By Diane Montagna
ROME, August 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) —Is Catholic thought still possible today? Or will those who seek to interpret Pope Francis’s pronouncements in line with his predecessors be persecuted solely for explaining the meaning of his words in harmony with Tradition?
In his first interview since his dismissal from the restructured John Paul II Institute in Rome (see full text below), former president and chair of fundamental moral theology, Monsignor Livio Melina, has said the fate of the Institute will be “decisive for the Church,” and that what is at stake is not just the institute and legacy of John Paul II, but also the freedom to engage in “Catholic” thought.
“If the decisions taken by Archbishop Paglia are not revoked, then what they are saying is: ‘The interpretation of the magisterium of Pope Francis in continuity with the previous Magisterium is intolerable in the Church,’” Msgr. Melina told the Italian daily La Verità on Aug. 3.
In the interview, Melina responds to accusations levelled one day prior by journalist Luciano Moia of Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, that he and other prominent professors at the John Paul II Institute “corrected the Pope” by interpreting his words in continuity with Tradition.
Readers will recall Moia’s name from his recent interview with controversial figure, Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, in which the Italian moral theologian (who has been invited to teach at the restructured John Paul II institute) said that it may be morally good for a person to remain in an active homosexual relationship in some circumstances.
Interestingly, Moia claims in his Aug. 2 article that Msgr. Melina and the former chair of special moral theology, Fr. José Noriega, were removed not only for the reasons stated by institute chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, in his dismissal letter, but also for the content of their teaching, i.e. for “minimizing the scope of the change wanted by Pope Francis.”
Moia accused Melina of seeking to “demolish the many points of originality present in Amoris Laetitia,” by suggesting that these new ideas have to be interpreted in light of Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals on the family, Familiaris Consortio, and the Church’s moral teaching, Veritatis Splendor.
Painting Msgr. Melina as “a theologian correcting two Synods and a Pope,” Moia also criticized him for openly saying that “even after Amoris Laetitia, admitting the divorced and ‘remarried’ to Holy Communion outside the situations stipulated in Familiars Consortio 84, and Sacramentum Caritatis 29, goes against the discipline of the Church.”
In his Aug. 3 response in La Verità, Melina suggested that Moia “offer arguments” rather than accusing him of “correcting” the Pope. Otherwise, he said, “what the accuser [Moia] is doing is absolutizing his own interpretation, as if it were the only obvious reading of the text.”
According to Melina’s line of thought, the clash is therefore not between “bergoglians” and “wojtyłians” but between an ideological, revolutionary and totalitarian interpretation of Pope Francis’s thought, and simple “Catholic” thought which seeks to interpret his pronouncements within the whole of Tradition.
In his Aug. 2 article, Moia also accused Msgr. Melina and other long-time professors, such as Polish philosopher and friend of John Paul II, Stanislaw Grygiel, and former institute vice-president, Fr. José Granados, of betraying the Gospel by putting doctrine before pastoral care.
Dismissing Moia’s charge, Melina said that “this approach, which separates Christ the ‘Teacher’ from Christ the ‘Shepherd, as if there were two Jesuses, is quite common today.” He noted, however, that “the mercy of Jesus and his pastoral care passed by way of his doctrine, as Mark’s Gospel says: ‘He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things’ (Mk 6:33-34).”
Melina described what has been done to various professors at the John Paul II Institute in Rome as a “conviction without a trial.”
“There is a paradox in all of this,” he said. “Some dissenting theologians from Catholic moral theology, who clearly opposed the Magisterium, have been banned from teaching, but this happened after a regular trial.”
“But what happened in the case of the professors of the John Paul II Institute?” Melina continued. “The accusation is not that of denying Catholic doctrine, but only of not following a particular interpretation of the Magisterium of Pope Francis.”
“But, above all,” he said, “we have been deprived of our professorship without any possibility of defending ourselves, without us even having heard … what we are really accused of. The newspaper Avvenire had the merit of highlighting the real reasons for our dismissal, which had not been communicated to us, and thus unmasked the manoeuvre that is to be carried out at the Institute founded by St. John Paul II.”
If Moia’s claim that Msgr. Melina and Fr. Noriega were dismissed because of the content of their teaching, and not solely for the reasons stated by Archbishop Paglia, it could well open up a Pandora’s box of legal problems for the Vatican.
An informed source in Rome told LifeSite: “If Moia’s argument were right, and Melina was dismissed on account of the content of his teaching, then Melina should immediately be reinstated.”
“If the grounds are indeed the content of his teaching, he would have the right to a process analogous to that of Charles Curran in the 1980s. Until the results of that trial are out, Msgr. Melina would have to be allowed to teach,” he said.
In 1986, after due process, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, stripped Father Curran of his right to teach theology at The Catholic University of America, for his obstinate and public dissent against a long line of moral teachings.
The source also noted that “if Moia is right, and these are the grounds, then there will be a real scandal.” He explained:
Moia is admitting that an obvious violation of academic freedom has taken place. Paglia and Sequeri, for their argumentation to work, would have to distance themselves radically from Moia and emphasize that they hold nothing against Melina’s teaching and agree with Melina that Moia is guilty of slander. If they side with Moia, instead, they openly admit a rampant violation of academic freedom.
“Moia’s article is in a way rather revealing in that it shows the extent of the scandal,” he said. “It lays open that the reasons given for the dismissals of Melina and Noriega were just argumentative fig leaves to avoid having to go through a due process in order to dismiss Melina and Noriega, because such due process could never have led to their dismissal.”
Here below we publish the official English translation of the full interview with Msgr. Melina which first appeared in edited form in La Verità.
Someone has written that at the John Paul II Institute you and other colleagues, who now in various ways have been removed from the “restructured” institute, have had the habit of “correcting the Pope” about the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Is that so?
Those who speak in this way probably do not know the difference between two different words: “to correct” and “to interpret.” Every text needs to be interpreted, as contemporary philosophy in particular has taught us. But the interpretation that seeks to be faithful to the text is not a correction. One part of theological work is precisely this interpretation, which in the case of the Magisterium, uses the key of a reading in harmony with the rest of magisterial texts. Amoris Laetitia, one might say, is not a book in itself, but one chapter in a larger book containing all the texts of the Magisterium. Those who think that another’s interpretation is not true must offer arguments and not accuse them of making a “correction,” because in this case what the accuser is doing is absolutizing his own interpretation, as if it were the only obvious reading of the text.
Furthermore, in the case of Amoris Laetitia, many people have taken the path of interpreting it as if it “surpassed” or even “corrected” other magisterial texts, such as Familiaris Consortio, the Catechism of the Catholic Church or Sacramentum Caritatis. They read the chapter and forget the book where the chapter is inserted. To speak of “rupture” and “revolution” in the Magisterium is not Catholic language. In reality, there is great freedom in interpreting texts; the only real norm is that of respecting the “rule of faith.” In other words, the essential thing asked of the interpreter is that he reads the text in continuity with the rest of the previous Magisterium.
Cardinal Newman was well aware of this when he specifically identified, as one of the notes [criterion] of a true development of doctrine (as opposed to its corruption), the “conservative action upon its past.” Moia thinks that we are forcing the text of Amoris Laetitia in order to adapt it to the rest of the Magisterium. What Moia does not explain to us is the way in which he must force (or correct?) the rest of the papal Magisterium in order to adapt it to his reading of Amoris Laetitia.
On the topic of disputes, there is much talk of freedom of theological reflection (which is widely practiced in disagreement with Humane vitae and Veritatis splendor), but in your case do you feel censored?
What has been done at the Institute with various professors is a conviction without a trial, starting with the suspicions sown over the years by people like Moia. There is a paradox in all of this. Some dissenting theologians from Catholic moral theology, who clearly opposed the Magisterium, have been banned from teaching, but this happened after a regular trial in which they were assigned a defender and there was the possibility of responding to the accusations. And even so, they continued to accuse the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of unjust and abusive behavior.
But what happened in the case of the professors of the John Paul II Institute? The accusation is not that of denying Catholic doctrine, but only of not following a particular interpretation of the Magisterium of Pope Francis. But, above all, we have been deprived of our professorship without any possibility of defending ourselves, without us even having heard (Kafka comes to mind) what we are really accused of. The newspaper Avvenire had the merit of highlighting the real reasons for our dismissal, which had not been communicated to us, and thus unmasked the maneuver that is to be carried out at the Institute founded by St. John Paul II.
This is why the defense of the John Paul II Institute touches everyone, and the fate of the Institute is decisive for the Church. If the decisions taken by Archbishop Paglia are not revoked, then what they are saying is: “The interpretation of the magisterium of Pope Francis in continuity with the previous Magisterium is intolerable in the Church.” Indeed, those who offer this interpretation even lose the right to defend themselves in a trial and are simply dismissed according to a special version of that “throwaway culture” so often condemned by Pope Francis.
Luciano Moia writes in Avvenire that your mistake in “correcting the Pope” is to give priority to doctrine over pastoral care, while it seems that the journalist [i.e. Moia] believes the Gospel says the opposite. What are your thoughts on this?
This approach, which separates Christ the “Teacher” from Christ the “Shepherd,” as if there were two Jesuses, is quite common today. But the mercy of Jesus and his pastoral care passed by way of his doctrine, as Mark’s Gospel says: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:33-34). In this passage, mercy, the shepherd and doctrine appear together. Jesus’s doctrine is the concrete form that his mercy and pastoral care takes towards men who, lost without light and direction, live in darkness. To think that one who offers light is a rigid man is a great mistake. It is precisely when we are in darkness that we cannot move, and it is the light that, by allowing us to move, energizes us and leads us home.
The John Paul II Institute has demonstrated a vision of man — learned through research and study lived in communion — that is capable of creating fruitful programs for authentic pastoral care. The doctrinal-pastoral relationship was studied in the tradition of the John Paul II Institute from the perspective of the relationship between truth and love. Truth, contained in doctrine, is the truth of a love, and love needs truth to overcome mere emotion and endure over time, as Pope Francis taught us in Lumen Fidei. To speak of the priority of pastoral care over doctrine, by placing them in contrast, is to oppose (or “correct”) the magisterium that Pope Francis gives us in the first of his two encyclicals, which are the highest-ranking magisterial documents that he has written.
It is repeated with insistence that the old institute and the pastoral work that sprang from the Magisterium of John Paul II (and, I might add, from the first president of the Institute, Carlo Caffarra), were sterile, cold, and far from the wounds of man. What is your point of view on this?
The whole vision of St. John Paul II comes from an extreme closeness to the human situation. And that certainly means closeness to man’s wounds. But, above all, it means a closeness to the most original experience of man, which is not that of being wounded, but of being loved by God and made capable by him of a loving response. That is why John Paul II, before seeing the wounds, saw the greatness of man thanks to the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ. It was in this light that he spoke of his “faith in man.” The distinction is not between those who see wounds and those who see only cold doctrines. The distinction instead lies between those, on the one hand, who only see wounds and, given man’s impotence to go it alone, try to justify it; and those who see, together with and before the wounds, God’s great call to man, and man’s capacity to be redeemed by God and to build a great and beautiful life, the one that God has always wanted for him.
Two radically different ways of engaging in pastoral work flow from these visions. The first, seeing only insurmountable wounds, tries to tolerate them: it measures man according to his weakness and his fall. The other way, seeing God’s great call, tries to help man to mature so that he might be capable of responding in love. The supporters of the first vision, because they do not understand the capacity of the Gospel to regenerate man, believe that others are rigid, cold, and distant; in the same way as those who see people dancing but do not hear music think that they are crazy, making useless and meaningless movements.
In order to understand the logic of true pastoral care, one must hear and perceive the music of redemption: this is what St. John Paul II spoke about in the final part of the encyclical Veritatis splendor. Instead, the “anti-pastoral” choice of adapting the divine commands — which are inscribed in the plan of creation and express the original call to love — to the weakness of fallen man, is an inverted form of that “moral Pelagianism” so often condemned by Pope Francis. It is a lack of faith in God, but also in man, because it rejects proposing conversion to him and has no confidence in the renewing power of grace.
According to what some call the “new paradigm” of moral theology arising from Amoris Laetitia— we hope that even discussing this is not considered an attack on the pontiff — it opens up to the so-called “possible good.” To enable readers to understand what it is about, could you offer a concrete example?
I will take the example used by Professor Maurizio Chiodi a few days ago, in an interview with Luciano Moia. There it is said that life within [the relationship of] a homosexual couple could be a possible good for a person in certain circumstances. The doctrine of the Church teaches, instead, that it is an evil, something that damages the person who does it and leads him more and more towards evil. It is not a question of a contrast between two visions, one pastoral and the other doctrinal. Rather, they are two diagnoses of a situation, two diagnoses that open up to very different cures. According to the first, it could be said that this person, although performing homosexual acts, is living according to the will of God, who does not ask us for more than we can do. The acts he engages in would be humanizing, they would even lead to the Gospel, even if at some point he will have to realize that they are not perfect acts, and that there is a better way.
Catholic doctrine, which teaches that these are intrinsically evil acts, proposes a different diagnosis and consequently a different cure. Homosexual acts cannot be ordered to God and therefore do not lead to the good of the person. Jesus, the divine physician, who knows the heart of man, says: every time you engage in this act, you are damaging love, your humanity, and the humanity of the other. At the same time he says: but the call to true love always resounds in you, and you can follow this love, and I am here to accompany you on the way of conversion, which asks you to leave evil behind and embrace the good. This is why it is necessary for you to abandon false loves, which in reality are an adoration of yourself, and for this you have the strength that comes from the redemption wrought by Christ Jesus.
Allow me to recall a passage from Veritatis Splendor, 103. It deals precisely with the possible good, inasmuch as John Paul II asks, “But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’? John Paul II writes: “It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a ‘balancing of the goods in question.’ But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.” *
*Address to those taking part in a course on “responsible parenthood” (March 1, 1984), 4: Insegnamenti VII, 1 (1984), 583.
Translation by Diane Montagna of LifeSiteNews.