Austen Ivereigh: Critics of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Are ‘Dissenters,’ Must Be Ignored

News: Commentary
by Christine Niles  •  •  December 12, 2016   

Urges Pope Francis to ignore four cardinals' dubia and "press on"

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Austen Ivereigh is accusing critics of "Amoris Laetitia" of being "dissenters" and "anti-Francis." Titled "As Anti-Amoris Critics Cross Into Dissent, the Church Must Move On," the longwinded piece, dripping with condescension, was published in John Allen's Crux Sunday. In it, Ivereigh casts critics of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation — including the revered Cdl. Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura — as people who "question the legitimacy of a pope's rule" and are failing "to allow the Holy Spirit space to breathe."


Ivereigh, former deputy editor of the UK's The Tablet — the notoriously liberal Catholic magazine — accuses the four cardinals (Cdls. Raymond Burke, Carla Caffarra, Joachim Meisner and Walter Brandmüller) of spearheading the "anti-Francis revolt."

"A line has been crossed," he chides. "I don't just mean the line of good manners and respect. That was crossed some time ago, when the four cardinals made public their letter challenging Francis' apostolic exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia,' and threatened him with a kind of public censure."

Never mind the fact that divergent interpretations — some heterodox — of "Amoris Laetitia" have led to widespread confusion and scandal among the faithful, and demand a response from the Pope. To Ivereigh, the cardinals' grave concerns over matters as serious as profanation of the Holy Eucharist and harm to the immortal souls of those living in invalid unions is little more than a lack of "good manners and respect."

"Since then," Ivereigh continues, "the tone of disrespect and contempt of some writers who back them has plumbed shocking new lows," he exclaims.

One is hardpressed to find more contemptuous and shocking language than that of Abp. Fragkiskos Papamanolis, president of the Greek Episcopal Conference, who blasted the four cardinals with accusations of "apostasy" and "heresy" — technically canonical crimes that warrant excommunication. Such public attacks by brother bishops are unheard of in the Church, usually reserved for discussions behind closed doors.

Equally contemptuous were the words of Abp. Vito Pio Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, who warned the cardinals he has the power to strip them of the red hat for allegedly causing "grave scandal."

Unbelievably, Ivereigh goes on to compare critics of "Amoris Laetitia" to progressives clamoring for female priests.

"This is why Francis can no more respond to the cardinals' dubia than Benedict XVI could answer a petition to ordain women as deacons," he claimed, "because the Catholic Church has its own mechanisms of development, based on consultation and spiritual discernment."

The difference — if it weren't already obvious to anyone with a minimal knowledge of Catholic theology — is that Pope St. John Paul II definitively shut the door on women priests: "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Presumably, he also shut the door on Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried in his apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" — but "Amoris Laetitia" now seemingly calls that into question, and bishops with an obvious agenda are forging ahead and directing priests to allow those in invalid unions to decide, based on conscience, whether or not to receive Holy Communion in an objective state of mortal sin.

It is these divergent and heterodox interpretations the four cardinals' dubia seek to clarify, and only Pope Francis, as Supreme Pontiff, can settle the matter.

Synod on the Family

Ivereigh's most egregious mischaracterization involves his claim that everything in "Amoris Laetitia" — "including the controversial Chapter 8," which includes the possibility of Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried — "received a two-thirds majority vote" at the synod.

The problem with this statement is that the Kasper proposal (opening Holy Communion to the civilly remarried) was explicitly voted down by the Synod Fathers at the 2014 synod. The proposition should not have been included in the "Final Relatio"; even so, Pope Francis chose to include it anyway, as a matter for further discernment.

At the next year's synod in 2015, the proposition came up again. This time, the synod document quoted "Familiaris Consortio," yet deliberately left out the critical passage:

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Vaticanista Ed Pentin has noted:

Today, therefore, despite not passing the initial two-thirds majority, and fervent warnings and opposition from the "Dubia" cardinals, bishops, theologians and philosophers, and even Cdl. Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cdl. Walter Kasper, Cdl. Cupich and the Pope himself, have said admitting some remarried divorcees living in a de facto adulterous relationship to holy Communion after a period of discernment and accompaniment is possible.

"It's a thesis that was rejected by the very Synod that Cardinal Cupich is now citing as sustaining the Pope's 'Amoris Laetitia' position," said a Vatican official. "To say that two-thirds of synod fathers supported it is therefore grossly misleading."

Being Pastoral

Ivereigh also wrongly claims the synod settled the matter over Communion to the civilly remarried, basing his argument on a bastardization of the meaning of "pastoral." According to him, the synod left the decision up to pastors to decide on a case-by-case basis. It is only true pastors, he claims, who understand "the complexities of the workings of sin and grace in a person's life" who can grasp "the paradox" — "that to insist on the universal, equal application of the law in all circumstances is to contradict God's supreme law of mercy, which puts the individual before — not above, but before — the law."

First, the synod never settled the matter, but left it for further discernment. Second, such "pastoral" concerns were precisely what drove Pope St. John Paul II to re-affirm the Church's perennial teaching that those may not be admitted to Holy Communion who continue to live in an objective state of adultery.

The true pastor cares above all for the immortal souls in his charge, knowing nothing less than eternity is at stake. To allow one in an objective state of adultery to partake of Holy Communion does at least two things: (1) It profanes the Sacrament (arguably the gravest crime in the Catholic Church), and (2) it incurs greater judgment on the soul of the communicant. To allow such to happen is an utter dereliction of duty on the part of the pastor, the height of uncharity, and that pastor will be called to stand before God one day and give an account of the souls he has spiritually (possibly irreparably) harmed.

Amidst all the talk of "accompaniment" and "consoling" and being "merciful," pastors of the sort Ivereigh praises seem to have lost sight of the eternal in favor of the temporal. Cardinal Burke and his confreres have not; it is they, with an eye toward the eternal welfare of the flock, who are the true pastors.

Athanasius Contra Mundum

Ivereigh closes his article dismissing these papal "dissenters" with a patronizing wave of the hand.

Long after the cardinals' dubia are no more than a footnote in the history of this papacy ... the next generation of priests will be applying the magnificent teaching of "Amoris Laetitia," and the noisy, angry strains of dissent will have faded into a distant memory.

One imagines a layman living in the fourth-century Church similarly writing off St. Athanasius' protestations against Arianism, which it seemed the whole ecclesiastical world then was ready to embrace. "The whole world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian," St. Jerome had written of those perilous times.

In spite of the Council of Nicaea's clear affirmation of the divinity of Christ, bishops seeking compromise attempted to weaken the doctrine, wanting to talk, debate, negotiate in order to appease the powerful Arian contingent. Athanasius' steadfast refusal to negotiate garnered him the contempt of weaker bishops and of Emperor Constantine himself.

Five times Athanasius was banished from his see in Alexandria, reviled, mocked, denounced by brother bishops for his obstinacy, his "rigidity" in holding to orthodoxy. It was "Athanasius contra mundum" — Athanasius against the world. Some have made the comparison of Cdl. Burke to St. Athanasius, and the growing din of voices raised in protest against Burke's unwillingness to back down from orthodoxy makes the analogy apt.

In the end, Athanasius' orthodox formulation prevailed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Saint Athanasius never lived to see his victory, but it is his name — not those of weak, vacillating, compromised bishops and laymen willing to dilute doctrine — that is remembered and honored through the ages.

As to the rest, they are long forgotten.

Watch the panel discuss responses to "Amoris Laetitia" in "The Download—In Praise of Rigidity."


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