November 6, 2017 (LMS Chairman) — Hard on the heels of the distinguished theologian Fr Thomas Weinandy publishing a letter to Pope Francis strongly criticising his government of the Church, Dr. Gregory Popcak has published a remarkable article on the Patheos site, calling for critics of those who say they are 'confused' by Amoris laetitia Ch 8 need to 'repent' of grossly patronising clericalism.
Not all readers may understand the significance of this, so allow me to fill in the background.
Dr Popcak, as he explains in the article, is not only a 'pastoral counsellor', but is head of a major centre of pastoral counselling, and trains pastoral counsellors. The Church in the United States has the resources (and of course the needs) to maintain an entire industry of pastoral counselling. Maybe I'm too English, or too traditional (I'd rather talk to a priest), but this kind of thing isn't really my kind of thing. But that's just the point. This industry of pastoral counselling going on over the pond has got absolutely nothing to do with an interest in the Traditional Mass, which some people are now trying to suggest is the common factor in opposition to liberal interpretations of Amoris laetitia. Well, they couldn't be more wrong. This guy is from the centre of the 'conservative', Pope St John Paul II-focused, mainstream, establishment Catholic world, and the Patheos platform, which has hosted a good many attacks on traditional Catholics over the years, is this world's in-house magazine.
Charles Collins, writing in Crux, wanted to play down the significance of the Filial Correction, observing (with some justice) that its language and signatories lean towards the traditionalist end of the spectrum of opinion. He continues:
Instead of presenting a unified front to the pope, the filial correction has highlighted the differences among conservatives in the Church under Francis.
Not just between the Weinandys and the Shaws, but also the numerous conservative Catholics who are confident Amoris Laetitia should be read in a way that doesn’t change the Church’s practice on sexual ethics and position on communion for the divorce-and-remarried.
But this is where he is wrong. The purpose of the Filial Correction wasn't to garner support for the Filial Correction. The purpose was to raise the level of debate about Amoris laetitia and to encourage those with misgivings about the liberal interpretation of Amoris to come forward. In this it has been staggeringly successful. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the 'Overton Window' of criticisms of the policies and (apparent) personal attitudes of a reigning Pope seems to me to have shifted more in a couple of months than it had in the previous century and a half. Whereas on the eve of the publication of the Correction I was wondering if the signatories would be able to show their faces in public afterwards, I now find myself in the company of a roll-call of distinguished figures. Something important has changed.
The number of academic theologians (and philosophers etc.) who'll sign up to any 25-page theological commentary on any subject is limited, because academics spend their lives using their own words to express their own nuanced positions and teasing open differences of opinion. But the differences between those who signed the Correction and those who've put their reputations on the line to criticise the liberal interpretation of Amoris, using their own words, is hardly a source of comfort for the proponents of that interpretation, because it demonstrates precisely the breadth of the coalition ranged against them.
I have explained before on this blog that it is far easier to assemble a coalition against something than for something, and this explains why progressives often appear more united than conservatives. Well, in this case the boot is on the other foot. The progressives are trying to defend something, admittedly something rather unclear, and the criticisms of it are coming from a wider and wider range of places. Listen to Dr Popcak. He writes with a calm fury:
Deacon Bill, I have no doubt you are a good and faithful man. I am also quite sure you mean well, but I call you to repent of the incipient clericalism that infects your position that the only possible explanation for asking Pope Francis for clarification of chapter 8 of AL is childish obstinacy. I challenge you, and others like you, to repent of the idea that the voices of the thousands of people gracefully striving to live the gospel in their difficult marital circumstances should be discounted. I challenge you to respond with a more authentic approach to both pastoral ministry and evangelization; namely, one that listens to the lived experience of those who are faithfully striving to live the teachings of the Church instead of one that patronizes the laity with the soft clericalism of low expectations.
Why is this happening? People like Fr Weinandy and Dr Popcak have built careers, reputations, even livelihoods, on a positive relationship with the ecclesiastical establishment. For the past 150 years people in that position have not openly criticised the Pope. Now they are. What has brought about this change?
The progressives have no idea what forces they have unleashed. What they have done is pushed these good people into a corner. They have reached their non-negotiable principles. To give up on the indissolubility of marriage, the consequences of mortal sin on the life of grace, and all the other things now being thrown into the air by progressives would be worse than losing their careers, reputations, and livelihoods. This reality can be expressed either in terms of human psychology, or in terms of supernatural Faith, but whether you prefer to think of it as being about their entire self-understanding as Catholics, or what their Faith just will not allow them to do, they have reached the end of the rope.
And you know what? There are lots more people like that out there. Not as many as would be nice, to be sure: there are many time-servers in the Church, and it was ever thus. But there are lots of good people, whose intelligence and integrity will not allow them to – as they see it – acquiesce in apostasy. And this, my friends, may be what the indefectability of the Church looks like in the 21st century.
This is going to run and run.
Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from Joseph Shaw. View original here.