19 Oct 2015

Decentralisation...so what’s the difference between Francis’ relativism and that of Benedict XVI?

By Jonathan Ekene Ifeanyi
Synod of Doom

On Saturday, October 17, Francis I gave an address to the profoundly divided Synod on the Family, in which he called for a "healthy decentralisation" of power in the Roman Catholic Church, including changes in the papacy and greater decision-making authority for local bishops. Francis made his comments at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Synod of Bishops, a worldwide gathering that occasionally advises the pope on a host of issues.

This is the nightmare of “conservative” Catholic cardinals, said one Damian Thompson, "including—unsurprisingly—those in the Vatican. They thought they had a sufficient majority in the synod to stop the lifting of the ban on divorced and “remarried” Catholics receiving communion, or any softening on the Church’s attitude to gay couples". Certainly they do, and Francis knows that. Hence, he quickly considers “option two”! In Saturday’s keynote speech, delivered as the synod enters its last week, Francis told them that the decentralisation will be imposed from above. “In this sense, I feel the need to move ahead with a healthy decentralisation,” he said. Francis spoke about “synodality in the church,” the synod’s place within this, the relation between the synod and the “Successor of Peter”, and reminded the synod fathers that he has the last word. “The synod journey culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, (who is) called to speak authoritatively as ‘the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians,'” Francis stated on October 17, on the eve of the final week of the synod on the family. 

Francis also said it was "necessary and urgent to think about a conversion of the papacy", a possibility that was first floated even by the late heretical John Paul II in 1995.

The apostate “pope” said the type of collegiality—the papal governing of the Church in collaboration with bishops—envisaged by the reforming 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council still had not been achieved. National and regional bishops' conferences should have more authority to make decisions affecting the faithful in their areas rather than always looking to Rome for a centralised decision that has to fit all, he said. What does this imply? Precisely, this means Francis intends to give local bishops’ conferences—such as German bishops the majority of whom have endorsed the vices of homosexuality, quick divorce and the like—more freedom to work out their own solutions to the problems of divorce and homosexuality!

Without elaborating, Francis said "more light could be shed" on the exercising of the papacy, both within the 1.2 billion member Church and in its relations with other “Christian churches”—heretics—that split from Rome over the primacy of the papacy. The current synod of bishops has been discussing how the Church “can better serve families and minister to Catholics in difficulty”, (such as unrepentant homosexuals and divorced people who have “remarried” outside the Church).

Progressives say bishops should have authority to apply doctrine on some issues—such as whether divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholics can receive communion—according to individual circumstances.

“Conservatives”, on the contrary, oppose any changes to rules and say they should be applied identically around the world. The synod has now entered its third and final week and will produce a final paper that “the pope” may use to write his own authoritative document on the issues.

Damian Thompson has listed some reasons why he thinks Francis’ plan cannot work. “This is such a startling development that it deserves fuller analysis once the synod is over”, he writes. “I was going to say ‘once the dust has settled’, but I don’t expect any dust-settling in the foreseeable future—at least until after the next conclave, which lots of conservative Catholics want to happen as soon as possible.”

Here’s why he thinks Francis’s decentralisation won’t work:

Firstly, he writes: “This is the synod at which the African church flexed its muscles. And it’s very conservative. Cardinal Robert Sarah from Guinea declared that the gay lobby was as much a threat to Christianity as ISIS. Sarah is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and therefore a top-ranking curial cardinal. But in his ‘intervention’ he wanted us to understand that he was speaking on behalf of nearly 200 million African Catholics. Whether he really represents them is a matter of opinion, but I doubt that many of them would dissent from the cardinal’s (literal) demonisation of homosexuality. NB: Sarah and other African cardinals aren’t saying ‘We’ll never tolerate communion for the divorced and remarried etc—but so long as you leave us alone, western dioceses can do their own thing’. They are saying the existing prohibitions must apply to the entire Catholic Church. Sarah regards Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to allow local bishops (meaning, in practice, local priests and probably divorcees themselves) to decide whether they can receive the sacrament as heretical.”

Secondly, says Thompson, the more liberal Synod Fathers, sensing that Francis will use the papal trump card on their behalf, “have all but endorsed a version of the Kasper plan—and may soon allow priests to put it into practice. Archbishop Blaise Cupich of Chicago (a Francis appointee who will soon be a cardinal) gave a press conference on Friday in which he said the following about communion for the divorced and civilly remarried: ‘[People must] come to a decision in good conscience…Conscience is inviolable and we have to respect that when making decisions and I’ve always done that.’ If by that he means that divorced Catholics can make up their own minds ‘in good conscience’ about receiving the sacrament, that puts him at odds with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, one of the signatories of a letter also signed by senior Vatican cardinals warning the Pope that his synod could tear the church apart. Of all the routes to schism, squabbling in public about Holy Communion is the quickest.”

Thirdly, he says, “Francis is no longer trusted by many conservative Catholics, and the number who don’t trust him has grown enormously since the synod process—which I think he has gravely mismanagedbegan last October. Priests and lay Catholics who originally liked the man if not his liturgical style, and thought he was fundamentally conservative despite his impromptu ‘who am I to judge?’-style comments, now believe he threatens the unity of the church. Some liberals agree that disunity is inevitable but reckon the Holy Spirit has already factored that in: eventually, Africans will come to share their own compassionate impulses towards Catholics who have been forced by the turmoil of modern life to bypass church teaching on sexual behaviour. They’re hoping for a miracle, in other words. In the meantime, they have become the new ultramontanists.”

Fourthly, says Thompson, “It’s not entirely clear what the Pope means when he talks about ‘synodality’, but it certainly doesn’t involve empowering the curia. By brushing aside a letter from the prefects of the Congregations of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Secretariat for the Economy, Francis was distancing himself from the Vatican. He may not have decamped to Avignon, but his refusal to live in the papal apartments is looking more significant by the day. He has picked a fight with the Vatican—and that is something popes do at their peril. Cardinals Müller, Sarah and Pell (and other important cardinals too nervous to sign the letter) see the curia as the guardian of the Magisterium, the deposit of faith…”

These are good observations, indeed. However, Thompson’s further comments—offensive indeed—such as calling John Paul II (a notorious heretic) a Saint, need not be repeated here.
Similarly, Voice of the Family has warned that Synod proposal to give more authority to the bishops’ conferences “will shatter the church”. Francis, it warns, is promoting religious relativism. The article published by Voice of the Family starts with the “now famous speech” made in the Vatican Basilica on the eve of his election to the papacy, in which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger deplored what he termed a “dictatorship of relativism”. Ratzinger remarked:

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

Fighting a “dictatorship of relativism”, says Voice of the Family, “which affirms that moral or religious truth is not absolute, but relative to situations, persons, or places, had been a constant, if not the dominant theme of Pope Benedict’s papacy.”

It goes on:

“Moral relativism holds that there is no such thing as a moral or religious truth that is absolutely true, that is, true no matter to whom it is said, when it is said and where. Rather, proponents of relativism hold that propositions of a moral type, such as “Thou shalt not kill”, can be true for some, but false for others.

“For the moral relativist:  

“Same-sex marriage may be wrong in Africa or the middle East, but right in the West. Owning slaves can be right for some cultures, but unacceptable for others. Polygamy can be right in Muslim countries, but unacceptable everywhere else, and so on...

“Moral relativism constantly tempts those responsible for the common good, whether spiritual or temporal. Taking note of the existence of a great variety of moral and religious beliefs, many leaders are loathe to affirm, much less enforce, a certain moral code or spiritual doctrine, lest they lose the adhesion and cooperation of the people under their charge. Democratic governments, naturally, are most tempted to relativism, since elected representatives need to obtain votes from groups with different and often opposing religious and moral views. These politicians, in order to obtain votes, are likely to affirm that each group’s deeply held moral and religious views are “true for them” and therefore respectable.” (See my piece on this: 

http://traditionalcatholicisminnigeria.blogspot.com.ng/2015/03/can-catholics-by-jonathan-ekene-ifeanyi.html ).

According to Voice of the Family, Pope Benedict observed that moral relativism is but a step towards individualism—the view that each individual has his or her own moral and spiritual truths—, for, according to him, relativism’s “ultimate goal” consists “solely of one’s ego and desires.”

It goes on:     

“Moral relativism is thus the beginning of a slippery slope that leads to the individualism and anarchy that blights the West today: If it is good and proper that each culture has its moral and religious truths, then there is no reason why each individual could not have his own, too. But the slope does not end there, for that same individual who has decided that it was good and proper for him to hold his own moral and spiritual truth, could then decide that it is good and proper that the moral and religious truths he holds could change from one day to the next.

“Pope Benedict, then, clearly saw that moral and spiritual relativism was a recipe for the practical dissolution of morality and spirituality, which is why he dedicated much of his papacy to fighting it….How quickly we forget….A mere 10 short years after Pope Benedict’s momentous speech, German Benedictine abbot Jeremias Schröder, reporting on the general discussions held during the current Ordinary Synod on the Family, said on October 14 of this year that many synod fathers seemed to be espousing the very relativism that Benedict XVI had spent his whole papacy denouncing.”

“Many of the speeches in the general discussions mentioned the possibility of dealing with questions on the basis of a given cultural context. I would say there were about twenty or so speeches and only two or three were against, claiming that for the sake of the Church’s unity handing over powers would have fatal consequences. … I, for example am German and it seems to me that the remarried divorcees issue is very strongly and widely felt in Germany and much less so elsewhere. This is an area where there could be space for original pastoral ideas, also as far as the understanding of homosexuality goes, an issue that really varies from culture to culture. National Episcopal Conferences could be allowed to search for pastoral solutions that are in tune with their specific cultural context.” (emphasis added). 

These stupid statements have been rebutted by the "conservatives", such as Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, Cardinal Burke and others. (See: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/exclusive-ten-commandments-are-not-subject-to-national-frontiers-says-cardi

This same abbot is also quoted in a German newspaper as saying:

“We do not need for every problem a uniform, whole-church solution which was compiled in Rome. The church must maybe come to an agreement about the fact that in different world regions and societies another contact with the complicated subject Family is allowed. An order member from the Middle East said to me recently: An acknowledgment of same-sexual life forms by the church would be conceivable, purely hypothetically, possibly in Europe. However, in the Islamic context it would on no account be this. (emphasis added, translation Vox Cantoris)

This talk, says Voice of the Family, is also reminiscent of that of another German, Cardinal Reinhart Marx, who affirmed in February of this year that the Church in Germany was “not just a subsidiary of Rome.”

But, it says, “this is nothing but the “dictatorship of relativism”, condemned throughout Benedict XVI’s papacy, applied to the Church: what is morally and spiritually right or wrong, in practice, must now depend upon which episcopal conference we are talking about.

“Truth be told, this tacit condoning of relativism by Synod fathers and Cardinal Marx was foreshadowed by no less than Pope Francis himself who wrote, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, that “a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.” (emphasis added) This observation was followed by the affirmation that “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” These lines are contained in paragraph 32 of his exhortation, which is headed by a call for a “conversion of the papacy”.

“This seems to indicate that Pope Francis would be open to the possibility of devolving some of the doctrinal power of the papacy to the individual episcopal conferences. If this means anything, it means giving the episcopal conferences the power to adopt disciplines AND EVEN DOCTRINES that are different from those of other conferences. Would then a “converted papacy” be one in which the pope becomes, to use Benedict’s phrase, a “dictator of relativism” enforcing the moral and spiritual relativism that reigns among the episcopal conferences? If so, the “dictatorship of relativism” would hold sway over the whole Church, shattering it into as many pieces as there are episcopal conferences in the world.

“The process of dissolution would not end there, however. For as with moral relativism in society at large, spiritual and moral relativism in the church will very likely lead to a radical subjectivism, where individual “catholics”, chaffing under the constraints of their “authoritarian” episcopal conferences, will consider it right and proper to have disciplines and religious truths custom-tailored to their particular situations. Will a future Apostolic exhortation hint at a “conversion of the papacy” devolving even more of the powers of the papacy to these “oppressed” or “excluded” individuals?

“Anticipating the debacle that would surely follow should episcopal conferences be endowed with doctrinal and disciplinary power, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, condemned the whole idea as “an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church.” Indeed, Catholic literally means universal, as in a universal moral and spiritual code that applies equally to everyone, everywhere, for all time; it is the antithesis of relativism, which states that moral and spiritual truths are true only for some or for a specific time.

“Also, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke has recently rejected the view that local bishops or episcopal conferences could have the authority on a pastoral level to deal with moral questions, condemning the proposal as “simply contrary to Catholic Faith and life”, going on to state that “there is no change in these truths, from one place to another or from one time to another.”

“Devolving power from the papacy to the episcopal conferences therefore compromises both the catholicity (universality) and unicity (one-ness) of the Church, making it a hodge-podge of “churches” all operating under their own rules and beliefs, and, ultimately, in thrall to the caprices of the individual egos that populate them.

“Drawing us away from the temptation to gratify our ego, Cardinal Ratzinger shows us, again by way of his Vatican basilica address, the way out of this mess: he invited us to adopt an “adult faith that refuses to follow the trends of fashion and the latest novelty.” Instead of embracing a dangerous relativism which is nothing more than a mask for a childish faith “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” we should look to Christ. For only through friendship with him can we obtain “a sure criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth” thus escaping the “dictatorship of relativism” that threatens us all.”

Above is Benedict XVI praying with the Muslims,
and below is Francis I with the Buddhists. So what's the difference?
Well spoken. The problem, however, remains that the same Ratzinger—from a seemingly different but the same angle—has been a promoter of the same religious relativism. Many thought that “things would change” with the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope in April 2005. “He always talks against religious relativism. You’ll see,” one Jan said, “he will make it clear there is only one true faith. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more Assisis.” 

Jan was speaking of the scandalous ecumenical encounters in Assisi in 1986, 1993 and 2002 where Catholics, Protestants, Schismatics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and even Animists all gathered together to pray. She was also referring to criticism expressed by Ratzinger in 1987 about the 1986 Assisi summit, where he stated “This cannot be the model!” 

But despite that vague remark—not a criticism—Cardinal Ratzinger was present at the 2002 Assisi encounter and expressed his satisfaction with it. And almost as soon as he was elected Pontiff, he was affirming his commitment to the ecumenism promoted by his predecessor, and resolving to carry on in the same spirit. What then, is all this noise about the man?

In 2006 another inter-confessional meeting was organized by the inter-faith Community of Sant’Egido and realized in Assisi to mark the 20th anniversary of John Paul II’s initiative. Again, scores of Muslims, rabbis, Buddhists, Shintoists gathered at Assisi on September 4 and 5 to dialogue and pray for peace. But the “correction” that so many “conservatives” were predicting never came. No, not even a word of criticism. 

Instead, recalling the first such meeting on October 27, 1986, Benedict had words of praise and approval, describing it as a “vibrant message furthering peace and an event that left its mark on the history of our time.” 

In his message read to the religious leaders gathered at Assisi, Benedict XVI reaffirmed the same inter-confessional and Masonic goals addressed so often by John Paul II:
  • Faith in God, the Father of all, should encourage relations of universal brotherhood among all men; 
  • No more religious war; 
  • The value of prayer in building peace; 
  • The importance of the personal relationship of each person of all faiths with God; 
  • The supposed good effect of interfaith encounters and dialogue for the youth.
You can read the whole message if you like, here

After this powerful support for a Pan-religion (condemned by Pope Pius XI in his Mortalium Animos), Benedict reminded the religious leaders of the care taken at the Assisi meeting 20 years ago to ensure that "the inter-religious prayer meeting did not lend itself to syncretistic interpretations based on relativist concepts." He insisted that the same concern was “present today”. Pope Pius XI contradicts and denounces Benedict XVI:

A similar object is aimed at by some, in those matters which concern the New Law promulgated by Christ our Lord. For since they hold it for certain that men destitute of all religious sense are very rarely to be found, they seem to have founded on that belief a hope that the nations, although they differ among themselves in certain religious matters, will without much difficulty come to agree as brethren in professing certain doctrines, which form as it were a common basis of the spiritual life. For which reason conventions, meetings and addresses are frequently arranged by these persons, at which a large number of listeners are present, and at which all without distinction are invited to join in the discussion, both infidels of every kind, and Christians, even those who have unhappily fallen away from Christ or who with obstinacy and pertinacity deny His divine nature and mission. Certainly such attempts can nowise be approved by Catholics, founded as they are on that false opinion which considers all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy, since they all in different ways manifest and signify that sense which is inborn in us all, and by which we are led to God and to the obedient acknowledgment of His rule. Not only are those who hold this opinion in error and deceived, but also in distorting the idea of true religion they reject it, and little by little, turn aside to naturalism and atheism, as it is called; from which it clearly follows that one who supports those who hold these theories and attempt to realize them, is altogether abandoning the divinely revealed religion. (See: http://www.dailycatholic.org/mortaliu.htm)

Should we piously believe that the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist monks placing a statue of Buddha over the tabernacle of St. Peter Church in Assisi did not promote religious syncretism and relativism of concepts? Of course it did. If in fact that Buddha display—as well as many other incidents at the various Assisis—did not serve to promote syncretism and relativism, then those words have lost their meaning. So, when Benedict XVI warned against syncretism and relativism, was he really concerned about defending the purity of our Holy Faith, or was he playing with words? So what actually are our “conservatives” now talking about? What is the major difference between Francis’ relativism and that of Benedict XVI?

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