|Happy feast of Our Lady of the Snows, 5th August. An image from the|
Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
Fr Gerald O'Collins comments on the appeal to the cardinals by 45 Catholic academics which seeks a clarification of the teaching of Amoris laetitia (Features, 30th July). He claims that clarifications of teachings and documents are alien to the Church's usual practice. Anyone who takes the trouble to look in Denzinger, the handbook of Catholic teaching, will see, however, that it is stuffed with clarifications. Nor has the stream of clarificatory verbiage dried up. Indeed, the Vatican Press Office seems recently to have taken on a semi-official function of clarifying papal remarks in real time.
The test of whether a clarification is needed is the degree of confusion a document has generated. If there is broad agreement about what a document means, and the author is happy with this agreement, then further clarification is not necessary. If a document is generating diametrically opposite interpretations, then only a clarification will enable it to convey the meaning its author intended.
In the case of Amoris laetitia, as Fr O'Collins admits, we find some theologians, bishops, and Cardinals, saying that it has changed Catholic practice and teaching fundamentally; others say that it has changed nothing. Fr O'Collins claims that the first group is applying 'what they rightly take to be the teaching of Pope Francis'. Would he not like to see this interpretation made clear to everyone? The fact that he doesn't want to see a clarification suggests that he isn't as confident as he claims that his favoured position is really the Holy Father's. The 45 signatories would seem to have more confidence in Pope Francis, and in the Holy Spirit which guides the Church.
Dr Joseph Shaw
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