By Msgr. Jonas C. Achacoso, JCD
When the news broke about Pope Francis’ comment on promoting the “civil union” of homosexual couples, many people were asking my opinion on the issue. I admit that, at that time, I was also caught by surprise. I simply shrugged, not being able to say anything.
Like everyone else, I needed to know more to substantiate any opinion I would be making. I had then an inkling that all the confusion and consternation must be caused by something lost in translation. Indeed, it was! Now the Vatican has issued a note to clarify the confusion caused by statements taken out of context and manipulation of the text.
After the dust has settled and the fog of confusion dissipated, there must be a lesson learned from this case. For me, it is about trusting the Pope more and never being suspicious of him introducing errors into the Catholic Church’s doctrine and morals by off-the-cuff comments and footnotes. The pope cannot introduce matters of doctrine and morals stealthily. When he does, there is a proper way to do it.
We can apply here the shortest canon in the Code of Canon Law: “Lex instituitur cum promulgatur” (canon 6). In English, “A law is established when it is promulgated”. This short canonical provision ensures that new laws — and doctrines too, much more if it is a definition of a dogma— should be introduced in the church throughout the proper and official way. Papal off-the-cuff comments and footnotes in church documents are certainly not the proper and official way. I am referring here to the controversial footnote number 351 of Amoris Laetitia which was feared to be introducing communion of those living in “irregular” situations.
There will not be surprises in matters of the official doctrine and laws of the Church. If there are changes to be made, the Magisterium of the Church would undergo a well-defined process. Usually, the process would go through a thorough study, analysis, consultation, etc. To end the process, there should be proper promulgation and notification through official publications.
The new law or doctrine is promulgated through apostolic constitutions, encyclicals, and letters. And, all official decrees and declarations of the Holy Father should be published in the official magazine called Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Otherwise, everything would just be hearsay and nothing more. There is a big difference between reading the Pope’s comment to criticize and reading his views with openness to understand.
Trusting the Holy Father should be real and not conditional. There might be a fear of falling into error if we trust too much. But real trust must be complete, never suspecting, and never to be afraid to err trusting the Holy Father. Full trust in the institution of the Chair of Peter, in the end, rests on the foundational words of Jesus: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the nether- world shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).
Hence, whenever the same confusion and consternation would happen again in the future, to be scandalized is too disastrous a reaction for an opinion which can possibly be manipulated and sensationalized. These kinds of news can well be taken with a grain of salt with all due respect and in fairness to the Holy Father. We should all be with Peter to go to Jesus through Mary − Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam (The Forge, n. 647).
Msgr. Achacoso, JCD, is Adjutant Judicial Vicar at The Tribunal of the Diocese of Brooklyn, liaison to the Ecclesial Movements, and Administrator of the Corpus Christi Church, Woodside.