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Professor Josef Seifert… Amoris Laetitia’s “Immense Threat” To The Moral Teaching Of The Church

September 20, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


(Editor’s Note: In light of Professor Josef Seifert’s recent essay examining some of the dangerous logical consequences of Amoris Laetitia — an essay for which he was dismissed from his teaching position by the archbishop of Granada — Dr. Maike Hickson of reached out to the Austrian philosopher to ask him some additional questions about not just the post-synodal exhortation that has generated so much controversy, but the state of moral teaching and praxis in the Church in its wake.
(This interview was first published by on September 5 and it is reprinted here with their gracious permission. All rights reserved.
(The Wanderer has published this interview in two parts, in place of our usual Shepherds of the Flock, because of its importance. Part one appeared in last week’s issue.)

Part 2

Maike Hickson: In this context of the “intrinsically disordered and objectively gravely sinful acts,” you yourself explicitly mention not only the divorced and “remarried” couples, but also homosexual unions. Do you think that the term “irregular couples” as used by Amoris Laetitia is meant to be more inclusively applied also to homosexual couples?
Josef Seifert: It clearly does, and many other statements of the Pope and of bishops’ conferences, such as the Philippine one, make it clear.
MH: In the context of absolute moral laws that now seem to be undermined in this current discussion, you yourself bring up the topic of Humanae Vitae and a possible future re-examination of its teaching on contraception. Do you yourself have concrete information about this newly formed Vatican commission? Are some of its members for you already an indicator of the direction of the commission’s work?
JS: There have appeared a great number of articles and blogs, from reliable and well-informed sources, that have confirmed this notice. However, even without trusting these, pure logic tells us: If some unrepentant adulterers can be admitted to the sacraments and if their adultery can even “be what God wants them to do in the complexity of their situation,” how can you exclude, by the same reasoning, that some couples, who practice contraception, should just as well be admitted to the sacraments? Or that even God, in the complexity of their concrete situation, wills them to use contraception and sterilization, instead of temporary abstinence, because this abstinence can lead a husband or wife to commit worse sins?
MH: You have added to your new essay that you yourself had been “elected by Pope St. John Paul II as an ordinary (lifelong) member of the Pontifical Academy for Life (a charge that ended with the dismissal of all PAV members by Pope Francis in 2016, and the failure to be re-elected as member of a profoundly changed PAV in 2017.)” Could you explain to us these words? Does this mean that you have been removed from the PAV in spite of the fact that you had been designated (by John Paul II) as a lifetime member of PAV?
JS: According to the statutes of PAV, all ordinary members were lifelong members. Pope Francis has first changed the constitution of PAV. Thus, now the maximal period of your term as an ordinary member in the PAV is five years. Secondly, Pope Francis has dismissed all current members of PAV and canceled the General Assembly Meeting in 2016 as scheduled before. Third, he has named some new and reinstated some old members of PAV, including some very fine ones. I happen to be among the dismissed and not reinstated ones.
MH: Do you have an idea why you have been removed from the PAV?
JS: As all PAV members have been removed, as mentioned, it is clear why I have been removed. Why I have not been reinstated, only the Pope could answer with certainty, but you might speculate, if you wish, about this. Perhaps: because of my 2016 article on AL? Possibly because I have criticized repeatedly and publicly two former presidents of PAV (under Pope Benedict) and asked the Pope to replace them (which he did in one case)? Because I have written for several PAV meetings and two meetings of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (that invited me as an expert on the question), and for two years in a commission about Brain Death (BD) definitions convoked by Elio Cardinal Sgreccia, lengthy criticisms of the “brain-death definitions”? Perhaps because I have sent these criticisms to two previous Popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) in the (unfulfilled) hope that the Church would clearly reject BD definitions and BD criteria as invalid?
Perhaps because I publicly criticized [Bishop] Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo’ s communication, sent to a Medical World Congress on Coma and Death in Cuba, that identifying “brain death” with human death was sort of “dogma of the Catholic Church” and adherence to it obligatory, and his false claim that the acceptance of this criterion was now “official Catholic Teaching”? Perhaps also because I have, during this same International Medical Congress on Coma and Death, and two earlier ones, delivered keynote addresses that criticized identifying “brain death” with human death?
Perhaps because I informed the audience of the last mentioned congress that, and why, Pope John Paul II had, after an address of his to transplantation surgeons in which he seemed to support this identification of “brain death” with human death, expressed most serious doubts regarding this identification of human death with “brain death”?
Or because I told publicly that Pope John Paul II had personally convened a symposium on this topic in the Pontifical Academy of Science, in which the large majority of medical doctors, philosophers, jurists, anesthetists, etc., rejected this identification?
Perhaps because I revealed to those present that the promised (and already proofread) text of the acts of this symposium had been suppressed, seemingly by [Bishop] Sanchez Sorondo himself and that PAS convened another symposium, in which only a (very remarkable) minority rejected the identification of human death with “brain death.”
MH: You say that the new PAV, as it has been rearranged since the end of 2016, is “profoundly changed.” Could you explain to us how so? What are the changes that you see happening in the new PAV?
JS: In the first place, I do not want to idolize the old PAV founded by St. John Paul II. After the presidency of the saintly medical doctor Jerome Lejeune, for whom a process of beatification is underway (and who discovered the cause of Down Syndrome and fought fiercely for the life of each of the children affected by this syndrome, whom many doctors and parents murder when they now know their genetic infirmity), and who died of cancer some months after his nomination as president, we had two other presidents.
The first of these was Professor Juan de Dios Vial, rector of the Pontifical University of Chile, assisted by the, generally speaking, excellent Vice President (now Cardinal) Elio Sgreccia, who became later an equally sound and competent president of PAV (even though some of the members, including myself, were critical of the way in which he conducted some issues, for example, the brain death debate).
Even then in its golden times, the PAV had a number of disputes, for example over the question whether the so-called “brain death” is actually human death, and those who denied this, as Professors Allan Shewmon, Wolfgang Waldstein, Alejandro Serani, myself, etc. were increasingly marginalized. Then we had two presidents of PAV who have made declarations contrary to ethical truth and Church Teaching. (The first, [Archbishop] Fisichella, defended the legitimacy and mercifulness of some abortions), the second one organized, for example, a Congress of PAV in which, of seven invited speakers on infertility treatment, six propagated methods directly opposed to Church teaching.
These and other events raised a well-deserved opposition from some members. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many, this blatantly contradicted the goals of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pro-Life Oath each member had to take, as well and above all, the teaching of the Church.
I wrote two open letters about the intolerable situation the “old PAV” was passing through at that time. Thus, I do not glorify the “Old PAV” nor deny that a sound reform of the “Old PAV” might have been most laudable.
However, the profound changes that occurred now seem to go much further and in the opposite direction. On the one hand, on the administrative level, Pope Francis has changed the constitution, as I mentioned, and thus eliminated the firm core of members unconditionally committed to life that Pope John Paul II chose, creating a flexible changing society that has lost its identity that at least some enduring and committed members had given the PAV.
Most importantly, the new statutes eliminated the Pro-Life Oath we had to take in the old PAV. Some openly anti-life members have been named. The new President and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia had ordered, before his election, frescos in his cathedral in Italy, which show him and many other people naked, engaged in homosexual and other sins…in a large net to Heaven, all the while they continue to commit the same sins in their net. The great painter Bosch had painted the same sins that were glorified in this fresco in his famous paintings of Hell.
Archbishop Paglia also heads the John Paul II Institute where great pressure is now being exerted on professors not to support the moral and disciplinary sacramental teachings of Familiaris Consortio but those of [Amoris Laetitia].
MH: Are you yourself concerned about some of the new members of the PAV, such as Professor Nigel Biggar, Fr. Maurizio Chiodi, Fr. Carlo Casalone, SJ, or Fr. Alain Thomasset, SJ, some of whom either actively defend abortion or the use of contraception?
(Here is a link:
JS: Of course, I am. We had some such members before, for example, an Austrian who promoted the “family of your dreams” (die Wunschfamilie) whose realization in his center included IVF (in vitro fertilization), selection of fertilized eggs according to sex or health, eliminations of “deficient” or “undesired” children and hence early abortions. However, these members have been asked to resign. Now they seem to be directly nominated by the Vatican. This means a profound change of vision of the PAV from the original one.
MH: In light of the previous discussion about Amoris Laetitia — and the many faithful attempts to defending the traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church — do you see parallels to the now possibly developing reinterpretation of Humanae Vitae and its outcome?
JS: I am convinced that pure logic dictates that, if Pope Francis does not revoke the teaching I analyze in my latest article, and if he does not answer the dubia of the cardinals, to the clear effect that there are intrinsically evil acts, and that these acts are never justified in any situation, Humanae Vitae will be interpreted as an ideal that cannot be demanded from everybody; and that, after discernment, those who practice contraception (with or without abortive effects), can be admitted to the sacraments and that God Himself, in some difficult situations, wants them to use contraception.
This would follow from any denial of intrinsically evil acts. And such a denial is certainly suggested by the passage that I analyze in my last article. Thus, I hope ardently that the Pope, if he answers the question my article poses, in the affirmative, will retract this affirmation of AL and thereby prevent the overthrow of Humanae Vitae.
MH: Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ (d. December 30, 2000), the well-known U.S. American dogmatician, used to stress that most of the Church’s moral teaching actually was infallibly taught by the universal ordinary Magisterium, e.g., without being taught ex cathedra. Do you yourself consider the strict prohibition of the use of any form of contraception (many forms of which are abortifacients) as being part of the infallible teaching of the Church? Or would Pope Francis be permitted to allow exceptions with regard to this teaching?
JS: I see it certainly as part of the infallible teaching of the Church (though not expressed in a dogma). Moreover, I believe that its ethical truth can also be known by pure reason and I have written many papers in the defense of philosophical proofs and evidences of its truth.
MH: When taking your own 2017 essay, together with the upcoming discussion about Humanae Vitae, do you see a realistic danger that the undermining of absolute moral laws might lead to the Church’s official condoning of abortion and contraception?
JS: I think the tremendous gift of the infallibility of the Church forbade that Pope Paul VI, who was inclined to prefer the majority opinion (“pro contraception”) in the commission he had convened, did so, and thus he wrote Humanae Vitae in support of the true opinion of the minority. Moreover, I think this same infallibility can never allow that the Catholic Church will follow the Anglican Lambeth Conference message that changed the prohibition of contraception in the Protestant churches, a prohibition formerly universally accepted by all Christian churches.
Nevertheless, I do not believe it to be impossible that an infallible teaching of the Church be denied fallibly by a council or even by a Pope, which happened some times in the history of the Church. For example, Pope John XXII taught a very serious heresy which he himself revoked on his deathbed in writing a bull condemning his own teaching, and his Successor condemned it as heresy. Pope Liberius signed a Semi-Arian declaration which was somewhat deviating from the central Christian dogma of the true divinity of Christ and St. Athanasius, who defended the truth fiercely, was several times excommunicated for defending the truth. A council burned the entire writings of another heretical Pope, Honorius, and he was excommunicated posthumously.
Thus, sometimes, happily very rarely — and never when the Pope speaks infallibly, declaring a dogma — a Pope can commit grave errors or even heresies. In my latest article, I do not criticize or “attack” the Pope, nor charge him with heresy, but only ask some questions. One should never forget, however, that criticizing a noninfallible statement or opinion of the Pope is in no way always wrong or damaging the Church. The first holy Pope, St. Peter, was publicly rebuked and criticized by St. Paul in a council, and St. Thomas gave a wonderful defense of this. Christ Himself, just after he had named St. Peter as the first Pope, and the Rock, on which the Church was built, even called him “Satan” and said to him, “Get away from me, Satan,” and charged him with wanting to impose his purely human thought on God’s thought that included the mystery of the Passion and death of Jesus Christ.
MH: Walter Cardinal Brandmueller recently publicly discussed the aspect of a papal profession of faith, which has often been undertaken in times of crisis of the Church. Would you tell us your own thoughts on whether in our current situation, such a papal profession of faith would be helpful?
JS: I believe, if the Pope would publicly recite the true and full Creed of the Catholic Church, it would be most helpful to bring clarity and truth into an apparently hopelessly confused and confusing situation, but of course, probably only a council could demand this from a Pope, or he would have to recognize this himself as being most useful.
MH: The dubia cardinals repeatedly receive harsh criticism from other cardinals, such as Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga and Cardinal Schönborn. Do you see such rebukes as being justified, or what would be your own personal response to these high-ranking reactions to the dubia?
JS: I think the four dubia cardinals (three of whom I consider friends and one of whom is my close friend for 37 years) have acted according to their conscience, with great restraint and respect for the Pope, and with full justification. I think that the critique of them for their dubia is profoundly mistaken, and that, even worse, maligning these wonderful men of the Church is a great sin.
In addition, I believe that they ought to be joined by the whole College of Cardinals. In my view, all other cardinals, bishops, and all Catholics should support the four (now two living) cardinals and ask the Pope, together with the dubia cardinals, to give a final clear and unambiguous answer to these dubia, an answer that might restore clarity and truth, and dispel the immense confusion that reigns now and which nobody who has eyes to see and a mind to think, can deny. Not the dubia, but not answering them in the truth and with unambiguous clarity, sows distrust in the Pope and confusion.

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