Doubting or dissenting Cardinals?

The four cardinals and their five doubts
Michael Sean Winters
The case of the four cardinals and their five dubia has been well reported and garnered plenty of commentary. Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner decided to publish their letter containing the dubia, openly challenging the pope to clarify parts of Amoris Laetitia that they find to be a source of confusion. The whole episode is painful and put me in mind of an earlier and similarly painful episode in the history of the Catholic church in the United States.
In the post-war years, Jesuit Fr. Leonard Feeney ran the Saint Benedict Center in Cambridge, Mass., adjacent to the campuses of Harvard University and Radcliffe College. A charismatic man, Feeney attracted young minds to his brand of extreme Catholicism and, specifically, his interpretation of the doctrine “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” — “no salvation outside the Church.” Feeney managed to get his center accredited to teach courses by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts even though he had no such authority from either his Jesuit superiors or from the Archdiocese of Boston. He began convincing his young devotees to drop out of Harvard and Radcliffe and enroll at his centre.
Needless to say, this made for some angry parents, and Fr. Feeney was summoned to a meeting with the archdiocese. Historical footnote: The auxiliary bishop with whom he met was then-Bishop, later-Cardinal John Wright. When Wright became Bishop of Pittsburgh and then Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, his secretary was then-Father, now-Cardinal Donald Wuerl, one of Pope Francis’ staunchest defenders and one of the most effective participants in the two synods that led to Amoris Laetitia. Feeney agreed to notify parents before their children withdrew from the more prestigious schools and also to submit his newsletter to Jesuit censors.
The great historian of the church in the U.S., Jesuit Fr. Gerald Fogarty, picks up the story. He writes:

But Feeney’s attacks became broader. In dealing with Protestants he was virulent in asserting that only in the Catholic Church could one be saved. His followers at Boston College even charged the president of the institution with heresy. He also alienated many of the students who used to frequent St. Benedict’s Center, which now became a closed group of “family,” totally convinced that it alone represented the truth of Catholicism. The American Church had its own Port Royal.

Bingo! How many times in these pages have I observed that a key hermeneutic in understanding both Pope Francis and his critics is to grasp that he is an old Jesuit and that old Jesuits contend with Jansenists. That is precisely the dynamic at work with these four cardinals.
Feeney continued to cause scandal. A 1949 decree from the Holy Office about Feeney stated: “Therefore, let them who in grave peril are ranked against the Church seriously bear in mind that after ‘Rome has spoken,’ they cannot be excused even by reason of good faith. Certainly, their bond of duty of obedience toward the Church is much graver than that of those who as yet are related to the Church ‘only by an unconscious desire.'” That is to say, the Protestants Feeney thought damned had a better shot at heaven than he did because of his disobedience! He was eventually suspended from the Society of Jesus and excommunicated in 1953. For insisting on an unduly narrow interpretation of the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the church, Feeney found himself outside the church. Thanks be to God, he finally was reconciled in 1972, although he never formally recanted his interpretation of the doctrine.
Doctrines are made to be wide enough to find application in a variety of complex and different human circumstances. This is the thing that the four cardinals, like Feeney, cannot accept. They believe that their way of reading the prior teachings of the church is the only way, even though the esteemed scholar of the theology of St. John Paul II, Rocco Buttiglione has again explained that Amoris Laetitia is in full continuity with the whole of the teachings of Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II’s prior apostolic exhortation of the same subject. The four cardinals focus on parts of that latter text, and neglect others. The synod fathers, and Pope Francis, offer a different interpretation, one that I believe is more cognizant of the entire prior teachings, and one that is not the least bit confused about doctrine.
The problem, I think, is that the four cardinals believe Pope Francis is muddying the waters by reclaiming the church’s long standing teachings on conscience, on the difference between objective and subjective guilt, on the application of the church’s twin teachings on marital indissolubility and God’s superabundant mercy to the human details of a situation, that is discernment, and perhaps most especially, that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, the most Jansenistic of the positions put forward by the critics of Amoris Laetitia. They want to look upon the world through the lens of church teaching and see only black and white, but human lives are grey and when seen through the lens of church teaching, that human greyness should invite compassion not judgment from a Christian pastor. Their approach works for an accountant but not for a pastor.
In his Apologia pro vita sua, Blessed John Henry Newman writes of his conversion to Catholicism and, specifically, his ability to acquiesce to Catholic understandings of certain doctrines. And, as ever, Newman writes beautifully:

Nor had I any trouble about receiving those additional articles, which are not found in the Anglican Creed. Some of them I believed already, but not any one of them was a trial to me. I made a profession of them upon my reception with the greatest ease, and I have the same ease in believing them now. I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power.

“Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” It seems to me the four cardinals have five difficulties, but not five doubts. Perhaps they have more difficulties than that. I fear that in their zeal to defend the doctrine on marital incommensurability, they neglect other equally vital doctrines on conscience, mercy, and the sacraments. I certainly had difficulties with some of the interpretations placed upon the teachings of St. John Paul II. We all have difficulties. But to publicly voice doubts about the magisterial teaching of the church is not something a cardinal should be doing or, if he does, he should have the decency to include his red hat with the submission of his dubia. Cardinal Burke likes to fret about lax Catholics causing scandal, but in his case, as in that of Fr. Feeney, it is sometimes the most extreme Catholics who cause the worst scandal.

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  1. Fr. Feeney was, of course, only repeating the sentiments of Pius IX, when, in 1859, he stated that ” it has to be accepted as a matter of faith that no one can be saved outwith the Apostolic Church of Rome”.
    I am sure most catholics took that seriously. I think, even in the 1960s, I was taught that as a wee boy devoutly growing up in Co. Donegal. Pope Pius IX did stipulate that the doctrine had to be accepted “as a matter of faith” and we all know what that implies especially if he was sitting in a chair at the time. I am being a bit sarcastic here but just a bit. Of course, this was 1859, eleven years before 1870 and Pastor Aeternus and all that.
    Even though I have no time at all for the Gang of Four –I think Brendan’s amusing description of Burke at Knock some years ago was the first I was aware of Raymond — I do not want them to lose their red hats or be otherwise punished because that would smack of the autocratic, bullying mentality of the previous two pontificates and none of us wants to return to that

  2. The cardinals will be vindicated in due course. I believe that is it wrong for Pope Francis to ignore their letter. Their is nothing quite like showing contempt for someone than to ignore them. It is, I would argue, Francis who is on the wrong side of the Magisterium, not these four cardinals. Also, lots of liberal Cardinals doubted and still doubt actual Magisterial teachings.

  3. DR. HENRY says:

    God Bless our Pope, the great the good. May God bless all the cardinals, the bishops, the priests and the laity. We must all learn to love one another in this wintertime of human history. Everything else is secondary. We are in the monsoon season of history. “Love one another as I have loved you”, says Our Lord. Very simple. If we practice this first, then everything else will fall in line. The pope and the cardinals will always be welcomed in my home….one at a time,of course. So, come dear Francis and have a pint of Guinness on me. May God Bless us all and keep us far from the ruinous power of dogmatism. He who would be greatest amongst us, must be least of all. The Son of Man has come not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Love to all who read these words.

  4. Mary Burke says:

    Bishop Franghiskos Papamanólis, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Greece has written an open letter to the four cardinals which doesn’t pull any punches.
    See the link:

  5. Fr. David Dye says:

    No wonder no one goes to Mass in Ireland!

  6. Mary Burke says:

    As a married now Roman Catholic priest, Fr Dye, your comment is, at the very least, interesting if erroneous – as a visit to any Irish parish on a Sunday will confirm for you.

  7. Sean O Brien says:

    Fr Dye, I don’t understand your comment.
    The Pope is not Irish.
    The four disobedient Cardinals are not Irish.
    Irish Catholics on average still have a far higher Mass attendance than most other countries.
    The article originates in your own country, (I think).
    I suspect that if four Irish priests had voiced the opinions of the four dissenting Cardinals the CDF would have been down on them like a ton of bricks to withdraw their right to minister or speak in the name of the church!

  8. Life is full of dilemmas. That’s why we have God-given brains – to solve the dilemma and resolve the priorities. Here below are a few more below for cardinals and bishops and those who love their titles. I’ve included the Latin version. Legalists love Latin, even though they may have only a cúpla focal.
    Matthew 23:8–12 NIV
    8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
    ¬Vulgate (Latin):
    8 vos autem nolite vocari rabbi unus enim est magister vester omnes autem vos fratres estis
    9 et patrem nolite vocare vobis super terram unus enim est Pater vester qui in caelis est
    10 nec vocemini magistri quia magister vester unus est Christus
    11 qui maior est vestrum erit minister vester
    12 qui autem se exaltaverit humiliabitur et qui se humiliaverit exaltabitur
    1 Timothy Ch 3 NIV
    2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
    3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
    ¬Vulgate (Latin):
    2 Oportet ergo episcopum irreprehensibilem esse, unius uxoris virum, sobrium, prudentem, ornatum, pudicum, hospitalem, doctorem,3 non vinolentum, non percussorem, sed modestum: non litigiosum, non cupidum, sed4 suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate.5 Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?6 Non neophytum: ne in superbiam elatus, in judicium incidat diaboli.
    Matthew 9;13 NIV
    But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
    13 euntes autem discite quid est misericordiam volo et non sacrificium non enim veni vocare iustos sed peccatores

  9. The Pope’s silence on the Dubia is a clear sign that, as Pope, and protected by the Holy Spirit, he cannot bind the faithful in error regarding faith and morals. He can’t rubber stamp as Magisterial his own opinions in Amoris Laetitia.

  10. Martin Daly says:

    Good article, but I’m still not sure who to blame, the four cardinals or Pope Francis, or both. If only all had the clarity and lucidity of C.S. Lewis! For what its worth, I don’t think there is anything new here, for decades now the Church has been torn between evolving or developing teachings on mercy; striving to keep that essential balance between the constant invocation of no redemption without repentance on one hand and avoiding the seeping into catholic consciousness of a kind of altered consciousness, that no matter what, all that matters is a fundamental option of believing,thus giving us an easy pass. The striving to holiness and what that means is at risk of being lost, if this isn’t sorted, and with it a church that conforms with the Spirit of the Age and not not the Spirit of Truth. We need to pray and fast for Pope Francis and the four Cardinals, indeed for all the Church. Good article though. Thanks.

  11. If Bishop Franghiskos Papamanólis above were taken seriously, the church would go from a state under one pope where raising a question draws accusations of disloyalty and heresy to the state under another pope where raising a question draws accusations of disloyalty and heresy.

  12. Ian Evans says:

    Bishop Papamanolis has hit the nail on the head. The tail does not wag the dog.

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