Saturday, April 09, 2016

Amoris laetitia: a preliminary conclusion

High Mass of Requiem at the LMS Priest Training Conference, Prior Park.
I've done a series of posts about the Exhortation now, focusing on particular passages. I must confess that it has not conformed to my expectations, and I suspect those of many, if not most, people. I had been expecting a more explicit addressing of the pastoral issues which have been so discussed in the last two years or so, with some practical guidance for priests, for example, about offering Holy Communion to couples in illicit unions. Instead, it has offered us a lot of discussion at a slightly more abstract level, and explicitly refused to make new rules, instead drawing our attention to a number of relevant factors, without telling us how to weigh those factors against each other.

It was predictable that different people would point to different passages and claim victory for different views. However, Pope Francis has deprived liberals (and depressed conservatives) of any passages (at least, which I have as yet got into focus) which say simply and clearly even that pastoral practice should change in a particular direction. The other thing he had not done is what we had at the end of the last Synod, which was a condemnation of the excesses of both sides of the debate.

As far as these more abstract discussions go, among a lot of other things, some very helpful, we have passages which take seriously some of the arguments made by Cardinal Kasper about the difficult situation some people find themselves in.

Thus, Kasper argued (so far as I could tell) that grave sins, done in full knowledge of their gravity, could be compatible with the life of grace, and therefore with reception of Holy Communion, because of the psychological difficulty of avoiding them, and of the need to maintain a home for the children of an adulterous relationship. The Exhortation mentions all the elements of this view, but it doesn't, quite, draw Kasper's conclusion.

Thus we hear that, just because a couple is in an illicit union on some definition or other, doesn't mean that they are in a state of mortal sin. There may be complicating factors. True: for example, there may be a failure of moral knowledge, or the couple may be living as 'brother and sister', or they may just have gone to Confession and be working things out. The subsequent discussion, however, does not appeal to any of these possibilities. Instead, it draws attention to other kinds of complication, which, while interesting and important, won't stop acts of adultery being mortally sinful, such as a concern for the health of the relationship in light of the children, force of habit, and other psychological impediments to a conversion of life. Then again, the Exhortation doesn't draw the conclusion that the second kind of complicating factors are such that the sins committed are not mortal. It leaves that up to the judgment of pastors...

It is open to people to say: this is teaching by hint, or 'dog-whistle'. But it also raises the question: if the Pope really wanted everyone to conclude that, for example, an adulterous couple with a strong habit of vice and a child whose home is underpinned by the sinful relationship, can receive sacramental absolution without a firm purpose of ending their acts of adultery, why did he not just say so? If the Pope did want to say that, and drew back from saying it, I suppose his reason must have been a concern not to cause things like scandal, schism, and an open break with the teaching of the recent Papal Magisterium, not to mention Scripture and the Fathers. On this presupposition, it is a deliberate decision, and the way we understand the teaching must respect the fact that the decision was made as it was. The Pope could have told adulterers to go to Communion with a light heart; he did not do so.

Catholics attached to the liturgical traditions of the Church, Catholics who seek to live in organic continuity with their predecessors in terms of belief, practice, liturgy and spirituality, are very familiar with this way of proceeding. I could list a dozen examples of Popes and other organs of the Church issuing documents which seemed, if not actually motivated by a rejection of traditional teaching, then are at least motivated by a desire not to be in conflict with those who reject it, to a greater or lesser extent. I have listed a number of examples here. In these documents, however, the rejection of the traditional teaching is never made quite explicit. On the contrary, lip service is made to the old teaching, sometimes very emphatically, while its practical implications are quietly swept away.

The practical implications of the Church's teaching about adultery include refusing Communion to adulterers, if the adultery is public. It may be that, with the subtle encouragement of the arguments of this Exhortation, that will be swept away, at least, even more than it already has been. There is a great difference, however, between this process and one in which priests are explicitly told that public sinners should be admitted to Communion.

Why? Because priests who doen't respond to the hints, if that is what they are, will not be in such a disastrously weak position they would have been in, had the Pope made an explicit change to Canon Law and the Catechism. I am thinking of their vulnerability not only to discipline within the Church, but against the secular law: I discussed the problem here.

Furthermore, in this case, as with a myriad of other cases over the last half century, we are not in a situation of a Pope explicitly teaching heresy. We can say whatever we like about how he should have been clearer, should have reiterated this or that teaching: perhaps he should. But he is not publicly and explicitly teaching heresy. This is important; it makes a big difference. Popes can teach heresy, they are not protected from doing that except under very specific conditions, and it has happened more than once in the history of the Church. It didn't happen yesterday, for all that the Exhortation was unclear or confusing. Even if we say it was malicious, even if we suppose that the Pope is a heretic in his heart, the document that we have before us does not contain propositions incompatible with the teaching of the Church - at least, that's my view, for what it is worth.

What we have now is not the final melt-down of the Church. We have, perhaps, a negative step, but if so it is one of many. We may perhaps say that the teaching of the Church is not as clear as it was, but this obscuring of the teaching has been a long, slow process. More serious, I think, by far, than Amoris laetitia, was the deliberate removal of dozens and dozens of references to sin, God's anger, damnation, repentance, penance, and grace, from the prayers of the liturgy, which happened with the promulgation of the 1970 Missal. That was a disaster for the Church, and the consequences continue to make themselves felt. It wasn't the proclamation of heresy: no, and that makes the whole sorry business harder to combat, in some ways. But in another way it means that there is something we can each and every one of us do, to reinforce the threatened truth: and that is, to pray the ancient liturgy, and to promote it.

See also my post on Pope Francis on the Mandatum and liturgical developments under his predecessors.


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  1. The problem with this document is that in all its ambiguity/confusion and given the current atmosphere in the world, it pretty much comes across as finding excuses for them. The Pope should be saying things to shut down errors. He should be calling people living in sin to repentance. Instead, he pampers the sinners and tries to find excuses for them to continue living in sin.

    As a friend of mine once told me, when he was struggling with a sin that he had more or less become too weak to oppose, the worst thing to hear was someone give excuses for the sin. It discouraged him and even tempted him to try and overcome the little guilt he was feeling.

    The way I see it, this document does just that. It lays the foundation for normalizing what is seen as sinful behavior within the Church. No one who reads the document is going to come away with a zeal to oppose to divorce, remarriage, cohabitation or gay marriage. Instead, they are going to walk away with excuses to reduce ones (whatever little) aversion toward such things.

    The liturgical changes are a problem. But it was more on the level of revealed truths. What we are seeing now, on the other hand, is pretty much a direct assault on natural law itself.

    1. Dr Shaw please withdraw your outrageous assertion that popes can teach heresy and that this has happened more than once.
      As Pope Leo XIII taught in Satis Cognitum:

      “If the living magisterium could be in any way false—an evident contradiction would follow, for then God would be the author of error”.

      And also the First Vatican Council (1870), in the Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, infallibly taught:

      §213 “For the fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following closely in the footsteps of their predecessors, made this solemn profession: “The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ (Matt. 16:18) would not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied, and its teaching kept holy...”

      We find in Volume III of Radio Replies by Fr. Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. and Fr. Charles Cortez:

      “In their efforts to refute the Catholic Doctrine, enemies of the Church have ransacked history in hope of finding a pope who has taught heretical ideas."

      The quotes are taken from an article by Bishop Mark Pivarunas, CMRI.

    2. Calm down sedelondon.

      The idea that a pope can teach heresy is one that has been quite well explored by respected orthodox Catholic writers, such as Bellermine and Suarez and more recently by Michael Davies and Carroll, Constable, Wahlund and of course Schall, who advises that we face up calmly to the matter..

      That John XXII temporarily at least, preached heresy is beyond question.

    3. John XXII did not preach heresy. The doctrine of the Beatific vision had not yet been defined when he delivered his controversial sermons (his successor did so). Also he made clear that he was speaking as a private theologian and that he would change his opinion if the church made a contrary declaration.
      Saint Robert Bellarmine (a Doctor of the Church)wrote his masterpiece 'De Romano Pontifice' after the reign of John XXII that it was a probable opinion that the Pope cannot be a heretic. If there were examples in history, he would have been aware of them, surely? Nevertheless he also famously declared that "a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church..." This was the opinion of all the ancient Fathers and remains the common opinion of theologians. Even Suarez was not in the same league as Saint Robert Bellarmine, let alone the more recent writers you mention. Michael Davies was a fine man in many ways, whom I was pleased to meet on several occasions, but he is hardly an authority to cite alongside Bellarmine.

    4. You have calmed down. John XX11 did preach heresy, universally accepted. Fr Schall, a Jesuit you know, says the issue must be faced squarely. Bellarmine believed a Pope could be heretical but that that would thereby lose him his office, albeit still subject to a confirming judgement.

      I shall say no more not being a theologian, which I trust you also are not?

      My own concern, as a cradle orthodox Catholic who has seen a bit of the world including parts of the then relatively healthy Christian Biblical Lands, is the mess that Christ's Church is in throughout the world. That includes the near eradication in the Biblical Lands, all to the effective silence of the Papacy (other than a few recent P.C. remarks). It has fallen to Lord Sacks to point out this great crime.

      Of more concern seems to be the fate of a few moody near-menopausals anxious to improve their 1.4 reproduction rate - whether they be married or not? All very odd.

      Cardinal Kasper must have a thick head this morning from too much Hessigheim, or more likely Cannstatt beer, I suspect? Now last Last word to you since we are now repeating ourselves!

    5. Sedelondon seems to have forgotten to quote one important sentence of Leo XIII's encyclical:

      Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own. As often, therefore, as it is declared on the authority of this teaching that this or that is contained in the deposit of divine revelation, it must be believed by every one as true. If it could in any way be false, an evident contradiction follows; for then God Himself would be the author of error in man.

      Pope Leo is referring to unfallible teaching, obviously. Why does it always happen to sedevacantists that they leave out important parts of quotes or misquote, as seen in his/her first comment?

    6. Yes, more intriguing at present is what people choose not to say or how some bloggers avoid issues by choosing “nice” topics.

      Now that's it or the Chairman will be getting a bit peeved with me!

    7. Pope Leo is referring to unfallible teaching, obviously. Why does it always happen to sedevacantists that they leave out important parts of quotes or misquote, as seen in his/her first comment?

      Because everything must be marshaled to the theory that the post-conciliar popes have been false popes, and that the see of Peter is vacant. If one can find examples in the distant past of popes speaking heresy, that undermines that thesis.

      Of course, if one accepts the sedevacantist thesis, then one has much larger problems; the largest of which, to my mind, is that it makes it pretty much impossible to avoid the conclusion that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church after all.

    8. Really? So the gates of hell prevail whenever a Pope dies and until the next is elected? Granted it has been a long time since 1958. But periods of sede vacante are possible. It is not possible for a true pope to work to destroy the Faith as the usurpers of the last 58 years have done.

    9. Well, in the book of Macabees the High Priest collaborated with the pagans.

      Without clear divine intervention, such as God visibly chosing one sedevacantist clergyman to become pope, your theory is a dead-end street. Your clergy can't even tell you where to find the visible Church. Don't you consider this to be a grave problem in the sedevacantist theory? And why didn't the Thuc-line bishops assemble in an imperfect conclave to elect a new "pope"? That was the original purpose of the Thuc line. Probably because they are each other's worst enemies.

  2. More serious, I think, by far, than Amoris laetitia, was the deliberate removal of dozens and dozens of references to sin, God's anger, damnation, repentance, penance, and grace, from the prayers of the liturgy, which happened with the promulgation of the 1970 Missal.

    Indeed, and speaking personally, this is the main reason why I am strongly attached to the usus antiquior. I would be fine with parts of the older Mass said in the vernacular; I could, though I don't think it is required, eventually come to terms with some gentle, organic reform of the ordo Missae similar to what we see in the 1965 ordo. But I want to actually be able to pray the Advent, Lent, Easter, etc., of the Roman liturgy, to pray the same prayers that formed our ancestors in the faith, the same prayers that have centuries of use in the liturgy. I think the Consilium's editing of the ancient prayers for the supposed benefit of "modern man" was utterly irresponsible, bordering onto criminal.

    Lauren Pristas's book length study on this, Collects of the Roman Missals, is absolutely vital reading with regard to this omission, editing, and centonisation (the combining of two or more prayers into one new one) of the prayers of the Roman liturgy.

    For those who would like a taste of her work in this book, her article "The Orations of the Vatican II Missal: Policies for Revision" (Communio 30 [2003], 621-653) is available as a PDF here. Absolutely vital reading, particularly because it includes an English translation of an enlightening 1971 article written by Dom Antoine Dumas, the relator (manager, if one will) of the group responsible for the revision of the orations and prefaces.

    Speaking briefly about Amoris Laetitia, IMO it embodies the post-Gaudium et spes symptom of the hierarchy to fail to "scrutiniz[e] the signs of the times and... [interpret] them in the light of the Gospel" (GS 4). Sadly, it is yet another small step in the post-conciliar capitulation of the Church to the world.

    1. I would be fine with parts of the older Mass said in the vernacular.

      I have sometimes had occasion to ask others attached to the traditional Roman Rite whether they would prefer to attend the EF Mass in the (faithful) vernacular, or the OF completely in Latin. Without fail, every one I have asked has opted for the former.

      And your point illustrates a key reason why that is. Dr. Pristas's book and other articles on this topic are eye opening in this regard.

  3. If the Pope is not writing heresy he is still being thoroughly dishonest. Which one would one prefer as a friend? A heretic or a crook?

    1. Anonymous12:26 am

      @ Nicolas Bellord: "If the Pope is not writing heresy he is still being thoroughly dishonest."...Absolutely! - Thank you!

    2. Anonymous12:38 am

      "Which one would one prefer as a friend? A heretic or a crook?"...I'll take neither, thank you.

      I think the more important questions however, are this:

      Can we honestly say, that the whole AL document[which includes the footnotes] is reflective of what Our Lord would say to us?

      Would I entrust the salvation of those whom I love, (or even those whom I don't), to the interpretation of the Magisterium by Pope Francis?

      I would really appreciate it if the commenters here would answer in one word "Yes" or "No"... because bottom line, is that what it's all about... eternal life, salvation?

    3. I fear this is true.

  4. Non-infallible magisterial documents can, by definition, contain errors, but it is an interesting question exactly how erroneous they can be. Can they be heretical? I don't think so. Let me explain.

    The indefectibility of the Church must limit the extent to which Church laws can be bad. If I remember correctly, the pre-Vatican II manualist Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey claims that universal disciplinary laws cannot be intrinsically evil or contrary to the Faith with respect to their "substance" (i.e., what they command or permit the whole Church to do or prohibit her from doing), but only with respect to their "modus" (i.e., the procedures for enforcing the law and the punishments for violators).

    It seems to me that a papal magisterial statement is similar to a universal disciplinary law: it commands the whole Church to believe something to be true or reject it as false. Therefore, it can never happen (in my opinion) that a non-infallible papal magisterial statement contradicts divine revelation or an infallible teaching of the Church.

    However, it is certainly possible (and has already happened) that a pope might unknowingly believe something heretical. It is unclear whether a pope can be a heretic, i.e., knowingly believe something heretical. Maybe he can even be a public heretic, i.e., publicly say something that he knows to be heretical, but if I am right, this would have to be a non-magisterial statement.

  5. The discussion of the extent to which Popes can hypothetically be in error strikes me as a little academic. "This Pope is in error" presupposes that this Pope is speaking coherently enough for error qua error to be possible, which doesn't seem to have been true for a while. The present Pontificate calls to mind a certain terminally nervous sitcom character who, placed between two equally strong (and opposed) wills looking to him for resolution, collapses to the floor in a heap while imitating a seizure so as to avoid angering either.

  6. I don't find AL confusing at all. Incoherent, yes; confusing, no. Pope Francis has clearly opened the door to communion for the divorced and "remarried" in circumstances to be determined by the individual conscience and in consultation with the pastor. This will have extremely negative consequences for the Church in the long run.

    Grave problems with AL include:
    1. The presentation of faithful Christian marriage as an "ideal" that few can attain, rather than as the norm.
    2. The elevation of the primacy of conscience to the point where, if one's conscience conflicts with the teaching of Jesus, one should follow one's conscience.
    3. It advances the concept that continuing to have sex with someone other than your legitimate spouse may be the "lesser of two evils."
    4. It advocates a dangerous decentralization of the Church so that pastors in one part of the world teach a different Magisterium than those in another part of the world based on the local culture.
    5. It overturns the clear, very recent and unambiguous teaching of the last two popes on this issue - i.e., that "remarried" people may not receive communion unless living as brother and sister.

    1. Don:
      Thank you for your clear and concise summary of key problems with AL. I think you hit the nail on the head.

  7. " Instead, it has offered us a lot of discussion at a slightly more abstract level, and explicitly refused to make new rules, instead drawing our attention to a number of relevant factors, without telling us how to weigh those factors against each other."

    But that is the point: What's not wanted any longer are rules. That's plainly not how the Pope thinks. He wants to get away from that.

    As Roberto de Mattei said yesterday: "For the theology of praxis, rules don’t count, only concrete cases. And what is not possible in the abstract, is possible in the concrete."

    1. I read in a paper today that law is a defence against an oppressive state. Is not Canon Law, drawn up by the Church, a defence against erratic schismatic bishops, such as Kasper?