Tunc et Nunc

by Jimmy Akin

in Abortion


Tunc et Nunc” is Latin for “Then and Now.”

Above are two images taken from screenshots of Marc Balestrieri’s web site, DeFide.Com. The first was taken Tuesday morning before I went to work. The second was taken Wednesday evening after I got home from work. They are different in significant respects and will convey markedly different impressions to the typical reader. They also illustrate the problem of how Marc Balestrieri dug the hole he is presently in.

Tunc: Mr. Balestrieri advertised Fr. Cole’s letter as “the Vatican’s Response“–a statement that will convey to the ordinary reader’s mind that it is a formal, official response from the Vatican.

Nunc: Mr. Balestrieri advertises the same letter as “the Vatican Requested Theologian’s Response“–a statement which will convey to the ordinary reader’s mind that it is the reply of a theologian who wrote at the Vatican’s request (though it does not completely dispel the idea that this is a formal, official reply).

That shift is a good thing. Balestrieri had to stop representing the letter in such a misleading way.

Unfortunately, the misrepresentation was obvious at the time . . .

Tunc: The address at the top of the letter reads: “Fr. Basil Cole, OP, STD; Dominican House of Studies; 487 Michigan Ave., NE; Washington DC 20017-1585.” This makes it clear that the letter is not a Vatican reply but the reply of an individual theologian.

Tunc: Fr. Cole says in the opening paragraph of the letter: “I receive a request from the Very Reverend Augustin DiNoia, OP, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to respond unofficially to your dubia [questions; lit., “doubts”] . . .” This makes it clear that the letter is not an official Vatican response, as would be suggested to the ordinary reader by advertising it as “the Vatican’s Response.”

Tunc: In reply to the questions posed by Mr. Balestrieri, Fr. Cole replies: “My response ad Ium [“to the first”]: Affirmative. . . . My response ad IIum [“to the second”]: Affirmative.” This makes it clear that these are the replies of an individual theologian (“My response . . . My response”) and not “the Vatican’s Response.”

Most unfortunately, a press release labeled NEWS RELEASE No. 2 (hereafter, “Tunc“) was issued October 18th which contained multiple seriously misleading statements:

Tunc: Its headline read “SEN. JOHN KERRY “EXCOMMUNICATED,” ACCORDING TO VATICAN RESPONSE”–suggesting that the Vatican issued a response indicating that Sen. Kerry has been excommunicated. This is an extremely grave misrepresentation as the headline of the press release frames the way the matter will be portrayed in the press and may be the only thing about the piece and individual sees or hears.

Nunc: One reads the entirety of Fr. Cole’s response [.PDF WARNING!] and finds no mention at all of Sen. Kerry.

* * *

Tunc: “A Los Angeles based expert in Canon Law . . . announced Friday on EWTN’s the World Over Live with Raymond Arroyo that an important Vatican congregation has given an unprecedented boost to his case for heresy against presidential candidate John Kerry.” This conveys the impression that the CDF (“an important Vatican congregation”) has directly commented on the case involving Sen. Kerry.

Nunc: In a press release with the snarky title “A REPLY TO THE VATICAN” (a.k.a. NEWS RELEASE No. 3″), Balestrieri states: “I explained to Fr. Funes [at the CDF] that I was a Canon lawyer submitting these dubia strictly seeking a theoretical clarification of the two issues concerned, and confirmation of the conclusions of my research. No names were ever mentioned in the conversation” and “At no point in time, moreover, was any request for further information about those circumstances made to me.”

* * *

Tunc: “Mr. Balestrieri, Director of De Fide, said the Response was written by the Reverend Fr. Basil Cole, O.P., an expert theologian based in Washington D.C., who was delegated by the Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Very Rev. Fr. Augustine di Noia, O.P., to formally respond.”

Nunc: Balestrieri says: “I sincerely hope that in publicly denying any “official” or formal emanation of the text from the Vatican, which had never been claimed, that certain individuals not risk their salvation . . .” (NEWS RELEASE No. 3).

* * *

Tunc: “The Response is significant in that it represents the first time in modern history since Roe v. Wade in 1973 that such a clear reply is given to the Catholic faithful.” This suggests that the response was written to a broad audience of the faithful.

Nunc: One reads in Fr. Cole’s letter that: “I receive a request from the Very Reverend Augustin DiNoia, OP, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to respond unofficially to your dubia . . .”

* * *

Tunc: “Drafted under the auspices of the official Vatican Congregation with competency to decide doctrinal questions, it is entirely unambiguous”–suggesting to the ordinary reader that the reply is official even though that word isn’t used.

Tunc: “Rev. Basil Cole, O.P., contacted Balestrieri to inform him of his delegation to answer the two questions. Three days later, the written Response was issued.” This again suggests that it is an official reply to the mind of the ordinary reader.

Tunc: “The Response holds that the dogmatic force of the two propositions is ‘manifest,’ a term not lightly used by any theologian. This means that one is dealing here not with a matter of a theologian’s personal opinion, but with two core non-negotiable Articles of Faith. The Response, therefore, is ‘official’ and binding in that it simply restates infallible teachings of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium . . .”

Tunc: “The extensive detail of the response, decisively clarifying the matter was unexpected. Normally, only a bishop may request such clarification of doctrine from the CDF [which is a dicastery of “the Vatican”] and receive an official reply.

Nunc: A press release titled “A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS” (a.k.a. NEWS RELEASE No. 4), Balestrieri states: “It is clear that neither De Fide nor I never [sic] stated that that the response received was an ‘official’ document of the Vatican.”

* * *

Tunc: “The Response goes even further in specifying that any baptized Catholic who publicly states, ‘I’m personally opposed, but I support a woman’s right to choose,’ is in fact presumed by Canon Law to be guilty of heresy, with the burden of proving that he is not shifted to the violating politician.”

Nunc: One reads Fr. Cole’s letter and finds no mention whatsoever of the burden of proof. (Balestrieri is extrapolating from something the document does say but this does not change the fact that the document does not say what he claims.)

* * *

Tunc: “Such responses usually take a much longer time to be received, and they are rarely made public.” This suggests that the CDF made the “response” public.

Nunc: “The theologian said explicitly that I was free to publish the document ‘to the whole world if I wanted to'” (NEWS RELEASE No. 3).

The above examples represent portions of Balestrieri’s Monday press release that would misrepresent the nature and conent of Fr. Cole’s letter to the mind of an ordinary person. There are other statements in this press release concerning canon law that are incorrect or weird. Nevertheless, it appears from the above misrepresentations–identified from the text of Fr. Cole’s letter and Balestrieri’s own press releases–that Fr. DiNoia of the CDF would have ample grounds for regarding Balestrieri as having misled him and Fr. Cole regarding the use he was planning to make of Fr. Cole’s letter.

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GregC October 21, 2004 at 12:38 am

I think we call that a “flip-flop”. Good job staying on top of and documenting this issue Jimmy, much appreciated.

David October 21, 2004 at 5:41 am

Mr. Balestrieri is digging in his heels:
A series of unfortunate events has occurred which some have attempted to use to avoid a thorough and honest discussion of the true issue at hand: The continuing attack against the Faith and Sacraments by those who publicly support the proposition advocating either Abortive Murder or the Right to Murder.
Fortunately, the Very Rev. Fr. Augustine di Noia, O.P., Undersecretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has now acknowledged, despite his earlier statements, that he did in fact prompt the response by the Rev. Fr. Basil Cole, O.P.. Rev. Cole’s written response, and his statements provided in person acknowledge that his work was prompted by the “Undersecretary” of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It is clear that neither De Fide nor I never stated that that the response received was an “official” document of the Vatican. But a response to my queries lodged with the Vatican it certainly was: I went to the Vatican in search of the truth – the Undersecretary’s response was to refer the matter to Fr. Cole. And in the words of the Undersecretary, the Response was “excellent and solid.”
From the beginning I stated quite clearly that I “received a written response prompted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” I have reported exact details of how this document came into being, many more now of which Fr. di Noia and Cole now also acknowledge. I stated clearly to Fr. Funes and Fr. Cole that these questions were in regards to a case of heresy as well as my interest in pursuing a doctoral dissertation on the complex issues in the instant case. It is wholly disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
I have never “hoodwinked” any official of the Church, unless one considers the obtaining of an Article of Faith as a form of theft.
To be certain, due to the rapidity with which I received a response in the wholly unique circumstances in which it was received, I had fully reasonable grounds, as journalists have suggested, to believe that my theoretical case had a high degree of support on the part of highly qualified theologians.
A misapplication of reason underlies Fr. di Noia’s raising of the question as to whether fully disclosing my involvement in a heresy case against Senator Kerry would have changed the core conclusions of the Response. Fr. di Noia’s apparent nescience of my pending suit against Senator Kerry in fact produced the unintentional effect of a cogent and intellectually honest response to be granted, qualifying in exact and unequivocal terms the terrible gravity of the profession of the right-to-choose heresy. For this, I am most grateful to both Fr. Cole and Fr. di Noia. The Very Reverend Undersecretary’s suggestions that the core conclusions of the Response and proclamation of the True Faith are conditioned by the social qualities of certain individuals in certain historical circumstances subject to Divine and Canon Law is disturbing, particularly given the most grave matters affecting the salvation and lives of millions.
This is an unfortunate exercise in obfuscation where the nature of the unofficial Responsum delivering the restatement of the official, infallible, and “manifest” Article of Faith condemning abortion and the right to abortion remains the focus, RATHER than the merit of this discussion. All parties to this controversy agree that the conclusions reached regarding the infallible nature of the teaching against abortion and the right to abortion, and consequent defection from the Faith inherent in their pertinacious denial or doubt of the same, are in fact true. As such, although “formaliter” the Response is unofficial, “materialiter,” its contents can never be denied.
Yours very truly,
Marc Balestrieri, JCL

Jimmy Akin October 21, 2004 at 5:45 am

He’s not just digging in his heels, he’s digging his grave. Each one of these press releases makes his situation progressively worse. He keeps doing the opposite of what he needs to do.
More later.

Jordan October 21, 2004 at 7:38 am

One wonders if they could say that Kerry has heretical views concerning homosexuality?

Robert October 21, 2004 at 8:45 am

Oh, I get it, if the response is unofficial and not for general public knowledge, then yes, of course, pro-abortion Catholic politians are in fact excommunicated. However, if the response is official and meant for everyone to actually know what Church teaching is on the matter, why then, no, of course pro-abortion Catholic politicians like Kerry are not excommunicated.
Well, so glad the Vatican could clear that one up for us poor, confused Catholics here in the US who don’t take the time to learn Catholic teaching.

Rich Leonardi October 21, 2004 at 11:13 am

What a shame. According to Pete Vere, he’s a fine canonist. Had he only resisted the temptation to sensationalize, he’d be on a hill–albeit a small one–instead of in a hole.

Patrick Sweeney October 21, 2004 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for going on the record here. This is something that the “official news service of the Roman Catholic Church” has a problem with. CNS has used an unnamed Vatican source for stating matter of factly that “Kerry is not a heretic”. This, of course, became the lead in every newspaper account of this story.
Limiting the scope of your analysis to the statements of Mr. Balestrieri and putting him under the skeptical microscope while accepting every claim of Fr. DiNoia with total credulity is unfair. There are abundant contradictions in his statements and those of Fr. Cole at this point.
Balestrieri obtained permission to make the Cole letter public and he made it public. If that’s “sensationalism” then what kind of reporting isn’t?
This is taking on the character of the controversy over the Passion of the Christ with Peggy Noonan, Steve McEveety, and Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

George G. October 21, 2004 at 3:24 pm

OK, what is it you people don’t understand?
A personal response from one priest does not equal a Vatican response, official or otherwise.
Mr. Balestrieri has, at various times, misrepresented information. One can only assume that he is dishonest or incompetent or both. He is not credible.
If you’re looking for Sen. Kerry’s ecclesiastical destruction, this is not the mothership, so go froth elsewhere.

Patrick Sweeney October 21, 2004 at 4:38 pm

I don’t believe Mr. Balestrieri has misrepresented anything. His revisions to his web site reflect new information and clarifications. He is operating openly and transparently. The only reason there’s a nitpickers feeding frenzy taking place here is the sincerity and openness of his methodology.
Focus for a while on this: “If a Catholic publicly and obstinately supports the civil right to abortion, knowing that the Church teaches officially against that legislation, he or she commits that heresy envisioned by Can. 751 of the Code [of Canon Law]. Provided that the presumptions of knowledge of the law and penalty and imputability are not rebutted in the external forum, one is automatically excommunicated…”
It’s “unoffical” but true. Let’s pray the this becomes “officially” true, and if it does, we are in Mr. Balestrieri’s debt for prompting the Church to clarify the consequences of support for a civil right to abortion after 32 years.

Jimmy Akin October 21, 2004 at 5:39 pm

Patrick: Re: your earlier comment.
I am not uncritically accepting anything said by anybody in this situation. I’m enough of a fan of the Kurosawa classic Rashomon to know how different people perceive the same sequence of events differently.
What I did above was to compare what Mr. Balestrieri released Monday exclusively with other things on his own web site–i.e., the Cole letter, which he posted and supports, and the subsequent press releases he issued. I didn’t rely on anything said by Cole or DiNoia in the dispute that followed the Monday press release.
Yet looking only at things conceded by Mr. Balestrieri on his own web site, it seems that there are significant grounds for Fr.s Cole and DiNoia to object to the way the Cole letter was represented.

Pete Vere October 21, 2004 at 8:47 pm

Rich, I still think Marc is a good canonist. Heck, without him those of us advocating the Church getting tough on pro-abort Catholic politicians would be much further behind than we are now. So I’m not gonna cast any stones his way.
Where I think Marc ran into difficulties is not with canon law, but with the media. I know from experience that they are two different worlds with two different vocabularies, customs, pre-conceptions and ways of going about business. I am not the greatest canonist around, nor am I the greatest Catholic journalist, but I do operate in both worlds.
And while the substance of what I state is always the same, I do employ two different vocabularies depending upon who the intended audience happens to be. (For example, to canonists I simply state “local ordinary” while to another layperson I spell it out as “diocesan Bishop, Vicar General and/or Episcopal Vicar”.)
I think he’s essentially an honest person who is concerned with the abortion scandal, recognizes his mistakes and is trying to keep things transparent. For this reason, I think he can survive the present bumps in the road. But I think he needs to take a step back, breathe, reflect upon what happened here, and approach things through a little more slowly in the future.
Personally, this whole issue is a doctoral thesis waiting to be researched and written. I hope Marc will take the opportunity to do so.

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