Is The Pope Catholic? by Gerry O'Shea : CALL TO ACTION BLOG

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Is The Pope Catholic? by Gerry O'Shea

by Call To Action on 12/06/17

Asking Is the pope Catholic is widely understood as a rhetorical question indicating that the only answer has to be "yes." How could anyone cast doubt on the pope's religious affiliation?

Amazingly, a small but powerful minority of Catholic theologians and church leaders are doing just that, and they raise real doubts about his commitment to what they consider core Catholic beliefs.

 A minority of these dissidents believe that the church has already veered into schism while others assert that Francis' statements on some important moral issues have caused serious confusion and bewilderment among the faithful.

How does one explain this extraordinary situation?

 In 2014 and 2015 the Synod of Bishops met at Francis' invitation to consider how best the church could minister to the modern family in all its permutations, including divorced people in new relationships and members in same sex partnerships.

Two approaches were evident in this all-male assembly. One group argued that only an exclusive marriage union of man and woman is morally permissible. Divorce is completely out except where the divorced partner has received a church annulment. They argue that it has always been church teaching that someone in a second marital relationship - while the first spouse is still alive -  is committing adultery which rules that person out from receiving communion.

The second group, following more liberal thinking, doesn't dispute the church history of teaching against allowing the remarriage of divorced church members, but they stress that a pastoral approach to people in new marital relationships should not exclude them from participating in the most revered Catholic sacrament, the Eucharist.

These theologians point to the example of Christ who scorned many of the pharisaic laws of his time in favor of a perspective characterized by mercy and forgiveness. Pope Francis supports this approach.

Cardinal Muller who was Francis' doctrinal leader in the Vatican made no bones about his opposition to his boss: "No power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel or the pope, has the power to change church doctrine." This confrontational statement implied that the pope was acting beyond his authority when he opened the door to divorced church members receiving communion in his statement, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) published following the bishops' synod deliberations.

Four other cardinals, including the American Cardinal Burke, wrote a formal letter, called a "dubia" or doubt document, in the fall of 2016 disputing parts of Amoris Laetitia. They argued that it is an article of faith that church doctrine can never change, and they were clear that the ban on adulterers - their language - receiving communion could never be lifted.

Many conservative theologians supported the cardinals' dubia and urged Francis to meet with the dissidents to assure them that he fully supported traditional doctrine. Talk about papal heresy was only mentioned by a few clerics and theologians on the far right but there is no denying that many church conservatives are openly dissatisfied with Pope Francis.

There are other issues that seriously divide the Catholic Church. Francis' predecessor, Benedict, spoke of homosexual relationships as profoundly disordered and against the laws of nature. Francis would never use such negative and demeaning language. His attitude to gays is best summed up as "live and let live and don't play God."

He has met with transgender people and many gay partners in his office in the Vatican, at all times proclaiming that, especially in matters of sexual ethics, only God judges and even as pope he is not asking for a share in this responsibility! He appointed Blase Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago even though Cupich openly supports welcoming homosexual couples to the altar rails for communion.

Francis travelled to Sweden to celebrate with Lutheran leaders the contributions of Martin Luther to religious progress. He pronounced that Luther was "a witness to the gospel" and the Vatican issued a stamp honoring him. Traditionalists were aghast at this behavior. They have consigned Luther to the hottest corner of hell and recall the history of hatred and wars that they say his heretical revolt against Rome started 500 years ago.

They accuse Francis of relativism, an excessive openness to changing with the times. In the world of Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics what was morally wrong a thousand years ago continues to be wrong for all time and in all cultures. This is basic teaching for nearly all traditionalists. There is no place in this thinking for what is derided as situation ethics which allows for variations in what is right and wrong, depending on place, time and circumstances.

These divisions are very evident in the American church. The United States conference of bishops at their recent meeting in Baltimore agreed that following on Amoris Laetitia they will publish a document next year on meeting the complex needs of families in the United States. It seems that many of those attending want to use Humanae Vitae, the discredited 50-year old encyclical of Paul V1 which condemned the use of condoms and contraceptive pills by Catholics, as somehow a template for their 2019 letter.

This does not augur well for a pastoral letter on the changing demands of family life. It is also depressing for progressive Catholics that the bishops elected a conservative Kansas archbishop to oversee the Pro-Life Activities Committee over Cardinal Blase Cupich who mirrors Francis' pastoral approach.

Pope Francis is the most respected public figure in the world. His people in what he calls the field hospital of life are behind his agenda to move the church forward from a mostly static and immovable institution to a dynamic positive force for all people in the 21st century. He surely deserves our prayers and goodwill.


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“Amoris Laetitia”

“Amoris Laetitia” is the result of Pope Francis’ prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of two Synods of Bishops (an Extraordinary Synod in 2014 and an Ordinary Synod in 2015), on the subject of marriage and the family. The Synod of Bishops is an assembly of bishops who assist the Pope by providing counsel on questions facing the Church.

Pope Francis issued “Amoris Laetitia” in 2016 as an apostolic exhortation, a papal teaching on marriage and the family. Amoris Laetitia is Latin for “The Joy of Love”. Apostolic exhortations are used to share the conclusions reached by the Pope after prayerful consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. Such documents are a means for the pope to exhort/encourage the faithful to a deeper life of Christian discipleship. The pope has asked the clergy to accompany the faithful in addressing challenges families face today.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have asked that all who care about the future of the family should read this apostolic exhortation and study it in its entirety. In their 2017-2020 Strategic Plan (Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People with Joy), one of the five USCCB priorities is family and marriage -- ways to encourage and heal families.

What is the good news of Amoris Laetitia? No one is condemned forever. The pope has asked us not to put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its meaning and significance.
How should we respond, joining together with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),
in developing a plan to implement the good news of “Amoris Laetitia”?

We, the Catholics who are the church, are called to action in strengthening and sustaining all families: 
We are called to dialogue with our leaders, who in turn are called to accompany us on this faith journey.
We are called to make moral decisions and life choices, formed by our conscience. The church is called to help form our consciences, not to replace them.
We are called to act, to engage and to support families in all the ways they are living.
We are called to pray, to engage the whole church in the power of intercessory prayer for wisdom and mercy in raising awareness of the message of “Amoris Laetitia”.

Join with the members of Call to Action, Metro NY Chapter, in the dialogue that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the USCCB called for in his address on November 13, 2017, when he said, “It is the work of the church, the entire body of Christ, to work towards an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth.” Cardinal DiNardo asked us to speak with civility in debating issues of social challenge and social teaching.

Call to Action, Metro NY Chapter, is setting up a virtual study group to read and discuss “Amoris Laetitia”. We will explore our responsibility for the formation of our conscience and discernment. We will study each of the chapters of “Amoris Laetitia” and in doing so, will shape the prayers of the faithful in 2018. Beginning February 14th, we will start the conversation.  

Join us in this prayerful conversation of how we, together with the American bishops, will implement “Amoris Laetitia”. Thus empowered, we will open the hearts and minds of our church to invite those on the margins, to join us in celebrating God’s love for each of us.

Buy a copy of “Amoris Laetitia” which can be purchased locally at Catholic book stores such as Pauline Books & Media (112 E 29 St in Manhattan), the St Francis Book Shop (135 W 31 St in Manhattan), or on Amazon. Start reading Chapter One. Sign up now by sending an email to to receive Study Guide Questions and learn how you can join the conversation.

Follow us on Facebook (CTA Metro NY) and twitter ( @CTA_Metro_NY ) for continuing the conversation.