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Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vaticans Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments


ROME, October 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — We should not pit Pope Francis against his predecessors, he is the “right” Pope for his time, and he should not be charged with the “silent apostasy” that is rampant even within the Church, especially in the West. This is the pith of a lengthy interview given by Cardinal Robert Sarah to the Italian daily, Il Corriere della sera, published last Monday, October 7. In the context of the Amazon Synod which opened the day before, with its syncretic ceremonies and pushing for the priestly ordination of married men and female “deacons,” the interview came as a surprise on the part of a cardinal who has the reputation of defending the perennial teachings of the Church.

The impression that Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, was speaking out against traditionally-minded Catholics was made more acute by the Corriere’s journalist, Gian Guido Vecchi, who claimed in his introduction to the interview that Sarah “has cut and dry ideas but sets equally clear limits, which the ultraconservative ‘galaxy’ in the odor of schism will certainly appreciate: ‘Whoever is against the Pope is ipso facto outside the Church.’”

Given the tone of the interview, this comment by the journalist — and his sarcastic comment about “ultraconservatives” that presented them as possibly schismatic — seemed to be pushing the cardinal’s words out of context, insofar as Sarah clearly condemns precisely those progressive innovations that many “conservative” Catholics are deploring, some of them very publicly.

Published days after the pagan fertility rite that took place under the very eyes of Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens, the actual 23,000-word interview probably took place before that event. It marked the release of the Italian translation of Cardinal Sarah’s latest book, The Day is Now Far Spent, a series of conversations with his habitual collaborator, French author and editor Nicolas Diat.

The interview was probably vetted both by Cardinal Sarah and Nicolas Diat – who was recently portrayed by Frédéric Martel, author of In the Closet of the Vatican, as an ambiguous personality close earlier in life to the French left-wing, then to a former minister of former center-right president Nicolas Sarkozy, Laurent Wauquiez.

“Whoever is against the Pope is ipso facto outside the Church” is at any rate a vague and general statement. There is no lack of canonized saints – including Saint Paul himself, but also Saint Athanasius, Saint Bridget of Sweden, and Saint Catherine of Sienna, to name but a few – who charged the ruling Popes of their times with erroneous or evil conduct or doctrine. It would be interesting to have Cardinal Sarah’s precise thoughts on the phrase quoted in his interview.

In order better to understand the distinction between necessary obedience to the Pope in his legitimate exercise of power, as the successor of Peter and vicar of Christ, and the Catholic’s obligation to use knowledge of the perennial doctrine and intelligence, it is useful to read Cardinal Burke’s and Bishop Schneider’s clarification in a statement published last month by Edward Pentin in The National Catholic Register

In it the two prelates cited the present “doctrinal confusion,” criticizing the present atmosphere of “an almost total infallibilization of the statements of the Roman Pontiff” and arguing – with Melchior Cano – against “those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff, (…) those who most undermine the authority of the Holy See.”

In fact Cardinal Sarah himself recently endorsed a new book-length interview with Bishop Schneider, who is critical of a number of the Pope’s statements and actions but who is not “against” the Pope. Cardinal Sarah wrote about Christus vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age

At this critical moment in the life of the Church we must reflect carefully on all that confronts us and discern what is true, good, and beautiful from what is evil. We cannot but be grateful to a faithful apostle such as Bishop Athanasius Schneider for his clear and courageous analysis of the state of the Church in our day. May this book assist all who read it in living their particular vocation with greater fidelity and zeal, for the glory of Almighty God and the salvation of souls.

Vecchi’s question: “Many have read or will read your book in opposition to the present pontificate. On the other hand, the text is dedicated both to Benedict XVI and to Francis, ‘faithful son of Saint Ignatius.’ Where is the truth?” elicited this answer from Cardinal Sarah:

The truth is that many write not to bear witness to the truth, but to pit people against each other, to damage human relations. They don’t care about the truth. The truth is that those who oppose me to the Holy Father cannot present a single word of mine, a single phrase of mine, or a single attitude of mine to support their absurd, and I would say diabolical statements. The Devil divides, pits people against one another. The truth is that the Church is represented on earth by the Vicar of Christ, that is, the Pope. And whoever is against the Pope is ipso facto outside the Church. I understand that human society — and the intellectual world in particular — needs contrasts to define positions in the field, as if it had no other terms of understanding but the alternative between ‘we’ and ‘them.’ 

Which seems like a gross error, not to mention a diabolical one. But the history of the Church, aware of the devil who wants to divide it, is a long history, certainly of difficulty, and also of division, but always aimed at seeking unity in Christ, while respecting differences: it is a history that is based on faith in a God who became man to share with each person the path of life and the burden of suffering. All the rest are absurd speculations. I would add that every Pope is 'just' [right] for his time, Providence sees us very well, you know? The question is: is what you and I have received from our fathers still valid for our children? And if so, how do we make sure that they re-appropriate it in their experience? It is the truth of these testimonies that we are called to rediscover, both with the unparalleled analysis of Benedict’s thought and with the great and luminous industriousness of Francis. While there is an obvious difference of sensibilities, there is a great harmony and a great continuity between them, as everyone has been able to see in these years. We must always interpret the words of Pope Francis with the hermeneutics of continuity. In the same way that it existed between John Paul II and Paul VI. The history of the Church is beautiful and reducing it to the political caricature typical of television talk shows is a marketing operation, not a way of seeking the truth.

Cardinal Sarah then proceeded to enumerate a number of concerns and denunciations of errors that are often openly linked to Pope Francis’ governance and confusing statements but that he prefers to attribute to priests, bishops, and cardinals whom one understands would thus be “against the Pope.”

He made clear from the start of the interview that his latest book expresses his “cry as a shepherd from the starting point of the analysis of the times in which we’re living.”

“What I see happening in reality is serious: we are experiencing a very strong spiritual crisis. We are facing a silent apostasy. It concerns the whole world, but has its origin mainly in Europe. And it comes from the rejection of God, a rejection that has now been enshrined in Western consciousness. Because today it is man who has replaced God. The Father is rejected and God is rejected, because people do not admit that they can depend on someone. Everyone wants self-determination in everything: in life, in death, in sexuality, even changing nature on the basis of his own ideas. It’s something that never happened and it’s perverse,” he said. He later condemned man's “unbridled search” to “create a humanism without God in which God is man himself.”

Cardinal Sarah also spoke clearly against the temptation to adapt the Church to the times, recalling that the Gospel and the Word of God “are always valid forever, because they transcend the history and earthly life of men.”

“The Church is either prophetic or is not the Church. She stands before the frailties of man, not to indulge them, but to accompany man on his way to happiness, which also passes through the Cross of difficulties, trials and his radical conversion.”

He added that “doctrine is not a set of moralistic precepts” but rejected “relativism”:

Catholic doctrine, in short, is a person! It is Jesus in his Word. How can we think that the Gospel is an expression of something detached from reality? Either our faith is founded on the encounter with a Person, who is God made man, through his Son Jesus, and therefore on a testimony that must be renewed every day for the daily death and resurrection of Christ, or our faith is fallacious and is based on the idols of modernity. But a father or a mother who do not show their son the right path, what father is he? And what mother is she? Thus it is believed in the thought of contemporary society, which is secularized and decadent, that the opening-up of the Church, to which Pope Francis constantly and rightly calls us, means the dilution of what we believe. But Christ did not come to indulge society, he came to save humanity from its fall, to bring the Truth and change each of us personally, in our very depths.

Questioned about the Amazon Synod, Cardinal Sarah insisted that Pope Francis “would not change the discipline of celibacy in the Latin Church,” but that the issue would only be raised concerning “married elderly” in “very remote areas,” exercising only the “munus sanctificandi,” therefore “Mass, Confession, [annointing] of the sick,” without the function of guide or teaching, the “munera regendi e docendi.”

But he immediately called the proposal “theologically absurd,” implying “a functionalist conception of the priesthood” and again quoting Pope Francis who on January 27 of this year said: “I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy. I repeat: there is no fear. The synod will study, then the Holy Father will draw conclusions.”

About the Amazon Synod, Cardinal Sarah said:

I have heard that some want to make this synod a laboratory for the universal Church, others have declared that after this synod nothing will be the same as before. If it is true, this is dishonest and misleading. This synod has a specific and local objective: the evangelization of the Amazon. I fear that some Westerners are confiscating this assembly to advance their plans. I am thinking in particular of the ordination of married men, the creation of women's ministries or the jurisdiction of the laity. These points touch on the structure of the universal Church. Taking advantage to introduce ideological plans would be an unworthy manipulation, a dishonest deception, an insult to God who guides his Church and entrusts him with his plan of salvation. Moreover, I was shocked and indignant that the spiritual distress of the poor in the Amazon had been used as an excuse to support projects typical of bourgeois and worldly Christianity. It is abominable.

He added:

Look, let me tell you: the problem here is that there are priests, bishops and even infidel cardinals who are failing – and this is just as serious as other sins – to bring the truth of Christ! They disorient the Christian faithful with their confused, ambiguous and liquid language. We must have the courage to return to the paths of spiritual combat: the fight of the faith, as St. Paul says to Timothy, because our main weapon is prayer. Many feel lost because they feel and experience that the Church is becoming a corporation or an NGO, which is exactly the opposite of what Pope Francis has been saying since the beginning of his pontificate… 

The Church is not that! We want to make the Church a human and horizontal society. We want it to speak a language adapted to the media. We want to make it popular. In this way, priests are urged not to speak of God and the scandal of the cross of Jesus, but to commit themselves body and soul to social issues: agriculture, ecology, dialogue, the fight against poverty, justice and peace. We no longer speak of God but of migrants, of the marginalized and the homeless!

In accusing “liquid atheism” of infiltrating “everything,” even “our ecclesiastical pronouncements,” Cardinal Sarah is certainly critical and perhaps even divisive: dividing what he presents as secularized clergy from a providential and God-centered Pope.