PODCAzT 146: Spinello: Does Amoris Laetitia Retreat from Absolute Moral Norms?



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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    ” It seems likely that some theologians will perceive Francis’s exhortation as a vindication of the revisionist moral theology Veritatis Splendor sought to dismantle.”

    I really, really want to write an article on continuity of truth (oh, wait, wasn’t that purpose of Veritatis Splendor?). In truly infallible matters, one pope cannot overturn the teachings of another pope. If a pope can overturn a teaching then it isn’t infallible to start with.

    The problem (and I will keep repeating it) is that of approaching theology as a science vs. that of approaching theology as literature studies. If, if, there can be genuine proofs in theology (assuming certain foundational axioms given by God), then progress can be made; if not, then all becomes a matter of opinion and fad. Physical sciences just can’t ignore the First Law of Thermodynamics because it is inconvenient for an agenda. How much less can theology ignore the moral laws founded by God, himself? If they do not serve an agenda, then, too bad. If any old interpretation can be made to seem true merely because one wants it to be true (or needs it to be true for an agenda), then there would be no continuity of truth and religion becomes an exercise in fiction.

    Indeed, more and more, what is coming out of the Vatican sounds like the pronouncements of the post Silver-age DC comics – they had a great continuity going and overnight decided to ignore it because it was too hard to live up to it, so flushed the history and began (and continue to this day) to create new interpretations, “updated,” origin stories, wrong-headed tweaks of established characters, etc. I mean, doesn’t the latest Batman vs. Superman movie seem like it was written by post-Vatican II moral theologians? I wish people in the Vatican would start reading Marvel comics. At least they have a refreshing consistency and vision (no pun intended) which the Church sorely needs, right now.

    The Chicken

  2. Ave Crux says:

    EXCELLENT Post….

    The comment that disturbs and alarms me most is: “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?”

    This precisely is the concern….the entire edifice of moral theology has been dealt a blow by AL and will quickly sink into rumble if not for a Divine intervention, or the election of a Pope who repudiates and anathematizes AL.

    AL has entrenched situational ethics firmly at the heart of the Church, using all the guile and cunning of satan in the Garden of Eden…..“No, you shall not die…..”

    As weary as some may be of hearing about AL, they ought not to be. It is a devastating blow to the Church’s moral authority — and those of her faithful priests who try to uphold Christ’s moral teaching — that will reverberate with catastrophic consequences throughout the entire Church to the profound detriment of faith and morals. It already has.

    For a Papal Apostolic Exhortation to essentially reduce morality to an individual standard according as one feels able to manage is to dismiss henceforth any recourse to moral absolutes, the Ten Commandments and the words of Christ Himself — the 2nd Person of the Most Holy Trinity — in trying to recall souls to their moral duty before God.

    And the tragedy is that God always stands ready with His grace and Providence to support generous and even heroic efforts, if need be, on our part to extract ourselves from sin in order to obey His Commandments.

    AL makes that reality irrelevant. It is an insult to God Who demands we obey His Commandments (“If you love Me, keep My Commandments..”), and Who is ever ready to assist us in doing so, that we might be freed from slavery to sin….NOW.

    The Commandments serve a purpose — they are a safeguard to the common good, and offer the only hope of a stable civilization in which to work out ones salvation.

    I don’t know how these prelates can claim to read the Gospels. When I do, I see on every page the exigency of the demands of Christ that we convert or be lost.

    Which “Gospel” are they reading?

  3. Eugene says:

    Father, when will you and other true priests and Bishops organize a resistance to this exhortation?

  4. chantgirl says:

    Many of us, even though we watched the two synods as a slow-moving trainwreck, and even though we had forebodings of what the final exhortation would say, even though the winds were definitely blowing in a certain direction and all the clues were there to be seen, were utterly shell-shocked when Amoris was released. How could it possibly be that a sitting pope would sign such a document? Personally I went through the stages of grief reading what my pope thought, and hearing the deafening silence on the part of many bishops and Cardinals, and the utter jubilation of the most heterodox of our prelates.

    My only conclusion is that we are seeing the “lovechild” of the modernist heresy, the fruit of the modernist revolution in the Church. Now we are seeing what Our Lady of Good Success and Our Lady of Akita predicted. Our institutional Church has embraced situational ethics, the fundamental option, and the institutionalization of sacrilege. We are now fighting the synthesis of all heresies. I am at peace now, seeing the reality of the Church and what I, as a simple laywoman and homeschooling stay-at-home mom must do. I must raise my children to be counter-revolutionaries. I must become well-learned in the faith, I must not run from membership in the Church (but I must rear my children in a liturgically-safe environment- a Latin Mass community with like believers), I must love and pray for the Pope and his fellow bishops and priests, I must embrace my own vocation and crosses, I must reach out to Catholics who are steeped in ignorance, and I must turn my home into a “seminal” classroom where the faith handed down by millennia of Catholics is taught.

    In short, I must become a saint. What more can any of us do?

    I believe it is time for the Benedict Option, both in terms of the Church and society. Find a good Latin Mass community and relocate near it, if necessary, for your children to grow in a safe, Catholic environment. Up until now, I have not thought it prudent to tell my children of the crisis in the church because I was concerned that they might conclude that the whole thing was a sham. Now, my teenage children will be given the truth, and hopefully they will be able to keep their faith. I will start by having them read this essay:


    Finally, prepare for persecution or a chastisement by staying in a state of grace. God will not let this situation go on forever.

  5. Ave Crux says:

    Coincidental to my comment above, a Conference of over 100 pro-life and pro-family leaders has just met in Rome to petition Pope Francis to *withdraw* AL as being inimical to Catholic moral teaching.

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider (our new Saint Athanasius?) spoke at that conference and decried the growing confusion that AL is now causing in the Church.

    Where are our Bishops and Cardinals in defending the Faith….? Bishop Schneider stands alone, as did his namesake during the Arian crisis.

    Here is the news link:

  6. JabbaPapa says:


    “It is not possible to live in God’s grace while living in a sinful situation,” he [Müller] said, and continued by saying that people living in sin “can not receive Holy Communion unless they have received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” Müller importantly added that the “Church has no power to change the Divine Law” and that “Not even a pope or council can change that.”

    There have been different claims that Amoris Laetitia has rescinded this (previous) discipline, because it allows, at least in certain cases, the reception of the Eucharist by remarried divorcees without requiring that they change their way of life in accord with Familiaris Consortio 84 (namely, by giving up their new bond or by living as brothers and sisters). The following has to be said in this regard: If Amoris Laetitia had intended to rescind such a deeply rooted and such a weighty discipline, it would have expressed itself in a clear manner and it would have given the reasons for it. However, such a statement with such a meaning is not to be found in it [Amoris Laetitia]. Nowhere does the pope put into question the arguments of his predecessors. They [the arguments]are not based upon the subjective guilt of these our brothers and sisters, but, rather, upon the visible, objective way of life which is in opposition to the words of Christ.

  7. Ave Crux says:


    Archbishop Bruno Forte, the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, said during a presentation on the Pope’s recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia that Pope Francis told him at the Synod on the Family that he didn’t want to speak “plainly” about the question of admitting remarried divorcees to Holy Communion because doing so would make a “terrible mess.”

    Forte claimed that the pope told him: “If we speak explicitly about communion for the divorced and remarried, you do not know what a terrible mess we will make. So we won’t speak plainly, do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.” 

    “Typical of a Jesuit,” Abp Forte reportedly joked.

    Forte’s comment was published on the Italian news site Zonalocale.it and translated by OnePeterFive.



  8. chantgirl says:

    JabbaPapa- I think that Cardinal Muller did his best to keep an explicit endorsement of divorced+remarried communion out of Amoris. However, I also think that there is enough evidence to conclude that the Pope wanted to sneak it in any way he could.

    I understand that Pope Francis does not have the power to change certain things, so that even if Amoris explicitly allowed them it would be a nonstarter. However, that’s not how the situation will play out on the ground. I believe that Cardinals Burke and Muller are right to point out that Pope Francis cannot change doctrine; however I believe that they are wrong in not resisting Amoris more forcefully because the exhortation will do much damage, and harm many souls. Where is John the Baptist when we need him?

    The Pope has ignored many appeals for clarification. If he will not clarify, Amoris needs to be rescinded for its potential to harm the Church.

  9. Ave Crux says:

    chantgirl: I agree with you 100% on everything you have said. You obviously are receiving many graces and being faithful to them. God bless you for that. It’s inspiring to see.

    One thing…It WAS possible to see this coming, though.

    It all began when Pope Francis appointed Kasper to give the Pre-Synodal address even before the First Synod in 2014, at the end of which Pope Francis asked us to “mature” our outlook in preparation for the 2015 Synod.

    Why…wasn’t our Catholic moral vision already “mature” after 2,000 years of infallible teaching….? Clearly Pope Francis was signaling that changes were afoot, far in advance of the final Exhortation.

    Yes, it was right there plain as day for us to see…if only we were ready to admit it.

    Just read what Kasper presented at that time — that’s Amoris Laetitia in carbon copy. So why are we surprised? What was presented by Kasper in the Pre-Synodal Address at the request of Pope Francis is exactly what we ended up with.

    That was the end game of Pope Francis all along — clear as the nose on our faces if we had simply listened to Kasper acting and speaking at that time at the behest of Pope Francis.

    Why would Pope Francis have commissioned such a radical “INTRO” if it wasn’t the blueprint for the outcome he was aiming for? He’s not a stupid man; he acts according to the changes he would like to put into effect, AND….the very pastoral changes he already practiced in his own Diocese before becoming Pope.

    Pope Francis was also responsible for keeping all of the most controversial passages in the Final Relatio from the Synod, even though they did not receive the necessary votes from the Synod Fathers.

    I am of the (frustrated) opinion that many Catholics were in denial then, and are still in denial now.

    It’s as if they just cannot admit what their eyes and reason are telling them is actually happening: the Church betrayed by the very Prelates charged with preserving Her faithful and inviolate.

    It’s like a hologram as we try to understand what’s happening: first it looks like one thing, then it looks like something else.

    This is the very proof that it’s diabolical in its cunning and insidiousness; THAT’s Modernism in a nutshell.

    Essentially, the hierarchy has checked out, and we’re left to fend for ourselves by recourse to Tradition and the Deposit of Faith. Sister Lucia said this. She said (I paraphrase) — decades ago!….

    “The time has come when the faithful must no longer look to their priests and bishops for guidance and light. They must act on what they know to be true and seek light from God….”

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    I am consoled by the commentary here. AL is a tremendous disaster and is causing great harm. It should be rescinded, but that is not likely. Cunning minds are at work here, and they are enjoying the effect this is having. They have waited patiently and now is their time. I thank Bishop Athanasius Schneider for his response, which is the only response thus far that even comes close to an appropriate one in light of this document, which obviously and clearly departs from Catholic teaching. Thomas Aquinas rightly provided the rationale for rebuking a pope by the words of St. Paul about St. Peter, when St. Peter refused to sit with the Gentiles. St. Paul said he rebuked him for that “because he was to be blamed”.
    Our bishops have a responsibility to address this scandal and stop mincing words or talking about how it is not harmful or is not Magisterial. None of that matters to the man on the street. It’s awful, an outrage, and I pity them if they do not say that directly. For heaven’s sake, stop mincing words and speak up for once.

  11. Healingrose1202 says:

    I thought truth was supposed to be as simple as the difference between black and white, not fifty shades of gray in the church. What in 2,000 years is left to figure out? The Catholic Church should have nothing to figure out. We just need them to enforce God’s commandments. This is what happens when there is a lack of humility and reverence for God. The Catholic Church is too full of pride and fear of earthly things instead of fear of God. We wouldn’t want to exclude or offend any Catholics, even if they go against God’s truth. It’s like a parent who gives in to the whims of a child so they can be the child’s friend. We don’t need the Catholic Church to be our friend, we need a strict and loving parent. A child needs clear rules and expectations, or they will become lost.

  12. Maltese says:

    Imagine if the non-dogmatic Vatican Council II had never happened: we’d have a TLM on steroids, using the ancient mass that the greatest saints ever knew, to fight the great heresies of our age.

  13. JabbaPapa says:

    But to read things into a text that are not there, regardless of what its author or some other individuals might hypothetically intend, is simply the wrong way to go about reading it.

    Cardinal Müller isn’t “reinterpreting” the text, he’s more simply pointing out that an interpretation based on notions of admitting adulterers to the Eucharist are based on none of its contents.

    His point following Pope Benedict XVI that we need to interpret new documents in the light of Tradition is supplemented by the more general points on how not to read a text made by the late Umberto Eco in his Interpretation and Overinterpretation.

    Those claiming that Amoris Laetitia might “allow” various exciting novelties contrary to the Divine Law are quite simply basing their claims on an overinterpretation of the text, which provides no authorisation, nor could it, for such uncatholic teachings.

    Additionally, Cardinal Müller is not speaking here with just some personal views no better nor worse than anyone else’s, he’s speaking with his Ordinary Authority as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the basis that the final text of the Exhortation was amended following the 20-page detailed critique he provided the Pope with prior to publication, and on the heels of a private audience he had with the Pope just a couple of days before giving this interview.

    Granted, this is just his ordinary Authority, not the extraordinary Authority of a formal written teaching from the CDF or by the Pope, but one would be wrong to just set it aside in favour of interpretations that contradict Church teaching, whether one would support or attack those interpretations.

    And chantgirl — you ask for “clarifications”, yet instead of heeding the clarifications provided, ask for the entire Exhortation to be “rescinded” !!! And even Cardinal Schönborn pointed out on the day of publication that that whole paragraph including the footnote was to be interpreted on the basis of Familiaris Consortio 84 !!

  14. JARay says:

    Yes indeed, no Catholic who looks at what is being said on Catholic websites and blogs, can be in any doubt that there is a huge and growing opposition to Amoris Laetitia. I am quite sure that the Pope is fully aware of this situation, indeed, he predicted it would happen. Nevertheless he still went ahead and published it. Indeed, I read the comment that Pope Francis pushes his authority far more than any of his predecessors. I cannot predict the future but I am beginning to suspect that the momentum of opposition to AL will finally bring about the end of this present pontificate. The sooner that comes about, the more I will be pleased.

  15. Traductora says:

    Excellent! I must say I didn’t know there was anybody orthodox at that institution (Boston College), though.

    I have said all along that the document didn’t merely try to impose or encourage an individual moral wrong, but laid the axe to the whole foundation of Christian morality and law. Heck, any morality and law, for that matter.

    Francis is fond of setting up caricaturish straw men so he can then launch an attack on the thing he really wants to attack, which is usually the general principle behind them. “Pickle-face pious?” Attack the whole idea of orthodoxy. “Remarried divorced” persons longing for Communion in the face of a hard-hearted Church? Attack the idea that there is even any objective right or wrong and that all of these are just concepts are imposed by the Church, which should not merely be ignored but in fact be rebelled against by the enlightened individual.

    If only rumors are true that there has been a meeting of some 100 scholars and leaders in Rome who have decided to petition him to withdraw this document. The rumors may be true, but I doubt that he’d ever withdraw it. In fact, if Sandro Magister is right, the Pope is looking for ways to consolidate his power even more and probably, taking advantage of the papal positivism that developed under JPII (meaning positive or man-made law, in the sense that it is the pope who makes the law for the Church), will attempt to impose his ideas. Sadly, the reason JPII was somewhat responsible for this was that people saw him as orthodox and relied on him to correct things through his statements. The statements were fine, but they were ignored and JPII never did much, except as Ratzinger took over more of his duties, to suppress or eliminate the unorthodox. Ratzinger, as BXVI, tried – and look what happened to him.

    This is a much deeper problem than Francis, but he is the one who has known how to turn papal positivism from a defense of orthodoxy to just the reverse.

  16. chantgirl says:

    Ave Crux- I agree that the signs were there, but so very difficult to mentally accept.

    JabbaPapa- Situational ethics are clearly supported in Amoris, along with a reduction of marriage to an ideal, and a glaring omission on the rights of parents in the area of sex education. Tacit approval for access to absolution and communion for some in objective states of public sin is also contained therein. I ask for clarification from the Pope himself, as he is the keeper of the keys. Damage control statements from other prelates are not going to quiet this situation. The Holy Father himself needs to clarify his intent.

  17. Ave Crux says:


    If a General in battle were to employ the same degree of willful blindness and not “read the signs” of an enemy incursion, he would allow his entire army to be routed by a failure to act on the first signs of a compromise on his borders.

  18. robtbrown says:


    I agree in the direction you’re headed but not how you arrived.

    St Thomas does consider theology to be science, but in his approach, literature (poetry, spirituality) is included in theological science. That is because there is great emphasis on establishing definitions, and that involves concrete experience. Theology is prayer, speaking about God to God.

    What happened after the time of St Thomas was that the poetic component was removed, and spirituality was separated from it. Theology then was looked at as if it were a code of law. So it is a not a matter of Science/Literature but rather Law/Literature.

  19. robtbrown says:

    Should be:

    What happened after the time of St Thomas was that the poetic component was removed from theology–and spirituality left with it. Theology then was looked at as if it were a code of law.

  20. JabbaPapa says:

    chantgirl :

    a reduction of marriage to an ideal

    ???????!!?? — I’ve not read the English translation, but I certainly read nothing of the sort in the French. At one point the Pope writes that Holy Matrimony constitutes an ideal, as it does — it’s an ideal of moral and spiritual behaviour for all of Humanity — but it is described as an aspect of Matrimony, not as its fundamental nature, which is very clearly described as being Sacramental.

    a glaring omission on the rights of parents in the area of sex education

    Why should the Pope have needed to re-state the contents of Gravissimum Educationis Momentum 3 ?

    Tacit approval for access to absolution and communion for some in objective states of public sin is also contained therein

    Absurd — for starters, how can anything “tacit” be “contained” in any statement ?

    No phrase meaning “adulterers may partake of the Sacraments” is contained in Amoris Laetitia, no matter how many people try and claim otherwise.

  21. Ave Crux says:


    With all due respect, there are many prestigious bishops, priests, and theologians whose credentials and opinions hold far more weight than yours, who say the contrary – including the Pope himself, whose intentions in this regard are borne out in his own conduct and comments and choices of spokesmen before and during the Synods.

    It is a known fact that the Pope himself personally advocated for this while he was a bishop and has counseled divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.

    Furthermore – and most concretely – footnote 351 pertains to an entire section on “irregular unions” and is intended to clarify how the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion can “help” individuals in these irregular unions.

    To deny this is wilful blindness that gives the enemies of the Church’s moral teaching a great advantage to advance their objectives unopposed.

  22. Ave Crux says:


    P.S. the following article just published today reveals why willful blindness and/or naivete or political correctness do not suit us at this time of crisis. Rather, with our eyes fully open we must know and oppose our enemies:


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