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Historical Note on the Filial Appeal


Towards a “Change of Paradigm”

Sandro Magister, perhaps the best-known active Vaticanist, in an article on March 1, 2014 on the Espresso online, recalled what Pope Francis had said about Cardinal Kasper's intervention in the Consistory a few days earlier:

“Yesterday, before going to sleep – although I did not do this to put myself to sleep – I read or rather re-read the work of Cardinal Kasper, and I would like to thank him because I found profound theology, and even serene thinking in theology. It is pleasant to read serene theology. And I also found what Saint Ignatius told us about, that ‘sensus Ecclesiae’, love for Mother Church. It did me good and an idea came to me – excuse me, Eminence, if I embarrass you – but the idea is that this is called ‘doing theology on one’s knees.’ Thank you. Thank you.”

There were many anticipations, but nobody knew exactly which words had so impressed the Pontiff. Sandro Magister was again able to illustrate further details:

“In his report, Kasper said he all he wanted was to ‘ask questions,’ because ‘answering will be a task for the synod in tune with the pope.’ However, when you read what he said to the cardinals, his words are much more than questions; they are proposals for solutions already firmly designed. Which Pope Francis has already shown he wants to adopt. They are strong proposals, a true “change of paradigm.” Particularly about what Kasper sees as the problem of problems: communion for the divorced and remarried, to whom he devoted more than half of his two-hour speech.”


“Standing ovation” from the major media. Perplexed silence from the faithful

That was enough for the mainstream media around the world to embark on a sort of standing ovation to the Catholic Church’s new “opening”.

At the same time, millions of Catholics throughout the world remained in a perplexed silence, raising questions about the orthodoxy and timeliness of such a measure. On the one hand, they correctly linked it with the Gospel teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the consequent condemnation of adultery; and on the other hand, to the whole process of moral relativism and secularization prevailing in society, especially in the West, from civil divorce all the way to the sexual revolution, which has attained breakneck speed since the 1960s.

Countless faithful still remember the efforts by recent popes to halt the revolutionary avalanche that seriously threatens to overwhelm the institution of the family, particularly by Pius XI, with the encyclical Casti connubii; Pius XII, with his allocutions to young spouses; Paul VI, with the encyclical Humanae vitae; John Paul II, with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the encyclicals Evangelium vitae and Veritatis splendor, and the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio; and finally, Benedict XVI, with his enunciation of “non negotiable principles.”

Indeed, innumerable faithful asked themselves why they were now making a proposal that seemed to support the vast cultural and media trend already rejected by the perennial Magisterium of the Church -- and very recently, for that matter – to admit divorce and civilly remarried couples to the Eucharist.

Why did high-ranking ecclesiastical authorities seem not to notice what people’s simple but safe sensum fidei immediately associated with a kind of “Catholic divorce,” opening in the Church the same wounds that civil divorce had opened in secular society?

How could they not see that would set off in the Church a process similar to that in civil society, triggering the same rapid descent down the slippery slope of the 1968 “Cultural Revolution”?

How can they not be suspicious of the vast media hullaballoo by promoters of the Cultural Revolution in favor of the “Kasper proposal”?


A Rigged Synod?

In their frantic propaganda drive about the momentous “opening,” the media immediately echoed a series of lectures and articles by “up-to-date” theologians aiming to give academic and / or pastoral support to the “Kasper proposal.”

It became evident that this proposal had been hovering over the imminent Extraordinary Synod on the Family and influencing its outcome. The presumed urgency of giving a “pastoral response” to the “new problems” of “new families” in order to enable the Church “not to lose contact with contemporary man” dominated both the pre-synodal debate and the synod itself.

For most of the Synod Fathers that were called to Rome in October 2014, the most pressing concern regarding the family was certainly not the “Kasper proposal” but very likely the opposite, i.e., how to defend the flock that Jesus Christ entrusted to them against the growing snares of a sexual revolution that caused them to stray from the faith and from religious practice.

Much has been written and said about the convoluted procedures for preparing the Synod’s discussions and assessing their results. Some facts are certain: after the Relatio post disceptationem of the first Synod on the family, a strong and loud protest erupted at the synod assembly in the presence of the Pope. The Synod president, Cardinal Erdö, was forced to distance himself from its Secretary, Msgr. Bruno Forte, before a large audience of journalists from around the world, because in the Relatio, on his own initiative, the latter had extended “openness” to include homosexual couples.

Edward Pentin, the authoritative Vaticanist of the National Catholic Register, denounced the maneuvers to rig that synod in a book that caused sensation, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod.


A Telluric Wave of Confusion

From the epicenter of the “Kasper proposal,” an immense, telluric-like wave of confusion and bewilderment began to expand throughout the Church. Despite reassuring calls in the second part of the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, it was no longer possible to hide that a fissure had opened and that through it could pass not only the “Kasper proposal” but also a whole “change of paradigm” in Catholic morality. While Msgr. Bruno Forte might better gauge his extemporaneous departures in future, there was little room for doubt as to the purposes of the agenda of the new moral theology.

Today the facts eloquently speak for themselves.

Less than four years from the consistory of 2014, in which the “Kasper proposal” resonated, not a week goes by without news about communion to divorced and civilly remarried couples and also of Masses celebrated for LGBT circles and same-sex partners; of a councilor to the Holy See, the Jesuit James Martin, justifying and promoting such a “pastoral” policy; of the need to “overcome the historical context” of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, and so on.

The “change of paradigm” now falls torrentially upon the Church.

Precisely in the context of general perplexity created after the first Synod on the Family in October 2014, a group of lay people, strongly encouraged by illustrious pastors, decided to get together and make a Filial Appeal to the Supreme Pontiff, respectfully warning him about the foreseeable outcome of the process that was then beginning, and requesting a rectifying intervention.


What did the Filial Appeal ask for?

Faced with the confusion already created, the Filial Appeal to Pope Francis on the Future of the Family called for “an enlightening word” to dissipate the “widespread disorientation caused by the possibility that a breach has been opened in the bosom of the Church that allows the acceptance of adultery by admitting divorced and civilly remarried couples to the Eucharist.”

The letter was motivated by the apprehension that this perspective produced. It stated, “since the so-called 1968 Revolution, we have seen a gradual and systematic imposition of moral customs contrary to the natural and Divine Law, in such an implacable way as to makes it possible today, for example, in many places, to teach the aberrant ‘gender theory’ even to very young children.”

The signatories of the appeal called for an “enlightening word,” for until then, Catholic teaching on the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue had been “like a torch lit before this obscure ideological design,” but with the pre-synodal and synodal discussions of 2014-2015, the light of that torch “seems to falter.”


Delivery of the Filial Appeal

The Filial Appeal to Pope Francis on the Future of the Family, signed by 790,190 Catholics from 178 countries, including eight Cardinals, 203 archbishops and bishops, as well as numerous priests, was delivered to the Secretariat of State of His Holiness on September 29, 2015, feast of the Holy Archangels. A few days later, another 89,216 signatures were delivered, totaling 879,451 signatories.

It is sad to note that to date, the secretariat of the Filial Appeal – which represents a coalition of more than 60 pro-family and pro-life organizations from around the world – has still not received a formal acknowledgement from the Holy See on the reception of the signatures. This omission is all the more paradoxical since Pope Francis has repeatedly manifested his desire to have a Church close to the problems of the faithful and of people in general, and open to dialogue and frank debate.

Nevertheless, the Filial Appeal has had wide international repercussion both in the religious and lay media, contributing to set off in Catholic public opinion a movement that is becoming more and more clearly defined as one of legitimate resistance to the “change of moral paradigm” and of stalwart fidelity to the perennial Magisterium of the Church.


Resistance Continues: The Declaration of Fidelity

After the Second Synod on the Family and the publication of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the organizers of the Filial Appeal, following a suggestion from high-ranking ecclesiastics, wrote a Declaration of Fidelity to the Church's Unchangeable Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline received from the Apostles. Not having the same logistical means as at the time of the early initiative, and this document being significantly more extensive, on August 29, 2016 the secretariat of the Filial Appeal posted the said Declaration on its web site.

The Declaration of Fidelity has received over 35,000 signatures, among which are those of 3 cardinals, 9 bishops, 652 diocesan and religious priests, 40 deacons, 23 seminarians, 48 religious brothers, 159 women religious of cloister and active life, in addition to 450 lay people, including academics, teachers of theology, teachers of religion, catechists, and pastoral agents.


What do the signatories of the Declaration of Fidelity affirm?

As the title says, they reiterate explicitly and formally, their “fidelity to the unchangeable teaching of the Church on marriage and her uninterrupted discipline” because “errors about marriage and the family are widespread today in Catholic circles, particularly after the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods on the family and the publication of Amoris Laetitia.”  

Facing this general picture, the Declaration states, “the undersigned feel morally obliged to declare their resolve to remain faithful to the Church’s unchangeable teachings on morals and on the Sacraments of Marriage, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and to Her timeless and enduring discipline regarding those sacraments.”

Among other important aspects, the signatories specifically wish to reiterate that  all forms of cohabitation more uxorio (as man and wife) outside of a valid marriage gravely contradict the will of God; that irregular unions contradict the marriage willed by God, and cannot be recommended as a prudent and gradual fulfilment of the Divine Law.”

They also reaffirm that a well-formed conscience cannot conclude: 

  • that remaining in an objectively sinful situation can be their best response to the Gospel, nor that it is what God is asking them;
  • that the fulfillment of the sixth commandment and the indissolubility of marriage are mere ideals to be pursued;
  • that grace can sometimes be insufficient to live chastely in one's own state, which would supposedly give some people a “right” to receive absolution and the Eucharist;
  • that a subjective conscience is enough to absolve oneself from the sin of adultery.

Teaching and helping the faithful to live according to these truths, the signatories conclude, is an “eminent work of mercy and charity” as such. They recall that if the Church were to alter the norm of denying access to the Eucharist to those who are manifestly in an objective state of grave sin, She would behave as “owner of the sacraments” and not just as “their faithful steward,” a task given to her by Our Lord.


Analogous and Converging Initiatives

Albeit different from other initiatives to seek clarification in order to put an end to the glaring situation of anomalous confusion and perplexity prevailing in the Church, the Declaration of Fidelity, with its large and qualified number of ecclesiastical and civil signers, is one more voice emerging in the chorus of concerns raised by chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia and by the contradictory interpretations that have ensued.

Indeed, this perplexity of countless faithful throughout the world finds a prestigious and trustworthy resonance in the five dubia presented by four cardinals in September 2016. The latter fraternally asked the Pope to let them know if after that apostolic exhortation, the teaching on the existence of absolute moral norms, valid without exception, which prohibit practicing intrinsically evil acts such as adultery was still in force; and whether it was now possible to grant absolution in the Sacrament of Penance, and consequently to admit to the Holy Eucharist a person who, being united by a valid marriage bond, lives in adultery with another, without having fulfilled the conditions foreseen by the traditional morality and the code of canon law.

The Holy Father has decided not to respond, and -- causing even greater embarrassment among many faithful – not to grant the private audience the said cardinals requested in a letter of April 25 to discuss the issue in view of the “numerous statements from individual Bishops, Cardinals, and even Episcopal Conferences, approving what the Magisterium of the Church has never approved” so that, “what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta.”

Pope Francis’ most recent manifestation of his desire to remain silent and allow the panorama of confusion to be further aggravated by the diffusion of serious theological and moral errors has been his silence before the “Filial Correction on Account of the Propagation of Heresies,” taken to His Holiness last August 11 by a select group of pastors of souls and scholars. New and highly qualified adherents are adding to their number every day.