VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider are among a small group of cardinals and bishops to sign a “declaration of truths” reaffirming key Church teachings at a time they describe as “almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation.”
Published on June 10, Pentecost Monday, and entitled “Declaration of the Truths Relating to Some of the Most Common Errors in the Life of the Church of Our Time,” the eight-page document reaffirms the Church’s perennial teaching on a range of key doctrines, from the Eucharist and marriage, to capital punishment and clerical celibacy.
The document is the latest in a series of declarations, filial petitions and corrections from bishops, academics, priests and laity concerned about the ambiguity of teaching and associated confusion that have arisen during the current pontificate.
In an explanatory note, the signatories state the declaration, dated May 31, has been written “in the spirit of fraternal charity” and as a “concrete spiritual help” so that clergy, religious and laity are able to confess “those truths that in our days are mostly denied or disfigured.”
The Church, they go on to say, is experiencing “one of her greatest spiritual epidemics” that comprises “an almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation.”
This represents “a seriously contagious danger for spiritual health and eternal salvation for many souls,” they continue, adding that there is a “widespread lethargy in the exercise of the Magisterium on different levels of the Church’s hierarchy.”
As well as Cardinal Burke, who is the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and Auxiliary Bishop Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, the declaration has also been signed by Cardinal Janis Pujats, archbishop emeritus of Riga, Latvia, and Kazakh Archbishops Tomash Peta of Astana and Jan Pawel Lenga, emeritus of Karaganda, Kazakhstan.
The signatories remind each bishop, priest and layperson that they have “the moral duty to give witness unambiguously to those truths that in our days are obfuscated, undermined, and denied.”
They also believe that if such a witness occurs, these truths could “initiate a movement of a confession of the truth” that would act as “reparation” for the “widespread sins against the faith” and the “hidden and open apostasy from Catholic Faith” of a “not small number” of clergy and laypeople.
“In giving witness to the immutable Catholic Faith, clergy and faithful will remember the truth that the entire body of the faithful cannot err in matters of belief,” they state. They call on the “saints and great bishops” who experienced “doctrinal crises” to “intercede for us and guide us with their teaching.”
The signatories also say “without any doubt” that the declaration will act as a “fraternal and filial aid for the Supreme Pontiff” during this “extraordinary situation” of “general doctrinal confusion and disorientation.”
They quote heavily from St. Paul in the explanatory note, such as his admonitions against being “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” his exhortation that there be “no division in the body” of the Church, and his instruction to hate “that which is evil” and cleave “to that which is good.”
They entrust the declaration, published on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, “to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God under the invocation Salus Populi Romani (‘Salvation of the Roman People’),” aware of the “privileged spiritual meaning which the icon has for the Roman Church.”
The 40-point text begins with a reassertion of the “Fundamentals of the Faith,” stressing that “whatever new insights may be expressed regarding the deposit of faith,” these cannot be “contrary to what the Church has always proposed in the same dogma, in the same sense, in the same meaning.”
The meaning of dogmatic formulas, it adds, remains “ever true,” even when expressed “with greater clarity and more developed.” The faithful, it stresses, “must shun” those formulas that “distort or alter” the truth and “dogmatic relativism” that corrupts the Church’s “infallibility relative to the truth.”
The text speaks of the “deep solicitude” of the Church for the needs of men, something that “can never mean” conformity of the Church to the “things of this world.”
The document states that “Muslims and others who lack faith in Jesus Christ” cannot give God “the same adoration as Christians do.”
The declaration calls “spiritualities and religions that promote any kind of idolatry or pantheism” as “deceptions” that “preclude eternal salvation.”
Ecumenism, it adds, is not about establishing a Church “that does not yet exist” but consists of a unity “which the Catholic Church already indestructibly possesses.”
The document reaffirms the existence of hell and that eternally damned human beings “will not be annihilated.”
It stresses that “the religion born of faith in Jesus Christ” is the “only religion positively willed by God” — an implicit reference to the “Human Fraternity” declaration signed Feb. 4 by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar University, that controversially stated the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.”
The Declaration of Truths reasserts the Church’s teaching on grace and stresses that the Church’s moral teaching cannot be “separated” from the Ten Commandments. It reaffirms that behavior cannot be morally justified if it is “contrary” to the commandments and the natural law.
Likewise, it stresses that “no circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God.”
These passages of the document implicitly relate to the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in particular parts of its eighth chapter that has been criticized for allowing some “remarried” divorcees living in an objective state of adultery to receive Holy Communion and further criticism that the exhortation appears to undermine the Church’s teaching on prohibition of intrinsically evil acts.
These concerns were among those raised in five dubia sent by Cardinal Burke and three other cardinals to Pope Francis in 2016 in the hope of clarifying the Church’s teaching in the document but which were never directly answered.
The declaration also reasserts the Church’s teaching on euthanasia, the indissolubility of marriage, cohabitation, divorce and “remarriage,” contraception, the gravely sinful nature of homosexual acts, the non-admissibility of same-sex “marriage” or blessings of such unions, and rejection of gender ideology.
Following recent changes to the Catechism to declare the death penalty inadmissible, it states that the Church “did not err” in teaching that civil authorities may “lawfully exercise capital punishment” when it is “truly necessary” and to preserve “just order of societies.”
The document also defends and reasserts all the Church’s teaching on the sacraments, including the seal of confession (currently under attack by some secular authorities), and the teaching that the Eucharist may not be given to those who “deny any truth of the Catholic faith” — a possible reference to recent controversial guidelines in Germany allowing Holy Communion to Protestant spouses in some cases.
In light of increasing threats to mandatory celibacy of the priesthood, the declaration reasserts the Church’s discipline, stressing that it “stems from the example of Jesus Christ and belongs to immemorial and apostolic tradition.” This law, they say, “should not be abolished in the Roman Church through the innovation of an optional priestly celibacy, either at the regional or the universal level.”
The document also rules out the ordination of women and states it is “wrong” to say that an ecumenical council can “define this matter.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.