Synod. Jousting Jesuits, Dueling Dominicans

By Sandro Magister
June 2, 2015

ROME, June 2, 2015 - In the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed after inspection by the Vatican authorities, an article signed by director Fr. Antonio Spadaro states at a certain point:

“Doctrinal rigidity and moral rigorism can lead even theologians to extremist positions, which defy the ‘sensus fidei’ of the faithful and even simple common sense. One recent journalistic report cites, with admiration, a letter from an American theologian that makes these ridiculous statements:

“‘Which is, in this case, the more serious evil? To prevent the conception – and very existence – of a human being with an immortal soul, desired by God and destined for eternal happiness? Or to abort a child in the womb? The latter is certainly a grave evil, Gaudium et Spes calls it an abominable crime. But a child exists who will live eternally. In the former circumstance a child God intended to be will never exist.’

“According to this reasoning it is maintained, therefore, that abortion is more acceptable than contraception. Incredible!”

These comments come from a renowned French theologian of the order of Saint Dominic, Jean-Miguel Garrigues, joined by his friend and fellow “La Civiltà Cattolica” author Christoph Schönborn, cardinal of Vienna and himself a Dominican, interviewed for the magazine by Fr. Spadaro.

Who in his turn says he is completely in agreement with him:

“Yes, I share your judgment. I too read those words and was stunned by their lucid senselessness.”

Neither Garrigues nor Spadaro gives the name of the theologian they place under accusation. But the citation they make is unmistakable. It is taken from a letter sent last January 29 to www.chiesa by the American Jesuit Joseph Fessio:

> “La Civiltà Cattolica” Isn’t Always Right. And It’s a Jesuit Who Says So

Fr. Fessio is not an unknown. Formed in the theological school of Joseph Ratzinger - and a prominent member of the circle of his disciples, the “Ratzinger Schülerkreis” - he founded and directs the publishing house Ignatius Press in the United States, which recently made an impression with the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” with contributions from five cardinals against communion for the divorced and remarried.

In the letter, Fr. Fessio was criticizing what another Jesuit of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” Pierre de Charentenay, had written against the bishops of the Philippines, reproving them for being “backward” and “closed off” with respect to the insights of modernity and the promptings of Pope Francis on account of their tough opposition to the law on “reproductive health” backed and steered through the legislature of their country by its Catholic president, Benigno Aquino.

But Garrigues and Spadaro ignore all of this. They pounce upon just one passage of Fr. Fessio’s letter, in which he illustrated a specific case.

Fessio’s reply is reproduced further below. But it also touches on other points of the interview with Garrigues.

In the first place where he examines two cases of remarriage after a previous marriage in church, proposing admission to Eucharistic communion in both cases.

The first case:

“I think of a couple in which one of the partners has been previously married, a couple that has children and an active and recognized Christian life. Let’s imagine that the previously married person has submitted the previous marriage to an ecclesiastical tribunal that has decided for the impossibility of pronouncing nullity in the absence of sufficient proof, while they themselves are convinced of the contrary, without having the means to prove it. On the basis of testimony to their good faith, to their Christian life and their sincere attachment to the Church and to the sacrament of marriage, in particular on the part of an expert spiritual father, the diocesan bishop could admit them with discretion to penance and the Eucharist without pronouncing the nullity of the marriage.”

The second:

“It is more delicate. It is that in which, after divorce and civil marriage, the divorced partners have experienced a conversion to active Christian life, the witnesses to which can include their spiritual father. They believe in any case that their sacramental marriage was truly such, and that if they could they would try to repair their rupture because they experience sincere repentance: but they have children, and besides they do not have the strength to live in continence. What should be done in this case? Should a continence be demanded of them that would be foolhardy without a particular charism of the Spirit? These are questions that require reflection.”

Moreover, Fessio reacts to his confrere Spadaro where he compares him to “those who were scandalized when some missionary sisters, exposed in certain warring regions of the world to the risk of being raped, had been authorized to take birth control pills as a preventive measure.”

And Fessio again rebuts Garrigues where he places him in “the same current that criticized the personal opinion of Benedict XVI in his book ‘Light of the World’ (2010), because he had said: ‘There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.’ For the opponents of Pope Benedict XVI, the condom is intrinsically evil, independent of any consideration of the circumstances of its use.”

This controversy, crowned with a note from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, was covered by www.chiesa at the time in these five articles:

> Friendly Fire on Benedict XVI. And a Condom's to Blame (1.12.2010)

> Church and Condoms. The "No" of the Diehards (4.12.2010)

> On the Condom and AIDS, the Pope Has Come Down from the Cathedra (11.12.2010)

> Sexual Ethics. Six Professors Discuss the Ratzinger Case (18.12.2010)

> Professor Rhonheimer Writes. And the Holy Office Agrees (22.12.2010)

It must also be noted that the case of abortion versus contraception raised by Fr. Fessio in late January has been extensively developed in a prolonged discussion between him and the Canadian theologian Michel Fauteux, a discussion that “La Civiltà Cattolica” has completely ignored:

> Contraception and Abortion. Which Is the Greater Evil

But now it’s Fr. Fessio’s turn.

And immediately afterward the turn of another theologian, not a Jesuit but a Dominican, which criticizes in even greater depth the two exceptions to the ban on communion for the divorced and remarried proposed by his confrere Garrigues in “La Civiltà Cattolica.”



I’m not sure it’s worth responding to "La Civiltà Cattolica", because the criticism Fr. Garrigues makes does not address what I actually said, but rather what we call a “straw man” argument. He does indeed quote part of what I wrote, but not the part which specifies the particular case on which I base my conclusion.

For what it’s worth:

1. Overall, the interview is unobjectionable, especially when Fr. Garrigues speaks in generalities, which is most of the time. When he gives specific examples – the two cases on pp. 507-9 – he goes from the edge of case 1 to the abyss of case 2.

Of course – case 1 – if there is moral certitude that there was no marriage in the first place, then a pastoral solution of "epieikeia" can be acceptable; but there is no adultery because there was in fact no previous marriage.

But in case 2 – "more delicate” –, where the couple recognizes the original marriage as valid and sacramental but “do not have the strength to live in a continence that would be foolhardy without a particular charism of the Spirit,” we do have a situation of objective adultery: marital intercourse outside a valid marriage. So, according to Fr. Garrigues, God will not give them the grace needed to avoid sinning. Do people need a “special charism” to avoid fornication when the urge is so strong that they don’t have the “strength” to resist?

2. On pg. 504, Fr. Garrigues begins his response to Fr. Spadaro’s aphorism that we need to be “attentive to save the lost, and not only preoccupied not to lose the saved” by saying: “Doctrinal rigidity and moral rigorism can lead even theologians to extremist positions”. As an example of this rigidity, rigorism, and extremism, he quotes part of the argument I made.

In my original argument, and immediately preceding the words he quotes from me, are these words:

"Is it true that abortion is a greater evil than contraception, even 'decidedly more serious'? Not necessarily. Take the case of married couples who without grave necessity use contraception to postpone having children for years after they are married. Certainly in some cases it is God’s will for them to be open to new life".
Note that I have presented a very specific case, and use it only to argue that abortion is not necessarily in all cases more serious than contraception. But after omitting the specific case on which my argument is based, Fr. Garrigues quotes only what follows it. And even he, though he introduces this truncated quote by qualifying what I say as “ridiculous statements”, begins the truncated quote with “Which is, in this case, the more serious evil?” (my emphasis). Having intentionally omitted the “case” which governs what follows, he concludes: “According to this reasoning it is maintained, therefore, that abortion is more acceptable than contraception. Incredible!”.
What is incredible – or maybe not – is that someone who claims to be a scholar would proceed in this manner. My position may be wrong. But Fr. Garrigues has not refuted it; in fact, he has not presented a single argument against it. I never claimed that every act of contraception is a graver evil than abortion. Nor does the specific case I adduced require the general conclusion he draws.
Later he refers to my “reasoning” (which is not mine at all) as “similar to that of those” who are scandalized that some nuns who were in danger of being raped in a war-torn region took contraceptives. This has nothing to do with the case I presented. Therefore I simply respond “It’s not similar”.

Further on he claims that “the same current” (it’s not the same; and it’s not a “current” because I’m not aware of anyone else who has made the argument) opposes what Benedict XVI wrote in "Light of the World" about condoms used to prevent AIDS. Again, this has nothing to do with the case I presented.

Pax et bonum,
Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.


The magazine of the Rome Jesuits that published the interview with Fr. Garrigues:

> La Civiltà Cattolica



Cher Sandro,

Je suis mille fois d’accord avec l’article du frère Jean-Miguel Garrigues O.P. sur "La Civiltà Cattolica". Sauf lorsqu’il en vient à présenter deux cas "limites" comme deux exceptions.

Là, j’ai cru que c’était... les jésuites qui avaient inséré un passage qui n’était pas de lui. Mais non : c’est bien de lui, il me l’a confirmé lui-même.


Dans sa première exception, ça revient à dire que si des hommes du métier, qui y passent beaucoup de temps, n’ont pas pu faire la preuve de la nullité du lien, alors l’évêque, qui n’est pas un spécialiste du mariage, en son âme et conscience, pourra passer par dessus au terme d’un ou deux entretiens, sur la bonne foi des époux et l’attestation de leur accompagnateur spirituel.

On répondra : "Mais leur mariage est nul". Dans ce cas, s’il est vraiment, pourquoi ne pas les marier? Et pourquoi alors agir en secret, dans la discrétion ? Parce qu’on a des doutes ? Et si on ne les marie pas, en quoi le fait que leur premier mariage soit nul changera le fait qu’ils vivent ensemble sans être mariés légitimement dans un lien sacramentel ? En quoi cela leur ouvre-t-il l’accès à l’absolution et à l’eucharistie?

Quand des époux se présentent finalement à l’officialité (quand ils le font…), c’est qu’ils pensent qu’il y a quelque fondement à la nullité de leur lien, c’est qu’ils sont convaincu en leur âme et conscience que leur mariage est nul. Et si le tribunal ne leur donne pas raison, vont-ils être convaincus pour autant ? C’est donc tous ceux qui se présentent à l’officlalité qui pourront dire qu’en conscience leur mariage est nul, et l’évêque pourra tous les absoudre, et tous les autoriser à communier.

Il n’y a donc plus qu’à fermer les officialités, remplacées par les évêques, et même les églises, puisque un simple mariage civil entraîne les effets d’un mariage sacramentel.


Dans sa seconde exception, les époux à l’inverse sont convaincus que leur mariage est sacramentel. Mais ils n’étaient pas convertis, donc la grâce n’a pas produit de fruit. Mais ils se sont convertis depuis : reviviscence de la grâce matrimoniale. Problème : depuis, ils ont divorcé et ils se sont remariés. Comme ils sont convertis, ils voient le problème, et s’ils le pouvaient, ils aimeraient bien "réparer" leur divorce et leur remariage. Mais ils ne le peuvent pas, puisqu’il y a des enfants. Et comme ils n’ont pas reçu une grâce spéciale de l’Esprit saint, ils n’ont pas la force de la continence. Alors, comme ce sont de bons chrétiens, on va les admettre à l’eucharistie.

Dans ce cas, c’est très bien, on va pouvoir la donner à tous les divorcés remariés qui restent pratiquant, parce que sont de bons pratiquants. Ah, c’est vrai, ils sont divorcés remariés, et ils reconnaissent que leur premier mariage était le bon, donc que leur second est illégitime, donc ils sont adultères ? Mais à part ça, ce sont de bons chrétiens, et puisque ce sont de bons chrétiens, on va leur donner accès aux sacrements : la pénitence et l’eucharistie.

On passe donc du "je suis pécheur, donc je dois changer de vie" au "je suis bon chrétien, donc l’Église doit changer la règle".

On répondra : mais ce sont des exceptions, qui ne concerneraient en réalité que peu de monde. Vraiment ? Ça peut concerner tous les divorcés remariés qui pratiquent encore. Les autres, qui ne pratiquent plus, ils se passent déjà de la reconnaissance de l’Église, à laquelle ils ont cessé de demander des comptes.


Avec ces deux exceptions, on finit par couvrir tous les cas : que le mariage sacramentel soit valide ou pas, ce sont de bons chrétiens, donc on leur donne accès à l’eucharistie, sans plus se demander si la situation dans laquelle ils vivent n’entre pas en contradiction avec la parole du Christ qui nous dit que celui qui vit avec une personne qui n’est pas son conjoint légitime est adultère, et que les adultères n’ont pas part au Royaume. Ils n’ont pas part au Royaume, mais on leur donnera part au sacrement du Royaume, ils mangent et ils boivent leur propre condamnation d’après l’Apôtre, mais tout va bien.

On rappelle dans l'article de "La Civiltà Cattolica" que le Saint Office a condamné en 1690 le "tutiorisme". Mais on oublie de dire que la congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi a condamné ces deux propositions en 1994, avec la "Lettre aux évêques sur l’accès à la communion eucharistique des divorcés remariés", par le cardinal Ratzinger, et en 1998, "À propos de quelques objections à la doctrine de l’Eglise concernant la réception de la communion eucharistique de la part des fidèles divorcés remariés", toujours par le cardinal Ratzinger. Sans parler de "Familiaris Consortio" n. 84 du 1981, de "Sacramentum Caritatis"  n. 29 du 2007, du Code de droit canonique, du Catéchisme de l’Église catholique, etc…

C’est incroyable que un théologien comme le frère Garrigues ne voie pas que l’exception qu’il propose au titre de l’épikie revient exactement à la pratique des Églises orientales de faire des "exceptions", qui ouvrent peu à peu la porte à d’autres et ruinent dès le début et toujours plus le principe de l’indissolubilité. C’est exactement la demande d'un autre théologien, Basilio Petrà. C’est mettre fin à deux mille ans de fidèlité, pour se mettre à la traîne des orthodoxes qui n’ont pas été fidèles au Seigneur sur ce point.

Les deux exceptions proposées par "La Civiltà Cattolica" admettent à l’eucharistie sans renonciation à son péché : exactement le contraire de ce que l’Église a toujours demandé.

Au nom de la fermeté des principes et de la souplesse des exceptions, on en revient à abandonner la nécessité de se convertir pour obtenir le pardon, ce qui ne souffre aucune exception, on en vient à entrer en contradiction avec la parole du Christ au nom de la miséricorde, alors que c’est le Christ qui nous fait miséricorde dans la pénitence, qui ne veut pas la mort du pécheur mais qu’il vive, en changeant de vie.

Bonne Fête de la Trinité !

Le 31 mai 2015

(Signed letter)


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


The latest three articles from www.chiesa:

> Synod. The Battle of Germany
The German bishops are fighting to open the way for divorce and homosexuality. But six of them have broken ranks. And in a book one jurist thoroughly criticizes Cardinal Kasper’s ideas. "It is a crisis of faith," comments African cardinal Sarah

> Diaries of Martyrs in the China of Mao
Four direct testimonies of the persecutions in the 1950’s and ’60’s, collected in a book for the first time. With the account of Masses and communions celebrated and lived even in the prohibitive conditions of prison

> Synod. An Unconventional Voice from Argentina
A jurist and father of 14 children demolishes Cardinal Kasper’s ideas of in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried, not approved by the synod fathers but already put into practice in many places


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.