I direct the readership’s attention to a piece at Crisis about Amoris laetitia, the controversial and ambiguous Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation… that is, if any of you still care to read about it.
Or listen to it! Hopefully busy priests and seminarians will benefit from being able to hear it as well as read it.
Richard A. Spinello, Associate Research Professor at Boston College and a member of the adjunct faculty at St. John’s Seminary in Boston. asks: Does Amoris Laetitia Retreat from Absolute Moral Norms?
He sets the stage:
We can begin to better appreciate the potential problems with Amoris Laetitia if we recall why Pope John Paul II felt it necessary to devote a whole encyclical [Veritatis splendor – which is not cited in AL] to the theme of moral theology and natural law. Many encyclicals written by John Paul II’s predecessors dealt with specific moral issues, but John Paul II was more concerned about the proper foundation of moral theology. After Vatican II, dissent on moral issues was rampant in the Catholic Church. [After what? After Vatican II? I’m shocked.] Moral theologians proposed novel theories such as the “fundamental option,” which claimed that a single evil act need not reverse one’s “option” for God and therefore could not be classified as a mortal sin. They promoted proportionalism—making moral choices based on whatever option yields the optimal proportion of benefits to harms. Reflecting the postmodern flight from truth and certitude, they discarded the doctrine of specific moral absolutes in favor of formal norms such as “Love your neighbor.” [All you need is love, love… love is all you need!] John Paul II witnessed the confusion spread by the revisionists and decided to intervene by writing this encyclical in 1993. The philosopher-pope dissected the shallow arguments underlying these new theories with exquisite care.
Most U.S. Catholic seminaries have been faithful to the traditional doctrines reinforced by Veritatis Splendor. Of course, there has been residual discord at a number of Catholic universities. Some moral theologians continued to teach and defend these revisionist creeds such as the fundamental option.
That helps to put AL in a context. Going on…
[QUAERITUR…] But what will happen to moral theology in the wake of Amoris Laetitia, which seems to disregard and perhaps even oppose the highly principled reasoning of Veritatis Splendor? Will more moral theologians and clergy come to see that encyclical as an irrelevant relic of the John Paul II papacy? [I think that it was part of the agenda of the managers of the last two Synods to frame John Paul’s magisterium as something that belongs to the past and as no longer relevant.]
Supporters of Pope Francis’s approach to moral theology might contend that Amoris Laetitia does not rebuke the work of his predecessor. This may be true, but the language of this exhortation, especially in Chapter Eight, seems to suggest that Pope Francis is distancing himself from St. John Paul II. It seems likely that some theologians will perceive Francis’s exhortation as a vindication of the revisionist moral theologyVeritatis Splendor sought to dismantle. In an article called “In Good Conscience,” one moral theologian has already proclaimed that Pope Francis “clearly believes there are few, if any, ‘one-size-fits-all’ concrete absolute norms.” He also applauds the expansive role for conscience presented in the exhortation. [It’s in Jesuit-run Amerika Magazine. Are you surprised?]
The writer goes on to show how the use of Aquinas in AL doesn’t hold up very well.
Be sure to tune your ears for his explanation of the fundamental option (which is wrong), proportionalism (which is wrong). Also, listen for his explanation of absolute moral norms. Finally, follow carefully his own exposition of Thomas Aquinas which show the flaw in how Aquinas is employed in AL.
Amoris Laetitia fails to point out the critical distinction between different types of moral norms.
I hope this might be of use especially to busy priests and seminarians who may be able to listen to it on their way to class or while running or driving somewhere.
Gentlemen, we need to know this stuff inside and out.