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Response to a Spineless Pamphleteer

Atila Sinke Guimarães

My friend John Vennari, with whom I, together with Michael Matt and Marian Horvat, had the honor to sign the statement We Resist You to the Face, recently traveled to San José, California, to give a talk. He had been invited to describe and comment on the last World Youth Days.

The talk contrasted the worldly, post-conciliar spirit of World Youth Day with the consistent teaching of the pre-Vatican II Popes. A week before his arrival, certain conservatives of the area, who profess a blind obedience to whatever John Paul II does or says, initiated a campaign to boycott his talk.

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Conservatives without principles accept with naturality today what they condemned in the past. In the photo, Archbishop James P. Keheler dancing at World Youth Day. The Leaven (Kansas City, KS), August 23, 2002
One of them, Mr. Keith Robison, wrote an e-mail cautioning his acquaintances: “As home-schooling parents we need to put positive, not negative, influences into our families. Just as one would not go to see pornography because it would endanger one’s soul and one’s family, do not go to hear someone who attacks Christ’s Vicar on Earth.” This “positive” action of Mr. Robison consisting of slandering the name of a good Catholic was unfortunately not the only action of this campaign.

On December 14 while the talk was being delivered, persons from the same current disseminated a pamphlet that made a straightforward attack against John – his photo was displayed on the cover with the accusations of “Schismatic” and “Excommunicated.” These accusations clearly referred to our common statement of resistance to John Paul II which seem to conflict with the prior Magisterium. Another picture reproduced the cover of the book We Resist You to the Face, and its text was quoted several times. The pamphlet was “signed” by an enigmatic league who termed themselves “the friends of the Pope.” In other words, it was anonymous. No one had the courage to endorse the accusations.

The aftermath of the talk was also significant. On Sunday, December 15, John went to a traditional Mass in San José. It was a Mass set up under diocesan auspices. Fr. Ottenello who said the Mass is one of these “conservative” priests who support the Novus Ordo Mass and Vatican II. When someone introduced John to him, he became indignant and started yelling at John that he was a “false prophet.” He ended his long, thunderous tirade and finger-waving scene with a vulgar “get out of here.”

This attack of the “blind-conservatives” is a good sample of a habitual state of spirit. They try to appear “moderate,” “tolerant” and “positive,” but when they find someone who truly is a representative of the Catholic spirit they cannot restrain the hatred that inspires their position. I imagine that the hypocrisy and the hatred of the Pharisees were not so different.

I present here my public solidarity with Mr. John Vennari and my disapproval of the behavior of such pseudo-conservatives. The only thing I have to say to John is this: You are following in the steps of Our Lord. You are raising the same kind of hatred He did. You are a good disciple of Him. Be proud of your action and go ahead.

With this said, I will continue the article on dealing with the arguments of the pamphlet.

Refuting a scurrilous attack

Normally I don’t refute this kind of literature. I have more to do than to duel with ghosts. I will, however, address this pamphlet for two reasons.

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New attiudes of the Conciliar Popes: Above , JPII preaching in the Anglican Canterbury Cathedral(1982); below first, giving a blessing with heretic Armenian Karekin II (2001); below second, meeting with a Mufti at the pagan mosque of Damascus (2001).

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First, the San José episode was a singular explosion of hatred against our position and I am jealous of the honor John gained himself when he stood alone receiving the brunt of the attack. I am eager to receive also my portion of this hatred.

Second, the pamphlet quotes against us the Canon Law Society of America, which is, to my knowledge, a scholarly lay association in the United States whose opinion is worthy of consideration. As an entity, however, it speaks only in its own name, that is, without any delegation of authority from the Church. I could not find the document quoted in the pamphlet titled “Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions 2001,” Canon Law Society of America, pp. 88-9,” because the note lacked the needed bibliographical reference.

I have at hand, however, the book New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) published by Paulist Press, 2000, and edited by John Beal, James Coriden, and Thomas Green. This book, as far as I can see, follows the progressivist line of thinking. I don’t agree with its orientation, but it seems a serious and scholarly work.

I will check if the quotes the pamphlet attributes to CLSA correspond to what this organization actually defends in its official commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

First quote

The pamphlet said that the CLSA made this condemnation about our Resistance Statement: “One can conclude with sufficient moral certitude that the public declaration in question is an act of schism according to the definition of canon 752.”

It does not seem so easy to honestly reach such a conclusion. Let me explain.

The text of canon 752 reads: “Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the College of Bishops declares concerning Faith and Morals when they exercise the authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.”

The CLSA commentary on this canon reads: “The canon uses the technical expression ‘religiosum obsequium intellectus et voluntatis,’ here rendered as ‘a religious submission of the intellect and will.’ An exact translation of obsequium is difficult, but ‘submission’ is not the best one because it exaggerates the force of the Latin. Such English terms as ‘respect,’ ‘deference,’ ‘concurrence,’ ‘adherence,’ ‘compliance,’ or ‘allegiance’ would be better translation of obsequium.

“The point is not precision of language so much as the appropriate response to truth. The Pope and the College of Bishops exercise their authentic teaching authority even when they teach in a non-definitive manner. The proper reception of that teaching is usually acceptance, because the teaching enjoys a strong presumption of correctness. However, that same teaching authority has been mistaken in the past …. and almost surely will be mistaken sometimes in the future. Hence, it would be wrong to expect the faithful to give absolute and unconditional obedience to it. That is what the canon points out: what is due to this authentic but non-infallible teaching is not the assent of faith but a respectful religious deference of intellect and will, and an avoidance of teachings that do not concur with it. The canon leaves room for dissent when such honest disagreement is based on preponderant evidence” (New Commentary, pp. 916-7).

Now, my comment: Our Resistance Statement fits perfectly into what this canon supposes about dissent, since our resistance was expressed in a spirit of profound deference to the Roman Pontiff and we expose honest disagreements based on preponderant evidence. Further, we asked the Holy Father to correct us in the case that we should be wrong. We also suggested opening a dialogue on the topic. That is, we did not make a definitive judgment.

Therefore, the text quoted by the San Jose slanderers does not correspond to the commentary that the CLSA officially published in its book New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

What is the cause for this difference? A misquotation or a falsehood of the “friends of the Pope”? Or is really an inconsistent statement by the CLSA that some law-monger hastily penned to please some audience or donor? It is not my responsibility to answer these questions. The ones who should provide a response are the anonymous author(s) of the slanderous pamphlet. Therefore, I ask them these questions. I am also sending a copy of them to the CLSA.

Second quote

The pamphlet attributes another text to the CLSA that supposedly refers to our Resistance Statement: “There is a deliberate public intention on the part of its authors to withdraw submission to the Roman Pontiff, in spite of the fact that their expressed intention in doing so is only temporary. Therefore, one can reasonably conclude that the authors of the aforementioned declaration have incurred the latae sententiae excommunication provided for schism under the canon 1364 § 1.”

This condemnation likewise cannot be drawn so easily from the text of the canon and the official commentary of the CLSA.

In effect, canon 1364 is quite simple, it reads in § 1: “An apostate from the Faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

In its Commentary, the CLSA has this to say about canon 751, which defines heresy, apostasy and schism and is the presupposition of canon 1364:

“The anomaly about these consequences [several penalties included the excommunication of canon 1364] is that some of the most serious of them are ‘automatic or self-imposed,’ while the alleged offenses are often quite complex, nuanced, and vigorously disputed, except in the extremely rare event that the persons themselves admit to being in heresy, apostasy, or schism. In other words, this system of sanctions for serious doctrinal deviations does not work. When a person denies the offense, the sanctions can be justly imposed or declared only by means of a canonical process, which is almost never employed” (New Commentary, p. 915).

The comments of CLSA on canon 1364 follow the same strain: “At times it is difficult to determine precisely when an individual or group is canonically guilty of apostasy, heresy, and schism. This is especially true given increased theological pluralism, expanded contacts with other Christians and members of other religious traditions, and confessional boundaries not as sharply defined as formerly …. In any event, juridical certainty about such delicts presupposes a careful inquiry into pertinent facts, especially the obstinate, external rejection of a doctrine or ecclesial communion. This is certainly warranted before any formal declaration of the penalty only after what all the effects of the excommunication are verified” (New Commentary, p. 1576).

My comment: Our Resistance Statement did not intend to be schismatic. On the contrary, we clearly declared that we remained inside the Catholic Church and in communion with John Paul II in all the points in which he does not go against the prior Pontifical Magisterium. So, according to the thinking of the CLSA, any sanction against us can be justly imposed or declared only by means of a canonical process.

Therefore, the text attributed to CLSA in the pamphlet does not correspond to the comments the same society made in its book New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

I repeat here the same questions I posed above: Is this difference due to a misquotation or a false attribution by the “friends of the Pope”? Or is it an inconsistent statement that some law-monger in the CLSA hastily made in order to please some audience or donor?

I sincerely hope that the anonymous “friends of the Pope” will have enough virile honesty and sufficient love for the truth to step out from their hiding place and openly enter the arena to reply to my questions. In the meantime, I am looking forward to receiving a due explanation from the CLSA.

Published in Catholic Family News – February 2003

Posted February 14, 2003

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