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ROME, October 4, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The number of signatories of the “filial correction,” charging Pope Francis with permitting the spread of seven heresies, at least by omission, has risen to 216. That is up from 40 when the letter was delivered to the Pope’s residence at Santa Marta on August 11, and 62 when the document was made public on September 24.

But the Correction has also met with criticism, including from a high-ranking priest of Opus Dei.

On September 30, the Vicar General of the Prelature, Msgr. Mariano Fazio of Argentina, accused the authors in an interview with La Nación of attacking the pope, sowing disunity and using the “totally wrong method.”

“If it is a filial relation, a son does not ‘correct’ his father in public,” Msgr. Fazio said.

The second in command of Opus Dei continued: “Any faithful, bishop, cardinal, lay person has the right to tell the pope what he sees fit for the good of the Church. But it seems to me that he has no right to do so publicly and to scandalize the whole Church with these manifestations of disunity.”

We spoke to Joseph Shaw, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford University. Professor Shaw, who serves as spokesman for the filial correction authors, responded to charges that he and the other signatories are airing the Church’s dirty laundry in public. We also discussed why it was necessary to make the Correction public, and in what sense Catholics are called to always “be with the Pope.”

LifeSite: Professor Shaw, Msgr. Fazio has accused the authors and signatories of the “filial correction” — particularly those who are members of Opus Dei — of attacking the Pope and scandalizing the whole Church, saying that “a son should not ‘correct’ his father in public.” In Genesis 9:23, we read about Noah’s sons (Shem and Japheth) “covering the nakedness of their father” out of respect for him, and this was in a private setting. Does Msgr. Fazio have a point? Are the authors and organizers of the “filial correction” scandalizing the Church?

Dr. Shaw: Scandal is a complex concept which should be used with care. Scandal is given when a person’s words or actions cause others to sin. It can be deliberate—‘formal scandal’—or inadvertent—‘material scandal.’ It is also possible for people to ‘take scandal’ without justification, such as the Pharisees who accused Our Lord of blaspheming, when in reality he merely spoke the truth.

As far as ordinary Catholics are concerned, when we see something which is apparently bad happening within the Church, we must be aware that knowledge of this bad thing by a wider audience may cause people to sin: it may undermine their faith, cause them to neglect their religious duties, or, if not Catholic, harden them to the truths of the Gospel. For this reason we can say not only that it is a scandal if, say, a priest is too fond of drink, but also that a person revealing such a thing causes scandal.

However, the situation is complicated by the fact that revealing a private vice is also wrong because it is detraction: it endangers the priest’s good name, which is a very serious matter.

When the bad things happening in the Church are not so much private failings as serious injustices to others, and especially when they begin to be reported, there is an instinct to seek to protect the Church’s reputation by denial, by seeking to explain them away, or by covering them up. What has become very evident in recent decades, however, is that, understandable as this instinct is, it should be resisted. First and foremost, it works against justice. Secondly, it actually causes scandal, because those who become aware of the reality of the situation and of Catholics’ reactions to it are put off the Church because of our apparent indifference to justice. Thirdly, even in the narrowest terms of dealing with bad publicity, it is very often counter-productive, especially in the longer term.

These are hard-learnt lessons of the clerical sex-abuse crisis, perhaps the most expensive education Catholics have had in history.

Non-Catholics, especially serious-minded non-Catholic Christians suspicious of the role of the Pope in the Church, will be scandalised very deeply by the impression that, when a Pope speaks and writes in ways apparently at variance with the Church’s earlier teaching, faithful Catholics remain silent. It will confirm for them the caricature of Catholics as brain-washed slaves of the Pope.

Catholics with respect for the Papal office are vulnerable in a different way, since when they see what appears to be a Pope offering a way out from difficult moral teachings, they will be tempted to ignore those teachings in their own lives: often, indeed, tempted to go much further than anything directly justified by the Pope’s words. These Catholics’ scandal will be deepened by the silence of faithful Catholics, especially pastors and academics known for their earlier defence of these teachings.

There is no question, in this situation, of the signatories ‘revealing their father’s nakedness’: the fact to which they draw attention is evident to all. Indeed, the appearance of a discrepancy between Pope Francis’ indications about the correct interpretation of Amoris laetitia, and the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II and the tradition in general, is something emphasized above all by those who present themselves as supporters of Pope Francis. The only question which remains is whether Catholic pastors and academics would give the impression, in turn, of acting like weather-vanes, and simply change their beliefs to suit the prevailing officially-sanctioned view: keeping ready to change back again under the next pope as necessary. It would certainly cause a scandal if no Catholics were prepared at least to ask some insistent questions about what is going on.

Perhaps critics of the signatories mean, however, that the Correctio causes scandal by revealing divisions in the Church, which would better be covered up. Again, however, these divisions have been emphasised by the Pope’s supposed partisans, who have criticised those still basing their views on the teaching of Pope St John Paul II when, according to them, it has been overturned. What is needed, where there are divisions, is respectful dialogue and a resolution of differences.

If we are to speak of filial obligations, we should remember that the Father to whom ultimate loyalty is due is our heavenly Father. When it comes to popes, we also owe loyalty not only to the current holder of the papal office, but to all the popes who have carried out their office of teaching the faith given to them by that Heavenly Father. The Correctio is an act of loyalty and duty towards our Heavenly Father and our human fathers in the faith, most especially those popes who have transmitted the teaching on marriage and the Eucharist given by Jesus Christ Himself in obedience to His Father.

The “filial correction” has drawn considerable attention in both Catholic and secular media. Why did the authors and organizers of the correction go public with it? And why is it not a “display of disunity,” as the Argentinian Vicar General of Opus Dei suggests? 

Those Catholics concerned about the direction of the debate about remarriage and Communion, and related issues, have made repeated attempts to express these concerns in ways which would not create a public impression of opposition to the person of the Pope. The ‘Filial Appeal’, signed by 800,000 people, was part of a debate called for by Pope Francis before he had composed Amoris. The letter of the ‘13 Cardinals’ and the ‘45 academics and pastors’ appeal to Cardinals’ were, alike, not intended to be public documents. Obviously, in this way these initiatives observed both the letter and the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17 on speaking first to one’s brother in private.

The ‘dubia’ of the four cardinals, like the Correction, was only made public when Pope Francis declined to discuss the matter with the cardinals in any way. This is not the history of a group of Catholics who wish to attack either the person of the present Pope or the Papal office.

It should also be emphasised that Canon 212 permits and encourages lay Catholics not only to manifest their concerns to their superiors, but also to each other. The latter is necessary where there is a danger to the Faith and of scandal to ordinary Catholics which is not being addressed by the proper authorities: in this case, the Holy Father. This is clearly the case where the authorities have declined to respond to a non-public appeal.

Disunity is being displayed in a very public way by Bishops’ Conferences, such as those of Germany and Poland, issuing contrasting guidelines for the application of Amoris, not by those who, concerned about this disunity, appeal for an act of the Magisterium which would bring it to an end.

It is true that the Correction is more strongly worded than previous initiatives: this reflects the escalating seriousness of the situation, and the absence of a response from Pope Francis to the earlier documents.

Can you point to a passage in Scripture, a Doctor or Father of the Church, or perhaps even a famous piece of Literature, that illustrates your point?

Both Testaments of Scripture are replete with examples of subordinates criticising superiors in public. The criticism of the leaders of Israel by prophets and priests, from the public humiliation of King Saul by Samuel, the denunciation of King Ahab by Elijah, and the attack on Herod the Tetrarch by St John the Baptist, are in general the criticism of official, and usually divinely sanctioned, authority, by persons who may have been inspired by God, but who lacked institutional standing. This pattern is taken to its logical extreme by the condemnation of the Elders by the prophet Daniel when only a child (Dan 13:45ff). Our Lord made the situation clear when, while eviscerating the Chief Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees, he acknowledged nonetheless that they held ‘the seat of Moses’, a position which meant that people should listen to them as speaking with authority, despite all their shortcomings (Matthew 23:2-3).  

Private remonstrations also take place, a notable example being the prophet Nathan’s criticism of King David, but even this was not intended as a way to hush things up. Nathan speaks of God’s coming punishment of David: ‘For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing in the sight of all Israel, and in the sight of the sun.’ (2 Sam 12:12). In the other cases, it is fair to assume that the prophets realised that the time for private discussion had passed (Matthew 18:15-17). We may take it that this was also so in the famous confrontation of St Peter by St Paul (Gal 2:11).

Commenting on that last passage, St Thomas Aquinas wrote: ‘Where there is a proximate danger to the faith, prelates must be rebuked, even publicly, by subjects. Thus, St. Paul, who was subject to St. Peter, rebuked him publicly.’ (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galations 2:14)

It should be emphasised that when an inferior criticises a superior, he takes a great risk, as demonstrated in a number of the cases mentioned. He does this not only out of zeal for justice, but out of love of the superior. This is a theme particularly developed by Shakespeare, in the Winters Tale, and even more famously in King Lear. In the latter Lear banishes Cordelia and the Duke of Kent for speaking of truth and justice when he wanted flattery. They alone, however, are later revealed as loyal subjects.

It is not criticism which is most to be feared by those in positions of authority, but flattery. As Pope Francis expressed it: ‘The hypocrite is capable of destroying a community. While speaking gently, he ruinously judges a person. He is a killer.’

Again: ‘The hypocrite always uses language to flatter,’ ‘feeding into one’s vanity.’

Msgr. Fazio has said that Opus Dei, like all Catholics, “is always with the Pope.” Do you agree that it is always important to “be with the Pope”?

Of course I agree that we Catholics must always be with the Pope. But we must understand correctly what “to be with the Pope” really means. “To be with,” understood in a correct sense, means to love: that, of course, also implies to help and support, provided that our help and support are in favour of words and actions that are true and just. Now, not all words and actions that come from a Pope are necessarily and absolutely true and just. So, in case they aren’t, true love may justly express itself in the form of a correction. To correct someone who is wrong is a necessary part of human love. To omit a correction when it is necessary would indeed be a grave sin. We know that, under certain conditions, the Pope is infallible (this is noted in the Correction). But it is clear on a number of grounds that we are not dealing with infallible teaching in Amoris Ch. 8, and indeed, early in Amoris Pope Francis distances what he is doing from a contribution to the Magisterium, writing (section 3):

Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.

Commemorantes tempus superius esse quam spatium, confirmare volumus non cunctas doctrinales, morales vel pastorales disputationes per magisterii declarationes esse absolvendas.

So it states says that not only these questions are now not addressed with a magisterial kind of statement on the doctrinal level, but also on the moral and pastoral level. It is clear, then, that we have here, properly speaking, no new magisterium, neither doctrinal nor pastoral. It follows, then, that we must go on giving our full assent and support, in these matters, to the really existing Magisterium, settled by the previous Popes, and contrast any kind of opposition to it, whether it comes from theologians or from the Pope himself as a private doctor. It is not enough to say that his opinions are formally contained in a document of the magisterium, when the document itself states explicitly that it is renouncing to make magisterial statements both on a doctrinal and pastoral level.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Something profoundly worrying about criticisms of the signatories of the Correction specifically for speaking out about problems which every informed Catholic already knows about, is the mindset it reveals, one focused not on the truth, but on appearances. It is strongly reminiscent of the mindset at work in abusive families, where children are taught to pretend things are all right, when they are not: certain topics are not to be broached, certain facts are not to be referred to. This attitude can be enforced not by the abusive parent directly, but by other family members who are trying to keep up appearances and hold the family together. It is nevertheless profoundly unhealthy, and indeed is linked to psychological disorders in the children.

We should fear any such attitude, however well-intentioned, invading the Church. If there are problems, we should talk about them, and not pretend they do not exist.