Total Reform

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Through Sandro Magister, we now learn that crucial remarks in the controversial eighth chapter of Amoris Laetitia were drafted by the pope’s Argentine adviser, Victor Manuel Fernández – ten years ago!

All these passages appear to subvert received Catholic ethical teaching. They were originally intended specifically to undermine plain statements of Pope John Paul II in his major encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”).

Archbishop Fernández is by now hardly an unknown. The two men – Fernández and Bergoglio – have a history going back to Argentina, as Magister quickly explains. Fernández has been ghostwriter, and ghost-thinker, to Bergoglio for a long time. He has been widely credited as the invisible co-author of Evangelii Gaudium, and Laudato Sí.

He was first among Pope Francis’s promotions, and has been known to boast of his influence.

Though considered a joke by learned theologians – for works both crass and tendentious – he has proved no joke to Vatican officials who have got in his way. In a recent interview in Corriere della Sera, for instance, he freely mocks Cardinal Mueller, distinguished Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and thus theological “backstop” in the Holy See.

As Sandro Magister showed in a previous post, our Holy Father’s thoughts on the deepest matters touching Catholic faith hang upon several constant “hooks,” and have done since he was quite a young man. Many of the remarks in his encyclical and exhortations can be traced to, for instance, his uncompleted doctoral dissertation at Frankfurt, thirty years ago. Some were “cut and paste.”

I mention this because, from what I can see, Bergoglio was not, and is not, the puppet of Fernández. It is more in the nature of a meeting of minds.

To my mind, both have imbibed a musty Hegelianism that has been in the air for more than a century now. Each of the “hooks” Magister adumbrated (“time is greater than space,” and so forth) is vague, and in that alone unCatholic.

Yet each can also be used to challenge Catholic understanding, which does not raise unscriptural abstractions to positions of judgment on Scriptural texts. Rather, the Church has anchored her thinking for twenty centuries, not on a method for interpreting the Deposit of Faith, but on the thing itself. Her “theory” and “practice” are not separated, but joined in liturgy, theology, canon law.

There is a contrast between Fernández and Bergoglio, from what I can discern. The pope is by inclination cautious in what he proclaims. He avoids heresy; he merely “suggests.” He prefers the symbolic to the decisive gesture. He does not insist.

Whereas, Fernández seems ever to be pushing some envelope: some change that can be technically accomplished, such as by a few choice words inserted here and there in magisterial documents. This makes him a dangerous ghostwriter.

Friends: Bergoglio and Fernández in Argentina
Friends: Bergoglio and Fernández in Argentina

The current headline issue is Communion for the divorced and remarried; Fernández works on how to achieve it, now. But as he must be aware, it is stalking horse for the “reform” of the entire outlook and teaching of Holy Church. It is the key to opening every stable door.

The fundamental issue is touched in all Christian and Catholic moral thinking. Are there acts that are definitively and absolutely wrong? Iniquities for which there can be no excuse, no extenuating circumstances? Moral injunctions one cannot “get around”? Mistakes that can only be confessed; consequences that must then be faced down?

Or are right and wrong only situational? Can the end sometimes justify the means; or can the wrongdoer plead that his act, though “objectively” evil, was for him in his exceptional situation (or more likely his very commonplace situation), “subjectively” okay? Shouldn’t his “next time I’ll do better” fix everything?

This is where we need unambiguous clarification, and from a pope. John Paul II provided it, in Veritatis Splendor, from a profound understanding of what the Church is.

Let me belabor this.

Was Christ deadly serious when He laid down moral absolutes with perfect clarity and irresistible weight? Or was it mostly hyperbole? Did He leave the Church to decide when He was serious, and when He was going over the top for effect?

How serious is our religion? Does it, as Christ showed on the Cross, transcend questions of physical life and death? Or is it instead “a word to the wise” – advice to be taken where convenient, or if there are complications, “finessed”?

Has a “reforming” pope – or any other “reformer” for that matter, whether a Luther, or a Calvin, or an L. Ron Hubbard – the task of adjusting religious truth to “contemporary circumstances”? Or have they authority only to the degree that they follow Christ’s commandments, come what may?

According to Fernández, Pope Francis is indeed a “reformer,” who “knows very well what he is doing.” In that interview with Corriere della Sera, he said: “The pope goes slow because he wants to be sure that the changes have a deep impact. The slow pace is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the changes.  He knows there are those hoping that the next pope will turn everything back around.”

That was bad. This is worse:

You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible. If one day he should intuit that he’s running out of time to do what the Spirit is asking him, you can be sure he will speed up.

Of course, such remarks can be dismissed, because they did not come from the pope himself. They came only from his adviser. But this leaves the question, why wasn’t the man fired?

Alternatively, if there is substance in what Fernández says, we must consider the implication. It is that, for twenty centuries, the Catholic Church has been dead wrong; that in their obtuseness, all her legitimate popes have been deaf to the messaging of the Holy Spirit, bringing heavenly updates from time to time.


David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: