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Scholars’ critiques of Filial Correction misread and distort the Church’s magisterial teaching

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman Matthew Cullinan Hoffman Follow Matthew

October 12, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – In recent days, multiple scholars have issued critiques of the recently-published Filial Correction of Pope Francis, which have appeared in the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Alarmingly, the critiques written by these scholars are littered with distortions and out-of-context citations of an important magisterial document, and suffer from a glaringly deficient theological standpoint. One also contains a false accusation against LifeSite. Ultimately, they fail to address any of the central arguments of the Filial Correction, a pattern followed by virtually all of the public criticism that has been launched against the document since its publication last month.

Does the Filial Correction contradict the instruction Donum veritatis?

Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein have together written an article for La Stampa accusing the signers of the Filial Correction of violating the teaching contained in the instruction Donum veritatis, issued by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1990. Emmett O’Regan has written a separate article on the same theme. Fastiggi has a Ph.D in historical theology, Goldstein has a doctorate in sacred theology, and O’Regan is known for writing a book about the apocalypse. (The full text of the Correction can be found here.)

Sadly, Fastiggi and Goldstein repeatedly distort both the Filial Correction and Donum veritatis to support their accusations, misconstruing the former and quoting the latter out of context. For example, they complain that the Correction fails to distinguish the magisterial weight of various papal statements as required by Donum veritatis, and denounce the document for quoting non-magisterial papal statements, without mentioning that those statements are cited by the correction not as magisterial documents but as proof of Pope Francis’ intentions in writing a purportedly magisterial document, Amoris laetitia.

Moreover, as signatory Joseph Shaw observed, the Filial Correction doesn’t seek to correct the pope’s authentic magisterium, because it doesn’t even regard Amoris laetitia itself as a legitimate magisterial act but rather one that contradicts and undermines the Magisterium as a whole. This claim is well-founded. Not only does Amoris laetitia strongly appear to deny infallibly-defined dogmas of the Church – disqualifying it as a part of the authentic papal magisterium –  but the document itself clearly implies that it does not intend to exercise magisterial authority. The document states: “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.”

Strangely, Fastiggi and Goldstein complain that “in loading down their petition with cherry-picked statements bearing little or no magisterial authority, the Correctio authors seem intent on discrediting the Holy Father and his intentions,” as if Francis has not already accomplished this by appearing to contradict Catholic dogma on numerous occasions. They seem to believe that Francis’ numerous misleading statements cannot possibly be harmful to the faith of Catholics unless they constitute official magisterial acts, as if Catholics do (or perhaps should?) utterly ignore the pope unless his statements are published in the official Acts of the Apostolic See.

Even more strangely, the duo then goes on to commit the same error they impute to the Fraternal Correction. They imply that Francis’ January 2016 address to the Roman Rota, in which he said the essential elements of marriage “can be lived out by all the faithful,” somehow overrides the many statements he later made in Amoris laetitia and other documents that strongly indicate the opposite. If we are to assume that Amoris laetitia qualifies as an authentic magisterial document, how is a mere allocution, made prior to Amoris laetitia and addressed only to cardinals, to override a later apostolic exhortation addressed to the whole Church?

O’Regan joins Fastiggi and Goldstein to point out that Donum veritatis requires those who have difficulties with non-infallible declarations of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium to make their concerns known to the responsible authority in a private way, rather than launching media campaigns. Donum veritatis does indeed urge theologians to act in such a way, and in fact the document envisions the possibility of dissenting theologians suffering “in silence and in prayers” should their arguments not be accepted. However, Fastiggi, Goldstein, and O’Regan again misapply Donum veritatis because they fail to understand the whole nature of the dispute in question, which is not a dissent against the Church’s Magisterium but a critique of expressions that strongly appear to contradict it.

Are theologians prohibited from publicly correcting the pope?

Perhaps most disturbingly, Fastiggi, Goldstein, and O’Regan seem to have embraced an erroneous understanding of clerical, and particularly papal, authority, raising it to an absolute principle that seems to override even clear cases of subversion of Catholic doctrine. It appears that for them, nothing, no possible situation, could justify a public correction of the pope.

Fastiggi and Goldstein state in a response to Shaw that even if they thought that the pope was “asking people to act or believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church,” they would “not have recourse to the mass media,” but would, at best, make their concerns known to the Holy See privately.

Their perspective differs markedly from Sacred Scripture, which records a public rebuke of St. Peter by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians, one that has been cited by saints and theologians for millennia as an example to the faithful in general. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith.” Fastiggi and Goldstein never even address this doctrine, although the Correction cites it.

O’Regan goes even further, absurdly claiming that every pope receives “Divine assistance which prevents him from erring in matters of faith and morals, even when teaching non-infallibly,” calling this an “essential truth” without which “the entire edifice of Catholic theology comes crashing to the ground.” In fact, it is not only not an “essential truth” but a self-contradicting absurdity. If the pope is teaching non-infallibly, then he is teaching fallibly, and he isn’t absolutely protected from error.

The possibility of papal error in matters of faith and morals is supported by glaring examples from Church history, such as the erroneous-in-faith public statements of Pope John XXII in the 14th century, which were condemned by his successor. His statements, made in public homilies, were non-infallible, but contrary to truths of the Catholic faith. If O’Regan were right, the Church’s “theology” would have crashed and burned almost 700 years ago.

Fastiggi and Goldstein also falsely accuse LifeSite of removing comments submitted by Fastiggi in response to one of our articles, a claim that is found in a footnote of their critique, and was repeated by Goldstein via Twitter. In fact, LifeSite editors have never removed a single comment by Fastiggi from any article, and Fastiggi’s numerous comments appear under three recent LifeSite articles regarding Amoris laetitia and the Filial Correction, for a total of seven comments.

LifeSite investigated Fastiggi and Goldstein’s accusation and found that two recent comments by the theologian had been placed in the comment system’s spam box without their knowledge, a glitch that occasionally happens with comment systems as it does with emails. LifeSite corrected this error and restored the two comments. We also explained the error to Dr. Fastiggi in an email and apologized for it. Fastiggi communicated the information to Dr. Goldstein, who retracted her accusation on Twitter, although the La Stampa article has never been corrected.*

We appreciate the retraction by Dr. Goldstein. We request that Dr. Fastiggi do LifeSite justice and secure a correction of his La Stampa accusation. We also ask that that he and others who might have a dispute with LifeSite pay us the courtesy to ask us first about such matters rather than assuming the worst and accusing us of bad faith.

*The La Stampa article was corrected at Dr. Fastiggi's request sometime after October 11. We thank Dr. Fastiggi for making this correction.

Update: This article previously stated that Dr. Fastiggi had not responded to LifeSite's email to him. However, he had responded to it and the email was missed. The article has been corrected to reflect this.

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Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman is an essayist, journalist, and author whose articles have appeared in numerous publications worldwide, both secular and Catholic, including the Wall Street Journal, London Sunday Times, Detroit News, New York Daily News, LifeSiteNews, Catholic World Report, Crisis Magazine, and the National Catholic Register. He is the translator and author of The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption (2015). He holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, where he is certified for academic competency in five foreign languages. He currently resides in Mexico, and does specialized coverage of Latin America for LifeSite and other publications.

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