Today, as I write this, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. At the Mass I attended today, it would seem the presiding priest did not want to celebrate this feast day. He wore green, when he should have worn white, he did not say the Gloria, he did not say any of the prayers or the Preface assigned to this Feast Day. His homily was about all of us proclaiming Christ as Peter did, and nothing about giving the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter.
I asked the priest about his actions after Mass, and he kind of gave me a go around with no real answer. I wonder how many other Catholics reject this day. It seems a sizeable number of Catholics today refuse to accept the meaning of this feast day in which we celebrate the fact that Christ chose St. Peter and his successors to sit in His place as the earthly leader of the Church, embodied in that famous pronouncement, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).
I found it particularly interesting that bigpulpit.com, which compiles daily "Catholic" articles and blogposts from across the Internet, chose the Feast Day of the Chair of St. Peter to link to an article by E. Christian Brugger entitled, "The Catholic Church in De Facto Schism: What’s to Be Done?"
Really? Holy Mother Church is in schism? In the Mass readings for today, Jesus tells us that " the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [My Church]." That would seem to say that while individuals within the Church can certainly go off the rails, Holy Mother Church herself can never be separated from Jesus Christ. Ergo, the Church founded by Jesus Christ cannot be divided or in "schism." The teachings of the Catholic Church are infallible, and the teachings of St. Peter and his successors are bound in heaven and earth. According to the words of Jesus Christ, if you are not in conformity with the Church, you are the one who is in schism, not the Church.
Before I get into the merits of Dr. Brugger's article, I must point out his amazing CV. He is a convert to Catholicism, He has an M.A. in moral theology from Seton Hall, a Masters in moral theology from Harvard Divinity School, a Masters in Christian Ethics from Oxford, and a D.Phil. from St. Hugh’ s College, Oxford. He most certainly is a a very highly educated individual. He has taught at Loyola University in New Orleans, a Catholic graduate school in Virginia, and other schools, including a seminary. He is a published author. He is married with several children.
But, unfortunately, his brilliant background does not keep him from going off the rails. And he has really gone off the rails in his article about schism in the Catholic Church.
Dr. Brugger starts his article by stating: "Knowing that the episcopate is divided on de fide doctrines of morality, Pope Francis needs to lead his brother bishops to face frankly this crisis in the Church and to resolve firmly to overcome it." The problem with this statement is that it assumes that the bishops who are separating themselves from the Pope have legitimate complaints and that the Holy Father is the cause of this separation because he has not explained his position.
As the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter teaches us, the Holy Father always has the final say. It is his words that are binding in heaven and on earth, not the words of the bishops. A Pope can be a great sinner and maybe even lose his own salvation, but he cannot mislead the Church and teach heresy. Bishops can and far too often are wrong, as witnessed in the time of King Henry VIII, when all but one bishop in England separated from Rome. It is the bishops who must be in conformity with the Holy Father, not the other way around.
But, so many now argue, Jesus Christ was wrong(!!). Yes, it's true, these Catholics admit, that in our 2000 year history, no Pope, no matter how great a sinner, has ever taught heresy. But these Catholics add two words to that statement which makes a liar out of Jesus Christ - "until now." And among those adding that caveat is Dr. Brugger.
Dr. Brugger is, of course, talking about the division caused by those who reject Amoris Laetitia:
Why is there confusion in the Catholic Church over Amoris Laetitia, and what consequences does it have for Church unity? I argue here that the confusion is ultimately over two de fide dogmas of Christian faith and that one consequence of the confusion is de facto schism within the Catholic Church.Dr. Brugger defines "de fide" as "a truth that pertains to Divine Revelation." These are truths necessary for salvation, and are infallible. I would add, these truths are the deposit of faith. Catholics can reject the teachings of the saints, they can reject even Church-approved apparitions, but Catholics cannot reject the deposit of faith which comes to us from Jesus Christ.
Dr. Brugger writes about the infallibility of Church teaching as follows:
The documents of the Second Vatican Council teach that Jesus willed the Catholic Church’s infallible authority in defending and teaching the truths of divine revelation (also known as the “deposit of faith”) to extend not only to formally revealed truths, but also to truths necessarily connected to the truths of divine revelation, even if they have never been proposed as formally revealed. These can be taught infallibly because they are necessary for religiously guarding and faithfully expounding the truths of divine revelation (Lumen Gentium, no. 25). These are sometimes referred to as “secondary objects” of infallibility, in contrast to “primary objects,” which refers to formally revealed truths.Notice how Dr. Brugger de-personalizes "Catholic Church's infallible authority." He alludes to this authority as a kind of "thing" out there somewhere. But as the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter teaches us, that "infallible authority" can be traced to a definite person on earth - the Holy Father. It is he, in conjunction with the bishops, who form the Magesterium to give us the infallible teaching, as stated in the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, referred to by Dr, Brugger. Paragraph 18:
This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father;(136) and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion.(1*) And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ,(2*) the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.Dr. Brugger makes no mention of this passage at all, a passage which clearly shows that no bishop has any authority apart from the Holy Father. All bishops must be joined with the "successor of Peter" in order to govern the Church. Apart from the Holy Father, bishops have no more authority than any other lay person in the Church. Paragraph 22:
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*)Nowhere in his article does Dr. Brugger acknowledge that apart from the Holy Father, the bishops have no authority. This grave and most serious omission destroys any credibility that Dr. Brugger might have in his arguments.
Dr. Brugger identifies the cause of the current "schism" in the Church as follows:
There is confusion in the Catholic Church over Amoris Laetitia because some bishops are saying—and prescribing as policy in their dioceses—that remarried divorcees, under certain circumstances, may return to Holy Communion without resolving to live in perfect continence with their partners. Other bishops, in continuity with Catholic tradition, hold that this is not and cannot be legitimate.With this statement, Dr. Brugger is strongly implying that Pope Francis is teaching doctrine that is not "in continuity with Catholic tradition." That, of course, is what certain bishops and others are saying as well. But as I showed in my post about the Argentine bishops, this is most definitely not the case. Pope Francis nowhere denies the validity and indissolubility of marriage. But for those who have actually read Amoris Laetitia with an open mind, actually looking to learn from the Pope and not just oppose him, it is quite clear the Pope is looking for a merciful and compassionate way to bring back those people who have separated themselves from the Church through divorce and remarriage, which is exactly what Jesus Christ would do.
But Dr. Brugger, and those who share his views, see not sinners in need of mercy and forgiveness, as Pope Francis does, but sinners in need of condemnation. Dr. Brugger does not see mercy as tradition, but only judgment:
Although Cardinal Kasper, and other episcopal defenders of granting permission to civilly remarried divorcees to receive Holy Eucharist, affirm the wrongfulness of adultery and the indissolubility of marriage, their affirmations would seem to be incompatible with the permission they defend. For no one in manifest unrepentant objective serious wrongdoing can be freed to receive the Holy Eucharist, not by a priest or bishop or anyone, since their “state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” (Familiaris Consortio). They must therefore not be doing anything objectively wrong. But this can only be the case if adultery is sometimes licit, or marriage is not indissoluble.As Dr. Brugger admits, those who defend the Pope's position do "affirm the wrongfulness of adultery and the indissolubility of marriage", just as Christ affirmed the wrongfulness of the act of adultery committed by the woman brought before Him for stoning. But instead of condemning her to death, Christ forgave her. Yes, of course, He told her to "sin no more." But "sinning no more" almost always is a process, it doesn't just happen all at once. That is why we have the sacrament of confession. And Pope Francis looks at those caught in the sin of divorce and remarriage and says, let us walk with you and help you out out of this sin. Dr. Brugger says, stop sinning right now or go to hell. And with that, Dr. Brugger just walks away, leaving the sinner on his own.
Which is the way of our Merciful God?
Dr. Brugger gives us his solution to this "confusion" in the Church, and of course the onus is entirely on Pope Francis. Dr. Brugger doesn't believe that the bishops have any responsibility at all in this "confusion":
What should the Holy Father do? He should begin by directing Cardinal Müller of the CDF to reply to the five dubia submitted by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffara, and Meisner. This would help to clarify some of the harmful confusions raised by chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia. Then he should teach clearly and authoritatively what is true on matters of sexual morality that have been thrown into doubt and confusion since the beginning of his pontificate. He should teach that each and every consummated Christian marriage is absolutely indissoluble; every form of freely chosen non-marital sexual behavior is always wrong, especially adultery, but also homosexual acts, contraceptive acts, masturbation, and fornication; sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s valid spouse is always adulterous; one who is bound by a valid marriage bond, who lives with a different person more uxorio (in a marital way), is in an object state of adultery; and such a one must refrain from Holy Communion unless and until he confesses with contrition his wrongful actions and resolves to live chastely.Dr. Brugger is adamantly against showing mercy and compassion to the divorce and remarried, but he is all for allowing dissent and rebellion against the Holy See:
As both a father to his sons and a brother among brothers, Pope Francis should admonish all to set aside petty and unchristian posturing, all vice and proud ignorance, and every expression of party spirit, to repent of the divisions that they themselves should long ago have addressed, and to commit themselves to the common goal of episcopal unity. He should allow—and not merely say he allows—his brother bishops to speak freely on matters of disagreement without fear of reprisal. He should use his exceptional Argentinian warmth to persuade his brothers to want unity in the episcopate; to urge them to talk to each other freely and forthrightly; and to facilitate consensus on whatever agreements need to be reached. The unity toward which he strives and on which he insists should extend no further than matters pertaining to the deposit of faith, insisting that the Church tolerates diversity on everything else, and being the first to model this to all of his brothers.This is actually a very strong rebuke of Pope Francis, saying that the Holy Father should be "the first to model this to all of his brothers." The truth is, that is exactly what Pope Francis is doing, and like the Pharisees in Jesus' time, too many of the bishop "brothers" of the Pope want no part of mercy and compassion shown towards sinners.
What is Dr. Brugger's advice for lay members? Is it to follow the lead of our Blessed Mother, who often did not understand everything that was happening in her life, but instead of rising up in rebellion, she "treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Mary, the most humble of any person on earth, never thought she knew it all. She knew God was in charge, and that He would work it all out. He would make everything clear in due time.
Does Dr. Brugger tell lay people that the Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ and answerable to the Holy Spirit? Does Dr. Brugger tell lay people that we see only a very small portion of any picture, and that not only our vision but our knowledge and understanding is very limited, and that if something doesn't seem clear, follow the lead of the Blessed Mother, and allow God to work it out in due time.
Well, that is a little of Dr. Brugger's advice, but he puts much more of an emphasis on figuring out on your own what is right and wrong and standing your ground against even Pope Francis, who, Dr. Brugger strongly implies, is a heretic:
What should lay Catholics do? They should form their consciences [notice: lay Catholics should form their own conscience, not allow the Church to form their conscience] in accord with the definitive moral truths taught by the Catholic Church, especially the norms of sexual ethics and teachings about marriage. They should see that every negative norm (“though shalt not”) that the Church defends is necessarily entailed by some positive good that that norm protects and promotes (e.g., we shouldn’t kill the innocent, because life is a great good). They need to see now more than ever that the teachings on the absolute indissolubility of marriage and the prohibition of adultery are not club rules, but moral truths entailed by the great goodness of Christian marriage. [This is a not very subtle dig that Pope Francis does not believe in the "indissolubility of marriage"] Jesus willed marriage to be a sacramentum (a divinely instituted sign or symbol) of his absolutely indissoluble love for his Church; thus consummated Christian marriage is absolutely indissoluble; divorce is not only wrong, it’s impossible: just as Jesus cannot be divorced from his Church, a man cannot be divorced from his valid wife. It follows that if he has sex with anyone else, for any reason, however socially acceptable, while his valid wife still lives, he’s an adulterer. Adultery can be forgiven, like every sin; but to be forgiven, it requires contrition and a firm resolve to avoid the sin. These are Christian moral truths; and they are de fidedoctrines of the Catholic Church. [Nowhere in any of this "advice" does Dr. Brugger even attempt to understand what Pope Francis is actually trying to do. Instead, he condemns the actions of the Holy Father and urges others to join him without somehow damaging their faith in this condemnation of the Vicar of Christ]
Moreover, Catholics should not allow distress over the present situation to shake their faith in Jesus’s promise to preserve the Church from damnable error and to provide a trustworthy barque for the salvation of souls. They mustn’t succumb to Wycliffe, Luther, or Zwingli’s temptation to turn their frustrations with churchmen, however justified, against the Church of Christ herself. They should realize that the Church has suffered from without and within many times over the centuries, and compared to other periods in history—the fourth century Arian heresy, the fourteenth century Great Schism, the French Reign of Terror, the German Kulturkampf—her problems today are mild.This last paragraph makes it quite apparent that Dr. Brugger puts Pope Francis right up there with the greatest heretics of all time. But he tries to buoy our spirits by reminding us that the Church has survived great heretics in the past, and she can do so with Pope Francis.
Finally, Dr. Brugger tells us that the salvation of the Church lies in all "faithful Catholics" who think like him:
Every Catholic needs to be convinced that social and ecclesial renewal begins with him or with her. In history, renewal has almost never come from the top down, from the papacy and Rome, but rather from the bottom up. It has come from Christians firmly resolving to live by faith in Christ and endeavoring to know the power of his resurrection, sharing patiently in his sufferings so as to attain the resurrection from the dead that he promised.Dr. Brugger feels that the Catholic Church has actually been in schism since Humanae Vitae. It is absolutely true that many Catholics, including bishops and priests, rejected HV. But, of course, it was those who rejected HV who separated themselves from the Pope and by doing so, separated themselves from Holy Mother Church. The big difference now, according to Dr. Brugger and many who think like him, is that it is Pope Francis and all who support him who are separated from the Church. Somehow, if you follow Dr. Brugger's logic, the authority given to the Holy Father has shifted to the bishops.
There was great confusion when Christ walked the earth. Many thought he was trying to overthrow the religious authority of his time, and that he was in direct opposition to the laws of God. When He told his followers that they must eat his body and drink his blood, many walked away from him. By the time of his crucifixion, even the closest of his disciples fled and denied him, including our first Pope.
Andy why did people reject Jesus Christ? Because they leaned to their own understanding. Instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to form their conscience, instead of "pondering in their hearts" those things they did not understand, as the Blessed Mother did, they rose up and rejected everything that did not meet their expectations, and in doing so, they rejected the Son of God and their Savior.
And those who oppose and reject the Vicar of Christ are repeating that same sad story, rejecting Jesus Christ Himself.