Too Much Satisfaction

Defenders of the Winnipeg Statement don’t normally get into the nitty gritty of the Pastoral document.  They know that no one can seriously defend such a contradiction of teaching regarding the Christian view of sex or the shameless betrayal of the Pope.   When you ask bishops and priests today about the Statement, they will get rather uncomfortable with the question. On the one hand, they know the truth about the Winnipeg Statement – that it was a scandalous sell-out of Canadians that spread its poison around the English-speaking Catholic world, but on the other hand, they don’t want to speak against it for fear of admitting that the bishops who pushed this document were guilty of a major pastoral blunder.  I don’t think the blunder was merely pastoral, either. I think it had a lot to do with a crisis of faith, doctrinal dissent and, in particular, their flawed understanding of papal authority.  Why the bishops today somehow think that acknowledging the elephant in the room would cause scandal when we’ve been shovelling its dung these past forty years is beyond my comprehension.

Be that as it may, defenders of the Winnipeg Statement will point to the fact that the Pope had accepted the Winnipeg Statement “with satisfaction” to suggest that the Canadian Church’s position was acceptable to the Vatican.  I’ve heard the phrase “with satisfaction” so many times in defense of the Statement, I start humming along to the Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction every time I hear it.

The most recent allusion to Rome’s “satisfaction” with the Winnipeg Statement is offered by Bernard Daly who wrote this comment in response to Douglas Farrow’s article on Humanae Vitae

Farrow says “the Winnipeg Statement made an enormous concession, one that belied the bishops’ professed solidarity with the pope.” This is contrary to what Cardinal G. Emmett Carter wrote in 1997 ― one of his last major articles before his 2003 death. Main drafter of the 1968 statement, Carter wrote: “What we were trying to achieve was that confessors and other guides of morality would assure those who could not live up to this high ideal that the church was not excommunicating them, not pushing them away. It was meant as pastoral guidance, not at any time as a dissent from the Holy Father.” About Paul VI’s reaction, Carter added: “When he said that he had received our text ‘with satisfaction’ he meant just what he said. To try to torture it into something else is unworthy and dishonest.” (source)

Daly is referring to a letter from the Apostolic Delegate to the Canadian bishops where the Holy Father is purported to acknowledge receipt of the Canadian Statement “with satisfaction.” Here is the text of the letter:

October 21, 1968

Your Excellency,

The Apostolic Delegation promptly transmitted to the Holy See a copy of the declaration made by the Bishops of Canada during their general assembly at Saint Boniface on the Encyclical Letter “Humanae Vitae.” Now I am happy to notify Your Excellency that His Eminence, Amletto Cardinal Cicognani, Secretary of State to His Holiness, has just communicated to the Delegation that the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, has taken cognisance of the document with satisfaction. (emphasis added)

With every best wish, I am
Sincerely Yours in Our Lord,
+ E. Clarizio
Apostolic Delegate

(Source: “Alex Carter, a Canadian Bishop’s Memoirs,” Tomiko Publications, 1994, pp. 199-200).

Those who backed the Statement pointed to this phrase “with satisfaction” as an implicit acknowledgment by Rome of the Canadian Bishops position. However, such an assumption is most certainly unsupported. According to the same Secretary of State who wrote to the Apostolic delegate above, the Holy Father received Msgr. Foy’s critique of the Winnipeg Statement with “gratitude” and “appreciation.” Clearly, these phrases are mere diplomatic parlance with no indication of assent to any particular position advanced. Here is the text of the letter that Msgr. Foy received from Rome:

DAL VATICANO, December 5, 1968

Right Reverend and dear Monsignor

The Holy Father has graciously charged me to express His gratitude for the loyalty and support, in connection with His Encyclical Letter “Humanae Vitae”, which were manifested in the message which you addressed to Him recently.

Such ready acceptance of the teaching of Christ’s Vicar on earth is a sign of the lively faith which animates the heart of a true Christian, and cannot fail to console Him upon Whom lies the heavy burden of guiding the whole Church and confirming His brothers in the faith.

His Holiness therefore greatly appreciates this token of fidelity, and bids me give assurance that He prayerfully bestows upon you, in pledge of the heavenly reward of a living faith, His special Apostolic Blessing.

Thanking you also for the copy of your study which you sent to me, I express my sentiments of esteem and consideration, and I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

(signed) A.G. Card. Cicognani

As the emphasized text above clearly shows, there is absolutely no justification for assuming that Rome’s reference to receiving the Bishops’ Statement “with satisfaction” is anything more than affording mere diplomatic sentimental niceties to the Canadian hierarchy.

Msgr. Foy was sent his communication directly from Cardinal Cicognani himself and not an intermediary (E. Clarizo) who may have not communicated the correct nuance of Rome’s reception of the document – which would have been silence, in any case.  Secondly, the text of the letter sent to Msgr. Foy directly from Cardinal Cicognani clearly indicates Rome’s support for Msgr. Foy’s critique of the Winnipeg Statement.  And thirdly, unlike other pastoral documents on Humanae Vitae, L’Osservatore Romano, the Church’s official newspaper, refused to print the Winnipeg Statement.

A week before the release of Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Cicognani made it clear that it was the job of the hierarchy to present the teaching of Humanae Vitae with “no ambiguity“:

The Sovereign Pontiff asks bishops, priests, and Christian families involved in pastoral organisations, to present the Encyclical in its true light, and to show its positive and beneficial aspect. “What the Church wishes above all, is to help Christian couples to achieve mutual perfection, to purify their love, to taste the happiness of a conjugal life led in the sight of God”. She wishes to convince them “that it is possible with God’s grace which never exposes man to trials beyond his strength to go forward in chastity, as in the other virtues, and that possible falls, even repeated, should not discourage them but rather stimulate them to a methodical and voluntary effort in the mastery of self and in a more regular and confident recourse to the Sacraments”. The Church desires that “through the confessional and through preaching, all necessary pastoral effort be made so that no ambiguity remains among the faithful or in public opinion on her position in this grave matter(Letter from Cardinal Cicognani, 19 July 1968). (Source)

And to this plea, Canadians received the text of the Winnipeg Statement which said, in part, that Catholics…

“may be safely assured that, whoever chooses that course [i.e. contraception] which seems right to him does so in good conscience” (26).

At the very best, one may say that the above teaching was ambiguous and therefore did not meet the plea of Rome for clear and straight talk on the subject. That’s the understatement of the century, if there ever was one. However, a sober and more realistic assessment of both this paragraph and the document as a whole would cause few readers to doubt that it was a cowardly dissent from Humanae Vitae

So for all the “satisfaction” defenders of the Winnipeg Statement insist Rome has on the subject, the truth is quite the contrary.  There was never any satisfaction from Rome. There is no satisfaction from Rome. There never will be satisfaction from Rome.

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