Interview with Dr. Fastiggi
On September 21, 2022, Pedro Gabriel interviewed Dr. Robert Fastiggi about Amoris Laetitia and the Magisterium. In this interview, we explored Amoris Laetitia’s magisterial weight, and also whether certain incidents like the Correctio filialis and the dubia fulfil the criteria laid down in Donum Veritatis.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
Good afternoon, and welcome to our Amoris Laetitia talks. I am Pedro Gabriel and today we have Dr. Robert Fastiggi with us.
Dr. Fastiggi holds the Bishop M. Kevin Britt Chair of Dogmatic Theology and Christology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in Detroit, where he has taught since 1999. He previously taught at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.
He was the co-editor of the English translation of the forty third edition of Denzinger-Hünermann, Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals, and the executive editor of the 2009–2013 supplements to the New Catholic Encyclopedia. He also revised and updated the English translation of Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.
He is a council member of the Mariological Society of America and a member of the Pontificia Academia Mariana Internationalis. So, quite an impressive resume.
Dr. Fastiggi and his wife, Kathy, have been married for 38 years. They are the parents of three children: Mary, Anthony, and Clare.
Robert, welcome to our program. It’s an honor to have you here.
Oh no, the honor is mine, Pedro. Thank you for all the good work you’re doing and your great love for the Catholic faith and the Roman pontiff.
Thank you. Before we begin, I would like to say that this talk and similar talks in the future are going to be uploaded on my YouTube channel, so feel free to subscribe for updates. This talk is also going to be shown at Where Peter Is, and I will make a transcript available in my new website—which I take the opportunity to announce just now—a website dedicated to my journalistic pieces which is called The City and the World. The links will be available on the description below.
The topic of our conversation today is Amoris Laetitia and the Magisterium. So, since Amoris Laetitia was published in 2016, it has been questioned by a variety of Catholic commentators. The famous incident of the dubia—which we will talk about later on—is particularly relevant here. Not only has Amoris Laetitia been questioned, it has been heavily criticized. Much ink—real and virtual—was spilled about the supposed errors of this document. A particular episode comes to mind, wherein 62 theologians and other leading Catholics circulated a petition named Correctio filialis (the “filial correction”) allegedly correcting seven heretical propositions that could be derived from the Pope’s document. All of this led to the dissemination of many ideas and misinterpretations about the level of assent that is owed to Amoris Laetitia and to the pope’s non-infallible magisterium, ideas which we are going to address during the course of this talk.
So, first things first. Robert, I would like to start by asking you: Is Amoris Laetitia magisterial?
Yes, of course it is. It’s an apostolic exhortation, issued by the authority of the Supreme Roman Pontiff. I know some people have claimed, such as Cardinal Burke, that it’s not magisterial, but I think in your book you explain very well that his arguments are not very convincing. If Amoris Laetitia is not magisterial, then every other papal exhortation is not magisterial. So, then Familiaris Consortio is not magisterial. Marialis Cultus of St. Paul VI is not magisterial. So, this is a very serious claim, that it’s not magisterial. And the Pope, in his preface to the book by Stephen Walford—that we both know and respect—he clearly stated that it’s magisterial. And not only that, he stated clearly that the interpretation given by the bishops of the Buenos Aires region in Argentina, that represented official magisterial teaching. So, he was lending his papal magisterium to this local magisterial document. So, I think it’s not just his personal interpretation. He’s speaking as the Roman pontiff, with the authority given to him by Christ.
It’s a very good thing that you mentioned the Buenos Aires guidelines. Just to contextualize, still in 2016, on the same year when Amoris Laetitia was published, and given the amount of criticism and people saying it was confusing, Pope Francis elevated the guidelines of the bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region to “authentic magisterium”. And then Francis also published a letter saying, “there are no other interpretations” and elevated that letter to authentic magisterium as well. This would be very odd if Amoris Laetitia was not magisterial itself, correct? Would there be magisterial interpretations for a non-magisterial papal document? I think it’s complicated to say that.
So, regarding the magisterial weight of Amoris Laetitia, I think we can all agree that Amoris Laetitia belongs to the magisterium, but it’s not infallible. There has been this idea floating around in Catholic media and social media in the last years, and coincidentally—or perhaps not—increasingly more since Amoris Laetitia has been published, which is this idea that Catholics need not assent to a magisterial teaching if this teaching is not infallible. We often read people say: “Amoris Laetitia is not infallible, so I can reject it”. Is this truly how it works?
No, that’s a terrible error, to say that when a teaching has not been presented in a definitive or infallible way, therefore we need not abide by it. This was addressed in the 19th century by Bld. Pius IX when he issued his 1864 Syllabus of Errors, and error 22—which you actually referred to in your book—stated that theologians are only obliged to give assent to infallible teachings or those which have been presented infallibly. This was condemned as an error in 1864.
And Pope Pius XII dealt with this in his encyclical Humani Generis in 1950, and there he was making it clear that encyclical letters… some people were arguing, do not demand consent because they are not infallible, not usually presenting infallible teachings. This is what Venerable Pius XII said:
“Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He who heareth you, heareth me’; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But”—and this is very important— “if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.”
This is very significant because sometimes matters are open to dispute, but he doesn’t even limit this official authoritative teaching just to encyclicals, in their “official acts”, then there must be given that religious submission of will and intellect, which Vatican II in Lumen Gentium #25, explains must be given in a special to the teaching of the Roman pontiff even when he’s not speaking infallibly. This is another example when some of the papal critics act like they can simply ignore a teaching of the Roman pontiff. For example, what Pope Francis said about the inadmissibility of the death penalty. There was a cardinal—you’ve mentioned his name before, Cardinal Burke—who in a talk said: “that’s only the pope’s personal opinion.” And another canon lawyer said: “There no such thing as a purely ordinary papal magisterium. The pope can contribute to the magisterium, but he cannot speak with his own ordinary magisterium.” Both of these are erroneous. About the death penalty, Pope Francis has touched on it and reaffirmed the teaching in an encyclical: Fratelli tutti. So, the teaching is not per se irreformable, definitive or infallible, but it’s authoritative.
So, how should the faithful respond to authoritative teachings of the Roman pontiff which are not per se infallible. Vatican II tells us very clearly that there should be this religious submission of will and intellect. This is Lumen Gentium #25, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 25. As we see this is building upon what Pius IX and Pius XII have already taught, and other popes as well. “This religious submission”—the Latin word is obsequium, meaning a “thorough following”—“This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will on the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”
So, this is what to your great credit, Pedro, you’ve done in your book, which is to show that Catholics should then try to understand regarding the disputed parts of Amoris Laetitia, what is the Holy Father’s manifest mind and will. And there were debates about this, but then he made his manifest mind and will clear by endorsing what his brother bishops in Buenos Aires had indicated. And this is clearly the way he wants us to approach the exhortation, at least in term of chapter 8.
There are so many beautiful things in the exhortation! And by the way, it does contain some infallible teachings, when it’s affirming the indissolubility of marriage. I remember doing a Word search—it was hard to do it in the English translation, but I did it in the Italian—I found 11 clear references to the indissolubility of marriage. He’s certainly not in favor of divorce. He calls divorce an evil! And he says the married couples must remain together, but there’s a pastoral dimension: how do we deal with those who are in these irregular situations? Are we just to abandon me, saying you’re sinners? That’s not the way of Christ.
Yes, and in fact, I can understand that, even though Lumen Gentium asks us to make a submission of mind and will according to the pope’s manifest mind and will, about his manner of speaking, many people are actually not very keen on what the pope actually wants to teach. They simply want the pope to teach according to what they think is the traditional teaching of the Church. There’s not an intention to know: “This is what the pope wants” or “This is what the pope thinks, so I’ll try to assent to it.” No, it’s more like: “How can I keep thinking what I think, and try to interpret and reinterpret the pope so that he can fit into my own categories?” This seems to be an inversion of what Lumen Gentium and all popes since at least Pius IX ask us to do about the non-infallible—more commonly called “authentic”—magisterium.
I would like to talk more about this submission of mind and will. There have been some Catholics who have been saying that the Latin translation of “submission of mind and will”—which, as you have said, is “obsequium religiosum”—that it’s merely a kind of “respect” that we pay to the pope’s teaching, a respect that it’s not binding, we’re just respecting what he’s saying. Let’s set aside for now the discussion on whether the critics of the pope have really been respectful in these last years towards the pope and his magisterium. Is “submission of mind and will” merely a non-binding respect for the pope’s teaching or is it something more profound than that? What is this submission of mind and will? What does it entail?
First of all, we have to realize, Lumen Gentium speaks about “adhering” to the judgment or teaching of the pope and then with “religious submission of mind and will” that’s how we adhere to it. But we’re meant to adhere, to follow.
It’s interesting you mentioned “respect.” An earlier translation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 752 translated “obsequium” as “respect,” but then that was later challenged and changed to “submission.” When we say something doesn’t follow, we say non-sequitur. It’s the same root. “Obsequium” means a thorough following, so we’re to follow what the pope says. Now, if it’s the case that we follow him when we agree with him, well then, he has no teaching authority. Only when he’s teaching infallibly, and we have already seen that that’s a grave error to say that we’re to follow the pope when he’s teaching ex cathedra or infallibly.
Some people say: “Well, I will follow him when what he’s teaching is right, but I will not follow him when what he’s teaching is wrong. My wife went to a talk by a bishop who’s very critical of the pope and that’s basically what he said: “Should we follow the pope? Follow him when he’s right, don’t follow him when he’s wrong.” This just undermines papal authority, totally. It allows each member of the faithful to decide for himself or herself whether to follow an authoritative non-definitive teaching. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed the need to give religious submission of will and intellect to teachings of the magisterium—not just the papal magisterium, but the magisterium of the bishops together—but then it was discussing whether or not one could dissent or disagree with these teachings. It states on number 28 of this document “The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian”—or the Latin Donum Veritatis—that “such a disagreement could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable. Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine.”
And then it continues, number 29: “In any case there should never be a diminishment of that fundamental openness loyally to accept the teaching of the Magisterium as is fitting for every believer by reason of the obedience of faith.”
So that’s what we’re dealing with here. Now this also requires sometimes a certain approach to magisterial judgments, and that approach has to be one of humility and willingness to listen. Now both of us have read or are familiar with that book by Prof. Rocco Buttiglione.
Yes, very good book!
Yes, the “Friendly Response to the Critics of Amoris Laetitia.” I like what he says at one point that when we approach—it’s on page 114, but I will just kind of summarize it—when we approach a teaching of the magisterium, a magisterial text, you cannot approach it like a text of a student, to criticize. Some of these professors and papal critics, they look at a statement of the pope and they are trying to judge it as they would like a paper of the student. And I’ve seen this happen. “Why didn’t you say this? You could’ve said this more clearly.” You’re dealing with the teacher! And we have to approach with a certain degree of humility. Rocco Buttiglione says “we should approach these texts with a spirit of filial faithfulness which induces one to understand before criticizing.” But now, it seems like some of these papal critics, they look at a text: “What can I criticize?” Rather than: “Let me try to understand what he’s saying.”
Now that took me a while. On my first reading of Amoris Laetitia, I thought it was beautiful. Then I read all these critical responses, I said: “What are they talking about?” And these were some people that I knew and respected, maybe they saw things I didn’t see. But the more I read, the more I studied. I was open to different points of view. The book by Stephen Walford helped. And also when I read carefully the guidelines of the Buenos Aires bishops. I read it very carefully. I said: “This reflects the way the pope wants us to understand it.” So, we have to give religious submission of will and intellect to what the pope teaches according to his manifest mind and will. This is how he wants us to interpret it, which is not unorthodox. What he’s saying simply is: “There are some very complex cases. Pastors have to use discernment to decide whether there was full culpability”. And also Cardinal Muller and also Cardinal Ratzinger before he was pope said there are some very difficult cases where there is moral certitude that the previous bond of marriage was really invalid, but there’s no way of proving it. Cardinal Ratzinger said in a talk or an essay, there are places in the Catholic world where there are no functioning tribunals and there are cases of people where they are absolutely convinced that the first bond was not married but they can’t prove it. Cardinal Ratzinger said this requires more study. If it requires more study, it means that it’s not a certain matter. But as you point out so well on your book, and also Stephen Walford and others, it’s basic Catholic teaching that sometimes you can judge an action to be grievously wrong, but you have take into account subjective elements such as full knowledge and freedom of the will.
If I could mention this, Pedro, I’m thinking of this. In Canon Law—it’s canon 844—permission is given for Eastern Orthodox Christians to receive Catholic communion. Now, for most Eastern Orthodox, most of their bishops say no, don’t go and receive Roman Catholic communion, as they call it. So, they have to follow that. But they’re in schism! They’re not in full communion with the Roman pontiff. Is allowing them to go to communion therefore a judgment that schism is alright? That it’s not a serious matter?
Of course not.
This is in the Code of Canon Law approved by Pope St. John Paul II. Right?
So, it’s not saying that schism is okay, that it’s alright to be separated. No, it’s just recognizing that their belief in the Holy Eucharist is the same as ours, and therefore we could allow them to receive Holy Communion in these cases.
I would like to pick up on that distinction between what the Church teaching is and some concessions. I would like to pick that up a little bit later on. But for now, I would like to focus on Donum Veritatis, because you wrote an article in 2019 for La Stampa where you said that the pope’s critics, namely the authors of the Correctio filialis, had ignored the rules for faithful theological discourse, namely Donum Veritatis, but also the Catechism and Canon Law.
So, what is Donum Veritatis? In 1990, during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—who would become Pope Benedict XVI—published this document, as you said, on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian. This is what is called Donum Veritatis. And Donum Veritatis #23 also mentions this submission of mind and will. In fact, there’s even a part in Donum Veritatis #33 where Ratzinger says that this idea that we are only bound to adhere to any magisterial teaching if it is infallible, he calls it a “kind of theological positivism, according to which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not.” This is called theological positivism, it’s an error in Donum Veritatis.
Now, I would like to focus on something. Just a few weeks ago, I was on Twitter, and I saw someone argue that Donum Veritatis places “limits” on this submission of mind and will. “Limits” that’s the word they used. So, they say Donum Veritatis sets limits on the submission of mind and will that you owe to the non-infallible magisterium. Do you think this is what Donum Veritatis is doing?
Not at all. I don’t know where that idea is coming from. I mean, we could distinguish the religious submission of mind and will from, let us say, the assent of faith to teachings which have been set forth as revealed by God, in scripture and tradition, or giving definitive assent to teachings or judgments of the magisterium which are to held definitively, and that’s made clear. But there still needs to be this submission. It makes it clear that this submission, it can’t be only exterior. This is what Donum Veritatis says in number 23: “When the Magisterium, not intending to act ‘definitively’, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.”
So, this is where the fundamental openness to submit must be the rule. Yes, Donum Veritatis does say that there could be cases where there could be a question raised about a certain text and so on, but there should be a desire to resolve those difficulties, rather than accusing the pope of some grave error, as recently occurred with this number 5 of Pope Francis’s apostolic letter on the liturgy, Desiderio desideravi. Some were saying, now he’s contradicting Trent. I wrote something recently about this, and others have as well.
Yes, at wherepeteris.com. It’s a recent article. I advise all our viewers to read it in full. It’s very good, yes.
Yes, and I give the examples of certain scriptures, which if you took them in their natural way, well you could say Jesus is against burying the dead when He says to the would-be follower: “let the dead bury their dead.” Or He’s in favor of mutilation, which is forbidden by the Catechism, when He says: “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Or you could say Jesus contradicts the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, when He says: “It’s better I return to the Father, for the Father is greater than I,” in John 14:28. Are we accusing Jesus of contradicting His own divinity? See, texts have to be read within their context and in the proper way. Though He’s less than the Father according to His humanity, He’s equal to the Father according to His divinity. This is how the Church understands that statement.
So, what is required to come to the supper of the Lord is the wedding garment of faith. This wedding garment could be understood as the state of grace, that is received through baptism. It’s not denying that it can be lost the whiteness of that through mortal sin. So, I sometimes wonder what some of these papal critics, not only have a hermeneutic of suspicion, but even a hermeneutic of hostility, where they are looking for something to criticize, rather than making a sincere effort, as Donum Veritatis said, there has to be this effort to try to understand the mind and will of the Holy Father or the magisterium.
Yes, because I think that when they talked about limits to the submission of mind and will, they were talking precisely about what Donum Veritatis says about raising questions, as you said. But there’s a process that is laid out in Donum Veritatis when these tensions arise between the theologian and the magisterium. And the process is actually very long. So, first of all, the theologian must assess the authoritativeness of the magisterial teaching in question—that’s Donum Veritatis #24. He can only proceed with questioning if we’re dealing with a teaching of the prudential order. But then, the theologian doesn’t go directly to questioning, he is invited to try to understand the teaching and revise his conclusions—paragraph 29. If difficulties persist, he must make the problem known to the magisterial authorities, not to anyone— paragraph 30. If the magisterium maintains its position, the theologian is invited, once again, to remain open to investigate the question more deeply to give his assent of faith—Donum Veritatis #31. At last, the theologian is called to suffer, in silence and prayer, in the certainty that truth will ultimately prevail—again, #31. Throughout all this process, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions,—Donum Veritatis #27—he will refrain from giving untimely public expression to them,—again #27—and he will avoid turning to the “mass media”, so as not to exert the pressure of public opinion to force the magisterium—#30. This is quite a path that a dissenting theologian must undertake. In your experience, do you believe that those who have been publicly critical of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia have taken care to clear all these steps?
No, I mean that, Dr. Dawn Goldstein and I co-authored this article in the Vatican Insider and La Stampa and we made it clear that they were violating each and every, practically all of these rules. Then I had an email exchange with Prof. Joseph Shaw, who was defending this, and he actually admitted: “well, you could interpret Amoris Laetitia in an orthodox light, but that’s not what the pope intends.” Orthodoxy, according to his mind… I didn’t see any effort to try to understand what the pope was saying and that maybe what he thought had to be done was not what the Holy Father wanted to be done.
I mean, Vatican I was clear that the Roman pontiff’s authority extends not only to matters of faith and morals, but also to matters of discipline and governance. The Council of Florence in 1439 had already affirmed that. This is nothing new. There’s people out there saying: “the idea in Vatican I was a novelty of the nineteenth century.” I can’t believe anyone who knows Church history and the history of doctrine would say such a stupid thing! I’m sorry, once in a while you have to be forceful. I just can’t believe it! That people say such pompous “stupidaggine”, as they say in Italian. Such foolishness. But in any case, we’ll leave that aside.
I would just say, you have to have that willingness to understand, as Donum Veritatis says. Not to say: “I will accept it when it adheres to mine.” In some ways I respect Prof. Shaw, he seems to be a gentleman, but you know, it just reached a point where we were going nowhere, because he was saying: “I know what the pope is saying and it’s not right.” Yes, you can interpret it, you can bend it and twist Amoris Laetitia in an “orthodox light,” but he’s making himself and his colleagues who signed this Correctio filialis the judges of orthodoxy, rather than trying to understand. They have the right, canonically, canon 212 to express their opinions on what pertains to the good of the Church but this must always be done with reverence. Donum Veritatis explains that it must be done in a way to really seek to resolve one’s difficulties.
When I teach ecclesiology in the seminary, I say: “What is the difference between dissent and a respectful question, seeking to resolve a difficulty?” I myself have written sometimes to people in the Roman Curia—I was writing on behalf of a certain Jesuit, who I won’t mention his name, but he had difficulty with Deus Caritas Est, the first encyclical of Benedict XVI, where in number 13 it says, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave His body and blood to His disciples, “in pane et vino,” in the bread and the wine. Now, that could be interpreted as impanation, the idea that the bread and wine remain bread and wine but the substance of His body and blood are in, with and under: this is the Lutheran view. So, I wrote to the theologian of the Papal Household. First, I didn’t know if I would get a response. First he said: “I can kind of see what you’re saying, but I have no doubt that the Holy Father’s intentions are orthodox.” I never doubted his intentions, his orthodox intentions. It was just the wording. I was hoping that possibly it could be changed. But I did so with a desire to resolve my difficulty. Then, the Holy Father’s intentions were made quite clear in his subsequent letter, because he cites John VI. So I just let it go. I just said: “Well, that’s how we have to interpret it, according to John VI and according to the tradition of the Church.” Maybe it could’ve been put “under the form of bread and wine, under the species of bread and wine.” That might’ve been what I would have preferred, but it’s alright. I just let it go. I submitted.
This is what we have to do. I could tell you this. One of my former students was allegedly ordained a priest. Then they found a video of his baptism, where the deacon baptizing said: “We baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” He asked my opinion. I said: “My judgment is that it would be orthodox. The ‘we’ includes the ‘I’. But you’d better check with the archdiocese.” But then a few months later, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith came out with a judgment that it was invalid. So, he had to be rebaptized, reconfirmed and then ordained a deacon and a priest. So, I submitted. It was very interesting because there were dubia about this. Some deacons and priests were doing this, and they were submitted in 1999. It wasn’t until 2020 that the matter was resolved. The interim judgment by the undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship was that it was valid but illicit, which was my judgment but now I submit. I read it and I was open, and I said: “Yeah, I think this is the correct judgment,” because I was thinking that the trinitarian formula was there and the intention to baptize. But the “we” obscures who is the real minister. So, the “I” communicates that the minister is acting with the authority of Christ. It’s Christ Who ultimately baptizes, through the minister, not the community.
It’s very interesting that you mentioned this difference between dissent and reverent questioning, because it actually favors an insight that came to me very recently. You can tell me if this makes sense or not. Again, tying it up with Amoris Laetitia, I think that the misunderstandings that we see in Donum Veritatis stem from the same misunderstandings we often see regarding Amoris Laetitia. Donum Veritatis is not talking about placing “limits” on the submission of mind and will owed to the magisterium. Donum Veritatis is making concessions, because the Church knows that, due to the messiness of reality, there will inevitably appear tensions between the theologians and the magisterium, even though theologians also have to have this submission of mind and will. Likewise, the Church knows that, due to the messiness of reality, some faithful will become entrapped in irregular marital situations which are not of easy solution. So, the Church gives these concessions, both in Donum Veritatis and Amoris Laetitia, so that the faithful may approach these complicated situations in a constructive way. But it seems like the critics of Amoris Laetitia that are using Donum Veritatis for their purposes seem to think that these acts of magnanimity on the Church’s part are supposed to function as justifications for certain behaviours, and you touched upon this also earlier. So, they think that Amoris Laetitia is justifying divorced and remarriage, just like they also think that Donum Veritatis is justifying dissent, which it’s not.
Both in Amoris Laetitia and Donum Veritatis there is a distinction between those who approach these situations in a constructive way and those who try to abuse these documents and these concessions. In Amoris Laetitia, paragraph 300, says that, to begin the discernment that will lead to communion, these conditions must “necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it.” Likewise, Donum Veritatis says that “when tensions arise between theologian and magisterium, the meaning attributed to such tensions and the spirit with which they are faced are not matters of indifference. If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor”—Donum Veritatis #25. Donum Veritatis distinguishes this from “dissent”, which aims at “changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society,”—Donum Veritatis #33—and that’s why we have petitions and publishing articles on the media or making comments on social media.
So, do you think this makes sense? Are the stipulations of Donum Veritatis also linked to the way the theologian faces his own dissent, whether it’s in a constructive and humble way, or not? In a hermeneutic of suspicion or hostility, as you said?
Yes, I think that’s an excellent point. You have a wonderful and sound appreciation of Donum Veritatis in my opinion. I would put it this way, in terms of trying to understand what the magisterium says in terms of humility and recognizing that the individual faithful member is not infallible. My judgment is not infallible. That’s why there’s an “obsequium” given. Maybe I haven’t given it adequate intention. I need to try to understand what is being said.
But I have to mention this, Pedro. Nowhere in Donum Veritatis is dissent ever spoken of as a right or something good. Never! If you find it, show it to me! It speaks about dissent as a problem. It never speaks about it as a right.
Now, in 1968, the US bishops issued a pastoral letter right after Humanae Vitae, “Human Life in our day,” and there’s much that’s very good on this. It says that the teaching of Humanae Vitae enjoys authority and so on. Then they just make a general statement saying dissent is never justified, unless there’s serious reasons. It does not impugn the authority of the magisterium and it does not give rise to scandal. But people like Fr. Charles Curran were using that to justify their dissent from Humanae Vitae. Well, my understanding is that Donum Veritatis is kind of like the Holy See’s response to that, and it’s certainly the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directly under the Roman pontiff carries greater authority than the pastoral letter of the US bishops in 1968. When Fr. Curran kept pressing Cardinal Ratzinger in their exchange of letters: “Do you agree or not with what the US bishops said?” He just remained silent. He said: “No, you have to realize it’s not just the infallible magisterium upon which the Church depends but also her ordinary magisterium.” So, willingness to submit loyally to teachings of the ordinary magisterium must be the norm. The norm must also be obedience to disciplinary matters, and as you point out in your book, Donum Veritatis 17 speaks of the magisterium of disciplinary decisions. Some people say: “They are not magisterial. They’re just disciplinary matters.” But disciplinary matters are still authoritative.
So, we have to try to understand the mind of the pope. He’s not denying the indissolubility of marriage. He’s not denying that divorce is something bad. He calls it an evil! He’s not denying that adultery is wrong. Unfortunately, there’s one Catholic theologian that said the pope justifies adultery in certain cases. Well, that was his inference. But where does the pope ever say adultery is sometimes justified? Nowhere! It’s a rash judgment to say something like that publicly. It’s really a serious accusation against the Roman pontiff.
He’s just—as you point out so well in your book, in your writings—acknowledging that sometimes discernment is needed on a case-by-case basis, whether there is full culpability. In this case the pastor has to decide whether there could be the help of the sacraments. As Rocco Buttiglione points out, this would mean going to confession first. Then, in the internal forum of confession, the confessor has to decide whether there are mitigating circumstances. He’s not giving approval for adultery. He’s just deciding whether or not in this case there are mitigating circumstances which would mean you are not dealing here with mortal sin. Those in mortal sin cannot receive Holy Communion. Every time we receive communion we make an examination of conscience: “I’m not in mortal sin.” But that’s a subjective judgment often, though we try to make use of the objective teachings of the Church.
But in other words, as you point out, this is done with so many other sinful areas, objectively sinful areas. Rocco Buttiglione points out: now the divorced and remarried are in the same category as those in other sinful situations.
I would also like to pick up on… I’m very happy that you brought up Fr. Curran and Humanae Vitae because a very famous critic of Pope Francis, Prof. Edward Feser, has made an interesting reinterpretation of Donum Veritatis. Paragraph 32 of Donum Veritatis says that the ideology of philosophical liberalism must be counted among the factors that may create dissent. From that point onward, Prof. Feser seems to say that Donum Veritatis only applies to liberal dissent.
Of course, Donum Veritatis is very concerned with liberal dissent since, in 1990, the greatest sources of dissent came from liberals. So, it’s not strange that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was particularly worried with this form of dissent. But Prof. Feser then goes on to extrapolate that dissent seems to exist only on the left, whereas Donum Veritatis’s provisions don’t apply to tradition-minded theologians, even when those tradition-minded theologians are doing the exact same things that on face value Donum Veritatis condemns or taking the exact same methods as the dissenters from the left-wing, like taking recourse to the mass media. He says mass media on Donum Veritatis is like the secular mass media, so this does not apply if, for example, someone protests publicly on Catholic media. Do you think this makes sense? Can dissent in light of Donum Veritatis only come from the liberals? Are traditionalists and conservatives immune to the stipulations of Donum Veritatis?
Not at all. There has been dissent—for a lack of a better word—from the right or Catholic traditionalists since Vatican II. You bring up in your book the case of Archbishop Lefebvre. He was dissenting from the documents of Vatican II. There’s evidence that he actually signed those documents but clearly, all of them had like a 95% approval rating of the bishops there, and he dissents on a few of the documents. At one point he says the whole thing was a perversion of the Catholic faith. And we know that St. Paul VI wrote a very strong letter telling him that no, this is not allowed, and you can’t just say that the council is just pastoral and not dogmatic so I don’t need to pay attention to it. He refutes that idea which has been refuted many times. So, there was a case of a dissenter from the right.
Now, to get back to Prof. Feser, I think he was one of the signers of this protest, where some 75 Catholic writers and scholars, in August of 2018, when Pope Francis with his authority as the Roman pontiff changed the Catechism to reflect a developed understanding of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. There was this letter written and he was one of the signatories—maybe he was one of the authors. But it was in my opinion, like every single point violated Donum Veritatis. It violated the idea, first of all, that you cannot regard your own position as beyond argument. But in that letter, that appeal, it was written to the cardinals of the Catholic Church, not to the pope who authorized the change in the Catechism, paragraph 2267 of the Catechism. Really, to be quite honest, it was insulting to the pope, if he’s the one making the change, authorizing the change. And now you’re asking the cardinals, who pledge obedience to the pope, and to supporting him, to resist the pope and correct him! At the end of that misguided appeal they said: “We believe it is your duty before God to correct the pope on this issue.” Well, this is just arrogance! It’s rash! It’s just so filled with every violation of Donum Veritatis you can imagine! And some people that I respect signed this horrible, presumptuous document! I’m sorry to show my emotion but it’s my reaction to it.
You cannot present your own ideas as if they were non-arguable conclusions. But they actually say: “The Holy Father has on numerous occasions refused to teach the Word of God on this subject.” Vatican II says that in the Old Testament there are many matters that are temporary and incomplete. So, the matter of prescribing the death penalty to some of these infractions, that was temporary and incomplete. The road was open to development. And it’s not a consistent 2,000-year-old tradition as you have pointed out. Pope Francis answers that in Fratelli tutti. He shows that Pope Nicholas I, St. Nicholas I, in his 866 Letter to the Bulgarians, first of all he rejects torture, and he also says: “In every instance you are to save both the body and the soul.” Because Christ has died for our sins, then in every occasion—”omni occasioni”—you are to save the bodies and souls, not only of the innocent, but of the guilty. This is what he taught in 866, which in complete harmony with what Pope Francis teaches.
So, this idea that this was a 2,000-year-old tradition is just false. And Pope Francis brings up examples of Church Fathers who also did not accept the death penalty. So, Prof. Feser is just simply wrong. The people who signed that letter are being rash and presumptuous. They violate practically every single norm of Donum Veritatis. So, if Prof. Feser signs that document, it shows he doesn’t understand what is taught in Donum Veritatis! I’m sorry to get emotional but I don’t think he can claim authority over this document when he signs that presumptuous letter of appeal to the cardinals to correct the Roman pontiff.
Yes, and I would also like to point out that Donum Veritatis #32, where it says that the ideology of philosophical liberalism must be counted among the factors which may exercise their influence on dissent. It’s “among the factors”, not the sole factor. Donum Veritatis says this right after explaining that the causes of dissent are multiple. So, I think we cannot simply limit Donum Veritatis to liberal dissent. Of course, we have to read the document according to the historical context where it was. In that historical context there was a greater concern for liberal dissent, but this doesn’t mean that other kinds of dissent are fair game.
I would just like to talk about another episode, because one cannot talk about Amoris Laetitia without also mentioning the dubia controversy. In September 2016, four cardinals sent five dubia—Latin for “questions”—to Pope Francis in order to clarify the true meaning of the document, of Amoris Laetitia. According to the cardinals themselves these dubia were to be worded in a way that required a “yes” or “no” answer, without theological explanation.
Less than two months after sending this letter, —just two months—the cardinals published their five dubia in several Catholics news sites, in several languages, alongside a note that explained how, if the pope answered in a certain way, the answer could not be squared with orthodoxy. So, the pope had to answer yes or no, without theological explanation, but they said: “If you answer like this, then it’s not orthodox.” One day after making these dubia public, Cardinal Burke, —which was one of these cardinals—said in an interview that, if the pope failed to give the clarification of Church teaching that he hoped to achieve, he would take recourse to a formal act of correction.
Are dubia meant to work like this? Is this how the other dubia, before Pope Francis, looked like?
Very good questions, Pedro. I commend you for your treatment of this subject in your book, where you show other examples of dubia that were submitted that took much longer than two months. People will say the pope didn’t answer them, so they had to make it public, because these matters were so urgent. But this is breaking precedent, because Archbishop Lefebvre had all of these dubia regarding Dignitatis Humanae from Vatican II, and Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF said: “We’re not going to answer these point by point.” Sometimes you’re playing into their game. Some of these matters are subtle. We have yes or no, yes or no answers, it doesn’t capture some of the subtlety that’s there. Also, they’re reading in a hostile way some passages of Amoris Laetitia, making them say things that they simply don’t say.
At first, I have to say this, because some respectable colleagues of mine were telling me: “No, the pope has an obligation to answer the dubia.” But the more I studied it, I began to think, no. What would happen if he would answer in a way that the cardinals and their supporters disagreed with? Then it would really create a crisis of papal authority. In other words, anytime there is something you disagree with what the pope says, you raise questions and if he doesn’t answer them the way you want, then you treat the pope like a debating partner, rather than the authority.
And where does it say in any magisterial teaching that the pope has to reply at a certain time to every dubia? So, I agree here with Cardinal Muller. There was an interview in an Italian journal, where he was asked about the dubia and he said: “Well, they have the right to raise these questions, but when they were made public, I didn’t like it— ‘questo non mi piace,’” I remember him say, “I don’t like this.” I don’t like it either, that they were made public.
They say there’s a crisis going on in the Church and so on. No. It might be possible to write a respectful article and say: “I would like Your Holiness to clarify some of these points.” But denigrate papal authority, to try to use these dubia as an attack method and say that the pope has to answer yes or no, or he’s violating Catholic teaching and then we have to have a formal correction—which, by the way, I think Cardinal Burke backed away from. I think some people talked to him and said this would really be out of line. It might even be quasi-schismatic.
Yes, of course. And I think that Cardinal Burke only released a document that was kind of correcting some ideas that would be detrimental to the faith, but never directly mentioning Amoris Laetitia. So, not a formal act of correction, more like an act of correction of misunderstandings that could stem from Amoris Laetitia.
What I see is precisely these misinterpretations, that the pope is obliged to answer the dubia, when Canon Law says that the pope has authority which he can exercise unencumbered. So, there’s nothing that says that the pope must do something on that regard.
There’s also another idea that the dubia do not exist for us to know what the pope as the arbiter, as the authoritative arbiter, to know what he thinks, so that he can arbitrate one way or another, but that the dubia exist for the pope to clarify, in a sense that in case he is in error, he can clarify and correct himself. What do you think about that idea?
If people bring questions to the pope and he considers them, then decides to clarify something, that would be up to him. But I think the way these dubia were written, was like assuming the pope was violating all of these teachings of the Church, going against Veritatis Splendor and so on. It was reading things into the text that were not there. About whether or not the first dubium… I wrote an article in La Stampa / Vatican Insider in 2018, trying to answer the dubia from Amoris Laetitia itself. So, when I say, it is asked whether couples who are divorced and remarried could continue marital relations, I said: “In principle, no.” But when they have mitigating circumstances, that’s not denying the principle, that those who are not married to each other should not be engaging in marital intercourse. But I raise the one case when there’s a doubt whether the first bond was valid or not. You have Cardinal Muller, in his introductory essay to Rocco Buttiglione’ book, you have Cardinal Ratzinger, previously alluding to this, you have Cardinal Vallini mentioning this as a possibility, that these are real cases! Three cardinals, then, recognized this, one at the time the head for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
So, there are these cases, and as you study further, the Church has always recognized that in some cases there’s not full culpability. You treat that very well in your book. The pope wishes to emphasize these difficult cases. But you can’t make a broad statement. You have to say, discernment is needed on a case-by-case basis.
To my mind, the answer to the dubia came in this book “Let Us Dream,” which is an interview in Spanish, translated into English with Austen Ivereigh. And I think this is the revealing line where he answers the dubia just with this very simple paragraph. He says: “Because of the immense variety of situations and circumstances people find themselves in, Aquinas’s teaching that no general rule could apply in every situation, allowing the sinner to agree on the need for a case-by-case discernment. There was no need to change Church law, only how it was applied by attending to the specifics of each case, attentive to God’s grace operating in the nitty gritty of people’s lives, we could move on from black and white moralism that risks closing off paths of grace and growth. It was neither a tightening nor a loosening of the rules, but an application of them that left room for circumstances that didn’t fit neatly into the categories.”
He was saying this was a great breakthrough, that Cardinal Schonborn suggested this approach. Because he said that the media and so many people were concentrating for two years on whether the divorced and remarried can receive Holy Communion, as if that were what the whole Synod of the Family was about. So, he said this was frustrating. So, he said: “What saved us in the end was a breakthrough,” when Cardinal Cristoph Schonborn, a great scholar, and one of the chief editors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, suggested applying this one approach of St. Thomas Aquinas. And St. Thomas Aquinas also says that there are times when people’s consciences can be in error, but they still should follow it. They’re not doing it to violate God’s law, their conscience is in error. But these cases require discernment, dialogue. So, the pope didn’t make it like, “oh, all the divorced and remarried now can receive Holy Communion.” He didn’t say that, as you point out. There has to be rigorous criteria applied and this is what pastors have to do. It’s hard work as the pope says. They have to do this, they have to listen to people and judge, whether they could be assisted by the sacraments or not.
Yes, and I would like to again highlight this excellent article that you wrote in March 12, 2018, in La Stampa in which you argue that Pope Francis had indeed answered the dubia. Obviously not in a direct way, but from the document itself. In that article you said that it’s easy to know the answer to the dubia if we take a proper hermeneutic: in order to properly interpret a document, you say: “it’s important to pay attention not only to what the text says but also to what it doesn’t say.” And from that point onward you try to answer the dubia based on the document itself and many others—me, Stephen Walford, and others—have tried to answer the dubia based on the document itself, and I think we have arrived at very similar conclusions.
Yes, ultimately we are called to follow the manifest mind and will of the Holy Father, and in this case what he says is “I’m not changing any of the rules, or any of the principles, or any of the doctrines,” but it’s just the approach. How do we approach people? And he just says in that one footnote 351, in some cases they could have the assistance of the sacraments. That has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, everyone could have the assistance of the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. But whether or not they’re in mortal sin, discernment is needed. That’s basic Catholic pastoral theology and sacramental theology too.
I think this is all the time we have for today. I would like to thank Robert once again for accepting my invitation to talk about Amoris Laetitia.
To our viewers, please subscribe to be notified about new Amoris Laetitia talks in the future. Also, I remind the viewers that a transcript of this video will be made available on my new website, thecityandtheworld.com.
I will leave a link in the description below, and also links to Dr. Fastiggi’s excellent articles in La Stampa, “Responding to the Five Dubia from Amoris Laetitia Itself” and “Critics of Amoris Laetitia ignore Ratzinger’s rules for faithful theological discourse.” Please read them, they are very good.
I would also like to remind the viewers that my book “The Orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia” from Wipf and Stock is also available in Amazon. The first three chapters of this book deal with the magisterial weight of Amoris Laetitia. The link to buy will also be posted down below.
Once again, Robert, thank you so much for this time. It was very enlightening. To our viewers, I wish you all a good day and see you soon.
Thank you. Thank you and God bless you, Pedro.