor from living virtuous lives, you have just robbed them of their humanity, their personhood, their dignity and undermined their heroic virtues. That is shameful. In doing so, you have set yourself up, because of your privileged conditions, to be superior in virtue and wisdom.

    • Typically, you ‘forgotten to mention the crucial clinching line ” Go and sin no more”. Like you many priests are terrified of uttering it

    • First of all, it was a woman taken in adultery, not a bigamist.

      And when she died and faced her final judgment, if she had continued in her sin despite admonitions?

      “What would you tell a woman with two little children in the slums whose husband has left her for good, and she is living with a man who took them in and provides for them? It is her duty to save the lives of her two babies, isn’t it?”

      Her culpability may well be diminished, but you are using an extreme case to provide cover for those whose cases are not at all extreme. That would be like saying, “Well, this person who was starving stole a loaf of bread, and therefore people who shoplift jewelry and toys aren’t sinning.”

  7. As the saying goes, if it were not for double standards, some people would not have any standards at all. With Francis and his crew, it is just a matter of getting the desired results. Fairness, consistency and logic are not going to unduly impede them. I only quibble with one statement in this very good piece – Francis is nothing if not a politician. As long as he wants to play the part, he should be treated like one.

    • “A possible reply to the dubia,” huh? If it’s such a simple matter, why didn’t Pope Francis reply to the dubia?

      • We can only speculate about that. A giving-the-benefit-of-the-doubt speculation may suggest (*for example*) that answering the dubia could have led to more straitjacketing, which is precisely what was being attempted to be avoided. From the three posts, it will become evident that there indeed are borderline cases where a ‘rigorous’ or a ‘less rigorous’ approach to sacramental discipline may be licit.

        Even if the arguments in the Sarah case are accepted, the question may arise – ok, then why not simply mention this in a formal reply to the dubia?

        Amoris Laetitia 300 itself provides a possible answer to that question, viz.: ‘…If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned,it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature
        and applicable to all cases. What is possible is…’ (read the rest in the Exhortation.)

        • “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned,it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature
          and applicable to all cases. ”

          Nobody asked them to provide a new set of general rules.

          • But instead, an answer was expected to the dubia.

            However, just as there is no rule that God has to always answer in the manner we want, and there often appears to be silence, – frustrating though that may be, there is no rule that any ecclesiastical authority has to always answer, – frustrating though that may be.

            The drift of the dubia (just like the above article put it) was that ‘divorced Catholics who disobey the Church’s teaching by forming a “new union” in which they are sexually active, thereby committing adultery’ were being ‘accommodated’.

            But that appears to miss the point of the exhortation, which cautions against ‘(pigeonholing) or (fitting) into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.’

            It is such ‘rigid’ classification which, *while standing outside / looking from afar / NOT being privy to what is really going on* concludes that the case of a woman who has “remarried” while her husband is living, and is now ‘involved’ in sexual activity with her “partner” is a slam dunk – open and shut case of an ‘adulteress’, >> no Communion for this ‘divorced and remarried case’ because she is not living as sister and brother!

            Such pigeonholing and PRESUMPTION that this is an instance of ‘objective situation of grave habitual sin’ is unwarranted – because we are NOT privy to what the woman reveals in the confessional. Read the three posts, and take note of the concentration camp analogy in the second post.

            Then place yourself in two shoes – that of a person who looks “from the outside” and that of a person who looks “from the inside = privy to what is revealed in the confessional”.

            #no-pigeonholing!

          • “It is such ‘rigid’ classification which, *while standing outside / looking from afar / NOT being privy to what is really going on* concludes that the case of a woman who has “remarried” while her husband is living, and is now ‘involved’ in sexual activity with her “partner” is a slam dunk – open and shut case of an ‘adulteress’, >> no Communion for this ‘divorced and remarried case’ because she is not living as sister and brother!”

            You appear to have a serious addiction to “scare quotes.” And using a pound sign in a forum that doesn’t use that as a feature is utterly moronic.

            Whether you like it or not, it is open and shut: Either they are validly married or they are not. If they are not validly married because, for example, her husband is still living, they are committing something that is, objectively speaking, a sin: adultery. If they are actually ignorant of the fact that they are sinning, then they are not culpable – grave matter, full knowledge, and full consent are required for that, and the full knowledge would not be there. That’s assuming the ignorance isn’t willful. But adultery is still a sin. And if, for example, the woman is somehow being threatened or coerced, again, she might very well not be culpable – the full consent isn’t there. But adultery is still a sin.

            If there is one thing that isn’t a problem these days, it’s being overly rigorous in applying moral laws. We come up with so many excuses for every sin that it scandalizes and confuses people. Hence the dubia, which should have been answered.

          • On the one hand there is an admission of lack of culpability and yet there is a return to the rigid pigeonholing of what is going on as ‘adultery’. What happens prior to the woman’s conversion is an adulterous act, but after that, it cannot be called as such. And saying so does not constitute an ‘excusing’ of sin.

            That said, answering or not answering the dubia is the prerogative of the authority concerned. Your opinion is that it should have been answered. Others may opine that it need not, because doing so may again promote overly rigid pigeonholing – leaving no room for personal and pastoral discernment.

            The author of the article seems to imply in his first paragraph that Amoris Laetitia is some sort of accommodation or condoning of adultery. Non sequitur.

  8. I agree that the photo is intentional.
    I also think that TC has blown Francis’cover. Damian Thompson is succinct and merciless. He says TC has unintentionally wrecked Francis’
    pontificate and he will be remembered as a purely divisive figure. I tend to agree. Time will tell.

  9. The photo, as we have come to know him and … well …

    It captures him perfectly and would be great for memes.

    • Right. We never have needed a photo to learn the essence of his character. The photo surely does indicate prejudice–the Pope’s against the faithful flock.

  10. Dr Feser is wrong about Bergoglio not crossing the line in Amoris Laetitia. He fully endorsed the heterodox interpretation of the Argentine Bishops, even placing their teaching in the Acta Apostolicea Sedis. That puts paid to any doubt about his intentions.

  11. Of course, this did not start with Pope Francis. The Vatican II Church punishes the obedient and rewards the disobedient. Yet, we are supposed to accept Vatican II as legitimate authority.

      • Let’s be clear about V2. 500 pages of social, historical and cultural analysis hardly qualifies as a counciliar document. And if V2 is to be followed strictly, as you apparently insist, then let’s go there. Just in liturgical norms, the altar remains unturned, Latin is largely retained with judicious use of the vernacular, no communion in the hand, Gregorian chant is preferred, and no extraordinary ministers of communion, just to list a few. Shall we go on? Marriage is only between a male and a female, sex is for procreation (the unitive dimension of sex comes several years later with Humanae Vitae). It’s clear to me that those who insist on V2 as the standard would be the first to howl. Read the document, mal, before you pontificate about your allegiance to it.

  12. With all due respect, for I do respect the author of this piece- however, it is important to note that:

    The author of this article still believes that Jorge Bergoglio is in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church and does not believe that the act of heresy, ipso facto, separates oneself from The Body Of Christ, but that it is only The Church’s official declaration of heresy that does so.

    “ Whoever is against the Pope is, ipso facto, outside the Church.”

    “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, for it is “Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost”, that Holy Mother Church, outside of which, there is no Salvation, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, exists.

    To deny The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, is to deny The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, And Holy Ghost.

    Jorge Bergoglio was not in communion with any validly elected Pope, prior to his election to The Papacy.

    Jorge Bergoglio’s heresy was external and made public and notorious, when as a cardinal, he stated in his book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex sexual relationships, and thus same-sex sexual acts, prior to his election as pope, on page 117, demonstrating that he does not hold, keep, or teach The Catholic Faith, and he continues to act accordingly:
    “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected. Now, if the union is given the category of marriage, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help shape their identity.”- Jorge Bergoglio, denying The Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and the fact that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, while denying sin done in private is sin.

    From The Catechism Of The Catholic Church:
    II. THE DEFINITION OF SIN
    “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
    1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125
    1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,126 the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.”
    It is a sin to accomodate an occasion of sin, and thus cooperate with evils.”

    Thus we can know through both our Catholic Faith and reason that in order to remain in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church, we must recognize that a schismatic pope iis an oxymoron, due to The Rule of Noncontradiction.
    The Word Of God Incarnate will not contradict His Father, for The Father And The Son Are One, In The Unity Of The
    Holy Ghost. 🙏💕

    “I Neither is someone a schismatic for denying his subjection to the Pontiff on the grounds that he has solidly founded [‘probabiliter’] doubts concerning the legitimacy of his election or his power.” de Lugo: Disp., De Virt. Fid. Div., disp xxv, sect iii, nn. 35-8
    “Nor is there any schism if……one suspects the person of the pope or the validity of his election, or if one resists him as the civil head of a state.” Szal, Rev Ignatius: Communication of Catholics with Schismatics, CUA, 1948, p.2”

    • This appears to be the strange Anne Barnhart argument. No serious person agrees with her take on things. Anne Barnhart does not get to tell us who is a valid pope and who is not. Pope Francis is the pope, no matter how much you dislike him

      • sampton911, many reasons cite Francis is not the Pope. Have you seriously missed it? Can an excommunicated man be elected Pope? An excommunicated Cardinal cannot say Mass, hear Confessions, nor function as a priest as he is outside the Church, no longer a Catholic.

        The Code of Canon Law on a Conclave states without ambiguity. If a Cardinal campaign for another Cardinal to be elected Pope, he hence is excommunicated Latae Sententiae. There is a group of Cardinals who they call the St. Gallen Mafia. They worked hard at campaigning for Bergoglio to be elected Pope. Bergoglio was well aware of this campaign and gave it his full consent and encouragement. They failed in 2005, but they got Bergoglio elected in 2013. The St. Gallen Mafia, along with Bergoglio, had no business in the Conclave of 2005 as they were excommunicated Latae Sententiae. The same goes for the conclave of 2013. The Conclave of 2013 elected an excommunicated schismatic and heretic to the Papacy. And now Bergoglio accuses us Traditionalists??? His vengeance is probably due because Traditioanlits uphold these facts. And it’s not the SSPX but rather the lay faithful.

  13. A bit off topic, but Crisis Magazine attempted to do a study to find out how much the TLM has grown in the last two years or so. While their methods and findings are shaky, it is probably as good as can be attempted by ordinary people. They found that the Latin Mass attendance increased, on average, from 150 people per week to 200 people per week. And only 4 percent of parishes even holds a TLM.
    So despite all the bluster by the extremist traditionalists that they were taking over the world, and that masses are rushing to join their revolution, all they were able to do is get an additional 50 people per parish. Compare that with the average of about 1500 people attending the Novus Ordo each week. And lets face it, those 50 extra people may have only come because their regular church was closed, or too restrictive.
    So Pope Francis had to squelch the TLM because 50 people in their parish were POTENTIALLY going to be POSSIBLY led into a rejection of Vatican II?
    Hmmmm.

    • Your argument actually undermines itself: if the TLM is such a marginal phenomenon, then why take such an extreme measure against it – especially with the threat of schism from the German church (among many other serious problems)? What does the pope have to fear? What you have demonstrated is that the pope’s motu proprio was both unnecessary & cruel.

  14. A well constructed take by Dr Feser on the related issues of the moment liturgical and doctrinal smartly juxtaposed. And quite correctly citing the doctrinal issue Eucharistic coherence centered on a suggested if not cryptic doctrine on communion for adulterers in Amoris Laetitia. Mal who’s commenting will disagree although with a strong appeal to justice. The value of any disagreement is refinement of what the matter really consists, whether and how strongly sin is either accommodated or justly diminished. ‘A’ Hawthorne’s red letter of adultery then is adopted by Feser to open his discussion but with a perceivable dual reference to the Pontiff and the prominent issue of adultery and marriage. Feser questions Pope Francis’ now widely acknowledged Cruel and Unusual Punishment toward Trads the majority apparently disassociated from the extreme right. As a priest I have a dog in the fight not in relation to the form of the Mass, although I’m a Novus Ordo Man [exclamation borrowed from G Weigel] and like Fr Stravinskas am convinced the TLM, EF is best kept as one of the many liturgical forms optionally practiced within the wide cultural breadth of Catholicism. Narrowing everything to the No is narrow. That said, I’ll offer my take. It’s a repeat of what I’ve said earlier, a screen to distract from the more important matter of the Eucharist, marriage, and the integrity of Christ’s revelation. Although Dr Feser may be construed to suggest that, questioning, Why the difference in Pope Francis’ gentility toward the adulterous and bile toward traditionalists?

    • The Vatican has propagated Custodes a week before the trial of Cardinal Becciu, former Prefect in the Vatican’s ‘saint-making’ office. Becciu is accused of serious crimes of financial mismanagement. This week too brings news of the 2020 Vat’s $66 million operating deficit and projected future shortfalls.

      Papal teaching on care of our material world is flat-footed and doesn’t stand its own scrutiny.

      Peter cries ‘wolf’ again. See Custodes. Don’t see that sewer drain siphoning your money from the collection basket. Look at the wolf here but don’t look at that one there.

    • Fr., we are all human beings having a nature that has been terribly corrupted physically, mentally and spiritually ever since Adam turned his back on God. Our Lord’s victory on the cross did not make us perfect. He offered us a Way in, with, and through him – a sinless person – to heaven. There is no other way. And we could never ever do it on our own, no matter how long and how much we pray. But, you know this. I am only bringing this up because of your reference to communion for adulterers. Yes, it is true that we need to be in a state of grace when receiving communion, but how many of us really are in a state of grace? Besides the sins of the flesh, we have the seven deadly sins with Pride, lust, covetousness and anger topping the list. Even thinking them are sins. Then there are the sins of omission like refusing to help our neighbors or even strangers in need. One sin is as bad as another. However, with these faults we receive communion. Only our Lord knows us well. Does this mean that anyone should receive communion. No, those who deliberately disobey our Lord, flout his teachings, or attack his Church should not receive communion because even if they do, there is no communion with Jesus and his Church.

      • Yes Mal, which is why I don’t write you off, and expect an appeal to justice. My empathy is not theoretical rather experiential, a background in which criminality and violence, rampant sin were part of a life that affected my own dear family ourselves living an anomalous faith in Christ in which evil and good often were frequently thought indistinguishable. I suffer still the pain of doubt for their salvation if not for the light of Christ I would despair. Convinced as I am by that light is beckoning to become holy. For all bar none. My empathy is quite consistent with the best of what may be Pope Francis’ intent to move Church practice more from the Law to faith in Christ and charity, the very essential message of Paul in Romans and Galatians. I’ve watched and listened carefully to Francis recalling his offhand words somewhere in a conversation that he hoped to move the Church taking risks in that direction even if there were excesses, that he expected the Holy Spirit to eventually aright faithful practice. If I were to offer the benefit of the doubt, the question remains regarding changes in which there is little or no retention of faith in Christ, rather apostasy evident as already mentioned to which he does little or nothing in response. If we seek to effect good we do that which encourages it. Silence, laissez faire, if we expect the Holy Spirit to respond and correct is a presumption that in effect tempts God to act. As revealed during the temptations. If there’s ambivalence in this I can claim some of it since my hope is good will come of it, although is my silence then acquiescence? As a priest and sentinel for the faithful I’m compelled to respond not to supposition, rather to the reality as is evident.

        • Fr. Morello, one can clearly see that you have experienced a lot – happenings that have been bad and, happily, some very good. Thank you for the good work you do. I read Pope Francis just as you do, and I pray that he will steer us in the right direction. What I see happening now in the west, reminds me of Pharisees and rabbis of Jesus’ time. They liked their religious lifestyle and were upset that a carpenter from Galilee was calling for change. They wanted this man who ate with sinners and prostitutes gone. They tried to do so but, in the end, they lost. This is a time for prayer and God always answers our prayers.

          • Perhaps my account exaggerates criminality meant in reference to living in that terrible milieu, and complicity by circumstance. Some of us drawn into the periphery. Personally, I was never arrested since I never committed a criminal act [except in the military for an altercation with MP in which I was initially assaulted, acquitted, later convicted on a false charge], although my behavior wasn’t at all Christian. So injustice and darkness, hardship conditions in Brooklyn were part of life that increased the desirability of the Light of Christ, that by his gracious gift remained with me throughout however dimmed.

  15. I find it disturbing that this diktat by Pope Francis has unleashed a lot of triumphant crowing from sociopathic Francis fanbois in adulation. If anyone wonders why a lot of Catholic dislike the current Pope, they are definitely put off by the spiteful, arrogant, uncharitable and inChristian antics of those who claim to be his biggest followers. They remind me of the antics of the supporters of my country’s former President, Jacob Zuma, in apparent blind loyalty and irrational fury at all who oppose them.

  16. Those – hopefully not – with their eyes closed won’t see. It is unfortunate that human beings – unlike angels – are capable of being so illogical. One can see smoke and assure oneself that it doesn’t mean that it is even probable that there is a fire.

    However, this should be noted. If one wants to find heresy, it is necessary to avoid giving the benefit of the doubt. The heretic is very often one with a forked tongue. When one hears another say, “Well … this can be interpreted as orthodox if one only ….” one should be seeing black smoke and have beyond a reasonable doubt that there is fire.

    This was and is known by popes.

    “They knew well the malicious art of the innovators, who, fearing to offend Catholic ears, endeavor to cover up their tricky snares with fraudulent words so that the error, hidden between sense and meaning (St. Leo the Great, Letter 129, of the Baller edition), more easily insinuates itself into people’s minds and—having altered the truth of the sentence by means of a very brief addition or variant—makes sure that the testimony which had to bring salvation, may instead, after a certain subtle change, lead to death.”

    Pope Pius VI (Auctorem fidei)

    I like the phrase “Clarity is charity.” Weasel words don’t come from the orthodox. And any dubia, would be clearly and certainly answered by a true pope. Those who are orthodox are clear and certain, and don’t speak in ambiguity.

        • Well, we know that the Holy Spirit is always present in the Church and that he will not allow the gates of hell to prevail.

          • Quite. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that poor decisions won’t be made. And before you get your knickers in a twist, yowling about how dare I, the Holy Spirit is always present and Pope Francis is doing exactly right, bear in mind that in saying that you are saying that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, among others, were wrong. Which by your standards means that you’re claiming that the Holy Spirit was not present to them.

  17. I would like to recommend to everyone here an article by canon lawyer Cathy Caridi, ‘The Enormous Loophole in Traditionis Custodes.’ If the link I post isn’t accepted, it’s on her Canon Law Made Easy website. Shows from a canon law perspective that the entire document is rushed, nonsensical and basically unenforceable. https://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2021/07/29/the-enormous-loophole-in-traditionis-custodes/

    Seems to me it leaves Bishops free to do whatever they want to about the Latin Mass in their diocese…kind of like a lot of bishops seem to feel free to do whatever they want to about giving communion to adulterers and blessing gay ‘marriages.’

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