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The Pope Is Not the Oracle of Rome

by Christopher A. Ferrara
September 18, 2017

By order of the Archbishop of Granada, Javier Martínez, Professor Joseph Siefert has been removed from his position as a Professor of Philosophy at the Spanish branch of the International Academy of Philosophy, which Seifert himself founded in Liechtenstein. His offense? Nothing more than a statement of the obvious.

As a matter of “pure logic,” he had written, paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia (AL) opens the way to moral chaos in the Church when it reduces the negative moral precepts of the natural law, including the Sixth Commandment, to mere ideals and declares that God Himself wills departures from moral precepts if one feels incapable of obeying them in particular circumstances — in short, situation ethics. Believe it or not, that is exactly what the paragraph proposes:

“Conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

Thus, Seifert was not indulging in melodrama when he observed that this passage is “a theological atomic bomb” that “threatens to topple the entire edifice of Catholic moral teaching.”

In a statement justifying his punishment of Seifert, Archbishop Martínez asserted that Siefert’s statement of the obvious “damages the communion of the Church, confuses the faith of the faithful, and sows distrust toward the successor of Peter, which, in the end, does not serve the truth of faith, but, rather, the interests of the world.”

The Archbishop did not say, however, that Siefert’s reading of AL was incorrect. Which omission raises some disturbing questions:

First, are we now to suppose that “the communion of the Church” requires acceptance of situation ethics?

Second, how can “the faith of the faithful” be confused by pointing out that AL has introduced confusion precisely into the faith of the faithful respecting the permissibility of Holy Communion for public adulterers? We now witness a situation in which, as the late Cardinal Caffarra lamented only months before his death: “what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta. And so on. One is reminded of the bitter observation of B. Pascal: ‘Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank.’”

Third, how does it “sow distrust toward the successor of Peter” to point out that the current occupant of the Chair of Peter appears to have contradicted all of his predecessors, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on the “intrinsic impossibility” of admitting public adulterers in non-existent “second marriages” to the Sacraments? Is it not Pope Francis who has sown distrust of the papal office by giving the impression that the Magisterium can change according to whatever a particular Pope happens to think as opposed to what all of the Popes have previously taught in conformity with Divine Revelation and the divine and natural law?

Fourth, how can the Archbishop seriously maintain that by pointing out the obvious respecting AL, Professor Siefert “does not serve the truth of faith, but, rather, the interests of the world”? Precisely the opposite is true: the admission of public adulterers to Holy Communion without any commitment to cease their adulterous relations disserves the Faith and serves the interests of the world, which applauds this false and demagogic notion of “mercy.”

The only reasonable answer to these questions is that the Archbishop of Granada has embraced one of the signal errors of our time: a sheer papal positivism according to which “communion” and “faith” are determined by whatever the Pope says, no matter what its content, so long as the Pope has uttered it. According to this error the Church would be a kind of gnostic sect whose beliefs are determined by the latest auguries of the Oracle of Rome.

What is really happening, of course, is what this column has noted before, and which is explained by Professor Claudio Pieratoni, who has written in defense of Professor Siefert: “The Pope himself [is] actively contributing to the confusion between the Magisterium and his private opinions,” which is why “it is all the more necessary and urgent that some kind of ‘formal’, or, maybe better, ‘filial’ correction to the Pope, finally appear. And may God grant the Holy Father an open heart to hear it.”