Robert Royal on ‘Amoris Laetitia’: Beautiful, Moving, and Divisive… Chaos and conflict, not Catholicity

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
Robert Royal

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 [2013], 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).]

Please donate to our Pontifical Mass vestments project. There’s nothing like a Pontifical Mass in the Traditional Roman Rite for regaining our bearings in view of our forebears!

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”.

More later.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. thomas tucker says:

    Spot on. As I was reflecting on the letter this morning, I found myself wondering, where is the call to holiness in all of this? It’s already too easy for me and others to rationalize sinful behavior as really being all for good, and this letter gives my frail will and mind even more ammuntion to do just that. Striving for holiness is hard, but isn’t that what God calls us to do, instead of helping us to find loopholes to justify our sinful behavior?

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    The chairman of the Latin Mass Society has an interesting analysis of the use of Aquinas:

    Amoris laetitia: Is it possible to keep the Natural Law?

  3. oldconvert says:

    Father I don’t understand this at all. As far as I know, the sacraments have always been available to help people who are sincerely trying to live according to God’s laws and the Church’s teaching. Those in irregular marital situations can have recourse to the Frater-Soror vow. And it’s not easy but then who said it would be (only the evil one, that’s who).
    Unless I am misunderstanding what I have read, the implication now is that the sacraments could be made available to those persisiting in objectively sinful lives, before they have regularised their position, sort of to make them feel better about things? Comforted?
    I pray that I have got this wrong.

  4. Kent Wendler says:


    It may be useful here to clarify where the difference between papal infallibility in faith and morals (crucial to the Church’s very existence) and the lack of impeccability fits into this seemingly ambiguous situation.

  5. acmeaviator says:

    Amoris Laetitia is finally out and in so far as it’s comments on the meaning of love and marriage I like what I have read so far. I don’t understand why so many Catholics fail to see the logic in the fact that an annulment is required to satisfy Matthew 19:6-9 through the authority granted the Church in Matthew 16:9. The Church has many obscure doctrinal points but this is NOT one of them. Contrary to the leading hype there are no doctrinal changes, however the calls for “localized interpretation of doctrine in light of cultural norms” is extremely problematic and sure to lead to many abuses. Vatican II did not mandate the vernacular, Versus Populum instead of Ad Orientem or the destruction of countless works of Catholic architectural art but we got those anyway “in light of cultural norms”. It’s just another way for the Pope to endorse relativism by way of dressing it up as mercy – which is no different than what G.W.B. called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. If the Church treats it’s members differently in Hamburg, Boston, and New York than it’s members in Dakar, Rio and Manila it is no longer universal and no longer Catholic. Not only that but by way of differentiation is stating that not all members are equally capable of living a Christian life which is a refutation of Mark 9:23. Most concerning to me is the overall call for individuals to use their OWN “discernment of conscience” to determine how they should approach the sacraments which, in my mind, is pretty terrifying (although it is probably the reality already as far as most “c”atholics are concerned. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, though my guess is that both Orthodox and Progressive will run with it in opposite directions, all the while claiming “victory”.

  6. Liz says:

    I am so glad you started with a prayer. That is how we should approach everything. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. JamesM says:

    Council of Trent, Canon XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

  8. Pingback: Amoris Laetitia: a Commentary |

  9. thomas tucker says:

    btw, the mass media are essentially interpreting the document as : Follow your own conscience. What’s the Catholic verison of oy vey?

  10. TomO says:

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand the argument that says “Don’t forget the positive things… Not everything is ambiguous or wrong, it occasionally clearly reaffirms doctrine”… I could get a 275 page Methodist document on salvation and say the same thing… They reaffirm the trinity, Christ is the son of God who suffered and died for us ect… but that doesn’t change the fact that it would still overall be a heretical Protestant document… “The worst kind of heretic is the one who, while teaching mostly true Catholic doctrine, add a word of heresy, like a drop of poison in a cup of water.” – Pope Leo XIII… Though I would agree that we should not let such things allow us to despair. It should affirm us in our need recommit ourselves to a strong intellectual and spiritual rigor. It reminds me of the last line of Ross Douthat’s address to First Things: “My own reading is this: Our victories were not as permanent as we supposed, our arguments were less persuasive than we’d hoped, the Catholic center was not quite where we believed it to be, and our adversaries were not as foredoomed as we fondly wanted to believe. Which is not reason for pessimism, but for thinking anew and acting anew: Our work is—as ever—only just begun.”

  11. ThankyouB16 says:

    Thank you, Father. Please stay with us–the sheep who need your voice. God bless you.

    I read a lot of the document, and it’s only when I get to the section that uses Aquinas and talks again and again about the mitigating circumstances that I get into a fog. The effect of this is: the text goes on and on and on and it almost hypnotizes me–to the point I shrug and say, “Ok. I guess it’s all good.” And IT VERY WELL MIGHT BE! Take, for instance, some terrorized woman; let’s say she barely knows anyone in the parish so there is no any cause for scandal to the community; let’s say she has become devout, but she can’t leave her second husband and young family nor stop giving into his sexual demands; her freedom is compromised, let’s say. But why do I think–especially when I see all the celebration over the triumph of conscience over at Amerika–this is going to explode open into all sorts of abuses? And right down the line: contraception; homosexual acts; etc.

    May I add one more thing: I am married to a non-Catholic, and I have had a conversion several years ago on the issue of contraception. I always believed the truth intellectually, and tried to give submission of will, but not very hard, and we lived inconsistently at best; however, I never took Communion when I was in mortal sin. I thought of myself as going step-by-step; fall-by-fall; confession-by-confession, always trying to learn something more about how to avoid sin in the future. Then (as Newman would want) my conscience finally, sincerely appropriated the teaching “for myself,” and it clicked. I, in Grace, can say I never ever want to use contraption again. My wife and I have not had the marital embrace in a time measured now in years because of a painful stalemate: she insists that I use a barrier method; she no longer wants a family; I cannot be the active agent of so great an evil.

    We suffer. I cause us to suffer? I feel a bit forlorn: it seems that the document is suggesting that I have been wrong all along, and that I should “weigh” and “discern” between different goods–my marriage’s health vs intrinsic evil–and I am not allowing God’s “mercy” to pour over me because of my “legalism.” And what, oh God, about all those people who have chosen to live as “Brother and Sister?” Are they more “Catholic than the Pope” now? Are they closed to the mercy of God, and open only to “rules”?

    I never thought a Church document might suggest that Christianity has been found difficult and left untried–so let’s make it less difficult so more will try it! That won’t work. Whole swaths of the Church will surely die from this permissiveness–hasn’t that already been the case: why we’re in this mess to begin with? Perhaps it’s all God’s will. Let the pruning begin?

  12. Paulo says:

    Two words: “Time bombs”. Card. Kasper explains: “Now I propose to those who prepare the Synod [of the Family, held in 2015] to prepare a text which can get the agreement of the whole, of the great majority. It’s the same method also we had in the [second Vatican] Council (…).My suggestion is to find now a formula where the great majority can adhere.” (LifeSite News, June 11, 2015). And, earlier, this: “In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction.” (Cardinal Walter Kasper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 12, 2013).

    This schema has been masterfully applied in this Letter, and, as Royal indirectly points out, informally institutes a type of “devolution” based on the conflicting interpretations of its contents. Indeed, pray for us, Mother of Mercy.

  13. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “To be clear: Amoris laetitia has positive elements.” It’s 58,000 words long, it’s written by a pope, and it talks about marriage. Of course there are some positive elements in it.

  14. ChrisRawlings says:

    I think you can look at this in two possible ways.

    One, this is an astonishingly faint last gasp of the progressive movement. This was one of the gems on the progressive crown and it was their primary line of attack against the Magisterium of the last several decades. They knew Francis wouldn’t give them everything, but an elegantly-proposed Kasper proposal was, as Cardinal Pell understood, a Trojan horse. If they could get this, they could get a lot. In the end, however, all they got was an ambiguous footnote and an overall “tone shift,” which is as durable as the current pope’s health, anyway. No decentralization. No Kasper “solution.” No formal internal forum “solution.” A footnote. It is foolhardy to attempt the papabile game—as we know—but it is not at all inconceivable that Cardinal Sarah could be the next pontiff, and he would be the most conservative pope in at least the last 70 years. And there is plenty of support for Cardinal Erdo, especially after the synod and especially considering his relative youth. The election of either would be a decisive blow to the progressive project. A college of cardinals weary of change and unrest could attempt to pacify conservatives within the Vatican and outside with a pick like Sarah. Ironically, Amoris Laetitia would seem to make that scenario more, not less, likely.

    That’s one option.

    The other, two, this is the beginning of a several decades of deep division within the Church, with progressives reigniting a lot of the post-conciliar conflict that many thought had been buried under Benedict and his predecessor. Yes, younger priests are more conservative by a lot. And, yes, those priests will become bishops and cardinals. But enough red hats given to liberal voices in the Church today and you’ll ensure that the progressive push has enough juice to go for at least another generation. Clergy will use the Francis era as a springboard to iconoclasm and radical experimentation that, while divisive, reignites liberal Catholicism. This scenario may presage a third Vatican council, which itself could wind up with a decisive schism that happens as a result of the liberal/conservative dichotomy that is already tearing at the seams of the Church.

    The choice of the next pope will probably determine which option is going to play itself out into the future.

  15. The current Holy Father has, in my opinion, issued some powerful statements related to mercy, sin, repentance and Confession. The Year of Mercy is an awesome thing and something that, I believe, will be part of his legacy of gifts to us.

    That said, His Holiness is trying to be too many things to too many people. He is striving to walk that “middle ground”. His Holiness may believe in his heart that most Catholics have a well – formed conscience but, sadly, that is not the truth.

    I have not read this exhortation yet but, from what I have read in trusted Catholic outlets like this fine blog, I believe, it will only give the “primacy of conscience” crowd more ammo for their arsenal and the priests on the ground, who try to stick to the doctrine and Magisterium, will be caught in the middle and rebuked and censured or assigned to some remote outpost.

    The people who distort the Catechism passages on “The Formation of Conscience” ignore “Erroneous Judgement” and only read one sentence in Dignitatis Humanae will rejoice. The mainstream media is already spinning this and a lot of Catholics only get their faith education from the media.

    I pray priests will take an opportunity to educate the faithful in upcoming homilies – well, I pray that all the time.

    I am interested to see what the new Archbishop of your native place, Father, will make of this exhortation. We both know he inherits an entrenched group of dissidents in this town. For them, it looks like there are passages here that will be perceived as a papal approval of nuttiness they have already been doing for decades. They will, as they usually do, ignore what they don’t like or that doesn’t fit their agenda.

  16. Elizabeth D says:

    After reading the summary posted on Rorate Caeli (posted by Adfero, it is not stated whether the summary is by him), and parts of Amoris Laetitia, and spending some time at the adoration chapel, I had the strongest impression that the pastoral intent was to first of all give people confidence and peace that the Church respects them in their individuality and unique circumstances and that they are the protagonist of their own life. “We have been called to form
    consciences, not to replace them.” I think there is a desire to emphasize this and make it clear that the Christian life is fundamentally personal and relational, and not as if we are mere robots who need to execute a program of principles and canon law. One could say, “but no one thinks that, exactly in that way”, however he is responding to perceptions people have that the Catholic Church is against freedom and forbids thinking for oneself. When in reality love, which is of the essence of our life in Christ, is always a free response– in regard to the education of children, AL says “It involves forming persons who readily understand that their own lives, and the life of the community, are in their hands, and that freedom is itself a great gift”.

    A focus on how different bishops’ conferences might approach pastoral care is a reference to a reality, but arguably a bit of a deviation from the idea of the individual member of the faithful with his or her freedom (properly understood) and need/duty to be in relationship with other Christians within the Catholic Church: “I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.” Conscience formation is usually through these relationships and not usually through people picking up the CCC and the Code of Canon Law and then applying it to their lives (though that can be good too). Yes a bishops’ conference could institutionally be distorting conscience formation but in that case they have the greater sin than the individual member of the faithful who is in relationship with the local Church. However the document isn’t about misguided bishops.

    Father George Byers comments on his blog that “Pope Francis’ John 8:11 re-write touching on sin, redemption, conscience. That’s the heart of Amoris Laetitia.” His reference may be to this quote from AL: “We see this in a particular way in the scene of the woman caught in adultery; in front of the Temple, the woman is surrounded by her accusers, but later, alone with Jesus, she meets not condemnation but the admonition to lead a more worthy life (cf. Jn 8:1-11). “

  17. Imrahil says:

    In fairness re the expression “the Confessional is not a torture Chamber”,

    I’ll give this quotation here:

    The Confessional is not a torture chamber, but a site of grace for peace. “Service of God”, The Prayer- and Songbook for the Catholic Christian in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising; imprimatur: Cdl. Faulhaber, Archbishop; 1950 [or so].

    [Sure! And this is an old chestnut, though true, that priests have used for years. It is quite familiar.]

  18. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Amoris Laetitia is a long and less-than-completely-clear read. So was Laudato Si’. So are the copious documents of Vatican II.

    On the contrary, the catechisms used in prior centuries and the decrees of councils such as Nicaea and Trent are both more concise and less ambiguous. Even the Summa treats topics with more dispatch than churchmen do these days.

    NB: I’ve read most of each of the items mentioned, albeit in translation.

    There are people will pore over each exhortation, grasping to find each nuance and discussing them at length. Those people are few. As a result, people will read bits and pieces, sometimes seizing on minor digressions. Others may rely on biased second-hand reports of what is in the latest document. The post-conciliar solution seems to be to accompany official documents with official summaries. I respectfully submit that it might be preferable to instead invest time in making the actual documents so short and clear that no summary is needed. As a model, one could look at Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth series. It lacks neither depth nor clarity, yet it isn’t overly lengthy.

  19. drohan says:

    I think a positive outlook on this exhortation may be that it allows us to see our Enemy more fully. I think with the two alternatives of Poland and Germany in light of day, the faithful will become more enlightened. Human nature is a fickle thing, but I feel we might just need a little expurgation. Too many in the upper levels of the Church have been hidden under the rocks for too long. Perhaps we need to better isolate and define the differences.

    I pray for you and all faithful clergy. Remember, times of great trial produce the greatest saints. I have no doubt that is what is needed now more than ever.

  20. donboyle says:

    The HF clearly wants the Church to treat the divorced and civilly remarried by stressing the positive and not condemning the negative. It occurs to me that this is rather like the Church’s change in approach to other ecclesial communities after V2–rather than condemning them for not being fully Catholic, appreciating what we have in common. I’m pretty sure that the analogy to ecumenical dialogue is an apt description of what is going on in AL, but can’t say whether it’s the best approach.

  21. Ralph says:

    My late friend (rest in peace/Lord Mercy) was an airplane pilot. He told me that when you fly using a compass, you must be very careful to be exact in your readings. Even 1 degree off can send you many miles away from your planned destination when the error is multiplied over many miles. He said it is the same with the Church. We make one small error, or even a compromise, and when you multiply that error over the years, we can find ourselves way away from our hoped for destination.

    Our Holy Father wishes to be merciful to those in “irregular” situations. But, I fear that this mercy may be misused and lead souls to damnation.

    Oh Mighty Saints in Paradise Pray for Us!

  22. WesleyD says:

    Fr. Z, thanks for posting this. I am glad that you and Robert Royal emphasize the good parts along with the bad — not just for the sake of balance, but to keep your readers from getting too depressed!

    One question: Royal says that the document mentions “openness to life (i.e., no contraception) in every marital act”. Where in the document can this be found? I haven’t found it myself, and some media outlets are frankly stating that contraception is never referred to in the entire document.

  23. RAve says:

    Water is still wet.
    Marriage is still marriage.
    The pope is still Catholic.
    Francis is still Francis.
    And the dishonest/misguided cleric is still dishonest/misguided.

    As our dear host has reminded us, the dishonest/misguided clerics were doing the wrong thing all along anyways, so perhaps the ambiguities (which can also be interpreted in a way that does not breach doctrine) in this document will not really change much.

    Spinners gotta spin. But from what I can see there is nothing new in the past 3 years that wasn’t what they were saying 30 years ago.

  24. TheDude05 says:

    Unfortunately for the rest of us, Jesuit logic and obfuscation has replaced good, sound, and clear writing. This is what they have been doing for years, starting with Vatican II. Take all of the good ideas and write them vaguely enough with ambiguity, that it allows for the Trojan Horse of modernism. Those that have been using the internal forum up to this point will continue to do so, and they will add to their numbers, precisely because it now has the air of legitimacy. That being said, at least the Holy Father was straightforward in his comments about abortion, contraception, and homosexual unions. The only problem is that with being more receptive and allowing of the divorced is we begin a fall into the hypocracy of Protestant thinking on marriage.

  25. acardnal says:

    Three Gospel passages come to my mind today. All are the words of Christ. Dr. Royal quoted two of the three in his above essay: Lk 16:18 and Mt 19:9 which both regard divorce and adultery. I would add a third quotation of Christ’s:
    Mt 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are MANY. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are FEW.

    I’m sure glad baseball season has begun. I need the distraction.

  26. Michael_Thoma says:

    A question not answered by all this, is all this public discussion necessary? Why not make use of an Episcopal ‘internal forum’, having the local Conferences and Eastern Synods discuss these matters with each other and the Holy Father, and present this document to the Bishops as where the HF stands. What exactly in here pertains to the lay Catholic? It seems a lot of it has to do with Bishops and clergy responding in a less judgmental and overbearing manner – something that may be happening in Africa or Asia (most definitely not common in North America or Europe).

  27. Sonshine135 says:

    I believe if footnote 351 is the worst that there is (as I have not read the entire document yet) then, we got as good as could be expected under the circumstances. Those who want to change the doctrine of the church are going to do it anyway. That isn’t sour grapes, rather, it is the usual suspects who go about doing the usual things. Similarly, we will use the document to prove that doctrine does not change, rather, the it provides pastoral approaches to reaching out to disaffected individuals.
    In short- Nothing of consequence changes.

  28. Latinmass1983 says:

    “To be clear: Amoris laetitia has positive elements.” It’s 58,000 words long, it’s written by a pope, and it talks about marriage. Of course there are some positive elements in it.

    The positive elements could have well been written without the negative elements, as most past exhortations tended to do before.

    Also, if one HAS to clarify that a Papal document HAS positive element, that in itself sounds like a problem in the document itself.

  29. Mike says:

    Can the average layman really be expected to grasp correctly the juxtaposition of mortal sin and deficiency of virtue in 301? There seems to be a gap there that is vulnerable to a great deal of creative interpretation, not to say exploitation.

    Such inclarity is a great trial at least to this reader.

  30. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Liz says:
    8 April 2016 at 10:46 AM
    I am so glad you started with a prayer. That is how we should approach everything. Thanks for the reminder.

    Amen, Liz.

    At first, I was a little upset that people were not providing more precise co-ordinates for their quotes, but that actually got me to do more reading – not a bad thing.

    There is a fairly lengthy section focusing on parents transmitting the faith to their children which I found to be quite good (positive). There are arguably less Catholics nowdays because the faith is not being transmitted to chldren – often because their parents have fallen away.

    Robert Royal is quoted in the OP :
    “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.’ 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.).”

    I have to respectfully disagree with Robert Royal’s interpretation that “The image here is clearly intended to suggest that dutifully following traditional teaching is akin to stoning the woman taken in adultery.”
    First of all , it would be too easy to pick out the contradiction(s) – comparing it to what was exemplarily taught to us by our Blessed Lord concerning the woman caught in adultery. Robert Royal does not include among his biblical references the actual recounting of the event of the woman caught in adultery – which is found in the 8th Chapter of the Gospel according to John . Our Blessed Lord’s final counsel to this woman is, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.” [NAB John 8: 11 b]

    Which begs the question : How can one say to a divorced and remarried person (extenuating and mitigating circumstances precluded), “Go and sin no more.”? Try telling that to someone who is about to go home and sleep with a man whom she is not married to in the eyes of the Church.

    If we read from the text Amoris Laetitia the sentence which directly follows “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”, we find, “This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families’”
    The second half of that quote (in single quotation marks) is from last October – a Pope Francis criticism which was aimed at ultra conservatives (some add bishops).

    But there appears (in my limited opinion) to be no direct reference nor allusion to the woman caught in adultery, whom we learn about in the Gospel according to John.

    Not saying where one will find this in Amoris Laetitia. Father Z is right : We all need to read as much of it as we can ourselves – even if it means going back to it a few times. So – no coordinates as to where to locate the text in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.


    I wonder if they had originally planned to make a Latin version available , but then became stumped on which word they would have used for “pigeonholed” ?

  31. JabbaPapa says:

    34. Ultimately, it is easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible.

    A more direct condemnation of Modernism is hard to conceive.

  32. Neal says:

    “A more direct condemnation of Modernism is hard to conceive.”

    I can conceive of St Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi and his Syllabus of Errors quite easily.

  33. William Tighe says:

    Note 351 has justly occasioned close scrutiny, but is not note 364 a bit problematic as well, at least in this context?:

    364. Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 [1996], 589).

  34. Deo Credo says:

    This is not a good day. The funny thing is that everyone “got” exactly what the pope intended from AL. The only people who didn’t clearly understand what he is saying are the faithful catholics trying to explain it all away. Some things are indeed black and white, the devil’s favorite color is gray. Ambiguity and a wink seem to be the modus operandi for this pontificate and AL is right in line. I read in the gospels that divorce and remarriage is adultery, yet here I learn that we can’t call “irregular” situations a mortal sin. Sure we can. At no point in sacred scripture did Jesus say his teachings were easy or that we could keep our sinful attachments. Why then are we now being taught otherwise?

  35. Kathleen10 says:

    I think when the dust settles and this document gets more and more thoroughly unpacked, Robert Royal is going to be embarrassed by his choice of adjectives “beautiful” and “moving”.
    Can chaos ever be called such?

  36. PA mom says:

    I suspect that many of the beautiful, moving phrases of “mercy” are meant to reach the ears and hearts of the laity more than the clergy.

    After these decades of “marriage wars” with now generations of people affected and, over time those generations, distanced from the Church, I think the idea is to throw them the hook and line and encourage them to begin the process of return.

    Another thing. People shun themselves from the Church community sometimes over these situations, which they are not always the author of, or have had a change of heart since. A past pastor of ours said that MANY of his hours were spent counseling couples who had married outside the Church, only to find one desired to return after the birth of children. These couples (including myself at one point) needed that continuous call that we could continue to hope and work toward living a more intentionally accurate Catholic life and family life.

    Another. My grandmother dated an atheist on and off for nearly 15 years after the death of my grandfather. FINALLY, after a heart attack, the man agreed to marry her civilly. I was appalled by the idea that this was the best she would get, started a person prayer campaign and appealed to the man and my father (her son) that she get the proper Catholic blessing that her conscience desired. It is ONLY on the weight of her unwavering commitment to her faith over all of those years (and a truck full of hidden grace) that I was finally able to convince the man to allow a priest to redo the process. But it finally happened.

    Had she wandered away despondent over her apparently unfixable situation, the gulf may have been too wide to bridge.

  37. Mojoron says:

    There is something to be said by the slowwwwnesssss of the church’s progress of allowing remarried Catholics back into the church. [Ummm… they are not “out” of the Church. They are still fully members of the Church who have to live out the consequences of their choices. They are still obliged to attend Mass on days of obligation, just like everyone else. They are still bound to make their Easter Duty, just like everyone else….] I liken it to the Priests/monks/sisters discernment period prior to their first orders. It allows us to become enriched in the ceremony and to wish for that day we are able to receive the Lord again in complete holiness. The one thing that I wish that those former Catholics had access is sacramental confession during this period or waiting, if nothing else than to rest the soul and cool the spirit just in case……

  38. JabbaPapa says:

    Neal : “A more direct condemnation of Modernism is hard to conceive.”

    I can conceive of St Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi and his Syllabus of Errors quite easily.

    Pascendi Dominici Gregis is far more detailed than that short extract, certainly, but more “direct” ?

    The condemnations in the Syllabus of Errors are OTOH indirect by nature, and in my experience are frequently misunderstood as having greater scope and extent than their contents justify. To condemn Modernism for its Errors does NOT mean that everything that is not strict, narrow Traditionalism is erroneous.

  39. robtbrown says:

    I haven’t yet read the entire document, just summaries and various texts.

    1. The pope well understands that there is more to propagating morality than just restating the law.

    2. What I have read is not really surprising: Church doctrine is restated. Then there is the acknowledgement of the contemporary situation in the Westproduced by post-modern culture of failed marriages, increase of homosexuality, etc. The simple truth is that neither the pope nor anyone else has a remedy because for 50 years there has been a commitment to Enculturation. The only exceptions have been the SSPX and the Africans.

    3. Like Robert Royal I am underwhelmed at the use of “ideal”. There is no such thing as a moral ideal. Morality consists of principles that prescribe certain human acts because of their goodness and proscribe others because they are evil. Tbere is no ideal marriage. Even the parents of Ste Terese, who have been canonized, didn’t have an “ideal marriage”

    4. Reference to moral “ideals” is often employed in False Gradualism. I am not accusing the pope of that, but I do think it seems that, Jesuit that he is, he has adopted the language while blurring some of its consequences.

    5. I also wonder about his use of the phrase “living members” (no. 229) to describe those who have been divorced, then had a civil marriage. Revelation distinguished between those with living faith (informed by Charity) and those with dead faith (without Charity–not in a state of Grace). Although it’s possible that the first marriage of some was in fact invalid (but without having been annulled), nevertheless, I wonder how given their objective situation, they can be referred to as “living members”.

  40. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Z: Thank you for your orientation post of 7 April and beginning this discussion with a prayer.

    And a Te Deum for the Podcazt of 9 April. Also looking forward to reading Canonist Peters’ notes.

  41. frahobbit says:

    It seems we are all in the position of St Joan of Arc, needing to hold tight to God.

  42. jacobi says:

    I assure you, I have considered A L very carefully, although I am, as a pre-VAT II educated Catholic, somewhat troubled at what I have found . A L is ,

    -All things to all men and Cardinal Kasper will be delighted with the outcome . Formal schism in the Germanic areas is now a reality..

    -As to the the question of why this has come about, and there is no obvious answer.

    So, as always in situations of confusion lets retreat to core realities and work out from there.
    Adultery is a mortal sin. Adulterers may not receive Holy Communion. If they do, they commit further mortal sin as do those in any way knowingly helping them.

    The whole thing is a shambolic mess but somewhere in all that is the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth, the Catholic Church and it is up to each good Catholic and True , to find it and rescue it, in whatever way possible.

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