A moral theologian tackles difficulties in #AmorisLaetitia

In Catholic World Report there is some analysis of Amoris laetitia.

The writer first contrasts himself with others who think that the Exhortation is not magisterial in nature.

That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t find problems.  For example:

[…]

2. Doctrine and fidelity to Christ

Suggestions in AL that doctrine is a question of adherence to arid rules, lacking in motivation, devoid of mercy, and that pastors wish to cast stones at people in real difficulties are generic; [Right.  I keep asking myself, “Who are these people?  Where are these people whom Pope Francis keeps beating up in his talks and docs?”] they are unjust to those genuinely concerned to remain faithful to Christ on the indissolubility of marriage. Benedict XVI, humble and compassionate, saw no way of changing discipline here without compromising fidelity to Jesus. From Pius XI to Benedict, doctrine on marriage was also positively and pastorally motivated; these Popes were not guilty of heartless, Pharisaic legalism.

3. The formation of conscience

Magisterial texts in AL are distorted when quoted selectively or ignored almost completely. Repeatedly presenting conscience as the sanctuary where man finds himself alone with God (Gaudium et spes, 16) suggests it is only a private matter between the individual and God, while references to invincible ignorance and to other factors reducing responsibility risk implying that people rarely sin or are rarely culpable. Grave misinterpretations of conciliar doctrine on conscience, corrected in Veritatis splendor, are basically ignored in AL. Conciliar and papal teaching that no one can act in good conscience who disregards magisterial teaching or who treats it as mere opinion (Dignitatis humanae, 14; John Paul II, Allocution, Nov., 1988) is not mentioned.

[…]

4. Casuistry or discernment?

Ignatian discernment is no substitute for proper formation of conscience. [!] AL rejects legalism and casuistry. St. Thomas’ statement that, applied concretely, moral law binds in the majority, but not in a minority, of cases is mis-represented. [We knew that, as time went on, scholars would start writing about how the document’s writers (mis)used Aquinas.]

[…]

AL, though, could well give the impression of something even worse, of privatising conscience, of encouraging or permitting persons to refer to priests ignorant of or dissenting from magisterial teaching. The risk of situation ethics, of laxism, of moral relativism and of widespread contradictory pastoral practice, despite the Pope not wishing anything like this, seems to be considerable.

These are a few snips.  Read the whole thing over there yourselves.

Remember…

Whatever AL says now can be corrected in the final, official version in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

Would that be difficult to communicate?  Sure!   But everyone is listening to the Pope these days.  Were he to talk about the dialogue and insights gained from reactions around the world and then issue a new version, an official version with LATIN and translations, much of the damage could be undone while bringing the entire world’s focus to what the Church really says about matrimony and those who are struggling in their relationships or who need to get their acts together.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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28 Responses to A moral theologian tackles difficulties in #AmorisLaetitia

  1. rtjl says:

    “Ignatian discernment is no substitute for proper formation of conscience.”

    Amen. I am including that in my list of useful aphorisms.

  2. Benedict Joseph says:

    The only context I can muster for Pope Francis’ continual thrashing of these mythical big bad meany clerics “hell bent” on sending all of us to Hell is that he has an unresolved trauma stemming from adolescence or his formation as a Jesuit. If this were to be true, while sadly tragic for him, is it not unacceptable that a personal cross of his be the basis for a reactionary engagement pastoral issues of the day? While no advocate of sidewalk psychology, how many of us have not run into this paradigm innumerable times in our discussion with heterodox family and friends? “When I was in the third grade Monsignor Nasty yelled at me in confession yada, yada, yada…”
    There is obviously something amiss here that does not have its foundation in sound analysis.

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    There has been pushback. There have been responses and the extremely problematic sections have been pointed out to the proper authorities.
    Personally I will be amazed if there are any changes in tone or content in the final version, except that it become more problematic. I think it says what he/they want it to say.

  4. Ave Crux says:

    “….everyone is listening to the Pope these days.  Were he to talk about the dialogue and insights gained from reactions around the world and then issue a new version, an official version with LATIN and translations, much of the damage could be undone while bringing the entire world’s focus to what the Church really says about matrimony and those who are struggling in their relationships or who need to get their acts together.”

    Father, I admire your optimism and continued efforts to put Pope Francis’ take on this in the best possible light; however, it is clear from *everything* that not only are the problematic passages in AL exactly his position on the matter and that he clearly supports situational ethics, but that it was already his pastoral practice in Argentina; and that those he continually picks as his spokesmen and ghostwriters (Forte, Kasper, Schonborn, Fernandez, et al) are only those who hold these heterodox positions beyond all doubt – silencing or exiling others who don’t – therefore achieving his purpose.

    It is clear, sad to say, that Pope Francis orchestrated two Synods in order to deliver the predetermined message he wanted us to hear, exactly with all the ambiguity and moral problems we find in AL, so as to establish situation ethics as an acceptable position and practice in the Catholic Church.

    It can no longer be denied.

    If Pope Francis – as we know – reinserted highly heterodox passages in the Final Synod Relatio that did not have the majority vote of the Synod Fathers and against all appropriate objections, why would he change AL now? This was his ultimate objective, proven over and over and over again.

    Where does that leave us as a Church?

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    Whatever AL says now can be corrected in the final, official version in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

    Would that be difficult to communicate? Sure! But everyone is listening to the Pope these days. Were he to talk about the dialogue and insights gained from reactions around the world and then issue a new version, an official version with LATIN and translations, much of the damage could be undone while bringing the entire world’s focus to what the Church really says about matrimony and those who are struggling in their relationships or who need to get their acts together.

    The AAS are available online, up to the April 2015 issue, HERE : http://www.vatican.va/archive/aas/index_en.htm

    But I see, for example, that Evangelii Gauduium was officially released in the AAS, in Italian, in December 2013, i.e. mere days after its initial release in late November.

    There appear to be only minor punctuation differences between the AAS text of Evangelii Gauduium and the one currently available online.

    If I had to guess, I would imagine that Amoris Laetitia will have been published in last month’s issue, and in Italian, not Latin. And that there are no significant textual differences to be found there.

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    Have just stumbled across “Amoris laetitia” acording to Pope Benedict XVI, in his Motu Proprio declaring the Year of Faith :

    13. (…) Hoc quidem tempore noster vertetur intuitus in Iesum Christum, « ducem fidei et consummatorem »(Heb 12, 2). In ipso enim omnis labor et anhelitus humani cordis consummatur. Amoris laetitia, responsio ad tormentum passionis et doloris, robur veniae prae suscepta offensione atque vitae victoria prae mortis vacuitate, haec omnia consummationem inveniunt in mysterio eius Incarnationis, cuius vi homo factus est, et nobiscum humanam infirmitatem participavit ut eam virtute suae Resurrectionis transformaret. In ipso, mortuo et resuscitato pro nostra salute, plenam lucem reperiunt fidei exempla quibus duo haec millennia nostrae historiae salutis sunt signata. // During this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2): in him, all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfilment. The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfilment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection. In him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of faith that have marked these two thousand years of our salvation history are brought into the fullness of light.

  7. Thomistica says:

    I know of three bishops now on public record as affirming Amoris Laetitia and/or its ideological underpinnings.

    Cupich, McElroy, and now the new Bishop Barron.

    Re. latter, see:
    http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/bishop-barron-on-pope-francis-amoris-laetitia/5181/

    I would listen to the whole thing, but note statements around minutes 5:50 and 8:45.

    Public affirmation by bishops of AL and its approaches is now spreading.

    Note too this article from Fishwrapper:

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/chaput-chair-us-bishops-working-group-amoris-laetitia-implementation

    Note the recurrence of the word “positive” below. It’s as if there’s a foregone conclusion by the USCCB that the document *is* … “positive”! Chaput is heading this committee. An admittedlly cynical question: is he there just for show?

    “…, the conference said the working group has three purposes:

    “to assist bishops with the positive reception and ongoing implementation of Amoris Laetitia”;
    “to learn the various initiatives taking place in the local Churches to assist this positive reception”;
    and “to update the Holy See on various initiatives, especially with the hope of offering our Holy Father an update at the time of the annual Curial Visits.”

  8. Mike says:

    One knows hard times have come when one’s attitude toward a single document becomes a litmus test of fidelity.

    Still, as readers of my site know, my attitude toward Veritatis Splendor and toward its saintly author is one of great respect and gratitude. For the time being, I think I’ll stick with that and pray that the itchy-eared Amoris Laetitia crowd doesn’t set the Church much further adrift than it already is.

  9. Thomistica says:

    “One knows hard times have come when one’s attitude toward a single document becomes a litmus test of fidelity.”

    Indeed.

    My own view is that there is now far too much attention accorded Amoris Laetitia. *How* to interpret it, exegetically, is now an academic exercise.

    The far more important question is: how is this document being received, both among bishops and at the street level in parishes? Answer: just the way its redactors intended. Gotta hand it to them for pulling this off.

    It was only a matter of time before all the dithering about moral theology for decades would find its way to the apex of the hierarchy.

  10. danielinnola says:

    What a mess, extremely discouraging. If i did not firmly believe in the truth of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.. I fear i would leave. I am comforted by this warning from Paul “”But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” Galatians 1:8 -KJV

  11. chantgirl says:

    http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/2558-bishop-athanasius-schneider-replies-to-the-remnant-s-open-letter-on-amoris-laetitia

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider has presented a game plan for response to AL. The laity and clergy need to present a unified front and respond to this challenge to defend the teachings of Christ.

  12. robtbrown says:

    Benedict Joseph says:

    The only context I can muster for Pope Francis’ continual thrashing of these mythical big bad meany clerics “hell bent” on sending all of us to Hell is that he has an unresolved trauma stemming from adolescence or his formation as a Jesuit.

    I have been surprised how often I found that attitude in the writings of many post Vat II Jesuits, incl Karl Rahner. They somehow think that debunking an exaggerated version of the old SJ approach (long criticised by Dominicans as having Pelagian tendencies) proves their present MO. In fact, it is little else than the Straw Man Fallacy.

  13. louiseyvette says:

    IMO, it is unlikely the Pope does not intend all of this and much worse. I could be wrong, but the evidence of the last 3+ years is pretty overwhelming.

    Has everyone seen this grass roots conference of laity planning to condemn AL in Rome on June 25? Please consider attending or making a donation etc.

    https://vericatholici.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/alconf-international-conference-to-condemn-amoris-laetitia-june-25th/

    Really, if we care at all about the Pope’s soul and our own, we need to do something.

  14. Tricia says:

    Honestly, when I read documents like AL and hear bishops’ reactions, I wonder whether many priests and bishops believe in hell at all or that it’s possible for people to go there. Presumption in the Lord’s mercy is a grave sin and I fear for the souls of clerics who say it’s an okay thing to do.

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    Thanks Ave Crux and all.

  16. kiwiinamerica says:

    Where’s Fr. Rosica? Speaking of “cesspools of hate”, what does he have to say about Francis’ continual vilification and demonization of those who insist on fidelity to Catholic doctrinal and pastoral tradition? The attempt to paint these faithful souls as Pharisaical legalists, which is also evident in Amoris laetitia, as the author points out, evinces a profound lack of charity and humility in the current occupant of the Petrine office.

    When have we ever had a Pope who used internet combox rhetoric to ridicule those who insist that the papal ministry be in conformity with the writings of his predecessors? Fr. Woodall hits the bull’s eye with this piece. It’s the most succinct dissection of AL I’ve seen.

  17. Elizium23 says:

    Thomistica,

    I think we can safely append Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe to your list.
    Wester is a Francis appointment to a plum assignment precisely in the mold of Cupich and McElroy (Bishop Barron does not, to me, seem to fit this mold at all well, notwithstanding his views on the population and demographics of Hell.)

    Archdiocese of Santa Fe press release

  18. VexillaRegis says:

    Sorry, but what is a plum assignment? :-)

  19. Andrew says:

    JabbaPapa

    An earlier quotation of Amoris Laetitia from the 12th century:

    Quid est igitur “laetetur cor meum ut timeat nomen tuum” nisi da mihi cor perfecutum, et tui AMORIS LAETITIA plenum. (S. Bruno Bishop of Segni, born anno Domini 1048, Expositio in Psalmos).

  20. iPadre says:

    I have never experience the Confessional to be a “torture chamber.” In fact, usually quite the opposite. There is one priest, God rest his soul, who always at the end of confession would day: “say one time the Lord’s Prayer.” I always felt cheated and did more. I would prefer to do my penance in this life, not in the next.

  21. Thomistica says:

    Elizium23 :

    Re. Bishop Barron, draw your own conclusion of course, but I listened to his commentary about AL here:

    http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/bishop-barron-on-pope-francis-amoris-laetitia/5181/

    …and it raised questions in my mind. I would listen to the whole thing, but note statements around minutes 5:50 and 8:45.

  22. robtbrown says:

    Once again: The morality of human behavior is determined by certain principles of prescription and proscription. These principles are not ideals. Ideals do not exist–and so neither does the possibility of them being in the concrete.

    When the phrase “moral ideals” or “the ideal or marriage” is used, the door is opened to Gradualism of the Law.

  23. Elizium23 says:

    Thomistica,

    Thanks. I am watching the video now. I skipped to those timecodes you cite and frankly, I don’t see much problematic with the statements he made. I think what the good Bishop Barron epitomizes here is the rank-and-file faithful clergy doing backflips and somersaults with the document in order to excuse its idiosyncrasies and ambiguities. I think many of us who are dedicated “company men” and women are desperate to affirm Francis and reconcile these divergences with teaching and Tradition. I think that in a way this is laudable, that people are altogether unwilling to jump on the Pontiff and criticize everything he says, but rather use him as a springboard for presenting authentic teaching and discussion about what the Church has always said and will continue to teach long after this parenthesis is closed.

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  25. Thomistica says:

    Elizium23,

    I’ll have to disagree with you here. In my view, Bishop Barron’s comments reflect just the lack of critical distance that is making this exhortation so problematic. He gives a whitewash of a document that has been analyzed so many times as containing problematic elements, either in discontinuity with the received tradition or utterly ambiguous on key points.

    I’ll agree with you that there is something laudable about the fact that some faithful Catholics want to give a charitable interpretation of a papal document. But in my view, in this case, this reflects naivety about what the Pope, or perhaps what the Pope’s advisers, are up to here.

    Bishop Barron makes absolutely no effort to meet the criticisms of highly astute commentators among the laity. The failure of the vast majority of bishops, with only few exceptions, to engage these criticisms (from people who have devoted their lives to understanding and interpreting Church doctrine and pastoral practice) reflects an obsequiousness or obeisance that devolves into a clericalist disregard for the views of the laity.

    My main concern is just this lack of criticality, but I am also very puzzled by Bishop Barron’s strong emphasis on what he characterizes as the extremity of demands the Church places on people to live the moral life, which can so easily be misconstrued as “unreasonable demands”, rhetorically. This whole language of extreme ideals is quite destructive, as has been noted in critical commentary.

    Re. the gradualness concept mentioned by Bishop Barron, he says so little about it that I’m wary where he is going with it. You might want to see Akin’s commentary here: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/the-law-of-gradualness-12-things-to-know-and-share

    So on balance while Bishop Barron might not be so offending as Cupich in his comments, my view is that he has failed in his obligation as a high profile commentator on things Catholic.

    You mentioned that “I think what the good Bishop Barron epitomizes here is the rank-and-file faithful clergy doing backflips and somersaults with the document in order to excuse its idiosyncrasies and ambiguities. ” Is that any way for our pastors to behave? Do we really deserve that?

    Perhaps you are closer to my standpoint than your comments might suggest. I don’t know.

  26. Elizium23 says:

    I think our pastors are walking a fine line. While I don’t appreciate those who have refrained from making any criticism of the current Pontificate, I also don’t envy those who have felt compelled to speak out against a very popular, populist Supreme Pastor who is ultimately their earthly boss and very quick (despite his “who am I to judge?” posturing) to judgement against those who disagree with his party line.

    I think also that even a whiff of dissent is playing into the hands of rad-trads and sedevacantists who would love to brand the Holy Father as a poseur, a heretic, the Anti-Christ, or worse. I feel that criticism needs to be restrained, impeccably charitable, and ultimately keenly aware that we are still united under the Pontiff for better or worse. We need to always keep in mind Father Z’s words about this parenthesis, that this parenthesis will eventually close, and persevere in faithful hope that the Barque of Peter can ultimately be steered back on course.

  27. Thomistica says:

    Yes, indeed, intemperate criticism harms the situation, including that which we find in the rad-trad blogosphere.

    Re. the perception, perhaps wish, that this pontificate will merely be a parenthesis, I am not so optimistic this is going to happen. We are seeing a deep structural shift within the Church, that is, its human face. This shift is from tolerance of dissent on such basics as conscience and the relationship of doctrine to practice, to open proclamation of it by some bishops and who knows how many priests. There is a distinct possibility that the next papacy will just carry on where Pope Francis, or his advisers, have left off.

    This is why I so strongly advocate identification of the problem and a public attempts by persons, no matter their role in the Church, to counter it through reason and persuasion. Like anything in life, silence now translates into really big problems down the line.

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