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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A group of international scholars have signed a statement expressing support for four cardinals seeking clarity on "Amoris Laetitia," Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family.
"As Catholic scholars and pastors of souls, we wish to express our profound gratitude and full support for the courageous initiative of four members of the College of Cardinals, Their Eminences Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Leo Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner," the statement, released on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, begins.
Speaking with Church Militant, Fr. Brian Harrison, retired Associate Professor of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico — and one of the 23 signatories — said, "I was prompted to add my signature to the international statement from scholars and priests because, like many faithful Catholics, I have indeed been dismayed by the hostile reaction from very high places in the Vatican that Cdl. Burke and the other three have received on account of their courageous dubia."
Another signatory, Dr. Joseph Shaw, head of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, told Church Militant, "One hears stories of groups of cardinals approaching various Popes over the decades with concerns of one kind or another, but, having received no answer, for the four cardinals to publish such concerns was a very big step, and a strong reaction was to be expected."
Church Militant also spoke with Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College, who commented, "I am not too surprised by the hostility to the four cardinals. It's what one would expect after almost 50 years of watering down and dumbing down everything Catholic."
The "dubia," or questions, issued to the Holy Father in September by the four cardinals, come in light of confusion from Chapter 8 of "Amoris Laetitia," particularly paragraphs 300–305, used by liberal bishops to promote opening up the sacraments to the divorced and civilly remarried, among other things.
Titled "Seeking Clarity: A Plea to Untie the Knots in 'Amoris Laetitia,'" the cardinals' letter notes "a grave disorientation and great confusion" among the faithful over "contrasting interpretations" of the exhortation.
Since the release of the letter, the cardinals have come under intense criticism from brother bishops, including the head of the Greek bishops, who went so far as to accuse them of "apostasy" and "heresy," while the dean of the Roman Rota charged them with causing "grave scandal," claiming he has the power to strip them of the cardinalate.
"Unfortunately these are not the first personal attacks on cardinals and others who appear to be standing the way of a certain agenda, though they are the most open and the most extreme," said Dr. Shaw. "It is particularly sad because the Pope has recognized the gravity of the issues being discussed and has repeatedly called for open and fearless discussion — 'parrhesia.'"
Defending the cardinals, he continued, "These are men of the highest principle and the deepest experience in Church affairs. It is clear that they did not act lightly; I think it demonstrated enormous courage."
Father Harrison told Church Militant, "I believe the four cardinals need all the support they can get, and the statement we signed strongly encourages other cardinals and bishops to endorse their initiative."
The international statement laments that "the universal Church is now entering a gravely critical moment in her history that shows alarming similarities with the great Arian crisis of the fourth century."
It goes on to sound an ominous warning about the future of the Church.
With the reigning Pontiff now sounding a very uncertain trumpet in this battle against the "principalities and powers" of the Enemy, the barque of Peter is drifting perilously like a ship without a rudder, and indeed, shows symptoms of incipient disintegration. In such a situation, we believe that all Successors of the Apostles have a grave and pressing duty to speak out clearly and strongly in confirmation of the moral teachings clearly expounded in the magisterial teachings of previous popes and the Council of Trent.
"I doubt if most prelates even adhere to the full content of the Catechism promulgated by Pope John Paul II," Dr. Kwasniewski told Church Militant.
Agreeing with Bp. Athanasius Schneider, who said that "schism" is already here, he went on, "Schism is a sin that takes place within, when one separates oneself from the communion of charity that is rooted in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. This is rampant in the hierarchy today."
Dr. Shaw agrees. "[W]hat we are facing today is open and official disunity of belief and Communion," he commented. "Bishops and bishops' conferences are drawing up public guidelines on the basis of incompatible theological principles, and are openly and systematically admitting or refusing to admit to Communion completely different groups of people."
Father Harrison is also dismayed by the widespread confusion.
I think the current grave confusion through the Church regarding marriage and morality, while it has multiple causes dating back many decades in our increasingly secularized — and sexualized! — Western society, has a particular immediate cause in the fact that scholarly opinions are deeply divided over whether the changes suggested in "Amoris Laetitia" can or cannot be reconciled with the perennial doctrine of the Church.
"Doctrine, by definition, involves immutable divine law," Fr. Harrison clarified, "not just changeable human pastoral policy or ecclesiastical legislation."
Asked what will happen if Pope Francis fails to respond to the dubia, Fr. Harrison said, "Your guess is as good as mine. But it's a safe bet to say that the problems involved here won't just go away, and the polarization and confusion in the Church is in that event likely to continue."
Dr. Shaw believes only the Holy Father can settle the matter. "Only the Pope can resolve the crisis by making a decisive intervention," he insisted. "Even then, it won't be easy to get the genie back into the bottle."
In spite of the crisis of confusion, Fr. Harrison is encouraging the faithful not to lose hope. "It's a good moment to keep praying hard and remember that Christ is still in charge of His Church."
"We can take heart from the latest good news from Rome," he continued. "Pope Francis has just approved a new major document from the Congregation for the Clergy on the formation of priests, which firmly restates the Church's perennial position that men involved in the 'gay lifestyle' or who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies are not called to the priesthood and so should not be accepted as seminarians."