The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. According the the Catechism (#100), “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.” In other words, orthodox teaching is to be found in the official teachings of the pope and the bishops in communion with him.

I understand that many Catholics have trouble with particular teachings, have questions about specific papal decisions, and hope for certain doctrines to change. Some Catholics might even outright reject one or more official Catholic teaching. In most of these cases, the person might express their disagreement by saying, “I wish the Church would change that teaching,” or “I don’t agree with the Church on that.” Many left-of-center Catholics are open and honest about where they dissent. There is a clear sense that “the Church teaches X, but I believe Y.”

In such cases, vigorous dialogue and discussion can take place, but there is clarity about the Church’s official position on the issues. Someone might say, “I think same-sex marriage should be sanctioned by the Church,” or “I think artificial contraception is morally acceptable,” but one rarely hears, “the Church teaches that same sex marriage is morally acceptable,” or “the Church’s position on contraception is that it’s absolutely licit.” People might have different positions on these issues, but there is little debate on where the Church stands.

On the right, dissent is often a much more muddled situation. One can point to an official teaching or practice of the Church that someone clearly rejects, but they will insist that the “new” teaching is wrong, and that what they hold is the true Catholic doctrine. They proudly insist upon their doctrinal orthodoxy, while boldly asserting that official teachings from the Church are not orthodox.

Many of these Catholics seem to believe that there is an objective standard against which the teachings of the papal Magisterium and the official Church must be weighed. Whether it’s questioning the doctrinal soundness of parts of Amoris Laetitia or the orthodoxy of the change to the Catechism’s official teaching on the death penalty, they seem to think they have an obligation to review and (if necessary) critique official Church teachings against this standard.

Rather than listening to the Magisterium and simply assenting to the teachings in the way that the Church instructs us, many Catholics instead adhere to a different authoritative body of teaching, which I’ll call the “imagisterium.”

We’ve discussed this phenomenon many times, beginning with Pedro Gabriel’s landmark essay “Sola Traditio,” and later explored in “Fundamentalist Catholics and Ecclesial Catholics” and “Marcel Lefebvre: Father of Traditionalist Dissent.” More recently, I attempted to lay out in clear terms how rejection of what Pope Francis teaches in Amoris Laetitia is, objectively speaking, dissent from magisterial teaching.

Catholics who adhere to the imagisterium claim they are weighing novel teachings from the Vatican against Church Tradition or the “perennial magisterium,” or that they are attempting to reconcile the official teaching with “doctrinal orthodoxy.” Among the adherents to the imagisterial approach are journalists, canon lawyers, prominent theologians, priests, bishops, and at least one cardinal. The problem with this is that it has absolutely no basis in what the Church teaches about the Magisterium, and threatens to divide the Church.

We’ve repeated many times what the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium states about how and when the faithful are to adhere to official teachings:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

With statements like “judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to,” and “according to his manifest mind and will,” there’s really no question about where Catholics should be looking for authoritative and orthodox teachings.

It’s a bizarre juxtaposition. These Catholics, while affirming that they are 100% orthodox, reject official Catholic teachings as heterodox or even heretical. To them, what is promulgated as authentically magisterial (on an official level, to the entire Church, by the pope in his role as supreme pontiff) might not actually be magisterial. According to them, we are supposed to know what is truly magisterial by comparing it to prior magisterial teaching, to see if it lines up. If it doesn’t, we are to reject it, disregard it, or claim to be confused by it.

The problems with this approach should be self-evident. For example, how should a Catholic reply if asked for the Church’s official teaching on the death penalty? From a factual standpoint, the teaching is reflected in Pope Francis’s revision to the Catechism’s paragraph 2267, which states, “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” Canon Law and Tradition clearly state that his authority allows him to change the Catechism. There is no system of canonical checks and balances that hinders the Pope’s ability to develop or revise magisterial documents.

Yet the followers of the imagisterium have a different understanding. RR Reno, in his unfortunate recent screed entitled “A Failing Papacy,” wrote of this change:

Francis seems uninterested in developing a coherent theological justification for his actions. He governs with gestures, slogans, and sentiments.

Pope Francis has also revised the Catechism in a way that suggests a fundamental change in the Church’s teaching. This was done in a peremptory fashion without discussion or explanation. It is as if Francis had meditated on St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, which guides one toward galvanizing discernments that come with commanding immediacy, rather than consulting moral theologians. This can’t help but create the impression that everything is up for grabs. Who knows what will come next?

Nevermind that the change to the Catechism was accompanied by a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining and justifying the revision. Nevermind that this document explicitly confirms that “the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” Nevermind that the revision came over 10 months after Pope Francis publicly called for a revision to the Catechism. Nevermind that the new revision doesn’t touch the question of intrinsic evil, which troubled papal critics 10 months earlier, suggesting that there was indeed discussion about a way to revise the teaching that is coherent with Tradition.

Some theologians openly advocate dissent on the grounds that, “assent must be withheld when the teaching in question openly conflicts with the public dogma or definitive doctrine of the Church.” During this papacy, this concept has been applied to both Amoris Laetitia and the death penalty. On the surface, it seems reasonable. After all, it can certainly be jarring for one’s airtight understanding of a particular doctrine to be blown apart by a new magisterial development. A problem with this assertion is that it doesn’t have a basis in Catholic doctrine. Another problem is that it holds an individual’s subjective judgement over authoritative Church teaching. What many Catholics hold to be an objective, authoritative standard is simply a product of their imaginations.

Several years ago, I spent a great deal of time trying to understand exactly what the Church taught regarding the reliability of papal teachings. I had, like so many traditional or conservative Catholics, grown up with the idea that the teachings of the post-Vatican II Church were suspect, or that not everything officially promulgated by the pope as Magisterium was actually magisterial. I bought into George Weigel’s theory that we are to go through encyclicals and mark them up with gold and red pens, separating the wheat from the chaff in everything the Church officially promulgated from 1958 onward.

What really opened my eyes was the 1998 CDF document entitled, “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church,” which not only outlines the roles and responsibilities of the pope, but also explains how he has been promised to the Church to ensure our unity and fidelity. The protection of the Magisterium is not simply a responsibility that the pope can opt to ignore, but the grace to fulfill that mission is intrinsic to the papacy. The document says,

The Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity both of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful” and therefore he has a specific ministerial grace for serving that unity of faith and communion which is necessary for the Church to fulfil her saving mission.

This document, promulgated by the CDF under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, is clear in its intention “to recall the essential points of Catholic doctrine on the primacy.” Nowhere in the document is there any hint that a pope can opt to deviate from his responsibility to remain faithful to the Gospel in his teachings. There is no suggestion that the laity, esteemed theologians, or even cardinals can stand up against the pope and proclaim that the pope is promulgating erroneous teachings. That idea is a novelty with no roots in the official Church teaching on papal primacy. It’s a teaching of the imagisterium.

Indeed, the document very strongly asserts the opposite:

The Roman Pontiff – like all the faithful – is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church’s obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church’s divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation. The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy.

During Francis’s pontificate, the body of writing that has given credence to the imagisterium has grown tremendously. Theologian Thomas Pink has even created a theory that separates the Vatican’s (potentially heretical, in his eyes) “official theology” from “true” magisterial teaching. He explains:

The Church may issue magisterial teaching, which invokes the Church’s authority and an obligation on the faithful to believe on the basis of that authority. But the Church at an official level may also make statements that though official are not themselves magisterial teaching. They are statements that are official – made by officeholders in their public role – but they simply explain what the magisterial teaching means, or what the Church’s policies and practices are, without those statements of themselves imposing any obligation on our part to believe them.

Regarding Amoris Laetitia, he writes:

Amoris Laetitia seems to have been written to avoid clear and unambiguous contradiction of earlier magisterial teaching. But it has come with a lot of official theology, often from the highest level in the Church, that claims to explain the content of Amoris Laetitia — and that explains it in a way that clearly does contradict previous magisterial teaching. That’s very problematic. It looks as though we do have to reject that explanatory official theology as erroneous.

There are a number of problematic ideas here, the first of which is that he doesn’t explain how we are supposed to determine which parts of official documents are magisterial and which are “official theology.” On both Amoris and the death penalty, the legitimate magisterial authority — the pope — has asserted clearly that they represent legitimate developments in continuity with tradition, while various critics and theologians (including Pink) insist otherwise. The Pope explicitly promulgated the Buenos Aires bishops’ guidelines on the implementation of Amoris as “Authentic Magisterium.” Are we to view them simply as “official theology” if we find them troubling? Secondly, as the passage above from Lumen Gentium tells us, the meaning of a magisterial act or document should be understood according to the pope’s “manifest mind and will.” In other words, we shouldn’t be peeling back layers of official Church documents so we can find nuggets of teaching that meet with our approval.

Of particular significance to these debates is the fact that the Church teaches that the pope has the final say on disputed matters. Theologians who want to continue to hammer away at the teaching on the death penalty or on Amoris Laetitia chapter 8, even though the official teachings have already been promulgated, are perpetuating dissent from the magisterium. In his Encyclical Humanae Generis, Pope Pius XII wrote,

If the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Other theologians seem to realize the problems with this approach and employ the imagisterium in other ways, such as inventing solutions to what they perceive as problems. Prominent Dominican Aidan Nichols, in a speech that has not been released in full, suggested that in response to Francis’s “perpetrating doctrinal howlers,” that Canon Law should be revised to include “a procedure for calling to order a pope who teaches error.” In other words, Nichols understands that Francis acts within his authority, and that there is no precedent for a process to correct a sitting pope, but he would like there to be. Apparently he is calling for a repeal to Canon 1404, which says, “The First See is judged by no one.”

Msgr. Nicola Bux, a leading liturgical expert during the papacy of Benedict XVI, argued that the best course of action might “be to examine the ‘juridical validity’ of Pope Benedict’s XVI’s resignation and ‘whether it is full or partial.’ … Such an ‘in-depth study’ of the resignation, he said, could help to ‘overcome problems that today seem insurmountable to us.’” In other words, in order to undo Pope Francis’s teachings, it might be best for the Church to act as if he has never been a valid pope in the first place.

The most famous adherent to today’s imagisterium is the American Cardinal Raymond L Burke. As one of the two surviving signers of the infamous dubia, which questioned the doctrinal validity of Amoris Laetitia, he has taken his message on the road, making public appearances around the world and granting interviews in friendly venues. When not lecturing on the “limits of papal power” or asking for the re-consecration of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, he’s been outspoken about performing a “formal act of correction” of Pope Francis if the pontiff refuses to change the contents of Amoris Laetitia (or clarify it to his liking). Such an act has no basis in Church law or magisterial teaching. It’s pure fantasy. The Church teaches that the authority of the pope is “not only supreme, full and universal, but also immediate, over all pastors and other faithful.” There is no asterisk or footnote suggesting that this is subject to the approval of all of the Cardinals, much less one or two of them.

The imagisterium is not new. I wrote a piece months ago about the dialogue in the 1970s between St. Paul VI and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, leader of the SSPX movement. The issue is fundamentally identical to today’s, but the players and the specific issues have changed. Where Lefebvre challenged Church authority on a council, his modern counterparts challenge a footnote in an exhortation and a paragraph in the Catechism. Where Lefebvre’s movement was small in comparison and drowned out by the wider Church’s acceptance of the Council, the rebellion against Francis has a global stage thanks to social media and international Catholic mass media.

In 1976, St. Paul VI described Lefebvre’s position as “an ecclesiology that is warped in essential points.” Paul emphasized that Lefebvre did not have “the faculty of deciding in general what the rule of faith is or of determining what tradition is.” He went on to admonish, “In practice you are claiming that you alone are the judge of what tradition embraces.” Pope Paul went on to explain– with sensitivity to the difficulties many Catholics had with the teachings of the council — what was expected from them as members of the faithful:

But how can an interior personal difficulty—a spiritual drama which We respect—permit you to set yourself up publicly as a judge of what has been legitimately adopted, practically with unanimity, and knowingly to lead a portion of the faithful into your refusal? If justifications are useful in order to facilitate intellectual acceptance—and We hope that the troubled or reticent faithful will have the wisdom, honesty and humanity to accept those justifications that are widely placed at their disposal—they are not in themselves necessary for the assent of obedience that is due to the Ecumenical Council and to the decisions of the pope. It is the ecclesial sense that is at issue.

St. Paul VI pulled no punches in telling Lefebvre what he was defying and who he was rejecting. Pope Francis has not yet come forth with statements nearly as bold to today’s traditionalist dissenters, but I fear that the time will come when he or his successor will be compelled to make a similar rebuke. As it stands, Paul VI’s words are as relevant in today’s context as they were in his:

“In effect you and those who are following you are endeavoring to come to a standstill at a given moment in the life of the Church. By the same token you refuse to accept the living Church, which is the Church that has always been: you break with the Church’s legitimate pastors and scorn the legitimate exercise of their charge. And so you claim not even to be affected by the orders of the pope, or by the suspension a divinis, as you lament ‘subversion’ in the Church.”

Catholicism is a received faith, passed down through the centuries by an unbroken line of successors to the apostles. We don’t see the Magisterium as a static collection of doctrines, but we understand and accept that the teachings given to us today come from the same source of authority as those promulgated decades or millennia ago. Don’t fall for the lie that says, “Listen to me, not Pope Francis.” The imagisterium is a fantasy.

Where Peter is, there is the Church.

205 Shares

63 Responses

  1. Marthe Lépine says:

    I find this article very helpful, in explaining clearly what I actually believed but did not always have the words to explain it.
    But you may want to correct a typo just before the quote from “Humanae Generis”, where you have “Pius XIII” instead of Pius XII, specially since I found out some time ago, to my astonishment, that there is a group of sedevacantists who claimed to have elected a “legitimate” pope called Pius XIII… (I found that in some web site that I came through inadvertantly while researching something else, and I did not think of making a note of the link.)

  2. jong says:

    Thanks for a clear and very enlightening article circling around the dissenters position and explaining clearly the solid ground Pope Francis stand on.
    My personal reflections on Amoris and DP changes are more on spiritual warfare.Pope BXVI seeing the wolves inside Vatican are growing in numbers and influence, have to make a decision how to combat them.
    God Wisdom inspired to him is to expand the Petrine Ministry to effect the power of Matthew18:19.
    Pope Benedict XVI have to embrace the meaning of his chosen name Holy Father St.Benedict is a Great Prayer Warrior/Intercessor and by retaining the munus his offering of prayers and sacrifices still have a universal effect for the good of the church as it is still attach to the Chair of Peter. The Wisdom of God in the end times is to expand the power of Petrine Office by having Two Popes, one contemplative and the other active to neutralize the extra power granted to satan in 1884 in Pope Leo XIII vision.
    Pope Francis aware of the wolves that troubles Pope Benedict XVI papacy had to introduced a controversial teaching with a combative purpose of exposing who are the wolves inside Vatican and who are their allies outside Vatican.
    Pope Francis mastery in the art of spiritual war born the desire outcome as he now exposed all the wolves and pack of wild dogs.
    In a Spiritual War knowing who are the enemies, their strength ans numbers are very important.
    Amoris Laetetia and Death Penalty Changes very much achieved the desired division and purification of the Church Clergy as Pope Francis now knows who are the Obedient and Disobedient as he prepare the Church for Final Confrontation like Gideon trimming down the armies.
    They key words we have to ponder is the prediction of Cardinal Ratzinger that the church will be reduced to a small,poor but a more pious church devoid of material treasures.This vision of the future church was echoed by Pope Francis when he said, “how i wish the church becomes poor and for the poor.”CCC675
    This is the end game of the Church Crisis, the Vatican II church will become small and poor compose of Few Bishops,clergy and faithful laity fully united to the Pope and totally Consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary vs. the counterfeit church resembling catholic tone but No Pope and Living Church Magisterium as Arch.Sheen described. Pope Francis recently said that Real Schism is already happening, a church will be split visibly into two.
    If Cardinal Burke is truthful to his words he should now actively calling all the Trads and Vatican II Church to pray that this coming World Bishops Meeting in February is a great opportunity to Consecrate Russia.
    Will Pope Francis receive the graces and inspiration from Our Lady that now is the perfect time to Consecrate Russia?
    After the World Bishops formulate the policy to combat Clericalism, will they also give their full consent to Pope Francis when he ask them to come forward and be united as one in prayer to finally Consecrate Russia.
    Will it happen in February?
    Lets all pray that the Holy Spirit and Our Lady of Fatima sees the World Bishop Meeting as the perfect time, and may the Consecration of Russia pave the way for the proclamation of the 5th Dogma so that the Second Pentecost will come as promised to renew the face of the earth.
    Jesus, Mama Mary,St.Joseph we love you save souls.
    My Jesus mercy.

  3. Anne says:

    Catholic teachings cannot suddenly change into its opposite. This entire article is nothing but lies from the evil one. Nice try, but not gonna convince me.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I am just quoting from the Magisterium.

      • Stephen says:

        This statement is not true. You are not “just quoting from the magisterium”. You have your own arguments to make, and use excerpts from certain texts. You have an argument to make, and put your name on it.

        Now, if you do not have sufficient reflection to understand that YOU are making a statement, and not “just quoting from the Magisterium”. How can your readers trust your judgement?

    • G.S. says:

      Exactly Anne! You’re right. Catholic teaching cannot suddenly change into its opposite.
      Saint Francis of Assisi prophesized that, “At the time of this tribulation a man, not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by his cunning, will endeavor to draw many into error and death. ”

      • Mike Lewis says:

        Your adherence to the imagisterium is astounding. As is your use of fake quotes.

      • Peter says:

        Dear G.S., History contradicts your statement regarding “Catholic teaching cannot suddenly change into its opposite”. Have you forgotten how the Church’s teaching on slavery and usury did exactly that – completely changed into its opposite. “A very sorry page in Catholic history, for example, is the fact that for over 1,800 years the popes and the church did not condemn slavery. And until the 17th century, popes, in the strongest terms, condemned loans with interest as violating God’s law”.

    • Jason says:

      Anne: haven’t you changed this Church teaching into it’s opposite?

      “CCC 85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”

    • Peter says:

      It seems from your comment that nothing will ‘convince’ you! As the article explains very well, it is your decision to be or not to be faithful to the Holy Father. That is your choice. But your decision places you outside the Catholic Church. It is ‘that’ that you must accept!

  4. Christopher Lake says:

    Mike, I appreciate, very much, your humility in noting that you once held to certain ways of thinking (advanced by George Weigel and others) that you have had to rethink in order to be more faithful to actual, official Church teaching. Brother, I have been there– and in some ways, I am still going through that process. (I don’t imagine myself to be, even just intellectually speaking, a perfectly consistent Catholic. That is a work in progress, and a long one, for someone like me, who is still far from being a Saint!)

    I’ve noticed, among many of my fellow “conservative, traditionalist” Catholic converts, the tendency to view it as basically obvious, even self-evident, by this point, that Pope Francis is, clearly, “not faithfully Catholic.” When I try to counter this viewpoint, I often don’t encounter even an *attempt* at a true argument, but rather, just a reassertion that his supposed lack of Catholicity is “obvious.”

    However, interestingly, the current Pope’s supposed “lack of Catholicity” does not seem to be obvious, at all, to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who has publicly spoken of his thankfulness for Francis. (I wonder if, eventually, Benedict will also come to be seen as “not faithfully Catholic” for his notable lack of anti-Francis fervor!) I see Catholics having to resort to conspiracy theories to build up some kind of rivalry between Francis and Benedict– and still, in some case, holding on to the desperate fantasy that somehow, someway, Benedict’s resignation was not valid, even as he, himself, has stated that it was done freely!

    All of this sad chasing after conspiracies seems to be in the service of discrediting Pope Francis. How much simpler and easier it would be to just accept what the Church teaches us– that it is the Pope who has the ultimate authority to teach, publicly, what is, and is not, faithfully Catholic in terms of teaching and practice!

    I’ve used this example here before, but for many, many years, Catholics who died by suicide were not allowed to have Catholic burials. That was a longstanding practice in the Church, based upon the official teaching (which still holds), that suicide is, objectively speaking, very grave matter. The broad understanding in the Church, at that time, apparently was that most Catholic suicides were, by definition, examples of deliberate, unrepented, mortal sin. In more recent years, the Church’s understanding of suicide has developed, quite dramatically, to reach much more nuanced conclusions– and with that, the practice has shifted to allow for Catholic burials. I have to wonder, how did the “conservative, traditionalist” Catholics react when that change of practice began to happen? Was there an outcry that this change was a defiance of Church teaching? Was the shift considered to be heretical?

    I write as the son of a mother committed suicide when I was nine years old, so I am definitely not merely theorizing abstractly here. In many ways, to me, the widespread allowance (now) of Catholic burials for suicides (when for a long time, the practice was almost completely the opposite!) seems like a much more radical development in Church discipline/practice than anything in “Amoris Laetitia.” Neither of the two changes Church teaching. (The Church still teaches what she historically has about the gravity of suicide and the indissolubility of marriage.) Both of the two involve changes in *some* of the discipline– which is well within the Pope’s authority.

    The Pope has the right to make decisions about about the application of Church discipline– *including* when a new application may be noticeably different from a previous one. This has always been the Church’s teaching– but somehow, seemingly due largely to a footnote in “Amoris Laetitia,” this privilege of the Pope now seems to be a sticking point which has led many once-reasonable Catholics to conclude that Pope Francis is, at best, flirting with heresy, and at worst, not even a valid Pope. Far from it! He is not teaching in a heretical way at all, as Pope (about marriage or anything else), and he is legitimately exercising his Papal authority. I thank God for him, just as I did (and still do) for Benedict XVI!!

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Blessings, Christopher! You make some great points. There are many changes in discipline (including in 1983 admitting the Eastern Orthodox to the sacraments, and even Protestants in some cases) that I expect would have been condemned as heretical, had they been made by Francis. The fact is that we are not infallible judges when it comes to deciding whether a development is licit or not. The pope is set up as the only authority capable of making that call. And my investigation of the magisterium on this matter has only confirmed that conviction.

      My hope is that others will conduct similar investigations.

    • carn says:

      “I have to wonder, how did the “conservative, traditionalist” Catholics react when that change of practice began to happen? Was there an outcry that this change was a defiance of Church teaching? Was the shift considered to be heretical?”

      I am not aware how “conservative, traditionalist” Catholics to that change.

      But the important issue is that that change does not lead to any contradiction with previous teaching. That is because no one in the past would have ever suggested, that in the time between setting the means of suicide in motion and death repentance is impossible.

      That is even verbatim attributed to a saint:
      https://catholicexchange.com/church-respond-suicide
      “In it, there is a woman who told St. John Vianney that she was devastated because her husband had committed suicide. She wanted to approach the great priest but his line often lasted for hours and she could not reach him. She was ready to give up and in a moment of mystical insight that only a great saint can receive, John Vianney exclaimed through the crowd, “He is saved!” The woman was incredulous so the saint repeated, stressing each word, “I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition.””

      Hence, the change of burial is only a change from a – so to say – more pessimistic to a more optimistic stance by the Church. No fundamental contradiction possible.

      With AL and death penalty, a contradiction is at least hypothetically possible (with AL that the requirement to have at end of confession to sin no more is effectively waived and with death penalty that death penalty is – like targeted killing of innocents – intrinsic evil; both could in a sense be a contradiction to prior teaching or even to scripture).

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Carn,

        The Pope can legitimately change an *application of a discipline* without any contradiction in *official Church teaching* on a particular matter. This is not some modernistic, heretical idea. It has long been part of the Church’s understanding, from the early centuries of Christianity. Some Catholics have also wrestled with it and even defied it, at times– and not always so-called “liberal” Catholics, either, but some quite “conservative” ones, such as Tertullian.

        Tertullian was, for the most part, a great and profound Catholic thinker, but sadly, in his later years, he did break away from obedience to Papal authority with his belief that the Pope was being too lax regarding certain matters of Church discipline. He even formally broke away from the Church over this subject, which is largely why he is not St. Tertullian! Then, as now, though, the Pope has the right to decide how a *discipline* shall be be applied, relating to a particular issue of *doctrine*.

        For example, as I wrote earlier, we have the very definite, and fairly recent, change in the Church’s approach to suicide, regarding Catholic burials. Now, of course, there is also the change in the Church allowing for at least the *possibility* that *some* divorced and civilly remarried Catholics *may* be allowed to take communion, *after* personally, privately consulting with their priest about their particular situation(s). These are both matters of the application of a *discipline* within the Church. There is no contradiction in Church *teaching*.

        Many disciplines, regarding various official teachings, have been applied differently at different points in the Church. history, relating to the legitimate development in the Church’s understanding of doctrine. Again, these different applications of discipline, throughout the Church’s history, have long been understood to be within the Pope’s legitimate teaching authority. He both “binds” and “loosens.” It is his right as Pope to do either.

        Regarding the death penalty, the overwhelming bent of both St. John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s teaching on the issue was toward its eradication. Both men taught, as Pope, what can be found in the Catechism– that in *increasingly rare* circumstances (due, largely, to changing societal situations of better security in jails), it could, in principle, still be morally legitimate for the State to exercise the death penalty– *but* that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, said exercise, now, is not morally legitimate.

        Moreover, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, at different points, in their tenures as Pope, publicly called for an overall societal movement toward the *eradication* of the death penalty. They allowed for a very small “loophole,” regarding issues of security, which *might* still allow for the death penalty in very rare cases, but also both stated that, now, such cases were exceedingly small, if not non-existent. In other words, again, they both taught what the Catechism teaches.

        Pope Francis simply said, in effect, “It’s time. The loopholes are now closed. The death penalty was needed at times in the past, and within those specific circumstances, it was morally legitimate. However, it is now time to put into the Catechism, formally, the call for the abolition of the death penalty that St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both publicly articulated.” The examples with JPII, on this issue, are many, and here is at least one example with Benedict XVI: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-benedict-end-the-death-penalty

        Even with Pope Francis’s recent addition to the Catechism, though, the Church still has not changed its official teaching that the death penalty *could* be morally exercised, *if* the circumstances were such that it were absolutely necessary, as a matter of safety and security. He is simply stating now, as Pope, that it (the death penalty) is no longer necessary, and that all Catholics should get on board with the now-formal teaching, in the Catechism, and vocally oppose capital punishment.

        This is now explicitly a matter of what St. John Paul II called “the Gospel of life.” If the Church now formally teaches that the death penalty is no longer necessary, which she does, as codified in the Catechism, then to *oppose* and *argue against* that teaching is to oppose the Church’s teaching authority itself, which comes from Christ Himself. I’m not about to do that. Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ, and I’m not. He has the Christ-given authority to teach, and to apply discipline(s), in a supreme, binding, (and/or loosing!) way in the Church. I do not have that authority.

        For me, as an orthodox Catholic, it’s really that simple. I’m not the Pope. If I oppose and argue against the Pope’s public teaching on a doctrine *or* his legitimate Papal application of a Church discipline, then, even in an attempt, in my mind, to be what I imagine to be an “orthodox Catholic,” I have actually become *disobedient* to the very apostolic teaching authority which Christ Himself lovingly gave us.

        • Lord Azaxyr says:

          “The death penalty was needed at times in the past, and within those specific circumstances, it was morally legitimate.”

          It follows that if societal circumstances change, the death penalty might become legitimate again.

          Moreover, your line of argument — that disciplinary rulings are binding but changeable; that they are to be considered appropriate for their times — entails that the Church was absolutely right to burn heretics and compel Jews to wear identifying badges in times past.

          Do you affirm that it was a Catholic duty to be docile to those rulings when they were in force?

          • Christopher Lake says:

            Lord Azaxyr,

            I apologize for not replying more quickly to your questions for me; I actually did not see your comment here until well after you posted it. (I took a break from reading and commenting at WPI, for a short while, and then returned and saw your comment.)

            It’s sometimes difficult to ascertain the intent and tone behind questions that are posed via internet communication. I am trusting that your questions for me were asked in good faith, rather than as “gotcha!” questions. I’m going to attempt to reply to them, in that spirit, as good-faith questions.

            If societal circumstances radically changed, to a degree that it became *truly impossible* for prisons to protect society from murderous criminals (for example, in the event of a nuclear war that devastated either the entire world or large regions of the world), then the death penalty might, *under those radical conditions*, become necessary again. That would be as a *last resort* for public safety though, *not* as a reversal of the principles behind the official Catholic Catechism’s recently revised teaching on the death penalty, as stated below:

            2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

            Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

            Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

            (Now, back to my own written part of my reply to you here!)

            When you state that, in the past, the Church burned heretics, and the Church compelled Jews to wear identifying badges, as examples of “disciplinary rulings,” are you saying that these past actions of various people actually came on orders from the Pope himself? It is true that, tragically, at certain times in the past, governments burned heretics, and governments required Jews to wear identifying badges. I am not aware of it being an official, binding, disciplinary ruling within the Church, coming directly from the teaching authority of the Pope, that the Church herself would burn heretics and/or mistreat Jews. Government officials carried out these actions, often with far too much *cooperation from* various people in the Church, including leaders. However, government participation in terrible actions, with cooperation from some people in the Church, does not equate to an official, binding, disciplinary ruling from the Pope himself to which Catholics *must assent*.

            Now, if I had lived in a time in which such things were happening, would I have agreed with, or even, possibly, participated in, as a lay Catholic, the burning of heretics or the mistreatment of Jews? I do not believe in the compelling of conscience by force. I love and deeply respect Jewish people and Judaism. I also happen to have a physical disability, so if I were a Catholic in the Middle Ages, my life would be almost unimaginably different, in many ways, from what my life is like in the 21st-century U.S.A. I pray, earnestly, that even if I had lived in the Middle Ages, I would not have agreed with (or, even worse, directly participated in) violence toward, or *any* kind of mistreatment against, heretics or Jews, as a Catholic, no matter how common such sentiments and/or actions may have been among some Catholics (including some canonized Saints!) in past centuries.

            If I *had* agreed with, or participated in, such terrible sins against fellow human beings, then I would have been very much morally in the wrong to do so. The Catholic Church herself has, through many Papacies now, been repenting of, and apologizing for, such sins as the burning of heretics and the mistreatment of Jews, in which too many Church leaders and members were complicit in the past. Again, though, I am not aware of these past sins having been committed as a result of official, binding, disciplinary rulings from the Papal teaching authority.

  5. L. Daily says:

    Very true. The trouble stems from a generation of converts who still retain their Protestant sensibilities. Catholicism is largely is foreign to them, so Gospel virtues and MAGA seem compatible. Poorly formed priests continue the cycle of protestantizing the Church, example here: http://on-this-rock.blogspot.com/2019/01/a-message-for-nick-sandmann.html?m=1

  6. carn says:

    Unfortunately missing the point, or namely two very relevant points.

    “Rather than listening to the Magisterium and simply assenting to the teachings in the way that the Church instructs us”

    To assent to a teaching, one has to understand the teaching at least to the degree to which one assents to. Otherwise one can only shrug one’s shoulder and with a “I’m fine with whatever you say” busy oneself with other things.

    One of the usual ways to resolve problems of understanding – asking the one one doesn’t understand questions – is not open with Pope Francis. Another course of action – simply read more of what the person says to understand – fails. A further course of action – read what other people having both understood what he says and understood why some cannot understand him – is also not available as such other people do not seem to exist.

    “In matters of faith and morals”

    Quite a number of statements by Pope Francis are relying, intertwined or referring to things NOT a matter of faith and morals.

    That would be no problem, if there would be general acceptance that in such cases of course one has only assent to the faith and morals-part and might form an own opinion upon the non-faith and moral part.

    But that is also treated as dissent.

    Prominent example CCC2267:
    “Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

    That is a full paragraph consisting in its entirely of three claims NOT being about faith and morals.

    Whether or not there is an increasing awareness is a claim about a certain opinion change in an undefined group; whether there was an opinion change among some undefined group is NOT a matter of faith or morals, but more a matter of polls or studying articles in the field, etc.

    Whether a new understanding about the significance of penal sanctions has emerged is NOT a matter of faith or morals, but one of jurisprudence, etc.

    Whether more effective system of detention have been developed is NOT a matter of faith and morals, but one of jurisprudence and the sciences regarding law enforcement, etc.

    Yet, i am quite confident that if i were of the opinion, that this paragraph of CCC 2267 is total nonsense, quite a number of people would call me just for that a dissenter. Which is why i do think the charge of “dissenting” is often raised without the one raising the accusation actually being capable of correctly discerning whether there is a case of dissent.

    And all this is of course made worse by the next word in CCC 2267:
    “Consequently, …”

    So as a consequence of claims not about faith and morals, which any catholic is formally free to consider to be absolute and total nonsense, the Church teaches something. It would at least be difficult to assent to some teaching which is considered to be – according to a legitimate personal opinion – a consequence of total nonsense.

    Usually, when a bishop offers some moral/faith advice based on something, which is not moral/faith and which i due to my better knowledge of the subject consider an error, i would ignore the bishop’s advice insofar as it is clearly dependent upon what i know to be an error and try to think about what the bishop would have advised if he had better knowledge of the subject.

    But people of course would call that dissent, if i’d suggest the same with what Pope Francis says.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Not missing the point. What you are really arguing is that you find the Church’s teachings unacceptable/irrational. You do not have the authority to dictate what the Church officially teaches and what the Church doesn’t. If you can’t assent to a particular magisterial teaching, be honest about that. You can’t redefine the Magisterium so it’s more to your liking.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        Additionally, if the Church defines the death penalty as “inadmissible,” this is a firm statement of a disciplinary nature. Moral implications aside, we are instructed not to partake in capital punishment and to support its abolition. Disciplinary acts of the magisterium are binding as well.

  7. QED says:

    For a while now, it seems to me that there is a group of Catholics who do not submit to Christ or the Church due to supernatural faith, but rather are Catholic because they revere their ancestors.

    For example, they accuse the pope of socialism because he points out the scandal of the current economic system that dehumanizes and lowers the dignity of many groups of people, treating them as a means of production. It’s not so bad if you are in a western country or have inherited wealth, but in some parts of Asia the governments takes money from rich industrialists and don’t mind selling off resources needed for the common good or making a subset of local workers literal wage slaves.

    Or perhaps we take the case of immigrants or refugees. Despite the direct teaching of Jesus they take irritation at a pope who tries to raise non-Europeans to the same parity with Europeans when it comes to human dignity. Their ancestors, of course, tolerated a world where European world dominance was the case, and the rest of the people of the world were humanoid heathens of some sort.

    Or maybe they will completely even glorify the crusades, even though there are two ways of discerning just wars–the rightness of the cause, and the rightness of the way battles are waged. It is clear that the massacre of Jerusalem was barbaric–leaving aside the motivations of the crusades or the brutality of Muslims.

    But because they revere their ancestors they do not judge their ancestors, or the culture they inherited, objectively according to the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead they treat the Church like some sort of ethnic pagan cult for Europeans. They seem to hate everyone else, especially Arabs.

  8. Jane Ceol says:

    I cannot even fathom how one could assume Conservative Catholics are often converts who still retain their “Protestant sensibilities”. It is not converts who wish to convert the Church into more “Protestant sensibilities”. It is the ecumenicism of Vatican II and the Popes that followed in this error starting in 1962 who have purposely and most intentionally sought to replace Catholic Doctrine and Tradition. Their goal is an all for one World Religion. Much of this new contemporary theology isn’t even faithful to scripture, let alone our Lord’s direct chastisements regarding divorce or homosexuality. Truth can not be changed by any Pope. Right and wrong cannot be compromised by Pope Francis. And his turning a blind eye to the homosexual activity in the priesthood is not only a grave sin but an heretical position under the guise of mercy. I suggest that Vatican II is responsible for the evil we are seeing in the Church today and why the faithful has left the Church. To believe that in the end we will have a small, poor, but more holy church is total denial that the Church is no longer relevent to our salvation and instead has joined the modern world of “anythong goes.” How painful it is to see our beloved Church destroyed.

  9. Jane Ceol says:

    I cannot even fathom how one could assume Conservative Catholics are often converts who still retain their “Protestant sensibilities”. It is not converts who wish to convert the Church into more “Protestant sensibilities”. It is the ecumenicism of Vatican II and the Popes that followed in this error starting in 1962 who have purposely and most intentionally sought to replace Catholic Doctrine and Tradition. Their goal is an all for one World Religion. Much of this new contemporary theology isn’t even faithful to scripture, let alone our Lord’s direct chastisements regarding divorce or homosexuality. Truth can not be changed by any Pope. Right and wrong cannot be compromised by Pope Francis. And his turning a blind eye to the homosexual activity in the priesthood is not only a grave sin but an heretical position under the guise of mercy. I suggest that Vatican II is responsible for the evil we are seeing in the Church today and why the faithful has left the Church. To believe that in the end we will have a small, poor, but more holy church is total denial that the Church is no longer relevent to our salvation and instead has joined the modern world of “anythong goes.” How painful it is to see our beloved Church destroyed. God have mercy on Pope Francis and much of the heirarchy surrounding him. They are deliberately leading the faithful into sin to justify their own political goals. The Church is no longer concerned in Salvation. Even Francis believes there is no Hell. If this is true, then there is no purpose to Catholicism.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Jane, Pope Francis has explicitly, publicly stated, numerous time, his belief in Hell and the very serious necessity to avoid going to Hell. Too much of the media already misrepresents his teaching. Why would you, as a Catholic, choose to help in that endeavour? Please do not misrepresent his teaching. Pope Francis speaks on Hell: https://aleteia.org/2018/03/30/3-times-pope-francis-warned-about-hell/

      You claim the Church is not “interested in salvation” anymore. However, in a complete contrast to your claim, in one of his early actions as the new Pope, Francis issued an *entire, lengthy Church document* on the joy of the Gospel and the importance of spreading the Gospel. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

      Pope Francis has also *reaffirmed* what Pope Benedict XVI said about men with deep-seated homosexual inclinations who may wish to become priests– namely, that they *should not be admitted to the priesthood*. Moreover, for priests who are already ordained who are attracted to the same sex, he stated that they must be celibate or leave the priesthood. Period. This is very, very far from “turning a blind eye” to the question (as you put it). https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/02/gay-people-should-not-join-catholic-clergy-pope-francis-says

      Every Pope since Vatican II has clearly, officially taught that Vatican II is a legitimate, binding Council of the Church. (Have you studied the documents of Vatican II, which tell us what the Council actually teaches?) By saying that Vatican II, itself, is responsible for evil and apostasy within the Church, you are saying, in effect, that the Council was more Satanic than of Christ. All of the Vicars of Christ since Vatican II, for several decades now, have strongly and vocally taught the *exact opposite* of your opinion on the Council.

  10. Cpt39 says:

    Mike – thanks for writing this. Wonder if you could help clear up a lingering question. You wrote:

    [H]ow should a Catholic reply if asked for the Church’s official teaching on the death penalty? From a factual standpoint, the teaching is reflected in Pope Francis’s revision to the Catechism’s paragraph 2267, which states, “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

    This is fairly straightforward. However, could a Catholic alternatively answer the same question another, equally factual way?

    Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.

    – The Roman Catechism (or Catechism of the Council of Trent, published 1566, source)

    Many thanks in advance.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Am considering doing a post on this specifically.

    • Marthe Lépine says:

      You seem to be making an opposition between the Catechism of the Council of Trent, published some 500 years ago, and the current Catechism published under John Paul II. However, it should be obvious that the current Catechism is a kind of updating of that 500 years old Catechism, which was valid in its time, but needed to be modified to take into account new developments, not so much of the world, but as a result of deeper study and understanding. It does not make much sense to constantly refer to Trent as the only valid interpretation of Church teaching.

  11. Chris dorf says:

    I would be interested in having a nonpartisan party read the back and forth discussion about Mike’s essay and offer a discernment of what is causing the conflict which is not such a global scale right now within the Catholic Church. Often by reading how people respond within a conflict give us a little bit of late to what is occurring and why.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I would love honest feedback. This essay is in many ways the result of 5 years of watching the response to Francis’s papacy unfold. I honestly thought Catholics would offer assent once Francis made clear that the Buenos Aires bishops’ guidelines were magisterial, but that’s caused them to dig in their heels even more. I finally came to realize that their concept of “Magisterium” was fundamentally different than what the Church actually teaches about it. And the more I research actual Magisterial sources about papal primacy and the nature of magisterial authority, I can’t find anything that supports their position. It’s only supported mine.

  12. Basil Bwambale says:

    Thanks Lewis for taking your time to delve into the confusion in church teaching in these days… But tell me how you feel when you hear that in Malta and Argentina divorced and remarried Catholics are permitted to the Eucharist while living sexually active in their new ” marriage” but the same is not true for Catholics in Philadelphia?? Is that the unity of the Church that Christ mandated Peter to up hold?? Tell me your mind and feeling about such! In your essay why haven’t you referred to the parts of the catechism that explain how a Pope ceases to be a Pope? The Pope and the Magisterium are governed by Sacred Scripture and Sacred tradition…those two are supreme to the Papacy because it’s in them that the Papacy derives it’s existence! The Papacy is there to serve and preserve sacred scripture and sacred tradition BUT not to contradict or antagonize them in any way… I think you have rightly quoted the catechism in your essay but your interpretation or understanding of some of them isn’t right. Pope Francis is human, he does his best in many areas but faulters in some areas. Our job is to pray that he rectifies the mess in the church today but also we are under obligation to defend and witness to the TRUTH and not to node in agreement to everything said by the Pope even when he has erred! You remember the protests in Chile against the Pope? Wasn’t that so ugly to you? At the same time we should not only criticize and try to pull the Pope down whenever he errs but instead find ways of fraternally correcting him. Lewis please let’s not support wrong teaching that contradicts scripture and sacred tradition just because the Pope said it..that is so wrong. Christ and His word are the standard and supreme to the Papacy ; if any Pope ever contradicts Christ’s word then he ceases to be Pope(cathechism). About Marriage Christ was crystal clear and we are not accepting any ambiguity about that…the great danger of confusing people about Christ’s word is that individuals who follow those erroneous insinuations is that such souls could get lost ; we should concern ourselves most importantly with what saves our souls and not necessarily with whatever is being spoken by those in authority. Receiving the Eucharist while living in sin will never be right whether the Pope permits it or not !!!

    • David says:

      Notice he hasn’t replied to you- that’s one of those pesky realities that those who idolize Francis and have an erroneous notion of papal authority can’t get around. In fact, it is readily apparent how that refutes his claims: if everyone is obliged to follow something merely because Francis wills it, and his will is absolute, and his saying so is what supposedly makes something true, how can there be different teaching in different places? And if people such as Chaput, and indeed the majority of the world’s bishops- who haven’t made any changes to reflect the claims of AL- have not been corrected, told they are holding erroneous teaching, are “dissenting,” etc., then we are left with the situation you describe. (And here one can pose the interesting issue of whether the world’s bishops are in agreement with the pope on this and what that might say if they are not, including from a magisterial standpoint.) We also know Francis has given forms of approval, if even indirectly, to those who have formulated guidelines which do not permit communion for adulterers but follow the only teaching of continence or separation (e.g. the polish bishops). So, Francis himself can be said to contradict Lewis’ claims!

      And this is where we see the schizophrenia and confusion of this papacy- which is clearly not being invented by anyone as these folks claim- but exists by the very situation described, for instance. This is found in other areas too: communion for non-Catholics, which is now taught and practiced in Germany, but not elsewhere. I guess it’s only true if you live in Germany and because Francis literally just but a big “F” for Francis on a blank piece of paper, with the date on it, following a meeting with Cardinal R. Marx…What madness! Is that what now qualifies as the magisterium?!

      • Mike Lewis says:

        I let his comment through – we moderate all comments. I have a day job and can’t reply to every single comment right away. And if you read other posts at this site, you will see that pretty much every argument against my piece has already been addressed elsewhere.

        • David says:

          But it doesn’t seem that you have addressed this issue. I assume you would have provided a reference to a previous post if you had or can you do so now? And other questions that you have dealt with before you go into great detail repeating here, but not so with this one. And the issue of communion for non-Catholics doesn’t seem to have been previously addressed in any way… Again such realities as different doctrines in different places is one that people consistently avoid because they can’t without admitting the “critics” have a valid point. Even if one claims this is merely a disciplinary matter that can differ from place to place- which it is not- then that means that someone can legitimately choose not to follow it and therefore there is no “dissent.” (One can raise many more problematic issues, e.g., if my bishop or even my entire episcopal conference has said he/they will not change anything in regard to communion for adulterers from what always has been, if i am obedient to my bishop/conference am i in “dissent?”)

          It is revealing when instead of people honestly just saying something like ‘i can’t explain that,’ or ‘that is a problem and i don’t know why this is being allowed to happen,’ they deny there is any difficulty or make the silly claim that the problem is being “manufactured” by critics, or twist themselves in knots trying to come up with some explanation, any explanation, to try and make the problem go away. Furthermore I am not expecting that you will have an answer precisely because there may not be one other than that it indicates there is a problem.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            Can you please summarize in 1-2 sentences the issue that you believe we’ve never addressed?

          • Mike Lewis says:

            I don’t always have time to look up citations when I am responding to comments, especially when typing on a phone.

            But believe me, there is very rarely a question related to Francis’s orthodoxy, papal primacy, or the Magisterium that we haven’t already responded to, in depth.

          • David says:

            I stated the issue already above, as first raised by Basil Bwambale: the existence of different doctrine in different places, such as with communion for adulterers and non-Catholics. My earlier comments also already address various claims of resolving it, e.g., resorting to a claim of mere discipline that can thus differ from place to place.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            There should not be divisions about doctrine. Clearly there are differences in discipline in various places. For example, in the diocese of Lincoln, NE, they do not ordain permanent deacons. Many countries and dioceses around the world don’t have them. This is a legitimate pastoral response by the local Churches. The Church permits them to decide.

            What would be problematic would be if the dioceses and bishops’ conferences without permanent deacons were to assert that permanent deacons were illegitimate in the places where they are allowed, when it is clear that the universal Church permits it.

          • David says:

            To compare it to using the permanent diaconate is apples to oranges and the claim that this is merely disciplinary has already been addressed in prior comments. (Including the fact that if it is only disciplinary, then there is no universally binding teaching/doctrine to which one can even dissent; or if the doctrine itself is that there is a discipline which admits of exception, then you have a teaching right there.) There should be no difference but there is!! It is also apparent in those guidelines that do not allow communion that the approach of A.L. is being excluded, and indeed is so by definition, the moment you say that the only options are separation or perpetual continence and communion is not acknowledged/permitted as one. (e.g., diocese of Portland, OR., Arch. of Philadelphia). You don’t have to find the words “what is taught in A.L. is hereby rejected” or something akin to it, for this to be the case. So the situation you describe is, in fact, occurring. And this is clearly being allowed by Francis, at least at present. A doctrinal difference is also apparent in implicit ways- i.e. when you see references to something being based on divine law- prohibition to communion- you are ipso facto involving doctrine, of an unchangeable nature, which, also in practice, can’t differ from place to place.

            This is what folks can’t and won’t deal with because it destroys their narrative, e.g., that there are no problems under this pontificate, it is all falsely manufactured, there is no confusion, labeling people as “dissenters” and followers of an “immagisterium.” It seems allowed, at present, for one person to not follow what is in A.L. because their bishop or conference have said so in one form or another, and no higher authority has said anything to the contrary. Even in places where this hasn’t been the case this arguably still holds. (There is the other example of communion for non-Catholics, being “true” only in Germany.) It would again better for folks to just admit they can’t explain it, but it seems they can’t even bring themselves to say that, because that would prove the point there is a problem.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            I’m not certain what Pope Francis plans to do about the dioceses that have promulgated guidelines that contradict AL on doctrinal grounds, certainly if they explicitly or implicitly suggest that AL or the Buenos Aires guidelines are doctrinally incorrect, there should be a correction, but I’ll leave it to the pope to do it in his time and as he sees fit. Certainly other places, such as Washington, DC and the Polish bishops, drew up guidelines that didn’t even mention footnote 351. In these places, it goes without saying that they defer to the Vatican on the issue.

            It seems quite clear that the archbishops in Portland, Philadelphia, etc., are deliberately resisting what has been promulgated by the magisterium, however. If they acknowledged the validity of the teaching elsewhere, but wanted to express that such a discipline would be inappropriate in their specific diocesan pastoral situation, that would be one thing, but you are correct. They do seem to reject the validity of the teaching. That’s problematic.

            I’m not entirely clear what you’re suggesting I’m not “dealing with.” What am I not addressing?

          • David says:

            Thanks. But this is perhaps the first time anyone on this site has admitted this is a problem. But you understand how this refutes the claims constantly made here that there is no confusion, no problems, people are “dissenters.” The problem is also much more widespread: bishops and conferences which make no mention of things cannot be said to defer to Rome, unless they specifically say so. In fact, the opposite must be concluded- to issue guidelines yet make no reference to an “option” of communion means a non-acceptance of it. Or, you then have even more of a problem, for then it may depend on any given priest making the decision of what to follow. And again, most dioceses/conferences have not made any guidelines or statements, which means no change in those places. So the fact remains we are left with the very disturbing case of different doctrine in different places, that the faithful in any given place are not sure what to believe or at odds with other people somewhere else as to what they believe and practice. As this has been going on for 2(?) years that is inexplicable. Francis could have easily said at any time- and especially when claiming the argentine guidelines are magisterial- any guidelines are to conform to this/permit this option, anything not in conformity is not valid, etc. And what makes it abundantly clear his allowance of this is deliberate is that he has steadfastly refused to say so, whether in reply to the 4 dubia and other similar requests to clarify and emphatically state what the case is. (This in itself reveals a problem- a pope who refuses to clearly state/clarify what he is teaching, especially when this ambiguity is a consistent pattern. And again this is also just one issue, we have others like communion for non-Catholics which has followed the same pattern, also giving more evidence this is deliberate.) This also means that A.L. is doubtfully a universal, binding teaching of the Church. And if someone says it is, I can again say: but they don’t follow it here or there and it is being permitted. This also means you cannot call someone a “dissenter” and the like as any given person may just be following what their bishop says, and they have every justification to follow that, even when it doesn’t conform to A.L.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            In the two cases I mentioned, I should have been more clear: the Polish bishops were very clear that they assented to what Francis wrote, and in DC, Cardinal Wuerl is very well known to support Francis’s position and even publicly endorsed Stephen Walford’s book.

            Francis has emphasized that the exhortation should be read as a whole, and in the scope of things, footnote 351 is a very small part of it. A particular set of local guidelines need not fixate on that one point, especially when the purpose of the document is to give a wide-ranging teaching on marriage and family life. We have laid out on this site, many times, what Amoris Laetitia clearly teaches on the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried, its magisterial status, how it is consistent with tradition, etc. Francis’s position is quite clear, but he’s not going to be drawn into a debate about it. His endorsement of the Guidelines of the Buenos Aires bishops, as well as the fact that he wrote a preface for Stephen Walford’s book, should resolve any questions on where he stands.

            It’s not unusual for different regions and dioceses to be slow to adopt papal initiatives. What is problematic is when bishops willfully reject it, as seems to be the case with Amoris Laetitia chapter 8. There are many who should know better, but are pushing back: well known priests, theologians, Catholic media personalities and writers. This is who I’m pushing back against, as well as those who call Francis a heterodox, or a heretic.

            Perhaps some Catholics don’t understand how the Magisterium works — I mention in the piece that I once believed George Weigel’s explanation of the proper way to receive papal teaching. I’m just trying to lay out the actual Catholic teachings on Magisterial authority, and explain that there’s a false understanding that many have bought into.

  13. Cian O'Brien says:

    Mr Lewis,

    I comment in the spirit of Christian brotherhood and with the intent to understand further, as in the days of old before the treacherous days of social media.

    I appreciate your efforts to construct the argument you are trying to make, I must admit it is an interesting angle as the “primary of conscience” over magisterial teaching is often used by liberals to justify heretical positions against the magisterial teaching and in disobedience to previous Papal teaching on faith and morals. I will commend you for taking a more traditional tack, to support a very untraditional Pope, and historical situation. I do not share you historical interpretation though or follow your logic fully.

    Although decently constructed your argument is mostly facade and appears pure sophistry. Hopefully not intended to mislead the faithful. I would like to understand some things better.

    A- There is no mention here of the Natural Law, human reason or informed conscience. Catholic theology and the CCC are firmly based in Natural Law theology. The way you present the Papal magisterial teaching, is the Pontiff apparently can willy nilly contradict not only Natural Law but revelation of Jesus himself and it would be magisterial teaching just because the Pope said so. There are obviously many areas the Pope cannot Pontificate on and his authority is limited, but you seem to be unaware or did not state what the Holy Fathers limits are and at what point they are bounded. The reference to 1404 of Cannon Law concerns legal and ecclesial tribunals, not theological debate. And 1405 states that a Pope can be judged when the Pontiff submits to it, that is he can submit to being judged if that is his prerogative. So you seem to be misrepresenting the intent of the law here.

    B- you claim wide powers for a pontiff, to be able to in many ways contradict previous teaching of Popes as mere development. It cannot be development if it completely contradicts past magisterial teaching. You present a set of paradoxes, which when argued fully through, allows no objective standard for an individual Catholic to determine what is right or wrong interpretation of Church teaching. This seems very much like the moral relativism our Pope Emeritis has constantly warned against. How is your argument protected against the charge of relativism?

    C- How would you respond tomorrow if Pope Francis came out and said “Jesus is not divine”, “there is no trinity”, “teachings of a previous Dr of the Church are now heretical”… like the death penalty. Please tell me where Cardinal Bellermine is wrong on capital punishment and what changed?

    C1 – Capital Punishment Via Natural Law

    1- A person has the right to live a life free fo pain suffering and oppression
    2- In order to pursue happiness and God given gifts people have a right to self determination
    3- combined, peoples have to natural right to form their own systems of government and laws
    4- these governments are just and licit if they look for the positive good of the people and serve as proper stewards of the resources God has granted them
    5- in order to fulfill the common good, the society has opted for capital punishment under rare and licit conditions, which has been debated heavily, not preferred for good theological reasons, but permitted and effective to governance if used correctly
    6- This has been true until Pope Francis
    7- Now it is not? Just because the Pope said so?

    C2- How do you address this argument based on the teachings of the CCC and logic… related to communion…

    1- To receive communion you should be in a state of grace
    2- To be in a state of grace you need to be free of the mortal sin
    3- to be free of mortal sin you must commit act of reconciliation
    4- for a valid act of reconciliation you must in your heart repent of the sin
    5- to repent of the sin you must in your heart commit to trying not to commit that sin again
    6- If you intend to commit adultery, even after confessing adultery, it is not valid reconciliation
    7- if its not valid reconciliation are you in a state of grace when you reviece?
    8- If one is not in the state of grace, and they take communion are they not putting themselves in spiritual danger as is revels in revelation by the Apostle Paul?

    It would appear to me that the current teaching on receiving communion for divorced is contracting not only the Catechis, sbut also holy scripture… from which the Chassidism is based.

    Mark 19
    And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

    + 1 Cor 11 – 27-28
    “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:27–28) 

    Thus a Dubai to clarify seems completely appropriate. You extend no grace to the cardinals in this matter, nor for those you say are putting their faith in imagistarium. Is the Pope able to change the teachings of Jesus himself?

    D – C- Lastly you mischaracterize the intent of the Dubia, Cardinal Burke and his colleagues. This was not a direct challenge or a statement saying the Pope is wrong, it is a standard process in asking for clarification, and is a function of the Bishops office. Those who are not asking for clarification are taking the vagaries of Amoris Laetitia and running with their own notions of how it should be administered in their diocese. This is hardly clear magisterial teaching from the Holy Father. And that is the point, he is supposed to make things more clear, not keep his flock in the dark and guessing… the purpose of the Dubai was exactly to have more to either assent or to oppose. The reason it was not answered is it cannot be without contradicting Jesus himself and the Churches teaching for hundreds fo years. Although there are those who believe the Pope’s letter to the bishops of Buenos Aries settled the matter, it was not a direct answer to the Dubai and thus remains, deliberately?, unclear. The clarification is still required because the teaching is still unclear to this humble Catholic. Statements like. “I am not saying a single” about issues which have great and grave moral implications for Holy Mother Church are a clear dereliction of duty as a good Shepard.

    At the end of the day you never address the logical concept of contradiction. Tomorrow the Holy Father could say “no communion for the divorced period” and “the death penalty in some cases can serve the common good of the people”. Your interpretation does not allow you to say, “hey wait a minute, did you just not say the opposite yesterday? How did you come to that?” This seems an untenable position .

    Sincerely,
    Cian

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Cian, you leave me with a lot to chew on here, but the brief answer is that according to Church teaching, the Magisterium does not contradict itself on essential points. You argue that what Pope Francis promulgated in Amoris Laetitia contradicts essential doctrine. The official position of the Church, however, is that it is not. Thus, the Church asserts that AL can be justified according to reason and Natural Law, and is consistent with Catholic doctrine.

      So you and the Magisterium disagree on that point. If you study the arguments that support Amoris Laetitia and resolve that you are unable to grant assent, then you have to deal with that according to your conscience.

      But it’s nonsensical to pretend that the true Church teaching is something other than what the Church actually teaches.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Regarding question C, this was my response to an emailer who asked the exact same question:

      I’ll explain how I would approach such a scenario. Keep in mind that I do not in any way foresee this happening (in fact, my Catholic faith very much depends on it NOT happening).

      If the pope was to promulgate a document through an official act of the magisterium that was completely outrageous – let’s say he declared that Christ was not divine – I would do the following:

      1) Analyze the teaching and the words and actions of the pope, to ensure that I did not misunderstand him.

      2) If it became clear that I was not mistaken about the teaching, I would consider the arguments for the outrageous teaching.

      3) If I was unable to grant assent to the teaching, I would admit my state of dissent against the that particular teaching of the Church. I accept that I do not have the ability to decide what the Church teaches.

      4) I would reconsider my relationship with the Church.

      In other words, it is conceivably possible (but I have faith that it won’t happen) that the Church could teach something that I couldn’t accept. But I would never declare a magisterial act non-magisterial. I accept what the Church teaches about its own authority to teach.

      Does that make sense?

    • carn says:

      “C2- How do you address this argument based on the teachings of the CCC and logic… related to communion…

      1- To receive communion you should be in a state of grace
      2- To be in a state of grace you need to be free of the mortal sin
      3- to be free of mortal sin you must commit act of reconciliation
      4- for a valid act of reconciliation you must in your heart repent of the sin
      5- to repent of the sin you must in your heart commit to trying not to commit that sin again
      6- If you intend to commit adultery, even after confessing adultery, it is not valid reconciliation
      7- if its not valid reconciliation are you in a state of grace when you reviece?
      8- If one is not in the state of grace, and they take communion are they not putting themselves in spiritual danger as is revels in revelation by the Apostle Paul?”

      I think i can offer a way out of the contradiction in case of ONE PERSON of an invalid relation going to confession under very specific circumstances.

      The solution would be “between” your number 5 and 6. But first precaution: I do not suggest that such a case actually exists; but for showing that with ONE PERSON of a two person invalid relation, there could be a scenario without contradiction, a hypothetical possible scenario is sufficient.

      A and B have children together and are in a secular “marriage”, A is actually validly married to C, which is off in some far away country unreachable. A is lapsed catholic and one day finds her faith again.

      Accordingly, she wants to avoid further intimacy with B. B doesn’t take this lightly; B puts a gun at the head of one of their children and offers her the choice to either agree to sex or he will pull the trigger; since B happens to be a regularly employed killer of a powerful crime organization, his threat is entirely believable. A agrees to his demands.

      A ponders leaving B; but she has no means to safely leave; police is also no option, since they are on the paycheck of the crime organization; local hiding is also not possible as B is well connected; and to ensure her “fidelity” he of course threaten to kill her and her children, if she ever tries to leave him.

      Stuck at the moment A realizes, that due to his daily habits and due to him having other women as well, she might try to avoid having sex with him by adjusting her behavior accordingly (e.g. being away when he likely might come home and wants sex, which will result in him seeking another of his women). This works of and on, so sometimes A still ends up being intimate with B, cause she could not stand the thought of having her children killed right in front of her.

      When she manages a longer period to avoid intimacy with him, she goes to confession; she has full intent to avoid further intimacy; but she also has full intent, that if her attempts at avoiding fail and B would draw his gun again, that she would again stop resisting.

      So we end up with 5 being fulfilled, A is committed to not reapeating the sin, but 6 not fulfilled, as A has intent to be in a certain situation intimate with B again (e.g. whenn he threatens again to murder her children) which at least rather likely is to happen again.

      Yet, i think her confession would be valid, cause it is not written in stone, that the situation will arise again. A will strive to avoid intimacy with B; and maybe she will succeed, even if it is not likely.

      Her intent to be intimate again, when he aims a gun at her children, is sufficiently mitigated due to the dire situation this would be.

      If you think this is too construed, please be reminded, that i only tried to offer a hypothetical example and tried to make it as convincingly as possible, that A could validly confess.

      Of course, the moment B becomes catholic/tries to be a good catholic, the argument falls apart, cause his first confession would include something like “Oh, and from time i put the barrel of a gun right at my child’s head, if A is again trying to avoid sex” with probably some “Ok, that one you should never do again” by the priest, which then would likely open some path for A and B finding a way to at least attempt to live as brother and sister (if separation is still not possible for some other reasons; though of course they should quickly leave the country, cause B would have to quit his job and his boss might dislike that; then of course A should try to find C)

      I cannot create any bizarre hypothetical scenario, in which BOTH persons of couple strive to avoid having sex and yet having intent and likely will do so in some likely recurring situation.

  14. L. Daily says:

    An aside, I think very little of this drama spills over into the parish level. Even twitter obsessed MAGA priests who disparage the Pope online tend to take a low profile when they are talking to their parishioners. A Covington-area priest from St. Joseph parish comes to mind. He was alt right (and anti-Francis) on twitter and actually deleted his account after the Covington Catholic incident. A few St. Josseph parishioners discovered screen shots of his tweets and were shocked that their pastor was a public dissenter and quite rude as well.

    Seminary formation needs to updated to include the pastoral and responsible use of social media. Many priests use twitter and other social media like adolescents. Wisdom and prudence is sorely lacking.

  15. Chris dorf says:

    I happened upon the denzinger bergoglio report last year and the thousands of pages enumerating ad infinitum the charges of heresy in Pope francis’s past is astounding that it verges on the conspiratorial and obsessive much like Breitbart news and the alt right and Qanon in the United States and the nationalistic movements around the world. They are so obsessed that they see Francis as an unwitting pawn on the devil’s chessboard and an unwitting partner to the works of evil throughout the world ….so therefore we all must be too. Is indeed a strange time we are living through right now.

    https://en-denzingerbergoglio.com

    • Marthe Lépine says:

      Chris, I took a quick look at your linked piece – but did not have the time to read much. However, an immediate question came to mind: Under the title “Who we are”, there is not a single name. They state what they aim to achieve and what their intentions are, but nothing about themselves. If they are so sure of being right, why would they be afraid to give their names and a few lines about their backgrounds…? Why should I, a reasonably well informed cradle Catholic, accept, or even spend my precious time reading about, such anonymous opinions?

      • carn says:

        They answer the question, why they do not give their names on page 18:

        “Who are these priests?
        “He who fears the Lord is never alarmed, never afraid.” says the book of Sirach
        (34: 14). However, to accomplish this undertaking and preserve our bishops
        from possible pressures, we have decided to remain relatively discreet,
        although those closest to us know us for this work.
        Perhaps it is difficult for some to understand our desire for discretion, but the
        experiences of several of our acquaintances for having publically defended
        Catholic faith and morals, stimulated our desire to remain anonymous,
        above all to conserve our independence and capacity for action.”

        Whatever one thinks of what they do (and i have not read the thing; i simply took 5 minutes to check, whether they answered the question about names in their text), one should at least take note of the reasons they give for not naming themselves, if one sees a problem in them keeping their identity mostly secret.

        I see no problem in them not naming themselves, as long as they stick to arguments and facts, cause arguments and facts are in my opinion independent of the name or position of the one voicing them.

        Hence, these people either have good arguments, why there is some rift between Pope Francis and prior teaching or they don’t.

  16. Carlos Poblet says:

    You defend the authority of Pope Francis and his interpretation of the Magisterial Teachings. The Truth is that our Francis has lost authority and credibility to interpret reality. He is more a politician than a Spiritual Leader. He has failed so far to eradicate the Corruption in the Vatican. The false interpretation of the Church Teachings is the contemporary “normal”. Francis wants to bring to fruition the effeminate leadership of The Homosexualist Mafia. He is a Marxist and has given China authority of the Church in China. He has helped and promoted homosexuals in the prieshood. What he says often contradicts what he does….

    • Marthe Lépine says:

      Eh! The Truth according to whom? The fact that YOU don’t, or no longer, consider Pope Francis as having authority and credibility, does not mean that it is the truth, far from it.

  17. Pete Vickery says:

    Wow this is another great article Mike. I don’t know how you can work full time and take care of a wife and kids and then respond at length to so many commenters. You’ve really just pointed out what the Church is all about. Christ appointed Peter ( and used the “keys of the kingdom” language to make it clear Peter was the new chief steward who like his OT counterpart would have successors) to settle matters because he knew many other individuals and groups and organizations would go to great lengths to argue that they spoke for Christ, instead of Peter and his successors. Peter has spoken. Christ has his back. Ordinary believers have had great confidence for 2000 years that they are following Christ by simply listening to the voice of Peter. Two thousand years of arguments from dissenters saying the Pope has erred wrt the faith does not change what Christ guaranteed. Christ knew the greatest threats would come from withing the Church, not from without. Pope Francis has spoken. Christ has his back. Francis holds the keys of the kingdom, not EWTN, not the National Catholic Register, not Cardinal Burke, et cetera … . I as a Catholic, regardless of whether I understand theology deeply or only as much as a ploughboy, understand the instruction of Christ through Peter’s successor, namely Pope Francis. Roma locuta, causa finita est. What really stings these dissenters is that they were the ones pointing their fingers at others and calling them dissenters. They can’t stand to see the finger of Christ now pointing at them. Pride really was what got Satan thrown down from heaven. May the proud dissenters repent of their sin. They can’t stand not policing the communion line.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I really appreciate the comment, Pete. I really shouldn’t allow myself to respond to so many comments, but sometimes I can’t help it.

      I agree with you – the Church’s ecclesiology was set up so that the vast majority of Catholics don’t have to sort out these issues. We are pointed towards legitimate authorities who are entrusted with making doctrinal decisions. If everyone in the Church was forced to sort out the legitimacy of papal teaching, then there’s no point in having a pope.

  18. Marie says:

    Just fantastic, thank you!

  19. Lysias says:

    Is it possible for a pope or a bishop to teach heresy? And if it were, would we be bound to offer religious submission of will and intellect to heretical teaching?

    • Mike Lewis says:

      A bishop clearly can teach heresy if he is not teaching in communion with the pope. With regards to the pope, I would argue that the first Vatican Council precludes the possibility of him ever promulgating heresy in an official way. What is clear however is that the religious submission of intellect and will is owed to even non-infallible teachings of the Church.

      To me, it makes sense then that the magisterium must be free from heresy, because (since there’s no question about whether we owe it assent) it seems very unlikely/unreasonable that God would oblige us to assent to heretical teachings.

  20. Spencer says:

    1. If Francis promulgated an encyclical tomorrow asserting that the Nicene Creed was heretical, would you assent?
    2. If yes, then you can’t claim to know the Catholic Faith at all, because it has no content that cannot in principle be changed.
    3. If no, then you’re in the same boat as traditionalists.
    4. If you say it couldn’t happen, you’re assuming the Catholic Faith has a definite content that can be known by which theoretical papal utterances can *in principle* be judged – in other words, as in #3, you’re in the same boat as traditionalists.

    QED.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I have already responded to an equivalent comment. My faith informs me that this will never happen. Yet – God forbid – if the Church taught something to which I was unable to assent, then I would dissent, and likely rethink my relationship with the Church. I would never presume that an official, magisterial teaching of the Church wasn’t an official, magisterial teaching of the Church. I can’t dictate to the Church what the Church actually teaches.

      If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to assent to a teaching that has been officially promulgated by the Church, you are lying to yourself and others if you can’t admit it.

  1. February 7, 2019

    […] of the modern Church is too often skewed by what Mike Lewis, on the wherepeteris.com blogsite, describes as a devotion to the […]

  2. February 13, 2019

    […] is inherently a religion of Tradition, the blog avoids the awkwardness of patent contradiction by arguing that Tradition equals “what the pope says.” Therefore, Catholics must assent to Amoris […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *