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Zero elite press coverage of ‘heresy’ accusations against an American cardinal?

Zero elite press coverage of ‘heresy’ accusations against an American cardinal?

No, the journalism question discussed during this podcast was this: Why are these developments — especially that stunning “Imagining a Heretical Cardinal” essay by Paprocki — receiving (as of this morning) zero coverage in the mainstream press?

By the way, it’s important that Bishop Paprocki is the chairman-elect of the Canonical Affairs and Church Governance Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It may also be relevant that, in 2017, Paprocki and McElroy clashed — in print — over the Springfield bishop’s decision not to allow Catholics to receive Holy Communion if they are openly living in same-sex marriages and, thus, rejecting centuries of Catholic doctrines on marriage and sex.

Why the lack of coverage? I have several theories. This story would become big news if:

(1) It somehow involved President Joe Biden, a rosary-carrying Catholic who, as vice president, performed a same-sex marriage rite and also stated that he believes the church’s teachings on this issue are out of date.

(2) Pope Francis openly addressed the contents of the essays by Paprocki, McElroy or Cupich. Will the pope used the same silence strategy he offered in response to the 2016 “dubia” letter in which four cardinals raised theological questions about his document Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)?

(3) Liberal Catholic leaders blasted the Bishop Paprocki essay as yet another example of a dangerous right-wing cabal attempting to leverage its clout in the USCCB to attack Biden and, yes, the progressive doctrinal initiatives linked to the Synod on Synodality?

In other words, debates about the Cardinal McElroy essay, etc., are the stuff of “conservative” and “Catholic” news coverage — until Catholics that journalists respect declare that these issues are important and represent dangerous attacks by bad Catholics on the work of good Catholics.

Readers! Scan this Google News file from this morning for the terms “Paprocki,” “McElroy” and “heresy.” What do you see here? What is missing?

The key here is the word “heresy” — which is a bombshell word in Catholic canon law.

Remember that wave of news coverage a few weeks ago when Pope Francis granted (or perhaps even sought out) a rare face-to-face Associated Press interview that was clearly linked to some of these developments? Here is how I framed that in an “On Religion” column with this headline: “Pope Francis and a liberal U.S. cardinal spark new firestorm on sex, sin and Eucharist.”

The timing was striking since the AP interview ran on January 25 — one day after the Jesuit magazine America published a controversial essay by Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who Pope Francis selected as a cardinal last year.

“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities,” concluded McElroy. “The church’s primary witness in the face of this bigotry must be one of embrace rather than distance or condemnation. The distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus for such a pastoral embrace because it inevitably suggests dividing the L.G.B.T. community into those who refrain from sexual activity and those who do not.”

The cardinal linked this “pastoral” approach to another hot-button issue — offering Holy Communion to Catholics divorced and remarried outside the church. Previously, he had claimed that the “Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare” by bishops attempting to withhold Communion from Catholic politicians who publicly promote abortion rights.

In this new essay, McElroy applauded Pope Francis for viewing Communion “not as a prize for the perfect, but as a source of healing for us all.” The cardinal’s bottom line: “Sexual activity, while profound, does not lie at the heart” of Catholic teachings about discipleship. “Yet in pastoral practice we have placed it at the very center of our structures of exclusion from the Eucharist. This should change,” he said.

The pope’s words were big news.

The contents of the essay by Cardinal McElroy, an eyebrow-raising Pope Francis choice for the College of Cardinals? Not so much.

Now, with that in mind, consider the opening of the First Things essay by Bishop Paprocki. This is long, but journalists need to read this for themselves:

Imagine if a cardinal of the Catholic Church were to publish an article in which he condemned “a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist” and stated that “unworthiness cannot be the prism of accompaniment for disciples of the God of grace and mercy.” Or what if a cardinal of the Catholic Church were to state publicly that homosexual acts are not sinful and same-sex unions should be blessed by the Church? 

Until recently, it would be hard to imagine any successor of the apostles making such heterodox statements. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon today to hear Catholic leaders affirm unorthodox views that, not too long ago, would have been espoused only by heretics. “Heretic” and “heresy” are strong words, which contemporary ecclesiastical politeness has softened to gentler expressions such as “our separated brethren” or “the Christian faithful who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.” But the reality is that those who are “separated” and “not in full communion” are separated and not in full communion because they reject essential truths of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Thus, it is deeply troubling to consider the possibility that prelates holding the office of diocesan bishop in the Catholic Church may be separated or not in full communion because of heresy. 

Yet both the cases mentioned above would in fact involve heresy, since heresy is defined as “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” (canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law).

What are the stakes here, in terms of Canon Law?

Once again, this passage is rather long. However, this was written — let me stress, again — by the chairman-elect of the USCCB’s and Canonical Affairs and Church Governance Committee.

Normally canonical sanctions require that either a judicial or administrative process be followed before a penalty can be imposed. However, it is important to note that canon 1364 says that “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiaeexcommunication.” A latae sententiae excommunication is a sentence that is automatically incurred without any canonical process. While an automatic penalty without due process is unheard of in most judicial systems, canon law provides for such penalties, due to the distinctive character of spiritual offenses such as apostasy, heresy, and schism, since a person who espouses apostasy, heresy, or schism has de facto separated themselves ontologically—that is, in reality—from the communion of the Church. Thus heretics, apostates, and schismatics inflict the penalty of excommunication upon themselves. 

Returning to the earlier examples cited, it is contrary to a “truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” to reject or condemn “a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist,” as if no such barriers existed. They do exist, and they are a matter of divine revelation. The truth about eucharistic coherence that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith was articulated by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord . . . For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27–29). This has been the constant teaching of the Church for the past two thousand years. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” A mortal sin is one which “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God.” 

With regard to the sinfulness of homosexual acts, the truth that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is also stated clearly in the Catechism

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Thus a cardinal of the Catholic Church, like any other Catholic who denies settled Catholic teaching, embraces heresy, the result of which is automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church. 

A newsworthy claim? Has Pope Francis placed a heretic in the College of Cardinals?

Oh, and who has the authority to discipline a cardinal, a prince of the Roman Catholic Church?

That would be the pope — alone.

Is this a news story? Just asking.

Enjoy the podcast and, please, pass it along to others.

FIRST IMAGE: A social-media image of lightning striking St. Peter’s Basilica, hours after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI — drawn from Pinterest and the Liturgy Guy website.

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