September 30, 2013
Germain Grisez on Pope Francis's Interview
A friend sent me something important that the distinguished moral theologian Germain Grisez, thoroughly a man of the Second Vatican Council, has written about Pope Francis's much-discussed interview and the thinking and attitude that it reveals. I'll preface Grisez's devastating criticism with the considered observation that the "dialogue" between the Church and the world so much pressed by some Catholics today, including Pope Francis himself, is a literally hopeless novelty. The term dialogue appears some 28 times in the documents of the Council, but, to my knowledge, the term had never appeared -- not once -- in earlier Church documents. There was transcendent reason to prefer the Church Militant to "dialogue." What happens in such "dialogue" is not that the world is converted, but that the world finds some of its *own* reasons for agreeing with *some* of what the Church teaches. But that sort of worldly-sculpted agreement elides the one necessary moment for which the Church must be working with respect to every available soul, viz., conversion. I would suggest that when the New York Times applauds its favorite, humble Pope, it's not because the Times or some poor soul has been converted. It's because the Times sees an image of its not-humble self in what the Pope has said. Grisez's critique should put a welcome end to certain myths about the value of the Pope's interview. The relationship between the Church and the world cannot be like that among "friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine" (Cf. John 16).
Here is what Grisez wrote:
Dear Dr. Moynihan,
Insofar as I understand what Pope Francis had to say, I can agree with him, but he said some things that I do not understand, and that have already been made bad use of by the secular media. Take the following passage:
"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow."
The teachings of the Church certainly are not all equivalent. There is a hierarchy.
But what is the point of saying that the Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a "disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently"? Making this assertion suggests, unfortunately, a caricature of the teachings of recent pontificates. I assume Pope Francis would reject that reading. But where, then, is the state of affairs that needs to be overcome?
Proclamation in a missionary style does focus on essentials. But the new evangelization cannot proceed as if the Gospel has not been already preached, and either understood or not, but in either case, rejected. Still, I agree that what is central needs to be presented more clearly and forcefully than has generally been the case. Unless people believe that Christ has risen and will come again and gather into his kingdom all who are ready to enter, and unless they hope to be among those ready to enter, there is no use trying to instruct them about what they need to do in order to be ready to enter.
But what is meant by “moral edifice of the Church”? Many people mistakenly think that the moral truth the Church teaches is a code she has constructed and could change. If that were so, it could collapse like a house of cards. Perhaps Pope Francis means that the moral teachings, though they are truths that pertain to revelation, will collapse for the individual who lacks hope in the kingdom to come. But who knows what he means? The phrase is impressive. It reverberates in one’s depths. But if it was suggested by a spirit, it was not the Holy Spirit, for it is bound to confuse and mislead. [emphasis added]
I’m afraid that Pope Francis has failed to consider carefully enough the likely consequences of letting loose with his thoughts in a world that will applaud being provided with such help in subverting the truth it is his job to guard as inviolable and proclaim with fidelity. For a long time he has been thinking these things. Now he can say them to the whole world — and he is self-indulgent enough to take advantage of the opportunity with as little care as he might unburden himself with friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine.