A Pastoral Revolution?

medieval-confessionIn the Middle Ages confession could be an unpleasant experience; penances were severe and could last years. Priests had been taught that if a penance accorded was not in proportion to the gravity of the sin, a portion of the temporal punishment would be transferred to the priest. But around the middle of the twelfth-century priests were encouraged to develop a gentler approach to confession.

French scholar Pierre Payer, an expert on the penitential literature of the period,  called it a “pastoral revolution”, where the focus of preaching and the confessional was to educate and counsel rather than admonish and punish. Confession would become, according to Payer, “…one of the most intimate of human relationships that was institutionalized in the Christian Church”.*

Another “pastoral revolution” may be taking place in the Church with the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in which Pope Francis introduces a new development in pastoral discernment:

“[Seminarians and future priests] need to truly understand this: in life not everything is black and white, white and black. No! In life shades of gray predominate. We must then teach how to discern within this gray.” (link)

Shades of grey are all over San Diego’s Bishop McElroy’s understanding of the pope’s intention in Amoris Laetitia, evidenced by his recent directives to priests regarding its implementation:

…Some Catholics engaging in this process of discernment will conclude that God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist. Others will conclude that they should wait, or that their return would hurt others.

In pointing to the pathway of conscience for the divorced and remarried, Pope Francis is not enlisting an element of the Christian moral life which is exceptional. For the realm of conscience is precisely where the Christian disciple is called to discern every important moral decision that he or she makes. (link)

Businesses and wealthy individuals employ tax consultants to examine the tax code for “grey areas” and loopholes that might benefit them. Are priests now supposed to become discernment consultants with respect to the practical application of the Church’s moral code?

Grey areas exist but it is not as though the Church hasn’t addressed how a priest should approach them. John Paul II taught in very clear terms that the determination to amend one’s life as a precondition to absolution is not to be viewed as dependent on the penitent’s own strength. A reliance on the grace of God means certainty cannot be assured:

 “…It should also be remembered that the existence of sincere repentance is one thing, the judgement of the intellect concerning the future is another: it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin.” (link)

I believe that priests have little difficulty applying this in the confessional or through counseling. Defenders of the pope who appeal to this instruction as his intention are either naïve or sophists.

Imagine the difference when the priests of the 12th-century were finally off the hook for the consequences of an inadequate penance, free to dispense God’s mercy and forgiveness in a fatherly manner. But they were never off the hook for dispensing the sacraments in the proper form and to those who are entitled to receive them to the best of their knowledge.

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Fr. Marcel Guarnizo

While many priests will embrace Bishop McElroy’s directives because it’s what they’ve been doing anyway, others will have to face moral dilemmas regarding distribution of the Eucharist. It can also be expected that some conservative and traditional priests will be “set up”, like Father Marcel Guarnizo, who in 2012 refused communion to a practicing lesbian during her mother’s funeral mass, causing a national uproar. He was promptly kicked out of the diocese by then Archbishop Weurl.

The difference between then and now is that then the perception by many was that he did the right thing according to the letter of Church law; now, post Amoris Laetitia, that assumption would be challenged.

…rjt

*Pierre J. Payer, “Confession and the Study of Sex in the Middle Ages,” in Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, eds. Vern L Bollough and James Brundage, (New York: Garland, 2000).

An Ancient Law Written on the Heart

When I studied Akkadian, the language of Mesopotamia, we would occasionally spend class time reading ancient legal texts. It often provoked discussion because laws reveal much about a society’s concerns. While laws regarding homosexuality in the Near Eastern codes are relatively rare, Tablet A, 19-20 of the Middle Assyrian Law Code (ca. 1400 BC) describes the punishment for falsely accusing someone of engaging in a homosexual act as well as the penalty for the act itself:

“If a man has secretly started a rumor about his neighbor saying, ‘He has allowed men to have sex with him,’ or in a quarrel has told him in the presence of others, ‘Men have sex with you,’ and then, ‘I will bring charges against you myself,’ but is then unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, that man is to be caned (fifty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off [hair], and pay one talent of lead.”

The very next law establishes the penalty if the accusation is proven in court:

“If a man lay with his neighbor, when they have prosecuted him [and] convicted him, they shall lie with him [and] turn him into a eunuch.”

Continue reading “An Ancient Law Written on the Heart”

The Vatican Bank May Be Running Out of Time

In canon lawyer Ed Condon’s recent article critical of the Pope’s actions against the Knights of Malta, he makes an astute observation about possible unintended consequences:

The disregard for the mutually sovereign relationship between the Holy See and the Order sets a precedent in international law, which will now lurk under the Secretariat of State’s dealings with other governments like an unexploded bomb.

Cardinal Parolin should prepare to see today’s actions cited as legitimate precedent when the IOR, commonly called the Vatican Bank, finds its sovereign independence under renewed pressure from other countries or international bodies. [emphasis mine]

With respect to the bank, one has to ask just how long the Italian government’s going to tolerate this institution? While the current pontiff had promised to clean up Vatican finances, he recently ordered Archbishop Becciu to abruptly cancel an outside audit of the bank by PricewaterhouseCooper. According to journalist Edward Pentin, it was over the issue of transparency: Continue reading “The Vatican Bank May Be Running Out of Time”

300 Years of Masonic Mischief

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Shriners on parade

While Freemasonry originated in 1717, it was in 1870, the same year the American order, the Shriners, were founded, that it began a concerted assault on the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a portentous year as the government of Italy seized the Papal States, leaving the Church with no sovereign home. It was also the year of the Franco-Prussian War, won by the Germans in a rout that was viewed by many in northern Europe as a victory over Catholicism. The Kulturkampf was instituted in Germany after the victory leading to the imprisonment of thousands of priests. In France, Church-run institutions like education and hospitals were seized and secularized. Discriminatory laws against Catholics were also passed in Switzerland and Italy. Continue reading “300 Years of Masonic Mischief”

Charles Johnston’s Hanging it Up

I was asked by a CNS reporter last summer in private email correspondence what I thought of Charles Johnston, the seer from Denver who has made predictions of immanent civil unrest and social collapse. Unfamiliar with him, I listened to an interview the reporter provided a link to and gave the following response (additional commentary is in brackets):

“Thanks for the link and I listened to the interview. What he said was a little vague so I looked at his site [link]. He predicts a worldwide economic collapse followed by civil wars followed by a confrontation with Islam. This is also what Hildegard predicts for the era of the grey wolf; but that’s where the similarity ends. Charlie adds that there will be a major miracle followed by a prolonged period of peace. And this is all supposed to take place in the next year and a half. [He claimed that his Guardian Angel had told him these things]. The era of the grey wolf as Hildegard described it hasn’t started yet.

Continue reading “Charles Johnston’s Hanging it Up”

The Demolition of Political Correctness

pc1In a historical analysis of political correctness, Boston University’s Angelo Codevilla argues that the phenomenon will not only eventually define the post-Cold War era, but its demise is at hand. It is as inevitable as was the Soviet Union’s:

“Progressive parties everywhere have sought to monopolize educational and cultural institutions in order to force those under their thumbs to sing their tunes or to shut up. But having brought about the opposite of the prosperity, health, wisdom, or happiness that their ideology advertised, they have been unable to force folks to ignore the gap between political correctness and reality.”

Continue reading “The Demolition of Political Correctness”

Nostradamus and the False Trumpet

nostradamus

In honor of Nostradamus’ birthday (Dec. 14), a number of news websites quoted the following quatrain:

Man with a false trumpet claiming he’s right,

Will rise from the tower’s of the New World

On dames he will spew tangerine venom

But victorious he will be, despite allegations being hurled.

This, they suggest, was a reference to the victory of Donald Trump. The prophecy is typical of Nostradamus’s style; there’s just enough ambiguity to make a connection appear compelling, but not quite. He actually wrote horoscopes for a living and was the court astrologist for Catherine de Medici. Astrology was closely aligned with astronomy and generally respected at the time. Paid astrologers were tolerated by the Church but not considered as having the prophetic gift. Continue reading “Nostradamus and the False Trumpet”

St. Hildegard on Reclaiming Marriage through Christ

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“Creation and Fall”, illumination from Scivias, Rupertsberg MS.

One consequence of the fall of man was the corruption of marriage and the eventual institution of legal divorce. Even in Hildegard’s day (12th-century) divorce and remarriage were common in Latin Christendom. Marriages were utilitarian and pre-arranged, and consequently, loveless. They facilitated alliances between noble families in order to protect their respective fiefs or wealth. When circumstances would change and an alliance was no longer advantageous, the nobleman would discard the wife who was the basis of the pact and form another one with a different feudal lord.

One of the best weapons the Church employed to break down feudal society’s marriage customs was its insistence on consent as the basis for a valid marriage. Girls in their early teens were considered too young to grant consent and arranged marriages precluded it. Invalid marriages were a problem for the nobility because any children produced in them would be regarded as illegitimate and unable to inherit. The people of Christendom finally accepted that it was Church law, not civil law, that determined the validity of a marriage.

St. Hildegard (1098-1179), explaining her vision of the creation and fall in her mid-12th century work, Scivias, revealed that through Christ, marriage could be restored to its original ideal, the marital union of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: Continue reading “St. Hildegard on Reclaiming Marriage through Christ”

William. F. Buckley Jr. on Humanae Vitae

buckley1Twenty years ago Buckley wrote Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, sharing his personal thoughts and experiences as a life-long Catholic. Writing in his typical high-brow conversational manner, you might feel as though you were sitting next to him on the panel of Firing Line. And indeed there is a panel; he structured his essays around answers to questions he had posed to his unique “Forum”, a group of intellectuals that had come to the Catholic faith as adults. His insights and outlooks remain relevant and valuable today.

On the subject of contraception (chapter 12), the opinions of his Forum were divided. But Buckley doesn’t bother to engage them; the publication of Humanae Vitae rendered the question pointless. “…[T]he answer, for a Catholic, has got to be: the position of the Pope, as spokesman for the magisterium.” He shifts the conversation to a question he finds more challenging:

“It is that the law against contraception is quite simply ignored. No, not by everyone; but the data suggest that contraceptives are sold in similar quantities to Catholic and to Protestant men and women. There is no way to establish what percentage of Catholic women (or men) who use them confess to having committed a sin. And in any case, if absolution is not valid in the absence of the penitent’s subjective determination not to sin again, one must assume—simply from one’s view of crowded communion rails—either that the sin is not being confessed or else that the determination not-to-sin-again is widely irresolute.”

Continue reading “William. F. Buckley Jr. on Humanae Vitae”

Historical Perspectives on the Pope’s Chinese Accord

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Joseph Cardinal Zen

The Pope has cut a deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that gives the Vatican a say in the selection of Bishops for the state-sanctioned Catholic Church. The deal is supposed to give the Vatican the ability to approve episcopal appointments made by the Chinese government.

To Joseph Cardinal Zen, Retired Bishop of Hong Kong, the Pope would be making a choice for the government-controlled church over the faithful underground church.  His opposition is impassioned, calling it a “surrender”, and a betrayal of Christ. The underground Catholic Church is substantially larger and carefully guards its independence from the government and maintains loyalty to the Holy See, but at the price of persecution.

Neither the state Church or the underground Church have a direct connection to Rome; this is obviously what the Pope wants to fix by the compromise. But first he might want to consider a number of historical precedents that suggest such accords don’t end well and consider a more conservative path: Continue reading “Historical Perspectives on the Pope’s Chinese Accord”