Among the priests born in the diocese of Carpi, that Pope Francis will visit on Sunday, April 2, there is one who is giving him a tough nut to crack.
His name is Roberto A. Maria Bertacchini. He was formed in the school of three Jesuits of the first rank: Frs. Heinrich Pfeiffer, an art historian and professor at the Gregorian, Francesco Tata, former provincial of the Society of Jesus in Italy, and Piersandro Vanzan, a prominent writer for “La Civiltà Cattolica.”
Last week Fr. Bertacchini sent to Francis and to Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, a six-page “memorandum” highly critical of the ideas presented in a recent interview with the new superior general of the Society of Jesus, the Venezuelan Arturo Sosa Abascal, who is very close to the pope.
They are ideas, writes Fr. Bertacchini, “of such gravity that they cannot be passed over in silence without becoming complicit in them,” because they threaten to “result in a Christianity without Christ.”
The complete text of the “memorandum” is on this other page of Settimo Cielo:
The interview with the general of the Jesuits criticized by Fr. Bertacchini is the one given to the Swiss vaticanista Giuseppe Rusconi and published on the blog Rossoporpora last February 18, after the interview subject himself reviewed it word by word.
Settimo Cielo gave an extensive account of it in several languages.
MEMORANDUM On the interview with the general of the Jesuits on the reliability of the Gospels
by Roberto A. Maria Bertacchini
In February the general of the Jesuits gave an interview in which he insinuates that the words of Jesus on the indissolubility of marriage are not a point of theological stability, but rather a point of departure for doctrine, which must then be appropriately developed. This - taken to the extreme - could even lead to supporting the exact opposite, or the compatibility of divorce with Christian life. The initiative has in my view primed an explosive situation.
Of course, Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ is very careful not to fall into outright heresy. And this, in a certain sense, is even more grave. It is therefore necessary to retrace the thread of his reasoning.
The question that he poses is whether the evangelists are reliable, and he says: it is necessary to discern. So it is not a given that they are [reliable]. Such a grave statement should be reasoned out at length and in depth, because it is indeed possible to admit error in a narrative detail; but to call into question the veracity of doctrinal teachings of Jesus is another matter.
However it may be, our Jesuit does not get involved, but - very deftly - appeals to the pope. And since Francis, in dealing with couples that are separated etcetera, up to the time of the interview had never cited passages in which Jesus referred to the indissolubility of marriage, the implicit message of our Jesuit was glaring: if the pope does not cite those passages, it means that he has done discernment and maintains that they are not of Jesus. So they would not be binding. But all the popes have taught the opposite! What does it matter? They must be wrong. Or they must have said and taught things that were correct for their time, but not for ours.
Let it be clear: the eminent Jesuit does not say this “apertis verbis,” but he insinuates it, he lets it be understood. And so he gives a key of interpretation for the pope’s pastoral approach to the family that departs from the traditional teaching. In fact, today “we know” that very probably, or rather almost certainly, Jesus never taught that marriage is indissoluble. It is the evangelists who misunderstood.
A Christianity without Christ?
The question is of such gravity that it cannot be passed over in silence without becoming complicit in it. The danger is that this could result in a Christianity reductive of the message of Jesus, or a Christianity without Christ.
In the Gospel for the Mass of last February 24 there was the passage from Mk 10:2-12 on repudiation. So is it acceptable to think that it is not known if Jesus uttered those words, and that they are not binding?
The “sensus fidei” tells us that the evangelists are reliable. However, our general of the Jesuits rejects this reliability, and in addition takes no interest in the fact that Saint Paul had also received this doctrine from the Church as being of Jesus, and handed it on as such to his communities: “To the husbands I order, not I but the Lord: the wife may not be separated from the husband, and if she separates, let her remain without remarrying or let her be reconciled with the husband, and the husband may not repudiate the wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11).
The consistency of this passage with the texts of the synoptic Gospels on repudiation and adultery is perfectly clear. And it would be absurd to imagine that these depend on Paul, and not on pre-Paschal traditions. Not only that. In Eph 5:22-33, Paul revisits the same teaching from Jesus and even reinforces it. He revisits it, because he cites the same passage of Genesis that is cited by Jesus; he reinforces it, because Christ loves the Church in an indissoluble way, to the point of giving his life, and beyond earthly life. And Paul makes this fidelity the model of conjugal fidelity.
Thus it is entirely clear that there is an evident continuity of teaching between pre-Paschal and post-Paschal preaching; and also clear is the discontinuity with Judaism, which instead kept the institution of repudiation. But if Saint Paul himself founds this discontinuity on Christ, does it make sense to bring the Gospels into question? From where comes that leap which inspired the practice of the ancient Church, if not from Christ?
It should be noted that divorce was also admitted in the Greco-Roman world, and in addition there existed the institution of concubinage, which could easily result in a subsequent conjugal union, as attested to for example by the experience of Saint Augustine. And in historiography the principle applies that cultural inertia does not change without cause. Therefore, the change being attested historically, what could be the cause if not Jesus? If this then was Christ, why doubt the reliability of the Gospels?
Finally, if Jesus did not speak those words, what is the source of the drastic comment from the disciples (“But then it is better not to marry!”) in Mt 19:10? Matthew was one of those disciples, and they do not come across well: they show themselves slow to understand and attached to the traditions that Jesus challenges. So from a historiographical point of view, the pericope of Mt 19:3-12 is entirely reliable: and as much for reasons of internal criticism as of external.
The dogmatic context
Moreover, to state that it is not known if Jesus actually uttered those words and that, in essence, they are not binding is “de facto” a heresy, because it is a denial of the inspiration of Scripture. 2 Tim 3 is very clear: “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, convincing, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
“All” evidently also includes Mt 19:3-12. Otherwise it is attested that there is an “other” word that prevails over Scripture itself and over its inspiration. In fact, affirming the unreliability of some words of Jesus is like opening a fissure in the dam of “fides quae,” a fissure that would lead to the collapse of the entire dam. I illustrate:
a) If Jesus did not say those words, the evangelists are not reliable. And if they are not reliable, they are not truthful; but if they are not truthful, neither can they be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
b) If Jesus did not say those words, must he really have said all the others that we take as good? Someone who is unreliable on one innovative question can be likewise on others, like the resurrection. And if, to give the priesthood to women, “La Civiltà Cattolica” does not hesitate to bring into question a solemn magisterium invoked as infallible, will there not be chaos? To what biblical authority can one appeal, if the exegetes themselves are perennially and ever more divided? This is the sense in which the dam collapses.
And that is not the end, because in following the doubts of the Jesuit general it is not only Saint Paul who is trodden underfoot, but also Vatican II. In fact, this is what it states in “Sacrosasnctum Concilium” 7:
“Christ is always present in His Church [. . .] He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.”
Since the passages on the indissolubility of marriage are read at Mass, and to be precise: Mk 10:2-12 on the Friday of the 7th week of ordinary time and on the 27th Sunday of year B, Mt 19:3-12 on the Friday of the 19th week of ordinary time, and Mt 5:27-32 on the Friday of the 10th week, it follows that Vatican II in a certain way attributes those words to the authority of Jesus.
Thus those who follow the doubts of the Jesuit general not only disavow Vatican II, and moreover in a dogmatic constitution, they also doubt Tradition to the point of making abstract and unattainable the very authority of Jesus as teacher. So we are facing a genuine carpet bombing, before which the firmest of reactions is absolutely necessary.
In conclusion, the transition from a religiosity of the law to one of discernment is sacrosanct, but it is full of pitfalls. It requires a Christian formation of an excellence that unfortunately is rare today. And also that one have true love and deference for the divine Word.
In any case, putting on a false front for the sake of the world with the sole aim of avoiding conflicts and persecutions is not only cowardly, it is completely outside of the Gospel, which demands frankness and fortitude in the defense of the Truth. Jesus did not fear the cross, nor did the apostles. Saint Paul, moreover, is clear:
“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal 6:12).
Being circumcised meant on the one hand going back to the religiosity recognized by Rome as legitimate, and on the other conforming to the mentality of the time. Saint Paul knows that the true circumcision is that of the heart, and he does not give in.
Carpi, March 19, 2017
One comment. In the complete text of the “Memorandum,” Fr. Bertacchini writes that on February 24, a few days after the publication of the interview with Fr. Sosa, Pope Francis “censured the positions of the Jesuit general” in dedicating his whole homily at Santa Marta - something he had never done before - to the passage of the Gospel of Mark with Jesus’s very clear words on marriage and divorce.
In the homily, according to Fr. Bertacchini, Francis contested Fr. Sosa’s doubts, emphasizing that “Jesus replied to the pharisees on repudiation, and therefore the evangelist is reliable.”
Properly speaking, however, Pope Francis’s comments on that passage of the Gospel of Mark appeared rather tortuous, to judge by the authorized accounts of the homily published by Vatican Radio and by “L'Osservatore Romano.”
At a certain point, however, the pope even went so far as to say that “Jesus does not respond whether [repudiation] is licit or not licit.”
And even where the pope argues - correctly, Fr. Bertacchini writes - against what he calls “casuistry,” a contradiction arises. Because what is different about what “Amoris Laetitia” asks when it urges case-by-case discernment of whom to admit to communion and whom not, among the divorced and remarried who live “more uxorio”?