Rorate Caeli

Fastiggi & Goldstein vs. Shaw: responses

Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein have done me the honour of a reply, at some length, to my post, in my comments box. I want to take this as seriously as possible, so I paste it in below, in full, in bold, with my replies to each point.

Dear Dr. Shaw,

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein and I wish to thank you for your tone of civility. We hope to reply with equal civility regarding your post: “A Challenge for Fastiggi and Goldstein.”

Thank you.

Our points of response are the following:

1. You are correct that “impressions” are subjective. Our point, however, is that your subjective impressions regarding papal words and actions are not shared by all. In justice there is always a need to determine what people mean before making judgments of potential heresy. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examines cases of possible heresy, it follows strict norms of procedure in order to insure justice for the one accused (See CDF, Regulations for Doctrinal Examination, Ratio Agendi May 30, 1997; AAS 89 [1997] 830–835). If so much care is given to the examination of individual theologians before making judgments of heresy, should not the same be extended to the Roman Pontiff? Canon law tells us: “The First See is judged by no one” (CIC [1983] canon 1404).

Certainly the Pope deserves the chance to clarify what exactly he means, in the context of disagreement about what that may be. That is why many people, including the ‘Four Cardinals’, have been respectfully but urgently asking Pope Francis for such a clarification: as you know they wrote to him in September 2016, more than a year ago. He has not responded formally, but meanwhile many of his supporters have been telling us that various informal responses are clear enough, and have criticised strongly those unwilling to allow their interpretation of Amoris to be guided by these informal indications. In any case, other people have been guided by them, and Pope Francis has not intervened to put them right.

The Correctio makes it very clear that we are not judging the Pope or accusing him of the sin of heresy.

2. You object to the word “mostly” when we say that your claim of Pope Francis not wanting orthodoxy is derived “mostly [from] non-authoritative statements of the Pope” and not, as you assert, “entirely [from] non-authoritative statements.” Mostly is correct because, in addition to citing references to non-authoritative sources, the Correctio filialis speaks of “the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and by other words, deeds, and omissions of Your Holiness.” As a papal exhortation, Amoris laetitia would carry the same authority of the ordinary papal Magisterium as St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio of 1981.

Documents emanating from the Holy See or General Councils can contain both Magisterial and non-Magisterial statements. Non-Magisterial statements would include, obviously, those not concerning faith and morals, such as historical claims. They also include statements which are unclear: there can be no obligation on Catholics to believe a statement if they cannot determine what the statement means. Yet another category of non-Magisterial statements in official documents are those which go beyond or against the Ordinary Magisterium.

An example of this last case which is not controversial is the claim of the Council of Florence-Ferrara that the sacramental ‘matter’ in priestly ordination is not the laying-on of hands, but the handing over of the chalice. We commonly say that statements of General Councils other than anathemas have non-infallible teaching authority from the Ordinary Magisterium. In such a case, however, it would be more accurate to say that this statement is not a statement of the Ordinary Magisterium at all, since it contradicts the Ordinary Magisterium, and the Ordinary Magisterium cannot contradict itself.

The contention of the Correctio Filialis is that the statements of Amoris which concern us are ambiguous: they can be read in accordance with the Ordinary Magisterium, which we would obviously accept, or they can be read as contradicting the Ordinary Magisterium. Those who insist on the latter possibility cannot, of course, simultaneously claim that they are examples of the Ordinary Magisterium and are therefore binding. You can’t be bound, by the Ordinary Magisterium, to reject the Ordinary Magisterium.

3. You mention the private letter of Pope Francis to the Bishops of Buenos Aires as an example of something that is “impossible to square with the constant teaching of the Church.” Cardinal Müller, however, in his Sept. 28 National Catholic Register interview with Edward Pentin, said: “[If] you look at what the Argentine bishops wrote in their directive, you can interpret this in an orthodox way” ( What you consider “impossible” to square with orthodoxy, others find possible.

That no-one disagrees with me is not part of what I am claiming. It would be interesting, though hardly decisive, to know what Cardinal Müller thinks of the guidelines of the Bishops of Malta, which seem to go beyond those of the bishops of Buenos Aires, in clearly contradicting Canon 915.

4. You ask what we would do if we thought the pope of the day were indicating non-authoritatively that bishops and ordinary Catholics should act and believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church? This is something purely hypothetical. Neither of us believe Pope Francis is asking people to act or believe in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church. If, though, we thought we were facing such a situation, we would make our concerns known to our Ordinary first and then, if need be, to the papal Nuncio or the Holy See. We would not have recourse to the mass media.

We and many others who have had concerns over Amoris and its interpretations have gone to considerable trouble to go through the proper channels. Grouping together to compose and sign a joint statement is an obvious way to maximise the ‘knowledge, competence and position’ mentioned in Canon 212 in relation to appeals by the Faithful; it would also be impractical to expect the Holy See to response to hundreds of individual petitions. Being an international group means that we do not have a single Ordinary or indeed a single Papal Nuncio. There is nothing in Canon Law which prohibits us from appealing directly to the Pope, but as a matter of fact many of us first appealed to the College of Cardinals, a year ago. Finally, we did not ‘have recourse to the mass media’ until six weeks had passed, without response, since our petition was given personally to the Holy Father.

Ruling out ‘recourse to the mass media’ in all circumstances clearly contradicts Canon 212 which notes that it can be an obligation to make concerns known to ‘others of Christ's faithful’, and is therefore ruled out as a sensible reading of Donum veritatis, from which you take the phrase.

I would suggest that were you facing that situation, and were you to respond as you suggest, you could very well find yourselves failing to discharge the duty which Canon 212 mentions, to make your concerns known to other members of the Faithful. For myself, I feel subjectively obliged to act because it seems clear to me that, given the knowledge, competence and position of my fellow signatories, and given that bishops and the Holy Father are not (or not all) acting to defend the Magisterium, we can and must warn the Faithful about a proximate danger to the Faith.

5. Your point about Donum veritatis referring to theologians who reject the ordinary Magisterium begs the question because you have not established that Pope Francis is going against any teaching of the Magisterium. You cite canon 212§3, but you fail to mention that it also requires manifesting opinions with reverence toward pastors and attention to “the common advantage and the dignity of persons.” We question whether accusing Pope Francis of propagating heresies is really showing reverence, and we question whether this serves the common advantage of the Church and the dignity of persons. We also do not believe that the Correctio follows the guidelines of Donum veritatis, as we explained in our article.

The text of the Correctio makes the case in detail, and with copious documentation, for the view that, by his words, deeds, and omissions, Pope Francis is propagating views contrary to the Magisterium. A bald denial by you is hardly an adequate response.

We are very aware of the requirement of Canon 212 (and of common sense) for reverence, attention to the common advantage, and so on. Again, a bald assertion by you that we have failed to do this is no argument.

You appear to be missing what should be obvious, that we believe that Pope Francis is doing what we claim he is doing. Given our subjective position, what is it we are obliged to do, in conscience, and how should we go about it? It is not an act of reverence or affection to fail to point out grave and urgent problems in a Pope’s government of the Church: to fail in this way is to act as a timeserving courtier, not a faithful member of the Mystical Body. Those who love the Pope and respect his office should feel profoundly the duty to make clear exactly how serious the problem is, however much what they say is expressed in respectful terms, and however much they may wish to give the Pope the chance to clarify his position privately and so on. I really cannot see how the Correctio can be faulted on these grounds.

6. You mention that Matthew 18:15–17 allows for making problems public when private admonitions fail. This text, though, advises taking a brother to the Church for correction. It does not advise correcting the head of the Church.

This seems a most surprising reading of Matthew 18:15-17, in light of Galatians 2:11, in which St Paul recalls how he ‘opposed’ St Peter, the Pope, ‘to his face’, and the tradition of interpretation the latter text has had among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The most famous example of this tradition of interpretation is St Thomas Aquinas, who notes two other scriptural passages:

Lev. 19:17: ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: but reprove him openly, lest thou incur sin through him.’
We could also add Ezekial 33:8: ‘If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from his way: that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand.’

Aquinas continues: ‘Apropos of what is said in a certain Gloss, namely, that I withstood him as an adversary, the answer is that the Apostle opposed Peter in the exercise of authority, not in his authority of ruling. Therefore from the foregoing we have an example: prelates, indeed, an example of humility, that they not disdain corrections from those who are lower and subject to them; subjects have an example of zeal and freedom, that they fear not to correct their prelates, particularly if their crime is public and verges upon danger to the multitude.’

7. Like you, we wish to affirm the teachings of the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. We are not questioning your faith or sincerity; we are only questioning your methods.

Affirming the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium requires of Catholics that they not only live by it, but as God’s honour and the good of their neighbours requires, witness to it publicly.

Oremus pro invicem,

Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. and Dawn Eden Goldstein, S.T.D.

Thank you for responding.