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Tyranny of the minority: AL edition

Every time the media, some blogger, or a friend on facebook lament the “confusing” effect of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, or the gospel, they pull out the infamous dubia of Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner or the letter of 45 “theologians” sent to the cardinals critiquing or dissenting from the apostolic exhortation. (Really, only about 15 of the signatories are theologians, some of note, the rest being lawyers, philosophers, grad students and simple clerics).

The latest example, from Religion News Service, covering last weekend colloquium in Paris on the history of deposing popes for heresy:

After Pope Francis did not respond to the call to explain his views, the four cardinals — including an American based in Rome, Cardinal Raymond Burke — released the text of their appeal. Burke also gave an interview saying the pope would automatically lose his office if he professed a heresy.

In December, another group of 23 Catholic scholars and cleric issued a letter saying the church was now “drifting perilously like a ship without a rudder, and indeed, shows symptoms of incipient disintegration.” They urged the four cardinals to issue a so-called fraternal correction.

Whether their complaints and cautions have any merit or not, and whether these are academic heavyweights or not is not my immediate concern. But consider this:

There are 223 cardinals, only four (three retired) signed the dubia.

It is a little hard to find statistics on just how many theologians there are, surprisingly, but a quick estimate* suggests something like 23,000 Catholic theologians (with a doctorate), worldwide. Only 15 singed this dissent letter.

So, <2% of cardinals, and 0.06% of theologians have formally expressed criticism or dissent from Amoris Laetitia.

Granted, it is always fair to assume that there are some whose sentiments are in accord with those expressed by did not or could not sign the letters, so there are larger numbers with similar ideas. But still. These numbers are tiny. Minuscule, even. No way do they deserve the level of attention they have been given.

ALimageThough, the fact that they can do so is nothing short of amazing. Barely a decade ago, only tenured professors dared even utter words like “clericalism” or “reform”, much less things like “married priests” or “formal correction of a pope”. For an entire generation previously, criticism of, and even voicing differing opinions than, the pope was a good way to loose your job, damage your career, and guarantee persona non grata status on commissions or as curial consultors. Now, at least ,there is freedom to express yourself on such things without petty reprisals.

The simple reality is the vast majority of people who know what they are talking about back the pope and the bishops. The vast majority of people who mostly know what they are talking about back the pope and the bishops. This should not surprise anyone. But it seems to, almost constantly. Perhaps because too large a voice is given to this cantankerous minority, and it has far too much influence here in Rome. Another three decades of Francis or another in his mold might just shift the paradigm, otherwise, more direct action needs to be taken to balance the perspective to match reality.

Perhaps the press could help, by, instead of highlighting these fringe voices of dissent or doubt, focusing on the 219 cardinals and 22,985* theologians going along with the thought of the Church, hm?

*There are 1358 Catholic higher education institutes worldwide, about 215 in the U.S. alone. Those 215 produce about 90 research doctorates in theology (PhD, ThD, STD) every year. That info I could find easily. So lets extrapolate and guess 570 PhD’s in theology worldwide, per annum (that’s possibly generous). But again, estimate 40 years of being in the workforce before emeritus status, and there are potentially 23,000 Catholic theologians out there. Not even counting those of us with DMin, STL, MDiv, MTS, MA, etc. And certainly not counting philosophers and sophists lawyers who think they are theologians!

PS: I would love someone with accurate statistics on theologians and theology PhDs to come along and correct me, please. 

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1 Comment

  1. I’m not sure what your point is: Pope Francis is tireless in his declamation against the learned classes, who would reduce the faith to a technical exercise; then, he offers a “pastoral direction” that appears to be amenable to many different interpretations, not all of them reconcilable with the core of the Church’s constant teaching and general discipline; the faithful are perplexed.

    The response of the learned to the simple faithful cannot be: trust us, it is a complex technical matter, but it checks out – because saying does not make it so.

    This especially cannot be the response to others learned in the sacred sciences, who have their own perplexities: nor can the response be a mere accusation of rigidity and pharisaism.

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