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Austen Ivereigh

December 16, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A papal biographer has drawn considerable blowback after recently assailing the four Cardinals behind the dubia as dissenters who should be ignored.

CRUX contributing editor Austen Ivereigh’s December 11 column chastised the cardinals and others concerned over the document’s problematic passages with condescending and unflattering characterizations and dismissiveness. He also projected onto them the actions and intent of liberal dissenters under the previous two pontiffs, likening the dubia to a petition seeking to violate Church teaching.

He accused Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner of having “spearheaded the anti-Francis revolt” and crossing “the line of good manners and respect.” He also pointed out that they are “mostly retired” and rehashed Cardinal Burke’s 2014 removal by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.  

Using them as a springboard to indict other Amoris Laetitia critics for having reached “shocking new lows” in criticizing the pope, Ivereigh made certain to associate the cardinals with those he deemed as showing the pope disrespect and contempt.

“Francis expected protest,” he wrote, “especially from this quartet of red hats,” saying the pope had no choice but to “ignore the cardinals and press on.”

Ivereigh also “warned” those distressed with the confusion created by the pope’s exhortation that they should get past their “anxiety and fear” because “the train has left the station, the Church is moving on,” with “a new pastoral strategy for marriage and family.”

“Long after the cardinals’ dubia are no more than a footnote in the history of this papacy,” Ivereigh claimed, “ … the next generation of priests will be applying the magnificent teaching of Amoris Laetitia, and the noisy, angry strains of dissent will have faded into a distant memory.”

Amid numerous voices both supporting and criticizing the cardinals for requesting clarity from the pope, Ivereigh’s article has been pilloried in blogs and on social media. Ivereigh himself tweeted the day after it published: “I’ve never written an article that’s provoked more passionate congratulations, nor such bitter recriminations.”

Stiff criticism

Catholic World Report Editor Carl Olson wrote that Ivereigh’s “arguments” are “derailed by hubris, rhetorical excess, and lack of substance,” and labeled the column “a sprawling polemical broadside.”

“I'm not anti-polemical,” Olson said. “I am, however, opposed to polemics that resort to name-calling, avoid argumentation like the plague, resort to straw men, are relentlessly condescending, and make unfair, even misleading, analogies and comparisons.”

He would go on to state that Ivereigh’s attempt to justify labeling Amoris Laetitia critics as dissenters is a “third-rate magic trick, an attempt to distract by dismissing.”

And to Ivereigh’s statement that “the Church is moving on,” Olson replied, “What I know is that the Church never 'moves on' from Truth, and cannot formally teach error about matters of faith and morals. There are many questions that need to be addressed, no matter what any British journalist tosses about on the CRUX site.” 

According to whom?

Joseph Shaw, chair for the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, wrote that Ivereigh was touting his own personal interpretation of Amoris Laetitia in the article and that even supporters of the pope’s document among the world’s bishops had been contradicting themselves on its meaning.

“It would be nice to be able to say that anything so utterly ludicrous should be ignored,” Shaw said of Ivereigh’s piece, “but, sadly, this impassioned but empty invective appears to be the best that the semi-official Francis media team can come up with, and they are saying not only loudly, but with real menace.”

“It serves to demonstrate, if nothing else, how completely empty is the intellectual backing for their position,” Shaw stated.

The Church does not “move on” with her teaching

Rorate Caeli called Ivereigh’s train metaphor “ludicrous.”

“The Church, in moments of crisis, when others 'move on,' doubles down in defense of her unchanging Truth,” the blog’s post said in response.

Quoting Canon XI of the Decree on the Most Holy Sacrament of the 13th Session of the Council of Trent, the post stated, “Quite right: a continued state of adultery or fornicatory cohabitation with no prospect of penance and stopping the sinful situation is not a sufficient preparation for Eucharistic communion. It will never be so. The Church is not a 'train' and she will never 'move on.'”


In his columns, Ivereigh also falsely portrayed the second Synod on the Family as having produced consensus, and apologetically perpetuated the confusion generated by Amoris Laetitia citing doctrine while simultaneously subtly giving a pass for its circumvention.

“The synod decided, by a two-thirds majority,” he wrote, “that they wanted both to preserve the doctrine of indissolubility in the current discipline of the Eucharist while at the same time creating sufficient pastoral latitude in the application of the Church’s law to allow pastors to respond to situations where there was a subjective lack of culpability.”

“The whole point is that there is no new law,” Ivereigh said, “no new doctrine, no new norms, because the synod determined that there should not be.”

“The synod kept the law,” he continued, “how could it not? It’s the law of Jesus — but defended a latitude in its application, recognizing, as did Jesus, that the law is necessary but insufficient, and has to be applied in such a way that respects the particularity of each person’s story.”

RELATED: Who are the four Cardinals who wrote the dubia to the Pope?

And Ivereigh put forward the controversial idea associated with Amoris Laetitia that pastors should be allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis when those living in an objectively sinful situation should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“Only one who understands the complexities of the workings of sin and grace in a person’s life grasps the paradox,” he wrote. “That to insist on the universal, equal application of the law in all circumstances is to contradict God’s supreme law of mercy, which puts the individual before — not above, but before — the law.”

Who’s the real pastor?’s Christine Niles rejected this premise.

“Amidst all the talk of ‘accompaniment’ and ‘consoling’ and being ‘merciful,’ pastors of the sort Ivereigh praises seem to have lost sight of the eternal in favor of the temporal,” she wrote. “Cardinal Burke and his confreres have not; it is they, with an eye toward the eternal welfare of the flock, who are the true pastors.”

Trying to quash the discussion

American Papist blogger Thomas Peters questioned Ivereigh’s contention that “every case is different” when considering Communion for the divorced and remarried. Ivereigh had quoted a South American bishop regarding Amoris Laetitia’s highly contentious Chapter 8.

“Every case of IVF is different?” Peters quizzed Ivereigh on Twitter. “Every case of abortion? Every case of euthanasia? @austeni either it applies here too or nowhere. Right?”

Peters also responded to Ivereigh’s tweet that his article provoked passion and recriminations.

“No wonder,” Peters replied, “it is a transparent attempt to head off further debate, smear those attempting to understand the level/kind of pope's teaching. If @austeni was more secure in his position, he wouldn't desperately be attempting to end the debate (“the train has left the station”).”

Article betrays ignorance

Benedictine monk and blogger Father Hugh Somerville-Knapman said that in accusing the four cardinals and others of dissent, Ivereigh “reveals a disturbing ignorance of authentic teaching on the Church and the papacy.”

“Those who are seeking clarity from the pope are hardly questioning his legitimacy or authority as pope,” Father Somerville-Knapman wrote. “In reality, they are asking him to exercise it, fully and properly.”

“Dissent, in an ecclesial rather than a political view, is to reject or disagree with the teaching of the Church,” he continued. “The four cardinals, and the other pastors and theologians now speaking out in agreement with them, are dissenting from no teaching of the Church but are asking the pope to confirm it.”

Invoking the Holy Spirit

Ivereigh repeatedly referenced the Holy Spirit in his article so as to reinforce the premise that Amoris Laetitia is the product of the Spirit and that the documents critics were obstructing the Holy Spirit’s work, a common tactic used in answer to the question of whether Amoris Laetitia bears doctrinal or Magisterial authority.

“Dissent is, essentially, to question the legitimacy of a pope’s rule,” Ivereigh stated. “It is to cast into doubt that the development of the Church under this Successor of St. Peter is a fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit.”

“The four cardinals, with their heavily loaded binary questions carefully crafted to exclude precisely that paradox, reject the synod’s settlement of this question, and in doing so they reject the validity of the Holy Spirit’s action,” he said as well.

English scholar and blogger Father John Hunwicke wrote in apparent response that the tendency to assimilate the pope to part of the Holy Trinity was “arguably blasphemous and idolatrous or at least heretical,” and contrary to the Tradition of the Church.

“When, in more recent times, Roman Pontiffs have defined dogma ex cathedra, they have prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before doing so,” Father Hunwicke said, “but they have not boldly claimed to be mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit or to speak upon His inspiration.”

“Believe me,” he continued, “we do not need some new and horrible dogma that the voice of Bergoglio is the voice of the Holy Spirit.”