Is Chris Ferrara sliding into conservatism?

Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 1.10.02 PMOn December 6, Taylor Marshal posted on YouTube an interview of Christopher Ferrara under the title, Is Pope Francis Against Fatima? The two men ended up discussing, however, far more than just this one question. [NOTE: Ferrara’s knowledge of, and insight into, Fatima is considerable and valuable. If for no other reason than that, I encourage readers to view the video.]

During the interview, Marshall expressed something of a mea culpa, alluding to his journey away from conservatism and toward tradition. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he and Ferrara met in the middle, what stood out more starkly to me is what appears to be the latter’s drift toward conservatism.

I’ll pick it up at the 38:00 mark and invite you to watch the video for yourself. Chris Ferrara states:

There’s no such thing as an “authentic Magisterium” versus an inauthentic Magisterium. There’s no such thing as a Magisterium that is ordinary and can make mistakes, and an extraordinary Magisterium that is infallible. No, the Magisterium as such is infallible. It cannot teach an error … so, the Magisterium as such doesn’t lie to us.

This raises an important question.

Q: What if a pope teaches error while insisting – explicitly and publicly, using the instruments of papal authority to do so – that it is, in fact, Magisterial?

This is far more than a merely rhetorical question. As many readers may already be aware, during his recent visit to Thailand, Francis (as he is known) referred to “the eighth chapter of Amoris Laetitia” as the “Magisterium of the Church,” and this is not the first time he has insisted as much.

Taylor Marshal, to his credit, asked Mr. Ferrara to comment on Bergoglio making use of the AAS in promoting the implementation of Amoris Laetitia according to the guidelines proposed by the Buenos Aires bishops, doing so explicitly in order to assert that it is “Magisterium.” To which, Mr. Ferrara replied (40:15):

When he publishes that in the AAS and calls it through his Secretary of State ‘authentic Magisterium,’ we have to reject that. It simply can’t be authentic Magisterium.

Ultimately, Mr. Ferrara moved to sweep the entire issue aside saying, “It’s not really a doctrine, it’s a disciplinary permission.” (This, incidentally, was precisely what the Kasperites were saying in the lead up to the Synods on the Family!)

This is some turnabout for Chris Ferrara. Readers may recall that he was among the signatories of the so-called Filial Correction of 2017 that points to the following (among other things) from Amoris Laetitia:

Our Lord Jesus Christ wills that the Church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried and of refusing absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it.

Mr. Ferrara added his name to those who stated that this is among those propositions in Amoris Laetitia that “contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith.”

Now, he tells us it’s just a matter of disciplinary permission?

Elsewhere in the interview (60:48), however, Mr. Ferrara says:

John Paul II was great on moral theology and it’s precisely the teaching of John Paul II on moral theology that this pope [Francis] seems determined to overturn on the subject of divorce and remarriage in particular.

So, what did JPII teach on this matter?

The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. (Familiaris Consortio 84)

Get that? Based upon Sacred Scripture and tradition. Ferrara himself (40:31) refers to this as what “the bi-millennial tradition of the Church says about people living in adultery.” In other words, this most certainly does pertain to doctrine!

Mr. Ferrara, to his credit, volunteered to bring up (42:58) what he deemed to be an even thornier issue:

Now, more problematical is the contradiction on the death penalty. He had that put into the Catechism. Okay so obviously we can’t be victims of cognitive dissonance.

Not to be a wise guy here, but as every “traditionalist” knows the so-called Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated under JPII, and revered by conservatives, is nothing more than a handbook for implementing the errors of Vatican Council II. I find it odd that Mr. Ferrara seems to imagine that Bergoglio’s misuse of the AAS is somehow less problematical than his tinkering with a book that “traditionalists” (aka Catholics) have long known belongs in the trash heap.

In any case, he relates that he finds it more problematical because the Church’s position on the death penalty (36:43) is “based on the words of God Himself in the book of Genesis … and Christ Himself …  For 2,000 years the Church taught that for the gravest crimes capital punishment is morally licit.”

In other words, it isn’t just about the “disciplinary permission” given by God to the State to put men to death for certain crimes; it’s about a teaching based on Scripture and tradition; i.e., it concerns doctrine, just like the aforementioned entry into the AAS. This makes his turnabout on Amoris Laetitia opening the way to Communion for those who insist on persisting in manifest grave sin all the more difficult to understand.

So, how does Mr. Ferrara propose (43:23) to resolve this Catechism conundrum?

The only solution to the problem, short of sedevacantism, which I certainly don’t espouse … the other way to resolve the problem otherwise is to say yes, the Pope can make a mistake.

Not very long ago, I wouldn’t have had any difficulty with Ferrara’s claim that we simply need to reject a pope’s insistence that he is teaching Magisterium when we personally conclude that it is erroneous and that he made an unfortunate mistake.

Today, even though my life would be far less complicated if I denied as much, I must admit that there are grave problems with this approach.

Look, folks, if any one thing can be considered the common thread that unites all who credibly claim to be “traditionalist,” it is that we look to Catholic tradition to tell us what to believe and how to behave. As far as I can see, nothing in the tradition of the Church tells me that the faithful have the right to summarily dismiss as erroneous or mistaken any teaching that a given pope insists is Magisterium. On the contrary:

A characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord. (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii)

In defining the limits of the obedience owed to the pastors of souls, but most of all to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, it must not be supposed that it is only to be yielded in relation to dogmas of which the obstinate denial cannot be disjoined from the crime of heresy. (Pope Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae 24)

Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed. (Pope Leo XIII, Epistola Tua)

I could provide more of the same, but presumably the point has been made. Pay close attention to the latter citation as it speaks directly to a comment made by Taylor Marshall (43:13) concerning Bergoglio’s stance on the death penalty:

They’re contradictory statements. The prior teaching in the CCC and in the new teaching in the CCC. They can’t both be true.

Ferrara’s solution? Pope Francis made a mistake!

One wonders, therefore, if he believes that Pope Leo XIII also make a mistake when he taught, in keeping with his predecessors, that we are not free to reject the present teaching to hold to the past?

Who do we trust in such matters as these? Or put another way, what is the Catholic way to look at the crisis under discussion?

On the one hand, the Holy Roman Pontiffs warn that we have no right, and in fact we walk on dangerous ground, to pick and choose which papal teachings deserve our obedience. On the other hand, we have Chris Ferrara (who is far from alone in taking this position) encouraging us to simply dismiss as an unfortunate “mistake” even those teachings that the pope insists are part of the Church’s Magisterium.

Again, who do we trust to tell us how to behave?

The problem at hand is much bigger than Bergoglio. As I have written in this space numerous times; he is simply taking Vatican II to its logical conclusion. About the Council, Mr. Ferrara, after pointing out that the Council offered a great deal of social commentary that has nothing whatsoever to do with faith and morals, had this (48:05) to say:

If a Council talks about things that are not doctrinal, we don’t have to believe what the council says.

One presumes that he believes that the converse is also true: If a council talks about things that are doctrinal, we have to believe what the council says.

Just one example should suffice:

The Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them [the communities of the schismatics and heretics] as means of salvation. (UR 3)

This most definitely is a doctrinal statement concerning the means of salvation. It was voted upon by an overwhelming majority of the world’s bishops and approved by Paul VI for dissemination to the Universal Church.

Are we to shrug this off also as just some unfortunate mistake that cannot possibly be Magisterium, in spite of the fact that Paul VI said:

The Council helps the faithful, teachers or disciples, to overcome those states of mind – of denial, indifference, doubt, subjectivism, etc. – that are opposed to purity and the strength of faith. It is a great act of the ecclesiastical Magisterium; and whoever adheres to the Council recognizes and honors with this, the Magisterium of the Church. (Paul VI, General Audience, January 12, 1966)

Look, one does well to reject the errors under review here indeed, but one is being less than honest to deny that, from a traditional Catholic perspective, according to venerable popes, the Catholic faithful have no right to summarily dismiss such things if indeed they came to us from a Roman Pontiff.

Finally, another sign of Chris Ferrara’s unfortunate slide toward conservatism took place at the end of the interview. Seeking to encourage those viewers who may be overwhelmed with discouragement (82:54), he said:

Maybe you can’t get to the traditional Mass and you found at least a decent, reverently offered, Novus Ordo. There are certain places where the Novus Ordo is offered facing the altar, and you have a solid priest, who because he’s under a bishop who would destroy him in a minute, can’t introduce the traditional Mass, but he’s doing everything he can to bring back tradition.

I highly doubt that Fr. Michael Rodriguez, who is also affiliated with the new Fatima Center (the one that wants everyone to forget that Fr. Nicholas Gruner considered Francis an anti-pope), would agree that this “solid priest” is “doing everything he can.”

More to the point, I am rather certain that Cardinal Ottaviani, Archbishop Lefebvre and Cardinal Bacci (who collaborated to create the “Short Critical Study on the New Order of Mass”) would say that the Novus Ordo, regardless of how reverently it may be offered, is a danger to one’s faith.

I’ve always been inclined to follow the SSPX’s approach of helping individuals who are in the Novus Ordo to find their way out, patiently showing them the reasons why they should do so. As for encouraging people to find an allegedly “decent” Novus Ordo, which in reality is evil? This, in my view, has no place in the effort to promote Catholic tradition.

So, to what are we to attribute Mr. Ferrara’s slow slide toward conservatism?

While one cannot be certain of the cause, it seems to me that this is what happens when one buys into the Big Tent, #UNITEtheCLANS, Low-T “traditionalism” espoused by Michael Matt, with whom Mr. Ferrara has collaborated for many years, eventually – even if neither consciously nor deliberately – compromise will creep in.

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