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August/September 2014

Glossing Over Heresy 


From the outset of the Bergoglio papacy we have noted that Francis is at once unpredictable and predictable. While this assessment has been thoroughly vindicated, perhaps we could add a slight rider: that even the unpredictability — pertaining to his behaviour — is itself predictable. Not to say contrived and tiresome, as charitably attested by Lucrecia Rego de Planas in the April edition. Predictable character flaws, however, are one thing. The relentless predictability of a neo-Modernist outlook quite another.

And so it came to pass, with supreme predictability, that the very last word of our June-July editorial was barely keyed in before Francis effectively dismissed its singular importance to the restoration of the Church. You may recall that that word was "excommunication," and the person who insisted on its centrality to restoring freedom, justice, peace and unity to the Body of Christ was no less than Dietrich von Hildebrand; a brave and brilliant soul praised by popes (including Benedict XVI) as one of the greatest philosopher-theologians of the twentieth century.

On 16 May, in a homily delivered at St Martha's House, Francis waved away von Hildebrand's "time-honoured" priority: the anathematising of "all heretics" and their alien ideas which threaten our Catholic faith and identity. Instead, he stressed the development of a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer, glossing over heresy as a mere tendency to over-intellectualise; to pursue "ideas" and become trapped in them. "Heresies are this: trying to understand with our minds and with only our personal light who Jesus is," he said. "It’s for this reason that heresies have existed from the very beginning of the Church." For Francis, the chief threat they pose, it seems, is to obstruct "praying to Jesus."

Once again, false dichotomies fuelled his pushing the subjective and pastoral at the expense of the objective and dogmatic. In this case the Holy Father set the intellectual life against the spiritual life, effectively positing that legalistic eggheads are prone to neglect their prayers; as if they can't walk and chew gum at the same time. "Pray to Jesus! By studying and praying we get a bit closer…. But we’ll never know Jesus without praying. Never! Never!" he exclaimed. "You must realize that studying without prayers is no use. We must pray to Jesus to get to know him better, ... the great theologians did their theology while kneeling."

Well, yes, of course they did. And it is just as obviously true that intellectual assent alone is not enough to truly know Jesus. It is only right and proper for the pope to recall these things. But as with his passing mention of heresy, in doing so he overlooks the ongoing intellectual corruption that negates his exhortation to develop a joyful personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and works.

For starters, how can any post-conciliar pope speak of heresy in terms of privately pursued "ideas" that drive their proponents "crazy," without reference to the synthesis of all heretical "ideas" — the Modernism which has disfigured catechesis and higher education and drummed the Faith out of souls for nearly half a century? That infiltration of the Catholic fold not only explains the lack of prayerfulness and joy which preoccupies Francis, it is basic to explaining the ignorance of dogmatic truths by which one attains the very knowledge of Jesus, and so the consequent desire to imitate Him as Francis urges. A few words about that subversion of orthodox "ideas," and the urgent need to root out and expel Modernist moles, starting in the Roman seminaries and institutions on the papal doorstep, would have made more sense.

As for the relative few inspired by the Holy Spirit to engage in the battle of "ideas" — who study in order to defend the purity of Catholic doctrine — they are probably more likely than others to be concerned about their salvation. Hence more and not less inclined to combine their studies with constant prayers for light and guidance, and reception of the Sacraments. The risk of pharisaism among such dedicated souls is surely minimal. As the Fatima Centre commented, "It is possible to become a legalist in matters of dogma and to neglect one’s prayer life, but this is hardly a widespread phenomenon in our day. One may be permitted to wonder why the Pope should think it a problem of such prominence that it requires his personal correction":

What threatens the salvation of so many souls today is the lax and even conflicting approach toward Church dogma that comes from their pastors, including — let us be honest — the supreme pastor, Pope Francis. In one of his frequent personal phone calls, the Pope reportedly told a woman in Argentina who had been denied the Eucharist because she is living in a false marriage with a divorced man that nevertheless she could indeed receive Communion and should simply go to another parish to do so.

What are the doctrinal implications of such shocking advice? It should be noted that the Vatican press office, when questioned about the phone call, did not deny it but stated that whatever may be said in such calls does not form part of the magisterial teaching of the Church. This was not very reassuring. Who’s being legalistic in this instance?

With science fiction robots everywhere, we can only repeat that the Holy Father's understanding of the state of the Church "does not compute." Somewhere in the Bergoglian galaxy, far far away, "trying to understand with our minds and with only our personal light who Jesus is" may well keep souls from "praying to Jesus," "celebrating Jesus through his Sacraments," and "imitating Jesus." In that distant universe the problem seems to be a kind of intellectual excess. Meantime, the fundamental problem back on planet earth remains intellectual regress: the total failure to transmit Catholic dogma, whole and entire. Consequently, deprived of the means of knowing Christ, Catholic souls have no reason to love and imitate Him by living out His doctrines. 

If only the Holy Father understood the "ideas"-problem we face in the true "alien" sense expounded by the saintly Fr John Hardon. In "The Crisis of Faith" (CO, May 1997), the late Jesuit scholar and pastor of souls explained the reasons for our crisis and its precise nature. The following extracts reveal the chasm that separates a clear, robust, dogmatic mind from a fuzzy, insipid neo-Modernist one: 

Why did such a crisis come about in the first place? Surely no phenomenon is without some explanation, and this one better be explained. The explanation is not hard to find. There is a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church because there has been an intrusion of alien ideas.

The moment we say this, however, we are immediately confronted with the two terms, "intrusion" and "alien ideas," for the simple reason that those responsible for the crisis will deny either that there has been an intrusion or that the new ideas are anything else except that they are "new," but they should not be called alien.

An idea is alien to any religion when it openly contradicts what that religion stands for. For example: the Catholic Church has always believed that God is all perfect because He is infinite. There are now writers, ostensibly Catholic, who say the opposite, that God is finite and, in fact, He needs us to reach whatever perfection He will eventually attain.

The Catholic Church has always believed that God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ. There are now learned writers who deny this: they believe that Jesus is somehow divine because God was close to Him, but He is really only human, the Man from Nazareth.

The Catholic Church has always believed that Christian marriage is an indissoluble union of one man and one woman until death. There are now presumably Catholic moralists who say that is part of the past. From now on (they say) even sacramental marriages can and should be dissolved with the freedom to enter a second or a third partnership after divorce.

The Catholic Church has always believed that Jesus Christ practised the counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and those who receive the grace are urged to follow His example. But now there are ostensibly Catholic proponents of a new spirituality that erases this whole tradition. Instead of celibacy they propose meaningful relationships with persons of the opposite or same sex; instead of actual poverty they would substitute a subjective concern for the poor, and instead of obedience they promote shared responsibility or group consensus to replace authority.

But if these ideas are alien, in the sense of foreign to the Catholic philosophy of life, are they intrusions? Yes, they are on several counts, as anyone who knows what is taking place in the world can testify.

They are first of all an intrusion because they are unjustified by the premises of authentic Roman Catholicism. A finite God is not an infinite God; a merely human Jesus is not the Son of God who became man for our salvation; a sacramental priesthood is not a merely functional ministry; an indissoluble marriage is not a dissoluble marriage; and a purely subjective poverty or nominal celibacy or verbal obedience are not the evangelical counsels that the Church has declared were revealed to us in the life and teaching of the Saviour.

Either the Catholic Church remains constant in her fundamental articles of faith, over the centuries or she is no longer the Church founded by Christ.

These alien ideas are furthermore an intrusion because for many persons they have literally invaded people's minds by unsuspected credence being given to things that appeared orthodox but are in fact heterodox.

It is not to lay blame on particular individuals whose names by now are commonplace to anyone professionally in the sacred sciences. What is beyond question is that in many, perhaps most, cases when these vagrant ideas were first ventilated they seemed so plausible, even persuasive, that it is not surprising there have been so many victims of this massive assault on the believing Catholic mind.

But there is one more reason that must sadly be added to explain why it is justifiable to call what we are describing an invasion of alien ideas. An invasion is, by definition, done not only by an outside force and not only surreptitiously. It is also done coercively.

Of course it is not always by physical force, although physical violence even now is being exercised against millions of our fellow Christians in China, and Africa, where the most inhuman means are used to break down the resistance of priests, religious and the laity — to give up their Catholic heritage.

What is meant by intrusion is the coercive pressure: psychological and social, economic and legal, academic and professional, educational and governmental that cumulatively can become all but irresistible to conformity with the people and agencies and institutions that are in control of today's mind-shaping structures and social communications.

That some of these compulsive elements have also entered the sacred precincts of the Church's oganisation is not strange. There is a crusade of conformism in societies like America. Woe to anyone who dares to raise a voice in protest or who invokes the rights of conscience to protect himself from those who, in the name of conscience, are demanding allegiance to doctrinaire theories of a structure-less Church, or a cult-less priesthood, or a ruleless religious life, or that every marriage is open to ecclesiastical annulment.

A very different take from another (Catholic) world. And in light of Pope Francis, one that sounds even more frighteningly familiar! Would that the little congregation gathered in the chapel of
St Martha's guesthouse on 16 May were blessed to hear such a homily. May God soon elevate to the Chair of Peter a Supreme Shepherd who radiates not only Fr Hardon's Catholic intelligence, understanding and conviction, but also the confidence, hope and pastoral solicitude so evident in his concluding remarks:

Just one more observation, a plea for confidence, which means implicit trust in God.

No one who knows what the situation is, doubts that the Catholic Church is going through a veritable emergency of faith. What is an emergency but a time for urgent decisions, that is discriminating judgment? What leaders of the Church need to do today is not be shaken by the storm that is raging all around them, but to hold on literally for dear life to what Christ has revealed, to what has been defended for us by the champions of orthodoxy like Athanasius, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great, lived out before us by saints and mystics like Benedict, Francis and Ignatius Loyola, like Clare, Margaret Mary and Teresa, like Elizabeth Seton and Thomas More, and experienced by us in whatever span of life we have so far lived.

There are seductive voices everywhere and some are very erudite. They may also claim numbers on their side. But no, the numbers in favour of the true Faith and the true Church are legion. They are all the myriad souls since Christ ascended to His Father who are now in the Church Triumphant. They are our intercessors before the throne of God, as they are also our consolation that we are not deceived. The present crisis is really a challenge or, better, a glorious opportunity to prove our loyalty to Christ the Truth so that one day we may possess Christ our Life who told us not to fear, "I have overcome the world." So shall we, with the help of His grace, and the Church will be the better and stronger for the experience of these critical times.




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