Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fr. Perrone: can Pope Francis change immutable truths?

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, March 26, 2017):
The greatest intellectual deception is to subvert the natural gravitation of the mind towards truth to admit falsehood. There are many ways to swindle people's thinking -- and -- with their consent. Bad philosophy is replete with errors of such kind. That's the "high end" of this strange but not uncommon phenomenon. The willful succumbing to untruth is more ubiquitous in the area of morals. Many want to believe that what is not true would be true. A sinner may wish to justify himself in his own eyes, to convince himself that he acts well, that his conscience is giving him leave to commit his sins.

Pope Francis has raised quite a ruckus in the Church with his proposals that some couples in invalid marriages (or even in none at all, as cohabitors) be permitted while in such states to receive the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion. I have refrained from writing on this because the matter is such an embarrassment. I decided however to reverse this blithe turning aside from the subject simply because the issue is, regrettably, public news, and because there is as yet no official resolution to the dilemmas it poses for the Church or for the minds and manners of of our people. So here come I, foolish and consciously incompetent, who dare to make commentary. I do so only for the care I have for what I believe to be troubled minds beset by confusion and for concern that scandal may lead you to sin.

All the years of my rational life I have believed that truth is immutable, unchangeable. As a Christian I have believed that the word of God contained in the Church's teaching authority and in the Holy Scriptures contains that truth so that it can be known and accepted by mankind. Moreover, I find therein such phrases: "thou shalt not commit adultery"; "whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery"; "what partnership have righteousness and iniquity?" "neither the immoral nor adulterers will inherit the kingdom of God"; "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord." Those words (others might be brought forth as well) are to me crystal clear. When however I hear the Pope's suggestions I am put into confusion. It's not only that what is proffered there is in conflict with what I read in the scriptures and the magisterium but that the same issues from a pope. Do we Catholics not believe that, besides being infallible in matters of faith and morals when he teaches in a solemn and public manner, the pope may also be infallible in his ordinary teaching under certain conditions (such being the doctrine enunciated by Pope Pius XII)? Even more, is not every Catholic obliged to show deference to papal teaching even in non-infallible matters since he is the Church's universal teacher and guardian of the deposit of faith which Christ bequeathed to the Church through His apostles? Can the pope be in error not merely as a private individual but in his public teaching. I am conflicted. Perhaps you are as well.

Self doubt ensues. Have I been wrong all my life to believe that what was taught me as truth and what my reason readily asserts to as being truth has been wrong all along? Or, perhaps was it right in the time past but that God now, without changing truth, is accommodating Himself to these evil times -- lowering the bar, so to speak -- to allow a more generous salvation for unrepentant sinners? Further, would this new leniency, if it be admitted, not dispense from moral laws more widely, permitting transgressors full access to the Communion? I'm thinking of murderers, abortionists, torturers, sodomites, self-abusers, prostitutes and pornographers among others who could Confess without an intention of amendment, be absolved, and Communicate? Can there in fact be any limits to a newfound exemption from the moral law? Will then all be saved, without moral obligations, even against their wills?

Such are my thoughts until I'm reminded of a wily voice once heard in the garden. "Did God really say not to eat of the forbidden fruit?" No. I can't submit the judgment of conscience in what is certainly the truth to anything contrary to it no matter who may propose it. Of course, I can be in error on many things, and if I do err, either in principles or in the logic of my thought, I need to be corrected for the amendment of my life and for the salvation of my soul. Yet, if I'm right ...

Kindly understand. I do not think I'm the Pope's judge. God is. The change in pastoral practice being suggested by Pope Francis and others needs to be worked out in the great areana of theological debate by those competent by dint of their position in the Church and their erudition. It's unfortunate, in my view, that these matters were made public and not brought to resolution behind closed doors. Since the media have spared neither you nor me the anguish of airing (and erring) of them we must wait patiently for the truth to surface. In the meantime, I write to you out of care for this little flock entrusted to me to remind you of the inflexibility of God's word -- of the word of Him who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

My parting word. Love the Pope and pray for him. Even if he be in error (as once was the first pope Saint Peter when he made pretense in refusing to take meals with Gentiles) Pope Francis is yet the holy father, the lawfully elected head of the Church. He intends good, not evil. We owe him respect. Pray also for the good of the Church and the triumph of the truth. Our Lord promised to be with us all days, even unto the consummation of the world.

Fr. Perrone

P.S. Laetare Sunday reminds us to be joyful, even in the midst of Lent.

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