Thursday, October 23, 2014


Sainthood is based on the personal holiness of the candidate and not on a list of accomplishments. So on the basis of personal holiness, Paul VI may most certainly qualify. 

However, in their rather hobbling attempt to counter the sexual revolution 40 years after the fact, the neo-conservatives in the Catholic Church have already lionized (if not canonized) Paul VI, solely for his penning Humanae Vitae, which they like to enthrone as prophetic.

Humanae Vitae, as most know, is the 1968 encyclical in which Paul VI reaffirmed the Church's traditional ban on contraception. The encyclical, almost immediately, effected the exact opposite of its intent, and it is believed today that almost all Catholics use or have used contraception.

There has been much blame to go around: the culture, the time (1960's), the advent of the sexual revolution, the population explosion (myth), post Vatican II confusion, progressive clergy, and Catholics themselves. However, there are three reasons why Humanae Vitae backfired that can be laid at the feet of Paul VI himself.

1. The expansion of the birth control commission. Paul VI's predecessor, John XXIII, had established a six person commission to study questions related to population and birth control, particularly in light of the recent advent of "the pill". John XXIII had removed the question of birth control from the Council (Vatican II) and had reserved it to himself. Pope John had originally envisaged a very short Council. "Over by Christmas" he had said after opening the Council in October of 1962.

So originally the study was meant to be small, short, and essentially under the radar. However, the Council mushroomed into something John had not planned; and rather than the three short months John had thought it to be, it labored on for three long years during which John died.

And then Paul VI made what we now know to be a fatal move: he expanded the commission from 6 to 72 members.

The surprising expansion of the commission juxtaposed with the ever more revolutionary tone of the Council immediately led many to believe that a change in the church's ban on contraception was about to be lifted, and teachers and pastors around the world began anticipating that change in their lectures, sermons, counseling, and especially in the confessional.

This episode in Church history is important to review in light of the recent synod wherein similarly weighty sexual issues were discussed. Ultimately, as Paul VI was to show us in Humanae Vitae, the Church's fundamental moral teaching cannot be changed even by a pope.

However, the very perception that it could be changed proved to be all that was needed for most people to believe that it was. 

The same is true for the current synod. Like Paul VI, Francis wants to study the issues and encourage discussion. But publicly encouraging the discussion also publicly encourages the idea that fundamental moral teaching can be changed. And while it cannot be changed, actual practice can.

And so it did and so it will. Like Paul VI discovered after writing Humanae Vitae, Francis will discover that the horse has already left the barn through the door that HE left open. 

With the expansion of the commission, the actual business of Vatican II took a back seat to an ever more breathless anticipation of an announcement from the pope declaring the ban on contraception lifted. 

2. 1964 address to the papal commission on birth control. In the midst of this, Paul VI made his second seriously bad move. And it is quite interesting that most of his champions have no clue that he actually said this:
"We say frankly that so far we do not have sufficient reason to consider the norms given by Pope Pius XII on this matter [of contraception] as out of date and therefore as not binding. They must be considered as valid, at least until We feel obliged in conscience to change them." - Paul VI Acta apostolicae sedis (AAS) 56 (1964) 588-59, 1964 address to the special papal commission on the use of contraceptives.
This was huge. There it was: the word "until" - "until We feel obliged in conscience to change them."

Paul VI had just stated that the Church's "norms" on contraception could be changed if "We (meaning the Magisterium) feel obliged to change them." Even using the word "norms" gives the impression that the ban on contraception was just a disciplinary norm and not an unchangeable doctrine. 

The average person didn't hear this. But the people paying attention, most of whom were aching to hear this in the first place, went nuts. More importantly - or tragically - Paul VI was speaking to the members of the commission and the pope's words (particularly his magisterial use of the first person plural "WE") gave them blanket permission to vote for a change: and vote for a change they did, voting 65 to 7 in favor of lifting the ban on contraception.

This left Paul VI in a thick stew of his own making. His expansion of the commission and his own words to the commission had produced exactly what the world was waiting for. However, what "the world was waiting for" was also exactly what the pope knew he could not give. So why did he suggest that he could give it?

Again, this is important to review in light of Francis and the recent synod.

Both popes may have simply wanted to appear that they were sympathetic, anticipating that in the end they could rely on the hardliners to speak up and the decision not to permit the change could be laid at their feet and not their (the popes) own, which would allow them (Paul and Francis) to still be loved and seen as at least sympathetic. 

That's a great strategy for a politician but not for a pope, and in Paul VI's case, it monstrously backfired. He now had to say NO and not only NO but NO in the face of an overwhelming decision by a commission he had expanded and encouraged.

3.  The argument from "complete agreement". And now here is where Paul VI really goes off the rails. And it is amazing that so many of those ready to canonize him on the basis of Humanae Vitae being "prophetic", MISS THIS. The pope appears to still believe he can blame someone else and he opens the encyclical actually doing just that (emphases added):

In paragraph 6, the pope writes:
"...the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain...because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed."
The full quote is filled in with papal-type qualifiers, but the essence of this statement is this:

The conclusion of the commission cannot be considered definitive because the commission's decision was not unanimous ("complete agreement"). 

This is staggering. First of all the commission's decision (65 -7), especially given the moral weight of the topic, could effectively be considered to indeed be unanimous; and second, the pope essentially says that Church moral teaching is up to a vote, it just needs to be "unanimous."

It doesn't matter what Paul VI says next, and he has been proved to be right about everything else he wrote.

What matters is what he said first. 

And since he said it was up to a vote, some, if not most Catholics, were led to believe that Humanae Vitae was not authoritative, that it was just a papal opinion, and, in fact, the teaching will change someday, we just need more votes

Sunday, April 27, 2014


There are 4 steps involved in the canonization of a saint. Note the words "canonization of a saint". "Canonize" means to regularize or order. The person in question is already a saint. The Church simply officially recognizes this fact allowing the person to be publicly venerated as a saint.

The 4 steps are:
1. The Vatican issues a Nihil Obstat (nothing hinders)
2. It is proved that the candidate lived "heroic virtues"
3. The first miracle
4. The second miracle
For more detail go here.

I personally believe that both John 23 and JP2 were saintly men and are in heaven and have no problem with their canonizations. However, I can see why there is a problem.

The canonization of both popes at the same time has the appearance of being about something other than the saintliness of these men. It has the appearance of being a statement, but a statement about what?

The short answer is that it is an attempt to shore up the dyke around Vatican II, a dyke that has been hemorrhaging Catholics since before it even ended.

Quite apart from the question of whether this was a Spirit-led Council is the glaring empirical fact the much expected "springtime" has not only never arrived, it has been "always winter and never Christmas", to steal a phrase from C.S. Lewis.

But now to the popes and specifically Item No. 2: heroic virtue.

In the case of John XXIII, we have a man who was pope for a very short period of time 1958 to 1963. Aside from being much loved there is little to point to in the way of "heroic virtue" (emphasis on "heroic"). In fact, though he was mostly thought of as a loving pastor, he in fact never was a pastor, spending all his days, prior to his elevation to the papacy, as a Vatican bureaucrat.

Pretty much, outside of being a nice guy, his credits amount to his calling the Second Vatican Council. I suppose that could be seen as heroic, however all his plans for the Council (the schema), as promulgated at the Roman Synod of 1960, were thrown out by the bishops on the very first day of the Council. And then he died. The end.

JP2 occupied the Chair of Peter for nearly a quarter of a century and a case for his heroic virtues, particularly in his last years, can certainly be argued. However, there are some who believe that in his waning years, he was taken advantage of and the Church began to fall into disarray, a disarray that the already old Benedict inherited, and eight years later admitted he couldn't handle. This caused some to believe that the "heroic" thing to do for JP2 would have been to step aside as Benedict did. But he didn't.

JP2 is credited with the aiding the collapse of Communism and the U.S.S.R. However, in the wake of that collapse the world quickly became a much more dangerous place and ancient tribal hatreds (particularly in the Balkans), held in check by the iron fist of Moscow, were soon let loose and morphed into genocidal campaigns and the worldwide unrest we are even seeing more of today.

I admire both men, and even named my store after John Paul II, calling it John Paul the Great Bookstore. And I am sure both are saints. However, while I do not question their canonizations, I, like many others, question the reason.


A man in Argentina receives a phone call from someone identifying himself as Father Begoglio.

The caller asks to speak with the man's wife.

The call is reportedly in response to the woman's letter to the pope, 6 months earlier, complaining that her parish priest had told her that because she was divorced and remarried, she was sinning by taking communion.

The caller tells her that she is not sinning.

The wife tells her husband of the news. The husband posts the news on Facebook. The "press" reads the man's Facebook page. The story reaches the Italian publication La Stampa. The story is re-reported by the British publication the Telegraph and then out to all the world. 

The story is coincidentally timed with a synod that will soon be discussing the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics. 

So at the root of this, we have nothing more than a posting on a Facebook page by a guy in Argentina.

(The above details recorded here.)

However, HERE'S THE REAL PROBLEM. When the Vatican was approached about the story by the Telegraph, the Vatican spokesman said: "We would neither confirm nor deny that - this was a private telephone call made by the Holy Father and we would not divulge the details." 

And as Fr. Z says in his blog: "Sheesh! ….at least uphold Catholic teaching."

Of course this mad confusion will be blamed on the press. But the press attempted to get the story straight. And the Vatican essentially told them it was none of their business. 

But now let's look at the variables. Here is where the pope would be correct in his advice:
1. The woman's first husband is dead.
2. The woman's first husband was not a baptized Christian.
3. The woman's second husband was not a baptized Christian at the time they were married.
4. None of the above but the woman and her current husband are "living as brother and sister." 
5. There are a multitude of other factors including the complex problems with obtaining an annulment which might necessitate a particular pastoral solution.

However, the larger problem - as this is just one of several now that have cropped up since Francis is in the driver's seat - is captured in an interview with Cardinal Meisner who said:
“At my last meeting with Pope Francis, I had the opportunity to talk very open to him about a lot of things. And I told him that some questions remain unanswered in his style of spreading the gospel through interviews and short speeches, questions which need some extended explanation for people who are not so involved. The pope looked at me “with big eyes” and asked me to give an example. And my response was : During the flight back from Rio you were asked about people who divorced and remarried. And the pope responded frankly: People who are divorced can receive communion, people who are remarried can’t. In the orthodox church you can marry twice. And then he talked about mercy, which, according to my view, is seen in this country only as a surrogate for all human faults. And the pope responded quite bluntly that he’s a son of the church, and he doesn’t proclaim anything else than the teachings of the church. And mercy has to be identical with truth – if not, she doesn’t deserve that name. Furthermore, when there are open theological questions, it’s up to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to give detailed responses“.
To this, Fr. Z responds: "From this we can perhaps glean that Pope Francis may not be entirely aware of the havoc (¿lío?) that some of his home-spun, off-the-cuff comments in the mainstream media have caused."
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