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 Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization

VATICAN CITY, August 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Those who criticize the teaching of Pope Francis on the basis of former magisterial documents are not faithful to the tradition of the Catholic Church, a high-ranking Vatican official has said. 

In an interview with Vatican News, to mark the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of Veritatis Splendor Pope John Paul II’s 1993 landmark encyclical on certain fundamentals of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching — Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, said “there is no foothold for challenging the magisterium of Pope Francis in the light of the previous magisterium.”

Asked about “sectors of the Church” who criticize Pope Francis for “depart[ing] from Catholic doctrine” — and who often point to Veritatis Splendor as the basis for their criticism — Fisichella said he believes “one should never use the magisterium as an instrument to dispute the development of doctrine.”

“When it is used as an instrument, then I fear there is no desire to discover the truth, and also no fidelity to the tradition of the Church,” he added, asserting that “instead, we must reiterate how much continuity there is in the development.” 

The Italian archbishop also said he believes it is important “to read carefully all of Pope Francis’ teaching and not just some of his interviews. A mosaic is revealed by the whole set of tiles, not just one tile,” he said, adding that the “mosaic” of the current pontificate displays “a great openness” in the work of Evangelization, of not “putting the norm before proclamation.”

Archbishop Fisichella is perhaps best known to pro-life advocates for an article he wrote for L’Osservatore Romano in 2009 criticizing a local bishop and seeming to support the actions of Brazilian abortionists who aborted the twins of a sexually abused girl. Pope Benedict XVI removed Fisichella as the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life after the article appeared in the Vatican newspaper.  

In this week’s interview, Fisichella says the three “great elements” of Pope Francis’ pontificate are “the encounter with the person of Jesus, the constant proclamation the Church must announce, and that pastors are called to go out to meet everyone.”

“This is the idea of the Church ‘going forth’ and therefore also the ability — as Evangelii Gaudium notes – to accompany our contemporaries, to walk alongside them in order to understand them, to really understand their needs and at times even, perhaps, to take a step backwards. This dimension emerges together with the need for mercy. The Jubilee of Mercy was the concrete sign of how Pope Francis has identified and guided his Pontificate,” he explained.

Archbishop Fisichella said that Veritatis Splendor (promulgated by Pope John Paul II on August 6, 1993) was released in a “cultural context marked by secularism and, consequently, by a strong philosophical relativism.” Within this context, he said, the encyclical, presents “the fundamental points which remain as references for Christian doctrine.”

When we speak of truth, he said, we have to always keep in mind a “dynamic” concept. “Truth is not a fixist dimension,” he added, applying a biological evolutionary model to theological truth. 

Fixism is the non-scientific theory that the species alive today are identical to those of the past and that evolution does not happen.

“For Christians, truth is first and foremost that living World that the Lord has left us. Let us not forget that Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ Therefore, the dimension of truth opens to personal encounter: it is the truth of the Gospel, the truth represented by the person of Jesus Christ,” he said.

The truth, he explained, “is the entire content that Jesus wanted to transmit to his disciples and that comes to us through the Apostles. It is a truth that opens more and more to a discovery of the mystery that has been revealed. There are some fundamental points that remain as in the dogmatic and moral teaching of the Church. These are elements that remain in their immutability,” Fisichella said. 

“Obviously, all of this requires on the part of theologians — as the encyclical Vertiatis Splendor maintains — a great work of interpretation. The unchanging norm is based on the truth of the Gospel.”

Fisichella also insisted that the Catholic Church cannot accept an idea of truth which is “closed in” on itself. “The truth, by its very nature, refers to fidelity but also to freedom. ‘The truth shall make you free.’”

“A truth that opens up more and more is a truth that makes every believer, every man, discover a deeper freedom. This, however, also requires fidelity. The link between fidelity and truth is a typical link of the biblical conception of truth.”

In comments to LifeSiteNews, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski — a Thomist scholar who openly criticized Pope Francis’ change in the Catechism’s treatment of capital punishment as contradicting both the natural law and the deposit of faith and who argued that the change is not a mere prudential judgment but a matter of principle — offered this response to Archbishop Fisichella’s remarks: 

All of the proponents of the revolution in moral doctrine always invoke a specious and vague concept of ‘development of doctrine.’ It has become a mantra by which any position can be defended, so long as it bears some element of remote resemblance, without the need for argumentation or the actual preservation of substance. Remember, the rule given for development is that any new insight must totally respect the truths already attained, in their very specificity. So there could be a new insight into Christology, but not such that Jesus Christ ceased to be confessed as true God and true man. Similarly, in the field of morals, there are many new insights into marriage, but none that would ever justify its dissolution, or the use of contraception, or communion for adulterers; and it is no less true with regard to the death penalty, which, however often or rarely it should be used, is contained within the very power of the state as God’s representative in the governance of human affairs.

Unpacking the August 6 Fisichella interview, point by point, Dr. Kwasniewski said: 

Characteristically, Fisichella hides in vagueness: “we must reiterate how much continuity there is in the development.” Translated from Vaticanese, this means: “we must keep repeating, till we’re blue in the face, that the rabbit we pulled out of the hat is the same as the frog we put in.” Using code language, he speaks of putting “proclamation” before “the norm,” which means, there are no absolute norms that govern proclamation and pastoral accompaniment. 

Then, in a move familiar from Walter Kasper’s theology of revelation, Truth is a “dynamic concept, not a fixist dimension, a ‘living’ word,” i.e., not capable of being propositionally expressed once and for all (as in the Church’s de fide statements and judgments). In this way, rather than having a fixed point of reference for Christian life and thought, which in Fisichella’s way of thinking would be “closed in on itself,” we have a “truth that opens up more and more.” 

Whatever this means, it apparently means that we have to be prepared “to take a step backwards,” i.e., renounce the traditional moral teaching of the Church for the sake of “accompany[ing] our contemporaries.” This, again in code language, is what he means by “a great work of interpretation,” which here translates to a clever work of deconstruction, utilizing points in John Paul II’s encyclical as “references,” but not as indisputable givens.

Kwasniewski summed up Fisichella’s comments, saying: “The cumulative effect of Fisichella’s Orwellian twists and turns is that we can chuck out whatever in Veritatis Splendor (or Humanae Vitae or Familiaris Consortio, etc.) no longer seems to fit with the needs of modern Western people as seen by Pope Francis.”


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