It’s tough when your ‘Pope’ isn’t a Catholic…
Capital Chaos: Francis Adherents scramble to explain Catechism Change on Death Penalty (Part 1)
In his Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday of 1993, “Pope” John Paul II noted that the so-called Catechism of the Catholic Church he had just promulgated a few months earlier is directly linked with the Second Vatican Council: “The Catechism presents the ‘newness of the Council’, and at the same time situates it in the whole of Tradition” (source; italics removed). The Vatican II Modernists have always had success in driving their revolution forward by balancing their novelties with paying lipservice to Sacred Tradition, in continuity with which the new religion is claimed to stand. Yet, upon closer examination, this alleged continuity is quickly exposed as a ruse.
On Aug. 2 of this year, John Paul’s successor Francis made that hermeneutical tightrope a bit more difficult to walk when he amended the Catechism’s article no. 2267 on capital punishment. This change now has Novus Ordo apologists and commentators in a tizzy. As we showed in our last post on the topic, reactions to the change vary widely and can be classified into five basic categories: (1) doctrine was not changed; (2) doctrine was changed and that’s terrific; (3) doctrine was changed and that’s horrible; (4) it’s ambiguous, so we need a clarification; and (5) whatever.
This chaos is typical of Francis, who introduces it deliberately so as to cause the greatest possible damage to souls, always retaining a minimum of plausible deniability that his apologists can hang on to if need be so as to exonerate him and keep the chaos going, at least long enough until everyone’s attention is focused on the next Bergoglian whopper.
In our prior post, we provided links to a select few of the various reactions coming from each camp. In this current post and its follow-up, we will look a bit more closely at some of them and show how, no matter what position is taken, if Francis were a true Pope, then Catholics would now be facing an impossible situation.
In December of last year, “Fr.” Giovanni Scalese, the Novus Ordo Superior of Afghanistan, rightly pointed out that Francis’ landmark speech on the 25th anniversary of the promuglation of the Vatican II Catechism (Oct. 11, 2017) was “programmatic” and represented a “turning point”. After identifying Francis’ privileging of “pastoral care” over doctrine as “Phase A” of a Bergoglian revolution, Scalese warned what would constitute “Phase B”:
“Phase B” will move from a de-emphasis on doctrine to a demand that doctrine evolve with the times, the priest said.
“One gets the impression that the October 11 speech marked a transition to a new phase in which, while re-affirming that doctrine doesn’t change, one emphasizes the need for doctrine to progress,” Scalese wrote. “Until now this has never been said; until now one prefered not to speak of doctrine … and to concentrate on pastoral care. But now discourse on doctrine has been taken up again, to say that it must evolve to respond to the challenges of changing times.”
Seeing that in Francis’ papacy pastoral care now has precedence over doctrine, “it is quite understandable that one thinks of revising doctrine,” stated Scalaese.
The Barnabite priest said that there is an authentic form of “development of doctrine in the Church,” that is “possible, legitimate, and even necessary.” He doubted Pope Francis was moving forward with such an authentic development.
Scalese observed that when presenting his speech, Francis brought up two crucial points about the doctrine of the Church: 1. that the deposit of faith must be kept intact and 2. that it must be made intelligible to people of our times and express “its implicit potentialities.” Scalese thinks that Francis was “exclusively” concerned with the second point, however, and that this overemphasis “gives rise to the suspicion that an ‘update’ to the previous magisterium is being prepared.”
He suggested that Pope Francis’s remarks about the death penalty are a “pretext” and that after changing what the Catechism says about that, the pontiff might make other changes requested by “a few groups (e.g. about homosexuality).”
(Dorothy Cummings McLean, “Pope Francis’ pastoral changes have set the stage for doctrinal changes: Philosopher priest”, Life Site, Dec. 15, 2017)
Scalese could not have been more spot-on! His analysis was incredibly sharp and his prediction accurate.
Now that Francis has updated the Catechism, his Novus Ordo apologists are tripping over each other trying to explain and defend his move while maintaining that it doesn’t mean that Catholic doctrine can change. That Francis’ apologists are not even in agreement with each other about what Francis has actually done, or how to explain or defend it, is testimony to the latest mayhem this “Pope” has unleashed.
Let us go ahead now and examine what some of Francis’ professional defenders are saying about the amended Catechism text.
On the Aug. 7 and 8 editions of his daily 3-hour radio show, the popular Novus Ordo apologist Patrick Madrid was clearly struggling to make sense of Francis’ move. Acknowledging the perennial Catholic teaching that capital punishment is intrinsically permissible and therefore cannot be contrary to the Gospel, Madrid was forced by the laws of logic to put forward the absurd contention that the new text inserted in to the Catechism is “a pastoral opinion that Pope Francis is asserting”, and that this opinion is “different from the doctrinal truth that the death penalty is not morally illicit” (Aug. 7, hour 2, beginning at the 33:21 min mark).
In other words, Madrid is claiming that Francis is leaving the “doctrinal truth” of the permissibility of capital punishment untouched — something he agrees no Pope could possibly change — and merely applying a “pastoral approach” (both phrases are Madrid’s) that forbids it for the present time. That this argument runs afoul of the fact that Francis has amended the Novus Ordo Catechism to say that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person‘”, is an objection Madrid is unable to answer (underlining added). A caller who contended that this statement is verifiably false, Madrid was not able to gainsay.
The following day, Madrid repeated his position and elaborated a little (Aug. 8, hour 2, beginning at the 20:49 min mark). What’s noteworthy is that Madrid readily admits that there is no way that capital punishment could possibly be morally wrong now, given Divine Revelation and prior Church teaching, and thus it cannot now be rejected on the grounds of “human dignity.” Yet that is precisely what Francis is asserting in the Catechism, and no amount of appealing to some “pastoral approach” can defuse that contradiction. Sedevacantist blogger Steve Speray had this to say about the radio apologist’s position: “Madrid understands the error of Francis’ teaching but asserts that a pope has the right to make and apply a heretical and blasphemous opinion as a pastoral approach.”
Madrid’s justification for holding such a blatantly counter-factual position is that it is the only way to keep all religious truths coherent, else one would have to conclude that [Novus Ordo] Catholicism is false. When towards the end of the second hour on Aug. 8, a caller named Jim pressed him on this clearly inadmissible — pardon the pun — line of argumentation, Madrid gave a response that is as intriguing as it is cryptic:
There’s a whole lot I would like to get into on this topic, but for a variety of reasons it’s not, probably, the best thing to do, because, you know, St. Paul talks about how, if you have a weaker brother, don’t cause him to stumble. Something that might be right for you might cause problems for him, so have some forbearance. So that’s what I’m trying to practice here, Jim, to be completely frank with you… OK… So just so you understand where I’m coming from. I’m trying to help people get down off the ledge who are really rattled by all this, and they don’t understand how it can be that Pope Francis is saying that it’s inadmissible because it appears… by all appearances to them, that he’s overturning, or trying to overturn, 2000 years of Catholic teaching which says exactly the opposite of that, not to mention Scripture.
So, please understand, Jim, my role here on the radio… it’s kind of a high-wire balancing act, and I’m trying to find a way forward for people so that they can understand this sufficiently so that they’ll come down off the ledge. And they’re not going to lose their Faith, and they’re not going to turn against the Pope, or they’re not going to abandon their Catholic identity. So, at the very least, even if you don’t like how I’m doing it, please understand what I’m trying to do, and pray for me.
(The Patrick Madrid Show, Aug. 8, 2018, hour 2; beginning at 52:47 min mark)
Wow! If you can read between the lines, Madrid says more than a mouthful here. Although he may think he is being charitable and prudent, the fact of the matter is simply that what he is doing is wrong because the end does not justify the means. Madrid seems to be essentially saying that he’s giving his hearers a “solution” to the conundrum of Francis’ Catechism change on the death penalty that he knows does not jibe with the facts; and the justification he gives for doing so is that he doesn’t want people to lose the Faith. In other words, if the truth about Francis leads people to lose the Faith, then it’s okay to lie about him? Impressive. This is surely a new one for a “Catholic” apologist to argue.
It’s tragic that Madrid has not considered that there is a genuine solution to the Catechism conundrum, one that does justice to Catholic teaching and to the facts about what Francis just did: Jorge Bergoglio is not actually the Pope. That would explain how he could change 2000 years of Church teaching, wouldn’t it? In fact, it’s the only possible solution. But at least we now have a major Novus Ordo apologist on record conceding that if it is necessary to deny the facts to keep the idea alive that Francis is Pope, then that’s just too bad for the facts.
Out of all the posts defending Francis’ death penalty change we have seen, Steve Kellmeyer gets an award for writing the most stupid one of them all. Please excuse the bluntness, but it’s entirely appropriate, as we will now show. It’s one thing to make arguments that are factually inaccurate, fallacious, insufficient, etc., but Kellmeyer has outdone himself this time so that his blog post belongs in a category all by itself.
After claiming that Francis has made a disciplinary change and not a doctrinal one (even though the amended Catechism text says that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person'”), Kellmeyer seriously argues:
Today, governments have no excuse. Any society which is poor suffers from poverty because the murderers and thieves are in the government, not in the street. The unjust aggressor isn’t the man on trial, it is the government that tries the man. In the modern world, we are now treated to the spectacle of one extremely powerful murderer and thief (the corrupt government) putting a petty murderer and thief to death in order to cover up and distract from its own sins.
…The death penalty is now a sin used by a corrupt government to cover up and distract from its own sins. The United States is one of a rather small list of countries that still use the death penalty. Is there anyone here who would truly try to support the idea that the US government is free from corruption? One sign of our corruption is precisely our insistence on the death penalty.
(Steve Kellmeyer, “The Death Penalty Teaching Hasn’t Changed”, The Fifth Column, Aug. 4, 2018)
That’s it: Francis has declared capital punishment to be inadmissible because nowadays governments are full of big murderers trying to distract from their crimes by executing little murderers — got it! No doubt, this is what the “light of the Gospel” tells us is clearly inadmissible because of the dignity of the human person. Now we understand what Francis’ change really means!
Kellmeyer then continues with his comedy show:
And, to be fair, the death penalty has always had a basic problem. It assumes infallibility on the part of the police and the courts, that they have found and convicted the correct man. Since only the Pope is infallible, and even then only on points of morality and doctrine, that basic presupposition has always been suspect. Honest men and women have always acknowledged this basic flaw.
Ah yes, the death penalty requires infallibility on the part of the state in order for it to be licitly carried out. Of course! It’s just unfortunate that God didn’t think of that when He first legislated the execution of murderers: “Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God” (Gen 9:6). For the record, we note that it is only Mr. Kellmeyer who demands infallibility for executions to be permissible, not the Divine Lawgiver who instituted the punishment in the first place.
Obviously capital punishment may only be applied when the defendant is found to be guilty of a capital crime beyond reasonable doubt. If this isn’t sufficient for Mr. Kellmeyer, then he ought to advocate for the abolition not just of the death penalty but of all punishment, because it is only permissible to punish those whose guilt is certain. It simply makes no sense for a jury to say, “We’re not sure whether the defendant is guilty, therefore we recommend not death but life imprisonment.” If the jury is unsure of a man’s guilt, he ought not to be punished at all, not only not with execution. Severity of punishment has no connection with certainty of guilt; it is, rather, tied to the gravity of the offense committed by an individual already known to be guilty.
In a follow-up post on the issue, Kellmeyer did not fare any better in terms of sound argumentation. After confusing divine admonitions directed at private individuals not to exact vengeance on our enemies, with the requirement of the civil authority to inflict just penalties on criminals, the “orthodox Catholic” apologist then fails to distinguish the Mosaic Law abrogated by Christ (cf. Mt 5:17-18; Mt 5:43-44; Jn 8:3-7) with the Natural Law, which retains perennial validity and was endorsed by the Messiah (cf. Jn 19:11; Lk 23:39-41; Rom 13:1-4), precisely as the Catholic Church has taught for two millennia.
Kellmeyer can try to disguise his shoddy theology by means of strong rhetoric, but he won’t get away with it here.
Christopher A. Ferrara
That The Remnant‘s senior polemicist Christopher Ferrara was going to weigh in on this Catechism change was a given. As usual, his criticism of Francis was spot-on, but the problem with him is his stubborn refusal to let go of the idea that the man he has called an “Anti-Catholic Pope” and an “Undertaker Pope” in the past is nevertheless the Vicar of Christ on earth to whom we owe submission under pain of eternal damnation.
In an installment he wrote for his column at the Fatima Center, Ferrara declared in its title: “The Reversible Magisterium Is No Magisterium”. True enough though that may be (depending on exactly what is meant by it), it flatly contradicts what he argued as late as 2015 together with co-author Thomas E. Woods, Jr., in their book The Great Facade. There the two authors wrote: “Let us consider an actual example of a teaching of the ordinary Magisterium that was later found to be false and actually reversed by a Pope” (p. 151). They then pointed to Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis, which Ferrara and Woods falsely claim corrected the “error” of the Council of Florence on what constitutes the matter of priestly ordination, when the fact is that Pius XII deliberately avoided making a defintive pronouncement about the past and only concerned himself with defining the matter and form for ordinations in the present and the future (see Sacramentum Ordinis, nn. 3-4).
So, is the Magisterium reversible for Mr. Ferrara or not? It’s tough to keep it all straight when you make it up as you go along. We have put together a meme to highlight the contradiction into which the self-appointed Magisterium sifter has argued himself (click image for larger version):
The reason why Ferrara tries to spin the Council of Florence controversy into a magisterial reversal of doctrine is that he needs a historical precedent to justify his position that he can resist the Novus Ordo Magisterium on the grounds that it will eventually be reversed, just as Florence once was. But even if his position on Florence were correct, this idea of refusing the present papal Magisterium because a future judgment is expected to be different, was shot down by Pope Leo XIII in 1885: “Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed” (Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua). Incidentally, this papal spanking also does away with “Fr.” Chad Ripperger’s absurd concept of “Magisterialism” he had to invent to keep from concluding that the Novus Ordo Sect isn’t the Catholic Church.
But, not to worry — Ferrara still has a joker up his sleeve that he is ready to play when needed. In his Fatima Perspectives installment, he does precisely that:
Here we see yet again the wisdom of Father Gruner’s observation, based on reason and common sense, that the Magisterium cannot contradict itself and that any actual contradiction of what the Magisterium teaches cannot, for that very reason, belong to the Magisterium.
(Chris Ferrara, “The Reversible Magisterium Is No Magisterium”, The Fatima Center, Aug. 2, 2018)
Oh, such incredible wisdom! The late John Vennari once summarized “Fr.” Nicholas Gruner’s convenient thesis thus: “a Pope has no authority to teach anything that is false, and if he does so, it is not magisterium”. Although we have no record of the date anymore, we did capture a screenshot of Vennari’s comment when he posted it on Facebook:
This argument is by no means new. The heretic Johann von Dollinger used it to oppose the First Vatican Council’s definition of papal infallibility. The flaw in the argument is easily seen when we use an analogy: It’s like saying that your car is guaranteed never to break down, and if it ever does, then that proves that it isn’t a real car. This is irrefutable in principle — and that’s a problem because then the “guarantee” guarantees absolutely nothing at all. By the same token, to say that magisterial teaching can never contradict but then in the same breath to add that the way to determine whether a teaching is magisterial is to see whether it does contradict, is to say nothing of substance at all. The fact is, Ferrara & Co. have exonerated themselves of the guilt of rejecting the “papal” Magisterium by reducing the definition of “papal teaching” to whatever the “Pope” teaches that isn’t wrong. Thus, if it is wrong, why then it’s just not papal teaching. And now take a guess as to who gets to make the final determination on whether a particular teaching is wrong!
When evaluating whether a doctrine set forth by the Roman Pontiff is to be accepted, one can hardly put as a condition of acceptance the very content of the doctrine, for this would involve us in circular reasoning, as it would require us to know the truth apart from, and prior to the pronouncement of, the rightful Catholic teaching authority. But such a position reduces the Church’s Magisterium to being nothing more than an organ of repeating what is already known, endowed with a useless pseudo-infallibility that is enjoyed whenever something is promulgated that is, well, correct. By that logic, of course, anyone could claim to be infallible or authoritative, even Protestants, Pagans, and atheists; for, according to this faulty understanding, surely such people too ought to be listened to whenever what they say is correct, ought they not? Is, then, the Church’s teaching authority no different in essence from that of even a Pagan or a Communist whenever he says something that is true? Of course not, but this is what would follow if the recognize-and-resist distortion of the Catholic Magisterium were true, a distortion which they maintain solely in order to uphold the idea that Jorge Bergoglio and his five predecessors are valid Popes of the Catholic Church — and for no other reason.
At this point, some will no doubt want to bring up what is known as the Canon of St. Vincent, the rule of thumb proposed by St. Vincent of Lerins that identifies orthodox doctrine as that “which has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (Commonitorium Against Heresies [Sainte Croix du Mont: Tradibooks, 2008], p. 146). Appealing to this rule, a great many who consider themselves traditional Catholics believe themselves justified in rejecting anything from the Novus Ordo Magisterium that is not consonant with Tradition while still recognizing the “authorities” who teach it as legitimate and Catholic. Again, Dollinger made the very same argument when he resisted papal infallibility (for which he was excommunicated in 1871 by his local archbishop, Gregor von Scherr).
However, the Vincentian Canon was never meant to be interpreted as a layman’s filter of the Magisterium of Holy Mother Church, which would allow each believer to pick and choose as requiring his assent only those things he privately discerns to be “traditional”, regardless of what the divinely-commissioned teaching authority tells him. Rather, the Canon of St. Vincent is a helpful guideline to determine with safety what is certainly Catholic in a time of doctrinal confusion on those points of doctrine on which the Magisterium has not yet spoken. In 2015 we posted an article explaining this at length, quoting the necessary authoritative sources to show that this is indeed the understanding Holy Mother Church has of the Vincentian Canon:
- The True Meaning of the Vincentian Canon: Can we reject Magisterial Teaching if it wasn’t believed “always, everywhere, and by all”?
The whole recognize-and-resist line of “what the Church has always taught” is inaccurate anyway. Since they believe the Vatican II Church to be the Catholic Church, if they wish to refer to what was taught before Vatican II, they ought to speak of “what the Church used to teach“, since their church hasn’t taught it in nearly six decades. That would be the correct and honest way to phrase it, but don’t expect them to start using that line. They won’t use it because it would immediately reveal the absurdity of their position, highlighting the fact that they believe in a defected Church, which is heresy.
Nevertheless, we see Ferrara confidently maintaining that a reversible Magisterium is no Magisterium. That the logical corollary of this must also hold true — namely, that a reversible Pope is no Pope — has apparently not occurred to the glib rhetorician.
The most amusing response to Francis’ Catechism chaos came perhaps from Michael Voris, who basically sent a quick “nothing to see here, move along” reaction on Twitter after the story broke on Aug. 2. The founder of Church
Militant Disneyland wrote: “Don’t be distracted by [the] death penalty story. Keep your eye on the ball. Episcopal Sodomy must be brought to an end. THAT is the only story that matters. Nothing else. Deflection. Distraction. Practically no one is affected by the death penalty. Everyone is impacted by Episcopal Sodomy” (source; cleaned up typos). Considering his group’s clear prior defense of capital punishment, it was a given that Francis’ change to the Catechism wasn’t going to be enthusiastically welcomed at the Detroit warehouse operation, but what Voris wrote here is not only false, it also betrays a failure to grasp what is really at stake.
Let’s be clear: The immoral and criminal behavior of many Novus Ordo clergy — from pedophilia to sodomy — is an abomination that cries to Heaven for vengeance. However, as evil as it is, this behavior is not what proves the Vatican II Sect to be a false church. Conceivably, such wickedness could occur in the true Catholic Church, and has, even if on a smaller scale, occurred in the past, as the scandal of immoral Popes, bishops, and other clergy in Church history demonstrates. On the other hand, a substantial change in doctrine, promulgated by the Sovereign Pontiff, is not possible in the true Church, not even in theory; and if it were possible, it would disprove Catholicism altogether. So Voris has it exactly backwards with regard to what is most important, but with his excessive preoccupation about unnatural vice, perhaps we should not expect him to realize that.
Having entirely ignored Francis’ change to the Catechism on Aug. 2, Voris’ Church Disneyland published an article on the subject the following day. The monograph was penned by a “Rev. Michael X.”, whose credentials are that he has a licentiate degree in Novus Ordo canon law. Strangely enough, the Rev. X. turned the entire subject into a matter of canon law, when Francis’ revision of the Catechism is first and foremost a matter of doctrine, specifically of moral and dogmatic theology, not canon law. The Rev.’s attempt to analyze Francis’ decree canonically, therefore, misses the mark entirely, and his conclusions are virtually irrelevant for that reason.
A most curious idea about papal authority in connection with the death penalty was put forward by a Dominican moral theologian by the name of “Fr.” Thomas Petri, who thinks that individual conscience can decide to dispense with what is recognized as papal teaching: Francis’ “teaching authority demands a certain submission of intellect and will from the faithful. At the very least, this means that Catholic faithful must give the Holy Father’s pastoral teaching significant weight in the formation of their conscience on this matter”, the Novus Ordo Dominican said to Catholic News Agency (source). In other words: The Pope Teaches – You Decide! This should be music to the ears of Chris Ferrara and other recognize-and-resist adherents, although it is coming from a Modernist who himself has perhaps given significant but still clearly insufficient weight to the encyclicals Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Humani Generis, and other papal teaching against Modernism and the Nouvelle Theologie (New Theology).
Lastly, a dishonorable mention belongs to the twice-ordained-but-still-not-a-priest “Fr.” John Hunwicke, who apparently expects the readers of his blog to take seriously his remark that with his amendment to the Catechism, Francis has promulgated heresy but without properly expressing it: “As in the case of Amoris laetitia, heresy is being promulgated but carefully packaged so that it is not formally expressed” (source; emphasis given). Apparently Mr. Hunwicke thinks that the indefectibility of the Church permits a Pope to promulgate heresy to the Universal Church as long as he is cunning enough to use sufficient subterfuge. In other words, according to Hunwicke, it is precisely when heresy is disseminated in its most dangerous form that the Church is not protected from it, whereas she is protected from it when it is proposed less dangerously. Nothing says “perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy” quite like that (cf. Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, n. 22)!
This post will be continued in Part 2, to be published in a few days.
Image source: catholicnews.org.uk (Mazur)
License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0