The magisterium like an eiderdown fluff

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

“I am a general who no longer fights and who was appointed school headmaster” (Cardinal Ottaviani). “Previously the Holy Office had the duty to defend the faith, but now this has changed.” (Cardinal Seper, successor to Card. Ottaviani).

It can be said that a rupture de facto with the Roman Church, her fundamental faith and discipline, is consummated on the part of several German bishops, priests, and faithful. There are many more divides for that matter, but none have yet broken out: in the mean time, those who have gone astray, even in essential matters like moral or doctrine, remain peacefully in the midst of the flock. Where those who, in one way or an other, question the Council are easily called schismatics and sometimes treated as such, those who are most heterodox are only rarely and with much ceremony commanded to clearly choose between the acceptation or the refusal of the Catholic faith and never officially cut away from the Body, badly harming the rest of the members, and even themselves since they are not invited to repent.

Towards a German schism? No, towards a transaction

The heresies or disdains for the discipline of the Church that we have seen during the Synodal Way, the German Synodale Weg are considerable. On 4 February last, several resolutions were adopted at 85% or 86% of the votes, two thirds of the bishops having approved these resolutions. They called for nothing less but the ordination of married men, the authorization for priests to marry, the revision of sexual moral (notably the doctrine of the Church on contraception and homosexuality, with possible benediction of homosexual couples), the sharing of the governance of the Church with laities.

Few voices arose, like those of Cardinal Müller and even of Cardinal Kasper, not to mention the seventy four bishops, among which four cardinals who addressed a letter of admonition to their German confreres[1]. But no retraction came. Who, from this point forward, is going to tell this Church men, especially the shepherds, that they have shipwreck their faith? Rome? For now, it is quite unimaginable. The German bishops who are in disagreement with their confreres? It is unlikely.

In reality, this crisis, as many others, will be dealt with on the mode of transaction, as the ideological conflicts are dealt with in democracies. The contestation of moral is not a problem for the ecclesial apparatus: public adultery or “matrimonial” homosexual life is not an issue for who wants to receive the Eucharist, the official stand makes sure to adapt to practice on the mode of mercy and guidance in line with Amoris Lætitia.

On the other hand, the ordination of women and married men would protestantized the Church by secularizing and therefore by provoking inevitably a dissolution of the Roman power and the episcopal powers. The ecclesiastic institution which seems to be no more than an administrative framework anymore, ideologically very restrictive, is in reality quite fragile. In his 19 May 2022 interview with the directors of the European Jesuit cultural reviews, Francis has been very clear: “To the president of the German Episcopal Conference, Mgr Bätzing, I said: ‘There is a very good Evangelical Church in Germany. We don’t need a second one!’ ”

And yet, receiving Mgr Georg Bätzing again, on 24 June, Francis encouraged him to “pursue on the Synodal Way” and to issue “recommendations for a change in the manner of which the Church acts.” No priestess here but, in the line of the motu proprio Spiritus Domini,of 11 January 2021, lay ministries of acolyte and lector will be conferred to women, and most likely soon a ministry for women deacon, and why not women president of assemblies in which instituted priests would participate to consecrate, with for certain the possibility given to women to ensure the liturgical predication.

In this transactional semi-darkness, the Symposium on the priesthood organized by Cardinal Ouellet, at the Vatican from 17-19 February 2022, was like a safety valve for moderates, giving a voice to a more classic approach, yet with some openings of principle towards baptismal priesthood and the role of women in the Church.

Ordinary heresies

Many have been surprised by the intervention very critical of Cardinal Kasper, though a progressive, against the German synodal Way. In fact, if like Cardinal Schönborn, or other high Bergoglian prelates, he participated in opening a breach in the moral defended by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, yet he doesn’t want anymore secularization of the institution. In a long interview published on 9 June 2021 in the bulletin of the diocese of Passau, Cardinal Kasper criticizes the more “sociological” than “evangelical” excesses of the Synodal Way, and makes this judgement on the ecumenism claimed by the Way: “Many don’t even know anymore what is Catholic and what is protestant. They did not overcome differences, they don’t know what these are anymore. In this way, we are evolving in a hazy vague dream and an apparent ecumenism.”

The former President of the Council for promoting Christian Unity speaks gold, not only of the conscience of Catholic identity, but also in general of the reception of the Creed. We can mention the case of the faith – or rather the absence of faith – in the original sin[2], as much symptomatic that the negation of the original sin is, as it is said, among others, by Donoso Cortès, the mark of the civilization of the passions born of the Revolution.

It is obvious that the large majority of contemporary theology refutes the historic character of original sin, and refuses to say that what was committed by the father of humanity is a sin of disobedience which cut him from the grace of God and the gifts which accompanied it, in such a way that he transmitted a wounded human nature to all his descendants.

This sin, which would have been invented by saint Augustin, is refuted head-on by some, best represented by Fr. Gustave Martelet: the act described in chapter three of Genesis is not the original sin in the chronological sense, but “the actual sin parabolically thrown at the beginning of history”[3], the cumulative effect of individual sins of men constituting an heritage, a “world”, in which one enters by the way of human generation. The original sin is thus named this way only “because it precedes the liberty of each individual objectively marked, as one enters a historically sinning world.”

Or else, the negation is a bit more ill-at-ease, such as the one of Mgr André Léonard, former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels: “This story [the sin of Adam in Genesis] is evidently symbolic, not because it describes an illusion, but because the reality it evokes and which does not belong to the present historic world – since it is in fact at its origin – is expressed in the terms and according to the schemes of our current experience and thus in an inevitably inadequate manner”[4]. In other words, the original sin would be outside history and would precede it. This is what David Sanchez explains and teaches at the Faculté Notre Dame and at the Superior Institute of Religious Science at the Collège des Bernardins, offering what he nicely calls a “feeble interpretation” of Genesis 5 and Romans 5 (“through one man, sin came into the world, and through sin, death, and that as such death extended to all men…”): “The original sin originating is the first sin, where first is understood in a meta-historic sense. […] The dogmatic data affirming that the sin of Adam has changed him and his descendants into a worse state, in their body and in their soul, does not need to be honored that we assume two states of the world historically and successively realized, the one from before sin and the one from after”[5]. Like this, at the Collège des Bernardins, is being taught that original sin opens the series of sins in history, but is not itself situated in history: there was no state preceding the fall, except in “the project of the Creator”. For those who know what it means. In any case, this rejects the failure of sin on the creating action which would not correspond to the divine project…

It is also with the doctrine of the last ends (it has almost disappeared from preaching) from which today’s theology distances itself, as well as the resurrection of the body of Christ, the perpetual virginity of Mary, etc.

* * *

Yet, in our days, authors of these innovative interpretations, diverging from the traditional interpretation, don’t find themselves at risk of being excluded. Yet, when these deviant interpretations are not sanctioned, it is the objectivity of the news of the message which dissolves itself in the subjectivity of the interpretation. Nothing is clearly Catholic anymore, since everything is diffusely Catholic. How could it be otherwise, when official documents like chapter VIII of the Exhortation Amoris lætitia, or conciliar text like Unitatis redintegratio on ecumenism, have themselves this hazy and diffuse character criticized by Cardinal Kasper. Before even being received by Catholics, the haze is already in the message (“The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church”, Lumen Gentium, n. 8). Or, to speak like David Sendrez, it is in the “feeble interpretation” of the dogma, that is to say in fact in the weak doctrine exhibited by the shepherds and which fosters in the faithful a weak faith. From this systemic weakness, the Conference of French Bishops, among others, shall have to repent one day.

Fr. Claude Barthe

[1] See our article, “Since the pope says nothing, may the bishops speak!”, Res Novæ June 2022.
[2] See special edition of La Nef, July-August 2019, « Le péché originel. Ce que l’Église en dit » (The original sin. What the Church says).
[3] Gustave Martelet, Libre réponse à un scandale, (Free response to a scandal), Cerf, 1986.
[4] André Léonard, Les raisons de croire, Fayard, 1987.
[5] David Sendrez, The original sin, Parole et Silence, 2018.