How magisterial can you get? Or not, as the case may be.

In an astonishing reaction to Amoris Laetitia (hereinafter <AL>) the doyen of Vatican conservatives, Raymond, Cardinal Burke has claimed that <AL> is not a document of the Roman Magisterium, but simply a few personal reflections by Pope Francis on the proceedings of the two extraordinary synods on the family. A personal reflection of 58.000 words in the course of which the author quotes himself in his own footnotes might seem a trifle portentous– but no matter.

Burke’s view may simply be a clever ploy to undermine the ‘Francis Revolution’ from within. But it leaves members of the Ordinariate with a ticklish problem.  When we entered the Catholic Church we solemnly pledged ourselves to uphold ‘all that the Catholic Church holds and teaches’. And in case we were in any doubt about what that meant, Anglicanorum Coetibus defined it for us as acceptance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

So the question for us has to be: does anything in <AL> contradict <CCC>, or any other major document of the Magisterium (Familiaris Consortio, for example)? Or what precisely was it that we signed up to?

Wise men, it seems, find it hard to say. But when a principal author of <CCC> (the estimable Christoph Schoenborn, Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna) starts to talk about ‘development of doctrine’ – and misrepresents our own John Henry (An Essay on the Development of Doctrine, 1845) into the bargain – there is reason for anxiety.

Schoenborn was trying to assure us that there has been no change in doctrine, but that the ‘development’ lies in the pastoral application of traditional teaching. Ex-Anglicans can be forgiven if they detect the faintest smell of rodent. Alteration by atrophy is an old Anglican ploy.

Because it is not easy – or even possible – to get the consensus required for a change of doctrine, pastoral decisions about its application are devolved to the lowest possible level (‘subsidiarity’) – the parish priest in the first instance, eventually the individual conscience. In the absence of centralised institutional enforcement the exception becomes the rule, and no decision about change is, in the end needed. In effect, it has become redundant. A generation later most people will simply have forgotten that there ever  was a rule; and those who do remember it will be no more than a minor embarrassment.

That, you will recall, is how the CofE dealt with the remarriage of divorced people. And it is no doubt the way in which it will handle same sex relationships.


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