mercoledì 21 dicembre 2016

“Mother and Teacher”

On August 16, 2016 the website Cooperatores Veritatis published, under the title “The Church has to offer to man the truth, which is Christ,” a large-scale interview of mine about the current events of the Church. An American priest (who wishes to remain anonymous), having found it interesting, decided to translate it, so that it might have a higher spread, not only among the increasingly numerous readers of this blog in his country, but also among other people in the rest of the world, who do not know Italian, but understand English, which has become by now the lingua franca of the present day. We warmly thank the anonymous translator for his hard work, and willingly share the interview with all our readers.

Reverend Father Giovanni, first of all, we want to thank you for granting us this interview. In recent years, especially with the three papal documents of Pope Francis, the question of the distinction between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” magisterium has returned to the fore with insistence. Not everyone, however, knows the difference. Can you explain, what is the difference? 

The distinction between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” magisterium may seem convenient and clear, but it does not accurately describe the complexity of the matter. I think these terms may be considered out-of-date and are therefore no longer to be used.

The reference points we have are the following:
— Vatican II, LumenGentium, n. 25;
Code of Canon Law, can. 750 (as amended by the motu proprio of John Paul II Ad tuendam fidem, 18 May 1998) and can. 752;
— The formula for the Profession of faith;
— Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fidei, 29 June 1998.

The content of these texts is not always linear and can therefore create some confusion. I will try to “take apart” the elements that constitute these texts, and then try to “reassemble” them in a more logical and orderly manner. First of all, I notice that the expression “extraordinary magisterium” is never used; therefore, I propose that we adopt a different distinction, between “infallible magisterium” and “authentic magisterium.”


The infallible magisterium can be considered from two points of view:

A) From the point of view of the manner of exercise, the infallible magisterium may be:

1. Solemn, when a doctrine is taught by a defining act (this would correspond to the “extraordinary” magisterium).

The solemn magisterium can be exercised by
a) the Pope teaching ex cathedra;
b) the College of Bishops gathered at an ecumenical council.

2. Ordinary and universal, when a doctrine is taught by a non-defining act.

B) With regard to the object, the infallible magisterium may propose:

1. doctrines to be believed as divinely revealed or de fide credenda (“dogmas”), which require an assent of theological faith (these are spoken of in can. 750 §1 and in the first paragraph of the concluding formula of the Profession of Faith—i.e., “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed”);

2. doctrines to be held in a definitive manner or de fide tenenda (“sententiae definitive tenendae”), which require a firm and definitive assent (these are dealt with can. 750 §2 and with the second paragraph of the concluding formula of the Profession of Faith—i.e., “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals”).


The “authentic” magisterium (to be understood in the sense of “authoritative”) is the ordinary non-infallible magisterium. It includes all those teachings presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Such teachings are, nonetheless, an authentic expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops, and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect. They are the subject of can. 752 and of the third paragraph of the concluding formula of the Profession of Faith—i.e., “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”

Normally papal documents belong to the authentic magisterium. They may, in some cases, become means of solemn infallible teaching (e.g., the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, with which Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption); but, in such cases, their solemn character is clear from the (defining) literary form adopted.

But, it is more complex to establish if an encyclical is an expression of the ordinary and universal magisterium (and therefore infallible), since this teaching is not expressed in a defining manner. One must be careful not to confuse adjectives “defining” (which refers to the act by which a doctrine is proposed) and “definitive” (which refers to the theological note of the teaching in itself): the ordinary and universal magisterium proposes doctrines to be held as definitive (and therefore infallible), but with a non-defining act (that is, without having recourse to a solemn “definition”). To give an example, everything leads us to believe that the teaching of Humanae vitae has definitive character (and therefore it is infallible); but, since the form of the encyclical is not-defining, there may be—as indeed there is—some who question this character (perhaps basing their assertion on can. 749 §3—i.e., “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated”).

Pope Francis, in an interview, said, “I am frequently giving statements and homilies, and this is magisterium. What is given in these is what I think, and not what the media say I think.” If therefore the “solemn” magisterium is always infallible, when is the “ordinary” magisterium not infallible?

I think a distinction is to be made between the munus docendi of the Church, which concerns all the faithful (and especially her “ministers”) and the ecclesiastical magisterium, whose only the Roman Pontiff and the College of Bishops are holders. This does not mean that every time the Pope opens his mouth he exercises his magisterial function. A homily is not a magisterial act. When the Pope gives a homily during the Mass, he exercises, like any other priest, the munus docendi of the Church, not the magisterial office of the Roman Pontiff. This applies, a fortiori, for statements, interviews, books, etc.; these are not magisterial acts. The exercise of the magisterial office has its own rules. In my opinion, up to the present, Pope Francis has exercised his magisterial office exclusively through the official documents issued by him (encyclicals and apostolic exhortations). Of course, in all these cases, he is exercising non-infallible ordinary magisterium (in recent years, if I am not mistaken, only John Paul II placed acts of infallible teaching). This does not mean that a magisterial act is necessarily to be put in writing: even a speech could be an act of the magisterium. Many radio messages of Pius XII certainly were. I personally think that even Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005 had magisterial character, without most people (both on the right and on the left) realizing it. It is sad that representatives of the world of tradition have had the objection that it was not enough for the Holy Father to declare the continuity of the teachings of Vatican II with the preceeding tradition, but that this was to be proved, as if Benedict XVI himself was expressing on that occasion just a personal theological opinion, when it was the Successor of Peter who was authoritatively showing to the Church the only legitimate way to interpret the Council. These are costly errors.

The resignation of Benedict XVI, although celebrated by many, has left a deep wound, and in addition, also many doubts and much worries. Recent statements of Msgr. Georg Gänswein—that you have already covered—have added to the confusion and bewilderment. Does the Church have the power to change the munus petrinum?

I’d say no. The Church has received from her Founder only the authority to maintain, deepen and defend the depositum. She has no authority to change it. It is true that one may speak, legitimately, of “the development of doctrine”; but this is possible only under the conditions indicated by St. Vincent of Lerins and endorsed by the Vatican Council I; and that is, provided that there really is a development and not  a change of faith: the understanding of dogma can grow, “but always remaining of the same kind, that is to say, keeping the same doctrine, the same sense and the same meaning” (sed in suo dumtaxat genere, in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu eademque sententia). It is unthinkable that the supreme pontificate, which by its nature has monarchic character, would become an expanded ministry, which is shared, or collegial. The collegial dimension of the supreme authority of the Church already exists, and consists of the college of bishops, which succeeds the apostolic college. But Christ willed that the apostolic college had a head, and he therefore conferred on Peter a primacy, which is then passed to his successors. The head of the episcopal college (primus, “the first”) can only be one, the Roman Pontiff. His office is absolutely individual and cannot be shared with others.

Let’s step back 52 years to that day in November 1964 when Pope Paul VI set aside his tiara, despite the contrary opinion of the Cardinals. Do not think that the “personalization” of the papacy began with this act of setting the tiara aside, and that now it is more important who is the individual person sitting on the Chair of Peter, whether he is more or less charismatic, more than the institution itself?

I came to the conclusion that everyone has “his” Pope and this coincides with the Pope of one’s youth. When Pope Paul VI was elected (1963), I was eight years old; when he died (1978), I was twenty-three. I grew up under Paul VI; so for me he remains “the” Pope; everyone knows the reverence that I have always had for him. Of course, over the years, one can begin to see things from other points of view; little by little, as you get older, you discover many aspects of life, that you didn’t even imagine when young. So now I realize that if Cardinal Montini was elected Pope, it is because he was a leading exponent of the progressive alignment (otherwise he would not have been elected); and therefore some gestures and some decisions, especially at the beginning of his pontificate, can be explained as a kind of “toll” paid to those who had elected him. The deposition of the papal tiara is one of those seemingly prophetic gestures, which are in reality ideological (such as taking the name “Francis” by Pope Bergoglio)—gestures which are impressive for their symbolic value, but without enduring effects. Certainly putting aside the tiara did not prevent Paul VI from performing his ministry in a distinguished manner, with prudence and courage, and independently from the lobby that had supported his election.

I would not say that the “personalization” of the papacy began with Paul VI. If there is a man who, by character more than by virtue, shunned the limelight, it is precisely Paul VI. The phenomenon of turning the papacy into a show and the tendency to personalize it, in my opinion, began with John Paul II. And this can be explained not only with the strong charisma emanating from his person, but also with the development of the media system during his long pontificate and the subsequent birth of the so-called “visual culture.” When we consider that also his illness—which in a different historical and cultural context would remain shrouded in absolute privacy (think of the scandal caused by photos of Pius XII on his deathbed!)—became a kind of show, we can understand that times have changed and that a certain personalization is inevitable, regardless of the persons. The important thing is to realize that and try not to indulge in this regard.

How is it possible to avoid, what is so often amplified by the media, that the reigning Pontiff becomes the object of a personality cult?

“Pope-worship” is a constant temptation, with any Pope. I personally think that, to avoid it, but above all to restore the papacy to its original function, we should proceed to a “downsizing” of the figure of the Pope, whoever he is. We must avoid “overexposure in the media”: there is no need that the media speak of the Pope every day. As, on the other hand, there is no need for the Pope to say something every day, beginning with his daily homily (once the popes celebrated Mass privately in the morning; it was John Paul II who began to invite women’s religious communities to his daily Mass); there is no need of huge gatherings (is it really necessary for the Pope to participate in the World Youth Days?); and the same can be said of the general audiences (which are not of divine institution!), is it necessary at each audience to go around the square, shaking the hands of everyone, hugging and kissing babies, etc. etc.? Is it written in the Gospel that the Pope during each flight must give an interview to journalists? It doesn’t seem that other heads of state do so (Queen Elizabeth has ever given a press conference?). I think the Pope—I repeat, whoever he is—should, as it were, rediscover his specific role, which is not that of a star, but that of one called to confirm the brethren in the faith. Precisely to be able to perform this task, privacy, discretion, and detachment are necessary: few words, but the right ones, and at the right time. It is necessary to rediscover, as we said, the magisterial dimension of the papacy, expressed in official pronouncements, which are to be studied, pondered and carefully weighed. For the rest, as in any self-respecting organization, there is a spokesman, who responds to journalists’ questions, not the Pope. The Pope, once he has assumed his office, should forget what he was (the name change is not without reason). Pope Benedict learned this, and it was costly for him: with the reactions to the lecture (lectio magistralis) he delivered in Regensburg he realized that he was no longer a university professor, but the Pope.

Pope Francis has been called the “first real Pope of Vatican II.” What do you think?

What is meant here by “Vatican II”? To use the expressions of Benedict XVI (in his speech to the Roman Clergy on 14 February 2013), the real Council (the “Council of the Fathers”) or the virtual one (the “Media Council”)? The Council that left its teaching in the sixteen documents signed by the Fathers or the imaginary one in the minds of the scholars of the “School of Bologna”? The Council or the “spirit of the Council”? The Council or the “Pact of the Catacombs”? Were not the Popes who have subsequently occupied the See of Peter “Popes of the Council”? Have they not done everything to implement Vatican II? Of course, they also had to intervene to correct, clarify, and interpret (as was their duty); but precisely in fidelity to the Council, the real one. Who is the authentic interpreter of the Council? The Pope or the “School of Bologna”? I do not think in the magisterium of the present Pontiff there is an excessive concern to refer back to the Council (to its documents, I mean): in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, of a total of 217 notes, I counted 18 references to Vatican II; in the Encyclical Laudato Si’, of 172 notes, I counted three references; in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, of 391 notes, I counted 18 references (almost all, understandably, to Gaudium et Spes). I think these numbers speak for themselves. This can be understood, since Pope Francis is the first Pope, after Vatican II, not to have attended the Council (certainly through no fault of his own, but simply because of his personal history: when the Council concluded, he was not yet a priest). So, please, let us not say that he is the “first real Pope of Vatican II.”

Can you clarify the true meaning of “pastoral”? The word is spoken very frequently, but few know what it means.

Msgr. Gherardini, in a lecture, compared “pastoral” to the phoenix (according to the Italian poet Metastasio, “everyone says it exists, no one knows where it is”). I myself have expressed the wish that one day someone will write the history of the pastoral orientation of the Church in our times. I honestly cannot say when this concern for pastoral care began. Once there were the Pastoral Letters of St. Paul (today we are careful not to ascribe them to him!) or the Pastoral Rule of St. Gregory the Great. Today it seems that everything has to be “pastoral”, because otherwise it would not be truly evangelical. Now, apart from any polemical exaggeration, it is obvious that the Church should have a pastoral attitude, and that is: the attitude of the shepherd, who guides, feeds, and defends his flock. The problem is what is meant by “pastoral.” If we consider the pastoral letters, it is precisely in them that St. Paul insists on keeping the “deposit.” Today, in contrast, the concept of pastoral care is made into an ideology, in opposition to doctrine: as if it was no longer necessary to be concerned about doctrine, but only about “healing the wounds” of people, without explaining what these wounds are and what is needed to cure them. It seems significant that in his first interview given to Father Spadaro (La Civilta Cattolica, n. 3918), Pope Francis  affirmed: “I dream of a Church which is Mother and Shepherd” (p. 462). Once it would have been said: “Mother and Teacher.” Today it seems that the Church should not be a Teacher, that she has nothing more to teach men, but only should “welcome” people as they are, and “accompany” them. Are we quite sure that this is what Christ wants from His Church? It is true that He called himself the “Good Shepherd,” but he was also “Master and Lord.”

If it is true that the “greatest cunning of the Devil is to persuade us that he doesn’t exist” (Charles Baudelaire), then can we assume that his second “great cunning” is to have “got rid” of the deposit of faith not modifying it, but putting it aside with the “primacy of praxis”?

I think it is a real danger: to set aside the doctrine, because it is abstract (and therefore potentially ideological) and a source of division and conflict, and worry only about pastoral action, in which you meet the people, setting aside anything that can prevent such a meeting. I would ask: for what reason should we meet people, if we have nothing to offer them? And yet we have to offer not only bread to feed them, but the truth that saves. We have forgotten that before Jesus multiplied the loaves, “he began to teach them many things.” And he did that because, when he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). Man not only hungers for bread, but also, and above all, for the truth. This is often forgetten today. Moreover, the truth that the Church has to offer is not a philosophical truth, a merely human truth, but a divine truth, a saving truth, which coincides with the person of Jesus Christ. We don’t speak anymore of the “deposit”: in the new translation of the Bible by the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), the word has simply... disappeared. It almost seems to be something to be ashamed of to be guarding something; if only we thought that the deposit we are to guard is the treasure of the faith that saves!

We come to the most debated document of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia. We received many comments. In particular, a catechist, in an e-mail, expressed her concern: she asked, “How can one teach what the Catechism says on the sacrament of marriage and the sixth Commandment, when even the Pope has begun, between the lines, to accept that there are extenuating circumstances and exceptions?” What, then, in your opinion, are the “dangers” of this Apostolic Exhortation?

The danger is only one, that it creates a lot of confusion. Until now the Church, through its magisterium, had fulfilled a role of clarification, saying what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad. I do not think that this was a wrong approach: man must be able to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong; and if one can not do it alone, then the Church,  with a truly pastoral attitude, helps him. We know that it is not always easy to live according to the truth; it is one thing to know what you should do and another thing to have the desire and the strength to do it; but this has always happened and always will happen. But, even with these challenges, we are not alone, because, once again, there is the Church, to help us get up after we fall, as the Church has always done and always will do. But it is important that all of this is done with clarity. Instead today there is a risk that one falls into confusion: not knowing anymore what is right and what is wrong; everything is okay, because, in the end, God is merciful. I do not know if that is the best way to meet the expectations and needs of man.

Many priests, in introducing the penitential rite at the beginning of the Mass, are changing the words: “Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries,” with “Let us acknowledge we are sinners…” This change might seem harmless. Don’t you think that it may introduce the generalization of being sinners, and thus deny the responsibility for sin and of having sinned, of which we repent and ask God for forgiveness, obtaining in this way from the Mass the grace not to fall any more into sinful temptations?

Well, I would not consider it an abuse: this expression is found in some of the alternative formulas contained in the Italian edition of the Missal. Actually we must recognize we are sinners, because this is our real condition. But this does not deny that we must also recognize the individual sins. We are sinners because we commit sins. What good would it serve to examine our conscience, if not to identify our sins? When we confess, the confession of sins is one of the essential elements of the sacrament. There are many people who commendably start confession saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned”; and then they list their individual sins. A confession without confession of sins would be a confession without matter. There is no doubt, however, that certain approved formulas reflect a mentality, which, left to itself, could lead to conclusions which are at the very least questionable.

Thank you for your time, we would like to ask you one last question. Certainly you have heard of the recent homily of the Secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) Msgr. Galantino (printed and praised in the newspaper Avvenire) in which he states that Sodom was not destroyed, and thus rewriting pages of Sacred Scripture in a way different from how they were written: this is one of the most striking examples, but not the only, of the doctrinal confusion in the episcopate. In your view, when and how will the Church come out of this difficult doctrinal, moral, pastoral and liturgical crisis?

There is no doubt that the Church is going through a crisis; it is not the first and it will not be the last. I do not know whether it is more serious than other crises that the Church has gone through and overcome. Certainly it is through these crises that the Church grows and is purified. The Psalm says: “We went through fire and through water, but then you brought us relief” (Ps 65/66:12 Grail). The fire of Sodom, which destroys indeed, but to purify; and the water of the stormy sea, which, while it seems to rock the boat, actually cleanses her of dirt. The Church, as St. Ambrose says, “abluitur undis, not quatitur” (= is washed by the waves, not rocked). As for the timing, I do not know the mind of God. What matters is not giving in to pessimism and to remain faithful in times of trial.

Thank you.

Thanks to you!