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Monday, November 17, 2014

Moynihan vs. Magister: Which Vatican Watcher Would You Trust?

I read Inside the Vatican and its editor's "Moynihan Letters," but I was so put off by one of them this past week that I won't be giving quite so much credence to Moynihan's views in the future. He seems to me to be outfitted in rose-colored glasses with a message sweat shirt that reads "The Pope is Always Right and I'm His Cheerleader!" 

What made me reassess Moynihan? His opinions on the Extraordinary Synod and his almost breathless acceptance of Kasper et al's statements that nobody is trying to change doctrine on marriage. What! Here's a section from his November 14th letter titled Francis Has His Hand On The Tiller — And He Will Not Change Doctrine:
I attended a round-table the other evening, on November 11... at which Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke. Kasper, just back in Rome after a trip to the United States, was joined by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, one of the leading canon lawyers in the Church, and now President of the Vatican's most important canon law office, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts...The two discussed the October Synod on the Family for an hour and a half....
One essential conclusion of the discussion was this: that the Church will not change her established moral doctrine. Both men said this: that next year, when the Synod reconvenes, there won't be any change in Church doctrine, only an effort to change the application of the doctrine in specific cases. (my emphasis) 
Coccopalmerio put it this way: "We never wished to change doctrine, only to change the application of the doctrine to particular cases. The doctrine cannot change."
Kasper concurred. 
This is important. There are many who are wondering, and whispering, about the chances of a "change in Church doctrine." Yet while they wonder, and whisper, the very protagonists of the alleged move to change Church doctrine, men like Kasper and Coccopalmerio, are saying quite openly that a change in doctrine is not in the cards.

It is not going to happen. 
And this means that those who fear that the barque of Peter is sailing "rudderless," that there is no helmsman at the tiller, that Pope Francis is falling short in carrying out his mission to confirm his brothers in the faith and in assuring the unity of the Church, are wrong.

(Such suggestions were made, at least in appearance, by Cardinal Raymond Burke in an October 30 interview which instantly spread around the internet — link:
In fact, Francis is a profoundly faithful Pope, who intends to conserve the deposit of the faith, and will do so — as Kasper himself confirms — in a world in which that deposit is under open attack from the declared enemies of the Church, but also from within the Church, from those who are misled by reports so outrageous that they should not be believed, but which lead many to vacillate in their confidence in the successor of Peter.

Francis does have his "hand on the tiller." He will not change Church doctrine — Kasper and Coccopalmerio both confirm that.
Phsew! Are we all relived? Not me. Moynihan seems to miss the fact that a change in discipline can most certainly effect a change in doctrine in practice even when it remains on the books. His dismissive attitude toward Cardinal Burke verges on insulting, especially as he expresses blind trust in Kasper, a proven liar! (Although he addresses this and lets Kasper off.) And then there is the insult to those "within the Church...misled by (outrageous) reports." (Really? You mean reports about the translation of the final Relatio which left out that marriage is between a man and a woman?)

In fact, we already know what happens when there's a breakdown between discipline and doctrine. How many Catholics today simply ignore the doctrine on birth control because they believe it is a matter of personal conscience (They heard it in confession!) and they have a good reason to pitch the doctrine? After all, clerics were (and still are) telling couples to follow their own (unformed) consciences. (Besides, John and Jane Doe have a cruise scheduled next Valentine's Day and morning sickness has a chilling effect on romance. So pitch that birth control no-no out the porthole!)

Canon lawyer, Ed Peters, whom I suspect knows more about the relationship between doctrine and discipline than Robert Moynihan, has said this about the questions raised by Kasper et al:
I have argued from the outset of this debate that the reception of holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics raises fundamental questions of doctrine not simply about marriage, but also about the Eucharist and about the sacrament of Confession.
Absolutely, and if you change the discipline and allow couples in "exceptional" cases to receive Communion...well, we will no doubt see creeping exceptionalism. Look at the "exceptional" use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion? Is anyone so naive they believe it won't happen with the divorced and remarried? Silly question: Robert Moynihan, of course.

But there are other Vatican watchers not so naive. Sandro Magister, a 40-year Vatican reporter recently talked with Goffredo Pistelli of Italia Oggi about some of the pope's "contradictions." I've reprinted a large portion of the interview posted at Rorate Caeli:
Magister (from now on R for Response): Throughout his life [Bergoglio] has been a person who has acted on different fronts contemporarily and does the same thing now as Pontiff; he leaves passages open, and on first reading, there are many contradictions. Anyway, those you mentioned are not the only ones. 
Q: Tell us about some others… 
R: He is a very talkative Pope and has telephoned and approached all different kinds of people both near and far, but has been silent about the Asia Bibi case. 
Q: The Pakistani lady who has been in prison a long time, condemned to death for apostasy… 
R: Exactly. Pope Francis has not uttered a word about her. The same goes for the kidnapped Nigerian girls and that unbelievable act of a few days ago in Pakistan when a Christian married couple were burnt to death in a furnace.

Q: These are stories connected to relations with Islam, which we’ll return to later. Some are beginning to define these contradictions as “Jesuitism” in the sense of a ‘multi-way of thinking’. 
R: This is a disparaging and unacceptable estimation, even if it’s true that Jesuit spirituality historically has shown itself able to adapt to the most diverse situations, at times even contradictory among themselves.

Q: …as the organization of the recent Synod appeared contradictory… 
R: An organization precisely calculated by the Pope, not left to chance as was lead to believe; there were other contradictory elements as well.

Q: For example? 
R: Bergoglio has said repeatedly that he didn’t want to make compromises with doctrine, that he was with the tradition of the Church. But then, he opened discussions, like the ones on Communion for the divorced and remarried, which effectively touch the very foundations of the Church. 
Q: Why? 
R: Because it is inevitable that Communion for the divorced and remarried will result in the acceptance of second-marriages, and so to the dissolution of the sacramental bond of matrimony.

Q: I’m not a vaticanist, but the sense from the outside is that bewilderment is growing and not only from the hierarchy. What’s more, also in sectors you would certainly not define as traditionalist… 
R: This is undeniable. We have leaders in prominent positions, not Lefebvrians, who are making this clear, even if they don’t express it in drastic and antagonistic terms. Not even Cardinal Burke, recently removed from his position as the ex-Prefect of the Apostolic Segnatura, did so, because there isn’t a prejudicially hostile tendency against the Pontiff. Certainly there are evident manifestations of uneasiness.....
the Pope’s decision to assign the opening of the discussions to Cardinal Walter Kasper... basically was the start of the hostilities. 
Q: Why? 
R: Because Kasper is proposing again today exactly the same theses defeated in 1993 by John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, the latter being the Prefect of the Holy Office at the time.
Q: Yes, the Pope launched Kasper, he made Abp. Bruno Forte special Secretary to the Synod and who carried weight during the work itself, so much so as to provoke reactions from some Synod fathers. But then, finally, Francis intervened scolding both sides - almost like an old Christian Democrat against opposite extremisms.

R: It’s another recurring practice of this Pontificate: reprimands to one side and the other. However, if we want to make an inventory, the scoldings aimed at the traditionalists, the legalists and the rigid defenders of doctrine appear to be much more numerous. On the other hand, whenever he has something to say to the progressives you never understand who he is really referring to.
Q: The Synod also launched even further Father Antonio Spadaro ,the director of Civiltà Cattolica- 
R: Yes, he’s posing now as if he were spokesman for the Pope, and the Jesuit magazine, which had started to decline (with him as director involved on the web and social network) but now he is expressive of the highest summit in the Vatican – especially after the big interview with the Jesuit Pope. ..
Q: And is Francis clear? 
R: At times, no. When he was in Bethlehem, he stopped in front of the wall that partitions the territory from Israel and stood there in absolute silence: we don’t know what he meant by this. And in Lampedusa when he shouted “Shame!” it wasn’t clear who should be ashamed and what they should be ashamed of. Italy? That has saved thousands and thousands of lives? Why doesn’t he say it then? Often there are words and actions that are purposely left open-ended. 
Q: We have no time to talk about Vatican issues, like the case of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi who was removed from the IOR [Vatican Bank] by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, but whose honesty has been repeatedly demonstrated. Even from the dismissal of the case by the Italian Judiciary. 
R: He has been denied reinstatement. He had asked for a meeting with the Pope but was refused it. 
Q: The “field-hospital” Church then sometimes has its doors bolted … 
R: That’s the way it is.
My mom often used to say "Birds of a feather flock together." The pope's flock look more like crows
than doves. Mom also told us to be very careful of our friends, to choose wisely, which reminds me of another saying, "Show me your friends and I'll show you who you are."  So who exactly is Pope Francis? If he does, in fact, have his hand on the helm, where is he trying to steer Holy Mother Church?

And who is more on target analyzing Vatican doings? Robert Moynihan or Sandro Magister.


  1. Mary Ann, I agree with you absolutely. Magister has always been my go-to when it comes to Vatican news and he's almost always correct in his views, especially about the Neocatechumenicals' weird liturgy.
    You're spot on in comparing Magister to Moynihan. God bless.

  2. Thanks, Marie. Hopefully Moynihan will wake up and smell the coffee.

  3. Magister. Rorate Caeli has been a reliable place for me to get "the straight dope" as my Dad used to say.

    Magister has been reporting Vatican news for almost 40 years and he's been very reliable, IMO.

  4. Magister.

    Obviously, each journalist has a perspective - and they're different from each other. One has to bear that in mind in reading each man's reportage.

    But Magister consistently has better sources; and he's shown a repeated willingness to dig deeper into stories, even ones with disturbing undertones. There are stories that Moynihan simply seems unwilling to delve into.

  5. I visit Chiesa regularly for exactly that reason Athelstane. I had a friend in college who used to say whatever she thought you wanted to hear. I think the pope needs sons and daughters who love him enough to speak the truth and reflect their concern, not cheerleaders. The pope says many beautiful things, but his actions often seem to contradict his words as Magister points out. And his silence often speaks volumes.