Tosatti about Burke about Müller and Peters about Humanae vitae

17_02_01_Muller_Timone“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”

The case of the former Prefect of the CDF, Gerhard Ludwig Card. Müller has prompted a lot of stories and speculation.  What is clear is that Card. Müller was appointed to a five-year term by Pope Benedict.  When Benedict abdicated, all offices (except a couple) were also vacated.  Francis reconfirmed Müller for the rest of his term.  Müller’s term was up on 2 July.  On 1 July Francis informed Müller that he would not be reconfirmed as Prefect.

On top of those facts, it seems that Müller also declined to accept a post as Patron of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. Hence, Müller remains in Rome, as a Cardinal, with membership on other Congregations, but without a specific mandate in a dicastery.  It seems he will not be going back to Germany as a diocesan bishop.

Tales have started to multiply.  Some of them are based on what Müller himself said in an interview with a German newspaper.  For example, that he spoke by telephone with Card. Meisner (of the Four Cardinals of the Five Dubia) on the night Meisner died.

However, other tales include spectacular accounts of more of the conversation that Card. Müller had with the Pope when the Pope, effectively, fired him.

Today I read at the site of Marco Tosatti, perhaps the best Italian language vaticanista working right now – surely better than that capricious weather vane Tornielli – that he obtained a brief statement from my old friend Greg Burke, who is now the papal spokesman.  HERE

Tosatti presents (in Italian) a status quaestionis and then offers Burke’s response about the tales told at the site, for example, 1Peter:

C’è stato uno sviluppo. Abbiamo ricevuto dal portavoce vaticano, Greg Burke, una mail, che ovviamente riportiamo, avendo dato conto di quanto aveva scritto One Peter Five. Eccola:

Caro Marco,
Ho letto il tuo pezzo di oggi sul Card. Muller.
Ho solo una cosa da dirti:
La ricostruzione è totalmente falsa.
Ti prego di pubblicare quanto ti scrivo.

My translation

Dear Marco,
I read your piece today about Card. Muller.
I have only one thing to say to you:
The recreation is completely false.
I ask you to publish what I am writing to you.

I’ll just add that, when I read those tales, I was pretty skeptical.  Also, Greg Burke doesn’t just make statements without consultation.

On another note, please read Ed Peters on the tales about conspiracies to undermine or overturn Humanae vitae.

I entirely believe that there are many enemies of Humanae vitae who labor to destroy its teaching and authority.

Does Pope Francis have a secret – or not so secret – team which he has tasked with this objective?   I wrote about that here before.

Dr. Peters wrote at his place – HERE – that the teaching on contraception can’t be overturned.

About that ‘Humanae vitae’ rumor

Too many Roman rumors, it seems of late, have turned out to be true (or close enough to true) to rule out recent rumors that a “papal commission” has been set up “to reconsider” (perhaps as a step toward repudiating?) Bl. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae(1968). In any event, a few observations.

1. Humanae vitae itself, as brilliant as it was and as prophetic as it turned out to be, was not an infallible exercise of the (papal) magisterium. But rather than defend that view against the few serious-thinking Catholics who might disagree let me move directly to my second point.

2. In my opinion the central teaching in Humanae vitae—thatcontraception between married couples (both terms being correctly understood) is intrinsically evil— [NB]is a proposition infallibly taught by the (ordinary universal) magisterium of the Church. I say this in light of my third point.

3. That the substance of Humanae vitae is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium is masterfully argued in: John Ford & Germain Grisez, “Contraception and the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium”, Theological Studies 39 (1978) 258-312. This article expands on ideas considered in John Ford & Gerald Kelly, “Can the Catholic Teaching Change?”, in theirContemporary Moral Theology  (Newman Press, 1963) II: 256-278, but the 1963 article, while very good, need not be read in order to follow the 1978 discussion. If Ford and Grisez are correct (as I think they are, even in the face of some important challenges over the years) then no substantive modification of Humanae vitae can be wrought by any commission, papal, dicasterial, or otherwise.

4. What one could imagine being discussed hereabouts is whether the rejection of contraception set forth (I would say, infallibly) in regard to conjugal relations is applicable to non-conjugal relations. Some theologians, solidly committed to defending Church teaching against conjugal contraception, have flagged the fact that the anti-contraception tradition, witnessed to in Humanae vitae, has been clearly articulated, so far at least, only in regard to conjugal sex. See, e.g., Ramón García de Haro (Spanish priest, 1931-1996), Marriage in the Documents of the Magisterium: a course in the theology of marriage (Ignatius, 1993) 297-298. To be sure, others (including the esteemed William E. May, translator of García de Haro) argue that the Church’s rejection of contraception between married couples, already part of the infallible magisterium, also applies to non-conjugal sex (sex that is, of course, by definition, objectively immoral); but it is also possible that the Church’s rejection of conjugal contraception does not apply outside of that context. I grant, of course, that explaining that difference, not to mention keeping it from morphing into a license for all sorts of morally illicit acts, would not be easy in age ill-equipped to follow subtle discussions and ill-disposed toward even trying, but for those respectful of the Church’s tradition of precision in complex matters, drawing the distinction seems a possibility.

In any case, my main point is this: before any commission or study group could move against the substance of the Church’s teaching reflected in Humanae vitae, the arguments for its infallible certainty, arguments set forth and steadily defended by Ford and Grisez, would need to be addressed and soundly rejected.

Something I don’t see happening. At all.

Be careful out there in the interwebs.  Be very careful.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Imrahil says:

    For a’ that and for a’ that, as Robert Burns said,

    a rumor that presents the Pope as willing to introduce women-priests certainly smacks of an invented falsehood.

  2. Benedict Joseph says:

    Given the breathtaking agility exhibited in navigating the monkey bars of moral theology in a recent Apostolic Exhortation, I cannot share the positive perspective you offer, Father. It appears to me that your analysis is absolutely sound and entirely correct – but this is the age of two and two summing up to the amount required.
    Appeals to reason, to common sense, to previous practice, to perennial understanding count for little in the current context. Above all the particulars this is the core threat we face.

  3. Pingback: TVESDAY CATHOLICA EXTRA | Big Pulpit

  4. anns says:

    Unfortunately, I suspect that a commission to reconsider Humanae vitae will be for the purpose of allowing the distribution of contraceptives in humanitarian efforts. This is based on the whole mess with the Order of Malta and the Pope’s reference a while back to a possibly false story about nuns being given contraceptives due to the high probability of rape (the idea of which disgusts me – if that were the case, the right decision would be to either protect the nuns or remove them from the area – it is the pride of women who will not accept protection and/or the heartless neglect of men who think it is okay for women to be raped (as long as they don’t get pregnant) that is evidenced by this scenario, not the mercy of the Church). Additionally, I would not be surprised if this allowance were to occur through another footnote rather than directly changing Church teaching. …the secular world will applaud while those who are “helped” receive artificial support which does not actually seek to free them from the captivity of their situation.

  5. Mike says:

    Our Church is in enough trouble without pouring more kerosene onto the fire. Thanks to Fr. Z for both his concern and his prudent skepticism.

    The risk of detraction, misinformation, and slander is something that all writers and readers need to be sensitive to. If I am tempted to pass on some nugget of information, I need to consider my right and duty to do so, and who will be benefited or hurt by both the information and by my approach. (“Do they need to hear this? Do they need to hear this from me? Do they need to hear this from me now?”)

    I don’t always get it right. If I get it wrong enough, which God forbid, I need to go to Confession.

    Fr. Z, Shaw, Peters, Pentin all set examples that the rest of the blogosphere could follow profitably.

  6. WVC says:

    I think folks in the Vatican have already proven they’ve no interest in making doctrinal changes. Pastoral is the much easier, murkier path. A footnote about being pastorally sensitive to Christians using contraceptives, so that they understand the welcoming mercy awaiting for them, and in vague and non-specified circumstances for ways to be made for them to receive the Sacraments or maybe even Communion without having to change their ways, which, really, would be asking for people to act in an impossibly heroic way which treats the Eucharist like some sort of prize for the perfect rather than medicine for the poor. Perhaps we can lash out at the rigid pharmacists who use their jobs as ways to puff up their own egos into moral superiority towers as they refuse services to those asking for help. . . . etc., etc., etc. I mean, really, who are we to judge?

    If there’s one thing that’s been proven of late, it’s that a perfect doctrinal pedigree will get easily lost in the hazy bomfoggery of pastoral nuances. And when one very specifically asks for clarification on something – it can be safely and completely ignored.

    One does not need to believe in conspiracies in order to see the writing very clearly on the wall. No need to be an alarmist or a kook, but we should also not be overly optimistic. Realism and understanding of both the supernatural and all too frail human parts of the Church are helpful guides.

    [“lost in the hazy bomfoggery of pastoral nuances”]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  7. Amerikaner says:

    As Fr. Z said, we must be careful about what we read. And the folks who post ‘news’ need to be even more so as in their hurry to post rumors, et. al. they can cause grave scandal themselves.

  8. stuartal79 says:

    Anns, this is not Pope Francis’s intent, at all. He has made it clear that he is against such efforts. He told Cardinal Burke as much. He just didn’t want anyone dismissed from the order. He reiterates Church teaching on this subject in Amorous Latitiea.

  9. WesleyD says:

    I read the various “rumor” stories. One of them includes a private conversation between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict. Unless the journalist has installed a listening device in Benedict’s private quarters, how could he know of this?

    Another involves the pope asking Cardinal Müller five questions, and then firing him because he doesn’t like the answers. This story is ridiculous for several reasons, one being that everyone in the world knows how Müller stands on these questions. For example, “Do you support women priests?” Francis himself has said repeatedly that Pope St. John Paul II’s declaration regarding women priests in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is binding and definitive, for it is an infallibly taught doctrine. So this journalists expects us to believe that (1) Francis has a secret plan to reconsider women priests, and (2) Francis wasn’t sure where Müller stood on the question, and therefore (3) Francis revealed his secret plan to Müller minutes before firing him.

    I believe Francis is a good man who has made some mistakes, and who needs to consult his expert theologians more carefully before making statements. Those who think Francis is an evil mastermind might think that #1 is true: but why would they believe #2 and #3?

    Italian journalists, even theologically conservative ones, are not as committed to “truth” as they should be. (Whether American journalists are better is an interesting question!)

  10. jhayes says:

    ut quilibet matrimonii usus ad vitam humanam procreandam per se destinatus permaneat.

    As Dr. Peters points out, there are differing views as to whether matrimonii usus (marital acts) and actibus coniugum (conjugal acts) refer to actions between any man and women or only between a man and woman married to each other.

    The question is whether artificial contraception is forbidden by Humanae vitae only within marriage or always – and that could be a question to be studied

  11. Cosmos says:

    Some theologians, solidly committed to defending Church teaching against conjugal contraception, have flagged the fact that the anti-contraception tradition, witnessed to in Humanae vitae, has been clearly articulated, so far at least, only in regard to conjugal sex. . . . [I]t is . . . possible that the Church’s rejection of conjugal contraception does not apply outside of that context. I grant, of course, that explaining that difference, not to mention keeping it from morphing into a license for all sorts of morally illicit acts, would not be easy in age ill-equipped to follow subtle discussions and ill-disposed toward even trying, but for those respectful of the Church’s tradition of precision in complex matters, drawing the distinction seems a possibility.”

    Wow. If the Church ever goes down this path, I predict a mass exodus of married people to the Orthodox and Evangelical churches.

  12. wolfeken says:

    The interwebs are indeed quite dangerous, as a lot of folks with good intentions seem to value speed over accuracy. If you are going to announce something that no one has previously announced, you better darn well be right!

    [Speed over accuracy.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. Elizabeth D says:

    The 1P5 thing does not ring true. Tosatti’s article “The Good Solider” on First Things is what I want to know if the parties deny. It doesn’t seem like that is included in Burke’s denial. Are we not going to talk about that?

    I feel like praying for Greg Burke who has such a difficult and sensitive role. [Thank you for that. He is a good man in a really hard job.]

    I think that if there is a question of whether non-abortifacient kinds of contraception are a sin in the context of nonmarital relations, it is normally too impossible to separate the aspect of facilitating or deceptively purporting to render more acceptable or “harmless” the grave harm that unchastity is in itself, from the harm-mitigation aspect of preventing a consequent pregnancy. Fornication or sodomy are gravely harmful in themselves, even without pregnancy or disease. They gravely assault human dignity, are in themselves a form of physical harm, and cause psychological and social harms.

  14. OakesSpalding says:

    I don’t know whether the “rumor” published on OnePeterFive is true. I strongly believe that the source is telling the truth – OnePeterFive has an excellent record with that – but the “witness” may not have gotten things completely right.

    Or perhaps he did.

    I do know that Bergoglio’s ongoing attack on Christ and His Church should be manifestly obvious to any faithful Catholic. It is the preeminent battle of our time. Bragging about your “old friendship” with his paid defender Greg Burke does not not make you look very good.

    If Burke really is a “good man,” he should resign immediately, or should have done so already.

    Your on and off again defenses of Bergoglio and Co. are extremely unsettling. It marks you as a man who feels he has something to lose. Well, we all have something to lose. Indeed, many of us have much more to lose than you do. Or we have already lost it, so to speak. We take a gut punch from Bergoglio’s church every single day. And so do our families. In many cases, this impacts our livelihood. But we defend the Catholic faith in spite of it.

    God will ask you what you did during this time. Or, rather, if you’re lucky, He’ll ask you. What will you say? “It was important to be nuanced”? And what of those who trusted you? I pray that they get a pass for their trust. The odds are better for them than they are for you.

    Get a grip before it is too late. There’s a lot of nuance in hell.

  15. iamlucky13 says:

    @ wolfeken
    “as a lot of folks with good intentions seem to value speed over accuracy. “

    Some ascribe the trend to CNN and their Twitter sourcing, but not being able stomach TV news, and much preferring the efficiency of reading, I call it the Associated Press effect.

    The One Peter Five claims sounded very doubtful at best right up until the claim was made that Pope Francis dared Cardinal Mueller to oppose ordination of women to the priesthood. That simply is not credible without extraordinarily compelling evidence, not mainstream news style “anonymous sources.”

    While the contradictory quote I’m aware of was admittedly during an in-flight press interview, there was simply no ambiguity or attempts to leave an opening to clarify some other meaning: “on the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains.”

  16. Hidden One says:

    We all need to remember well the nontrivial difference between the love tially plausible and the actually true.

  17. Lisa Graas says:

    A copy of Patrick Madrid’s Pope Fiction just came in the mail yesterday. It was recommended to me by Mother John Mary, C.P., to cover my doubts about the papacy. I look forward to reading it.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear OakesSpalding,

    there is a lot of nuance in hell.

    I think you misspelt and meant “Heaven”.

    Hell does contain a nonnegligible element of “lumping all the bad-ones together” (by which I do not deny the difference according to the different severity of the sins, in those punishments that are added to eternal banishment away from God). In Heaven, every little nuance will respected. It’s an eternity; they’ve got time, there.

  19. Adaquano says: has a great write-up on this. Quite frankly all these reports just lead people into sin and cause the faithful to take their eyes off the prize. We do well to remember that there are many paths to hell, and not all of them have to do with what is below the belt.

  20. Hidden One says:

    Pewsitter is now reporting–drawing from Die Tagespost–that Cardinal Mueller himself has condescended to explicitly deny the tale of The Other Five Questions.

  21. originalsolitude says:

    The confusion in the matter of contraception and non-conjugal activity arises from the use of the word “contraception” to include abortifacients.

    Contraception ought to refer only to methods that actually prevent fertilization and do not in any way lead to the fetus’ death.

    Forms of birth prevention that lead directly or potentially to the fetus’ death are not contraception; they are abortifacients and, therefore, are prohibited regardless of whether they are used in conjugal or non-conjugal activity.

    That the Church is silent on the use of contraception (properly speaking) in non-conjugal activity (rape, fornication, adultery, incest) is understandable, since such activity are grave sins. To regulate grave sins would be absurd; like saying you’re allowed to do this and not allowed to do that when committing a murder.

    Thus the matter of contraception use by nuns in respect of rape is a red herring.

    My two cents.

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