How Bergoglio instrumentalizes pope Wojtyla

Par l'abbé Jean-Marie Perrot

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Pope Francis often says that his words and acts are part of a renewal in the continuity[1]. In the recent motu proprio allowing women to access the ministries of lector and acolyte, he noted: “The fact it has been only accessible to men had a sense in a specific context, but it can be reconsidered in a new context, yet keeping as a criteria the fidelity to the mandate of Christ and the will to live and spread the Gospel transmitted by the apostles and entrusted to the Church to be heard religiously, kept and proclaimed faithfully.”

Is that really what it is, and does the continuity that it claims meet the test? We can assess that through the content of the teaching of the pope[2]. An other approach is by looking at the quotations he makes and of the way he uses them. This is what we would like to do here, though limiting ourselves to quotes Francis borrowed from John Paul II. In itself, it seems right in order to develop a reflection to use quotes from different persons as an argument and illustration of an idea or to position oneself in relation to other authors.

It is also the case for popes and among them for Pope Francis, even if the quotes he uses are more diverse and self-centered than his predecessors. John Paul II is quite naturally, one of his references. When Francis talks for example about the “spirit of Assisi”, there is no problem; but when he draws a liberal sense out of a traditional teaching of John Paul II, it is then quite different. In this case, it seems to us that Wojtyla is often instrumentalized by Bergoglio, in the sense that the text called to support a new affirmation struggles to actually do just that; one would see there the forceful way in which these quotes have been used or radically distorted. We would like, far from an exhaustive inquiry, give a few significant examples.

Doctrinal authority of episcopal conferences

Our first example will be taken from the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (24 November 2012). In this document, Francis argues the necessity of a renewal of the exercise of the papacy by positioning himself in the continuity of the movement started by the Vatican II Council and demonstrated by John Paul II who had “asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission” ” (n.32). Number 95 of the encyclical Ut unum sit is quoted here. in this document, John Paul II discusses the primacy of Peter in relation to ecumenical relations, that is to say its exercise ad extra. But, this is not the sense in which it is brought into Evangelii gaudium when it states that “this desire has not yet been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.” As such, we have now switched from an exercise ad extra to an exercise ad intra of the primacy. Moreover, in a note following this passage, an other document of John Paul II is mentioned, the motu proprio Apostolos suos regarding the theological and judicial nature of episcopal conferences (21 May 1998). Anyone suggesting we might find there some tips on the desired evolution? It is unlikely… especially since, if we look at a couple of decisions taken by Bergoglio in this domain, they could hardly appear as in the continuity of the work of John Paul II. The first decision is about the freedom left to conferences in regards to the translation of liturgical books in the vernacular. One would remember the biting letter addressed to Cardinal Sarah, brushing away his interpretation in the sense of the continuity of the motu proprio Magnum principium (3 September 2017), that is in keeping the Roman See her primacy over translations, through the act of recognitio, what John Paul II had actually established. No, wrote Francis, the responsibility now belongs to the conferences. The second decision is the authority recognized to this same conferences to edict norms in regards to the application of the encyclical Amoris laetitia, particularly regarding access to the sacraments by persons in an irregular matrimonial state.

Union and fecundity: widening one, reducing the other

This last decision was made possible by a way of reasoning raising several questions and debates[3]. We find also there questionable quotes one of which, central, from John Paul II on the Law of gradualness. This law – with a reference in a footnote to Familiaris consortio n.34 – is defined in n.295 as: “a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law.” And, as we know, the text that follows insists on these conditions which reduce and sometimes annul the accountability of sin. A situation appears, then, one of persons living in an irregular matrimonial state and finding themselves in conditions such that they cannot (unless they commit an other mistake) reach a situation objectively conformed to the law. Since, continues Pope Francis, they have sincerely shed light through a process of discernment on their past, present and future situation (which will most likely remain the same), charity requires we fully integrate them in the Christian community, all the way through sacramental life.

Such way of reasoning, in relation to the quote from Wojtyla, presents a couple of issues which, in the end, put it in contradiction with its so-called foundation: the first is the ignorance of the intrinsically evil character of certain sins, what mitigating circumstances can never change. As to the second issue, it is in the fact that the law of gradualness includes a progression, all the more imperative that we are instructed of its situation (the character intrinsically evil of sin, the scandal it causes), what the process of discernment would do inevitably; ignorance could no longer be invoked; the only real diminution of responsibility would then be the open way to the penitential path (Familiaris consortio n.84).

Let’s mention an other quote used in Amoris lætitia, this one actually used outside of its original context. The first quote we discussed caused harm to the unity of marriage, this second one causes harm to its fecundity. In number 167, after very quickly praising large families, Francis declares: “At the same time, Saint John Paul II rightly explained that responsible parenthood does not mean “unlimited procreation or lack of awareness of what is involved in rearing children, but rather the empowerment of couples to use their inviolable liberty wisely and responsibly, taking into account social and demographic realities, as well as their own situation and legitimate desires”.” This passage is from a letter to the Secretary general of the International Conference of the United Nations on Population and Development (18 March 1994). It seems to present responsible fatherhood, with a recommendation made in more acceptable words than those used by Francis, on a plane, when he said couples should not “be like rabbits”. But, when John Paul II talks about what is quoted here, his intention is to address the inciting or imperative birth control policies: the word “unlimited” found in the text is not a critic against those who would lack prudence, instead it denounces the tendencious presentation that is made of the position of the Church on the subject of fecundity, presentations which had for only goal to reject the Church position as impossible or senseless. There is nothing, actually, in any of John Paul II’s work, and in this letter for that matter, of a warning against families being too large. It is a pity that Amoris lætitia, so quiet also in regards to fecundity, would have this unfounded restrictive note.

Each Country also belongs to the foreigner

One last example, this time taken out of the encyclical Fratelli tutti. In the document, among various noteworthy subjects, is the one of the rights of migrants and, consequently, the imperious welcoming we must give them, as expressed in this affirmation: “each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere.” (n.124) To support this idea, the encyclical refers to John Paul II as a source, though not the only one, with Francis taking over the work of the late pope, as the encyclical claims: « Once more, I would like to echo a statement of saint John Paul II whose forcefulness has perhaps been insufficiently recognized” (n.120). After that, we find three excerpts from the following social encyclicals: Centesimus annus (n°31), Laborens exercens (n°19) et Sollicitudo rei socialis (n°33)[4]. To summarize the words, the wojtylan quotes affirm the non-absolute character of private property and remind us of the principle of the universal destination of goods. What leads Fratelli tutti to a couple of provisional statements: the capacity of entrepreneurs must be “clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty”; this creates a “right of all to their use” [the goods of the earth] (n.123). Such is the “subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods” (id.). Then, there’s a third affirmation, without a reference, leading to number 124: this subordination does not only concern private individuals (persons or businesses), but must be applied “to nations, their territories and their resources.”

We challenge anyone to find in the encyclicals of John Paul II such socialist conception of entrepreneurship, the idea of a subordination of private property disconnected from all relation to work and just wages. Also, it would be equally difficult to find such idea as the readiness of territories and country resources to let go of their sovereignty and, consequently, the demands of an international order founded on cooperation and justice.

Certainly, we could say that the development of a doctrine is not necessarily the simple repetition of that same doctrine. One would agree. But, nonetheless, it is still necessary to be able to find in the quoted author a point of reference, because the development of a doctrine has to be homogenous. What we have shown examining the use of quotations in areas where the Wojtylan magisterium is particularly clear and thorough, is a series of formal and truly regrettable contradictions.

Abbé Jean-Marie Perrot

[1] It is the second of the hermeneutics that Benedict the XVI had defined to qualify the reception of the Vatican II Council. To the best of our knowledge, Francis did not exactly position himself in relation to this conceptual setting.
[2] One must add that for this pontificate, the ambiguity or the amphibology of the declarations force us to be attentive to the actions that follow, that is to say to the concrete authorized implementation, authentic. Like others, we apply this deciphering method to the Bergoglian teaching.
[3] cf. the Dubia of the four cardinals, the filial correction signed by many Catholic personalities, not to mention the studies of several moral theologians.
[4] The following are also quoted: Populorum progressio from Paul VI, Laudato si, Caritas in veritate from Benedict XVI; in short, all the social encyclicals post Vatican II council.