Sunday 25 November 2018

A Catholic shift on divorce and very much else

Anyone who is interested in the way in which Pope Francis is changing the Catholic Church should read this brief excerpt from an interview with Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, the new Superior General of the Jesuits, a position that used to be called the “Black Pope”, in the days, before the Second Vatican Council, when Jesuits were known for their fidelity to the Holy See. 

After a long gap of almost fifty years Jesuits are ultramontanes again, faithful to the first Jesuit pope, who is a typical modern Jesuit, left-wing in politics and liberal in theology.

Q: Is it also possible to question the statement in Matthew 19:3-6: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder”?
Abascal: I go along with what Pope Francis says. One does not bring into doubt, one brings into discernment. . .

Q: But discernment is evaluation, it is choosing among different options. There is no longer an obligation to follow just one interpretation. . .
Abascal: No, the obligation is still there, but to follow the result of discernment.
Q: However, the final decision is based on a judgment relative to different hypotheses. So it also takes into consideration the hypothesis that the phrase “let man not put asunder…” is not exactly as it appears. In short, it brings the word of Jesus into doubt.
Abascal: Not the word of Jesus, but the word of Jesus as we have interpreted it. Discernment does not select among different hypotheses but listens to the Holy Spirit, who - as Jesus has promised - helps us to understand the signs of God’s presence in human history.
Q: But discern how?
Abascal: Pope Francis does discernment following St. Ignatius, like the whole Society of Jesus: one has to seek and find, St. Ignatius said, the will of God. It is not a frivolous search. Discernment leads to a decision: one must not only evaluate, but decide.
Q: And who must decide?
Abascal: The Church has always reiterated the priority of personal conscience.
Has it? Cardinal Newman, a convert from the Church of England, taught the Church to give personal conscience in the last resort precedence over obedience, but thinking for oneself, otherwise known as private judgment, is exactly the thing that makes Protestants Protestant not Catholic.

I got into a long correspondence in 2003 with an American liberal Episcopalian schoolmaster of great erudition who showed me how unbridgably far the God of the Biblical scholars and most theologians is from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Catholic Catechism. Pope St. John Paul II ignored this while seeking to evangelise, while Pope Benedict XVI grappled with it in his books, taking a position thousands of miles to the right of the academic consensus. Pope Francis has made this dichotomy the theme of his papacy. 

The Pope, who is accused by many people of heresy, is by non-Catholic or liberal Protestant standards orthodox in most respects. He believes in heaven and hell and he talked about mortal sin, a doctrine of the counter-reformation Council of Trent, when he said defrauding your servants of their wages is a mortal sin. 

It is one of the four sins crying to heaven for vengeance, along with murder, oppressing the poor and the sin of Sodom. The Pope goes to great lengths not to denounce this last sin, though it is the one that is derailing his papacy and destroying respect for the Church among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Pope said that Catholics should not obsess about abortion, but he did compare it to hiring a "hitman to solve a problem", whereas American Episcopalians have blessed an abortion clinic. One Episcopalian priestess, a 
feminist lesbian theologian called Dr Carter Hayward, who says she is 'not much of a theist', has said that abortion is a sacrament. A reminder that very many Anglican clergy and theologians do not believe in God, let alone the Incarnation.

The Pope is very far from those shores. Liberal papers in the USA often do not report his strictures against abortion, which would confuse their narrative.

The Pope also reiterated Pope St John Paul II's irrevocable condemnation of the idea that women can be ordained priests. Where the Pope stands on artificial birth control is very much less clear (his metier is being very unclear) and he vulgarly said that people need not breed like rabbits. His Jesuit superior warned the Vatican about his predilection for vulgar language when he advised against making him a bishop.

If you want to understand the milieu in which the Pope exists you can read this article in the National Catholic Reporter, the leading American Catholic paper which, like the Tablet in England, critiques the Church from a liberal position. The article celebrates same sex physical love and proposes climate change as the urgent problem with which the Church should grapple. Gentle reader, I presume you have heard about the distinction between worship of God the Father, Who is transcendent and immanent, and worship of Mother Earth, which is paganism and linked to witchcraft. 
Wisdom on sexuality is not found primarily in documents, lectures and books that emanate from the institutional church and its employees. Misogyny and kyriarchy make that impossible. The extent to which women and many people of color are not in the discussion, and the plain fact that our experiences are not reflected in the discourse render those sources moot. Likewise, the interstructured ways in which racism, white supremacy, colonialism, ableism and the like combine with sexism and heterosexism to undergird ecclesial structures mean that we simply do not have the conditions for a useful conversation if churchmen talk with one another and at or about the rest of us.

It concludes with an invitation, which has come too late for my readers and me:

Lots of Catholics will be in St. Louis for the October 2017 "Rolling the Stone Away: Generations of Love and Justice" conference. We will join hundreds of our colleagues from myriad Christian groups to reflect on and celebrate decades of successful work on same-sex issues. Many denominations now welcome everyone and ordain LGBTIQA clergy because of the struggles led by pioneers like Janie Spahr (Presbyterian), Carter Heyward (Episcopalian), and Nancy Wilson (Metropolitan Community Churches). The United Methodists just commissioned their first openly nonbinary trans deacon.
Carter Hayward crops up again.

The Church claims to be a supernatural institution that repeats the teaching given to her by the Apostles, who were her first bishops, and claims to be the infallible guide to faith and morals, though this is something you rarely hear preached in Catholic sermons and certainly not in the Pope's. The Pope says that the Church has to learn from the times and to discern, an idea that sounds much more Anglican than Catholic. 

'Is the Pope Catholic?' used to be a sarcastic remark, but it is now a genuine question. 

But are Catholics still Catholics? In America, it seems, not always.


  1. " ...but thinking for oneself, otherwise known as private judgment, is exactly the thing that makes Protestants Protestant not Catholic."

    Is precisely what prevents one from becoming a member of a cult!!!

    1. When I learnt Catholicism from Monsignor Gilbey the importance of obedience was something that had not been brought home to me before. It seemed like - to compare the sacred to the very profane - Communism, but all it means is that Catholics make one act of faith in the institution of the Church itself, the Body of Christ.

    2. " ...but thinking for oneself, otherwise known as private judgment, is exactly the thing that makes Protestants Protestant not Catholic."

      Is precisely what prevents one from becoming a member of a cult!!!

      If you follow your own private judgment you will drift from one cult to another and you will end up with atheism and madness.

    3. “If you follow your own private judgment you will drift from one cult to another and you will end up with atheism and madness.“

      But by being a Catholic you are following your own judgement i.e. that boy fondlers in frilly outfits and pointy hats should do your thinking for you. You are making a private decision not to think and to follow blindly while pretending your personal private choice is what your imaginary sky daddy wants.

      What’s the reason for having a brain then if you’re not supposed to think for yourself?

      I guess that’s why Christians call themselves sheep. They believe men should go through life as livestock or “as little children”. Don’t think too much in case it upsets your delusions.

      The only difference between a “cult” and a “church” is the amount of real estate it owns.

  2. The National Catholic Reporter is the one you're talking about. The Register is the more orthodox paper, formerly owned by the Legion of Christ and now by EWTN.

    1. Hillary, thank you so much - I corrected it. EWTN is great. The Legion of Christ and its founder do not sound like good things.

      The National Catholic Reporter article to which I linked simply amazed me. Not the article but its publication in a serious Catholic magazine.

      I hope you are well and hope to see you when I am in Italy. Please do comment on my stuff more.

  3. "The Church has always reiterated the PRIORITY of personal conscience." (Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, new Superior General of the Jesuits) (emphasis mine)

    No wonder we are in so much trouble at the top. If the top is confused about the very basics, such as what means 'Forming of Conscience", as the Church defines it, how can they even teach the ignorant and less savvy?

    Great article!