UPDATE: Spaemann’s interview is now in English. HERE
We are all suffering from Amoris defatigatio, I know. But as the days and weeks pile up in the wake of Pope Francis Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, and many and varying accounts and interpretations of the Exhortation emerge, it is evident that we simply have to stay on the topic.
The Exhortation seems to be creating deeper divisions out of already existing divisions.
Keep in mind my take away from the document insofar as it concerns people in “irregular” situations: The Pope has issued an “Exhortation”, an “urging, prompting encouragement”. When the Pope exhorts, we must, at least, listen to what he has to say. Putting aside for a moment the debate about whether or not Amoris laetitia contains a rupture with the Church’s teaching, the Pope is, at least, urging those who are faithful to the Church’s teaching and law to even deeper compassion than they exercised before when dealing folks in “irregular situations”. On the other hand, I hope that we can find in the Exhortation also an exhortation to those who are not particularly faithful to the Church’s doctrine and law – perhaps motivated by a false compassion – to change their ways and to be faithful to the Church’s doctrine and law and to exercise true compassion.
Now, to the harder question. Does Amoris laetitia contain a rupture with Catholic teaching and discipline? Changes in sacramental discipline can only result in inevitable change to doctrine, for discipline hedges around and protects the doctrine it reflects.
It seems to me that a consensus is building that, yes, a break with Catholic teaching and discipline can be detected in the ambiguous language in Chapter 8. But, as many choose to read Amoris, we need to correct that ambiguity by reading that chapter in conjunction with other documents, such as Familiaris consortio. That seems to be the approach of quite a few clerics (including bishops). No right-minded Catholic one wants to find doctrine-splitting ambiguities in any Church document, whether of a Pope or other. It may be that a game of mental Twister is undeway , especially by faithful clerics, so as to avoid the problems of discipline-shifting ambiguity while seeking to plant hands and feet only on the desired spots. I confess that I am in that mode as I read Amoris laetitia: I sincerely want to embrace what is good in it.
Is that enough?
Maybe not. After all, scripta manent. It is a document, signed and released into the world.
Robert Spaemann, a theologian close to Ratzinger about whom I have written before, has given an interview about Amoris Laetitia to the German section of CNA. When Spaemann speaks, we should listen. If you don’t read German, you might read Italian. HERE I am sure that the whole interview with Spaemann will soon appear in English.
The most arresting statements Spaemann made. First:
CNA: Handelt es sich hier also tatsächlich aus Ihrer Sicht um einen Bruch mit der kirchlichen Lehrtradition?
Spaemann: Dass es sich um einen Bruch handelt ergibt sich zweifellos für jeden denkenden Menschen, der die entsprechenden Texte kennt.
CNA: So, in your opinion, are we dealing with a break in the Church’s teaching tradition?
Spaemann: That we are dealing with a break results without a doubt for every thinking person who knows the relevant texts.
More Spaemann (my translation – my German is a little rusty, and perhaps some German-speaking readers can lend a hand):
CNA: What consequences do you see for the Church?
The consequences are already appearing: uncertainty and confusion from the Bishops Conferences all the way to the little priest in the jungle. A few days ago, a priest from Congo impressed on me his perplexity in the face of this Exhortation and the lack of clear guidelines. According to the relevant texts of Amoris laetitia, without further definition of “extenuating circumstances”, not only the divorced and remarried but all who are living in “irregular situations”, without efforts to put their sexual behavior behind them, that is, without confession and conversion, could be admitted to confession for other sins and be admitted to Communion. Every priest who sticks to the heretofore valid sacramental discipline, can be hounded by the faithful and pressured by his bishop. Rome can make the requirement that only “merciful” bishops be named, who are ready to undermine the existing order. With the stroke of a pen chaos was raised to a tenet (Das Chaos wurde mit einem Federstrich zum Prinzip erhoben.) The Pope should have known that with such a writing, he would split the Church and lead the way to a schism. A schism that would be not planted in the periphery but in the heart of the Church. God forbid!
If I have not been precise in every detail, I have certainty gotten the essence of what he said into English.
Spaemann is, of course, only one voice. He has his view. However, note well that he is in the same theological, ecclesiological boat with (German theologian) Benedict XVI. Spaemann watched how things have gone in Germany after the essential over-throwing of sacramental discipline. He knows the minds of the German proponents of the changes to sacramental discipline. Spaemann is really smart. Spaemann is not young: he personally experienced the tectonic shifts in discipline that have taken place over the last five decades.
Spaemann ends his interview with an exhortation to all priests, bishops and cardinals to defend the Church’s sacramental discipline and to profess it publicly… even if Rome does not issue clarifications. In this he is in the same camp as Bp. Schneider (who is German, though he is a bishop in Kazakhstan).
The moderation queue is ON.
CNA’s English translation of what I quoted, above:
What consequences do you see for the Church?
The consequences are already foreseeable: uncertainty and confusion, from the bishops’ conferences to the small parishes in the middle of nowhere. A few days ago, a priest from the Congo expressed to me his perplexity in light of this new papal document and the lack of clear precedents. According to the respective passages from Amoris laetitia, not only remarried divorcés but also everyone living in some certain “irregular situation” could, by further nondescript “mitigating circumstances”, be allowed to confess other sins and receive Communion even without trying to abandon their sexual conduct – that means without confession and conversion. Each priest who adheres to the until-now valid discipline of the sacraments, could be mobbed by the faithful and be put under pressure from his bishop. Rome can now make the stipulation that only “merciful” bishops will be named, who are ready to soften the existing discipline. Chaos was raised to a principle by the stroke of a pen. The Pope must have known that he would split the Church with such a step and lead toward a schism – a schism that would not be settled on the peripheries, but rather in the heart of the Church. May God forbid that from happening.