Schonborn as Cardinal Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius

July 17, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – Cardinal Schonborn recently spoke at an event in Ireland. In this talk reported by Austen Ivereigh in a Crux article and commented upon by Phil Lawler at CatholicCulture.Org (see here), Cardinal Schonborn made an interesting admission. Cardinal Schonborn said that after Amoris Laetitia was published that Pope Francis asked him if the papal exhortation was orthodox! Phil Lawler discusses the interesting implications of this statement.  Mr. Ivereigh in first reporting the incident writes:

Schönborn revealed that when he met the Pope shortly after the presentation of Amoris, Francis thanked him, and asked him if the document was orthodox.

“I said, ‘Holy Father, it is fully orthodox’,” Schönborn told us he told the pope, adding that a few days later he received from Francis a little note that said: “Thank you for that word. That gave me comfort.”

Mr. Ivereigh calls this account from Schonborn a “sparkling anecdote.” Apparently, Mr. Ivereigh – a staunch defender of Amoris Laetitia – missed its significance. This “sparkling anecdote” was more like the cartoon stick of dynamite which blows up in the face of Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius) in his never ending, and never successful hunt for the Road Runner or Bugs Bunny. The anecdote is damning because by telling it Schonborn has put, perhaps, the final nail in the coffin of Amoris Laetitia – at least in terms of its magisterial weight.

Apologists for Amoris Laetitia, such as Stephen Walford (and his cheerleader Mr. Ivereigh), have attempted to argue that Amoris Laetitia (1) is an act of the infallible papal ordinary magisterium; and (2) allows some divorced and remarried Catholics in a sexual relationship with their new partner to receive communion. I have dealt with both arguments (here, here, here and here) (NB: I will not discuss in this post my argument against point 2, but it may be found here.).  I have restricted my comments in this post to point 1 above, i.e., the magisterial weight of Amoris Laetitia. My former responses to Mr. Walford addressed the Pope’s own statements in Amoris Laetitia (e.g., AL sections 2, 3 and 4) which show, by the tenor of his words, there was a lack of explicit or implicit intent necessary for an “intervention of the magisterium” (see here and here). Intent is a necessary component of an infallible intervention of the magisterium, as John Paul II explained (emphasis added):

“The Successor of Peter fulfills this doctrinal mission in a continual series of oral and written interventions that represent the ordinary exercise of the Magisterium as the teaching of truths to be believed and put into practice (fidem et mores). The acts expressing this Magisterium can be more or less frequent and take various forms according to the needs of the time, the requirements of concrete situations, the opportunities and means available, and the methods and systems of communication.However, given that they derive from an explicit or implicit intention to make pronouncements on matters of faith and morals, they are linked to the mandate received by Peter and enjoy the authority conferred on him by Christ. [John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday 10 March 1993. Retrieved February 16, 2017 from:]

John Paul II says such interventions derive from an explicit and implicit intention to make a pronouncement.  If intent is missing, there is no act of the infallible magisterium. How then do we determine an explicit and implicit intention on the part of a Roman pontiff? An answer comes in the form of guidance from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (emphasis added):

“It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition: such an infallible teaching is thus objectively set forth by the whole episcopal body, understood in a diachronic and not necessarily merely synchronic sense. Furthermore, the intention of the ordinary and universal Magisterium to set forth a doctrine as definitive is not generally linked to technical formulations of particular solemnity; it is enough that this be clear from the tenor of the words used and from their context.” [Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, June 29 1998. (n. 17).]

The question then regarding Amoris Laetitia is: did Pope Francis have the implicit or explicit intention to exercise an intervention of the infallible, ordinary papal magisterium, and is this suggested by “the tenor of the words used and from their context?” It seems clear in Amoris Laetitia (AL) sections 2, 3 and 4 that the Pope Francis had no such intent. For example, in AL (3) he writes:  “Since ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.” Thus, just in this one example in Amoris Laetitia (and there are others) we see Pope Francis is not intending to settle anything with an intervention of his papal magisterium, for if he had intended to do so his statement makes no sense.

Thus, this brings us back to Cardinal Schonborn’s admission that the Pope sought assurance of the orthodoxy of Amoris Laetita from Cardinal Schonborn.  While the arguments against the magisterial weight of Amoris Laetitia are devastating, Schonborn himself (like Wile E. Coyote) provides the final nail in that coffin when he tells us the Pope’s frame of mind at the time Amoris Laetitia was published. If the Pope had intended to teach authoritatively with the voice of Peter, it seems unlikely the Pope could have been in doubt that he had in fact done so. There would be no need for the Successor of St. Peter to whisper sotto voce: “I’m orthodox, aren’t I?” Consequently, the Pope’s act of submitting – ironically enough – a “dubia” to Schonborn on the orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia is evidence the Pope did not intend Amoris Laetitita to be an infallible intervention of his ordinary magisterium. Thus, in his attempt to defend Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Schonborn – like Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius – has actually further undermined the case for it.

7 thoughts on “Schonborn as Cardinal Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius

  1. What kind of ‘protector of the faith’ seeks confirmation of the orthodoxy of such an important document AFTER he’s already released it? And why didn’t he seek approval from Cdl. Muller, as he should have? I think we all know the answer to that question. This man has an agenda and he chooses to hear only those who mirror it.


    1. Thanks Rocky for the comment. A pope does not *need* to consult with the CDF prior to publishing something, i.e., it is not a requirement. That said – and to your point, it is prudent to do so. From what I’ve read, it appears the CDF had a boat load of revisions for AL in its pre-pub phase, but Pope Francis apparently chose to ignore them. If this is the case, coupled with his apparent frame of mind being one of uncertainty (i.e., the question to Schonborn) – the publishing of AL was a reckless and negligent act by Pope Francis. Pope Honorius was negligent…and we know what happened to him.


  2. It COULD have been that the intent of Francis at the time of AL publication was not to publish a heterodox document…as you suggest. OR perhaps, by asking Schonborn if the exhortation was orthodox his question was simply an attempt to ascertain if the heterodox portions were sufficiently subtitle that it could slide by a generally orthodox catholic theologian without their taking much notice.

    In other words, to see if he had successfully “gotten away with it”.


    1. Tom, thanks for the comment. We may never know. At a minimum (for me), the Schonborn question further confirms the thesis Francis did not have the requisite intent for a magisterial pronouncement. I doubt his question to Schonborn was nefarious (if I understand your point properly) otherwise it is doubtful Schonborn (a Francis ally) would have shared the anecdote. The question (and other things) seem to reveal a Francis who is willing to shoot from the hip without knowing (or even caring?) if what he said is orthodox. That is the impression one might get. It all suggests someone who is reckless and willfully negligent. We know Francis uses ghost writers. I suspect Schonborn provided much of the direct thought and ideas for it – thus explaining why the pope leans so heavily on Schonborn as the official “go to guy” on AL interpretation. It also would explain the context of why Francis asked Schonborn the question: “hey, that thing you gave my ghostwriters to draft up. . .I am getting lots of heat for it. . .it was orthodox, wasn’t it”?


  3. The way the Synod on the Family was engineered is enough to understand which was the Pope’s hidden intent: Using the purported and feigned “collegiality” of a number of carefully selected bishops and prelates to abolish the Church’s bimillenial prohibition of giving the Eucharist to the divorced/remarried couples.
    His stubborn silence opposed to all clarifications requests on the issue is the proof of this hidden agenda.


    1. Jacques, thanks for the comment. I agree that this pope and his allies came in with a number of goals on the agenda. Neither that agenda nor the manner in which the synods were conducted reflect well upon the Pope.


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