In recent days, my attention has been drawn to two articles. The first appeared in the site CatholicCitizens.org and carried the rather engaging title: "Is the Pope Catholic?". It comprises a review of several books written about the personality and character of Pope Francis. Adverting to the difficulties of Argentinian history and the complexities of its interpretation, it engages with its central question through the lens of various authors; presenting a vista which ranges from adulation to condemnation. The author of the article (Robert Royal) cites what he considers to be a recurring theme of the current pontificate:
"Bergoglio learned to speak ambivalently in public. Like Perón, he boldly tells different groups what they want to hear, even if he often contradicts himself..."
Citing Philip Lawlor's Lost Shepherd, Royal continues:
"Here Lawlor puts his finger on a continuing problem with this pope: his inability to speak, and even think, clearly...The "change" that Francis is pursuing necessarily involves dismantling the work of his great predecessors, especially their efforts to restore an emphasis on truth and natural-law thinking..."
The second article comprises a report on LifeSiteNews by Diane Montagne: "EXCLUSIVE: Vatican bishop defends giving giving Communion to pro-abortion Argentine president and mistress." The article includes a photograph depicting warm (and seemingly affectionate) exchanges between Pope Francis and the two communicants referred to. According to Montagne, the issue was the subject of an interview conducted on 6 February 2020. She records:
"In comments to LifeSite on February 6, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences vigorously argued that canon law 'obliges' a priest to give the Eucharist to openly pro-abortion politicians who present themselves for communion. The Argentine prelate said that only someone who has been formally excommunicated can be refused the Sacrament..."
Elsewhere, in the same article, the author reports that, according to Sorondo, reception of the sacrament in these circumstances was a problem for U.S. Catholics and Cardinal Raymond Burke alone. There is no suggestion of any correction from any other official of the Holy See.
For good or ill, parents set the tone of their household and present the standards of behaviour which children learn to emulate. So too with institutions. Those who are appointed to positions of leadership have not only the potential, but also the means, to communicate to its members the values to which the institution aspires. Within the context of faith communities, however, the concept is somewhat more problematic. Invariably, those who are entrusted to office assume responsibilities. Those responsibilities include adherence to tenets of belief and doctrinal principle. This is a most solemn obligation. Indeed, the solemnity of the occasion is not infrequently affirmed by making of an oath by the office holder. Within our own Tradition, doctrine is communicated and affirmed by various means; ranging from the Catechism, statements made by Council Fathers, the Bishop of Rome and other diocesan bishops, who like him, are intended to serve the Church and its mission in persona Christi. The Church teaches - and Catholics believe - that it is upon these men that the fullness of priesthood is conferred.
In "The Motherhood of the Church" (Ignatius, 1982) De Lubac observes:
"Tradition, according to the Fathers of the Church, is not a burden of the past: it is a vital energy, a propulsive as much as a protective force, acting within an entire community, as at the heart of each of the faithful because it is none other than the very Word of God both perpetuating and renewing itself under the action of the Spirit of God...In that very continuity, tradition is thus a perpetual principle of renewal; it ensures for the body of the Church, under the vigilance of her pastors, the perpetual youth of which Clement of Alexandria spoke to us..."
As to the pastors themselves, De Lubac points to the mediation of the priest as the expression of parental responsibility to both the community and each person within it. He adds:
"For it is through them, successors to the first apostles, that the Divine life continues to be transmitted and it is they who have the responsibility to see to it that the "virginity" of the faith is preserved both intact and fruitful...They are the 'co-workers of God' among us; they are the dispensers of the mysteries of God, for us they pronounce the word of reconciliation..."
As Martin Luther King once observed, peace is not the absence of strife but the presence of justice. So too, within the Catholic Tradition, reconciliation requires something more than a desire for political acceptance and social harmony. If it is to be authentic, reconciliation demands more than regret, or, for that matter a desire to forget. As any confessor (or lawyer) will indicate, there is, after all, a world of difference between true remorse on the one hand and that form of regret which is the result of detection (i.e. having been 'found out'). For Catholics too, reconciliation requires an acceptance of The Truth. Scripture (Jn 14:6) places beyond doubt two matters: Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The life; and, no-one can come to the Father, except through Him. This is an inescapable and irrefutable reality. In days past this reality found expression in the notion that the faithful must be 'suitably disposed' to receive and participate in the sacraments. By way of illustration, through the sacrament of penance we are, each one of us, to re-affirm our commitment to Jesus as Truth. The act of contrition is made upon this basis. It is the reconfiguration of conscience evidenced by an outward declaration of the will.
Certain commentators will likely suggest that this is the vocabulary of yesteryear; long superseded by the Church's acceptance and recognition of Divine Mercy. Others might suggest that the sacrament of penance is no longer "relevant". As to the former, Divine Mercy is first and foremost an attribute of God; not a right to be claimed. It is an affront to God's Mercy to suggest otherwise. As for the decline in the sacrament of penance, this is in and of itself a curious proposition. Many medical practitioners will confirm that it is no small part of the effective practice of medicine to first educate the patient. By the same token, the sacrament of confession will continue to decline for as long priests pursue a policy of appeasement rather than education. Appeasement takes numerous forms; from reliance upon general absolution, through turning a blind-eye to the compelling moral dilemma, to miscommunication of the Church's teaching. In each instance, the vigilance identified by De Lubac has been relegated in favour of practices which avoid social discomfort and enhance personal popularity. Experience demonstrates that education calls for a clarity of purpose and communication.
What then of the President of Argentina and Bishop Sorondo?
It is not known whether the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences has a copy of the Code of Canon Law within its precincts. Participation in (and exclusion from the Eucharist) is addressed, inter alia, in two principal canons: 915-916. Canon 915 legislates for two discrete cases: a) a communicant is the recipient of a canonical penalty; and b) a communicant who obstinately persists in manifest grave sin. In neither case is the communicant to participate in the sacrament. In a complementary manner, canon 916 confirms that those who are conscious of grave sin are not to receive the sacrament. In this latter case, a number of extenuating conditions are provided for. These include the inability to participate in the sacrament of penance. Convention suggests -and the law requires - that one begins with the text of the law itself. Having done so, it becomes evident that the requirements of exclusion from the sacrament are somewhat more extensive than Bishop Sorondo appears to have understood.
If the LifeSite article is accurate, it would seem that he considers the matter, in any event, to be nothing more than an issue taken up by those of a particular form of orthodoxy. Had Bishop Sorondo been given access to the Code, he would have been alerted to the seriousness with which the Code engages with abortion: (c1398),
More fundamentally, In the event that the Academy's funds extended to a Commentary on the Code, Bishop Sorondo may have been reminded that canon 915 is directed not merely to the recipient but also: a) the dignity of the sacrament; and b) the prevention of scandal. The reason for this is clear. The Eucharist is intended to be not only the unifying sacrament but also the sacrament of unity. It is the means by which the faithful public proclaim their belief in, and commitment to, the universal call to holiness and the salvific mission of the Church. It is not difficult to see how disregard of these laws is not only contrary to the faith which the Church declares, but, has the potential to communicate an acceptance of the very behaviours which it prohibits. In its most acute form it transmits a clear message: the Church and her pastors attach no value to the dignity of the sacred species or the disposition of those who wish - irrespective of the Church's teachings- to participate in the sacraments to serve their wider ambitions.
Contrary to the views attributed to Bishop Sorondo, this is not a concern for U.S and Cardinal Burke alone. It is a matter which should be of vital concern to all of the faithful. We would do well to keep in mind the words of the psalm:
"A pure heart create for me O God; place a steadfast spirit within me." [Ps 50]
Perhaps by this means, all within the Church will have the clarity of thought to recognise what the faith requires and the courage to proclaim it with confidence and conviction.
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom - pray for us.