J.D. Flynn's Defense of Vatican Is Indefensible

Is Flynn presenting an argument or merely promoting Vatican propaganda?

A Brief Recap

If you follow NewWalden, you know that I’ve been covering the publication of a new book by the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Commission. Based on excerpts published in la Repubblica, I concluded—I believe fairly and accurately—that the new Vatican book calls into question the Church’s (and Bible’s) perennial teaching on the immorality and disordered nature of homosexuality.

As I recounted in my second article on the subject, there was a reasonable question raised about whether the heretical opinions contained in the book represented the views of the Vatican authors themselves, or whether instead, they merely represented a heretical viewpoint not actually shared by the authors. The evidence for the innocence of the authors consisted in the fact that the original excerpt in la Repubblica appeared to come from a paragraph that in fact was only summarizing a dissenting viewpoint.

But as I pointed out in the second article, the original la Repubblica excerpt also included the conclusion of the book’s section on homosexuality. That section—like conclusions everywhere—did include the authors’ viewpoint, and it was heretical. Specifically, the authors denied the moral authority of Scripture. As I wrote:

[T]he Vatican text concludes its section on homosexuality by saying that we need science to teach us about the morality of homosexuality because the Bible is hopelessly tainted by “archaic” cultural prejudice! An official Vatican document teaches that the Bible is not a reliable authority on sexual morality. Who’s okay with that? What does that do to the Ten Commandments? The Sermon on the Mount? St. Paul’s Epistles?

Source: NewWalden

J.D. Flynn’s Response

Now J.D. Flynn has weighed in on the controversy. He is a canon lawyer and editor at the Catholic News Agency, a massive global media operation that is currently owned by EWTN. According to Flynn, people like me are guilty of misrepresenting the new Vatican book:

He then offers the single article that CNA did on the controversy as a better representation of the facts:

The article leads with a statement from the CDF:

Vatican City, Dec 20, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, said Friday that a new document by the Pontifical Biblical Commission does not give an “opening” to the validity of so-called same-sex unions.

. . . .

One nine-page section of the book studies the Bible’s treatment of homosexuality.

In that section, “there is no ‘opening’ to unions between people of the same sex, as some people erroneously claim,” Morandi said in an interview with Vatican News published Dec. 20.

Morandi’s interview came after some media reports and commentators suggested that the book affirmed homosexual relationships, or appeared to downplay the significance of sexual sin in Scripture.

My Reply to Flynn

In a tweet to Flynn, I explained my reasons for continuing to believe that the Vatican authors themselves endorsed heretical views on homosexuality:

My response to Flynn

If you’ve read my article, you know that I do not accuse the authors of any explicit endorsement of gay marriage. Instead, I accuse them of a different heresy: they deny the authority of Scripture to teach on the issue of homosexual ethics on the grounds that the authors of the Bible were culturally biased and ignorant of contemporary science.

That’s a very sensible interpretation of the text, especially when you consider what the Vatican’s official press release said about the book. Here is the official English translation:

Recognizing that our “cultural situation” is very different from the situations in which the Biblical books were written, Fr Bovati noted that we cannot necessarily find “immediate and precise” answers to contemporary questions in the Bible. 

Source: Vatican News

Fr. Pietro Bovati, SJ, is the secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Vatican department that commissioned the book. According to his statement, the Bible’s cultural viewpoint makes it unsuitable for certain “contemporary questions.” And according to the published excerpts, the ethics of homosexuality is one of those “contemporary questions” that the Bible cannot answer. Instead we need “science” to help us understand homosexuality.

The German-Vatican Axis of Evil

If this had happened during any other pontificate, it would be unbelievable. But under Francis, this kind of heterodoxy is business as usual. Consider, for example, that the German bishops released a similar statement only days before the Vatican press release. Just like the new Vatican book, the German bishops cast doubt on the Church’s sexual morality and called for a reevaluation of Church teaching based on science. But the Germans went further than that, claiming that the homosexual orientation was as natural as the heterosexual. The German statement, which is now a month old, was blatantly heretical. Yet, we have not heard so much as a whiff of condemnation from the pope. No, he saves his rebukes for all things American—the bishops, conservative journalists, you name it. Rather than a rebuke, what we see instead is a remarkable harmony between the Germans and the Vatican. Both have issued official statements calling for the Church’s teachings to be reevaluated by scientists.

And whom do the German bishops cite as a defense of their heretical opinions on sexual ethics? Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia:

Calling for a “solid discussion supported by human sciences and theology” [Bishops] Koch and Bode said that Amoris Laetitia already provides for noticeable “developments” of both Church doctrine and practice . . . .

Source: Catholic News Agency

I conclude that it has become increasingly difficult to protect the pope from the charge of heresy. As time marches forward, the heretics become bolder; the heresies become more transparent. And still, the pope says nothing. What’s worse, the Germans have officially implicated the pope’s own teachings in their heresies, and Francis has not offered a single word in defense. What the situation demands is a reevaluation of Amoris Laetitia. For the German bishops have added considerable weight to the argument that the pope’s document on sexual morality is heretical.

Flynn Ignores the Evidence

And what should one make of Flynn’s argument that the critics of the new Vatican book are guilty of misrepresentation? Not much, in my opinion. In fact it is a misrepresentation to characterize Flynn’s statements as representing any kind of argument at all. The CNA article simply repeats the Vatican denials of wrongdoing, and Flynn, in his tweets, takes those denials as the gospel truth. Flynn overlooks the textual evidence that the Vatican authors are themselves guilty of serious error. He seems to be unaware that the original Vatican press release declared Biblical teachings unreliable due to their “cultural biases.” He ignores the fact that within days of each other, both the German church and the Vatican called for the rejection of Bible-based sexual morality in favor of a “science-based” variety. All of this, heresy at the highest levels of the Church. So who’s the one guilty of misrepresentation? The same guy whose statements lack any serious critical analysis. Instead what we get from Flynn is ad hominem stuff. People who disagree with Flynn are guilty of a “knee-jerk hermeneutic of suspicion.” They are opportunists “who should be rebuked”:

Coming Next

As I already stated, the German bishops have put Amoris Laetitia back in the spotlight. Was there any misrepresentation of that document in the Catholic media? I’ll be looking at that question in my next dispatch.

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