27. Sep, 2017

What Sparked the Filial Correction?

Sex, money, spies and the Vatican

The Australian, TESS LIVINGSTONE, September 27, 2017 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/sex-money-spies-and-the-vatican/news-story/6cd9f87837a61de64f211be6e0594bd6

 “Come down my dear before you awaken suddenly someone desperate with a terrible hickey, How was God so cruel as to give you that mouth … There is no one who resists me, bitch, hide it …

“That’s why you don’t ask that it happens to my mouth. Kill me already with your next kiss, bleed me to death, she-wolf, Give me back my peace without mercy.”

If Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez were not engaged with his day job as rector of the Pontifical Catholic University in Buenos Aires and as occasional ghostwriter for Pope Francis, he could spin a few pesos stirring the imaginations of Mills & Boon readers.

As a result of Fernandez’s close association with the Pope, a new English translation has been released of Fernandez’s tender, salaci­ous 1995 Spanish work Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.

He was also the ghost writer of at least part of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Francis’s controversial Apostolic Exhortation published last year — the document that more than anything sparked the “filial correction” (by sons and daughters) of the Pope by 62 scholars and pastors from 20 countries, including Australia, released on Sunday. No such formal correction of a pope has occurred for 700 years.

Fernandez’s own velvet prose did not raise as many eyebrows as Italian media reports of the midsummer police raid on a cocaine-fuelled all-male orgy in a flat a few metres from St Peter’s Basilica. The flat was in the grey-shuttered block that houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, built in the 16th century for the Inquisition. When raided, it was the residence of a priest serving as secretary to Pope Francis’s ally Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, an important canon law office. The priest has undertaken detoxification treatment and was packed off to Monte Cassino, a spectacular hilltop monastery outside Rome, established by St Benedict in 529.

Financial ructions continue. The Vatican’s first trial for financial corruption resumes next week. As Vatican Radio summed it up: “Two former officials of the church’s Bambino Gesu children’s hospital, Giuseppe Profiti and Massimo Spina, are charged with illicitly using money to renovate an apartment belonging to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state.” The pair are accused of diverting €422,000 ($629,000) of hospital funds to pay for work on the vast apartment (twice the size of a McMansion) beside the Vatican.

Those scandals, however, will pale into insignificance if the Vatican’s former auditor-general, who resigned in June, opens up about his experiences at the Holy See. A few days ago, in the office of his lawyers in Rome, Libero Milone told media he was forced to step down as a result of trumped-up accusations of spying after he discovered evidence of possible illegal activity. Milone said he believed that the “old guard” in the Vatican wanted to slow down Pope Francis’s financial reform efforts.

The Vatican’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, hit back, stating Mil­one “went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me” and that “if he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him”. The weakness in that claim is that Milone, a former chairman and chief executive of Deloitte in Italy, had no need to spy. Investigating Vatican finances and officials was his job — and he had total autonomy to do it.

In an interesting twist, long-time Vatican correspondent John Allen reported that the former auditor linked his ousting with the exit of Cardinal George Pell, who is on leave in Australia fighting charges of historic sexual abuse.

Pell, as the Vatican Prefect for the Economy, has led Francis’s clean-up of finances, closing 4000 Vatican Bank ­accounts of individuals and ­organisations not entitled to hold them and referring 200 account holders to authorities. Pell was engaged in a battle with Becciu, who suspended an external audit of Vatican finances by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was trying to bring the transparency of Vatican finances up to international anti-money-laundering standards.

On the religious website Crux, Allen wrote: “Milone implied it may not have been a coincidence that the abuse charges against Pell, which reportedly date back decades, had surfaced only within the last couple of years, at the same time his reform efforts were becoming increasingly controversial inside the Vatican.

“Milone told reporters that he had written Francis in July through a ‘secure channel’ saying he was the victim of a frame-job and that he’s ‘astonished’ that it happened at the same time that Pell, who had been tapped by Francis in 2014 as his point man for financial reform, had exited the scene. Milone, who said he went to embrace Pell before his departure for Australia, told reporters he has had no response to that letter to Francis.

“As Milone describes it, he was called into Becciu’s office on June 19 and informed that the Pope had lost faith in him and wanted his resignation. When Mil­one asked why, he said he was given a series of explanations, ‘some of which seemed incredible’.”

Watch this space.

While not as tumultuous as the era of the 15th-century Borgia popes, these are turbulent times in Rome, politically and theologically. Even the mass is not immune from the hurricane. In northern Italy, the Archdiocese of Turin’s Breaking the Bread group is promoting so-called “ecumenical masses’’ at which Holy Communion is distributed to Protestants, regardless of their views on the Eucharist. Recently, Francis shifted greater responsibility for translating liturgical texts away from the Vatican to local bishops’ confer­ences, sparking concerns that, across time, the current English translation of the mass, overhauled under the leadership of the Vox Clara group to be more reverent and rigorous, could revert to more colloquial language in some countries.

With much of the world under siege from emboldened jihadists, Francis’s push for governments to open borders to allow mass African immigration to Europe, and his refusal tolay blame for terrorist attacks where it belongs, have left many angry and perplexed. “If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent,” he told journalists aboard the papal plane last year. “I know it’s dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made a god and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy. That is the first form of terrorism. That is a basic terrorism against all humanity. Let’s talk about that.”

He also talks often about climate change and economic redistribution, issues he put at the centre of his pontificate through his radical environmental encyclical Laudato Si.

Fernandez also had a hand in that publication.

Francis’s theological critics regard the “green gospel” as “faux morality” — God encroaching on Caesar to impose a leftist ideology on issues the church should leave people to decide for themselves.

Those critics also argue that through his pursuit of an agenda to loosen traditional church discipline on faith and moral teachings derived from Jesus Christ himself, Francis has caused increasing chaos and confusion across the Christian world. Opponents of his agenda, including several Vatican cardinals, have been unceremoniously dumped.

Tensions are boiling over. The filial correction lists “seven heretical positions about marriage, the moral life and the reception of the sacraments” that the authors argue the Pope has “directly or indirectly upheld”. He has done so, they say, through Amoris Laetitia and “by other, related, words, deeds and omissions”, spreading “these heretical opinions” through­out the church.

Their stated intention in issuing the correction was “to protect our fellow Catholics — and those outside the church from whom the key of knowledge must not be taken away — hoping to prevent the further spread of doctrines which tend of themselves to the profaning of all the sacraments and the subversion of the law of God”. The last pope to receive a filial correction was John XXII in 1333, who was tackled by two French priests and scholars at the University of Paris about aspects of life after death. John recanted on his deathbed.

Francis received his filial correction a month ago. He has not answered and probably won’t, or not directly. Last year, four cardinals (two of whom have since died) posed a series of questions (dubia) on Francis’s teachings on morality. He has not answered that either. But 12 months to the day after the dubia were made public, Francis announced that the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family — an international network of Catholic teaching institutions established by St John Paul II — would be rebooted to explore the “lights and shadows” of family life with greater “realism”.

The filial correction is moderate, restrained and respectful. Its main theme is the subversion of objective morality and chaos and confusion arising from what Pope Benedict described as the “dictatorship of relativism”: the postmodern notion that truth is a subjective concept and therefore nothing is definitive. The ultimate standard of relativism, Benedict argued “consists of one’s own ego and desires”.

The “heresies” it lists relate to indications by Francis that:

● Even with God’s help, human beings are unable to keep the commandments.

● Couples not validly married but living together are not committing mortal sin.

● Christians can break divine law in a serious way without being in mortal sin.

● A person obeying divine law could commit a sin by doing so.

● People in a civil marriage, where one or both is sacramentally married to another person, may conclude, according to their con­science, that they are doing what is requested or commanded by God.

● Divine revelation contains no absolute moral prohibitions.

● Jesus Christ wants the church to abandon its longstanding discipline to prohibit Communion from civilly remarried divorced persons.

One of two Australian co-signatories, Anna Silvas, an adjunct senior research fellow in the University of New England school of humanities, says: “You can’t be obedient to the disobedient.”

At a time when Christian teaching on same-sex marriage is under aggressive public attack, traditional teachings such as the indissolubility of marriage are under attack within the church, she says. “The problem is the misuse of doctrinal development and false understandings of mercy.”

Silvas says the filial correction has drawn the “pretty blatant” but unofficial schism that has simmered below the surface in the church since the 1960s closer to the surface. She believes Catholicism is heading towards the “smaller and purer” church, predicted by Benedict.

“I take the long view,” she says. “This will draw attention to the limits of the papal office. The idea that everything the Pope says must be right is not such a problem under orthodox popes but it is at the moment.” Papal infallibility, Silvas says, applies only in very limited circumstances. It has been used only twice.

Others have a different view.

Jesuit bioethicist and rector of Newman College at the University of Melbourne, Father Bill Uren, says: “I think Amoris Laetitia is a wonderful, challenging and stimulating apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis. It makes us all think again about how we view marriage and the pastoral and sacramental care of those in what the Pope refers to in chapter 8 as ‘irregular marital situations’.”

It is a serious attempt to come to grips with the situations faced by many families. Uren says civilly remarried divorcees “should not be treated as though they are excommunicated, which they are not”. He says the Pope wants people to work through their situations individually with the help of a priest “with expertise” as there may be ways to minister to them “pastorally and sacramentally”, including the reception of Holy Communion.

Francis did not act unilaterally, Uren says, but followed the advice of two synods in Rome at which 200 bishops had voted for reform.

Uren agrees with Silvas that the filial correction has brought deep divisions that have simmered for decades closer to the surface. The critics are “the usual suspects as Humphrey Bogart would say’’ but he says they were right to speak out.

“If a filial correction had been issued during the last two pontificates I’m sure the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would have demanded that the authors recant,” he says.

Australia’s other co-signatory to the filial correction, Melbourne parish priest Father Glen Tattersall, says it is noteworthy that critics of the correction were attacking its signatories rather than turning their attention to the theological arguments.

The correction has disturbed the uneasy post-conciliar settlement between the conservative and progressive wings of the church since the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

It will probably be followed by a fraternal correction from a small number of cardinals, including American Raymond Burke, sacked by the Pope in 2014 as the church’s most senior canon lawyer. He has cited the “confusion, division, and error” coming from “shepherds” at the highest levels. Other cardinals and numerous national bishops’ conferences are backing Francis. Battlelines are sharpening. The theology wars between relativism and objective morality will run for decades. Immediately after his election, Francis declined to wear the traditional red velvet cape, trimmed with white fur, over his white cassock to appear on the balcony of St Peters.

Different sources dispute whether he told the papal master of ceremonies: “You put it on, the carnival is over.”

It was just beginning.