Universæ Ecclesiæ 19

In a footnote to my post yesterday regarding the goings-on at Fisher-More College, I noted number 19 of the PCED instruction Universæ Ecclesiæ, which reads: “The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.” I noted that this text, on its face, “is a threshold requirement; its application to a continuing community is unclear.” I write today because Scott Alt and Diane Korzeniewski have each written posts that assume an “ongoing state” interpretation that is structurally and textually implausible, and at odds with the mens of the legislator, Pope Benedict. 1

As with most of the canonical issues involved, the waters are murkier than the categorical tone adopted by each side would suggest. 2 Alt and Korzeniewski seem to assume that UE19 requires that its condition must be met throughout—at every moment during—the lifespan of a “Summorum Pontificum celebrating community,” so to speak; if at any time that requirement is no longer met, the group loses its authorization and either ceases to exist ex vi facti or places its “certification” in jeopardy, subject to revocation by the granting authority. Alt says: “Last year, when … Francis curtailed the usus antiquior for the Franciscan Fri­rs of the Immaculate, it was because the[y] … had been plagued by a faction … who were suppress­ing the Novus Ordo. To do that is against the norms of [UE19]. [Pope Benedict] … allowed broader celebration of the Latin Mass [and] also forbade [usus antiquior-]Only­ism among those who say it and attend it. If you are an Only­ist, you have no right to the Latin Mass.” And Korzeniewski wonders “if that is what Bishop Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth is acting on, in light of what is coming out on Fisher-More College. The instruction doesn’t tell the bishop how to respond, so it’s open to interpretation. ¶ What consequences does PCED foresee if such a conflict arises? Does it preclude withdrawing permission for the TLM?”

I doubt that that interpretation is tenable. Some traditionalists misread Summorum Pontificum by wrenching from their proper context the words “the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary,” omitting the important fact that they are describing what used to be termed “private” Masses. The “ongoing requirement” interpretation makes the same mistake. It has textual difficulties, and it forgets that Universæ Ecclesiæ is not a freestanding document but an authoritative commentary on Summorum Pontificum. This context matters.

Part III of Universæ Ecclesiæ, in which numbers 15-19 are located, sets out “specific norms” that clarify “the proper interpretation and the correct application” of Summorum Pontificum. Article V section 1 of the latter (hereinafter “SPv§1″) explains the circumstances in which members of the faithful who do not presently have, and who want, the celebration of the usus antiquior in their parish may petition for it: “In parishes, where a group of faithful adhering to the earlier liturgical tradition exists stably, let the pastor gladly receive its petitions to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal.” 3 The stated purpose of the subsection containing UE15-19 is to clarify the meaning of SPv§1. Thus, UE15 explains how we are to interpret the terms “group of faithful” and “exist[ing] stably” not always and everywhere, but in the specific contest of SPv§1.

The meaning of UE19 is tethered to the same context. Because SPv§1 deals with the threshold requirements for a petition by a stable group of the faithful who do not yet have the usus antiquior in their parish and who are seeking to get it, it would be strange to read UE19 as dealing with an entirely different question, stating an ongoing requirement for the valid celebration of the usus antiquior in parishes where it is already celebrated. Thus, the ongoing-state interpretation disconnects the interpretation from the interpreted text.

And if it is structurally implausible given the relationship of UE19 to SPv§1, it is textually implausible because UE19 itself frames its application in the nature of a threshold test: “The faithful who ask for the celebration.” Thus, the ongoing-state interpretation effectively rewrites UE19: “The faithful who ask for attend the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.” 4

There is a third problem, too: Even if we had the authority to untether UE19 from SPv§1 and re-write it by interpretation, the ongoing-state interpretation would not be an attractive use of that authority. It is a niggardly interpretation of the mens of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, 5 insofar as it pictures Summorum Pontificum as providing only a benevolent allowance that exists at the indulgence—suffrance, really—of the local ecclesiastics, an exceptional situation that exists only insofar as it does not get out of hand, and one over which hangs the sword of damocles, always ready to drop. This can be reconciled with neither the letter nor the spirit of Summorum Pontificum and its accompanything letter.

* * *

It may be appropriate to add a postscript. If there is a thinly-veiled paranoia in the reactions of Bp. Olson’s traditionally-inclined critics, there is a seething undercurrent of contempt for the usus antiquior and its adherents in those who have criticized the critics. “The college brings in wack job like Gruner, shuts down the ordinary form, thoroughly politicizes the EF, attacks their bishop, fails to mention that the EF is available within walking distance of the school,” Mark Shea complained an ill-considered colloquy with me on Facebook. (Shea subsequently removed his side of the conversation; fortunately, some of it has been preserved.) King, Shea insisted, was using the usus antiquior to “poison[ ]” the students. He has deleted his most inflammatory comment, but you can infer what it was from the version preserved in my rhetorical inversion of it in a reply to him: “These people hold clown Masses [read 'extraordinary form’] and I’m supposed to give a shit that they feel butthurt when the bishop doesn’t let them use the [extra]ordinary form to keep poisoning the hostages they call ‘parishioners’ [read 'students'] against the Church?”

Why is this significant? Because it reveals an attitude, a cast of mind that I would suggest is shared by Olson and by many of the “critics’ critics.” (A strange locution, I know, but what else can we say?) In Alt’s post, it pokes through in this sentence: “Bishop Olson is not try­ing to keep students from the Latin Mass, but rather to save them from an environment that has been indoctrinating them into [TLM-]Only­ism — a form of ‘Catholicism’ at odds with the teaching of the Church.” In Korzeniewski’s post, it lurks in this sentence: “[Students] at Fisher More College are seemingly being indoctrinated in a brand of Catholicism that is not in harmony with Church teaching.” 6 Latent in comments such as these is the attitude that, well, if those weirdos want it that’s all well and good, but it must be watched carefully and with suspicion, especially when the question is exposing other people to it. There is a strange recusant-era suspicion of the malus illecebrosus Missae Romanae, the “seductive evil of the Roman Mass.” In a spirit of benevolent liberalism, we will tolerate it and its adherents—but only so far, and only on a short leash, a leash that must be yanked good and hard if anyone’s getting too rowdy.

And that’s such a weird attitude. If you made similar accusations about the ordinary form—”it’s all well and good if you like it, but it’s likely to lead people astray, and so must be watched with concern”—you would be accused of precisely the kind of intolerant bigotry that those now making such assumptions about the extraordinary form decry in its adherents. One simply can’t imagine a bishop suspending the ordinary form in an oratory in his diocese because he thinks that it’s poisoning the souls of his flock. Once we invert the rhetoric, its strangeness is unmasked.

Notes:

  1. See Alt, Why Latin Mass Onlyists are Destroying the Latin Mass, Scott Eric Alt, March 6, 2014, http://scottericalt.com/why-latin-mass-onlyists-are-destroying-the-latin-mass, and Korzeniewski, Did Fisher More College run afoul of Universae Ecclesiea 19?, Te Deum Laudamus, March 4, 2014, http://te-deum.blogspot.com/2014/03/did-fisher-more-college-run-afoul-of_4.html (both last visited March 6, 2014).
  2. How Summorum Pontificum interacts with canon CIC 1225 is complicated. Article 2 of Summorum Pontificum authorizes any priest to celebrate Missæ sine populo (canonically-speaking, although not necessarily literally) according to the usus antiquior. It is in that provision and context that we find the language “the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary.” We probably read Article V as contemplating Missa cum populo, but since a parish is not usually without a church, see 1983 CIC 1214 et seq., and since a bishop’s authority over a parish Church is distinct from his authority over an oratory (compare canons 1219 and 1225), that isn’t helpful here. And all this assumes that a university chapel is an oratory in the first place—because if it isn’t, then what, canonically-speaking, is it? Precisely to avoid this nettlesome thicket, my previous post assumed without deciding that the bishop acted lawfully.
  3. The latin text reads as follows: “In paroeciis, ubi coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium stabiliter exsistit, parochus eorum petitiones ad celebrandam sanctam Missam iuxta ritum Missalis Romani anno 1962 editi, libenter suscipiat. Ipse videat ut harmonice concordetur bonum horum fidelium cum ordinaria paroeciae pastorali cura, sub Episcopi regimine ad normam canonis 392, discordiam vitando et totius Ecclesiae unitatem fovendo.” The translation is mine. As I mentioned in an earlier footnote, insofar as this provision follows articles that deal with the celebration of Missæ sine populo by the priest, and the admission of the faithful to what are canonically “private” Masses, it makes sense to read it as dealing with the circumstances in which the faithful may petition for regular, scheduled, and public celebration of the usus antiquior in their parishes, rather than extraordinary, private, or ad hoc celebrations.
  4. “[A]mendment may not be substituted for construction.” Yu Cong Eng v. Trinidad, 271 U.S. 500, 518 (1926).
  5. But cf. UE13.
  6. Korzeniewski may rejoin, I suppose, that she did not mean to imply that the usus antiquior was the instrument of indoctrination, but that premise is necessary in order for her post to cohere. Her intention is to defend Olson: “I’m amazed that [the previously-quoted] part of it is being minimized and the bishop’s actions magnified. If these reports are true, then even if the bishop acted imprudently and was overbearing, much greater weight should be placed on things that, if true, are grave. Where is the concern for a students’ rights to learn what the Church teaches at a Catholic institution over what an administrator believes it should teach? Where is the concern over parents rights to know their kids are not being taught strange teachings at a self-described faithful institution?” But what does any of that have to do with the usus antiquior absent the assumption that the usus antiquior is an instrument of those problems?

Olson v. Fisher-More College

The newly-minted bishop of Forth Worth, his excellency Michael Olson, has written to President King of Fisher-More college purporting to revoke the college’s permission to celebrate the usus antiquior. Rorate cæli has the lead report, including the original materials 1; useful commentary is available from the Remnant, Father Z, and DAC. 2

Bp. Olson’s letter reads as follows:

Thankyou for your visit today. I am writing you to state formally what I told you during our meeting. These norms take effect immediately.
1. You do not have permission to have the public celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at the Chapel of Fisher More College. This includes Sundays and weekdays. The weekly celebration of the Extraordinary Form is available to the faithful every Sunday at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Forth Worth.
2. You may only have the celebration of the Mass in the Ordinary Form by priests who explicitly have faculties for such celebration granted by me as the Bishop of Fort Worth.
3. Failure to comply with the above-stated norms will result in my withdrawal of permission to celebrate the Eucharist in your chapel along with withdrawal of permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel.
I make these norms out of my pastoral solicitude and care for students of Fisher-More College as well as for your own soul. I urge you to comply with them. 3

Whether a bishop retains the authority to ban the celebration of the usus antiquior in these (or any) circumstances following the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum is questionable, but I will assume without deciding that Olson is within his rights. 4 The decision was, nevertheless, unwise.

As Father Z notes, there is much that we do not know. There is, however, some contextual information that we do know, at least through hearsay. We are told (as I had already guessed) that there are difficulties at Fisher-More that “center on Mr. King taking an increasingly severe stand regarding the Council and the changes that have occurred in the Church in the past 50 years.” 5 We are told of King’s “draconian” rule, and that “the level of excoriation for the Church and Her leaders has reached a state that even many good, traditional Catholics are scandalized by the rhetoric,” causing “[m]any students—very solid, traditional Catholic students—[to leave] the university as it seems to be heading towards such extremism the students fear scandal if they continue their studies” 6. It is suggested that there are irregularities with the priests who had been saying Mass at Fisher-More, some of whom may have lacked faculties or been under suspension. 7 Taylor Marshall, who until recently worked at Fisher-More, offered a lengthy public post on Facebook affirming such concerns and adding color and context. 8

Nevertheless, what we don’t know about this situation that is relevant could not fill a thimble. The excess of a remedy is measured in relation to the gravity of the problem (one thinks of Justice Stewart’s line from Robinson v. California that “[e]ven one day in prison would be a cruel and unusual punishment for the ‘crime’ of having a common cold”) and it is inconceivable that any problem could justify this remedy. All of the reported concerns suggest that there are problems at Fisher-More that merit episcopal concern and even intervention. Yet the remedy of suppressing the usus antiquior bears no rational relation to any of them—or to any that I can imagine.

If the problem is with the priests who have been celebrating, or what those priests have been saying, then one would expect that the remedy would address the priests, not the form of the Mass. Can any of us imagine a bishop forbidding the celebration of the ordinary form in a given parish, still less over nothing less flimsy than a question of whether priests who had recently celebrated there had questionable faculties or opinions? It is certainly possible that a proper remedy would have the effect of obliging the celebration of Mass in the ordinary form, because if the remedy is that Mass may be celebrated only by Fathers Smith and Jones, and neither Smith nor Jones know the usus antiquior, the result will be that Mass is celebrated only in the ordinary form. But that is not what Olson did. I therefore concur in Patrick Archbold’s assessment: “[T]his serious action with minimal justification directed at something so ancient and sacred, reverberates far beyond the confines of campus. This is reminiscent of other recent actions directed against the TLM with minimal justification and will likely be seen as very chilling by traditionalists within the Church, increasing that very dangerous sense of isolation.” 9

But if Olson’s remedy is problematic, his fundamental error is his failure to explain his action. When bishops and priests take action with which I disagree for reasons that seem to me valid but unpersuasive, I am inclined to defer to their judgment, even when I would come out the other way as an original matter. 10 Bishops are not middle-managers but “vicars and ambassadors of Christ, [who] govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power.” 11 I therefore review their decisions under a highly deferential standard that assures only that the decision is not arbitrary and capricious, upholding it “as long as (1) it is possible to offer a reasoned explanation, based on the evidence, for a particular outcome, (2) the decision is based on a reasonable explanation of relevant [factors], or (3) the [bishop] has based [his] decision on a consideration of the relevant factors that encompass the important aspects of the problem.” 12 But Olson’s letter does not explain what caused him to act, nor the connection between the problem and the remedy, and “[w]ithout a clear statement of the … rationale” for a decision, it is difficult at best to “evaluate whether [it] was proper….” 13 To be sure, disapproval of a decision is not certain “when there is an absence of reasoning in the record to support it,” 14 for, in my view, the remedy need only be rationally-related to the problem, and it may sometimes happen that the relationship of the remedy to the animating facts may be clear on the face of the facts. But Olson does not give us even that much; he makes no effort at all to explain what facts concerned him or caused him to take action. The letter is a naked exercise of power. The benefit of the doubt is purchased at the cost of the tendering of reasons, and Olson offers none.

All of this, taken in part or sum, arouses suspicion. Olson’s actions are excessive and strange, and because he cannot be so naïve as to suppose that they would not be subject to review, his refusal to explain them in the letter—the documentary basis for any review—looks like a deliberate attempt to insulate them from scrutiny. That was poorly-judged and infelicitous. If the suppression of the usus antiquior “was absolutely necessary and the only way Bishop Olson thought he could solve the problems at Fisher-More, he should have explained why his action in that regard was uniquely necessary. He should also explained under what authority he, as a bishop, managed to undo a papal act liberalizing the availability of the TLM. Bishop Olson has now caused some degree of scandal among the faithful, who feel their rights trampled upon.” 15 His failure to explain himself can only stoke those suspicions and resentments.

Notes:

  1. See Adfreo, Bishop Bans Fisher More College from offering Traditional Latin Mass to students, March 3, 2014, http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2014/03/Rorate-Exclusive.html (this and all other URLs cited herein last visited March 4, 2014)
  2. See Brian Mershon, “It is what it is”—Fort Worth Diocese Clarifies Bishop Olson’s Ban on Traditional Latin Mass at Fisher More College, The Remnant, March 4, 2014, http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/323-it-is-what-it-is-fort-worth-diocese-clarifies-bishop-olson-s-ban-on-traditional-latin-mass-at-fisher-more-college; Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, Fr. Z’s first reaction to Bp. Olson banning Extraordinary Form at Fort Worth’s Fisher More College, WDTPRS, March 3, 2014, http://wdtprs.com/blog/2014/03/fr-zs-first-reaction-to-bp-olson-banning-extraordinary-form-at-fort-worths-fisher-more-college ; TantamErgo, Fisher-More denied ability to offer TLM, A Blog for Dallas-Area Catholics, http://veneremurcernui.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/fisher-more-denied-ability-to-offer-tlm.
  3. Transcribed from the scanned copy of the letter supplied by Rorate. The meeting to which the letter refers was, according to King, perfunctory: It “was very short and provided no further details other than the contents of the letter. ‘There wasn’t much discussion,’ [King] said. ‘There was no discussion about the college at all.’” Mershon, supra.
  4. As Father Z is apt to say, all it took to enthuse bishops to follow the requirements of Ecclesia Dei was the superseding enactment of Summorum Pontificum. At any rate, for analyses on the canonical issues, refer to the materials cited by the Zuhlsdorf and Adfero posts cited in notes 1 and 2 above.
  5. TantamErgo, supra.
  6. Id.
  7. Zuhlsdorf, supra.
  8. Because Facebook is not a stable medium, I take the liberty of reproducing the relevant part of his post here:

    . . . .
    … I resigned as Chancellor of the College at the beginning of June of 2013 … for the sake of conscience. I felt it would be a danger to my soul to remain at Fisher More College.

    I resigned when moral, theological, and financial discrepancies came to light regarding the presidency of Michael King. I was an ex officio member of the Board so I knew what others did not. From May to early June of 2013, five of the eight College Board Members also resigned for two reasons:

    1) Mr. King refused to disassociate himself from the public statements of faculty member Dr. Dudley that claimed in his Year of Faith lecture that Catholic professors have the duty to teach young people that Vatican 2 is not a valid Council (he also endorsed other “resistance” positions regarding the Novus Ordo, John Paul II, etc.)

    2) Mr. King, after selling the original FMC campus to Texas Christian University for millions of dollars, had imprudently entered into a real estate deal that financially crippled Fisher More College.

    Much of the politicization around the “Latin Mass and FMC” is Mr. King’s careful attempt to distract attention away from his financial misdealing at FMC. The college is currently teetering on bankruptcy and this latest entanglement with the bishop will lead to a public statement: “Fisher More closed down because the new bishop of Fort Worth persecuted the Latin Mass!” when in reality the College is failing because Mr. King entered into a dubious real estate deal that washed out college’s endowment AND all the proceeds from the sale of the original campus.

    How did a College sell its extremely valuable campus to TCU for several millions dollars in 2012 only to announce at Christmas 2013 that it might be closing without an immediate fund raising campaign through Rorate Caeli?

    . . . .

    FMC hosted a public repudiation of Vatican 2 and the Ordinary Form of the Mass in April of 2013 that was so offensive that my wife and I walked out of it before its conclusion. That did not do much to heal the breach with the local diocese or presbyterate and it contributed to the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) discontinuing their support and presence at FMC. The current FMC website advertises that the FSSP provides a chaplain, but this is not true.

    At the same time, Michael King estranged himself from the diocese of Fort Worth by not allowing the Ordinary Form (as stipulated by the previous ordinary Bishop Vann of Fort Worth). He also contracted an irregular/suspended priest without faculties, and hired “trad resistance” faculty while there was no bishop in Fort Worth to check these developments. Mr. King was able to create a community in his image (he affectionately referred to himself the “father” of this community) during the episcopal inter-regnum of the diocese of Fort Worth.

    Clearly, a bishop’s intervention was inevitable. The current controversy really has nothing to do with the Latin Mass per se. The Latin Mass is at the center because Michael King is politicizing the Latin Mass in his favor, knowing that “bishops vs the Latin Mass” is red meat for some traditionalist blogs.

    Bishop Olson says in the letter that he is doing this for Michael King’s “soul.” The bishop understands that this is a personal intervention – and not an attack on Fisher More College or its students or the Latin Mass.

    It’s a serious pastoral problem. Mr. King no doubt leaked Bp Olson’s letter via one of his few supporters to build sympathy before the inevitable financial collapse that will expose his mishandling of Fisher More College. Mr. King, more than anything, would like to blame the inevitable collapse of FMC (within only weeks or months) on the bishop’s “persecution of the Latin Mass.”

    . . . .

    A reminder may be pertinent at this juncture that the instruction Universæ Ecclesiæ warns that “[t]he faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.” N.b. this is a threshold requirment; its application to a continuing community is unclear.

  9. Archbold, Bishop Bans Fisher More College from offering TLM to students, Creative Minority Report, March 3, 2014, http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2014/03/bishop-bans-fisher-more-college-from.html.
  10. See, e.g., Simon Dodd, Straight Talk on Altar Girls, Motu Proprio, http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=180.
  11. LG27.
  12. Tompkins v. Cent. Laborers’ Pension Fund, 712 F.3d 995, 999 (7th Cir.2013) (quoting Hess v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 274 F.3d 456 (7th Cir. 2004)).
  13. United States v. Debenedetto, 7th. Cir., March 3, 2014 (quoting United States v. Hawk, 434 F.3d 959, 962 (7th Cir. 2006)).
  14. Williams v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 317, 321 (7th Cir.2007).
  15. TantamErgo, supra note 2; accord Patrick Archbold, A Few Additional Comments on The FMC TLM Situation, Creative Minority Report, March 3, 2014, http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2014/03/a-few-additional-comments-on-fmc-tlm.html.

Terminology note: Pope

Via Rorate coeli, Archbishop Jan Graubner reports recent remarks by Francis I, the incumbent of the See of Rome:

When we were discussing those who are fond of the ancient liturgy and wish to return to it, … [Francis] made a quite strong statement when he said that he understands when the old generation returns to what it experienced, but that he cannot understand the younger generation wishing to return to it. “When I search more thoroughly, I find that it is rather a kind of fad.[*] And if it is a fad, therefore it is a matter that does not need that much attention. It is just necessary to show some patience and kindness to people who are addicted to a certain fashion.”

As Pat Archbold notes, this is “completely wrong, … disrespectful of the reasonable desires of so many good and faithful Catholics,” “staggering in its coarseness and dismissiveness,” and “diametrically opposed to the attitudes and pronouncement of his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.”

It is, however, entirely characteristic of the attitudes and pronouncements of Pope Benedict’s successor, Francis. I forget the cheaper, more casual insults that he has hurled at traditionally-inclined Catholics, but just off the top of my head, it occurs to me that just as he today tells us that we are “addicts” to a “fad,” in Evangelii gaudium, he told us that we are “self absorbed promethean neo pelagians,” whatever that might mean. Shortly before that, in the Jesuit publications interview, he told us that we are hidebound by small rules, we talk about the wrong things, we are ideologues who wish to exploit the Mass, and so on. And a few months before that, we he told us that we “wish to turn the clock back,” that we are “stubborn” people who “want[ ] to tame the Holy Spirit.”

It has become apparent since that black day on which he was elected that the erstwhile Tom Marvolo Card. Riddle (I think that was it) holds people like me in complete contempt; he think that we have Catholicism all wrong, he thinks we have the wrong priorities, he thinks we’re part of the problem. These are sentiments and fraternal warmth that I am happy to reciprocate in kind. But for all the nasty names Francis is pleased to call us, I will content myself with simply not calling him by just one name. The bishop of Rome has traditionally enjoyed a nickname: “pope,” a familiar corruption of “papa.” It is not a title,** merely an affectionate appellation. For the foreseeable future, following the precedent set with regard to the rev. Hans Kung, I will no longer afford it to Francis.

_______
* Rorate renders the Italian “moda” as “fashion,” but Father Zuhlsdorf renders it as “fad.” I adhere to Zuhldorf’s word choice not only because I trust him as a translator but because it is, in his case, an admission against interest. Zuhlsdorf is convinced that Francis’ pontificate is “in continuity” with that of Pope Benedict the Great, a case that is hardly helped by Francis dismissing as a fashion, but a fortiori as a fad, a project so dear to Benedict’s heart.

** The titles annexed to the office of the Bishop of Rome are Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West (it is unclear whether Benedict XVI intended to set aside that title permanently), Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, and Servant of the servants of God.

Questions presented

I’d like to make an open solicitation for views on the canonization process. Specifically:

  • Does the effect of canonization beyond announcement that “this person is in heaven” remain an open question on which the faithful may speculate and differ (see Ott, Fundamentals, §7), or has it been answered by the magisterium? (Put another way, is CCC ¶ 828′s characterization of it as “solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue” dictum? If not, can that passage be construed so as to not require assent that the person presents an appropriate model for the lives of the faithful?)
  • Is the act of canonization infallible in any sense? If so, to what degree (see Ott, Fundamentals, §8), and where has this been taught (see 1983 CIC 749 § 3  (manifest evidence standard for putatively-infallible teaching))? (It must have been taught in the last century, because the Catholic Encyclopædia tenders nothing but private theological opinion on this point.)

Submissions by email (acolyteofscalia .at. gmail dot-com) would be appreciated.

A follow-up on Father Pavone

In September 2011, some 52 months ago, Bishop Patrick Zurek suspended Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests For Life, proffering several inflammatory accusations. Father Pavone chose to comply with the process.

At the time, I made two observations. Father Pavone was doing the right thing, I said, by complying—a “meek obedience to his legitimate ecclesiastical superior” that contrasted with the (understandable) exasperation that prompted Fr. John Corapi to bail out. But it was important that the case be kept on the front burner, I said:

[P]ublic attention is warranted to keep this on the front burner. PFL does important work, and Bp. Zuzek has acted to effectively suspend their income. The longer this drags out, the greater a threat to PFL’s survival it is: A man can tolerate suspension without pay for a week, but make it a year and it becomes an existential threat; make it indefinite and it becomes torture. Thus it is very much in the interest of those who are concerned with the objects of PFL—which one hopes comprises all faithful Catholics—to keep this issue on the front burner, to keep it under close scrutiny in search of a speedy resolution, instead of allowing it to disappear into a bureaucratic dungeon to rot under indeterminate sentence.

I was also concerned that even if Pavone was vindicated, there was a risk that the allegations by themselves would “tarnish PFL’s reputation for a long time to come” because

[t]he guilty are often publicly exposed, but the innocent rarely enjoy complete and public vindication. The allegation runs on page one, the correction runs a month later in small print on page twenty; people mutter “no smoke without fire”; the bishop sends a very public letter asking his brothers to instruct their flocks to stop giving to PFL, but is likely to be less diligent in asking them to sound the all clear.

At long last, Pavone has been vindicated, and the matter is in the past. It remains to be seen whether the all clear will be sounded with the vigor with which the story was trumpeted, but in one sense,I feel vindicated already: That this process dragged on for over two years , leaving PFL in limbo and Pavone in a cell “rot[ting] under indeterminate sentence,” is intolerable. When we talk about the need for reform of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, it is this kind of procedural inefficiency that we must have in mind, not grand plans for ecclesiastical reform.

Pope Francis versus Paul Ryan?

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is among America’s most high-profile Catholics, and the media is apt to seize with glee upon any dissonance (real or invented) between his politics and his faith. We therefore turn our attention to Phillip Bump’s article Who is more Fallible on Economics, Paul Ryan or Pope Francis? 1

Bump’s article is prompted by an interview in which Ryan, having been “asked about Pope Francis’ recent sharp critique of capitalism” in Evangelii gaudium, “stood up for the free enterprise system as a way of alleviating poverty as well as being consistent with Catholic teaching.” 2 Ryan noted that Francis “is from Argentina, [where] they haven’t had real capitalism,” which is correct; he is not reported to have said, or suggested, as Bump would make him say, that “one certainly can’t critique another country’s economic system without having lived there for an extended period of time” or that “Argentina’s lame,” which is Bump’s  haracterization of the remarks.

The gravamen of Ryan’s criticism, it seems to me, is that Francis’ views on economics are mistaken and parochial, and that his worldview is limited by his experience. Both points seem correct.

The difficulties with Francis’ economic understanding have been explored in several recent articles, including two that will serve to illustrate the themes, Marian Tupy’s Is the Pope right about the world, and Phillip Booth’s Papal Pessimist. 3

Tupy lays waste to the factual foundation of Francis’ views:

The dystopian world that [he] describes, without citing a single statistic, is at odds with reality. In appealing to our fears and pessimism, the pope fails to acknowledge the scope and rapidity of human accomplishment—whether measured through declining global inequality and violence, or growing prosperity and life expectancy.

“The thesis of Evangelii gaudium is simple,” she says: “‘unbridled’ capitalism has enriched a few, but failed the poor.’” But even in America, “perceived as the paragon of free-market capitalism,” the economy is tightly-regulated.

Maybe the marketplace should be regulated less, and maybe it should be regulated more. But unbridled it is not. Moreover, the government redistributes some 40 percent of all wealth produced in America…. Much of that wealth comes from the rich and pays for everything from defense and roads to healthcare and education, which are enjoyed by Americans from all income groups. … Maybe the rich should contribute more, and maybe they should contribute less. But contribute they do—well in excess of the biblical tithe.

She goes on to eviscerate Francis’ mistakes on so-called “trickle-down” theories. (We should note that Francis has recently advanced what amounts to a defense on the question of lacking factual support: “I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view,” he told Andrea Tornielli, as though expertise was merely decorative. 4)

Booth notes the problem of Francis’ limited and parochial experience (his conflation of markets with “the exploitation of the poor, corruption and cronyism” is explained by the idiosyncrasies and failures of South American experience with quasi-capitalist experiments), to which we will return momentarily, before writing:

Taking one or two specific issues the Pope raises, it can be seen how he hits the wrong note. Finance and banking are criticised as part of a general attack on the supposed autonomy of markets free from the constraints of government. However, the banking system is wrapped up with government regulation and state guarantees that underwrite reckless risk-taking and unethical behaviour. The Pope is desperately concerned about youth unemployment, but this is a phenomenon that rears its head most notably in countries where the market is not allowed to operate properly, such as Italy and Argentina….

Nobody idolizes the market, as Francis suggests—but

many people do sincerely believe that a free economy best serves the poor and is most compatible with our created human nature. A free economy under the rule of law with economic action cloaked in virtue is needed in Argentina, in Italy, in the countries that experienced the aborted Arab Spring. Socialist systems and corporatist systems serve rich and powerful interests at the expense of the poor. It is they that should be the target of the Pope’s proclamations.

These criticisms from Tupy and Booth, and many more like them, are trenchant—and there is no doubt that Ryan meant to associate himself with them. Father Longenecker’s response to Tupy’s article bears quotation:

What is eye opening is that [she] shows that many of our assumptions about the world are not completely true. The more I read about the facts the more it seems to me that Pope Francis, when he talks about economics and social issues, is repeating rather tired old ideological formulas that don’t always bear up to closer examination.  … To point out the continued poverty of so many, and to call for us to do even more is the pope’s job. There is no room for complacency, and we need to do everything we can for the poor, but we must also make room at the table for professional economists and theorists who can help us understand the complexities of modern economic systems and show us how to be good stewards of our blessings for the good of all, for human flourishing and a just society. 5

As I have said before, “[w]en the bishops intervene in public policy questions, they do well to tread lightly … [and], recognizing that the path from sound doctrine to sound policy is not always straight, short, and well-lit, they should do so in a manner consonant with the limits of their ex officio competence.” 6

A word must be said on Francis’ parochialism, on which both Ryan and Booth alighted. It’s a theme that I have noticed for some time: Many of Francis’ otherwise-bewildering statements snap into sharp focus if one assumes the context of a South American bishop writing to a South American flock. For example, his insistence that baptism not be denied to the children of unwed mothers make sense if he believes that that uncontroversial proposition is controversial (as it is in Argentina, we are told). 7 The irony is that you may remember that before the conclave, the knock on Timothy Cardinal Dolan wasn’t that he was an American but that his experience was too parochial—he just hadn’t spent enough time outside of the United States, and his worldview was thus too limited, too dominated by the assumptions of a man who had spent his entire life in one country. Thus,the better-travelled Sean Card. O’Malley was considered a more plausible American papabile. It was surprising, then, that mouths that had been articulating this concern were immediately cheering Jorge Card. Bergoglio, who made Dolan look cosmopolitan. Against this backdrop, Ryan’s suggestion that Pope Francis’ knowledge of economics comes from and is limited by the experience of Card. Bergoglio is not only plausible but likely.

Bump tries to rescue his narrative by insinuating artificial breadth into the papal charism: Francis is, he says, “the conduit of an omniscient God” and how silly, therefore, to suggest that he “simply doesn’t know what real capitalism looks like” or that he could be “fallible on economics.” The first part is basically correct, but the second isn’t. To be sure, the pope is the vicar of Christ, not only pastor agnus but pastor pastorum, commissioned to teach, govern, and sanctify the Church. But the scope of the magisterium is faith and morals, 8, and a pope has no ex officio expertise in economics. 9 Francis may certainly teach—at very least as an incident to the magisterium—that the purpose of the economy must be to benefit the poor, but he does not and cannot teach with authority (although he may express his own opinion) on whether this economic theory or that economic theory is most likely to accomplish that purpose. (Nor will it do to claim that economics is so inextricably and intimately-related to faith and morals that the magisterium may exercise a kind of supplemental jurisdiction over it. 10) Consider an analogy to the physical sciences. The pope can teach that “the end of science is to know the face of God,” and the pope can teach that embryonic stem cell research is not a morally-permissible methodology by which to pursue any goal, scientific or otherwise. But a pope with no scientific training who opined on the probative value of a specific scientific theory would not merely be ignored, he would be ridiculed, and justifiably-so. If Francis said “the end of science is to know the face of God, and since general relativity has no capacity to do that, it’s not a valid scientific theory,” he would be greeted with hoots of derision. So Francis is certainly fallible on economics; so is Ryan, because all humans are fallible, a principle abridged only in a narrow and defined capacity by the magisterial charisms.

One more analogy. Federal appellate judges “teach” with a sort of “authority” within their jurisdiction—subject to later correction by the Supreme Court, and with a host of other caveats, yes, but the analogy will be serviceable. Sometimes judges write books and law review articles, in which they may bring expertise with them, but in which they bring none of the authority they enjoy when “teaching ex scamno,” so to speak. But sometimes their reach exceeds their grasp. Last year, Judge Richard Posner, who is arguably one of the most influential and respected living judges in America, and inarguably the most cited one, 11 a towering figure in law (like Holmes, for both better or worse), was writing a book review for the New Republic magazine, and he felt that an analogy to the Catholic Church might help make his point. 12 Unfortunately, Judge Posner knows very little about the Catholic Church, and it showed. Illustrating the proposition that the Constitution is “dated and must therefore be updated (without altering the text) so as to preserve its authority,” Posner suggested, with his usual glib self-assurance, that Amar’s proposal

is also the one the Catholic Church applies to the Bible, [to wit] supplementation from equally authoritative sources. The Church believes that a Pope receives divine inspirations that enable him to proclaim dogmas that are infallible and thus have equal authority with the Bible. Jesus Christ’s mother does not play a prominent role in the New Testament, but she became a focus of Catholic veneration, and in 1854 the Pope proclaimed the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (that is, that she had been born without original sin). This and other extra-Biblical Catholic dogmas, such as the Nicene Creed, which proclaimed the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father, form a kind of parallel Bible, equal in authority to the written one, which reached its modern form in the third century C.E.

This stunning claim, which completely misconceives the magisterium and the pope’s teaching authority ex cathedra, must surely have been greeted with private incredulity in the bar and the afore-mentioned hoots of derision from Catholics on the bench and in the laity. In the end, if you make a stupid and obviously-false statement, it doesn’t matter how learned you are on another subject, how respected you are, or even how much moral or even legal authority you possess when acting within the scope of the responsibilities of your day job. None of that will save you if you walk out on a limb and make non-privileged statements that are, as Longenecker put it, just plain wrong.

Notes:

  1. Bump, Who is more Fallible…?, The Wire, Dec. 26, 2013, http://www.thewire.com/politics/2013/12/who-more-fallible-economics-paul-ryan-or-pope-francis/356503.
  2. Bill Glauber, Paul Ryan signals support for Kenosha casino, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online, Dec. 19, 2013, http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/paul-ryan/paul-ryan-signals-support-for-kenosha-casino-b99167734z1-236595381.html.
  3. Tupy, Is the Pope Right…, The Atlantic, Dec. 11, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/is-the-pope-right-about-the-world/282276; Booth, Pessimist…, Standpoint, published December 2013, http://standpointmag.co.uk/counterpoints-january-february-14-papal-pessimist-philip-booth-pope-francis-poverty; see also Dan Calabrese, The right way to respond to Pope Francis on economics, Best of Cain, Dec. 26, 2013, http://www.caintv.com/the-right-way-to-respond-to-po.
  4. See Tornielli, “Never be afraid of tenderness,” Vatican Insider, Dec. 14, 2013, http://www.lastampa.it/2013/12/14/esteri/vatican-insider/en/never-be-afraid-of-tenderness-5BqUfVs9r7W1CJIMuHqNeI/pagina.html.
  5. Rev. Dwight Longenecker, Is Pope Francis Just Plain Wrong?, Standing on My Head, Dec. 12, 2013, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/12/is-pope-francis-just-plain-wrong.html.
  6. http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1006.
  7. See, e.g., John-Henry Westen, Pope Francis says, Baptize babies of unwed mothers, because they chose life over abortion, LifeSiteNews, May 31, 2013, http://www.lifesitenews.com/blog/pope-francis-says-baptize-babies-of-unwed-mothers-because-they-chose-life-o/
  8. See Lumen gentium, no. 25 (2d Vat. Co., 1964).
  9. See id., no. 18; Pastor æternus, ch. IV.9 (Vat. Co., 1870).
  10. Cf. 28 USC § 1367(a); Aldinger v. Howard, 427 U.S. 1, 11 (1976) (Rehnquist, J.) (quoting Fulton Bank v. Hozier, 267 U.S. 276, 280 (1925)).
  11. Fred Shapiro, The Most-Cited Legal Scholars, 29 J. Legal Studies 409 (2000).
  12. Richard Posner, How Many Constitutions Can Liberals Have?, The New Republic, Oct. 19, 2012, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/108755/how-many-constitutions-liberals (reviewing Akhil Amar, America’s Unwritten Constitution (2000)).

Opting out of the game

“Did Francis really say…?” is becoming a game as annoying as it is mandatory, and the main source of grist for that mill is his troubling habit of giving “fervorini.” A fervorino is a short, often “off-the-cuff” homily; for obvious reasons it is appealing to parish priests who celebrate daily Masses cum populo, and, for scarcely less obvious reasons, it is inappropriate for bishops at Missae cum populo:

For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. 1

Under the heading “the bishop, authentic teacher in the Church,” the Congregation for Bishops proposes that “the homily is the most excellent and, in a certain sense, the sum of all forms of preaching. The Bishop should seek to expound Catholic truth in its fullness, in simple, familiar language, suited to the capacities of his hearers, focusing—unless particular pastoral reasons suggest otherwise—on the texts of the day’s liturgy. He should plan his homilies so as to elucidate the whole of Catholic truth.” 2 The bishops are “the authentic witnesses” in their dioceses and the bishop, by vitue of his consecration and appointment, “ha[s] been designated as principal preacher” in that diocese “and when the community is divided, [his] testimony about the truth is the final and authentic one—through the invisible and gracious assistance of the Spirit. 3 A man in such a position who is cavalier with words is juggling with dynamite. 4 Brief, unplanned remarks engender the risk of misstatement and misunderstanding; a string of improvised homilies will all-but inevitably contain some lapse of the tongue that gives rise to misunderstanding.

This problem is yet more acute when the bishop in question is the pope, and when the fervorino will be partially (but not fully) reported. Thus, for example, Francis may (or may not) have tipped his hand on Medjugorje. He may (or may not) have implied that saints don’t sin. He may (or may not) have said something about salvation for atheists. He may (or may not) have said something about Christianity and ideology. And so on, ad nauseum.

In today’s exciting installment, we learn that Francis may (or may not) have said something about “adolescent progressivism.” What did he say? What did he mean? In English, an adjective qualifies rather than expands the meaning of the noun that it modifies—thus, the pope would be read to warn against the dangers only of that “progressivism” that is “adolescent,” which is not at all the same thing as warning against progressivism generally. Did he actually mean to use “adolescent” as a kind of intensifier, in the way one might refer to “the bloody English” or “the damned Broncos”? Does any of this work the same way in Italian? This is an invitation to high-wire guesswork.

What is maddening and scandalizing about these fervorini is not simply that they are given, but that they are partially-reported: Francis obliges publication of snippets by Vatican Radio (and thence to the world), but will not allow publication of transcripts. 5 They say that a lie gets twice around the world before the truth has tied its shoelaces, and that is especially so when the truth is not permitted shoes! First, a quote gets picked up and spun by the media, and thence by progressive bloggers, and worms its way into the heads of ordinary Catholics. (This is called “scandal” in the technical sense.) And then that spin cannot be rebutted persuasively when only  fragments of his words are reported, rather than the whole context. We cannot reply to, say, the Huffington Post and say “no no, you completely misunderstood the context of Francis’ remark; here, let me show you the transcript,” because there is no transcript. All we can do is shrug and say “no, no, the pope couldn’t have meant that, and I’m sure that if we could see the transcript you’d understand.”

Nor can we respond (as has been suggested) by “counter-cherrypicking.” The left may cherrypick quotes that they like without concern for context, but if we do the same, we are not only making the same error that they are, we are also (and far worse) conceding that using out-of-context quotes is a valid play. We validate their tactic. Instead of rejecting the game itself, we’re now playing their game on their playing field, and they have a much bigger team, they control the cameras, and they control the networks broadcasting the game; this will end badly.

With the foregoing concerns in mind, I refuse to play this infernal game of Chinese Whispers for a moment longer. It has become intellectually irresponsible to risk inferring anything from what Francis might or might not have actually said in these foolish fervorini. He throws out half-reported, half-formed ideas as old men throw breadcrumbs to ducks, and to much the same effect: An undignified squabble among the ducks to grab a piece. Quack quack! Look! He sent a message to the Summorum pontificum group! He must be ours! Quack quack! Look! He said something nice about gays! He must be ours! Quack quack! Look! He did an interview with an atheist! He must be one of ours! Every conceivable group within and beyond the Church falls over itself to say “see, he’s on our side,” and with our eyes fixed firmly on the pond, we miss the larger problem that we are quacking around over crumbs while ignoring what matters more, which is the impact that these little soundbites have in the minds of ordinary Catholics: Scandal, confusion, balkanization, and division.

We should not dignify this foolish papal behavior with the controversy that he seems to desire. It seems to me that we need to insist on a clear statement rule with this pope—he must speak clearly, or we will hold that he has not spoken, and we will engage only on those points that are clear and for which a full transcript is available. We must reject the entire enterprise as scandalous, arguably-dangerous, borderline-infernal, and certainly beneath the dignity of the office. We cannot afford to play this game any longer, because the only points that it is scoring are for the Enemy.

Notes:

  1. Lumen gentium, no. 25 (2d Vat. Co., 1964) (footnotes omitted).
  2. Dir. Apostolorum successores, no. 122(a) (Cong. Ep., 2004),
  3. Ladislas Orsy, SJ, The Church Learning and Teaching 70 (1987); accord Ap. ex. Pastores gregis, nos. 28 et seq. (JP2, 1994).
  4. Words matter. Loose language is a problem even when it isn’t technically wrong; that is why the church issues theological censures of not only texts that are captiosa (“captious,” acceptable words expressing unacceptable ideas), but texts that are male sonans (“evil-sounding,” unacceptable words expressing acceptable ideas), ambigua (ambiguous between two or more senses, of which at least one is erroneous), and piarum aurium offensiva (“offensive to pious ears,” worded in a way that shocks the conscience). It is in this context that we can approvingly quote comments by Steve Skojec, reported by the Times: “Are [Francis' comments] explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”
  5. See, for example, the Jimmy Akin piece cited above: “Francis often speaks in an off-the-cuff manner which is sometimes imprecise. He knows this, and my understanding is that part of the reason that he didn’t want full texts of the fervorinos released is that he’s speaking informally in a language that is not his native Spanish.” The implication, once again, is “heart in gear, brain in neutral”; if one is concerned that one’s imprecise speech may scandalize, there are three plausible responses: Speak only when necessary, allow none of it to be reported, or require transcripts and state clearly that fervorini are not magisterial.

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

The Anglican use

I was delighted to learn that there is an Anglican Ordinariate group at Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, and made  a field-trip today. For the record, it was an Anglican-use Mass celebrated by a Latin-Rite priest with faculties in the personal ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and hosted by Holy Rosary. I left with two overriding questions: How can I get people back in my hometown interested in coming to this and how can I start the groundwork for bringing this to my hometown?

Just a few words on the Mass itself: It presents itself as a hybrid between the Book of Common Prayer (and through it the Sarum Missal), and both uses of the Roman Rite. It did not appear to precisely-follow the texts of the Book of Divine Worship, as I had expcted. For example, the words to the penitential rite were supplied by the BCP’s penitential rite for the Divine Office, a text very familiar to me because I often use it (mutatis mutandis) as an act of contrition: “Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.” The Eucharistic Prayer was essentially the Roman Canon. Much (although not all) of the liturgy is celebrated versus apsidem, which will be familiar to cathedral-going Anglicans and those who prefer the Tridentine Mass, but it is perforce celebrated entirely in English.

It remains to be seen what (if anything) is different in the forthcoming Ordinariate Use, which is said to be subtly-different. But it’s a beautiful and interesting liturgy, and I think that it will have a far broader appeal than simply defecting Anglicans. I think that this is what people have been looking for. I have a theory about the resurgence of the Tridentine Mass, especially among the young. While I don’t doubt that some people are truly attached to it, per se,  I think that many are there because they’re done with the usus modernus and see no other alternative. They’ve given up. They are burned out on the mediocrity in which the usus modernus is usually celebrated and they’ve given up hoping for it to be fixed; they flee to the usus antiquior not because it cannot be celebrated poorly or because the usus modernus must be, but because that is how things usually pan out. Well: Enter the Anglican use. Like the Tridentine Mass, it’s adherents are self-selecting and traditionally-inclined; beautiful, reverent liturgy is at the core of its identity. I suggest that the Anglican use is a silver bullet; if I am right in what I have said above, it is precisely what many people are looking for (and have hitherto found only imperfectly in the extraordinary form). Looking forward, what do I see? Possibilities.

Shall we begin?

The interview that wasn’t, and why it matters anyway

Catholics recently endured the latest scandalizing interview with Pope Francis. Apologists for Francis began to spin, while cooler heads were shaken in weary exasperation; so far so familiar. But this story started to come off the rails when Timothy Card. Dolan destroyed a factual claim that the story put in the pope’s mouth. The interview had Francis recount an event during the conclave that Card. Dolan—like Card. Bergolio a conclavist and thus an eyewitness—said did not happen. The published interview, Dolan was suggesting, coult not reflect what Francis said.

That was astonishing enough. A scandalous interview with the pope; the cardinal archbishop of New York leaping in to rescue the pope’s reputation; whatever next? The Vatican, yet more astonishing, batted away the proffered hand, insisting that no, no, it would rather drown. The interview is “basic[ally] ‘trustworth[y],” spokesmen insisted. With blood in the water, however, the interview found itself under ever-closer scrutiny. Its credibility is now teetering toward collapse with the revelation that “Eugenio Scalfari did not tape his interview with Pope Francis, nor did he take notes, so the text was an after-the-fact reconstruction. Such texts run the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview….”

What is the upshot? Once again, we have nothing but confusion and doubt. Those who like the interview can emphasize that Francis reviewed the text and, had he been “‘gravely misrepresented,’ he would have said so,” and those who are sounding the alarm about the interview can emphasize that it is “an after-the-fact reconstruction” which does not faithfully reflect the exact words (as it purports) and may “miss[ ] some key details or conflat[e] various moments or events recounted during the oral interview.” And where does any particular point in contention fall between those two extremes? No one can say.

Katrina Fernandez posed an apt question this weekend in her post linked above: “Are we supposed to read Francis’s comments like protestants read their bibles now, through the lenses of their own personal interpretation? It’s exhausting. And confusing.” As Carl Olson said the other day, in our age papal comments “need[ ] to be as precise and clear as possible. Fuzzy language, half-formed concepts, and failure to make important distinctions will eventually result in confusion and frustration. Do they also ‘give ammunition to the enemy’…? I think so….”

This is no way to run a railroad.