A canonist looks at Amoris laetitia

If you are not yet weary of Chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia – or indeed the mere mention of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by incipit or innuendo, my friend Fr. Gerald Murray has some observations at The Catholic Thing.

Fr. Murray begins by quoting the pivotal Familiaris consortio 84:

“[T]he Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

He goes on to look at how Amoris laetitia concerns itself with “scare quote” couples, that is, “irregular” couples.

For example:

The publication of Amoris Laetitia brought an end to this discipline. Now, the Church’s help and accompaniment of people publicly known to be living in “an objective state of sin” [305] has changed, as set forth in footnote 351 (and somewhat obscurely in footnote 336): “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” The footnote refers to two statements Pope Francis made previously encouraging pastors to act with mildness and wide latitude when administering the sacraments of penance and the Holy Eucharist.

It’s strange that such a momentous change is effected in two footnotes, but much stranger is the change itself, which is manifestly a contradiction of the previous discipline. It makes no real difference that Holy Communion will now be given in “only certain cases” of adulterous second unions. Once some people living in adultery are allowed to receive the Holy Eucharist, while continuing to commit acts of adultery, the principles that upheld the previous discipline have been undermined. We are about to see creative ways in which the gravity of adultery and the obligation of Christians to conform their lives to the demands of the Gospel [102] will be minimized, if not largely denied, in matters related to the 6th Commandment.

And also…

Here we arrive at a signal difficulty in AL Chapter 8: “Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”[308 emphasis added]

The primary duty of Christian conscience is to come to know what God asks of us, and then conform our thoughts and behavior to that. A “given situation” is not in question when analyzing one’s moral responsibility, but one’s freely chosen acts in that given situation.

It’s impossible that someone even minimally instructed in the “overall demands of the Gospel” by his pastor – and thus understands that the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” applies to everyone without exception – could then decide that to continue committing acts of adultery “is the most generous response” to God that he can make “for now” as a Christian.

And…

Some have suggested that it is a mistake to say that Pope Francis has changed the discipline of the Church, and that the discipline in effect on April 7th was still in force on April 8th. But the Synod Father invited by the Holy See to officially present the document, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, said on that occasion: “the pope affirms in a note [351] that the help of the sacraments may also be given ‘in certain cases.’” Did he misunderstand the pope? Did the Synod office fail to vet his remarks? Hardly. It published the remarks in written form. The media essentially reported this story in the exact same sense.

These mere snips should send you over there to read the whole thing.

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37 Responses to A canonist looks at Amoris laetitia

  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    When enumerating the various hermeneutics for reading documents: the hermeneutic of continuity or the hermeneutic of rupture, they, apparently, forgot to include the hermeneutics of ambiguity.

    The Chicken

  2. Quanah says:

    I thought that Amoris Laetitia would be Francis’s Paul VI moment – a clear upholding of doctrine and discipline that would be roundly ignored by most and openly dissented from by the magisterium of theologians. It is, unfortunately, worse.

  3. tcreek says:

    Fr Murray ends . . .

    He (Pope Francis) does not say here that this long exhortation is a private act reflecting his private opinions. Clearly, as pope, he introduces a radical change in sacramental practice, which he sees to be simply a “way of interpreting” or “drawing certain consequences.”

    It’s regrettable. The new “interpretation” will have far reaching consequences and will produce much sorrow and division in the life of the Church.

  4. Toan says:

    @Masked Chicken: The hermeneutic of ambiguity or, perhaps, the hermeneutic of self-contradiction.

  5. ies0716 says:

    Would one be justified starting to regularly attend SSPX masses in the wake of this? I’ve always been a critic of the SSPX position but in the wake of the Holy Father undermining sacramental discipline in an official document, I’m starting to wonder if maybe they have the right of it after all.

  6. Quanah says:

    @ies0716

    Whenever I am tempted to throw in the towel, I find Tolkien’s words to be a good tonic: “Those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.”

  7. ies0716 says:

    @Quanah

    Yeah, I’m sure you’re right. I’ve had these moments before. Our parish is extremely solid (I go to a very good Novus Ordo parish where the pastor is someone that I think Fr. Z. knows – Fr. Tom Dufner), but when I see crazy stuff coming from Pope Francis these days I am tempted to despair.

  8. Mitchell G says:

    I would certainly advise attachment to a traditional community, whether it is the SSPX or not. But also don’t rule out the occasion to pursue the implementation of Summorum Pontificum in your own parish.

  9. TNCath says:

    The old adage about trying to close the barn door after the livestock has escaped seems appropriate now that Amoris Laetitia is out. Unfortunately, the majority of average Catholics, especially those already going to Holy Communion while living in sinful situations, aren’t going to care a whit what bishops, theologians, canonists, and other, in the words of Pope Francis, “doctors of the law” are going to say. Rather, they are going insist that “Pope Francis said it was okay for me to go to Communion.” They will remain anonymous in their parishes and/or will parish hop where priests are “merciful” to them. They will have no desire and perceive no need to repent of something they truly believe is not sinful, since they are “Jiminy Cricket Catholics” that follow this great insect theologian’s dictum to “Let your conscience be your guide.”

    I’m not saying we should not continue to clarify and uphold the teachings of the Church; however, I am saying that the majority of Catholics out there aren’t going to pay much attention to it. And, as a Church, we have no one to blame for it but ourselves for years and years of bad catechesis.

  10. TomG says:

    Based on the Holy Father’s reported words to Bishop Fellay in their meeting earlier this month, it seems to me that the HF intends to regularize SSPX. IOW, in a year or so, I believe we will see their faculties granted and everything put in order for them to become like, say, FSSP or ICKSP, no?

  11. colospgs says:

    From AL: Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that IT IS WHAT GOD HIMSELF IS ASKING (Caps mine) amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.

    Is there another interpretation other than “God is asking someone to commit mortal sin”?

  12. ies0716 says:

    @colospgs

    The only ways I could interpret that in an orthodox way would be 1) asking civilly divorced/remarried couples to live as brother and sister (which is obviously not an ideal even though it is morally legitimate) or maybe 2) acknowledging a case where a couple strives to live as brother and sister but fails repeatedly at doing so. In the case of #2, I suppose you could say it is legitimate for a couple to repeatedly go to confession for the sin of adultery but then receive communion upon firm resolve to live as brother and sister in the future. I do wonder how much leeway a prudent confessor would give to such a situation though; after enough times he might say that they would need to live apart for at least a time to show that they are sincere in their repentance. This approach would obviously carry a risk of scandal too.

  13. JKnott says:

    Any number of “hermeneutics” might, but with one exception – orthodoxy.
    Father Gerald Murray is a treasure … brilliant, faithful, kind and fearless! I love to see him interviewed. Glad Father Z posted this.

  14. Akita says:

    These past several days I’ve experienced an intellectual assault in reading the odious passages in Amoris Letitia and in my personal sphere have tried to alert beloved Catholic family and friends.

    Today I feel a profound sadness that no cardinal or bishop has come forward to unabashedly condemned the poison.

    In my own little corner of the planet I suspect there have been divorced and remarried heterosexual couples presenting themselves for communion. But as my children in their formative years observed them, nothing unnatural or sinful was evident. Now, I think it is entirely possible same sex couples, with children in tow, will kiss and embrace at the handshake of peace and with babes in arms present for Holy Communion. There will an implied approval of the manner in which the children were begotten (donor gametes, surrogacy in many instances). Faithful Catholics will increasingly be questioned by their children: “Why are those men hugging? Do those kids have a mama?” The whole societal debasement of marriage and family life will be on display and welcomed in parishes. Those who would even try to lovingly and fraternal correct any aspect of lifestyle will be vilified.

    Moral squalor is enshrined. Will even traditional parishes be able to resist?

  15. Charles E Flynn says:

    If Amoris Laetitia had an engine and four wheels, it would be subjected to a mandatory recall.

  16. anilwang says:

    The Masked Chicken says: ” they forgot the hermeneutics of ambiguity”

    Actually, it’s more the hermeneutics of latitudinarianism. Anglicans know it well. Define doctrine in such a way that it’s possible to be almost Catholic and almost Baptist. The the Eucharist is exactly what Catholic say it is….unless you believe it’s a simple. Baptism is necessary for salvation….unless you want it to be just a testimony. You get the picture. You decide whatever you want and worship however you want and it’s Anglican.

  17. Ave Crux says:

    PHENOMENAL!!! Finally someone in prominence has spoken plainly concerning this debacle.

    Father Gerald Murray has shown himself to be a man and priest of great interity, courage and much-needed forthrightness at a time of great crisis and confusion.

    He has addressed what was clearly there to be read in black and white, but few others were willing to admit or repudiate out of fear of human respect and political correctness.

    Father Murray is a true defender of the Catholic faith. May God reward his courage abundantly.

  18. Akita says:

    But God knows what He is allowing. It seems now we can say: “As society goes, there goes the Church”. For years, invisible mortal sinners, in vast numbers, have presented themselves for Holy Communion and by that I mean those who contracept. In essence, contracepting heterosexuals have brought on the debasement of marriage. We continue in the march to a dystopian nightmare. Who could imagine, 30 years ago, widespread acceptance of men marrying men?

    There are those who say it is only a matter of time before the state sanctions polygamy and marriage of related family members. Too, is it really a stretch to predict “marriage” to a four legged creature? Hey, it’s a brave new world, and people must be, will be, accompanied in their journey to the almost unobtainable “ideal”. Is it beyond imagination that a Catholic of 2055 observe John and his three wives, Mary, Martha, and Brittney, present for Holy Communion? What about Peter and Paula, twins who decided they are so compatible, they just ought to marry each other? Woe to the Catholic who questions how well the accompaniment is going!

    How far will Our Lord allow us to debase ourselves?

  19. Joseph-Mary says:

    “Demands of the Gospel” ? That is something almost totally foreign to most now. My pastor is getting calls from homosexuals now who are asking about Communion. Well, this priest will tell them they need to stop sinning!
    I can only try to put the best face on things. The confusion is terrible. The onslaught of immorality in our culture ramps up ever higher; only the Lord’s intervention will turn things around. But we are still in a time of mercy….perhaps in some way hearts outside of the ‘state of grace’ (a term many have never heard) will soften. The time of justice WILL come! So each one of us must do what we can in our own little spheres. Set examples, teach, serve, live well the faith.
    And Fr. Murray is grand. He most likely will suffer for it.

  20. Benedict Joseph says:

    God reward Father Murray who always speaks, and writes, the simple unambiguous reality. No scholarly gamesmanship from this scholar and most faithful pastor. That such a clear and common sense presentation of the immanently apparent reality of “Amoris laetitia” need be offered in order to disperse the subterfuge speaks loudly of the present state of affairs.
    There is more than one irregular situation on the table. The ball is firmly in the court of those who can and must bring this to correction. Obedience requires that it not only be dealt with discretely and in charity, but that it be dealt with. Period.

  21. robtbrown says:

    The Masked Chicken says:

    When enumerating the various hermeneutics for reading documents: the hermeneutic of continuity or the hermeneutic of rupture, they, apparently, forgot to include the hermeneutics of ambiguity

    Ambiguity is the reason that the Hermeneutic of Continuity exists.

  22. Tom Piatak says:

    An excellent article by an outstanding priest.

  23. jfk03 says:

    Amorim Laetitia is way too verbose, giving too much room for the spinmeisters. Only select parts will be widely read and quoted by those with an agenda. I find comfort in the fact that the Lord Christ is the head of the Church and will control the end result. I find comfort in my rosary beads.

  24. Elizabeth D says:

    This document is a rohrschach test written by people who are not very good thinkers. The next pope will clarify things. It will be okay.

  25. organistjason says:

    Fr. Murray is spot on, as usual. His commentary on “the World Over” a week ago was pointed and accurate.

    “How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.”

    “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
    Dean of the College of Cardinals
    Homily from PRO ELIGENDO ROMANO PONTIFICE
    April 18, 2005

  26. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    The next pope will be elected by the cardinals appointed by this pope.

  27. CatholicMD says:

    At this point someone like Cardinal Schonborn is about the most conservative candidate that could probably get elected. The conservatives (Catholics?) at the next conclave better be willing to form a blocking minority and hold out for several weeks or else we’ll get a Tagle as pope.

  28. Justalurkingfool says:

    Regards, Masked Chicken. In your own veil of tears, perhaps you can say a prayer for me.

    Nothing else that I want to say would be publishable.

    Karl

  29. organistjason says:

    There is NO such thing as a “liberal” Catholic or a “Conservative” Catholic. There ARE those Catholics that follow Church teaching and those that do not.

  30. JARay says:

    I fear that what “Grateful to be Catholic” wrote above is only too likely. I also read what Sandro Magister sent only yesterday (but in Italian) that there are forces afoot in the Curia who have their sights set on Cardinal Pell and are angling to have him moved in the manner that Cardinal Burke was moved. Cardinal Pell is 75 in June and will have to offer his resignation.

  31. CharlesG says:

    Some needed clarity from Fr Murray. I have spent some time coram Deo and have resolved to be faithful until the day I die to Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catechism that St John Paul II said was a sure norm for the teachings of the Faith, regardless of what contradictory things are taught by this Pope.

  32. albizzi says:

    The terms “only certain cases” without listing precisely these “cases” is the door wide open to give the Eucharist to ALL cases of couples living in adulterous second unions.
    The Devil stays in the details.
    It is upsetting that the Pope might have setlled that very serious and sensitive issue in a single phrase in a footnote

  33. Janol says:

    For some reason I had always thought that general laws were for the common good and concerned only with the external forum, with evidenced actions, given the fact that we cannot judge consciences, nor always know the intentions or very personal situations of persons. Saint Pope John Paul II refers to the common good of the faithful in FC#84: “Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

    I do not understand this confusion of the external and internal forums. If a Catholic is seen to be objectively, publically “in a state of sin” but he himself knows he is not guilty of mortal sin, he should be willing to refrain from receiving Communion out of consideration for the faithful, for fear of causing scandal. That is charity. He may then make a “Spiritual Communion”. He may visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in all open Churches throughout the week also.

    (It is ironic that so many Catholics whether going to Mass or not seem to want to receive Communion, yet very, very few stay after the Mass in thanksgiving, or visit the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass. It seems to me the great majority of Catholics seem to disregard His Presence in the Church during the time they are there for Mass, so I wonder what they think Communion is.)

    Fr. Murray writes of, and refers to, adulterous second unions. But the Holy Father is saying to all of us, it seems to me — “Now, YOU don’t know if they ARE adulterous unions, or anything else so don’t judge, don’t judge anything.”

    I agree with TNCatholic: “The old adage about trying to close the barn door after the livestock has escaped seems appropriate now that Amoris Laetitia is out. Unfortunately, the majority of average Catholics, especially those already going to Holy Communion while living in sinful situations, aren’t going to care a whit what bishops, theologians, canonists, and other, in the words of Pope Francis, “doctors of the law” are going to say. Rather, they are going insist that “Pope Francis said it was okay for me to go to Communion.”

  34. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Janol,

    When you say, “If a Catholic is seen to be objectively, publically ‘in a state of sin’ but he himself knows he is not guilty of mortal sin,” are you thinking of someone legally (but invalidly) married without carnal knowledge?

    Would that being ‘legally (but invalidly) married’, be de facto to be ‘in a state of sin’ ?

  35. dans0622 says:

    The “divorced and remarried” have been allowed to receive the Sacraments “in certain cases” for years. “In certain cases”, they have been able to regularly receive Holy Communion since, at least, the time of Familiaris consortio. Fr. Murray alludes to this. Why should I not look at the “certain cases” of Amoris laetitia and Card. Schonborn in that perspective?
    Dan

  36. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Justalurkingfool,

    I am keeping you in prayer (I had a Mass said for you, as well). The uncertainty in interpreting Amoris laetitia does not apply in your case (although it does pour salt in an open wound). Your case is pretty straightforward and (as far as I know) clear – it is just that no one is listening to the truth of what you have to say (even to what the Tribunal has to say). I know this is a heavy cross, but you are bearing it well, within the limits of human endurance, and I would be as angry as you are if it happened to me. Resentment, especially when one has good reason to know that one is right, is a special sort of torture. Keep up the faith. You have my profound respect.

    The Chicken

  37. Justalurkingfool says:

    Masked Chicken

    “I am keeping you in prayer (I had a Mass said for you, as well).”

    Thank you, is insufficient.

    Karl