Comments on the Remnant, Mercy and Amoris Laetitia

April 29, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – An article posted on the Where Peter Is website recently came to my attention. The article is entitled “The Remnant: it is not what you’ve been told” (by Pedro Gabriel).

The article begins by quoting Cardinal Ratzinger (the then future Pope Benedict XVI):

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges (…) And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals”

— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI)

“A smaller Church”; Faith and Future

Of this quote, the writer, Mr. Gabriel, begins his article saying: “The above quote is an all-time favorite of a certain catastrophist mindset at the root of much of the current dissent against Pope Francis.” Mr. Gabriel does not provide the reader names of those individuals with a “catastrophist mindset,” nor specific examples of how the “catastrophist mindset” is at the root of any supposed dissent against Pope Francis. This is surprising, since having failed to provide such context himself, the writer bemoans soon thereafter the Ratzinger quote “is usually disseminated without any context whatsoever, besides the interpretation given by the person itself doing the quoting.”

The writer – citing books by Taylor Marshall and Roy Schoeman – references ancient Jewish tradition and belief regarding the tzadikim (“righteous ones”), on whose account -due to their prayer, humbles lives and good deeds — God spares cities and or Israel. Following this discussion, Mr. Gabriel states:

The remnant does not delight in God’s wrath. Quite the contrary: the remnant exists to appease it. They never take advantage of their status as righteous ones in the eyes of the Lord to call fire and brimstone to rain on the sinners’ heads, but they pity the sinners and sacrifice themselves for them, even the unrepentant ones. They are not harbingers of God’s justice, rather they are the emissaries of His mercy. Through them, God’s mercy becomes manifest to all humankind.


It is, therefore, extremely ironic that those who so often misappropriate the title of “the remnant,” would decry Pope Francis on account of his emphasis on mercy. It seems like they didn’t understand what being a remnant actually entails. They entertain the exclusivity of the remnant, but not the essence of the remnant. In a most non-traditional way, they view themselves as the remnant all the while eschewing mercy, or imposing conditions on God’s mercy that the Vicar of Christ himself does not impose. Was there ever a remnant so disgusted with mercy? I don’t think so.

Reading his entire article, I could not help but conclude Mr. Gabriel constructed a straw man argument to knock down. In the sense Cardinal Ratzinger uses the term “remnant” he is referring to a numerically smaller Catholic Church, which one day will have lost much of its patrimony and wealth. I don’t know anyone who agreeing with Cardinal Ratzinger’s words who would — as I at least understand Mr. Gabriel’s insinuation –“delight” in God’s wrath. Who, pray tell, is ‘calling down fire and brimstone?’ Who is “disgusted with mercy”?

I will not go into great detail with regard to Mr. Gabriel’s screed on mercy. What it all boils down to is Pope Francis and what Mr. Gabriel views as dissent from Pope Francis “on account of his emphasis mercy.” Mr. Gabriel offers a straw man plus a heavy dose of sanctimony, which is only surpassed in a review (see here) of his article written by Mark Shea, who exudes the odor of sanctimony.

Certainly, the concept of mercy is at the heart of the debate over Amoris Laetitia.  Unfortunately, what is missing from the article is a discussion of how, precisely, Mr. Gabriel’s interpretation is merciful and how, precisely, interpretations contrary to his are not. We are all sinners. We all need God’s mercy.  The question is, how is “mercy” defined. For example, would Mr. Gabriel agree with Cardinal Sarah:

 In the same way, it is also with mercy, superficially understood by many as a clean slate over their sins. But, there is no forgiveness if there is no repentance. Jesus did not say to the adulteress, “Well, go and continue to do what you are doing since I forgive you. No! Because she threw herself at his feet and begs forgiveness, he says: “Go and sin no more”.  (Source: A quote from Cardinal Sarah’s book “God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith“, as quoted in The Catholic World Report, April 5, 2016)

After noting the dissent “from Humanae Vitae is so widespread that many Catholics have turned assent to this encyclical into a litmus test for “true Catholicity,” Mr. Gabriel says at one point in his article:

However, since there are so few who remain faithful to sexual doctrine, isn’t it only logical that something like Amoris Laetitia would come along, so that those who remain faithful would be able to understand the best way to deal with the multitudes who have deviated from Catholic teaching on sexuality? Isn’t it necessary that the remnant must remain faithful while showing mercy to the masses who have turned away from God?

Mr. Gabriel’s statement above is an odd one, as it seems to concede Amoris Laetitia is, in fact, a break with doctrine to “deal with the multitudes who have deviated from Catholic teaching on sexuality.” Does Mr. Gabriel suggest a different understanding of mercy than that of Cardinal Sarah? That is, a changing of Jesus’ merciful words of “go and sin no more” to something less, perhaps where active adultery is permitted or allowed. If that is what Amoris Laetitia teaches, it cannot be a merciful teaching.

The curious thing is, for all Mr. Gabriel’s discussion of “mercy” he does not address, at least not in his article, the pleas of cardinals, bishops and the laity for Pope Francis to clarify the precise meaning of Amoris Laetitia. Where is the Pope’s mercy, as father and teacher of all Christians? Why does he not speak with the voice of Peter on the question to ease the minds of the confused faithful? Why will not the ‘pope of mercy’ answer the Dubia? How merciful is that? How loving is that?

Instead, Mr. Gabriel speaks of those opposing his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia as offering “dissent from the teachings of Amoris Laetitia.” However, Mr. Gabriel’s readers should be made aware that the website where his articles appear (Where Peter Is) has recommended (see here) two Francis-apologists, i.e., Stephen Walford(1) and Robert Fastiggi, on the subject of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia.  However, the interesting fact to note is that Mr. Walford (whose views, I believe are similar to Mr. Gabriel’s) holds positions which contradict those of Professor Fastiggi on key aspects of Amoris Laetitia.  I discuss these contradictions in greater detail in my own article on Roma Locuta Est (see Confusion at Vatican Insider?). Perhaps Mr. Gabriel or others at Where Peter Is can tell us their position regarding Professor Fastiggi’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.  Does it qualify as dissent? Dear reader, do not hold your breath for an answer.

What is clear is that there is no clear, definitive understanding of what Pope Francis is teaching — this should be self-evident when even sites devoted to ‘defending’ the magisterium of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia cite contradictory and opposite opinions—and, at times, don’t even seem to realize it! Thus, it is vacuous to speak of “dissent from the teaching Amoris Laetitita,” as Mr. Gabriel does. Furthermore, in such a light, it is absurd to suggest that no clarification of Amoris Laetitia is necessary.

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. The first book of the trilogy should be out later this summer or by early fall. He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).

Notes:

  1.  Roma Locuta Est has published a series of articles rebutting Mr. Walford’s opinions on various subjects (see Summa Contra Stephen Walford). In addition, in response to publication of Mr. Walford’s book on Amoris Laetitia, entitled “The Pope, The Family and Divorce,” Roma Locuta Est has published a detailed, three-part rebuttal of the books (see The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’Part II: The Development of Mr. Walford’s ErrorsPart III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium)

 

 

 


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