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When a theologian accuses his archbishop of schism,...

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 19, 2019

  • Massimo Faggioli teaches in the theology department at Villanova (when he is not trolling conservative Catholics on social media).
  • Villanova is—or claims to be—a Catholic university.
  • Those who teach in theology departments at Catholic universities are obliged to obtain the mandatum from the diocesan bishop.
  • The mandatum is fundamentally an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church.”
  • Villanova is in the Philadelphia archdiocese, which is led by Archbishop Charles Chaput.
  • In an article that appeared in La Croix this week, Faggioli suggested that Archbishop Chaput is schismatic.

Now isn’t this an interesting situation?

The mandatum signifies full communion with the universal Church. Schism is a breach of communion. So should a theology professor seek to obtain the mandatum from a prelate he considers schismatic? Should the prelate grant the mandatum to a theologian who accuses him of schism? If Faggioli requests and receives the mandatum from Archbishop Chaput, does he thereby—by his own logic—join the archbishop in schism?

(Of course all these questions are based on the presumption that theology professors at Villanova seek the mandatum, as required under the terms of Ex Corde Ecclesia. But that’s a separate issue.)

Note #1: Since Faggioli has now denied that he accused Archbishop Chaput of schism, let me quote his own words, so that readers can judge for themselves. In his article in La Croix, he describes the people he terms “devout schismatics”:

They are devout in the sense that they publicly display their preference for a traditionalist Church and its devotions, such as the rosary. They are schismatics because they openly promote the undermining of the bishop of Rome among the Catholic faithful.

These “devout schismatics” are not only politicians. They also include some theologians, priests, bishops and even cardinals. Their schismatic instincts have been on display since the beginning of Francis’ pontificate. But they were particularly visible in August 2018, when some of them—such as Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francis, as well as Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler (Texas)—sided with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to Washington who called on Francis to resign.

Note #2: Notice that Faggioli thinks these bishops are schismatic because they have supported Archbishop Vigano, who called for the Pope’s resignation. Informed by the Catholic News Agency that Archbishop Chaput had never supported that call—in fact had never commented on the substance of the Vigano testimony—Faggioli angrily responded that he “did not state that the Archbishop [Chaput] called on Francis to resign or that he created a schism, only that he vouched for Viganò’s integrity. That seems like siding with Archbishop Viganò especially in the context of his continued silence about Viganò’s request for the resignation of the pope.”

Here Faggioli makes a distinction that he never made in La Croix: between endorsing a call for the Pope’s resignation and acknowledging the integrity of the man who issued that call. And he claims only that Archbishop Chaput seems to be backing Archbishop Vigano. So it’s possible that the archbishop actually is not in schism. That’s a relief.

Now let’s turn our attention to the integrity of the Villanova theology department, and whether it is in full communion with the universal Church.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jlw5094538 - Jul. 20, 2019 6:47 PM ET USA

    Fine indeed, mattjohn --- but please, there's no reason to insult grade school teachers. Mr. Faggioli's ral problem is, that he doesn't know enough about Catholicism. A reasonably good parish catechist could set him straight. I volunteer.

  • Posted by: Cory - Jul. 19, 2019 11:57 PM ET USA

    Oh boy Phil. You always nail. The hypocrisy of this guy know no bottom.

  • Posted by: MatJohn - Jul. 19, 2019 9:36 PM ET USA

    The Catholic Left uses the same tactics as their Democrat Southpaws: The opposition's position has no validity because they disagree with us. The pompous wannabe elite Catholic institutions of higher learning regard the mandatum with scorn. Traditionalism? How quaint. Nowhere near our level of sophisticated enlightenment. Goebellism is alive and well. Faggioli would be reduced to a grade school teacher in a debate with Chaput.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 19, 2019 5:46 PM ET USA

    Abp. Vigano's call for Francis' resignation was caused by the unseemly promotion of card. McCarrick with the pope's full knowledge of his double life as a homosexual predator. Faggioli does not mention McCarrick at all, while praising Francis, "a radically evangelical pope," for his friendly nods towards Marxism and moral laxity, by which, in Faggioli's opinion, Francis "cleans up the ideological distortions of Catholicism of the last two decades." It's a strange and yet quite revealing article.