I begin with a call for prayer. Please pray, then read.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears! Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
The newly released Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia in English is HERE.
There are texts now in Italian, French and Spanish. There is no Latin text (so the title Amoris laetitia just sort of trails off into the void for now). This reveals something about the preparation of the text, but I digress.
At The Catholic Thing we find a helpful commentary on the new Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis Amoris Laetitia. For a dense summary and presentation of the positives and negatives it is hard to improve on this on by Robert Royal. He touches most of the points that I made notes on yesterday for myself and which I discussed with others in my circle with the text. Be sure to pay attention to the fact that I cut out part of Royal’s look at the positives.
I didn’t cut that part to diminish the positives, but rather to help to drive you over there to The Catholic Thing to find those paragraphs.
To be clear: Amoris laetitia has positive elements! Don’t let examination of the negatives – and they are some serious negatives in my view – take you away from the fact of the positives.
That said, Robert Royal, with my emphases and comments…
Beautiful, Moving, and Divisive
First, the positives. As there were in the Final Report of the 2015 Synod, there are many beautiful passages in the pope’s new Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) testifying to: God’s original plan for man and woman; love and marriage; children, siblings, parents, grandparents; the bond between the generations; and the crucial importance of all this to the future – and the sheer survival – of the Church and society. Oh, and not least, the “tenderness” of God, which should be reproduced in our homes.
There are also quite a few unambiguous affirmations of Catholic principles related to the subject:
openness to life (i.e., no contraception) in every marital act;
the right to life, and the right – and duty – of healthcare workers not to participate in abortion, euthanasia, and other anti-life medical procedures;
denial that “homosexual unions [are] in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (though persons with same-sex attraction should be ministered to);
the need of children for both a mother and a father, and to be born of their own parents (even if sometimes with special needs), not via reproductive technologies that dominate human life or make children mere players in their parent’s life plans;
the right of parents to control the education of their children and to receive assistance from the community in doing so.
And much more, even extensive quotations from St. John Paul (notably absent from the Synod text) and Benedict XVI. [One of the goals of the organizers of the Synods was, I think, to shove the Magisterium of John Paul II into the locked cabinet of ancient history. Familiaris consortio was, after all, as the Synod capo Card. Baldisseri intimated, really really old… 33 years old! This prompted some to stir themselves to defend JP2’s teaching. Thus, my call on the banner during last year. Eventually the Polish Bishops, I understand, took up the call for “Doctor of the Church.”]
[… You’ll have to go there to read some paragraphs that I cut. Positives. …]
However, in a first, necessarily quick reading (we’ll have to return to it when time permits calmer reflection), problems begin to crop up amidst all these efforts at understanding and reconciliation. [Do they ever.] To begin with, what used to be the quite ordinary process of getting married and raising a family, often – very often – is presented in the text as an “ideal,” or some “perfect” arrangement that people will, inevitably, fall short of. [And here is a problem in the document. Toward the end, where most of the … not so great part is… the Letter brings up married couples and then suddenly pivots into talking about “irregular” situations without clarifying who they may be.]
The falling short, it’s true, is very common now. You get the impression that it’s because it’s so common that Pope Francis has been seeking Communion for divorced/remarrieds in some circumstances (ever since he invited Cardinal Kasper to present the case). [The “tolerated but not accepted” solution, that would create a kinds of “white only – blacks only drinking fountain” segregation situation in parishes. Not to mention that it goes against Christ’s teaching and the teaching and millennial practice of the Church. You should all get your paws on The Five Cardinals Book™, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. UK HERE]
This is not driven primarily by Scriptural and theological reasons. Indeed, the pope seems almost to think that mercy short circuits what have been regarded as the grounds for Catholic teaching on marriage: “a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” [Yesterday I referred to passages that are “vintage Francis”. That was one of them.] The image here is clearly intended to suggest that dutifully following traditional teaching is akin to stoning the woman taken in adultery. As if our Lord’s own words on indissolubility – and his warnings that divorce/remarriage is adultery (not mere “imperfection” or “irregularity”), were somehow nullified by mercy. (Lk. 16:18; Mt. 19:9; Mk 10:11, 1 Cor. 7:10, etc.) [That’s the core of it. Again, GET THAT BOOK!]
Amoris Laetitia hopes to resolve the situations of many in the modern world, but is far more likely only to add further fuel to the holocaust. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that once Communion can be taken by the divorced/remarried in some circumstances, it will soon be assumed licit by all. And – why not? – by people in gay relationships, who probably have an equally good claim to mitigating circumstances. [Remember how I said that it suddenly veers into “irregular” situations.]
The pope spends many pages explaining how culpability and circumstances may qualify absolute moral principles without compromising the fullness of truth. (No thoughtful person has ever denied this, of course.) He even quotes [cherry picks] Aquinas in this context – who is not exactly a poster boy for the kind of “pastoral” change the pope is suggesting. Expect protests from the Thomists. [I am so glad Royal wrote that. In my discussion yesterday with a theologian who also had the text, he said that the Thomists are going to have a lot to do in the future to deal with the Letter’s use of the Angelic Doctor. Furthermore, can we for a moment imagine that St. Thomas Aquinas would condone the reception of Holy Communion by couples objectively living in an adulterous state? Fornicators? Homosexuals?]
But despite much candid talk on many matters, he seems hesitant to put the “pastoral” change too clearly. [Yesterday I mentioned that the Letter was vague, though I couldn’t give textual examples.] The only place where sacramental change is mentioned as such is in a footnote. [And this is the footnote that two friends wrote to me about and I, in turn,… well…] And even then the formulation is odd:
351. In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” [I’m starting a new tag for Footnote 351. It will soon be infamous. Just watch… every liberal will cite it.]
Which makes you want to ask: where, exactly, is the confessional currently being used as a torture chamber? [Again, vintage Francis. This and many of his dramatic statements, such as priests who never talk about anything other than abortion… where are they?] And where is it taught that the Eucharist is only for the perfect? When you set up straw men like this, it’s usually because it’s easier than making a real argument.
It’s impossible to know for sure, but many priests in the developed world have probably been using the “internal forum” in the Confessional for a long time, precisely in the way Francis is suggesting, to allow people in “irregular” circumstances to receive Communion. It doesn’t seem to have done much for marriage and family, or the Church. And making it a public practice now would surely bring something besides mercy and tenderness. [And who thinks that it won’t, rapidly, be “public” (cf scandal).]
Here’s a hypothetical that may soon be a test case: suppose that, taking cues from the overall tendency of Amoris Laetitia, the German bishops follow their avowed inclinations and allow Communion for the divorced and remarried. The Polish bishops, adamantly orthodox and finding nothing in the text that explicitly requires changing millennia-old teaching, [See above.] choose instead to read it as only encouraging greater pastoral counseling with the ultimate goal of leading people to change their lives and follow Christ’s words on marriage.
Both readings may be possible, but the consequences, in this instance and others, are impossible. On one side of a border between two countries [perhaps of dioceses], Communion for the divorced and remarried would now become a sign of a new outpouring of God’s mercy and forgiveness. On the other side, giving Communion to someone in “irregular” circumstances remains infidelity to Christ’s words and, potentially, a sacrilege. In concrete terms, around the globe, what looms ahead is chaos and conflict, not Catholicity. A new Iron Curtain may descend between Western Catholicism and the Church in the rest of the world – to say nothing of civil wars within “developed” countries.
When he was embroiled in controversies that eventually led him to the Catholic Church, the great Cardinal Newman warned his Anglican brothers and sisters about mere verbal solutions to concrete differences in faith and morals: “There are no two opinions so contrary to each other, but some form of words may be found vague enough to comprehend them both.” And added: “If the Church is to be vigorous and influential, it must be decided and plain-spoken in its doctrine. . . .To attempt comprehensions of opinion. . .is to mistake arrangements of words, which have no existence except on paper for. . .realities.” We know where that led for Anglicans.
For all his claims to the contrary in these many pages, Francis seems more interested in bringing people comfort than full conversion to what Christ clearly taught on marriage. Newman had seen that too: “Those who make comfort the great subject of their preaching seem to mistake the end of their ministry. Holiness is the great end. There must be a struggle and a trial here. Comfort is a cordial, but no one drinks cordials from morning to night.”
That’s one voice. But it is Robert Royal’s, who knows more than his prayers.
Yesterday I said that, with Amoris laetitia we dodged a bullet, at least a bullet to center Mass. That is to say, this isn’t theological disaster. There is no attempt change to Catholic doctrine. That doesn’t mean that, given human nature, given our constant struggle against the world, the flesh, and the wiles of the Enemy of the Soul, that many bishops and priests will not make this an occasion for pastoral disaster and the misleading of souls under the cloak of a “mercy” that does not properly balance truth and holiness.
It is a powerful temptation for pastors of souls, across all forms of ministry, to want to relieve sorrow and be helpful and to see smiles rather than tears… even at the expense of the truth, at the expense of Christ’s Truth. We don’t like to be hated. We want to see happiness. And the Enemy Lion prowls, waiting for moments of weakness… cui resistite fortes in fide.
It seems to me that if pastors of souls, remembering that they are going to be judged by God for their ministry and their influence on souls, take Pope Francis’ call for mercy to heart and seek ways to meet people “where they are” while remaining firmly in the truth of Christ and His Holy Church come rack, come rope, then this Letter will be a great accomplishment.
I’ve read enough Augustine, however, and history, and I now have enough years on my back to suspect that we will see something quite different than my rosy hope.
Pray, dear friends, for priests, that they remain in the Truth of Christ while exercising their ministry of mercy.
The New Evangelization just became a little harder. For a couple years now confessors have been hearing things like, “Pope Francis says that X is okay!”, or “You have to give me absolution now, Pope Francis says so!” If we remember the immense responsibility of the priest in the Sacrament of Penance, who is alter Christus, exercising mercy in justice and truth, I don’t think the situation for confessors was made easier today. The Spin War™ begins, my readers.
Meanwhile, just so that you don’t despair, part of the good news is the Letter
251. In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex”.
And, yes, the moderation queue is ON.
NB: If I have the sense that you are simply reacting without have read and thought a bit, I won’t let your comment through. Also, I won’t let through mere Francis bashing. Take it elsewhere. I’m sure there are places where you can do that.
I may release comments slowly so this doesn’t produce more heat than light.