Cardinal Christoph Schönborn: Sophist in Chief
by Christopher A. Ferrara
July 25, 2017
Sophistry is the use of subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation to mislead the hearer. Perhaps sophistry is too generous a description of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s defense of the idea, introduced into the Church via Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia (AL), that people living in “second marriages” condemned by Our Lord Himself as adultery can receive absolution and Holy Communion while continuing to live as if they were married and indulging in the marital act. Schönborn’s arguments are not particularly subtle and could be refuted by any well-catechized child. But let us give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he is a sophist as opposed to someone who simply makes patently ridiculous arguments.
During the same speech in western Ireland in which he revealed that he had (ludicrously) assured Pope Francis that AL is perfectly orthodox after it had already been published, Schönborn proposed one sophism after another in defense of Holy Communion for persistent public adulterers.
While maintaining that AL upholds the Church’s infallible teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, Schönborn argued that “giving this answer is not an answer to all the single situations and cases that in everyday life we have to deal with.”
Nonsense. Our Lord Himself has given the “answer to all the single situations and cases” involving divorce and purported “remarriage” — they all constitute adultery: “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12) Adultery is an intrinsic evil, always and everywhere wrong. There are no “single situations and cases” in which adultery can be treated as if it were not adultery for purposes of admission to the Sacraments.
“Much more difficult is discernment,” Schönborn continued, “because you have to look closely, yes, in the light of the principles, but also at reality, where people stand, what is the drama of how did they come to a separation, to a new union, and so on.”
Nonsense. There is no gap between the moral law laid down by God and “reality” or “where people stand.” The moral precept is reality — a reality inscribed in human nature itself as a precept of the natural law that binds all men, no matter where they claim to “stand” or what “drama” they recite. Schönborn here proposes nothing other than the evil of situation ethics, which would destroy the entire moral edifice of the Church by reducing morality to a mere set of “general rules” that may or may not apply in a given situation.
And that is exactly what AL purports to do: “Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” (AL 302) “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.” (AL 304). Need it be demonstrated that the appearance of such statements in a papal document is a catastrophe — indeed, a stage in the “final battle” over marriage and family of which Sister Lucia warned Cardinal Caffarra?
“Moral theology stands on two feet,” said Schönborn. “Principles, and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality…. [T]he question of discernment is the key question for the right handling of right relation between principles and concrete application.”
Nonsense. The negative precepts of the natural law, including “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” — which is what Schönborn is here addressing — apply in the same way to all people regardless of their situation. There are no “prudential steps to apply to reality” nor any problem of “concrete application” of the divine and natural law forbidding adultery. People engaged in adulterous relations are obliged to cease those relations if they wish to be admitted to the Sacraments, no less than the Mafiosi that Pope Francis threatens to excommunicate must cease their lives of crime against the natural law.
“The bonum possibile in moral theology is an important concept that has been so often neglected. What is the possible good that a person or a couple can achieve in difficult circumstances?”
The worst nonsense of all, as it reduces universally binding, exceptionless moral precepts to mere guidelines or benchmarks toward which people need only do the best they can under the circumstances, or what they deem “possible” for themselves. The Sixth Commandment thus becomes “Thou Shalt Do Thy Best Not to Commit Adultery.”
This sophist is the moral voice of the current pontificate. If this situation is not apocalyptic, then words have lost their meaning. We can only await, with fear and trembling, God’s dramatic resolution of a crisis unlike any the Church has seen before, in which even the foundations of the moral law are now under attack at the very summits of the Church.