The Infamous #Footnote351 read through the lens of the Prodigal Son and his prostitutes

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, there is a footnote, an infamous footnote in par. 305 .


Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.

Then the footnote … for sake of Tweets #Footnote351 :


I am getting good comments on this troubling footnote.  I am not sure which sacraments unrepentent public sinners should or may receive.  Dr. Peters comments about 351 in the light on can. 915, which prohibit from Communion those who are manifestly grave sinners (such as public adulterers, which is what one is if one remarries civilly without a declaration of nullity).  HERE.  

This evening I was talking with a priest friend, Fr. Richard Heilman (whom I’ve mentioned in these electronic pages, most recently yesterday because he lead me to that great text by Fulton Sheen).  He wrote…

“The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak…

… for the weak who have chosen to come home, as did the prodigal son, to live in God’s presence, under God’s “house rules.” Might they make mistakes while home? Yes! And they will be offered forgiveness when they do. What they are not allowed to do is to “come home” and dictate their own “house rules.” Which is akin to the prodigal son coming home, and bringing the prostitutes with him.

Rem acu.

What Fr. Heilman understands, and what the Church has always understood, and what Christ Himself taught when he forgave the woman caught in adultery, is that we have to amend our lives after sinning.

Fr. Z kudos.

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This entry was posted in 1983 CIC can. 915, Fr. Z KUDOS, Hard-Identity Catholicism, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Kensington says:

    I have lately noticed a movement amongst the liberals to say that the prodigal son was unrepentant upon his return. He was merely hungry, and therefore the moral of the parable has nothing to do with repentance and, therefore, by that logic, it would actually be fine for the prodigal son to bring his prostitutes.

    Fishwrap types ARE starting to assert this.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Z. This is right on the mark.

  3. Benedict Joseph says:

    Yes, what is referenced in this piece does not follow the reason of Scriptur. And this document is a collection of sentimental notions, of groundless “non sequitors.”
    In the first paragraph of “Amoris Laetitia” we read “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people…” Yes? What galactic entity do the composers and endorsers of this document inhabit? And why don’t I, WE, immediately absorb an erroneous statement offered in support of a thesis balanced on one leg? I don’t believe I’ve seen a wedding performed in a parish Church more than twice in the past ten years. Who gets married anymore? What are these men working out of?
    Maybe more appropriately, what are they working out?

  4. LeeF says:

    That is a wonderful quote from Bp. Sheen which hits the nail squarely on the head.

    Ultimately we make our own moral decisions, for good or ill, and have to deal with the consequences of same. Supposedly in this exhortation scenario a priest will accompany a divorced and remarried couple in such a “discernment” and “decision” process. And even if he disagrees with their decision to approach communion, will probably not refuse them same since the practice has become so widespread it is almost not a manifest public scandal.

    But what of absolution in the confessional? That is the priest’s decision, and his alone. So will we have situations where a couple is denied absolution and yet still go to communion? Or will they just priest/parish shop until they find Father Most Merciful to give them everything? Who will have the greater guilt if there be same? This whole thing seems like it could become a moral hazard for pastors and we need to keep praying for them.

  5. Mike says:

    This second paragraph was commented on at The Remnant. CARA stats show huge drop in marriages from around 1970 to today. Do they think we’re stoopid? ;)

  6. Mojoron says:

    This may be off topic, but…. I have been always bothered by what the prodigal son said to his father after returning from a life of debauchery, and this is not verbatim, “treat me like you do your servants, I don’t deserve any better” So the father treats his servant’s like dogs, apparently, but finds mercy for the prodigal son. The story has always found me wondering about it’s meaning other than what was on the surface.

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I read a blogger’s translation of quotations from a French news article the other day which made me think of “forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, [such that] it is possible […to be] in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such “:

    ‘For the bishop of Pontoise, Stanislas Lalanne, pedophilia is “an evil” but he “didn’t know that he would say” if it’s a sin.

    ‘His remarks shocked the victims of a pedophile priest in Lyon who were filled with emotion Wednesday. “Pedophilia is an evil. Is it on the order of a sin? That, I don’t know that I’d say, it’s different for each person. But it’s an evil and the first thing to do is to is to protect the victims or future victims,” he declared Tuesday on RCF, a network of 63 radio French-speaking Christian radio stations.

    ‘A little later, several listeners upset by his remarks re-started the discussion and the Bishop explained: “It’s a great evil. That much is very, very clear. Is it a sin or not? I don’t know and that might be different according to each [person]. Thus we can’t generalize,” added the religious official.

    ‘ “The difficulty is what awareness does the person have of this evil? What responsibility does he feel? When one commits a sin, one has awareness that one wounds the relationship with another, and in wounding the relationship with another, one woulds the relationship with God,” he explained.

    ‘ “We’re on the order of sin but is this man a sinner in the strict sense of the term? I don’t know if I can say that, in every case, we can’t speak in general terms,” concluded Stanislas Lalanne.’

    The blogger adds, ‘Note: “un mal” — “an evil” — could also be translated as merely “a wrong.” Or “an ill.”

    ‘I erred in the Bishop’s favor and translated it as “an evil,” though it’s possible he’s only saying it’s “a wrong” or “an ill.” Given the strange distinction he’s making between “an evil” and “a sin,” it does sound like he more means pedophilia is “a wrong,” but not necessarily a sin.’

  8. juergensen says:

    “I am not sure which sacraments unrepentent public sinners should or may receive.”

    No one is more tired of all this nuanced verbosity than me. That said, fn. 351, by explicitly mentioning “the confessional” immediately after offering “in certain cases … the help of the sacraments”, appears to invoke REPENTANT public sinners. After all, since when do “unrepentent public sinners” go to confession?

  9. Jeannie_C says:

    “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” leaves me wondering what kind of encouragement is this for those of us who do our best to live according to Church teaching, go to Confession, seek an encounter with Jesus in Holy Communion – does OHF really believe we think we’ve won a “prize” for being “perfect”? This is what he thinks of us?

  10. Monica says:

    Benedict Joseph: yes to all you wrote. As to which “galactic entity” exists in which confessionals are torture chambers, and the young are marrying rather than living together until their property/ bank accounts are melded into a safely sacramental union, that entity is FantasyLand. Inc out here among the peripheries…
    Catholics are not to say that the Old Covenant is insufficient, and should affirm that no one can be condemned forever because such would counter the Gospel itself. This is, as the young are now so fond of saying, “problematic” for us sheep who have read and studied the Scriptures.
    I’m not confounded that our chief shepherd allows and promulgates this sort of thing. But can’t you, and other priests, and our bishops and cardinals, have more courage? Can you not be honest with us? We (at least, I) wait for you to speak out clearly. If you need help in what to say and do, the lay blogosphere has already given you good example.
    If you perceive frustration and anger, you’re right to do so. The onus is on the clergy now, and we are waiting to hear better than we have heard from you so far, Father Z.

  11. LeeF says:

    A very interesting article in the Spectator, taking off an article in the Guardian, and which mentions the footnote:

    Not exactly the typical MSM interpretation. Best part was this:
    The Kasperites have been dumped, effectively. Hardline German liberals must be asking themselves why Francis encouraged them so extravagantly, then squashed their ambitions.

    If you scroll down through the typical sewer of comments you see both liberals and conservatives disagreeing with the author’s analysis.

  12. Mr. Graves says:

    This articles puts me in mind of a modern parable Anthony Esolen wrote for The Catholic Thing after last year’s Synod. Esolen affirms the damning familial effect of non-repentance on the part of the prodigal:

  13. JabbaPapa says:

    The footnote itself refers to Evangelii Gaudium 44, which starts “Moreover, pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”.”

    Quite so, Ecclesially at least, but the situations of clear, deliberate and unrepentant mortal sin in states of permanent adultery are not simply vanished away for such reasons. Indeed the very chapter of the CCC that Evangelii Gaudium refers to states clearly, immediately after, that “1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author” — which in such cases is both the original marriage vows before God and Church, and the second marriage vows in deliberate acceptance of adultery.

    Given that it cannot be the intention of the Church to change this doctrine, the footnote cannot possibly refer to the situations of the divorced-remarried, but only to those in some lesser “imperfect situations” that do not constitute mortal sin as such, but have been conditioned in their imperfections by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

  14. Rob83 says:

    This footnote is very sly. There do indeed exist situations in which a person can be in an objectively sinful state and be in God’s grace and receive the help of the sacraments. The problem is those situations are ones in which the affected people wouldn’t be prevented from receiving the sacraments in the first place because nobody aside from God would be aware of the problem. As has been stated many times here, God does not require the impossible.

    If a couple’s state is such that they have been prevented from receiving the sacraments, they are not ignorant of the fact that they are in an on-going objectively sinful state, and no defect in knowledge or conditioning or the terrible preaching and catechesis they had at Our Lady of the Shifting Sands makes up for the fact that now that they know, they have an obligation to put an end to that state before they can receive the sacraments again.

    The straw man set up about the Eucharist…ugh. Again, technically correct notion in itself, but the context almost makes it seem like it’s a magic elixir that should especially be given to sinners so that it will heal them of their sins (perhaps that explains why Our Lady of the Shifting Sands only has 26 hours per year of confessions for 10000 parishoners while practically everyone in the church comes up to receive every Sunday). Repentance (followed by confession) is the medicine for the spiritually dead, all of our “pastoral” considerations should be focused on getting people in these situations to repent. Focusing on the getting people the Eucharist is cart before the horse.

    Speaking of confession…is anyone else puzzled by Francis wanting to promote confessions in this year of mercy while at the same time he describes them as torture chambers here?

  15. Nicolas Bellord says:

    And how long before the reference to sacraments in note 351 is taken to include the sacrament of Holy Matrimony for the divorced and unannulled? This shows real carelessness in the drafting of this document.

  16. Imrahil says:

    Speaking of the biblical prodigal son,

    who is surely guilty of, well, prodigality, but was apparently too conscientious to eat from the pigs’ food unless someone explicitly gave it to him,

    I’m not sure whether he actually went to prostitutes, or whether that was just part of the talk his elder brother heard and believed about him.

  17. acardnal says:

    It’s worth remembering and reminding others that there are two essential components to a valid sacramental confession: 1) contrition and 2) repentance (amendment of one’s lifestyle, conversion, turning away from sin) of the penitent. Christ told us to “repent” many times in the Gospels. “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Lk 13:5

    [cf: Lk 5:32; Lk 13:3, 5; Lk 15:7; Lk 16:30; Jn 5:14; Mk 1:15; Mk 6:12; Mt 4:17; Mt 3:2; Rev 2:5;
    Rev 2:16; Rev 2:21; Rev 3:3; Rev 3:19; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30; Acts 8:22]

    The Church teaches that there is something called the sin of presumption. No one should presume God’s mercy.

  18. chantgirl says:

    This footnote, taken in context of the Pope’s early use of Kasper to float the “Kasper Accommodation”, taken in the context of the Pope’s retaining of the disputed paragraphs from the first synod despite their not receiving the required votes, taken in the context of the Pope’s alleged calls to people living in adultery and telling them they can receive Communion, taken in the context of the Pope’s choice of presenters of Amoris, taken in the context of Cardinal Burke’s ouster, taken in the context of the Pope’s final address at the synod, taken in the context of the Pope’s interview with Scalfari when the Holy Father suggested that by whatever meandering penitential paths those in adulterous relationships would be able to receive communion (this interview was never disputed by the Holy Father), and taken in context with the Pope’s homilies, I don’t think there is a reasonable way to conclude that the Holy Father does not embrace the Kasper proposal. Perhaps he was restrained by the Holy Spirit, or the CDF, or fear of blowback, from supporting the proposal more explicitly in the exhortation, but all of the pieces are there if we are willing to see and acknowledge them. If a detective without a dog in this fight were to look at the evidence, what would he conclude?

    At this point I’m not sure it matters what the Pope’s opinion of the “Kasper Accommodation” is. The damage is done and we have to look at ways to mitigate and clean-up the mess. Priests in the confessional and at the communion rail, spouses in difficult marriages, and people in adulterous civil marriages are going to have to make some heroic choices. Oh, and Bux protocol.

  19. Janol says:

    Paragraph 297 which I find so problematical because seemingly affirming universal salvation, would seemly allow the prodigal son to keep his prostitutes at his side:

    “…Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; … Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest.”

  20. rtjl says:

    Don’t worry. All will be straightened out once the “year of mercy” is followed by the “year of faithfulness”. ;-)

  21. cenlacatholic says:

    Open wood stove, insert Exhortation. It’s just more intellectual gymnastics for neo-religious to justify sinful habits with situational ethics.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the Mass you offered in Natchitoches at the Basilica.

  22. HeatherPA says:

    Uhhh… I am becoming so utterly confused. Pope Francis’ Twitter tweeted this out a little bit ago-

    “The divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church. They are not excommunicated.”

    What is he saying here? And isn’t this patently false?? [They are not excommunicated. Excommunication is a censure that is incurred under circumstances laid down in Canon Law. Excommunication can be incurred automatically, by the fact of having done specific things, or by an ecclesiastic authority, again for specific things. Divorce does not incur excommunication. Civil remarriage does not incur excommunication. However, people who divorce often are guilty of sins that bar them from receiving Communion. Also, if they sinned and they are unrepentant, they cannot be absolved. People who civilly remarry without question objectively commit a grave sin and they are usually aware that it is a sin, and so they usually commit a mortal sin (to commit a mortal sin you have to know what you do and intend it any way). They are barred from receiving Communion, and if they are unrepentant and will not remedy their situation in some way, they cannot be absolved. In effect they have sort of excommunicated themselves, but they are not officially excommunicated.] I have always thought and was taught the exact opposite of this sentence.


  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    ““The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

    …but not the dead, which is what one is, spiritually, in mortal sin. Thus, people who rationalize their mortal sin simply due to their own negligence in informing themselves of the truth, such as in the case of almost, if not all, improper marriages, cannot expect any medicine from the Eucharist, but only condemnation.

    I’ll see your prodigal son and raise you a 1 Corinthians 11:27 – 30:

    “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
    But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
    For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
    For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”

    Now, as for the main paragraph:

    “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end,”

    Obviously, that is correct, but (and this is a big but) this depends, to some extent on psychological theories of dubious validity. What constitutes, “forms of conditioning?” Is obsession with pornography conditioned? How very Maslovian! We have growing neuroscientific understanding of habit formation and, guess what, the mystics, like St. Teresa of Avila got it right. Habit formation requires a triad of actions in the brain and one of them is cueing. If one becomes detached from the worldly cues, habits can be weakened. How many priests in the confessional will be able to give informed advice to help their penitents outgrow their, “conditioning?” There are certain physiological states which authentically weaken the will, but these are not conditioning.

    I am afraid that this paragraph is poorly written from a scientific standpoint. The Church, in Gaudium et Spes was supposed to provide a moral framework to modern science, but it seems that the opposite might have been done in this Exhortation – science (badly understood) has provided a scapegoat for certain moral cases which might have been dealt with, otherwise.

    The Chicken

  24. pseudomodo says:

    A faithful orthodox catholic, a lefty dissenting liberal catholic and a radical traditionalist go down to the Pateling Night Market in Kuala Lumpur for a meal.

    Unbelievably they all order the same meal – deep fried stuffed sotong with curried noodles and coconut rice.

    The meals arrive and lo and behold there are a few very large live cockroaches crawling on the food. They are not supposed to be there but there they are!

    The lefty dissenting liberal catholic doesn’t like squid but he chokes it all down anyways including the cockroaches claiming that there is at least some protein there. He feels sick.

    The radical traditionalist actually likes most of it, but because there is a cockroach there he rejects the entire thing and goes hungry. He too feels sick.

    The faithful orthodox catholic also likes most of it and notes the presence of the cockroach that is NOT supposed to be there. He then does what most faithful catholics do in this situation.

    With his thumb and finger he flicks the said cockroach off his plate and launches it into the crowds where it is crushed underfoot.

    He then proceeds to devour the meal with relish.

  25. HeatherPA says:

    Thank you, Father, for the explanation!

  26. JabbaPapa says:

    Pope Martin V clarified that the divorced-remarried are not excommunicated.

  27. iamlucky13 says:

    @ Majoron
    “I have been always bothered by what the prodigal son said to his father after returning from a life of debauchery, and this is not verbatim, “treat me like you do your servants, I don’t deserve any better” So the father treats his servant’s like dogs, apparently, but finds mercy for the prodigal son.”

    You’re reading a bit too much into the son’s sense of shame. Our Lord did not say the father, who keep in mind represents God, treats his workers badly. In fact, he makes the opposite clear. The son, after squandering his wealth in a far away land, worked for somebody who actually did treat his workers badly – he even treated the (unclean) pigs better than his workers. The liberation he sought in sin did not make him free, but effectively a slave. That’s when his son realized his Father treated even His workers well; they had what they needed to live, even though that did not include inheritance or a place in the home itself. He may have squandered that inheritance and the right to be called a child of the Father, but he repented and at least hoped to be given as much as the faithful servants had.

  28. Susan G says:

    My fiancé and I were discussing yesterday that it would be really nice, if, once in awhile, the church were to extend help to couples seeking to follow Church teaching rather than constantly diminishing our efforts to life faithful lives. Just once in awhile… to support the faithful in our pursuit of holiness. Sigh. Of course we’ll continue that pursuit, but it would be nice to be supported in prayers, at least, rather than have it said by so many Catholics that following Church teaching is unnecessary and prideful. It’s hard enough to have to battle the culture on that front. We shouldn’t have to battle the opinion of Catholics, too.

    If you have a moment, we’d really appreciate the offering of a Hail Mary. We’re trying to arrange a Nuptial Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which would be the first in this diocese to be celebrated in many years. Prayers for our success on that front please, as well as for a fruitful marriage that is pleasing to God. :)

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