I am trying to think back through the Church’s long history for an instance in which a Pope has withdrawn one of his own teaching documents, on faith and morals.
Of course Popes have superseded previous documents by issuing their own.
But has a Pope ever withdrawn one? How would that work? In my mind’s eye I see a Pope giving a presser on an airplane (which in the future may become the Roman Pontiff’s official cathedra):
POPE WITH MICROPHONE: Okay, everyone, listen up! That document I issued a while back… you know the one… okay, that’s all over now. No more document, okay? It’s gone. I’m withdrawing it. It’s like… like an annulment, a rendering of something that was something into nothing, right? Got it? It’s not going to be on the website anymore. We are not going to twitter about… tweet?… tweet about it. We are asking everyone to just, like, throw it away. If you love Vatican II, just stop talking about it. Okay? Thanks in advance everyone.
PRESS SECRETARY: Okay, folks, that’s it for today.
Anyway, I can’t think of an instance of a Pope withdrawing a document.
And yet, that is precisely what one group, which met recently in Rome, wants Pope Francis to do.
LifeSite reports that attendees of the Voice of the Family conference in Rome wanted Pope Francis to zero-out the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia.
ROME, May 9, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Over 100 pro-life and pro-family leaders from all over the world leapt to their feet in applause at a meeting in Rome on Saturday after hearing a call for Pope Francis to withdraw his controversial exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
At LifeSite are the text of the speech given by John Smeaton of SPUC and addresses people can use to write letters. A video of Smeaton’s talk is posted.
Look… a lot of those people at that conference were serious people. There is a growing sector of the Church’s serious people who find problems in Amoris laetitia. The lack of universal enthusiasm (or at least quiet indifference) and the increasing vocal and written criticism of the problems in the document clearly have shaken some of the usual suspects in the Roman sphere.
Digression: That explains in part, I think, the bitter, peevish, angry comments Fr. Rosica made the other day when he vented his spleen about the Catholic blogosphere, thus doing exactly what he accused others of doing. But I digress.
Meanwhile, speaking of something that needs to be withdrawn, over at The Catholic Thing, my good friend Fr. Gerald Murray has an essay about Amoris laetitia. He concludes:
Any approach that would further confuse the sinner by telling him that the Church now has decided that he can be absolved and receive Holy Communion because for various reasons (“mitigating factors”) he is not considered guilty of mortal sin for future acts of adultery is unacceptable – and frankly untruthful.
The shepherd’s duty is to lead the sheep into the good pasture of truth, where God’s grace strengthens the repentant sinner’s resolution to live according to the law God gave us. A “permission slip” to keep committing adultery is a serious failure of pastoral charity by the priest advising someone who is living in sin.
The permission given in footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia poses a dilemma for the priest/confessor who knows the Church’s constant sacramental discipline, based upon her unchangeable doctrine. The practical solution to the dilemma is to ignore the unwarranted permission.
The greater problem for the Church is that such permission was ever given. It must be withdrawn, for the good of souls.
So, Fr. Murray, too, clearly sees problems in Amoris laetitia. His solution is, also, that something must be withdrawn. Murray, however, limits himself to the Infamous Footnote™… 351, which contains the imprudent, unjustifiable permission that he discerns within it.
Of course Francis is not going to withdraw Amoris laetitia. That’s not going to happen.
But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be “withdrawn”, so to speak, from the Exhortation.
Fr. Murray’s request is reasonable and doable and, frankly, not out of the realm of imagining.
My solution: Make necessary changes to Amoris laetitia, such as elimination of, or reworking of, the Infamous Footnote, etc., and then publish the final, official version in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. And then TELL PEOPLE about the version in the Acta.
This leads me back to something I have pointed out in the past.
The Holy See’s official instrument of promulgation of documents is the publication Acta Apostolicae Sedis… “The Acts of the Apostolic See”.
Digression: For the last few decades, when an important document is to be issued, there is a presser during which some churchy experts talk about the thing. Journalists get copies in modern languages a little in advance along with print outs of the dull speeches they must endure listening to before a too brief Q&A dominated especially by Europeans who don’t know how to ask a question without a several minute intro. So, at the time of the presser, the document is released in various languages. Some years back, Latin was one of those languages, and then the next day the Latin would be printed in L’Osservatore Romano. These days? Latin? Not so much. The problem today is that documents are not being written in Latin. They are translated into Latin from whatever language was the original or from the Italian, which itself might have been a translation of the original. You might not believe this, but it is true. When the Catechism of the Catholic Church was produced in Latin, it had to be translated from the Italian, which was itself a translation from the original working language French. Can you imagine what that did to quotations that were originally in Latin or French? It was a mess. Eventually staff at the Augustinianum had to clean the whole thing up and correct all the errors in citations. But I digress.
Between the time that documents are released and the moment that they appear in the Acta changes are often made to them. The official version of the document is the version in the Acta which nobody bothers to consult. Newsies and scholars and priests and bishops and students and deaconette wannabes refer to the modern language versions which were released at the time of the initial presser. Those modern language versions are put on the Vatican website and published in booklet form and sold all over the world. They are not revised in light of the changes in the Acta version.
Therefore, virtually everyone is quoting a document that isn’t really the official document.
Could it be that the first released version and final official version coincide? Sure! But you don’t know that until you look, right?
Again my solution to the problems in Amoris laetitia? Make the first version a draft of the final version.
Make necessary changes and then publish the final, official version of it in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
I can imagine the presser on the plane with the Pope:
POPE WITH MICROPHONE: Okay, everyone, listen up! That document I issued a while back… you know the one… okay, we’ve got some news about that. We made some changes and the final, official version is being posted on the website as I speak. It’s also being sent out 140 characters at a time on my Latin Twitter account. Ha ha! Gotchya! I’m here all week. And be sure to tip your flight attendants. [barely audible muffled question] No, John, I don’t write those Tweets, c’mon. So, it’s… you know… we listened to the people of God and, like… we got some marriage counseling for the Exhortation instead of an annulment. See what I did there? Huh? Yeah? Anyway, we are asking everyone to just, like, to stop listening to Card. Schönborn and Card. Kasper and just look at the website. Okay? You’re going to see some really great changes because you spoke and we listened and because we – unlike Fr. Z – all love Vatican II and that’s what Vatican II really wanted, right? Thanks in advance everyone. [barely audible muffled question] No, John, he’ll never be a Monsignor. Not on my watch. And another thing….
PRESS SECRETARY: Okay, folks, that’s it for today.