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Lost in translation: Archbishop Fernandez’s poem mistranslated as profanity

[Update 2: On July 4, Archbishop Fernandes published a clarification on his personal FB page, where he explained that the purpose of this book was not to be a theology book, but a pastoral book from a parish priest directed at teenagers. In that clarification, Arb. Fernandez validated the distinction bet ween “bruja” and “puta”]

[Update 1: This article was updated with additional translations of Fernandez poem and of his book, that provide further contextualization]

On July 1st, Pope Francis appointed Victor Fernandez, archbishop of La Plata, as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

This appointment sparked controversy in Catholic social media. One of the sources of the controversy was a book Fernandez wrote in 1995, when he was 33 years old, titled “Heal me with your mouth. The art of kissing.”

An English translation of the book can be found here.

One particular aspect of the book that has drawn criticism is a poem written by Fernandez himself, where he includes a curse word to describe a woman. This inclusion has raised eyebrows and contributed to the ongoing discussions and debates surrounding the appointment.

Come on down, my dear,
before you awaken
someone desperate
with a terrible hickey

How was God
so cruel
as to give you that mouth…
There is no one who resists me,
hide it

However, this seems to be a mistranslation from the original Spanish, which can be accessed here (hat tip to twitter user Robert Nugent).

In the original Spanish , the word “puta” (“bitch”) does not appear in the poem. The word that actually appears is “bruja”, which is better translated as “witch” or “sorceress.”

Baja, querida,
antes que te despierte
de golpe
algún desesperado
con un chupón terrible

Cómo fue Dios´
tan despiadado
para darte esa boca…
No hay quien resista.

We provide here a full and more accurate translation of these verses:

Come on down, my dear,
before someone desperate
wakes you up
with a terrible hickey

How was God
so unmerciful
as to give you that mouth…
There is no one who resists it,
hide it

It is not clear at this moment when Fernandez wrote the poem featured in the book. He writes in the introduction “that this book was not written based on my own experience, but based on the lives of people who kiss.” He also explained that he wanted to focus on what poets had written about kissing.

Photo credits: Romanuspontifex, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Pope Francis recognises Coptic martyrs: Is there a precedent?


On May 11, 2023, Pope Francis added 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs to the Roman Martyrology, during a visit of the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II to Rome. This was described by Pope Francis as a “sign of the spiritual communion uniting” the two churches.

These 21 martyrs were captured and beheaded in 2015 by terrorists of the so-called Islamic State. One week after the event, Pope Tawadros canonized these martyrs, adding their names to the Coptic Synaxarium, the Oriental Church’s equivalent to the Roman Martyrology.

Some traditionalist commentators have criticized Pope Francis, by quoting the Council of Florence and other magisterial pronouncements declaring that “heretics, schismatics” and those “outside of obedience of the Pope of Rome” could not be saved, even if they had “shed their blood in the name of Christ.”

However, even if Pope Francis’ decision was described as “a bolt out of the blue,” it has also been noted to not be “entirely without precedent.”

It is important to emphasize that Francis has not formally canonized the 21 Coptic martyrs. However, by inserting them into the Roman Martyrology, he is recognizing Pope Tawadros’ 2015 canonization.

Is there precedent for this kind of recognition in the Catholic Church? Here, we provide a non-exhaustive list of saints who were not in formal communion with the bishop of Rome at the time of their deaths.

St. Gregory of Narek

Gregory was born in the 10th century in what was then Armenia. At 25 years of age, he was ordained and became a monk in a monastery in Narek, current-day Turkey. He is considered one of the most important Armenian theologians, having composed many prayers that are now in the Armenian Divine Liturgy. He also produced a commentary on the Song of Songs and the Book of Lamentations. It is also said that he anticipated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

However, the Armenian Church at the time of Gregory was not in full communion with the Pope of Rome. Just like the Copts, the Armenian Apostolic Church rejects some of the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, held in 451 AD.

 Nevertheless, both the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church possess apostolic succession. Although Gregory belonged to a church that rejected an ecumenical council, Gregory of Narek’s writings were orthodox, even from a Catholic perspective.

Though the exact date of his canonization is unknown, “by 1173 Gregory was already recognized as a saint of the Armenian Church.” Given his theological and spiritual importance, Gregory has been traditionally venerated even by Armenian Catholics in communion with Rome.

For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church also recognized the validity of Gregory’s sainthood. Pope John Paul II referred to Gregory of Narek as a “saint” in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater #31.

In a letter commemorating the 1,700th anniversary of the baptism of the Armenian people, the same pope wrote that Gregory “certainly shines with glory among the Armenian saints who praised the Mother of God.”

Also, in the Catechism promulgated by John Paul II, we can read: “But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same.” (Catechism, 2678).

Later, in a message remembering the centennial of the Armenian genocide, Pope Francis proclaimed Gregory of Narek as a doctor of the Church, the first to not be in perfect communion with the bishop of Rome.

St. Gregory Palamas

Another saintly Gregory was born in Constantinople in the 13th century, after the East-West Schism of 1054. He became a monk and entered a monastery at Mt. Athos in current-day Greece. Though he would enter theological disputes about the practice of hesychasm (a system of mysticism defended by the monks of Mt. Athos), he would later be consecrated bishop of Thessaloniki.

Gregory Palamas died in 1359. Nine years later, the Patriarch Philotheos of Constantinople declared him a saint.

Though Gregory Palamas wrote polemically about the Catholic-held belief of the filioque, and although his theology was traditionally viewed as suspect because of its alleged irreconcilability with Thomist-scholastic theology, he is widely recognized and liturgically commemorated by Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine rite.

In a 1979 homily, Pope John Paul II referred to Gregory Palamas as a saint.

St. Sergius Radonezh

Born from a wealthy family in the 14th century in Russia, after the East-West schism, Sergius became a hermit and later an abbot of the hermitage he founded. The fame of his wisdom and holiness was so great, he was often consulted both by civil and religious authorities.

Sergius would be canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1449, becoming the patron saint of Russia. Naturally, his veneration expanded also to Russian Catholics.

The great 20th century theologian Yves Congar recounts that, in 1941, the Sacred Oriental Congregation, commissioned by Pope Pius XI to publish liturgical books for Russian Catholics, approved an edition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which retained several post-schism Russian saints, including Sergius of Radonezh. Later, St. Sergius would also be included in the Roman Martyrology

St. Abraham of Smolensk

Abraham was also born in Russia after the East-West schism, during the 12th century. Just like Sergius, he hailed from a wealthy family and became an abbot in a monastery in Russia. Persecuted by the religious authorities, he would be later reinstated when his prayers helped end a terrible drought.

Though a Russian Orthodox Christian, Abraham of Smolensk was canonized by Pope Paul III in 1549, having become one of the only two saints canonized by this active anti-Reformation pontiff.

Bld. Pierre of Luxemburg

Contrary to the other saints mentioned before, Pierre was Catholic. However, he lived and died during the so-called Great Western schism, when there were 2 or 3 claimants to the papacy.

Born in the 14th century as the son of a Luxembourgian count, he was raised in France and would later become bishop of Metz. In 1386, he was created cardinal by the Avignon claimant to the papacy, Clement VII.

Nowadays, the Catholic Church recognizes the Roman claimant Urban VI as the legitimate pope, and Clement VII as an antipope.

Though one cannot say that Pierre was in formal schism—since at the time it might be unclear who the real pope was—the truth is that Pierre raised arms against the legitimate successor of Peter and cannot, therefore, be said to have been in full communion with the Pope of Rome.

Weary of the controversies surrounding the schism, Pierre eventually renounced his bishopric and retired to a monastery. He died in 1387, three decades before the Council of Constance, which would end the Great Western schism.

However, even if chose the wrong side of the dispute, his personal holiness was recognized by both sides of the conflict. Pierre would be beatified by a legitimate pope, ironically also named Clement VII as the antipope Pierre had followed during his lifetime.

Amoris Laetitia and the Synods on the Family

Interview with Austen Ivereigh

On April 15, 2023, Pedro Gabriel interviewed Austen Ivereigh about Amoris Laetitia and the Synods on the Family. In this interview, we explored how to Amoris Laetitia was written taking into consideration the decisions made at the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family.

Pedro Gabriel:

Good afternoon. Once again welcome to our Amoris Laetitia talks. I am Pedro Gabriel and today we have Austin Ivereigh with us.

Austin is a writer and journalist known for his two biographies: Pope Francis, The Great Reformer from 2014 and Wounded Shepherd from 2019. In 2020, he published a New York Times bestselling book with Pope Francis on his vision for the post-COVID19 world. It was called Let us dream: The Path to a Better Future in conversation with Austin Ivereigh. All these books have been translated into many languages.

Austin is also currently a Fellow in Contemporary Church History at the Jesuit-run Campion Hall from the University of Oxford. His 1993 doctoral study at Saint Anthony’s College in Oxford was on the Church in Argentina.

He has also been very involved in the global Synod on Synodality called by Pope Francis for 2021 and 2024. First, he was on the national synthesis team for the Synod of England and Wales and then on the continental synthesis team in Rome. He advises the Synod’s Secretariat on communications.

Austin, welcome to the program. It’s an honor to have you here.

Austen Ivereigh:

It’s good. It’s good to be with you, Pedro.

Pedro Gabriel:

Always a pleasure. In this interview, we are going for something a bit different. Until now, my guests have been discussing Amoris Laetitia directly, but now I would like to explore the “sausage factory,” the process that produced the document. As is well known, Amoris Laetitia is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which means that it comes at the conclusion of a synodal process. In this case, the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family. But before we go there, let’s start with the principle: What the Synod is. One of the key words of Francis’s pontificate is “synodality.” So, what is this all about, this synodality? What is a Synod?

Austen Ivereigh:

A Synod is really something very, very old in the Church, which under Francis has been given new life. And this very old thing is really described in Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, when the disciples, of course, are without Jesus. Jesus has promised them that He will send his Spirit and the Spirit will lead them into the truth. They face their first major crisis, which is the whole question of whether people need to obey the Jewish law in order to become Christian, and they can’t agree. They call what became known as a Synod. In fact, it was the Council of Jerusalem. So, Council and synods have often been used interchangeably. So, Synodality—which is a way of bringing the people together to seek the guidance of the Spirit on major questions facing the Church—was a normal part of Church life in the first centuries, the first millennium of the Church, and then it kind of falls out of use. It falls away, it ceases to be used as a regular instrument, and the Church becomes, as it were, much more centralised, much more focused on the juridical institution of Pope and bishops.

Then we have—I’m condensing here a very long history, obviously—at the Second Vatican Council, the Synod of Bishops is revived as a standing body that will meet every two or three years in Rome, in which bishop delegates then discuss and discern major questions facing the Church. So, these Synods of Bishops have been going on since the late 60s, early 70s, as when they really began going under Pope Paul VI. So, the Synod on the Family, which is the one we’re going to get to, which was called by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015, was in fact another Synod on the Family from the previous one called by Pope John Paul II in 1980, just a year or two after his election.

In this case, we have two synods—one in 1980, the other in 2014, nearly 25 years apart—dealing with, as it were, the same questions or the same challenge. Synods often have met to discuss particular topics or questions facing the Church equally, but they have sometimes involved a meeting on a particular area. So, for example, under Francis, we’ve had the Synod on Amazonia. I remember under Pope Benedict going to the Synod on the Middle East, where it was just the Middle East Church that gathered.

So, Synods have become an important part of the life of the modern Church, resurrecting what was very common in the first millennium of the Church.

Pedro Gabriel:

Yes, correct. And it’s a good thing that you mentioned the 1980 Synod on the Family from John Paul II because we have to recall that the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family were not the first synods on the family, and neither were they the first step in the process that culminated with Amoris Laetitia.

The previous sacramental discipline before Amoris excluded the divorced and civilly remarried from communion unless they abstained from intercourse. This was codified by Pope John Paul II precisely in a document called Familiaris Consortio which was in itself a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

It came in the wake of that 1980 Synod on Marriage and the Family. We all know that papal critics today have been trying to pit Familiaris against Amoris Laetitia, because Familiaris is more restrictive in terms of sacramental discipline. Still, in your book Wounded Shepherd you also said that even Familiaris Consortio itself already opened up new possibilities for the pastoral accompaniment that were not present before it. What were those new possibilities?

Austen Ivereigh:

Absolutely. Well, for example, one of the significant developments in Familiaris Consortio was that people who have divorced and remarried without an annulment are not now—after 1980—excommunicated. They are part of the Church, and they are part of parishes. John Paul II was very explicit about this and very clear about this. And under a whole range of circumstances.

So really what John Paul II sets out following this synod is a whole series of, as it were, pastoral circumstances which the Church was already dealing with back in 1980, in which, for example, you might get to know somebody fleeing an abusive marriage, somebody who can’t get their marriage annulled for all sorts of reasons, or who remarries for the sake of the children. But all kinds of pastoral circumstances were already clear in 1980. So, I mean, the way I tell the story in The Wounded Shepherd is that actually John Paul II goes very, very close to where a Amoris Laetitia would then go. But he just pulls back and the way he pulls back is to, as it were, maintain the letter of the law, of the sacramental law to say that basically, if you are in an irregular union of any sort, including being divorced and remarried, you cannot receive communion. So, and now as you’ve just said, unless and they come up with, sort of as it were, “let out” possibility that you might be living together but, you know, not having sex. So that’s kind of where they left it in 1980.

In 2014 the bishops are gathering again and one of the things that it’s really important to understand about synods—and indeed about the Church’s pastoral practice and law throughout the centuries, and I say here nothing new—is that the Church is always responding to the circumstances of society, culture, society changes. And one of the big, to me, fascinating questions to look at when trying to understand Amoris Laetitia: What is the context, the cultural and social context that the bishops are bringing with them when they gather in Rome? So, they’re coming, remember, from all sorts of different countries, all kinds of different pastoral circumstances. They’re talking about what it’s like to try to live out the Church’s teaching and nobody is questioning at all the Church’s teaching, which is a call to indissolubility of marriage, open to children and all rest of it. In neither synod is that in question: Church teaching. But what has changed between 1980 and 2014 is the cultural circumstances in which people are seeking to live out the Church’s teaching.

The way I describe it in The Wounded Shepherd, is—and I say this, Pedro, not because, you know, this is some great theory of mine. As a journalist, as a writer, I try and listen, and I wasn’t at the 1980 Synod. But I have a close interest in the topic, and I was very, very struck in conversations with bishops in 2014 and 2015 and the conversation that they were having among themselves that they were sharing with us. It’s clear that something very, very important had changed, and what has changed is this—and I do this, by the way, whenever I’ve been giving a talk, as I’m sure you do, when you’re giving a talk on Amoris Laetitia—you address a group of Catholics and you say: hands up anybody here who is either divorced or knows somebody in your family who is divorced? And virtually every hand will go up in the room nowadays. Whereas back in 1980 that wasn’t the case.

So, if you like, divorce was still something that the Church believed that the priority was to defend the Church from. In other words, in a context where particularly there isn’t divorce in civil law, the Church believes it’s important to reinforce the juridical status preventing or disallowing divorce. In society, we have to strongly discourage this, and so if you like this juridical or punitive approach to the law taken in 1980, reflects the fact that the Church, on the whole—there are obviously many different contexts—but on the whole, divorce is still outside the sheepfold rather than inside the sheepfold. Whereas in 2014 it’s definitely inside the sheepfold.

So, in other words, people’s lives have been already affected and shattered by divorce. That is the pastoral reality that bishops need to face and that I think explains the very, very different context in which these two synods meet, which I think to a large extent, explains why Amoris Laetitia needs to move the conclusions of Familiaris Consortio, the pastoral, as it were, remedies on offer, it needs to develop them. Because of this new circumstance.

Pedro Gabriel:

Correct. And it was not the only thing that changed, actually. You also explained that—returning to the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family—they were the first attempt by Pope Francis to implement this concept that is so dear to his heart that is synodality. What we see is that this Synod was different.

It was divided into two parts, one in 2014, an extraordinary general assembly that lasted 2 weeks, and in 2015, an ordinary general assembly that lasted 3 weeks. And in your book, you also say that the environment in these Synods was also completely different.

So, what were the main differences between these Synods on the Family under Pope Francis, and the synods that preceded them in previous pontificates?

Austen Ivereigh:

So, one of the questions that Pope Francis had to deal with when he became pope was the very strong critique among bishops and cardinals of the Synod of Bishops as it had developed under John Paul II and Benedict. The reason they were so critical was that the Synod, which had been intended by Pope Paul VI as an organism of episcopal collegiality—that’s to say, a means by which the bishops exercise their mission, which is to rule and to govern the Universal Church cum et sub Petro, “with and under Peter,” always with the Pope, never without the Pope. You know, Peter with the Eleven, never the Eleven without Peter. Yet, in practice what had happened was that the Roman Curia ran the Synod and kept very, very tight control of it so that the Synod had ceased to be—if it ever was, I don’t know enough about the 1970s—but it had ceased to become an instrument of free discussion and honesty and discernment.

So, rather than being a place where major questions were honestly faced and solutions discerned and debated, it had become a way of reformulating existing Church teaching. So, there were quite a few jokes about this, but you know, I should describe you—I’m talking about the synods under John Paul II, under Benedict—you know as being like a sort of transatlantic flight but without the movies. Yeah, you were stuck in the same seat for listening to pre-prepared speeches that just repeated the same old points.

The way I would express this sort of theologically is to say that the Synod had ceased to be or had not become a genuine mechanism of ecclesial discernment. I think the bishops understood very well that their role as successors of the apostles is a very important one. That they were the successors of the disciples who gathered in that room in chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. The whole people was assembled on that occasion, but the leaders who decided things were the leaders of the time, who are now the bishops.

So, I think they understood that things had to change. And it was very interesting to me to see that the call for a reform of the Synod was there. Both, as it were, on the right and on the left, if we want to use those terms. Among, you know, reformists, as well as, if you like, the more rigorist or conservative bishops and cardinals,

So, what Francis did when he became Pope, was he made clear that he wanted to introduce synodality as an authentic mechanism of ecclesial discernment just Jesus had intended, when He told the disciples that He would send His Spirit and the Spirit would lead them into the truth. So, he introduced from the very beginning a series of reforms to the Synod, which would allow the bishops to understand that they could, first of all, speak freely. The first thing he says in 2014, he surprises the bishops by saying there are really two key rules here. One is speak freely. Speak with Parrhesia, speak with Apostolic courage. And the second rule is: listen humbly. So yeah, speak boldly, listen humbly. These are the primary rules. Say what you think. Say the reality as you see it. He said there is nothing you cannot say.

In another speech he gave later—in fact, at the end of the 2014 Synod—he said: look, you can be free because Peter is here with you. You know the Pope is here, unity is guaranteed. You don’t need to worry. So, freedom.

In order to enable that, he also introduced some reforms which bothered the number of the journalists because actually it curbed, in a way, it made the Synod a bit less accessible. But on the other hand, the reason for that was to allow, to create a space in which bishops, for example, could change their mind. That was very important for Francis that people should be able to discuss and move and develop their positions as the Spirit moved them. And that is how, in fact, the Spirit works in processes of apostolic, communal discernment. The way over time. The body comes often to a view which transcends the different individual positions. That’s what Francis was seeking to do with the Synod and that’s what effectively he has been doing in the synods in his pontificate.

Pedro Gabriel:

Yes, and it’s a good thing that you mentioned this principle, the cum Petro et sub Petro. I just wanted to highlight it because the reason why the Synod could discuss so freely was because the Pope was there, as the guarantor of unity and orthodoxy. Many people, let us say, conservatives and traditionalists seem to have a lack of faith on the pope’s ability to do so and believe that it’s incumbent on them to save the Church from heresy. But Pope Francis has been very consistent that synodality always happens “with Peter and under Peter,” never without him, and he is there to protect the Church from error.

Now I would like also to go back to the Parrhesia that you mentioned, because I remembered that at the time one of the things that set off alarms among the conservative and traditionalist factions was that Cardinal Walter Kasper was allowed to deliver an address to the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Kasper had tried before to implement a sacramental discipline for the divorced and remarried based on a “penitential path,” in a similar way as the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, Kasper’s proposal had been rejected during Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

Now conservatives thought that Kasper’s address was a way for Francis to resurrect a proposal that had been definitely excluded. They nervously thought that this showed that Francis was siding with the liberals. But in your book, you explicitly say that this was “misreading Francis.” This was not what Francis was intending by giving Kasper the opportunity to speak. So, what was is intention actually in allowing Kasper to deliver this address?

Austen Ivereigh:

So, you’re referring here to the meeting that took place in February 2014, prior to the first of these two Synods. The meeting was a consistory, which means a meeting of the cardinals. So, Francis called together the cardinals in order to listen to Cardinal Kasper’s presentation, and effectively to announce and to prepare for the upcoming Synod. I remember that Kasper gave the address—which was published and a very substantial address it was; it went on, I think, for two hours—and I remember a number of the cardinals came out quite angry because they said, you know, exactly what you’ve just said. They said: “Oh this is something that Cardinal Kasper, he’s been talking about for years. This is an idea or a solution which has been rejected. Why is this being forced on us again?”

And as you say, a number of cardinals came to the conclusion that this was Francis’s strategy, somehow to sort of resurrect this old proposal and ram it through. And it’s interesting that they thought that because they were operating according to the model of the Synod that they had inherited, understandably from the previous papacies. In other words, before Rome decided what the Synod would conclude. That was always the joke in the synods, that people could say what they like discreetly, but actually the document had already been written before they even gathered. I think that people were operating according to that scheme.

Immediately after that February Consistory there was a whole flurry, if you remember, I think 3 books were published by conservative figures like Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Müller and so on, who basically wanted to reinstate in these books the traditional reasons for the sacramental discipline, and how that connects with upholding the Church teaching on indissolubility. So, immediately you have this kind of polarization.

Now what I explained in the book is that actually what Francis was trying to do here was, in a way, not create the polarization but allow for the polarization. Because what happens in an authentic synodal process is that initially there is a kind of polarization. People take up positions, usually defensively or out of fear. They take up positions and they seek to defend them and promote them. Of course, if that carries on, then you can’t have a Synod because it becomes a kind of like a parliamentary battle.

But actually, what happened was that getting this out a few months in advance of the October Synod was in many ways very helpful because it allowed these positions to be expressed and also people, of course, were able to engage with those positions, But Francis was not trying to impose—absolutely not—Walter Kasper’s view. In fact, I think he knew very well what reaction there would be, and incidentally, he himself, by the way, did not want. He did not believe that the so-called Orthodox solution was the right way to go.

But Kasper is a very considerable theologian, and Kasper’s reasons and the whole context which he lays out in this speech was very, very important to help the bishops enter into the Synod of October 2014.

Pedro Gabriel:

Yeah. And since Kasper’s address, not just cardinals and bishops, but many conservative commentators like George Weigel or Ross Douthat advanced the idea that the Synod was “rigged,” or “stacked.” Meaning that the liberal proposal, as you said, would already be pre-approved, and the Synod was just a façade to give credibility to that. But, in your book, you detail the whole process and you show that the Synod was not rigged at all. So, how would you reply to those who make that accusation, that the synod was rigged?

Austen Ivereigh:

Well, as I said, you know, they’re operating on an assumption about the way the Synod works, which was based on what they were familiar with from John Paul II’s time. What they were saying is, under John Paul II and Benedict, the Synod was controlled by the Curia, which ensured that no change would happen. Here we have a “liberal” Pope trying to do the opposite, controlling the Synod to bring about change.

But I think simply, they hadn’t grasped that what Francis was interested in was a Synod, which would be an authentic mechanism of ecclesial discernment. That’s to say, an authentic mechanism of facing pastoral realities. Living in the tension which comes with facing those realities. In other words, you have the pastoral context and realities of today’s world—how we live the indissolubility of marriage in the context of today. You have that on the one hand, and then on the other hand you have the Church, first of all teaching on indissolubility—which is absolutely to be upheld and promoted—and secondly, you have the sacramental law, the law on sacraments, which of course relates to how people can receive or not the sacraments in the context of their marital situation.

So, all these things had to be sort of put together and brought together and then all these different perspectives from across the world needed to be expressed. Everybody needed time to say what was going on. And then you have a process, which then becomes a synodal process: where through honest debate, discussion, discernment, and prayer—because, you know, Francis was always very insistent that the Synod, in a way, it only happens because of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit only happens because we have a contemplative disposition in our hearts—and he introduced, for example, a number of changes even back in 2014, for example, to allow for people to say much shorter speeches, and regular bits of silence so that people could listen to the response in their own hearts to what they had heard.

So really, what Francis was creating was, you know, a proper mechanism of discernment, and the conservatives, in a way, just didn’t understand it. They didn’t get that the Synod was for that process of discernment.

Pedro Gabriel:

Yeah, and it is actually interesting that even if those accusations of a “rigged synod” came mainly from that conservative faction, you seem to point out that they were the ones who attempted to rig the synod in a way. You mention that, during the synodal process, Cardinal George Pell—who himself had said that the Synod was being manipulated—privately handed to the pope a letter signed by 13 cardinals opposing any opening of the communion for divorced and remarried. There were also some bishops that were trying to use some using conservative-leaning media seemingly to pressure the proceedings. Some Polish bishops also published some speeches from other bishops with their names attached, which was against the rules of the Synod. So, what would you say about this kind of interference?

Austen Ivereigh:

As I know, people like Cardinal Pell, you know, he wouldn’t have regarded that as an attempt to interfere with the Synod, because his assumption—he’s dead now—but it was very interesting, wasn’t it, that Cardinal Pell died suddenly and unexpectedly in January, and the day after he died, there was a an article that he had written that was then published in an English magazine called The Spectator blasting this current Synod on Synodality.

Again, the assumption of people like Cardinal Pell is: The Church exists, or the authority of the Church exists to defend the status quo, to uphold constant tradition, and that is its task. Anything else they read as undermining that role. So, they see their role as always trying to defend that, whatever it takes.

Therefore, I think Pell’s actually really quite disgraceful intervention in the 2014 Synod with this letter, where he attempted to get a whole series of signatures of people who then denied that they had signed it. It was all quite chaotic. But I mean, I think Pell was acting in according to his own lights in how he felt he should operate. And you know, even though it was the conservatives who behaved pretty badly in the Family Synod, there were people on the other side as well who were very much using the media as well. You know, going to the media to promote a particular view, which they were keen would triumph.

So, Francis actually did say in relation to the second synod, the 2015 Synod, he actually said to them: “look, please don’t do this.” It’s very important that we have a protected space which gives people the freedom to move and develop. If we’re all going to the media to defend our positions, then we end up having a kind of a parallel synod going on in the media. I think actually in the second of the two synods, there was much less of that.

But yes, I can remember very distinctly in 2014, particularly Cardinal Burke, who made great use of BuzzFeed, and it was an unusual juxtaposition of a traditionalist garment with this very contemporary social media. But yeah, giving endless interviews, warning of, you know, cataclysm and, you know, decline of this. And I think, Pedro, also you know I’ve talked about this: what is the mentality here? Why is it so obsessed with this particular issue? I mean, you think, for example, under Benedict, you know, limbo, for example, was abolished, and some people objected, but there wasn’t this great furore. But I think marriage and family was absolutely the hill on which many, many conservatives have chosen to die because they see it as the litmus test of what they would regard as the capitulation of the Church to modernity.

So, that’s why, the temperature was raised by the conservatives from the very beginning to a point where it became very difficult to have a discussion with them because they were so—if I can use the word—“neurotic,” about any idea of change because they saw any change as surrender, as capitulation.

Pedro Gabriel:

Correct. And even so, even with all those fears, the truth is that the liberal position that was embodied by Cardinal Kasper, if we say so, did not win. In fact, Cardinal Kasper’s proposal did not gain much traction, but neither did the proposal to maintain the status quo, so a new pastoral method was needed, that would uphold the orthodoxy of doctrine, but that it would be a creative approach that would solve this tension.

You write in your book that when Cardinal Kasper understood that his proposal would not be approved, he went to other German cardinals for help. He found that help with Cardinal Marx, but also with a moderate like Cardinal Schönborn, and even a conservative like Cardinal Müller. I was actually quite surprised when I read this, because Müller seems, at least in later years, to have disavowed his position. But they all together crafted this sacramental discipline that would later gather significant support in the Synod and even be approved by the pope.

And they did so by going back to the orthodox and traditional teachings of the Church and bringing the doctrine of mitigating circumstances and applying it to this particular circumstance. Subjective culpability can be so diminished that the sinner is not in mortal sin and can receive communion. This is perfectly orthodox, perfectly traditional. But they went back to it and applied it to this particular circumstance from which it was excluded before.

Is this the synodality that Pope Francis was looking for? Different people with different ideological sensitivities coming together to find creative, orthodox, but pastoral solutions?

Austen Ivereigh:

So, Francis says in the book we did together Let Us Dream that synods don’t debate Church doctrine. They don’t change doctrine. They don’t. Synods don’t have the capacity, the authority to do that. As you’ve just said, Amoris Laetitia doesn’t change Church doctrine, nor does it change, of course, sacramental law. What changes is the way in which it is applied, and you’ve just summarized it very well. And they do this by, as it were, resurrecting the Catholic pastoral tradition, which is attentive to individual circumstances.

But I think it’s important when we’re telling the story of how that conclusion comes in the Synod, it’s not automatic. In fact, it’s painful at times and I can remember, speaking to one cardinal in particular, who said: “I just don’t know how we can do it. I realize that we have to be able to offer a path to the sacraments for people who genuinely find themselves unable to secure an annulment for all sorts of reasons which are perfectly valid, we also have to have to have a way in which we can pastorally accompany the divorced and remarried. But I just don’t quite understand how we can do that without amending sacramental law,” which they realized was there for a good reason, which was to defend, uphold and promote the doctrine of indissolubility. And I was thinking, I found it very moving, as a Catholic, to see these pastors who care deeply about the tradition, they care deeply about Catholic teaching and they want to defend it, they want to promote it, and at the same time, they also realise that a big part of Church teaching is the mercy of God, and we can’t teach the mercy of God if we stay sometimes within the letter of the law.

We have to do these two things. I mean it’s a bit like: Jesus brings together—does He not? —mercy and truth. Jesus always proclaims the truth of God. But He’s always, at the same time, attentive to individual circumstances, and ensures that everybody is included and that you never give up on people, you never exclude people. You never leave people outside.

How do you do those two things? Of course, it’s very, very hard. Jesus does it and the Church is invited to do the same. But what happens in Church history is that the Church will end up, as it were, doing one thing more than another, and generally I’d say the temptation would be to defend the letter of the law because they feel beleaguered, they feel a bit like John Paul II in 1980, feeling that they need to shore up or defend the existing position, faced with a threat. But the problem with that whole approach is that you can then end up sacrificing people for the sake of the law.

So, this is the circumstance, this is the dilemma, the tension which the Synod lived in for those two years. It was very moving to me to see the Church do this, to actually be prepared to live in that tension and to say: “I don’t know.” I remember so many of these people saying to me: “I just don’t see how we can do it.” Back in 2014, they went in saying: “How do we do this?” And then in 2015, you can see that they begin to see how it can be done and they say: “Yes, we can do this, we can accompany individual circumstances within the Catholic pastoral tradition by resurrecting, as we say, this tradition, and at the same time uphold sacramental law and promote indissolubility, we can do it all. It’s OK. The Spirit has shown us how.”

But as I said, I just want to emphasise how tough it is for many people to live through… I think, a genuinely synodal process is to live in that tension and not to see the picture clearly for a lot of the time. Then at the end, the Spirit really does show a new horizon and it’s that new horizon that Amoris Laetitia embraces.

Pedro Gabriel:

Continuing following the Synod, you mentioned in your book that every single one of the 99 paragraphs of the Synod’s final document received the necessary 2/3 majority to pass, even the most controversial paragraphs. This was obviously a success, a successful application of synodality. You even describe that the applause that followed the vote count was prolonged and spontaneous.

After this vote it was up to Pope Francis to accept the synod’s proposals or not. In 2016, he published his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, where he incorporated what the Synod had decided, including on the contentious issue of communion for the divorced and remarried.

A few days after Amoris Laetitia’s publication, Cardinal Burke—who you just mentioned—said that this document was not magisterial in an interview to the National Catholic Register. He based this position on the third paragraph of Amoris Laetitia which said, and I quote:

“I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.  Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.” End quote.

In your book you try to debunk this idea that Amoris was not magisterial. You write that “latitude in implementation isn’t the same as pluralism of interpretation: the Gospel needs to be inculturated, not cherry-picked.”

How can we achieve this inculturation, this “reconciled diversity” as you called it, without jeopardizing doctrine, or without allowing for a relativism in which all interpretations are correct, and where it seems Cardinal Burke is correct, that this is not magisterial because Pope Francis himself says that not everything is magisterial. What would you say about that?

Austen Ivereigh:

Well, Cardinal Burke also famously raised the question of whether Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, which was the Pope’s first major document, the paradigmatic or programmatic vision of his pontificate, and I remember Burke saying after that: “Well, you know, the language seems very strange. Is it magisterial?”

I think Burke has a classically sort of conservative or traditionalist understanding of magisterium, which is to say that the magisterium is true or teaches authentically when it upholds what he would say is the traditional teaching of the Church. Now, of course, what that traditional teaching is very much depends on the person articulating, and I would say Cardinal Burke distorts that traditional teaching when he tries to defend it, as he does, of course, in this instance in trying to declare that Amoris is not magisterial. We go round and round.

Of course, it’s magisterial and in fact, not only is it magisterial, but actually I would argue that Amoris Laetitia is the fruit of the most authoritative, magisterial, conciliar process in the Church since the Second Vatican Council. If the Ecumenical Council of the Church is the highest possible authority in the Church, I would argue that a 2-year—well, really in practice 3 year, if you include Amoris Laetitia—3-year process of involving the world’s bishops in discussing and discerning one of the major questions of our time, which results in a clear consensus, in which there has also been a clear movement from people who, say “hang on, how do we do A+B?” and they’ve come to believe that C embraces both A and B, and the Pope has been there the whole time accompanying the process… How can it not be magisterial? Of course, it’s magisterial!

As Cardinal Schönborn was very quick to point out, even the controversial famous paragraphs in chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia are rooted and based on extremely traditional Thomist understandings of moral behavior, and law, and sacramental law, and so on. So, there’s absolutely there is nothing about Amoris which is not magisterial, and I would argue, it is one of the most important teaching documents of the modern age in the church.

Pedro Gabriel:

There was also another attempt to explain away Amoris Laetitia, if you will. For a while after Amoris Laetitia was published—and before Francis backed up the interpretation from the bishops of Buenos Aires—some people were saying that Amoris Laetitia had not made any changes at all regarding sacramental discipline. Amoris Laetitia was merely a reiteration of Familiaris Consortio.

But that doesn’t seem to reflect what the Synod actually decided, or it doesn’t seem like it reflects the proceedings of the Synod. What would you say to people who make that claim?

Austen Ivereigh:

First of all, Amoris Laetitia obviously moves the Church’s pastoral position in respect to the divorced and remarried. It simply develops it. It moves it on. There’s a clear development from Familiaris Consortio and if anybody doubts that they should read your book, Pedro, which I think explains it brilliantly. There is no simple exclusion from the sacraments now. Now what the Church is called to do is to invite people who seek the sacraments and who belong to a parish on a journey of accompaniment, in which all the circumstances are looked at. And the conclusion of that is not automatically reception of the sacraments at all. In fact, in my book I quote from the Jesuits in Braga, in Portugal, who I think have a superb process of accompaniment as a fruit of Amoris Laetitia, and they said most people decide at the end that they shouldn’t receive communion. So, there’s nothing automatic about it. It’s not a pathway to communion. It is genuinely a process of pastoral discernment.

Now that simply wasn’t there in Familiaris Consortio. So, there’s a clear development of it. Though you’re right about people who tried to say… there were some dioceses who tried to say after Amoris Laetitia came out: “well, you know, we have to look at this in light of Familiaris Consortio.” Familiaris Consortio is the last word in their view on the topic. Therefore, where Amoris Laetitia introduces a development, we can discount that.

Well, as Cardinal Schönborn quickly said, it is a very novel idea that you should interpret a subsequent papal document in the light of the previous one. That’s not how Church development of Church doctrine works at all. Rather, the previous papal teaching is always included, taken up in and developed by subsequent popes, and that’s the way the Church moves through history. That’s part of Jesus’s guaranty to the Church when He says: “I will send you my Spirit and my Spirit will lead you into the truth.” That is happening over time and constantly.

So yeah, people did try to do that. In my experience, if a bishop wants to try to disobey papal teaching, magisterial teaching, they usually will find some justification. I mean, we had it, of course, back at the time of Humanae Vitae, when many bishops refused to accept Paul VI’s ruling, and they tried to claim that he had no authority to make that ruling. Of course, the very conservatives who many years later would be objecting to Amoris Laetitia were the ones who said: “no, this is papal teaching, and it’s the fruit of clear papal teaching and has to be therefore obeyed.”

So, it’s another illustration which we’ve seen so much of in the last 10 years of certain people being loyal to the papal magisterium when the pope agrees with them or when they think they know better.

Pedro Gabriel:

Yeah, and as you said, just like Cardinal Kasper’s proposal did not gain any traction, the proposal to keep the status quo, Familiaris, also did not gain traction. The Synod rejected by a clear majority this conservative attempt to just reiterate the Familiaris ban in the final relatio. So, obviously for a person who followed the Synod, that objection would not hold.

One final question: some of the critics of Pope Francis—who themselves oppose synodality as a process, not just the fruits of the Synod, but the process of synodality itself—have tried to claim that the Holy Father is incoherent in the way he applies concepts like synodality, accompaniment, listening, and dialogue. They think that Pope Francis is much more open do it to people who are outside the Church or who do not follow certain doctrines, but he doesn’t apply it allegedly to the conservatives, to the traditionalists.

You have written an article for Commonweal “The Limits of Dialogue” (which I will link below) that explains this alleged inconsistency. But would you like to just explain it in your own words very briefly here?

Austen Ivereigh:

I’ve never quite understood this critique because synodality is not some sort of permissive relativism in which suddenly everybody’s view is as valid as everybody else’s. Synodality is about the Church developing its understanding of where the Spirit is leading the Church. Church doctrine, Church teaching, the tradition of the Church is all taken for granted and assumed in synodal processes.

I think the problem is that many of the conservatives who make this critique don’t engage and haven’t engaged with the Synod because they regard it as something which it’s not, and that leads them not to engage with it, which of course only deepens their misunderstanding of it.

So no, I don’t think synodality in any way reduces papal authority. In no respect does it reduce the Pope’s solemn duty, which is to safeguard the unity and promote the unity of the Church, and indeed, to defend the constant tradition of the teaching of the Church. Francis is not, as I’ve often said, a liberal pope. He will use authority and has used authority in very decisive and important ways, as for example, in swinging new regulations governing sexual abuse by clergy. One can mention many other things, including Traditionis Custodes, which restores to the bishops the regulation of the pre-conciliar rite and Francis explains very clearly why that was necessary.

I think what synodality does and what synods do when they are properly practised—and I think they have been under Francis, they have become very important dynamic mechanisms within the Church’s governance—what synods do is discover the new horizons that the Spirit has already revealed. The Spirit is always out there in front of us. The Spirit has already poured out His gifts on the Church that allow the Church to perform its mission. The problem is that we’re often prevented from seeing where those new paths are because we’re so focused on this, that or the other. So, synods are a chance for us to recognise those new horizons and those new horizons are going to be new. They’re going to renew us. We’re going to need to change but they are not revolutionary. They are not going to alter Church teaching or indeed the tradition of the Church. They won’t go against the tradition of the Church, and if anybody has any doubt about this, I would actually really strongly recommend a book which was key to John XXIII when he called the Second Vatican Council and is also a formative text for Francis, to understand Francis on synodality, would be Yves Congar’s “True and False Reform in the Church,” in which he comes up with four very important criteria for true authentic reform in the Church. And when you see those four criteria, you realise that this is exactly what Francis’s reinvigorated synod is doing. This is reform in the authentic tradition of the Church, which is there right from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, which we now badly need again for our time in order to discover the new horizons that the Spirit is opening for the Church in our time.

Pedro Gabriel:

OK, so this is all the time that we have for today. I would like to thank Austen once again for accepting my invitation to talk about the Synods on the Family.

To our viewers, please subscribe to be notified about new “Amoris Laetitia talks” in the future. I remind the viewers that a transcript of this video will be made available on the website The City and the World. I will leave a link in the description below, and also a link where you can buy Austen’s book Wounded Shepherd from the publisher Henry Holt and Company.

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. My book is, in fact, greatly indebted to Austen’s input and to his bibliographical suggestions. So, thank you very much for that Austen.

And once again, thank you so much for your time.

Austen Ivereigh:

Thank you and thanks for your mission. Thanks for this.

Pedro Gabriel:

Thank you. So, to our viewers, I wish you all a good day and see you soon.

Pope Francis ten-year anniversary


The City and the World joins with Pope Francis as he celebrates the tenth anniversary of his papacy. 

Much has been said on Catholic media and social media about these last ten years. Many websites tend to focus on the controversies surrounding Francis’s pontificate, which have been amplified by those very same sites. Some other commentators say that Pope Francis doesn’t teach about Jesus or spirituality, talking only about worldly and political issues.

So, today we would like to invite the reader to consider some of Francis’s less well-known interventions, which nevertheless cast light on his spirituality and pontificate.

In the spirit of Lent, we randomly selected some quotes from Pope Francis’s daily morning meditations from 2013 to 2020. The links to the originals can be found in each quote, so the reader may meditate on them in full.

  1. Make an examination of conscience

Every evening, make an “examination of conscience”, like a prayer, to determine if it was “the Spirit of God or the spirit of the world” that prompted us throughout the day.

  1. Meet Jesus with your defences down

When we go out to meet the Lord, the Pontiff added, we in some sense are “masters of the moment”. However, “when we allow ourselves to be encountered by him, he enters into us” and renews us from within. “This is what it means for Christ to come: to renew all things, to renew hearts, souls, lives, hope and the journey”.

Advent is a time truly to open our minds and hearts to him, “because when he comes to me, he may tell me what he wants me to do, which is not always what I want him to tell me”. It is important, therefore, that we never forget that “he is the Lord and he will tell me what he intends for me”. “The Lord,” he said, “does not look upon us all at once, as a mass of people: no, no! He looks at us one by one, in the face, in the eyes, for true love is not something abstract but rather something very concrete. Person to person. The Lord, who is a Person, looking at me, a person. That is why allowing the Lord to come and meet me also means allowing him to love me”.

  1. Don´t be lazy 

Francis explained that the Lord speaks of “a powerful faith”, one strong enough “to work great wonders”, but on one condition: that this be set “within the framework of service”. It calls for complete service, such as that of the “servant who worked all day” and when he gets home “he must serve the Lord”, prepare dinner for him, “and then relax”.

And, the Pope commented, “so many Christians” are like this: “they are good, they go to Mass”, but go “only so far” with regard to service. Yet, he underscored, “when I say service, I mean everything: service to God in adoration, in prayer, in praise”, service “to our neighbour” and “service to the end”. Jesus “is strong” about this and advises: “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants’”. It is important that service be “freely given, without asking anything” in return.

  1. Do not negotiate Jesus

And Jesus never negotiated his heart as the Son of the Father, but He was open with people, looking for ways to help”. The others, rather, said: “You can’t do this; our discipline, our doctrine says that you can’t do this”. And they asked Him: “Why are your disciples eating grain in the field and walking on the Sabbath? You can’t do this”. In other words, “they were rigid in their discipline” and believed: “The discipline is not to be touched, it’s sacred”.

  1. Go out to give life

In recalling the words from the Gospel of Matthew (18:12-14), the Pope highlighted the impetus that drives the shepherd “who goes out”, who “goes to look for” the lost and missing sheep. Yet, this zealous shepherd “can keep count like a prudent businessman”. He loses one of 99, but his balance sheet still shows plenty of assets. However, Francis indicated, he “has the heart of a shepherd, he goes out to search” and, when he finds that one, “he celebrates, he is joyful”.

“The joy of going out in search of faraway brothers and sisters” is born in the same manner. “This is the joy of the Church”. It is precisely in this way that the Church “becomes mother, becomes fruitful”. On the contrary, the Pontiff admonished, when the Church doesn’t do this, “she stands still inside, she is closed within herself”, even though “she might be well organized”. And in this manner she becomes “a discouraged, anxious, sad Church; a Church who is more spinster than mother; and this Church isn’t useful”, such a Church is no more than a museum.

  1. Ask yourself: Am I alive inside?

Thus, we are all called to ask ourselves: “Am I one of these Christians of appearances? Am I alive inside, do I have a spiritual life? Do I hear the Holy Spirit”. Do I listen to Him? The government should beware of the temptation to say: “if all appears well, I have nothing to be blamed for: I have a good family, people cannot speak ill of me; I have all the necessities, I was married in Church… I’m in God’s grace’, I’m at peace”. Look out, because “Christians of appearance… are dead”. It is necessary, however, “to look for something alive inside and to strengthen it, by remembering and waking, so that it can go forward”. It is necessary “to convert: from appearances to reality. From warmth to zeal”.

In conclusion, these are the three calls to conversion made “by Jesus himself”: “to the lukewarm, the comfortable”, and to those who are Christians in “appearance, those who believe they are rich but are poor”, indeed, “they have nothing, they are dead” and last, to those “beyond death”: the corrupt. Before them, “the Word of God can change everything. But the truth is we do not always have the courage to believe in the Word of God”, to receive that “Word which heals us inside” and by which “the Lord knocks at the door of our heart”.

This, Pope Francis concluded, is conversion, which “the Church wants us to think very seriously about in these final weeks of the liturgical year” in order that “we may go forward on the path of our Christian life”. For this we must “remember the Word of God”, we must “safeguard it”, “obey it” and “awake”, in order to begin a “new, converted life”.

  1. Learn to live in moments of crisis

This helps us, all of us, to live through moments of crisis. In my land there is a saying: “When you’re riding a horse and you have to cross a river, please, don’t change horses in the middle of the river”. In moments of crisis you need to be very steadfast in your convictions of faith. Those who left, changed horses, they sought another teacher who was not so “hard”, as they said to Him. Moments of crisis demand perseverance, silence; staying where we are, steadfast. It is not the moment to make changes. It is the moment of fidelity, of faithfulness to God, of faithfulness to the things [decisions] we had made before. It is also the moment of conversion, because this faithfulness will inspire some kind of change for the better, not to distance us from good.

Moments of peace and moments of crisis. We Christians must learn to manage both. Both of them. A spiritual father said that going through a moment of crisis is like passing through fire so as to become strong.

  1. Be vigilant against worldliness

First and foremost, rediscover the word ‘vigilance’. Do not fear; as Isaiah said to Ahaz, ‘take heed and be quiet’”. In other words, employ “vigilance and calm”. The Pontiff explained that “to hold vigil is to understand what enters my heart; it means to stop and examine my life”. In this regard, the Pope suggested the need for a personal examination of conscience: “am I a Christian? Am I raising my children well? Is my life Christian or is it worldly? How might I understand this?”.

To respond to such questions we should look to “Paul’s recipe: look to the crucified Christ”. Indeed, it “only before the Lord’s Cross” that worldliness can be found and destroyed. This is precisely “the aim of the Crucifix before us: it is not an ornament” but “is precisely what saves us from these bewitchments, from these seductions that lead to worldliness”.

  1. Do not be afraid to grow

Jonah saw faith as based on conditions. He was like those Christians who say “I am Christian but on the condition that things are done this way”. This, Pope Francis stressed, is heresy: “Christians who place conditions on God, the faith and God’s actions”, leading them down a path that goes from faith to ideology. “There are many people like this today”, he continued. “Christians who are afraid to grow, of life’s challenges, of the Lord’s challenges, of history’s challenges”. They prefer ideology to faith; “they are afraid of putting themselves in God’s hands and they prefer to judge everything, but from the smallness of their hearts”.

  1. Take heed, and beware of all covetousness 

Covetousness, however, is also at the root of wars: “yes, there is an ideal, but behind it is money: the money of arms dealers, the money of those who profit from war”. Again, Jesus is clear: “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness: it is dangerous”. Covetousness, in fact, “gives us this security that is not true and it leads, yes, to prayer — you can pray, go to Church — but also to having an attached heart, and in the end it winds up damaged”.

Returning to the Gospel example, the Pontiff traced the profile of the man spoken of: “You see he was good, he was a successful entrepreneur. His company was given a plentiful harvest, he always had many possessions”. But rather than thinking of sharing with his workers and their families, he contemplated how to store them. He sought “always more”. Thus, “the thirst of attachment to possessions never ends. If your heart is attached to possessions — when you have many — you want more. And this is the god of a person attached to possessions”. For this reason, Francis explained, Jesus says to take heed and beware of all covetousness. And, by no coincidence, when “he explains the way to salvation, the Beatitudes, the first is poverty of spirit, that is, ‘don’t be attached to possessions’: blessed are the poor in spirit”, those who “are not attached” to riches. “Perhaps they have them” — the Pope observed — but so as to serve others, to share, to enable many people to move forward”.

Gänswein, the halved defense

For years Joseph Ratzinger has been at the epicenter of a tsunami of fake news. 

Even as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was unfairly dubbed the “Panzer cardinal” or “God’s Rottweiler” for his defense of orthodox Catholic teaching. Things only got worse after his election as Pope Benedict XVI, and they did not get much better after he resigned. Wherever Ratzinger went, polemics soon followed. Most of the time, it was unwarranted and contrary to his intentions.

A book vindicating him was, therefore, long overdue. 

This is what his personal secretary, friend, and confidant Archbishop Georg Gänswein claims to have attempted in his newly released book Nient’altro che la verità (Italian for “Nothing but the truth.”)

Whether he succeeded in this endeavor is questionable. Even more debatable is whether the positive aspects of this book outweigh the harm it is bound to cause.

The book was announced a few days after Benedict XVI’s death, while his body was still lying in state. The book’s launch in Italy was on January 12, a mere week after his burial.

Since its announcement, the media have presented the book as revealing “tensions” between Benedict and his successor. It’s likely that this book is to be received by Francis’s critics as a vindication of their narrative. Following Benedict’s resignation nearly a decade ago, papal critics have pushed countless artificial controversies portraying the Pope Emeritus as a semi-hidden internal antagonist to Francis’s pontificate.

In an ironic twist of fate, Gänswein’s book actually dispels many of those earlier controversies.

Although Benedict’s own resignation speech cites his failing health as the reason for his voluntary retirement, conspiracy theories abounded. Certain commentators advanced the idea that Benedict had been forced to resign due to a “gay mafia” or the Vatileaks scandal, for example. In chapter 7 of Nothing but the truth, Gänswein explains that Benedict did indeed decide to resign due to health reasons, taking into consideration his inability to travel as the 2013 World Youth Day in Brazil approached.

Additionally, some claimed that Benedict’s resignation was invalid due to the way his announcement was worded, making a distinction between the Latin words munus and ministerium. But Gänswein details the redaction process that led to the resignation’s wording. He describes the redactors’ limitations—due to the high secrecy of the project, involving few people—and the zeal to make the text canonically valid.

The archbishop also clarifies that the Pope Emeritus continued to wear white for pragmatic reasons; to avoid a complete renewal of his wardrobe, not—as has been claimed—as a sign that he had not truly resigned.

There were also allegations that Benedict was a prisoner in the Vatican, and the idea that Francis had effectively “gagged” him to prevent him from expressing his contradictory views. Gänswein explains that Benedict willingly adopted a monastic lifestyle, and that Pope Francis even wanted him to “see more people, to go out, and participate in the life of the Church.”

Moreover, Gänswein demystifies the contents of a message sent by Benedict to be read at the funeral of Cardinal Meisner—one of the dubia cardinals—and which was construed as a veiled criticism against Pope Francis.

Finally, and most importantly, Gänswein recounts the episode of Benedict’s alleged co-authorship with Cardinal Sarah of a book on clerical celibacy that would have been intended to interfere with Pope Francis’s decision-making following the 2019 Synod on the Amazon. As was noted in an official statement at the time—and contrary to the insistence of Francis’s critics—Benedict never intended to be co-author of that book and even less to obstruct the work of the synod. His contributions to Sarah’s book were based on a misunderstanding. 

According to Gänswein’s account, Benedict tried to distance himself from this scandal, while avoiding further embarrassment to his friend Cardinal Sarah. These efforts, however, were thwarted by the cardinal’s inappropriate and untimely reactions and statements during the controversy. For example, Cardinal Sarah wrote a series of inflammatory tweets, and released private correspondence between Benedict and himself on social media without authorization. One new detail revealed by Gänswein is that Sarah tried to convince Benedict to sign a pre-written press release endorsing the cardinal’s side of the story. 

Throughout each of these public controversies, Francis’s critics promoted groundless conjectures and dismissed the reasonable alternatives advanced by pro-Francis apologists. Now, all these theories have been decisively debunked in Gänswein’s new book. 

However, it is very unlikely that these critics will retract and reevaluate their stances, because Gänswein also adds some fuel to the fire.

And that is where people will direct their focus.

Let’s be clear: it would be unreasonable to expect Benedict to fully agree with every decision Francis made as pope. They are different people with different styles and different concerns. This was also the case with Benedict and his predecessor. For example, Gänswein describes how Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed “dissonance” and “perplexity” about Pope John Paul II’s participation in the 1986 Assisi encounters. Yet few would ever claim that Benedict was unfaithful to his predecessor based on that.

However, the media coverage for Gänswein’s book has zoomed in precisely on the supposed “tensions” between Benedict and Francis. As someone who witnessed most of the controversies involving Benedict XVI up close, Archbishop Gänswein should have known this was going to happen when he released the book. 

Complicating this even more, the book is not just only dedicated to vindicating Benedict, as it’s supposedly intended. It’s also seemingly written with the purpose of vindicating Gänswein.

This doesn’t happen only in the chapters depicting Benedict’s coexistence with Pope Francis. In chapter 5, Archbishop Gänswein defends his own actions during the Vatileaks scandal and also regarding his response during a 2012 reemergence of the controversy surrounding the the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi in the 1980s. In the previous chapter, Gänswein even states that the previous papal secretary, Josef Clemens, had a “certain jealousy” towards him.

His defensive stance is even more visible in chapter 8, where Gänswein recounts the scandal involving Cardinal Sarah’s book. After giving his account of the events, Gänswein dedicates a whole section of that chapter to describing how this episode allegedly led to his falling out with Pope Francis. 

In this section, titled “Il prefetto dimezzato” (“The halved prefect”) Gänswein explains that he and Francis were never able to “create the appropriate climate of trust necessary to adequately carry out” Gänswein’s duties as Prefect of the Papal Household. The archbishop goes on to describe how, in the wake of Cardinal Sarah’s controversy, Francis sidelined Gänswein, removing him from his duties and demoting him to a mere caretaker for the aged Benedict.

During this episode, Benedict completely fades into the background, a strange situation for the supposed protagonist of this book. The Pope Emeritus only intervenes by writing a couple of letters interceding for his friend, and by telling him something that has been widely quoted in the media: “It seems Pope Francis doesn’t trust me anymore, and is making you my guardian.”

According to Gänswein, Benedict said this “half-jokingly,” but Ganswein does not clarify whether Benedict meant it as a swipe at Francis or as merely a way of consoling his friend. 

What is indeed clear is that Gänswein felt “humiliated” by Francis’s harshness towards him. The archbishop admits that what he’s writing may be “brutal” and “inelegant,” but “it’s the truth,” and “there’s no way around it.”

In other words, this part of the book is more expressly about the tensions between Francis and Gänswein than the tensions between Francis and Benedict. 

Curiously, the supposed tensions between Francis and Benedict are expressed in a completely different way.

For example, Gänswein says that Benedict reacted with “perplexity” to Amoris Laetitia—the same word used to describe Ratzinger’s reaction to John Paul II and the Assisi encounters. But Benedict never gave public expression to this, either verbally or in writing, because to the Pope Emeritus, to do so would be “an illicit intrusion.” 

Regarding Traditionis Custodes, Gänswein also suggests that Benedict may have considered it to be in error. However, he writes that the Pope Emeritus was also clear that “the responsibility of these decisions befalls the reigning pontiff.”

Many of these incidents lack direct quotes from the Pope Emeritus but are reconstructions that Gänswein pieces together from Benedict’s thoughts and actions on these topics when he was reigning pope. It’s public knowledge that Benedict upheld the previous sacramental discipline regarding the divorced and civilly remarried in Sacramentum Caritatis, which was later superseded by Francis in Amoris Laetitia’s. It’s also known that Traditionis Custodes abrogated Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio that widened permission for the celebration of the 1962 Roman Missal.

In the end, however, knowing what Benedict did in the past leads us to nothing more than extrapolations. One thing is made clear in Gänswein’s book, though. Whatever opinions the Pope Emeritus held on these contentious topics, he was very keen on not interfering with his successor’s papacy. A quote from elsewhere in the book confirms Benedict’s humility and obedience even further:

Obviously, the differences in the ways both popes respectively dealt with the issues that arose during their pontificates were evident to all. But Benedict, though some have tried to goad him, has never hypothesized his own explanations for Francis’ strategy. In fact, it seems to me that the most correct analysis might identify that the problem is not so much the coexistence of two popes, one reigning and one emeritus, as the emergence and development of two fan bases, because as time went on, it became increasingly apparent that there were indeed two visions of the Church. And these two fan bases — each founded on statements, gestures, or even mere impressions of Francis’s and Benedict’s attitudes (moreover, sometimes with completely gratuitous inventions) — created the tension that later reverberated even among those who were not acutely aware of the ecclesiastical dynamics. (pp. 241-242).

An ironic statement, given that Nothing but the Truth provides fodder to this very same partisan war. According to Gänswein himself, the constant “contrasting between the reigning Francis and the emeritus Benedict … has always saddened Ratzinger, especially when the observations came from within the Vatican” (p. 239).

Throughout the book, the relationship between Benedict and Francis is, disagreements notwithstanding, always depicted as nothing less than affable. Several times we see both exchanging nice words about each other. The veracity of this depiction was reinforced recently by the news that when he was informed of Benedict’s death, Francis is said to have arrived at his bedside side within ten minutes to pray and pay his respects.

We are left with some important questions, however, that require answers. Why did Archbishop Gänswein decide to publish this book now, announcing it while Benedict was still lying in state? It is unlikely that Gänswein secured a publisher’s contract on such short notice. Was this contract signed while Benedict was still alive?

This raises other questions: did Benedict know about this book? Did he give permission to be quoted in a book of this nature? If so, it’s hard to reconcile this fact with the image the book itself gives us: of someone taking great pains not to interfere with his successor’s pontificate. 

But if not, then how can one believe, from what is revealed in Nothing but the Truth, that Benedict would have been pleased with this book and with the fallout likely to emerge from it? 

Benedict’s obedience to the pope was not merely circumstantial. It was an intrinsic part of his life even in previous pontificates. In the early pages of his book, Gänswein quotes both Popes Paul VI and John Paul I explaining that Ratzinger’s elevation to the cardinalate was justified not only by his proficient intellect, but also by his fidelity to the magisterium. 

As emeritus, Benedict embraced this fidelity in an exemplary way. It overflowed from his interior life. It is quite unfortunate therefore, that his name is linked to public airing of grievances against Pope Francis in both life and death. His memory deserves better than this. 

It’s true that Gänswein’s new book shows a more personal side of Benedict, more affable and relatable—and true to his personality—than what we’re used to seeing on the mass media. Gänswein also debunks the major controversies surrounding his pontificate, from the Regensburg address, to his AIDS/condoms intervention and his cancelled speech at the University La Sapienza

However, there’s nothing groundbreaking in these refutations. Gänswein’s proximity to these events doesn’t seem to provide additional insights. Everything the archbishop says could be found in Catholic apologetics websites at the time. On the other hand, this defense of the late pontiff’s legacy is marred by an emphasis on the differences between Francis and Benedict, which is something that—the book says so— “saddened” the Pope Emeritus.

In short, a book vindicating Pope Benedict was long overdue. Unfortunately, this was not the vindication Ratzinger deserved.

Image credits: Papst Franziskus Erzbisch of Gänswein; Cristoph Wagener, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Papal last words


Shortly after the announcement of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s death, reports of his last words started to emerge. According to the testimony of a nurse who was taking care of Benedict throughout the night of his death, the pope emeritus uttered these words:

“Lord, I love you!”

These would come to be the last comprehensible words that anyone in this world would ever hear him say. These last words were extremely fitting, if one takes into consideration Joseph Ratzinger’s life and pontificate. Still as a pope, Benedict XVI would write in his most important encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.

— Deus Caritas Est, 1

In these words it is possible to encapsulate Benedict XVI’s whole pontificate and the central core of the Christian message.

Knowing this, one may ask: what were the last words of other popes? And what can we learn from these words?

Pope St. John Paul II

Unlike Benedict, who freely resigned when he perceived his health deteriorating, his predecessor’s last years on the See of Peter were marked by his increasing limitations due to Parkinson’s. On January 31, 2005, John Paul II was rushed to the hospital due to flu symptoms. The pontiff would require a tracheostomy some days later.

On March 27, Easter Sunday, the pontiff appeared in public for the last time. He struggled to speak to the crowd at St. Peter’s Basilica, but his tracheostomy did not allow him to do so. John Paul II ended up merely blessing the pilgrims with a hand gesture and returning inside.

The pope would die a few days later, in April 2, after suffering septic shock due to a urinary tract infection. According to those who were around that day, the last known words John Paul II uttered were in Polish:

“Let me go to the house of the Father.”

In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II had coined the term “culture of death” to signify modern society’s acceptance of such evils as abortion and euthanasia. However, in the same encyclical, the pontiff would teach:

Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called “aggressive medical treatment”, in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience “refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted”. Certainly there is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take account of concrete circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means of treatment available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for improvement. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death.

— Evangelium Vitae, 65

John Paul II died carrying a heavy cross. He carried it with dignity, but he also carried it according to the principles of Catholic bioethics, refusing disproportionate means when his time to “go to the house of the Father” had clearly arrived.

Bld. Pope John Paul I

John Paul I’s pontificate was marked by two things: his smile (he was nicknamed “the smiling Pope”) and the shortness of his reign, lasting only 33 days. His death was sudden and unexpected, probably due to a heart attack or an embolism during the night of September 28, 1978.

Of course, the suddenness of the smiling Pope’s death makes his last words all the more chilling and foreboding. The day before, John Paul I felt some ill-disposition and chest pain, but did not pay much attention to it. Before going to bed, he greeted the nuns who took care of the household and unknowingly uttered the last words that anyone would hear him say:

“Tomorrow, we will see each other, if the Lord still wishes it, and we will celebrate Mass together.”

Pope St. John XXIII

St. John XXIII, the pope who convoked the Second Vatican Council, was also a smiling and charismatic pope. It is no wonder then, that when news of his impending death started to spread, a big crowd would gather at St. Peter’s Square to pray for the Holy Father.

His personal secretary, Loris Capovilla, would recount John XXIII’s final moments. Seeing that he was about to pass away, Capovilla told the pope:

“There are only a few of us here in this room, but if you were to look out of your window on to the square you’d see crowds  of people.”

To this, Pope John would reply:

“Naturally that’s the way it should be. The Pope is dying. I love them, they love me”

Vb. Pope Pius XII

Pius XII was the pope that shepherded the Church throughout World War 2. However, not all totalitarian regimes collapsed after the end of this terrible war. By end of his pontificate, in 1958, the world was coalescing into two blocs, which in effect split the world in half. The Communist bloc was profoundly anti-Catholic and anticlerical. Terrible religious persecutions against the Church ensued. The Cold War—and the nuclear prospects it brought—was at hand.

On October 6, Pius XII suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed. A few days later, the pope suffered cardio-pulmonary complications of a second stroke. He would die on October 9. The pope’s last recorded words before lapsing into unconsciousness show his profound love and concern for the Church he left behind:

“Pray. Pray that this regrettable situation for the Church may end.”

Pope Pius XI

Pius XI’s papacy was marked by his doctrinal developments on Church Social Doctrine. This was especially needed at his time, when totalitarian regimes were beginning to emerge and consolidate their power in Europe. Pius condemned Fascist tenets in his encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno, Nazi beliefs in his encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, and Communist ideologies in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris.

Prophetically anticipating the upcoming world war, Pius XI’s last words in 1939 were reportedly:

“Peace, peace!”

Pope St. Pius X

Though Pius X’s pontificate was marked by his steadfast fight against the heresy of Modernism, his last days were marked by a profound “heartbreak” for not being able to prevent the outbreak of World War 1, one month before. It is no wonder that the cause of his death would be a heart attack.

It is said that, during his final days, Pius X would often sigh “Poor children” in reference to the deaths in war. When he died, Pius X seemed to show relief that God was sparing him the suffering of living through such a terrible conflict:

“Now I begin to think the end is approaching. The Almighty in His inexhaustible goodness wishes to spare me the horrors which Europe is undergoing”

Bld. Pius IX

Pius IX’s pontificate was the longest (at least in post-apostolic times), spanning 31 years. It was also a pontificate marked by severe turmoil, namely through the publication of the Syllabus of Errors, the convocation of the First Vatican Council, and the loss of the Papal States.

At the time of Pius IX’s death, the papacy was in a very weakened position. The pope, having lost his temporal territories, saw himself as a “Prisoner in the Vatican.” The Catholic Church was being undermined by modernistic and post-enlightenment ideologies. Pius IX last words, recorded by the cardinals by his side, show his concern for the state of the Church of his time.

“Guard the church I loved so well and sacredly.”

St. Peter

As we move backward in time beyond the mid-19th century, objective accounts of the popes’ last words become sparser. This is even truer in more ancient times. I would like to end this article with St. Peter, the first pope, but his last words are unknown. 

Tradition holds that Peter was condemned to death by crucifixion. Since he considered himself unworthy to die the same as Jesus, Peter would have asked to be crucified upside down. Still, we do not have access to his exact last words.

However, we know his last recorded words. Those are the last verses of his second epistle, written when he was about to die. Those last words encompass his life, for they are a final effort of tending to the sheep of the Lord, as Christ commissioned him to do.

You, therefore, brethren, knowing these things before, take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and unto the day of eternity.  Amen.

My farewell to Benedict XVI

VATICAN, January 10, 2023 — When Pope Francis asked for prayers for Benedict XVI at the Wednesday audience of December 28, 2022, I knew I had to prepare for his passing. Benedict was already 95 years old, but it’s hard to truly feel ready for the death of someone who has made such a huge impact on my life. Through his writings and speeches, Benedict fostered and strengthened my faith through many years, so I could not imagine a life without him.

I knew I would have to attend his funeral, when the day would come. I needed to say goodbye to this important person. I needed to pay my respects.

When it was announced that Benedict had passed away on the last day of the year, I made my arrangements and prayed that everything goes well. I flew from Portugal on Wednesday to attend the Thursday service the next morning, January 5.

I arrived at the Vatican colonnade a little before half past 6 am. It was still very dark and cold. But there was already a long queue at that time. A sea of blue habits flowed before me–a group of religious nuns were lining up in front of me. One could hear a murmur of different dialects and languages all around.

I waited about an hour before entering the Square. A young person passed on to me a free copy of a special edition of L’Osservatore Romano and a booklet for the funeral mass. I settled in at a good seat, fronting the Basilica. It was my first time to be in the Vatican during Christmas time, so I was able to sit just by the majestic Christmas tree and the beautiful nativity scene. 

As the sun rose, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was still covered in fog. There were many seats around me, but they filled up at every passing minute. The crowd flowed through the security checks and suffused all the empty spaces, until the whole Square was full. Aside from the crowd, there were many delegations, from dignitaries, heads of State, Church leaders, and different faith groups, namely Protestant and Eastern Orthodox. One could smell the anticipation alongside the freshness of the morning.

It was around 8:50 when the body was brought out outside. It was met with the chime of bells, restrained applause, and some solemn music. We then prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary in Latin, for the repose of the late pontiff’s soul. Praying in Latin with the rest of the attendees, I felt the universality of this momentous event, transcending race, ethnicity and nationality. Praying this immortal language was not so much about having a full grasp on it, but reciting it along with the Church worldwide. I also took this opportunity to say all the prayer intentions that people asked me to lay at St. Peter’s feet. 

Though I had a good seat, I was still a bit far. A multitude of priests, dressed in white, unfurled for several rows before me. I couldn’t see everything in my line of sight, but the large screens nearby enabled me to see what was happening at the altar at close range. Being physically there with the rest of the faithful and able to see it in real time made me feel I was truly a part of this unprecedented, historical moment.

As we uttered the last words of the Salve Regina, the fog atop the dome immediately cleared. We now could see the dome, as if it were the sun rising on a new day. And I thought that this had been the “sun” that Benedict saw everyday for several decades, from his time as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to his reign as pontiff, to his last days as pope emeritus.

At around 9:30, Pope Francis was wheeled into the altar. Cardinals arrived with the pope, and also Patriarchs of the Eastern and Oriental Churches.

“In nomine Patris”: I heard. The Mass began. I followed the booklet. The Mass was in Latin, but the readings (and later, the prayers of the faithful) were read in different languages (Spanish, English, Italian etc.). While this was going on, I felt very moved: a deep sense of communion, not just with everyone present there but with the entire Church watching online (Church Militant), and also the Church Suffering (Souls in Purgatory) and Church Triumphant (Saints in Heaven). 

As someone who was present at the Mass, I thought the homily was beautiful and moving. It was profoundly Christocentric, as Benedict would have wanted it. I was surprised to know that some took issue with it, because that was not the impression for someone who attended the Mass. The homily included many references from then Pope Benedict XVI, and was deeply imbued with his theology. 

It was especially moving when Pope Francis said before ending the homily: “Benedict … may your joy be complete as you hear his (God’s) voice, now and forever!” A long silence of several minutes ensued, with muted bells heard from afar. This was an opportunity for me to just reflect on the gospel reading, the homily, and some of my memories of then Pope Benedict XVI’s words. At that time I got teary-eyed and cried because of how much he has helped me with my faith and with my personal encounter of Jesus Christ in my life. Several flashbacks came to mind: 

I remembered the time I was in Madrid for the 2011 World Youth Day, during the prayer vigil in Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome. The then pope said: “Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world”.  After a short but violent storm that lasted for 20 minutes, cutting short his speech, he said: “Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is stronger than the rain. Thank you. The Lord is sending us his blessings with the rain. With this, you’re leading by example.” 

I remembered his teachings on faith, that “Faith gives joy… The great joy comes from the fact that there is this great love, and that is the essential message of faith. You are unswervingly loved.”  [1]

I remembered his teachings on hope: “The Christian knows that history is already saved, that therefore the outcome in the end will be positive…We know that the ‘powers of darkness’ will not prevail over the Church, but we do not know under what conditions that will transpire.” [2]

I remembered his teachings on love, inseparable from truth: “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.”  

I remembered his teachings on prioritizing one´s relationship with God: “Man is a relational being. And if his first, fundamental relationship is disturbed—his relationship with God—then nothing else can be truly in order. This is where the priority lies in Jesus’ message and ministry: before all else, he wants to point man toward the essence of his malady, and to show him—if you are not healed there, then however many good things you may find, you are not truly healed.”[3]

And I remembered his final tweet (him, who had been the first pope in this social media platform): “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

After the Mass was concluded, the pallbearers brought the casket near to where Pope Francis was standing. On the screen, I saw the two meet for the last time on this side of eternity. I could see the grief and sadness in Pope Francis’s eyes, as he laid his hand on the casket to bid one last farewell to his friend. That too was very moving. 

As the casket disappeared into the Basilica, some people started cheering “Santo Subito” (“saint, now”), asking for the canonization of Pope Benedict XVI. The doors of the Basilica closed. Behind doors, away from my eyes (and the eyes of the rest of the world), there would be a final ceremony and a burial. 

The Basilica would only open in the late afternoon, after my flight back to Portugal. So, I moved with the crowd and left the Square, certain that I had participated in a historical event: the funeral of someone whom I believe will one day become a saint and a Doctor of the Church. 

Paradoxically, the ambience was not heavy, but festive. It was obvious that many shared this idea of mine that Benedict was on his way to heaven. There were drums in the distance, played by some pilgrims from Benedict’s native Germany. They were like wake up calls to return home and bring Benedict’s wisdom and love to this world so removed from God. I know this is what Papa Benny would have wanted.  

Farewell, my dear Papa Ratzi… Papa Benny. May your soul rest in peace. Thank you for your written works and speeches, and all the work you´ve done for Christ and His Church.  Thank you for having been a part of my life and for allowing me to experience this occasion–and what a privilege!– in my life.

I know one day, he could become Doctor of the Church.

1. Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium. By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Peter Seewald. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987.

2. The Ratzinger Report. By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985.

3. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. By Pope Benedict XVI. New York: Crown, 2012

Amoris Laetitia and St. John Paul II

Interview with Prof. Rocco Buttiglione

On November 24, 2022, Pedro Gabriel interviewed Prof. Rocco Buttiglione about Amoris Laetitia and St. John Paul II. In this interview, we explored how to reconcile Amoris Laetitia with John Paul II’s pontificate, and how Amoris Laetitia is based on certain anthropological principles that were already present in Karol Wojtyla’s philosophy.


Pedro Gabriel

Good afternoon, and welcome to our Amoris Laetitia talks. I am Pedro Gabriel and today we have Prof. Rocco Buttiglione with us.

Rocco Buttiglione has been Ordinary Professor of Philosophy of Politics at the University of Teramo, of Philosophy of Politics and of Political Science at the St. Pius University of Rome and of Philosophy with a particular consideration for the Philosophy of Politics and of Society at the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein, where he was also a prorector. He has also taught at several other universities, and has received an honorary doctorate at the Catholic University in Lublin and at the Francisco Marroquín University in Ciudad de Guatemala

He has also been active in the field of politics as minister for European affairs and as minister of culture for the Italian government, and also as member of the European Parliament, of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (where he was also Vice President) and of the Italian Senate.

He has also been an advisor to the Papal Commission on Justice and Peace.

He has written more than a dozen books and several hundred papers on different topics, namely on John Paul II’s thought, which will be the main focus of this interview.

Buttiglione is currently Professor at the Instituto de Filosofia Edith Stein in Granada (Spain) and is also currently a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas.

He is married to Maria Pia and has 4 daughters and 12 grandchildren.

Rocco, welcome to our program. It’s an honor to have you here.

Rocco Buttiglione

It is an honor to be here with you. Thank you.

Pedro Gabriel

Thank you very much for accepting this interview. So, first of all, as I said, our interview will focus mostly on Pope St. John Paul II’s thought and life. So, could you briefly describe to me your opinion on John Paul II, its main highlights, and the general impact that this pontificate had for the Church and the world?

Rocco Buttiglione

Well, it is not easy, at least not in a short time.  I would say first of all, he was a saint. Everybody who was near to him could testify to this. He had a beaming humanity, and it was impossible to be near to him and not to be taken by this humanity. I have been a friend. I have worked with him. I have eaten with him. I have sung with him. He was a good singer.

But when he comes back in my dreams, what comes back is always the first time I saw him. I was a boy in a crowd. He passed by. He watched me in my eyes. He shook my hand, and I had the distinct impression: There is a man who would give his life for you if need be. And when there is such a man, and this man is not your father, not your mother, not even your sister or brother, then at least the doubt that this love must have a supernatural root, must come to you. And this doubt accompanies you throughout all your life. I tell this because there is an impression that many people who met him have had, and all those who later became closer friends and had more occasions to be with him, and those who saw him only once, they all had the same impression: He was a man of God. 

Pedro Gabriel

Alright, so obviously his pontificate also had a big, positive impact on the Church, and even on the world. What would you say would be the main points in which John Paul II made this positive impact on the Church and the world?

Rocco Buttiglione

Well look, we were used to think that the world had been divided in two by the Yalta agreements. The Yalta agreements, the agreements that divided Europe in a Soviet part and in a democratic part. We were used to thinking that these agreements could be called in question only through a war. Through a nuclear war. This means they could not be questioned. And these agreements were questioned through a movement that was a cultural and religious movement. And the leader of this movement was John Paul.

We fought not with weapons, but with the weapons of charity, of culture, of dialogue. We made an appeal to the conscience of our opponents. We did not want to call them enemies, even in difficult times. Even when in Poland the Communists killed our people. I think of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, I think that his cause of beatification is now ongoing. 

And John Paul II always said: We must respect every man. We must make an appeal to conscience. Weapons do not shoot by themselves. They need men. And if men are not convinced that they are facing an aggression, if men are called to make use of their moral sense, then these men will become our brothers. 

And so, we had a miracle. The Communist regime fell down without blood. Perhaps it would have fallen also without John Paul II. But it would have fallen in a civil war from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea. A civil war that might have easily triggered the Third World War and nuclear war. 

And I think this was a miracle. The real first great miracle of the pontiff John Paul II. And this is the end of an historical epoch.

Some people oppose John Paul II to Pope Francis, and they do not understand that John Paul II stands at the end of a historic epoch, and then a new historical epoch begins, and we cannot continue in a historical epoch that is over. And that explains many of the differences or these pontificates. 

Within the same fundamental inspiration, popes are like orchestra directors. They can put different accents, but the music is the same. Take, I don’t know, Manfred Honeck, a friend of mine, and Barenboim. They are two great orchestral directors and they put different accents. But when they play the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, the symphony does not belong neither to Honeck, nor to Barenboim. It belongs to Beethoven, and so the music of the life of the Church belongs to God. 

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, and that’s precisely a very good insight, because that’s one of the points of this interview: many of the critics of Pope Francis tried to pit Francis against John Paul II, as if they were in opposition. And also much of this opposition comes from Amoris Laetitia. They say that Amoris Laetitia contradicts John Paul II’s pontificate, and this happened because John Paul II promulgated an apostolic exhortation named Familiaris Consortio, where he did not allow communion for divorced and remarried people unless they would agree to not live more uxorio, that is without sexual intercourse, as brother and sister. So, what changed with Amoris Laetitia relatively to the previous sacramental discipline, and how can we reconcile Amoris Laetitia with Familiaris Consortio

Rocco Buttiglione

Well look, I think there is a difference, of course. There is a difference in the sacramental discipline. It is not a difference in the fundamental moral theology. 

What is the point? Take Familiaris Consortio. Before Familiaris Consortio, the divorcees were practically excommunicated. They were not invited to attend the Mass. They were not welcome if they set foot in the parish church and Familiaris Consortio makes a revolution. Familiaris Consortio, says no: we want you to come. You are welcome. Come to the Mass and give a religious education to your children. We cannot allow you to receive communion, but we want you to be members of the Church. It was a revolution. A change. They were no more excommunicated.

There was a last battle: the possibility of receiving the sacraments. John Paul II did not do that because he lived in a society in which he could expect people to be scandalized by the communion given to divorcees. 

Now, unfortunately we live in a society in which this would not be any more a scandal, because this situation of divorced people has become common. There are so many of them and we run the risk that if they do not give religious education to their children, the children will remain out of the Church. 

This does not mean that to have sexual intercourse out of marriage, in a civil marriage that is not recognized by the Church, is no more a sin. It means that before it was a special sin. You could not go to the confessor and confess your sin. You could not allow the confessor to evaluate the attenuating circumstances that might, to a certain extent, justify what you were doing. You were excluded also from confession. 

Now you can go to the confession. You can talk, you can explain, and you can initiate with your confessor a path leading you back to the full participation to the life of grace and along this path, at a certain point, you may receive an encouragement to receive the communion. 

Why? Under which circumstances? The Pope does not want to make an examination of the different cases, because the cases are an infinite number. If you want later, I can tell you some cases in which I think this could happen. But it says only: talk to your confessor, and the confessor must take the responsibility of giving you adequate counsel and of leading you back. 

Of course, the point of arrival is that if you are in a marriage that is not a real marriage, you must interrupt the sexual intercourse with your partner. But when, how? On this we can discuss. 

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, so you have actually written a book, a book in defense of Amoris Laetitia, which I have right here. It’s titled “Risposte Amichevoli Ai Critici Di Amoris Laetitia,” which is Italian for “A Friendly Response to the Critics of Amoris Laetitia.” This was, for a long time, the only one of two books that I know of defending this document. What drove you to write this book?

Rocco Buttiglione

Well, I was in Vienna giving classes in a local university and my friend Guzmán Carriquiry called me by phone and told me: “Rocco, they’re attacking the Pope. You have to do something to defend him.” And I thought for a while. What would John Paul II tell me if he were here? And I had no doubt he would tell me: defend the Pope. Not because he’s Bergoglio, not because he’s Wojtyla, but because the pope is the pope, first. And second, because he’s right.

And then I, I started writing the articles that were collected for this book. They tried, some people tried to make of John Paul II an enemy of the Vatican Council, a reactionary, a conservative. No, he was 100% a man of the Council.

Of course, he was against some wrong interpretation of the Council, that understood the Council as a break in the history of the Church. No. In the history of the Church there is always continuity and innovation. Neither innovation without continuity, nor continuity without innovation.

On the same fundamental ground, new buildings can be added, but remaining faithful to the inspiration which is Christ, the only founder of the Church and the only stone on which the Church rests. And Peter is the Vicar of Christ in the history of the world. 

So that’s the reason why I wrote. By the way, John Paul II was also a philosopher, and a very innovative figure. He wrote a book on the “acting person”. It was a kind of philosophy of the Council and the philosophy of the Council consists in the fact that the same truth is presented beginning with the everyday experience of the men of today. There is only one truth. John Paul II was absolutely against any kind of relativism, but there are many paths, leading to this truth.

The path that leads to this truth in the 13th century is different from the path leading to this truth in the 21st century. The path leading to this truth beginning in Poland, within national Polish culture, is different from the path leading to the same truth, having as a starting point, Argentina or Italy or whatever, or Portugal, I don’t know.

Pedro Gabriel

Yes. So, yeah precisely. It’s very interesting that you brought up the concept of “person in action” or acting person. I will pick that up a little, later in this interview. But for now, you also brought up an important point which is: Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, was a philosopher and he has written many articles, where he developed a very interesting anthropology. 

So, you have written about this anthropology that Karol Wojtyla developed, even before he became Pope John Paul II. My understanding is that there are some aspects of his anthropology that are not very well known, and this may be a source of the misunderstandings, since Francis seems to inspire himself in those forgotten anthropological principles that people, Catholics in general, might not be well acquainted with. Therefore, people might have some trouble understanding the continuity that exists between Francis and John Paul II.

Let us talk about this anthropology. Let’s start talking about the tension between objective sin and the sinner’s subjectivity. This was a part of Karol Wojtyla’s thought even before he ascended to the papacy. So, in your book you write, and I quote:

“The objective side of the action decides on the goodness or gravity of the action, whereas the subjective side of the action decides on the level of responsibility of the agent.”

End quote.

We are all well acquainted with John Paul II’s teachings on objective evil acts, or intrinsically evil acts, that he developed in Veritatis Splendor. But what can you tell us about John Paul II’s teachings on subjective responsibility and mitigating factors, which seem to be at the center of Amoris Laetitia?

Rocco Buttiglione

First of all, there is not a particular doctrine of John Paul II.  He owns this doctrine, but you can find this doctrine in St. Thomas Aquinas, and you find this doctrine also in the Catechism, and not only in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, also in the old Catechism of St. Pius X. It is expressed in a different language: in order to have a sin, you need an objective side—gravity of matter—and you need a subjective side. Subjective side is freedom of judgment and knowledge of fact. Knowledge of fact means you must know that what you do is wrong. If you don’t know that, if you think honestly, in your conscience that it is right, then there is no sin. Second, you must be free and there are situations in which you are not free. 

Unfortunately, in our time, with so many damaged lives, people who grow without having the model of a living family, of a real family, because their parents divorced, because perhaps they never had a father… many people do not have these models. And they grow with an emotional structure that is damaged and makes it very difficult for them to be really free. 

Now, in order to evaluate the subjective responsibility, you must consider these two elements. And then, it may happen that something that is objectively, absolutely wrong, can be only a venial sin, or perhaps nothing at all according to the situations. 

John Paul II added to this traditional teaching one point, and this point is what we might call the idea of “social sin” or “social structures of sin.” What is a social sin? Sin is always personal. Only persons can commit sin. But there are social structures that incline people to commit sin. And when one lives within these social structures, it’s possible that he’s not completely responsible for the sins he commits. 

Why? Because he receives the teaching that that action is good from persons who are entitled to teach him, from resorting to experience and from all the culture in which he lives in, and you must evaluate this when you try to build a path that leads from a specific culture towards the truth on man. 

And this is the fundamental part in Amoris Laetitia. Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia expands on this principle. It considers attenuating circumstances that may transform a mortal sin into a venial sin. That is, make it possible that you commit something that is objectively, absolutely wrong, but nevertheless you are not completely responsible for it. 

A great friend of John Paul II and of mine, Father Tadeusz Stychen, who was the successor of Wojtyla at the Chair of Ethics of the University of Lublin or the Catholic University of Lublin, and perhaps the closest friend of John Paul II, —he was also a friend of mine—used to say “innocens sed nocens.” You are innocent, you are not responsible, but what you do nevertheless is wrong. 

I have to explain to you that it is wrong, but I must take time and patience, also because in the world of today, the confessor, the priest is not an absolute authority. Once he could say: “Here is a document of the Church” and “you must do this.” Very seldom this authority today is recognized. In his relation to the penitent, he has to show why it is true, what the Church teaches. And in order to lead the penitent to understand, that he is doing something wrong and to find the moral energy to break with the behavior, he needs time, and he must have the capacity of finding a path. And it is not always easy, and it cannot be determined abstractly, a priori. Only within the situation, you can find the path that brings you beyond the limits of the situation, that breaks the limits of the mentality of the culture and leads you towards the complete truth. 

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, that’s a very interesting insight about the structures of sin. First, before I move on to that point, I would just like to point out that the teaching of mitigating circumstances is also codified in the Catechism that John Paul II promulgated, namely, paragraphs 1860 and 1734-5, and 2352 and these…

Rocco Buttiglione

But Pedro, for those who do not accept the Council, I would add it is contained in the Catechism of Pius X.

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, precisely, correct. I’m just pointing out…

Rocco Buttiglione

It has always been a doctrine of the Church. It is no novelty.

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, correct, I’m just pointing out that John Paul II also taught these principles, even when people try to pit him against Francis. These Catechism quotes are specifically quoted by Amoris Laetitia 302, where the sacramental discipline has been promulgated. And there’s also the distinction between mortal and venial sins that Pope John Paul II brings up in Veritatis Splendor 70 and Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 17. So, Francis is not saying anything that John Paul II did not say before. 

Now regarding the structures of sin, it’s very interesting, because this is another anthropological principle that John Paul II brought to his pontificate and that not many people talk about, even though many popes after John Paul II have, indeed, talked about structures of sin,

So, John Paul II talks about structures of sin in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 16 and in Solicitude Rei Sociallis 39.

Structures of sin predispose, as you said, people born in those structures of sin to sin, hindering their ability to recognize the truth and to choose it accordingly.

How would you say that the divorced and remarried couples, that Amoris Laetitia is trying to bring to the Church, how would you say how these divorced and remarried couples are affected by our modern structures of sin, and how does this mitigate their culpability?

Rocco Buttiglione

Karol Wojtyla, in his book on “person-in-act”—the acting person—he explains that we have the capacity to know truth, but we have also the necessity to interiorize truth.

Now both these aspects in our society are problematic. Think of a person who has was born in a broken family. It is difficult for him to interiorize the value of the unity of marriage. It is maybe difficult in a hipper-sexualized society like ours, it is very difficult to interiorize also the value of chastity. And, if you sleep around, it is difficult later that you interiorize the value of conjugal fidelity. And many people get married, and they have no real idea of what marriage is. They don’t know, sometimes, but in a much larger number of cases they have not interiorized the value, even if they theoretically know it. And then they divorce, they enter into a second marriage and then at a certain point in their life they want to go back to the faith, to a living faith. And they go back to a living faith, having two marriages, having procreated children with a second husband or wife, and they may be willing to say to the husband or wife: we cannot have intercourse, it is wrong. Nevertheless, we can love each other, and they have feelings of gratitude. This husband or wife may be the person who has saved them from the depression after the failure of their first marriage and is the father of their children and they are in love to him. And what if he says no? “If you refuse intercourse with me, I consider this as a betrayal of our love.” And he leaves, and he creates another family. What should a mother or a father do under these circumstances? If he continues to have intercourse, what he does is wrong. Shall we say that it is so wrong as to be a mortal sin? 

I don’t know. In each particular situation, you must make a judgment. The divorcee becomes a sinner like all others. He has the right of asking for a judgment and of offering the mitigating circumstances that they may be present in this situation. 

By the way, I wish to make two points. The first one is this idea of the structures of sin is of John Paul II, but it is not an invention of John Paul II. You can find it in St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica Prima-Secundae, question, I think that’s 95, articles 5 and 6. He explains that certain people do not recognize all the aspects of the natural moral law. For instance, he gives the example of the Germans. He says: the Germans do not consider theft to be a sin. And the concept of structure of sin grows out of a reflection on St. Thomas Aquinas.  

Pedro Gabriel

Correct, and also the other concept that you mentioned, the concept of “person-in-action,” or the “acting person,” that’s also an important part of Karol Wojtyla’s thought. Another defender of Pope Francis has been Professor Rodrigo Guerra Lopez, a member of the theological team of CELAM, who also wrote about that. I have a quote from him that says that Wojtyla’s personalism sees human action “as a norm for a yet unfinished person, as a moral norm for the person in transit, a person-in-action, demanding great patience and tenderness, great care and respect for the most intimate dynamics of the person, a conscience that is not educated ‘at once,’ but is always on journey.” End quote.

This seems to relate to a masterful insight I’ve read in your book, that perfectly incorporates Francis’s principle of “time is greater than space.” You write, and I quote: “If no one can escape one’s cross, it is also true that no story begins with the cross. It is a path. In this journey, ‘time is greater than space.’ In what direction is the sinner moving? Towards the house of the Father, or away from it? The direction of the movement (marked by time) counts more than the absolute distance, which is space.” End quote

So, this principle of the “acting person,” the “person-in-act” is also present in Karol Wojtyla’s philosophy. Could you elaborate a bit more on what John Paul II meant by “person-in-action”?

Rocco Buttiglione

Well, look. Now it comes to my mind another thing. We have been talking about the John Paul II, about Pope Francis. I want to outline the fact that this principle is absolutely traditional.

I don’t know whether the name of Alfonso Lopez Trujillo means something to you. He was a cardinal who was the President of the Papal Commission for the Family. He was a very conservative cardinal, he was a traditionalist. One of the problems that we have today is that we have too many traditionalists who do not know the tradition. Alfonso Lopez was a traditionalist who knew perfectly well the tradition, and he has written a moral document for confessors in which all the principles of Amoris Laetitia are already contained. He says: if there is somebody who has a starting point that is very far from the doctrine of the Church, somebody who is committing sin or acts that are grave matter of sin, but nevertheless he’s not aware of this, the confessor shall not tell him that he’s committing sin immediately. He shall tell him that he’s committing sin only step by step, when he’s acquired elements enough to understand that what he’s doing is wrong. So, not right away, but in a dialogue. When we have arrived at the point at which he can understand that what he’s doing is wrong, and not only, when he has acquired the moral inner strength to change his behavior. 

So, there is not a novelty of John Paul II. Of course, it is a novelty. John Paul II rediscovered it and expressed it with great philosophical capacity, but it is a traditional doctrine of the Church. You find it in a very conservative cardinal, like Alfonso Lopez. You find it in St. Alphonsus Liguori. You find it in all the history of moral theology. And some very conservative theologians, also today, very conservative theologians who know the tradition, the traditionalists who know the tradition, recognize. 

Unfortunately, there are many traditionalists who do not know the tradition of the Church. They think that the tradition of the Church is what the Church used to do when they were children, and this is of course a part of the tradition of the Church, but only a small section. 

The tradition is much broader and within this tradition you find all the principles that Pope Francis lays off in Amoris Laetitia

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, and that’s a good point, because that’s precisely it. Both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II are traditional, but they bring from tradition principles—and develop them—that were forgotten by current day traditionalists and then they confuse these elements that they bring from tradition and that have been forgotten—or were not very highlighted before—they confuse this with novelties. 

No, they are traditional. They bring from the treasure of the tradition of the Church something that is traditional, but then they develop it. 

And of course, every pope has his predilection, his favorite ideas. So, John Paul II would focus on the structures of sin, or the “person-in-act,” which is very attuned to his philosophy, and Francis likes talking more about mercy and about mitigating circumstances, Benedict XVI liked to talk about truth and continuity. 

So, all of these are traditional principles, but each pope will focus on the things that are dearer to his heart. 

So yes, of course all of these principles that we are discussing of Pope John Paul II’s anthropology are indeed traditional. Of course, not novelties, but something that he develops. 

Rocco Buttiglione

Pedro, also we must consider that each pope has to deal with different problems, different opponents. The main opponent of the Church in the age of John Paul II was Communism. The main opponent of the Church in the new age in which we have Pope Francis is unbridled Capitalism, and you can find that John Paul II began to change immediately after 1989. After the fall of Communism, he starts a repositioning of the Church in front of the problems of the new historical epoch. And Pope Francis continues this repositioning of the church in front of new opponents and of new problems. 

Of course, there is also the other aspect that you have put forth. That is, each man has his own culture, his own idiosyncrasies, and there is no greater difference than that between a Polish man and an Argentinian. Two completely different popular cultures, two completely different nations and temperaments, in the unity of the same church. 

Pedro Gabriel

Correct. So now, in in your book, you say that mitigating circumstances are what distinguishes the realist ethics of John Paul II from the objectivist ethics of some of Francis’s adversaries. So, what would you say are the differences between these two ethics? The realist ethics of John Paul II and the objectivist ethics of Francis’s opponents? And where do these critics misinterpret the thought of Karol Wojtyla? 

Rocco Buttiglione

For John Paul II, it was clear that there is an objective truth on moral acts. We have the right to pass judgment on acts and say this is wrong, and it is correct, it is true. There is good and there is bad. Don’t be afraid to pass judgement. 

Now there is a general mentality that wants you to be not judgmental, but man is a being that needs to pass judgments. And some things are right. Some things are wrong. 

Never pass a judgment on persons. Don’t be afraid to pass judgments on state of affairs. 

Never pass judgment on persons. Why? Because only God knows the conscience of the person. 

In order to be good, you must obey your conscience. The proximate judge of your acts is your own conscience. And only God knows the real state of your conscience. 

To a certain extent, you know that too. Only to a certain extent, because very often we are wrong in our conscience, and to an even lesser extent, your confessor, or your best friend may be conscious of this. 

So, if you are not a confessor and you are passing judgments on somebody else, somebody who is not yourself… Don’t do that. 

This was very clear to St. John Paul II. Always judge facts. Never judge persons.

And I think that this is exactly the point of conjunction with Pope Francis. By the way, he’s a Jesuit, and Jesuits have a great tradition exactly on the issue of the direction of conscience. To direct conscience means to enter into a dialogue with the person and this dialogue is not a communication in which you give orders and the penitent obeys. You have to talk to him, to discover together with him, the path that God wants to lead him towards truth.

And this corresponds exactly… even on the issue of mercy, don’t forget, John Paul II’s had great devotion to the idea of mercy. He has written the encyclical Dives in Misericordia, and the devotion to the Merciful Heart of Jesus, the devotion to Faustina Kowalska, was very near to his heart.

When he was a young man and he went to the factory where he worked in the time of the Nazi partition of Poland, we passed by the convent of Faustina Kowalska, sister Faustina Kowalska. And he wished to stop there, to pray to the Merciful Heart of Jesus. 

Pedro Gabriel

Correct, and I would like then to pick up on conscience. It’s one word that Francis critics fear a lot, “conscience.” And of course, this is because many liberal dissenters abuse this word, but you also connect Francis’s teachings on conscience with John Paul II’s thought on that matter. The difference between the liberals and Francis is that Francis acknowledges that there is an objective moral reality, and conscience cannot change what is evil into good. But this does not mean that there is no such thing as subjectivity. And you try to prove it from John Paul II himself.

You write that conscience has the task of “subjectivizing the truth that the intellect has known. It is not enough to know what is good to do it. We must recognize it as good, identify it as the good.”

Now I must make it clear that subjectiving here is not about saying that truth is subjective, but that the truth must be internalized by the subject to build his interior world, from whence he can make moral judgments.

Can you elaborate a bit more on John Paul II’s teachings on conscience and how they relate to Pope Francis’s pontificate?

Rocco Buttiglione

Yes. John Paul II says there is an objective truth—or rather Karol Wojtyla, because this belongs to his philosophy—There is an objective truth. I can know this objective truth. On the other hand, this objective truth must become the form of my personality. In order to become the form of my personality, this objective truth needs to be interiorized. It cannot be opposed to the interiority of my person. It must become the form of the interiority of my person. And it is only possible through a dialogue, a dialogue, in which it enters to constitute my personality. 

What is the difference with some theologians who pretended to give an interpretation of the Council and gave a wrong interpretation of the Council? They say conscience constitutes truth. Which is true, but conscience constitutes truth—the good of the action—on the basis of the objective truth of the action.

Conscience is a kind of mirror. Conscience is to mirror the objective truth. And sometimes the mirror does not work well, and it may happen that what is mirrored in my conscience does not correspond to the objective truth. And then I am not a sinner because I have to obey my conscience, even to my wrong conscience. 

Of course, if I am acting on the basis of a wrong conscience, my friends, the Church, have to try to explain to me why I am wrong. But nevertheless the proximate judge of the action is the conscience of the person, and you cannot substitute the conscience of the person. And it is exactly what Pope Francis means when he says that the confessor has the task of helping the conscience to recognize truth. But it is not the task of forcing the person to do something he does not recognize as true, as his personal truth. 

The objective truth is the truth of my life. That’s the problem of moral life. To transform the objective truth into the truth of my life. And of course, it takes time. There is history. 

Many opponents of Pope Francis, who really are opponents also of John Paul II, they do not want to recognize the meaning of history. And here we come to the principle that you have quoted before. It is not important only the position that one has towards truth. It is also important the dynamic movement. Is he moving away from truth or towards truth?

And you remember in the Gospel, Jesus sees the people who offer their money for the temple. Some Pharisees give a lot of money, and the poor widow gives only two cents. And Jesus says these two cents have more worth than all the hundreds of gold coins given by the Pharisees. Why? Because she is poor. She gives out of her misery. 

So, the small steps towards truth made by a man who was born in a broken family, who made a wrong marriage, who was abused in his youth… the small steps he makes towards truth perhaps are more valuable in the eyes of God than a much more perfect accomplishment of moral good made by somebody who had a good father, a good mother, good grandparents, who was raised in a good school, was raised a good parish church, and most important got married to a good woman. To him everything is much easier.

But God sees also that the poor man who is a drug addict, that has so many disgraces in his life… well, he is doing much less objectively. But subjectively, it has a much greater value because he’s moving towards truth, starting with a very biased starting point. 

Pedro Gabriel

Yes, I know that Pope Francis also made that point in Amoris Laetitia about small steps from a person who has a background, who has lots of baggage, these small steps have more value than someone who is not sacrificing much because it’s easier for this person to follow the path of the Church.

Now I would just like to make a final question, because in Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II rejects certain erroneous moral theology currents of the time, like fundamental option theory and situation ethics. But some of Francis’s critics have tried to say that Amoris Laetitia falls into these errors. You categorically denied that that’s the case. So, what exactly is the difference between fundamental option theory and situation ethics, and what Amoris Laetitia is proposing? 

Rocco Buttiglione

Well, situation ethics says that the moral good of the action is dependent on the situation. In a certain situation, one thing can be good. In another situation it can be bad. Which is true for many actions, but not for all. There are some actions that are always bad and cannot become good under any circumstances. The killing of human life…

Pedro Gabriel

Intrinsically evil acts…

Rocco Buttiglione

Yeah, intrinsically evil. Intrinsece malum. There are some acts that are intrinsically evil. They cannot become good under any circumstances. For example, the killing of an innocent human being, and perhaps also of a non-innocent human being. Take the death penalty. The killing of a human being is always wrong. 

What John Paul II says is, there is the intrinsece malum. Circumstances do not decide on the moral good or evil of the action, but circumstances enter into the evaluation of the subjective consciousness and the force of the conscience of the person who commits the act, right? 

Subjective… the circumstances can exercise such a pressure on the person that he’s not any more responsible for what he does. 

Let us give one example. The killing of a human being is always wrong, no doubt. Let us imagine that I am driving my car, and somebody—a drug addict, who is drunk—he throws himself under the wheels of my car and I kill him. Am I responsible? 

Pedro Gabriel

No, not at all. 

Rocco Buttiglione

Let us imagine that I am a drug addict. I drive my car and I run over one person who was passing by. Am I responsible? 

Pedro Gabriel

Well, only inasmuch as you took the drugs, and drank, and then drove. 

Rocco Buttiglione

I have a certain amount of responsibility. Let us imagine that I am driving my car. I see a man who’s passing by. He’s my enemy and I consciously run him down because I hate him and I kill him. Am I responsible?

Pedro Gabriel


Rocco Buttiglione

In the first case, I am not responsible. In the second case, I am let us say, 50% responsible, and in the third case I am 100% responsible. There is a graduation of responsibility also. And that is the point that both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis made.

In each case the objectivity, the actor is equally wrong. Subjectively, the responsibility may be 100%, 50%, or close to 0%. And who can judge? Only one who is in the situation. You must judge your own responsibility. 

Who can help you to judge, to understand? A person who is so close to you that he can see the situation from within but not so directly connected, so that he maintains the capacity of objectifying and think objectively on what you have done. And that is the role of the confessor. 

Pedro Gabriel

So OK, this is all the time then that we have for today. I would like to thank Rocco 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 website: the City and the World.

I will leave a link in the description below, and also links to Prof. Buttiglione’s book Risposte amichevoli in Amazon. If you know Italian or Spanish, I advise you to buy it.

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. I quote Prof. Buttiglione extensively in my book, and even have a section dedicated to Wojtyllian thought on objective evil and subjective responsibility, which was greatly inspired by Prof. Buttiglione’s writings. The link to buy will also be posted down below.

Once again, Rocco, thank you so much for this time.

Rocco Buttiglione

Thank you Pedro for having me.

Pedro Gabriel

To our viewers, I wish you all a good day and see you soon.

Amoris Laetitia and the Magisterium

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.


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