In an interview with Vatican News marking the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor, Archbishop Salvatore Rino Fisichella said that “the magisterium must never be used instrumentally to place a contrast in the development of the doctrine.”
Veritatis splendor, written on some fundamental questions of the Church’s moral doctrine, encouraged a renewal of moral theology and taught that there are intrinsically evil acts, that absolute truths exist across various cultures. It also urged sharp caution against moral relativism and the misuse of conscience to justify false or subjective morals.
Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, stated that “when we speak about the truth, we must always have a dynamic concept.”
“The truth is not a ‘fixistic’ dimension. The truth, for the Christian, is first of all that living Word that the Lord has left us. Let us not forget Jesus who says: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’,” the archbishop said.
“Therefore, the dimension of truth opens to a personal encounter: it is the truth of the Gospel, it is the truth represented by the person of Jesus Christ. All that is the content that Jesus wanted to transmit to His disciples, and that comes from the Apostles to us, is a truth that opens up more and more to a discovery of the mystery that has been revealed.”
He said that “there are some fundamental points that remain as milestones in the dogmatic and moral teaching of the Church. These are elements that remain in their immutability.”
“All this then requires from the theologians … a great work of interpretation,” Archbishop Fisichella stated.
Immutable norms “must, however, be continuously opened through the discovery of the truth of the Word of God.”
The archbishop said that in his opinion, the Church “cannot accept an idea of truth closed in on itself. Truth, by its very nature, refers to fidelity and also to freedom: ‘The truth will set you free.’ A truth that opens up more and more is a truth that makes every believer, every man, discover a more profound freedom. However, this also requires fidelity. The link between fidelity and truth is a typical link in the biblical conception of truth.”
Asked about fidelity to truth and those who criticize Pope Francis for, they believe, diverging from Catholic doctrine, and who refer to Veritatis splendor, Archbishop Fisichella said that “I don’t think there are any grounds that justify challenging the teaching of Pope Francis in the light of the previous Magisterium.”
The question is an implicit reference to the ‘dubia letter’ sent by four cardinals to Pope Francis in September 2016. The letter asked the Pope to clarify some passages of Amoris laetitia, and four of the five dubia quoted Veritatis splendor and noted that Francis’ apostolic exhortation could be interpreted as contrasting with St. John Paul II’s encyclical.
Pope Francis has not responded to the dubia.
The Vatican News interview also comes on the heels of a change to the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding capital punishment, which has been widely interpreted as a change in doctrine.
Archbishop Fisichella said that “when there is an instrumental use” of the Magisterium, “then I fear there is no desire for a discovery of the truth, and also that there is no fidelity to the tradition of the Church. I don’t think there are any grounds that justify challenging the teaching of Pope Francis in the light of the previous Magisterium. On the contrary, we need to reiterate how much continuity there is in development.”
“I think, however, that it is also important to carefully consider the whole teaching of Pope Francis and not just a single particular aspect of it: the mosaic is produced by the whole deck, not by a single card.”
For Archbishop Fisichella, the teaching of Pope Francis is “a great openness in the work of evangelization” without “anticipating the norm of the proclamation.”
According to the prelate, Francis’ pontificate is about “being able … to accompany our contemporaries, to walk beside them in order to help them understand, to really understand its application, and sometimes also, perhaps, to take a step back. And so this dimension emerges together with the need for mercy. The Jubilee of Mercy was the concrete sign of how Pope Francis identifies and orients his Pontificate.”