La Porte Latine : On June 4, 2014, the Lepanto Foundation organized a meeting in Rome with the theme “Is The Catholic Church On The Verge Of Schism?” Have the intervening years allowed you to clarify your answer? Could you define this schism that you see?
In theological language, schism means separation from the unity of the Catholic Church, which of course means an illegitimate separation, as the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique reminds us, because there could also be a legitimate separation, “such as someone refusing obedience to the pope, if the pope commands him to do something evil or improper” (DTC, vol. II (1939), col. 1301). Normally the term schism indicates the refusal of submission to the Chair of Peter, as the “Orthodox” Christians did at the time of the Eastern Schism (1054), but in addition to such a vertical separation from the authority of the Church, schism could also indicate a horizontal fracture among the members of the Mystical Body. In addition, a pope could also fall into schism, as almost all the theologians admit, for example, “if he refused to obey the law and constitution given to the Church by Christ and to observe the traditions established since the time of the Apostles in the universal Church (DTC, cit., col. 1306). Today we are immersed in a horizontal schism, because the Church is fractured internally between differing tendencies that are diametrically opposed, but we are also living a vertical schism, because the one who governs the Church seems to daily distance himself more and more from her doctrine and Tradition. We are dealing however with a “hidden” schism, because, although it is public, it is not perceived as such by the majority of the faithful. This renders the situation dramatically unprecedented on the theological and canonical level.
La Porte Latine: Doesn’t the present schism consist in the revolt of a praxis which has taken primacy over doctrine, and, if so to what extent may we say that the schism has officially existed since the Second Vatican Council itself?
In his discourse Gaudet Mater Ecclesiae opening Vatican II, John XXIII attributed a specific theme to the council which was opening: its pastoral nature. The specific focus of the Second Vatican Council was the primacy of pastoral practice over doctrine, the absorption of doctrine into pastoral practice, the transformation of pastoral practice into pastoralism. Pastoralism appeared as a theological transposition of the Marxist philosophy of praxis as theorized by the young Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach (1888). In the second of these theses, Karl Marx affirms that man ought to find the truth of his thought in praxis, and in the eleventh thesis he declares that the purpose of philosophy is not to interpret the world but rather to transform it. When Pope Francis affirmed in Evangelii Gaudium (nn. 231-233) and in Laudato Si (n. 201), that “the reality is more important than the idea,” he asserted such a Marxist primacy of praxis, overturning the primacy of contemplation on which all of Western and Christian philosophy is founded. This conception was further clarified in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Amoris Laetitia does not explicitly deny the doctrine of the Church on divorced and remarried couples, but it affirms that we must distinguish between the idea, which does not change, and the pastoral reality, which is changeable, in which the concrete application of the doctrinal principle is left to the individual conscience of the faithful or to one’s spiritual director. Thus pastoral practice loses its absolute reference to metaphysics and the moral law and proposes instead a situation ethic of “case by case.” The human action is reduced to the choice of the individual conscience, rooted not in the objectivity of a divine and natural law, but in the “becoming” of history.
La Porte Latine: On January 5, 2019, you launched an Appeal to all those holding authority in the Church, asking them to “adopt a stance of filial criticism, of deferential resistance, of devout moral separation from those responsible for the self-destruction of the Church.” For a long time, you have called out the “false concept of obedience” which exists today within the Church. Could you please explain for us the correct place of obedience in the Church, and where and when, in your opinion, obedience becomes false?
Obedience to authority, whether that of the family, political, or ecclesiastical, is an eminent Christian virtue, but it is not blind and unconditional; rather it has its limits and above all has a foundation, which is God himself. In fact, says Saint Paul, the one who has authority is “the minister of God in order to do good” (Rom 13:4). But in the case of an evil and unjust exercise of power, motivated by the love of God we ought to be ready to perform acts of supreme obedience to His will, which will dissolve any links we have to a false human obedience. In these cases the apparent disobedience is the most perfect form of obedience. The Catholic resistance in the face of those responsible for the self-destruction of the Church, as was recently expressed, for example, in the Correctio Filialis given to Pope Francis, is not disobedience, but descends from the virtue of obedience. It is a filial resistance, devout and respectful, which does not lead to leaving the Church but rather multiplies love for the Church, for God and his Law, because God is the foundation of all authority and all obedience. I believe that in the present crisis this attitude of resistance ought to lead us to separate morally, not juridically, from the evil Pastors who today are guiding the Church. Today however, there is widespread “papolatry” which sees the Pope, not as the Vicar of Christ on earth holding the authority to transmit the doctrine he has received whole and entire, but rather as the “Successor of Christ” who perfects the doctrine of his predecessors, adapting it to changing times. The doctrine of the Gospel is thus in perpetual evolution, because it coincides with the Magisterium of the reigning Pontiff. In place of the perennial Magisterium there is placed the “living Magisterium” as expressed in pastoral teaching, which daily transforms itself and has its regula fidei in the subject of the person in authority and not in the object of the truth being transmitted.
La Porte Latine: In October 2018, Pope Francis canonized his predecessor Paul VI. Your concerns about this former pope are well-known. What are your thoughts about this canonization?
I am morally certain that Paul VI is not a saint. Holiness is in fact the exercise of heroic virtue according to the duties of one state in life, and the case of a pope this means the governance of the Church. The Second Vatican Council, Ostpolitik, and the Novus Ordo Missae – all things for which Paul VI was the one responsible – are incompatible with holiness, because these things objectively caused damage to souls and took away from the glory given to God. Naturally here we are dealing with the problem of the presumed infallibility of canonizations, a complex subject, on which I recommend the studies of Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, Abbé Jean-Michel Gleize, Christopher Ferrara, John Lamont, John Salza and Robert Siscoe. Here I will simply observe that while the infallibility of canonizations is not a dogma of the faith, it is a dogma of the faith that a contradiction between faith and reason is impossible. If I were to accept, by faith, a fact which contradicts reason in an obvious way, such as the non-existent “holiness” of Paul VI, I would fall into absolute fideism. From that moment I would have to renounce the possibility of any apologetic demonstration of truths of the faith based on reason, such as the existence of God, because I would have destroyed the principle of rationality on which my faith is founded. Faith surpasses reason and elevates it, but does not contradict it, because God, who is Truth by His very essence, is not contradictory. We may therefore in conscience, maintain all of our reservations about these canonizations. This also applies to the pretense of canonizing all of the post-Vatican-II popes while canonizing none of the popes who preceded the council. It seems that the aim of this is to make every word and act of the post-conciliar popes’ governance retroactively infallible.
La Porte Latine: In 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre invoked true obedience as he went ahead with the consecration of bishops. Apart from this event, what place does the figure of Archbishop Lefebvre hold for you, and how do you judge the continuation of his work today?
I personally knew Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre at the beginning of the 1970’s, and I had the impression that he was a man of God who was unjustly persecuted. What I above all saw in him, and in many of his spiritual children and disciples, was an authentic “Roman spirit.” I believe that in the present crisis it is very important to defend the “Romanità” of the Church, which is her juridical and institutional dimension, but also the inheritance of the supernatural memories rooted in the city of Rome. There is a Roma Aeterna which is superior to the historical Rome, but it is in the historic city of Rome, of which the Supreme Pontiff is bishop, that the Mystical Body of Christ has taken on its visible face. The “Roman Spirit” which Louis Veuillot called “the perfume of Rome” is the capacity to tap into the highest supernatural values through the special atmosphere which fills Rome and which can be breathed only in Rome. The Roman spirit is the “sensus ecclesiae”: the perception of the evils which attack the Church, fidelity to all of the treasures of the faith and of the Tradition which this City contains. This Roman spirit has been lost today in Vatican City, which has unfortunately become the center of the diffusion of a spirit of anti-Romanism.
La Porte Latine: If, following your appeal, Pope Francis would ask you for advice on the first measures to be taken to straighten out the Church (we know it’s difficult to imagine), what would you say to him?
To a newly elected Pope, who wanted to restore the doctrine and moral teaching of the Church, I would suggest that he begin his pontificate with an act of solemn repentance for the responsibility of the supreme hierarchy of the Church in the process of self-destruction of the Church of the last fifty years. In the Third Secret of Fatima, the Angel repeated three times the request for penance. Penance signifies above all a spirit of contrition, which makes us aware of the gravity of the sins committed by us or by others, and which makes us detest them with all our heart. Without repentance the chastisement [foretold at Fatima] cannot be averted. And this is the dramatic truth which must be understood and meditated on in the light of the message of Fatima. Repentance is asked for the personal sins of each one of us, but with greater reason for the public sins of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. An example of public repentance is the instruction which the Nuncio Francesco Chieregati read to the Diet of Nuremberg in the name of Pope Adrian VI on January 3, 1523. After having refuted the Lutheran heresy, in the last part of the Instruction, the Pope addressed the defection of the supreme ecclesiastical authority in the face of the innovators. Here is the express instruction he gave to the Nuncio: “You are to say again, that we openly confess that God has permitted this persecution of His Church to happen because of the sins of men and in particular of priests and prelates […] It is therefore not surprising that the illness spread from the head to the members, from the Popes to the prelates. All of us, prelates and ecclesiastics, have deviated from the way of the just, and for a long time there is not one of us who has done what is right. We ought therefore all give honor to God and humble ourselves before Him: each one of us should meditate on why he fell and reform himself, rather than be judged by God on the day of his wrath.”
Only after a solemn act of repentance, accompanied by the fulfillment of the requests of Fatima, would the Angel be able to sheathe his flaming sword, as he did in 590 atop Castel Sant’Angelo, after the penitential procession of Saint Gregory the Great through the streets of Rome. I fear that otherwise it will be difficult to avoid the chastisement that is incumbent upon humanity because of its sins.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino