September 19, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — One year ago to this day, four Cardinals submitted five yes-or-no questions to Pope Francis asking him if his 2016 exhortation on marriage and the family — Amoris Laetitia — conforms to perennial Catholic teaching on marriage, moral absolutes, conscience, and the sacraments.
The Pope has refused to answer their questions, despite the moral and pastoral chaos that ensued throughout the whole of Christendom as priests, bishops, and cardinals interpreted his teachings in completely contradictory ways. Some allowed civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics living in habitual adultery to receive Holy Communion. Some did not.
Today, on the first anniversary of the dubia, has the Pope finally given his answer? It would seem so, though certainly not directly.
Let me explain.
While the body of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the four dubia signers, has hardly been in the ground more than a week, the pope today announced he is abolishing the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family and replacing it with a new institute focused on implementing Amoris Laetitia.
Cardinal Caffarra was the founding president of the institute, overseeing it from its launch in 1981 until 1995. The institute was founded to be a center for scientific study in the fields of anthropology and Christocentric thought so as to address the crisis of marriage and the family within the Church.
The institute has been faithful to perennial Catholic teaching. It even produced an excellent book titled Marriage: Theological and Pastoral Considerations in the lead-up to the recent Synods on the Family that faithfully and clearly put forward Catholic teaching on marriage and the sacraments.
Caffarra outlined what he called the “institute’s DNA” in a 2016 graduation address to the John Paul II Institute in Washington D.C.
He said that the institute was founded to address a crisis where “the human person had lost awareness of himself, of the truth of his being a person, so that he no longer understood the truth of marriage; not only in the intellectual sense, but in the existential sense.”
“John Paul II establishes the relation between marriage and the human person by means of the philosophy and the theology of the body. This is the most precious heritage that he entrusted to the Institute. The Church lacked this theology and philosophy, and she still has not fully assimilated the wealth of insights contained in these teachings,” he said at the time.
I was studying for a Ph.D at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Australia a few years ago, before it was closed. I selected this school knowing that I would be formed in authentic Catholic teaching on all the hot-button issues of the day, including contraception, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc. My dissertation topic was on the morality behind using the naked human body in art and media. It was an intellectually rich time in my life for which I will be forever grateful. I, and many other faithful Catholics, have always viewed the institute as a lighthouse of orthodoxy.
Caffarra outlined in his Washington D.C. talk how the institute was originally founded to especially reflect on the Church teaching against contraception as found in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.
“The Apostolic Constitution Magnum matrimonii sacramentum, the document which founded the Institute canonically, assigns as a specific task of the Institute the reflection on this Encyclical. This is the great theme of the truth about human procreation,” he said.
“The Institute’s DNA, if we can say that, is therefore as follows: to discover the truth about marriage and the family, on the basis of an adequate anthropology, in order to help the husband and the wife to live fully their conjugal vocation,” he said.
Caffarra has not been dead two weeks and Pope Francis has already issued a Motu Proprio (by his own command) that destroys the John Paul II Institute’s DNA and replaces it with a DNA foreign to the institute’s original aim. That foreign DNA can be precisely summed up in the dubia submitted to the Pope by Caffarra and the other three Cardinals.
What I find especially disturbing in this matter is that the Pope has gutted the institute while essentially keeping the institute’s name the same. All I could think of was George Orwell’s novel 1984 in which institutes are set up with beautiful-sounding names like the ‘Ministry of Truth,’ but which are actually agents of the ever-changing politically correct propaganda of the day.
Pope Francis, in his Motu Proprio, says the newly reformed “John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences” will be used as a platform to implement his teachings in Amoris Laetitia.
He says that contemporary anthropological and cultural changes require “a diversified and analytical approach” which cannot be “limited to pastoral and missionary practices” of the past.
In other words, what I suspect he is saying is that previous Catholic teaching on marriage and family as understood and taught by John Paul II, Cardinal Caffarra, and the institute they founded is no longer ‘helpful’ in addressing today’s situation of contraception, divorce, adultery, homosexuality, abortion, etc. What is needed, instead, is a new pastoral approach as outlined in Francis’ teaching that doesn’t see moral choices in terms of ‘black and white,’ but as an occasion for a ‘discernment’ where one can understand that while a particular choice may not be the ‘objective ideal,’ it is nevertheless, what ‘God is asking.’
Is it simply a coincidence that Pope Francis abolished the former John Paul II Institute exactly one year on the date that the four Cardinals presented him the dubia? Is it possible that with his dramatic relaunch of the institute specifically to push Amoris Laetitia he is giving the remaining two dubia Cardinals in a not-so-subtle way his answer to the dubia? I pray to God that this is not the case.
But as I stand and watch my dearly loved John Paul II Institute gutted and demolished, I can’t help but hear the words of Argentinean Archbishop Victor Fernández — papal confidant and rumored ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia — ringing in my ears: “You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible.”
Of course, I also hear the recent words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offering a glimmer of hope: “The Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”
Full text of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra’s May 10, 2016 address to graduates of John Paul II Institute in Washington D.C.