"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Tuesday, 6 October 2015


There is no blog for which I have greater respect and read with greater enjoyment than "Glory be to God for All Things", written by Father Stephen.   He has a gift for writing English as well as a deep theological insight into the Faith I have learnt much from him.    I always expected that there would be differences of conviction between Father Stephen and myself.  After all, he is Orthodox and I am Catholic.  Even in the three essays or "posts" about "Unecumenism" which I am going to deal with here, I agree with a large part of what he says and enjoy the rest, even when I don't agree.

Why is it that so many converts, Catholic or Protestant, are anti-ecumenical?  I know I could have the same sort of argument with Catholics.  Our disagreement is not so much Catholic against Orthodox as between Catholic or Orthodox who have always been so, and Catholics or Orthodox who are converts.  For instance, the views of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom expressed in the video below are nearer mine than those of Father Stephen.

Let us start with something we agree on.   Father Stephen writes:
What was Christianity in England before Cranmer? From its earliest days, “Church” had a pretty clear meaning. There was only one. Though Celtic Christians in the north had been missionized quite early and were often out of contact with Christians on the continent, they nevertheless did not think of themselves as part of a “Celtic Church.” When St. Augustine was sent by St. Gregory the Great in 597, he established the Church among the Anglo-Saxons, under the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Eventually, that Roman Church (in communion with the Orthodox of the East) met in council with the Celtic Christians (the Council of Whitby, 663 a.d.) and worked out differences between them. They all understood that there could not be two Churches in Britain. The crisis had arisen precisely because the Church could only be one.
A good example of the unity of the English Church can be seen in the appointment of the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury some 71 years after St. Augustine’s arrival. Bishop Valerian of Rome sent a Byzantine Greek monk, St. Theodore of Tarsus, to fill the see of Canterbury. He became responsible for the reform and organization of the English Church. Prior to Augustine’s time in England, three bishops from Britain were in attendance at the Council of Nicaea. The One Church extended from Britain across the European Mediterranean world, Africa and deep into the Middle East. It was the One Church – one faith, one practice, one teaching, one mind. And the life of the One Church was universally expressed in the unity of her sacraments. Communion was not an act of hospitality, but itself the manifestation of the One life of Christ in His One Body.

However, I think a good case can be made for saying that the main source of division in the early Church was Constantine and his successors.  The main problem was that, in the synthesis between Church and Empire, the Emperor was given a role he couldn't possibly fulfil because a) he wasn't the Emperor of all Christians, and b) though officially Emperor of the West, the Empire could not function in the West because the Empire was too big for the resources he had in his power. This policy already contained the seeds of future schism. 

  To the East of the Roman Empire was the Persian Empire, outside the Emperor's power.   There lived there Christian churches that celebrated the Liturgy in Aramaic and had a semitic culture.  They were not invited to the ecumenical councils because they were not subjects of the Emperor, but they were expected to accept the teaching of the councils and obey their canons.  Things were made more difficult because their Christianity was not Greek - they did not think in Greek categories, and they did not regard the emperor as a friend.   The inevitable happened, and they became "Nestorians".  That was because they would not accept Ephesus.  Two theological commissions, Catholic and Orthodox, have studied their theology and reached the conclusion that it is not heretical.   Then again, at Chalcedon, the Syrian Orthodox and the Copts, who wanted independence from the Roman imperial yoke, refused to accept the Council's conclusions and thus became Monophysite heretics. In Egypt, their opponents who accepted Chalcedon were called "Melkites" or "King's men", which shows how much it was mixed with politics.  Once more, Rome has studied their classical formularies, as have the Orthodox, and no heresy has been found.  Those are two schisms directly caused by the emperors accepting a role they were unable to fulfil because of politics.

The Western problem with the Empire was entirely different.  From early on in the Christian Empire, Byzantium began to withdraw from western Europe, thus bringing about King Arthur and the Round Table in Britain. It was a time of barbarian invasions, and Byzantium could not fulfil the basic requirements of defence and order in the west.  Thus there was culture and order and civilization in the East, and a continual battle against chaos in the West, an ordered, well-equipped civil society working in harmony with the Church in the East, and wars, invasions, barbarian hoards, and the Church doing its best to stay united and trying to impose some kind of Christian order in the West; and all this fell, more and more, on the shoulders of the pope.  Thus there came about two parts of the Church with different priorities, different mentalities based on different experiences.   Both sides blamed the other for being different and decided to do without it.

I suppose our greatest difference is how we see the Church at a universal level. He identifies the One, Holy, Catholic  nd Apostolic Church with the Orthodox Church; and my starting point is that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, as a complete universal structure is the Catholic Church in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome.  

 Another difference is that I have to balance this last statement with these words by the Orthodox monk-priest (and convert from Catholicism) Father Lev Gillet, because they express my own experience:
The whole teaching of the Latin Fathers may be found in the East, just as the whole teaching of the Greek Fathers may be found in the West. Rome has given St. Jerome to Palestine. The East has given Cassian to the West and holds in special veneration that Roman of the Romans, Pope Gregory the Great. St. Basil would have acknowledged St. Benedict of Nursia as his brother and heir. St. Macrina would have found her sister in St Scholastica. St. Alexis the "man of God," "the poor man under the stairs," has been succeeded by the wandering beggar, St. Benedict Labre. St. Nicolas would have felt as very near to him the burning charity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Seraphim of Sarov would have seen the desert blooming under Father Charles de Foucauld's feet, and would have called St. Thérèse of Lisieux "my joy."

My convictions are also expressed by the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in this video 

 Another difference is that, when I assist at the Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox Church, I have no doubt that I am attending a Catholic Mass in which the local (Orthodox) congregation is the visible part, here and now, of the universal Church whose members  find communion with each other in their communion with Christ in heaven as they celebrate the Eucharist throughout space and time. In the Mass, all the myriad of local eucharistic assemblies manifest their fundamental visible unity, a unity of identity, in the eucharistic celebration of each.  Thus, each Mass is an act of the whole Church, and not just an act of a local church. It is not one group kidnapping the rest or taking part in a liturgical violation of the rest: it is an act of the Holy Spirit who comes down on the bread and wine and upon the congregation, and taking the congregation with its sacrifice of bread and wine, and making them one with Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension on the heavenly altar, and thus one with all the rest in Christ (Roman Canon:Almighty Father, we pray that your angel...). 

As Pope Benedict XVI said, the Eucharist is the constitution of the Church; and, as the Eucharist is one and identical across the divide, so Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental churches are sister churches through their sacramental participation in the one Christ, in the one Eucharist: they are not three parts of the Church, because Christ, who is the plenitude of Catholicism, is not divided, and "parts" have no ecclesial significance; but they are three manifestations of and doors into the wholeness of Catholicism.  

Therfore, I would apply to all who celebrate the one Eucharist and receive Christ, whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox, what is so beautifully expressed by Father Stephen:
However, begin to think. Consider how the verse, “the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23), and what it means. In this 4th century experience, you can not only ponder this meaning in the abstract, but the very Cup you drink, and everything you tangibly know as Church, is included as well. No longer is the “stuff” of the Church interchangeable with other things. Everything about the life of the Church carries this very same fullness. You eat the fullness and breathe the fullness. When you think about the Church your conscience isn’t troubled and your sense of belonging is unshaken.

At the same time,  the three groups are divided by schism and are unable to witness to the world the unity found in what they are celebrating and receiving.  In participating in the eucharistic life of their churches, they share in the eucharistic life of the one Church they all belong to by being baptised into the one Eucharist, This is not a fourth invisible Church distinct from the churches they belong to; nor  can they settle down contendedly to be three legitimate "parts' of the Church, because the Eucharist has turned them into the same flesh and blood. During the Soviet persecution, it often needed Orthodox and Catholic faithful to suffer together in the same gulag for them to realise this. To be more truly ourselves, we all need to become united with one another; and that  is the purpose of the ecumenical dialogue. For Catholics and Orthodox, ecumenism has nothing to do with "modernity".

Father Stephen writes:
 The document Lumen Gentium in Vatican II, declares that the Mystical Body of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church, thus no longer saying that the two are one and the same. It seemed a gesture of generosity, but it was a capitulation to the centuries-old demands of modernity. Orthodoxy feels the same pressure, and there are some within it who would gladly embrace such language. It is a fulcrum point, and modernity has its hand on the lever.

I, as a Catholic who fully accepts Vatican II, simply do not recognise the criticism of Fr Stephen.  Like him, and just as much as our Orthodox brethren, I believe in a visible Church. Nor was Lumen Gentium moving towards accepting the idea of an invisible Church when the bishops dropped the phrase, "The church of Christ is the Catholic Church," and changed it to "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church."   It was done to do justice to the many dimensions of the Catholic Church which Vatican II opened up to our understanding, and which take much prayer, much dialogue and much love to explore and understand.

  After all, the Church is a mystery in which the Holy Spirit works in synergy with human beings, and which is both visible and invisible.   The source of its life is the risen and ascended Christ in heaven with whom its members are united continuously by the Holy Spirit, so that the angels and saints in heaven unite with the Church on earth in one ecclesial organism, partly visible and partly invisible.   There is also the invisible connection between the Church and those who are divided from it or who belong to other faiths but who manifest in their lives the Grace of God.
A year before their martyrdom
in Uganda, June 3rd, 1886

There is what Pope Francis calls the "ecumenism of blood".  The Uganda martyrs were put to death for their faith, for their refusal to sin.  They are now saints; but, on earth some were Catholics and some were Anglicans.  
There was the "White Rose Group" in Nazi Germany, made up of Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox.  All were martyrs.  
There is martyrdom in the Middle East, where Christians of all shapes and sizes are being put to death for Christ.  They are all equally martyrs.  Then there are  those who have lived and died in the grace of God but outside Catholic communion, sometimes marvellous examples.  There are people like C. S. Lewis, who has been claimed by both Catholics and Orthodox but lived and died happily as an Anglican.   There are people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and a host of others. There is nothing abstract about the martyrs, nor about the faithful who live by the Grace of God but are separated from Catholic communion. Non-Catholic martyrs by their witness, and non-Catholic Christians by their lives of grace make visible the presence of the risen Christ, showing themselves to be members of his body, even outside the Church's borders.   As Abbot (later, Bishop)  Christopher Butler, commenting on the Vatican II vision of the Catholic Church, said, "I know where the Catholic Church is.  I do not know where it isn't."   He knew its centre, but did not know where its outer border is.  "Grace is everywhere," says the priest in "Diary of a Country Priest," and Grace is the life of the Church and cannot be separated from it.  It flows beyond the visible Church membership, uniting communities, families and individuals to the life of the visible Church in its Eucharistic celebration by the invisible power of the Holy Spirit.   

Hence the Church is visible by its very nature because fully incarnate in its time and place, but has invisible dimensions that stretch as far as heaven, as well as  across time, and over the face of the earth, even beyond its visible borders.  Thus, Lumen Gentium took all this into account and wrote that "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church."   
Vatican II was not supporting the idea of an abstract, invisible church, but was recognising the overwhelming evidence for the concrete reality of Christian life and even sanctity outside Catholic communion.  It was refusing to deny the evidence of its own concrete experience in favour of an abstract and unrealistic view of the Church.

We now come to a real difference between Catholicism and a certain kind of Orthodoxy. It is the relationship between the Church and the nation. Father Stephen writes:
In the countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, the Church (Orthodox or Catholic) was a largely unreformed entity. It retained its identity as the One Church and its place in the lives of the people and the culture. What Pope John Paul II said in Poland could bring down a government. They feared him. And though the Church in Russia was deeply wounded by a sustained persecution of 70 years’ length, it remained. Nothing replaced it, nor was it gelded. In Romania, when the Ceaușescus were overthrown, the announcement on the radio was, “The anti-Christ is dead! Romania is a Christian country!” That carried power because Romania was 95 per cent Orthodox. The Church had continued to exist in an unreformed condition. Such an announcement in America would naturally bring the question, “Which Christians?” Indeed, many Christians in America today think that their nation is a Christian nation. It is not, nor has it ever been. It has been a country without The Church. (my emphasis)
Typical of so much Orthodox thought when it comments on the modern world, non-theological factors are simply ignored, and everything gets a theological explanation, usually one that builds a wall to separate it from the West.   Even if "modernity" had never existed, America is a land of immigrants from different cultures, backgrounds, religions etc.  The Americans would then have to choose,  "Do we have an established religion that does not reflect this fact?" or "Should we allow into our country only people of our Church?"

This is a very alive question.   Hungary does not want to allow into its borders non-Christian refugees because it regards itself a Christian country.   If they allow in huge numbers of Muslims, simply because they are in need, do they cease to be a Christian country?   I would prefer to ask, if they don't allow these people into their country, is their Christian religion worth protecting?

The truth is that we live in one world and, like America, Britain is becoming a country full of immigrants who are living here for all kinds of reasons.  We cannot stop this from happening without committing grave injustice.  If the reformation and the enlightenment had never happened, modern inventions would have still brought this about.   It means the end of Christendom and the integriste mentality that goes with it.  Christ founded a Church, but Constantine founded Christendom, and it doesn't have the same promise of divine protection.   Before its founding, Christianity regarded itself without a homeland.  We have a great witness to Catholicism and the Catholic mentality in the Letter to Diognetus 
 They dwell in their own countries but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws in their lives. They love all, and are persecuted by all... They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. . . They are reviled, and yet they bless...When they do good they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.

There is nothing in Christianity that depends on a relationship with the state for its integrity, and Christianity can be a minority as was the church of St John Damascene.  

The modern world exists, and it isn't very helpful to demonstrate that it shouldn't. It is the product of many different causes, some good and some bad.   What Father Stephen calls "modernity" is partly explained by him, though some non-theological causes are also at work, immigration, modern science,and modern communications. The secular state is a place where people of all religions and none can be at home. Neither the USA or Britain have much choice because any alternative would be unjust.  Secularism is a different animal.  The question is what we are going to do about it.   One way is to build a wall around our religion, live in a ghetto and put up a sign saying business as usual, hoping that the rest will get tired of chaos and come knocking at our door to let them in.  That seems to be Father Stephen's solution.   Another is to form Christian community of a kind that manifests Christ's presence and God's love and, from there, dialogue and evangelise, like Taize or the Franciscan Friars of Renewal.  There are many ways to evangelise, and there is also personal witness.

I would like you to compare Father Stephen's three posts on Un-Ecumenical in his blog Glory To God For All Things with these three videos on Taize.  This is not so much a East-West confrontation - young people from Orthodox countries, Russia and Romania for example, go to Taize in droves, and the visits have been reciprocated.  Father Stephen's starting point is that the Western world shouldn't be what it is.   America is not a Christian country because it doesn't have a national church; not a very helpful remark.   In contrast, Taize accepts the world in which Providence has placed it, tries to live the Gospel within it, and opens its arms to all comers, accepting them as they are, and showing people that Jesus loves them. 

Monday, 5 October 2015


Was the Founder of Taizé Protestant, or Catholic? A Cardinal Solves the Riddle

Fr. Roger Schutz was both. He adhered to the Church of Rome while remaining a Calvinist pastor. Wojtyla and Ratzinger gave him communion. Cardinal Kasper explains how, and why 
Brother Roger Schutz & the Taize Community
Early Days
by Sandro Magister

ROMA, August 25, 2008 – In an interview published on the feast of the Assumption in "L'Osservatore Romano," Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity, solved a riddle concerning the founder of the multi-confessional ecumenical community of Taizé, Fr. Roger Schutz (in the photo). 

The riddle concerned Schutz's relationship with the Catholic Church. Schutz was a Protestant pastor, of the Reformed tradition and of Calvinist origin. After his death – at the age of 90, killed on August 16, 2005 by a mentally deranged woman, during evening prayers and in the presence of 2,500 faithful – the community of Taizé dispelled the notion that he had secretly converted to Catholicism. But the idea of his conversion was supported by various facts: Schutz had repeatedly received Eucharistic communion from John Paul II; he took communion every morning at the Catholic Mass in Taizé; and he was given communion by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself, at the funeral Mass for pope Karol Wojtyla. 

After he became pope under the name of Benedict XVI, Ratzinger commented in touching words – on August 19, 2005, in Cologne, at a meeting with representatives of non-Catholic Christian Churches and communities – on Schutz's death, which had taken place three days before in Taizé. He spoke of him as a luminous example of "interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism," made up above all of prayer. He recalled having had "a cordial friendship" with him, and of having received, on the day of his murder, a letter from him supporting him as pope. 

Benedict XVI also maintains an excellent relationship with Schutz's successor, Brother Alois Leser, a German Catholic. He receives him in private audience at least once a year. Brother Alois's writings frequently appear in "L'Osservatore Romano," the director of which, Giovanni Maria Vian, has also been a great admirer of the community of Taizé for many years. 

But how does Kasper solve the riddle? He denies that Fr. Schutz "formally" adhered to the Catholic Church. And much less did he abandon the Protestantism into which he was born. He affirms, instead, that he gradually "enriched" his faith with the pillars of the Catholic faith, particularly the role of Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the "the ministry of unity exercised by the bishop of Rome." In response to this, the Catholic Church allowed him to receive Eucharistic communion. 

According to Kasper, it is as if there had been an unwritten agreement between Schutz and the Church of Rome, "crossing certain confessional" and canonical limits. 

But we'll leave it to the cardinal to give a precise explanation of the "spiritual" ecumenism represented by Fr. Schutz. He once said of himself: "I found my identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins and the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking communion with anyone." 

Here is the complete text of the interview, published in "L'Osservatore Romano" on August 15, 2008: 

Roger Schutz, the Monk Symbol of Spiritual Ecumenism 

Interview with Walter Kasper 

Q: Three years have passed since the tragic death of Brother Roger, the founder of Taizé. You yourself went to preside at his funeral service. Who was he for you? 

A: The death of Brother Roger moved me deeply. I was in Cologne for World Youth Day when we heard about the death of Brother Roger, the victim of an act of violence. His death reminded me of the words the prophet Isaiah spoke about the Servant of the Lord: “Ill-treated and afflicted, he never opened his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep dumb before its shearers, he never opened his mouth” (Isa 53:7). Throughout his life, Brother Roger followed the way of the Lamb: by his gentleness and his humility, by his refusal of every act of human greatness, by his decision never to speak ill of anyone, by his desire to carry in his own heart the sufferings and the hopes of humanity. Few persons of our generation have incarnated with such transparency the gentle and humble face of Jesus Christ. In a turbulent period for the Church and for Christian faith, Brother Roger was a source of hope recognized by many, including myself. As a theology professor and then as Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, I always encouraged young people to stop in Taizé during the summer. I saw how much that time spent close to Brother Roger and the community helped them better to understand and to live the Word of God, in joy and simplicity. I felt all that even more when I presided at his funeral liturgy in the large Church of Reconciliation in Taizé. 

Q: What is, in your eyes, the specific contribution of Brother Roger and the Taizé Community to ecumenism? 

A: Christian unity was certainly one of the deepest desires of the prior of Taizé, just as the division between Christians was for him a true source of pain and regret. Brother Roger was a man of communion, who found it hard to tolerate any form of antagonism or rivalry between persons or communities. When he spoke of Christian unity and of his meetings with the representatives of different Christian traditions, his look and his voice enabled you to understand with what intensity of charity and hope he desired “all to be one”. The search for unity was for him a kind of guideline in even the most concrete decisions of each day: to welcome joyfully any action that could bring Christians of different traditions closer, to avoid every word or act that could slow down their reconciliation. He practiced that discernment with an attentiveness that bordered on meticulousness. In the search for unity, however, Brother Roger was not in a hurry or nervous. He understood God’s patience in the history of salvation and in the history of the Church. He never would have acted in ways unacceptable to the Churches; he never would have invited the young people to dissociate themselves from their pastors. Rather than the speed of the development of the ecumenical movement, he was aiming at its depth. He was convinced that only an ecumenism nourished by the Word of God and the celebration of the Eucharist, by prayer and contemplation, would be able to bring together Christians in the unity wished for by Jesus. It is in this area of spiritual ecumenism that I would like to situate the important contribution of Brother Roger and the Taizé Community. 

Q: Brother Roger often described his ecumenical journey as an “inner reconciliation of the faith of his origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” This road does not belong to the usual categories. After his death, the Taizé Community denied the rumors of a secret conversion to Catholicism. One of the reasons those rumors arose was because Brother Roger had been seen receiving communion at the hands of Cardinal Ratzinger during the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. What should we think about the statement that Brother Roger became “formally” Catholic? 

A: Born in a Reformed family, Brother Roger had studied theology and had become a pastor in that same Reformed tradition. When he spoke of “the faith of his origins,” he was referring to that beautiful blend of catechesis, devotion, theological formation and Christian witness received in the Reformed tradition. He shared that patrimony with all his brothers and sisters of Protestant affiliation, with whom he always felt himself deeply linked. Since his early years as a pastor, however, Brother Roger sought at the same time to nourish his faith and his spiritual life at the wellsprings of other Christian traditions, crossing certain confessional limits in doing so. His desire to follow a monastic vocation and to found for this purpose a new monastic community with Christians of the Reformation already said a lot about this search of his. 

As the years passed, the faith of the prior of Taizé was progressively enriched by the patrimony of faith of the Catholic Church. According to his own testimony, it was with reference to the mystery of the Catholic faith that he understood some of the elements of the faith, such as the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic gifts and the apostolic ministry in the Church, including the ministry of unity exercised by the Bishop of Rome. In response to this, the Catholic Church had accepted that he take communion at the Eucharist, as he did every morning in the large church at Taizé. Brother Roger also received communion several times from the hands of Pope John Paul II, who had become friends with him from the days of the Second Vatican Council and who was well acquainted with his personal journey with respect to the Catholic Church. In this sense, there was nothing secret or hidden in the attitude of the Catholic Church, neither at Taizé or in Rome. During the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger only repeated what had already been done before him in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at the time of the late Pope. There was nothing new or premeditated in the Cardinal’s act. 

In a talk he gave in the presence of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Basilica during the young adult European meeting in Rome in 1980, the prior of Taizé described his own personal journey and his Christian identity with these words: “I have found my own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” In fact, Brother Roger never wanted to break “with anyone,” for reasons which were essentially linked to his own desire for unity and to the ecumenical vocation of the Taizé Community. For that reason, he preferred not to use certain expressions like “conversion” or “formal” membership to describe his communion with the Catholic Church. In his conscience, he had entered into the mystery of the Catholic faith like someone who grows into it, without having to “abandon” or “break” with what he had received and lived beforehand. The meaning of some theological or canonical terms could be discussed endlessly. Out of respect for the faith-journey of Brother Roger, however, it would be preferable not to apply to him categories which he himself considered inappropriate for his experience and which, moreover, the Catholic Church never wanted to impose upon him. Here too, the words of Brother Roger himself should suffice for us. 

Q: Do you see any links between the ecumenical vocation of Taizé and the pilgrimage of tens of thousands of young adults to this small village in Burgundy? In your opinion, are young people sensitive to the visible unity of Christians? 

A: As I see it, the fact that every year thousands of young people still make their way to the little hill of Taizé is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit to today’s Church. For many of them, Taizé represents the first and main place where they can meet young people from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. I am happy to see that the young adults who fill the tents of Taizé each summer come from different countries of Western and Eastern Europe, and some from other continents, that they belong to different communities of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox tradition, that they are often accompanied by their own priests or pastors. A number of young people who come to Taizé are from countries that have experienced civil wars or violent internal conflicts, often in a still recent past. Others come from regions that suffered for several decades under the yoke of a materialistic ideology. Still others, who perhaps represent the majority, live in societies deeply marked by secularization and religious indifference. In Taizé, during the times of prayer and sharing on the Bible, they rediscover the gift of communion and friendship that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can offer. In listening to the Word of God, they also rediscover the unique treasure that has been given to them by the sacrament of baptism. Yes, I believe that many young people realize what is truly at stake in the unity of Christians. They know how the burden of divisions can still weigh heavily on the witness of Christians and on the building up of a new society. In Taizé they find a kind of “parable of community” that helps to go beyond the rifts of the past and to look towards a future of communion and friendship. When they return home, that experience helps them to create groups of prayer and sharing in their own life-context, to nourish that desire for unity. 

Q: Before heading the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, you were the bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and, in that capacity, you welcomed in 1996 a young adult European meeting organized by the Taizé Community. What do these meetings contribute to the life of the Churches? 

A: That meeting was indeed a time of very great joy and profound spiritual intensity for the diocese, and especially for the parishes that welcomed the young participants from different countries. Those meetings seem to me extremely important for the life of the Church. Many young people, as I said, live in secularized societies. It is hard for them to find companions on the road of Christian faith and life. Spaces to deepen and celebrate faith, in joy and serenity, are rare. The local Churches sometimes find it hard to walk alongside the young in their spiritual journeys. It is in this respect that large meetings like those organized by the Taizé Community respond to a true pastoral need. Christian life certainly requires silence and solitude, as Jesus said: “Shut yourself in your room and pray to your Father who is in that secret place” (Matt 6:6). But it also needs sharing, encounters and exchanges. Christian life is not lived out in isolation, on the contrary. Through baptism, we belong to the same one body of the Risen Christ. The Spirit is the soul and the breath that animates that body, making it grow in holiness. The gospels, incidentally, speak regularly of a great crowd of persons who came, often from very far away, to see and hear Jesus and to be healed by him. The large meetings held today are part of this same dynamic. They enable the young better to grasp the mystery of the Church as communion, to listen together to the words of Jesus and to put their trust in him. 

Q: Pope John XXIII called Taizé a “little springtime.” For his part, Brother Roger said that Pope John XXIII was the man who had affected him the most. In your opinion, why did the Pope who had the intuition of the Second Vatican Council and the founder of Taizé appreciate one another so much? 

A: Every time I met Brother Roger, he spoke to me a lot about his friendship for Pope John XXIII first of all, then for Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. It was always with gratitude and a great joy that he told me about the many meetings and conversations he had with them over the years. On the one hand, the prior of Taizé felt very close to the Bishops of Rome in their concern to lead the Church of Christ along the ways of spiritual renewal, of unity between Christians, of service to the poor, of witness to the Gospel. On the other hand, he felt deeply understood and supported by them in his own spiritual journey and in the orientation that the young Taizé Community was taking. The awareness of acting in harmony with the thought of the Bishop of Rome was for him a kind of compass in all his actions. He never would have undertaken an initiative that he knew was against the opinion or the will of the Bishop of Rome. A similar relationship of trust continues today with Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke very touching words when the founder of Taizé died, and who receives Brother Alois every year in a private audience. Where did this mutual esteem between Brother Roger and the successive Bishops of Rome come from? It was certainly rooted in human realities, in the rich personalities of the men concerned. In the final analysis, I would say that it came from the Holy Spirit, who is coherent in what he inspires in different persons at the same time, for the good of the one Church of Christ. When the Spirit speaks, all understand the same message, each in his or her own language. The true creator of understanding and brotherhood among the disciples of Christ is the Spirit of communion. 

Q: You are well acquainted with Brother Alois, Brother Roger’s successor. How do you see the future of the Taizé Community? 

A: Although I had already met him previously, it is above all since Brother Roger died that I have come to know Brother Alois better. A few years earlier, Brother Roger told me that everything was planned for his succession, on the day when that would be necessary. He was happy about the prospect that Brother Alois was going to take over. Who could have ever imagined that that succession was going to take place in a single night, after an unthinkable act of violence? What has astonished me since then is the great continuity in the life of the Taizé Community and in the welcome of the young. The liturgy, the prayer and the hospitality continue in the same spirit, like a song that has never been interrupted. That says a lot, not only about the personality of the new prior, but also and above all about the human and spiritual maturity of the whole Taizé Community. It is the community as a whole that has inherited Brother Roger’s charism, which it continues to live and to radiate. Knowing the individuals concerned, I have full confidence in the future of the Taizé Community and in its commitment for Christian unity. That confidence comes to me from the Holy Spirit as well, who does not awaken charisms in order to abandon them at the first opportunity. God’s Spirit, who is always new, works in the continuity of a vocation and a mission. He will help the community to live out and to develop its vocation, in faithfulness to the example that Brother Roger left it. Generations pass, but the charism remains, because it is a gift and a work of the Spirit. I would like to conclude by repeating to Brother Alois and to the whole Taizé Community my great esteem for their friendship, their life of prayer and their desire for unity. Thanks to them, the gentle face of Brother Roger remains familiar to us. 


The official website of the community of Taizé, in 32 languages: 
click on:


The words dedicated to Fr. Roger Schutz by Benedict XVI, in the address to non-Catholic Christians in Cologne on August 19, 2005: 

"I would like to remember the great pioneer of unity, Bro. Roger Schutz, who was so tragically snatched from life. I had known him personally for a long time and had a cordial friendship with him. 

"He often came to visit me and, as I already said in Rome on the day of his assassination, I received a letter from him that moved my heart, because in it he underlined his adherence to my path and announced to me that he wanted to come and see me. He is now visiting us and speaking to us from on high. I think that we must listen to him, from within we must listen to his spiritually-lived ecumenism and allow ourselves to be led by his witness towards an interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism. 

"I see good reason in this context for optimism in the fact that today a kind of network of spiritual links is developing between Catholics and Christians from the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities: each individual commits himself to prayer, to the examination of his own life, to the purification of memory, to the openness of charity. 

"The father of spiritual ecumenism, Paul Couturier, spoke in this regard of an 'invisible cloister' which unites within its walls those souls inflamed with love for Christ and his Church. I am convinced that if more and more people unite themselves interiorly to the Lord's prayer 'that all may be one' (Jn 17: 21), then this prayer, made in the Name of Jesus, will not go unheard." 


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

Friday, 2 October 2015


The reform of marital procedures backed by Pope Francis will multiply decrees of nullity from a few thousands to many millions. Obtainable very easily even in just 45 days. The synod on the family will open in October to a landscape already changed 

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 15, 2015 - As the days go by it becomes ever clearer how revolutionary is the scope of the two motu proprio published by Pope Francis on September 8 - the second for the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches - on the reform of procedures for marital nullity cases:

It is the pope himself, in the opening of the document, who presents the reason for the reform:

“The enormous number of faithful who, despite wanting to look after their conscience, too often are turned aside by the juridical structures of the Church.”

In the official presentation of the motu proprio the president of the commission that elaborated the reform, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, turned the reason into an objective:

“To move from the restricted number of a few thousand findings of nullity to the enormous number of unfortunates who could have a declaration of nullity but are left out by the existing system.”

Francis has been absolutely convinced for some time that at least half of the marriages celebrated in church all over the world are invalid. He said so in the press conference on July 28, 2013 on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro. He said it again to Cardinal Walter Kasper, as Kasper in turn said in an interview with “Commonweal” of May 7, 2014.

And therefore these faithful unheeded in their anticipation of having the nullity of their marriages recognized are also part, in the vision of Francis as presented by Pinto, of those “poor” who are at the center of his pontificate. Millions and millions of “unfortunates” waiting for the assistance that is due them.

The procedural reform backed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio aims precisely at this: to allow these endless crowds easy, fast, and free access to the recognition of the nullity of their marriages. The synod of last October (see paragraph 48 of the final “Relatio”) expressed generic support for improvements in the procedures. But a good number of fathers said they were against one or another of the reforms proposed by various sides. Which however are precisely the ones now found in the motu proprio.


The reform delineates two main types of marital procedures. There is the ordinary one and the one - entirely new - called “shorter.”

In the ordinary procedure the main innovation is the abolition of the obligatory double decree of nullity. Only one is needed, as previously permitted in experimental form between 1971 and 1983 in the ecclesiastical tribunals of the United States, a concession that was revoked after the flood of nullity decrees issued by the tribunals and the bad reputation of “Catholic divorce” that was the result.

A single decree, without appeal, reduces the duration of an ordinary procedure to about one year.

Ecclesiastical tribunals, moreover, will have to be set up in every diocese of the world, no matter how small or remote, an objective from which the Catholic Church is very far today mainly because of the shortage of churchmen and laity who are experts in canon law.

But there is another more substantial innovation, presented in the new canon 1678 § 1, which will replace the corresponding canon 1536 § 2 of the existing code of canon law.

While in the canon being scrapped “the force of full proof cannot be attributed” to the statements of the parties, unless “other elements are present which thoroughly corroborate them,” in the new canon “the statements of the parties can have the force of full proof,” to be considered as such by the judge “if there are no other elements to refute them.”

One discovers in this an exaltation of the subjectivity of the party bringing the case that matches up neatly with the official presentations of the two motu proprio by Monsignor Pinto and the secretary of the commission he heads, Monsignor Alejandro W. Bunge, with regard to the “principle motivation” that in their judgment drives many Catholics - in the future a “mass” - to apply to their marriage tribunals:

“Nullity is requested for reasons of conscience, for example to live the sacraments of the Church or to perfect a new stable and happy bond, unlike the first one.”

It is therefore easy to foresee that the longstanding controversy over communion for the divorced and remarried will fizzle out amid the facts, replaced by unlimited and practically unfailing recourse to the certification of nullity of the first marriage.


The biggest innovation of the reform backed by Francis is however the procedure called “shorter.”

Very short, actually. According to the new canons it can begin and end in the span of just 45 days, with the local bishop as the sole and ultimate judge.

Recourse to the abbreviated procedure is allowed “in cases in which the alleged nullity of the marriage is supported by particularly evident arguments.”

But there’s more. Recourse to this kind of procedure is not only allowed but encouraged, seeing the superabundant illustration of supporting circumstances furnished by article 14 § 1 of the “Procedural rules” attached to the motu proprio.

The article says:

“Among the circumstances that can allow the handling of the marital nullity case by means of the shorter procedure […] there are for example:
- that lack of faith which can generate the simulation of consent or the error that determines the will,
- the brevity of conjugal cohabitation,
- abortion procured to prevent procreation,
- stubborn persistence in an extramarital relationship at the time of the wedding or immediately afterward,
- the malicious concealment of sterility or of a grave contagious disease, or of children born from a previous relationship, or of incarceration;
- the grounds of the marriage being entirely extraneous to conjugal life or consistent with the unexpected pregnancy of the woman,
- physical violence inflicted to extort consent,
- lack of the use of reason corroborated by medical documents, etc.”

The list is stunning in its disjointed variety. It includes circumstances, like physical violence inflicted to extort consent, that are actual grounds for the nullity of a marriage. But it includes others, like the brevity of conjugal cohabitation, that cannot in any way support a decree of invalidity. And it includes yet another, the lack of faith, that although difficult to evaluate is ever more frequently evoked as the new universal master key for nullity. And yet these circumstances are all listed on an equal footing, together with a final “etc.” that induces one to add other examples at will.

But in addition to being heterogeneous, the list appears to be misleading. In and of itself it lists circumstances that would simply allow one to access the “shorter” procedure. But it is very easy to interpret it as a list of cases that allow one to obtain the recognition of nullity. Many couples have experienced one of the circumstances illustrated - for example, pregnancy before the wedding - and it is therefore natural that the conviction should arise in them that, upon request, their marriage can be dissolved, seeing also the pressure that the Church exercises in suggesting - precisely in the presence of those circumstances - recourse to the procedure of nullity, and moreover to the quick one.

In short, if to this one adds that in every diocese there will have to be a preliminary service of consultation to put on this track those who are seen as fit for it, once a “shorter” procedure thus constituted is underway a decree of nullity will be practically guaranteed. Which according to the common understanding is a divorce, as Pope Francis himself seems to foresee and fear when he writes in the introduction to the motu proprio:

“It has not escaped me how much an abbreviated judgment could put at risk the principle of the indissolubility of marriage."

And he continues:

“For precisely this reason I have determined that the judge in such a procedure should be the bishop himself, who by virtue of his pastoral office is together with Peter the greatest guarantee of Catholic unity in faith and discipline."

Monsignor Pinto, in the official presentation of the reform, admitted however that “a bishop with millions of faithful in his diocese could not personally preside over the decision of nullity for all the faithful who request it.”

Nor must it be overlooked that there are few, very few bishops with the juridical competence necessary to act as judges in such procedures.


Improvised in less than a year and intentionally published before the synod on the family meets in October, the revolution of marital procedures decided by Pope Francis therefore shows itself to be a colossus with feet of clay, the implementation of which promises to be long and difficult, but which has already produced immediate effects on public opinion inside and outside the Church.

Of these effects, the main one is the widespread conviction that now even the Catholic Church has made room for divorce and the blessing of second marriages.

In the official presentation of the reform Bishop Dimitrios Salachas, apostolic exarch of Athens for Greek Catholics of the Byzantine rite, pointed out this other innovation of the motu proprio:

“As it seems to me, this is the first time that a pontifical document of a juridical nature has had recourse to the patristic principle of pastoral mercy called ‘oikonomia’ among the Orientals, to address a problem like that of the declaration of the nullity of marriage.”

Evidently, pope Bergoglio also had this result in mind when two years ago he said, during the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome:

“The Orthodox follow the theology of economy, as they call it, and they give a second chance of marriage, they allow it. I believe that this problem must be studied.”

‘Either it wasn’t a marriage, and this is nullity — it didn’t exist,’ he told reporters. ‘And if it did, it’s indissoluble. This is clear.’ (Pope Francis on the plane to the US)

On March 13th, 2013, the college of cardinals elected Jorge Begoglio to become Pope Francis.   I have been an enthusiastic follower of the last two popes, have drunk in all that they have said, and this has been an enormous help in my vocation "to seek God" as a Benedictine monk.   But there was one thing missing, the wisdom that can only be gained on the streets.   It seems that the college of cardinals agreed with me, so they elected Pope Francis.   It is the strength of the Jesuits that they seek and find God in whatever set of circumstances that Divine Providence has placed them, in the sacrament of the present moment, in the here and now; and Jorge Bergoglio had found God on the streets of Buenos Aires.  We are now "suffering" the consequences of the cardinals' choice.  If I am especially happy at the cardinals' choice, it is because I found God in the streets of Peru.

We arrived, all three of us, at the small town of Tambogrande on the feast of St Bernard, 1981, with the object of founding a monastery and with the charge, by the Archbishop of Piura, of running a parish the size of an English county, with about 80,000 souls, in a town of 20,000, with masses on Sundays and feastdays,  and the rest distributed among a large number of villages, eighty with a chapel and, therefore with mass on great feasts, when we arrived, and one hundred and twenty when left in 1990.  Since the arrival of the Spanish, there had been no systematic attempt to catechise. The parish priest before our arrival was the first parish priest to live in the town.   All the rest preferred to live in Piura, the city a day's donkey ride away, and only came for Sundays and when they were paid on feastdays.   Every fifty ir sixty years, a team of Dominicans, Franciscans, Redemptorists or whatever, would go from town to town, village to village, and stay for two weeks, marrying, baptising, hearing confessions and preaching and teaching.  What they taught was handed down by parents and grandparents; so we came across many people who really knew their faith, but they were a minority.  Parish priests were content to sacramentalise, but not to evangelise.  The last priest before us was parish priest for over forty years.  There was much evidence of his youthful zeal and apostolic fervour; but, without any system of support provided by his bishop, he abandoned his post after forty years, leaving behind a few children, fruit of his occasional lapses from a life of celibacy; but this was hardly noticed in a community where very few are married in church.

The people greeted our arrival with great enthusiasm completely lacking in decorum.   Children crowded into the sanctuary during Mass, sitting on the floor.   People came to communion in droves - as Graham Green wrote, "like hungry dogs," - and would jostle each other and say, "A mi, Padrecito, a mi!!"

They wanted Jesus, but their sexual lives were  a porqueria.  It is true that few were divorced, because they weren't married in the first place.  Men often had more than one family, a custom the Spanish had learnt from the Moors before they came over to Peru, and many women brought up children alone except for the occasional visit of their man.  Homosexuals had a recognised place in society because they served the needs of the adolescents.  Every effort was spent to protect female adolescents from boys because, when they were of an age to marry, girls needed to be virgins.

We gave communion to all comers; but, gradually, people began to go to confession.   We came to realise that many of the people were living quietly heroic lives, especially women, bringing up their children in a macho world.  Many could not escape from their irregular unions, had tried to be married but their husbands wouldn't agree, even if they were free to do so.   One great problem was that a church wedding entailed giving food and entertainment to the whole neighbourhood, and many, perhaps most, could not afford it.

We began having "matrimonios masivos" during fiestas, when everybody was feasting anyway, and we charged very little.   We also had mass baptisms at fiesta time too.  Each matrimony was prepared for by a course that the couple had to attend, as was each baptism; and we trained catechists in each village and in the town.   First Communion, traditionally a great social event, eventually had a course for parents and children that lasted two years; but that was later.  The more instructed and regular became the community, the more the rules were followed; but our first job was to let them see that God loves them.

We didn't always succeed.  On one occasion, I was receiving the kids of the 5th year of secondary for confession in my house, a couple of hundred of them, who came to my house in their own time over a week.   One day, a group of homosexuals came - they were not preparing for Confirmation like the rest - but confession was in the air.   I will always remember the first sentence of the first homosexual who came, "Padrecito, mi pecado mas grande es que soy."  (Father, my greatest sin is that I exist.)  I felt utterly, completely inadequate.   What could I say?  It was so wrong, but how could I put it across that he is very precious because God loves him?  I absolved the lot, and have never forgotten it.

Little by little, the Catholic community began to normalise.  The rules of the Church were being obeyed; but  there were still people in irregular unions who were allowed to go to communion.  We asked ourselves the question, did we want the irregular union to be dissolved, si o no?  Usually the answer was "No", because it was the only stability the children had, and the only way the mother could feed them: it was the place where they experienced love.  We decided it was illogical of us to want the union to continue and stop the mother from going to communion for doing what we wanted her to do.

I am sure that Pope Francis has had similar experiences.  What the people want is Jesus.   You don't meet them with a rule book: you meet them with Jesus.  It is only after they meet Jesus that the rules make any sense and they have the spiritual strength to observe them.   That is my conviction, and it is also that of Pope Francis. As he said to an International Theology congress in the Catholic University of Argentina by video link recently:
In this context, the Pope concluded, doctrine can never be separated from the pastoral context. He pointed to the great fathers of the Church, like Irenaeus, Augustine, Basil or Ambrose, who were great theologians because they were great pastors too. Encountering families, the poor and those who live on the margins of society, he said, is the path to a better understanding of our faith.

 There are people who cannot escape from irregular situations, sometimes because of the fault of others, sometimes because they would be breaking up a viable community of love that is giving a stable background for her family.

I have a king-size bone to pick with Cardinal Burke and his ilk.   They take the book of Canon Law, which is the Gospel teaching and that of the Church turned into laws.   They think that, once Christ's teaching is turned into laws, that makes the laws equivalent to the Gospel, which they aren't.  It belongs to the pre-Vatican II understanding of the Church.   It was thought that by defining its political institution  as a divinely founded perfect society united by papal jurisdiction, and by simply concluding that this perfect society is the mystical body of Christ, they had arrived at an adequate understanding of the Church: they hadn't, as Vatican II has shown us.It is in keeping with the view that the value of the liturgy is found in its official status over against other forms of prayer, which is a highly inadequate understanding of the liturgy when measured beside Sacrosanctum Concilium.  By the side of the Fathers of the Church, the pre-Vatican II ordinary teaching on the Church, as we learnt in Fundamental Theology, was very poor stuff.   In the same way, so much is left out of Catholic  teaching on marriage in the Canon Law books that it has only limited value.  It is not profound enough to analyse theologically the value or lack of it of a marital union that started with adultery but was tranformed by conversion; just as the legalistic view of the Church could not do justice to Protestant communions which also irregular and outside Christ's normal arrangement.

Synod’s Turn To Speak. But Decisions Will Be Up To Francis
The last exchange of fire before the opening of the work. The uncertainty about the procedure. The appeals to the pope. Why in the end it will be he alone who will draw the conclusions 

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 28, 2015 – Back in Rome after his journey to Cuba and the United States, culminating with the world meeting of families in Philadelphia, Pope Francis is now facing the much more exacting challenge of the synod that will open on October 4, the Sunday of the liturgical year on which - as if by a jest of providence - Catholic churches all around the world will resound with these words of Jesus: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

The synod will last for three weeks, and the procedures that will be adopted have not yet been made known, despite having a big influence on the outcome of the work.

What is certain is that there will not be a final message, no commission having been set up to write one.

Another definite feature, preannounced by Pope Francis, is that “each week there will be a discussion of one chapter” of the three into which the preparatory document is subdivided:

So this time there will be no “Relatio post disceptationem” halfway through the work, after a first phase of free discussion on everything, as at the synod of October 2014. The discussion will be broken up right away into narrow linguistic groups, each of which will sum up its perspectives in reports destined to remain confidential. At the end of the three weeks there will be a vote on a final “Relatio,” and the pope will give the concluding talk.

Also unlike in the past it is not expected that after a few months there will be a postsynodal apostolic exhortation to cap everything off. The discussion will remain open to future developments. The only embodiment of the provisory conclusions will be the pope’s talk at the end of the work, which will as a matter of course overtop and obscure all the other voices.

In spite of the much-heralded emphasis on collegiality, in fact, the next round of the synod will also see at work in Francis a monocratic exercise of papal authority, as in last year’s session, at the end of which the pope kept alive propositions that had not obtained the votes necessary for approval. And they were precisely the ones on the most controversial points, divorce and homosexuality.


One undisputed sign of this monocratic exercise of papal authority was the publication, last September 8, of the two motu proprio with which Francis reformed annulment procedures (see above)

A reform of marital cases had been expected for some time. But Francis set it in motion while keeping out the family-centered synod, which he knew was not inclined to approve what he had in mind. He set up the preparatory commission in August of 2014, before the convocation of the first session of the synod. And he signed the motu proprio last August 15, before the second session, scheduling its implementation for next December 8.

The most substantial innovation of the new procedures is that in order to obtain a declaration of nullity, the mere word of the applicant will have the “force of full proof,” without the need for other evidence, and the presumed “lack of faith” will act as a universal master key not just for thousands but for millions of marriages to be declared null, with an ultra-fast procedure and with the local bishop as the sole judge.

On this the synod fathers therefore find themselves facing a fait accompli. But it is hard to imagine that they are not discussing it. Church historian Roberto de Mattei has even hypothesized that some synod fathers may ask for the abrogation of this act of governance on the part of Pope Francis, “up to now his most revolutionary.” And he has cited the historical precedent of the retraction made in 1813 by Pius VII - imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte - of his act of subjection of the Holy See to the sovereignty of the emperor: a retraction invoked publicly by Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, pro-secretary of state, and by other “zealous” cardinals, as well as by the great spiritual master Pio Brunone Lanteri, a future venerable:


Meanwhile, an appeal has been issued in the American magazine “First Things” by a hefty number of theologians, philosophers, and scholars from various countries, asking the synod fathers to reject paragraph 137 of the preparatory document, judged as contrary to the magisterium of the Church and a portent of confusion among the faithful:

The appeal concerns the teaching of Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on birth control - an encyclical that Pope Francis himself has called “prophetic” - and numbers among its authors and signatories a good number of professors from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family: Stephan Kampowski, Livio Melina, Jaroslav Merecki, José Noriega, Juan José Pérez-Soba, Mary Shivanandan, Luigi Zucaro, as well as luminaries like the German philosopher Robert Spaemann and the Swiss ethicist Martin Rhonheimer.

In the judgment of the signatories of the appeal, paragraph 137 of the preparatory document assigns absolute primacy to the individual conscience in the selection of the means of birth control, even against the teaching of the Church’s magisterium, with the added risk that such primacy could also be extended to other areas, like abortion and euthanasia.

In effect, it is precisely on the primacy of the individual conscience “beyond what the rule might say objectively” that the supporters of communion for the divorced and remarried rely, as one of these, cardinal of Vienna Christoph Schönborn explained in an interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica” of September 26:

“There are situations in which the priest, the guide, who knows the persons, can come to the point of saying: ‘Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my conscience as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church.’”

The split between the individual conscience and the magisterium of the Church is analogous to that which separates pastoral practice from doctrine: a danger that in the judgment of many looms over the synod and has been the object of very strong words from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in a lecture given on September 1 in Regensburg on the occasion of the release of the German edition of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book “God or Nothing”:

According to Müller, “the separation of teaching and practice of the faith” was precisely that which in the 16th century led to the schism in the Western Church. With the deceptive practice of indulgences, the Church of Rome was in fact ignoring doctrine and “the original protest of Luther himself against the negligence of the shepherds of the Church was justified, because one may not play with the salvation of souls, even if the purpose of the deception would be to bring about a good deed.”

And today – the cardinal continued – the question is the same: “We may not deceive the people, when it comes to the sacramentality of marriage, its indissolubility, its openness toward the child, and the fundamental complementarity of the two sexes. Pastoral care must keep in view the eternal salvation, and it should not try to be superficially pleasing according to the wishes of the people.”


As can be seen, the proponents of “openness” are very active, but the stances of those who oppose it are also numerous and strong.

On September 29 there will be a repeat presentation in Rome, backed up with 800,000 signatures including those of 201 cardinals and bishops, of the “Filial Appeal” to Pope Francis that he pronounce “a word of clarification” against the “widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions.”

This appeal to the pope is not far from what was said by Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan and a father at the next synod, in an interview with “Corriere della Sera” of Sunday, September 27:

“The urgent priority, for me, is that the synod would suggest to the Holy Father a magisterial statement that would unify by simplifying the doctrine on marriage. A statement aimed at demonstrating the relationship between the experience of faith and the sacramental nature of marriage.”

The complete text of the interview:

> Scola: "I miei timori sulla famiglia. Ci si sta pensando poco"

On September 30, at the Angelicum University, cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Leo Burke, two of the five cardinals who on the verge of the synod of 2014 took a stance against their colleague Walter Kasper with the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” will reassert their ideas together with Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the congregation for the Oriental Churches and also a coauthor of the book.

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