To resolve the current crisis in the Church over papal teaching and authority, the Pope must make a declaration of faith, affirming what is Catholic and correcting his own “ambiguous and erroneous” words and actions that have been interpreted in a non-Catholic manner.
This is according to Monsignor Nicola Bux, a respected theologian and former consulter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
In the following interview with the Register, Msgr. Bux explains that the Church is in a “full crisis of faith” and that the storms of division the Church is currently experiencing are due to apostasy — the “abandonment of Catholic thought.”
Msgr. Bux’s comments come after news that the four dubia cardinals, seeking papal clarification of his exhortation Amoris Laetitia, wrote to the Pope April 25 asking him for an audience but have yet to receive a reply.
The cardinals expressed concern over the “grave situation” of episcopal conferences and individual bishops offering widely differing interpretations of the document, some of which they say break with the Church's teaching. They are particularly concerned about the deep confusion this has caused, especially for priests.
“For many Catholics, it is incredible that the Pope is asking bishops to dialogue with those who think differently [i.e. non-Catholic Christians], but does not want first to face the cardinals who are his chief advisors,” Msgr. Bux says.
“If the Pope does not safeguard doctrine,” he adds, “he cannot impose discipline.”
Monsignor Bux, what are the implications of the ‘doctrinal anarchy’ that people see happening for the Church, the souls of the faithful and priests?
The first implication of doctrinal anarchy for the Church is division, caused by apostasy, which is the abandonment of Catholic thought, as defined by St. Vincent of Lerins: quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditur (what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all). Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, who calls Jesus Christ the “Master of unity,” had pointed out to heretics that everyone professes the same things, but not everyone means the same thing. This is the role of the Magisterium, founded on the truth of Christ: to bring everyone back to Catholic unity.
St. Paul exhorted Christians to be in agreement and to speak with unanimity. What would he say today? When cardinals are silent or accuse their confreres; when bishops who had thought, spoken and written — scripta manent! [written words remain]— in a Catholic way, but then say the opposite for whatever reason; when priests contest the liturgical tradition of the Church, then apostasy is established, the detachment from Catholic thought. Paul VI had foreseen that “this non-Catholic thought within Catholicism will tomorrow become the strongest [force]. But it will never represent the Church's thinking. A small flock must remain, no matter how small it is.” (Conversation with J. Guitton, 9.IX.1977).
What implications, then, does doctrinal anarchy have for the souls of the faithful and ecclesiastics?
The Apostle exhorts us to be faithful to sure, sound and pure doctrine: that founded on Jesus Christ and not on worldly opinions (cf. Titus 1:7-11; 2:1-8). Perseverance in teaching and obedience to doctrine leads souls to eternal salvation. The Church cannot change the faith and at the same time ask believers to remain faithful to it. She is instead intimately obliged to be oriented toward the Word of God and toward Tradition.
Therefore, the Church remembers the Lord’s judgment: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39). Do not forget that, when one is applauded by the world, it means one belongs to it. In fact, the world loves its own and hates what does not belong to it (cf. John 15:19). May the Catholic Church always remember that she is made up of only those who have converted to Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; all human beings are ordained to her (cf. Lumen gentium 13), but they are not part of her until they are converted.
How can this problem best be resolved?
The point is: what idea does the Pope have of the Petrine ministry, as described in Lumen gentium 18 and codified in canon law? Faced with confusion and apostasy, the Pope should make the distinction — as Benedict XVI did — between what he thinks and says as a private, learned person, and what he must say as Pope of the Catholic Church. To be clear: the Pope can express his ideas as a private learned person on disputable matters which are not defined by the Church, but he cannot make heretical claims, even privately. Otherwise it would be equally heretical.
I believe that the Pope knows that every believer — who knows the regula fidei [the rule of faith] or dogma, which provides everyone with the criterion to know what the faith of the Church is, what everyone has to believe and who one has to listen to — can see if he is speaking and operating in a Catholic way, or has gone against the Church’s sensus fidei [sense of the faith]. Even one believer can hold him to account. So whoever thinks that presenting doubts [dubia] to the Pope is not a sign of obedience, hasn’t understood, 50 years after Vatican II, the relationship between him [the Pope] and the whole Church. Obedience to the Pope depends solely on the fact that he is bound by Catholic doctrine, to the faith that he must continually profess before the Church.
We are in a full crisis of faith! Therefore, in order to stop the divisions in progress, the Pope — like Paul VI in 1967, faced with the erroneous theories that were circulating shortly after the conclusion of the Council — should make a Declaration or Profession of Faith, affirming what is Catholic, and correcting those ambiguous and erroneous words and acts — his own and those of bishops — that are interpreted in a non-Catholic manner.
Otherwise, it would be grotesque that, while seeking unity with non-Catholic Christians or even understanding with non-Christians, apostasy and division is being fostered within the Catholic Church. For many Catholics, it is incredible that the Pope is asking bishops to dialogue with those who think differently, but does not want first to face the cardinals who are his chief advisors. If the Pope does not safeguard doctrine, he cannot impose discipline. As John Paul II said, the Pope must always be converted, to be able to strengthen his brothers, according to the words of Christ to Peter: “Et tu autem conversus, confirma fratres tuos [when you are converted, strengthen your brothers].”