Jesuit-run Amerika Magazine trotted out a piece by a Barcelona-based Jesuit professor of theology which claims to explain why certain, primarily northern, theologians reject Pope Francis’ theology.
The article intentionally misconstrues what it is about Francis’ teaching that seriously alarms more and more Catholics.
Writes Fr. Víctor Codina, SJ,
“Although he had studied and taught pastoral theology at San Miguel de Buenos Aires as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., now his pronouncements belong to the pastoral seat of the bishop of Rome. He does not aspire to fulfill this role as a theologian but as a pastor. … What really bothers his detractors is that his theology stems from reality: from the reality of injustice, poverty and the destruction of nature, and from the reality of ecclesial clericalism. … Obviously, the problem is not that he is not a theologian but rather that his theology is pastoral.”
First of all, among the past six popes (from Benedict XVI back to Pius XII), only one, Benedict, was a theologian in the formal sense of the term. So it’s highly unlikely that “Francis’ detractors” (to use Codina’s designation) hold it against him that he is not a theologian, but a pastor.
Then Codina goes on immediately to contradict this statement by asserting that Francis’ “theology stems from reality … of injustice, poverty and destruction of nature, and from the reality of ecclesial clericalism.” So, after asserting that Francis is no theologian, Codina credits him with being a theologian, albeit one that “his detractors” don’t accept as worthy.
So which is, Father? Is Francis a theologian or not?
Serious, orthodox Catholic thinkers are careful not to distinguish theologians from pastors. The two roles go together. A pastor should be a theologian (though not necessarily an academic), and a theologian should be pastoral (though not necessarily a parish priest or bishop). One of the great mishaps in the Church is the separation of these two roles, an error encouraged today by liberals who denigrate traditional (e.g., John Paul II) theology as not trendy enough. So they claim that faithful theologians aren’t “pastoral,” meaning that they don’t respond to people’s real needs.
This is how many of Pope Francis’ theological adventures are defended even when they stray from the Church’s long-standing tradition.
Pope Francis’ “detractors” don’t expect him to be a theologian. In fact, they’d rather that he dropped theology altogether and confined the rest of his pontificate to stopping the cover-up of the child sexual abuse crisis. However, if he is going to be the Pope, they do expect him to exercise his magisterial office by defending the Church’s teaching against those innovations which, while claiming to be pastoral, actually weaken the Church’s teaching and thereby its sacramental and pastoral practice.
The best example of Francis’ off-the-rails “pastoral” theology is his 2016 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, which received a lot of attention on this blog. This document weakens the doctrine of the indissolubility of matrimony, weakens the doctrine of moral absolutes, and thus weakens the Sacraments of Penance, Matrimony and the Holy Eucharist.
As evidence of this fact is the gross divisions in the Church over the meaning of the Pope’s teaching, something which the office of the papacy is intended to prevent.
I quoted my friend Fr. Gerald Murray, HERE:
“We have had: papal silence on the dubia; papal approval of a draft statement by a group of Argentine bishops of the Rio de la Plata region that opens the door to the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics; affirmations by Cardinal Müller that Holy Communion cannot be given to those living in a state of adultery; the publication by the pope’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, of the statement by the Bishops of Malta that couples in invalid second marriages can receive Holy Communion if they at are at peace in their conscience with that decision; the reaffirmation by the Bishops of Poland that the teaching and discipline enunciated by St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio have not changed, and that only those civilly remarried couples who live as brother and sister may be admitted to Holy Communion; the Archbishop of Philadelphia saying the same thing; while the bishops of Belgium and Germany agree with the bishops of Malta and Rio del La Plata, Argentina.
“This is the current unholy mess. As the four Cardinals lament: “And so it is happening – how painful it is to see this! – that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta.”
There cannot be a divided truth about the indissoluble nature of marriage, or the nature of mortal sin or the nature of human freedom and responsibility for one’s freely chosen acts. The truth is one and must be defended from errors and misinterpretations.
Francis doesn’t have to be a theologian, but it is his responsibility to guarantee the unity of the Church’s teaching and its solid adherence to Catholic tradition. No appeal to “pastoring” can relieve any Pope – indeed any priest! – of this responsibility.
For Fr. Codina,
“The opposition to Francis is opposition to the Second Vatican Council and to the evangelical reform of the church that Pope John XXIII wanted to promote.”
This charge of opposition to the Second Vatican Council is an old saw among LIBERALS who use it to discredit today’s orthodox Catholics all the time. If they really want it to stick hard they’re going to have to apply it as well to St John Paul II, whose theology the “detractors of Pope Francis” are championing at every available opportunity. Fr. Codina’s alignment of “Pope Francis’ detractors” with opposition to the intentions of St. Pope John XIII in summoning the Council also misreads the sainted pontiff’s deliberate instructions to the Council in his inaugural address to it (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia), instructions which have also been repeatedly recalled by this blog HERE:
“The manner in which sacred doctrine is spread, this having been established, it becomes clear how much is expected from the Council in regard to doctrine. That is, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will.
Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries. […]
… But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine ….”
Writing in the 2015 Five Cardinals’ Book™, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church [US HERE – UK HERE], Gerhard Cardinal Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, underscored the Second Vatican Council’s role in reiterating the long-standing Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
“The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes on “The Church in the Modern World”, presents a theologically and spiritually profound doctrine of marriage. It upholds the indissolubility of marriage clearly and distinctly. Marriage is understood as an all-embracing communion of life and love, body and spirit, between a man and a woman who mutually give themselves and receive one another as persons. Through the personally free act of their reciprocal consent, an enduring, divinely ordered institution is brought into being, which is directed to the good of the spouses and of their offspring and is no longer dependent on human caprice: ‘As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them’” (no. 48).
Similar evidence against the charge that “Pope Francis’ detractors” by opposing him are in reality opposing the Second Vatican Council is provided by the positive reference to Council documents made by those who criticize Francis for his statement in the Abu Dhabi Agreement that:
“The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”
Against the assertion that God wills non-Christian religions into existence, “Pope Francis’ detractors” cite Vatican II documents Dei Verbum 2-4), Lumen gentium 2-4, 16, Nostra aetate 2 and Ad gentes 3. They also cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church 53, 60, 62, 63, 65, 2084-2086, as well as the encyclical letter of St. John Paul II, Redemptoris missio 5, each of which is based upon the above-mentioned teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
So far from opposing the Second Vatican Council, “Pope Francis detractors” know the Council documents well – better perhaps than do Pope Francis supporters at Amerika.