ASK FATHER: Are pastors bound to teach oddities of Amoris Laetitia?

From a reader…


Fr. Z: Our bishop visited our parish tonight to install our new pastor. The rite required father to vow to adhere to the teachings “which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciates when they exercise the authentic Magisterium ***even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive.***” Question: does this formula have any bearing on the debate over Amoris Laetitia? Is a priest commuted to submit “will and intellect” to “not definitive” magisterial teaching? Please illuminate this passage. After all, it’s not often that we laypersons witness a priestly installation.

The ceremony of the installation of a pastor requires that the pastor make a profession of faith in the presence of the bishop (or his representative) and the congregation. 

The idea of a pastor, or other official in the Church, making a public profession of faith is something that fell out of favor for a time, but was revived during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. This is a very good thing.  While it does not give absolute assurance that the pastor will always remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, at the very least it gives the congregation some assurance that he can be held to account for his failure to live up to the profession he makes.

In 1998, St. John Paul II issued a document, Ad Tuendam Fidem, motu proprio (that is, on his own initiative) which altered two canons in both the Western Code (cann. 750 and 1371) and the Eastern Code (cann. 598 and 1436). These canons speak about the dogmatic teachings of the Church and the penalty incurred for denying these teachings. He also issued a revised version of the profession of faith.

Card. Ratzinger, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a doctrinal explication of these new norms in the following month. (Both documents, and the profession of faith are HERE.

To answer your question in brief, yes, the pastor is obliged by the profession of faith he makes to give religious submission of will and intellect to those teachings that are enunciated by the Sovereign Pontiff or the Colllege of Bishops when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings definitively.

The CDF did not give clear examples of those teachings which fall under this category. Instead the CDF points to “teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.”

With that in mind, looking at the current discussion over the propriety of giving Holy Communion to those living in an objective state of sin we have, on one hand, clear, definitive teaching of the magisterium over the course of two centuries, and on the other hand, a footnote that is open to multiple interpretations. 

Given the CDF’s statement that we need to observe the nature of the document, the repetition of the teaching, and the tenor of the expression, it seems clear that Father, by his public profession of faith, has agreed to stand by and maintain with religious submission of mind and will to the consistent teaching of the Church that those who are living in an adulterous union are thereby unable to receive the sacraments.

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  1. JMGcork says:

    Three years ago a new Parish Priest was appointed to my Parish. There was no rite of installation. I live in Ireland so is this something only carried out in the United States?

  2. donato2 says:

    I’m not a priest but I’ve wondered what a priest must do if his bishop interprets Amoris Laetitia as entitling an adulterer to receive Holy Communion in certain circumstances when it is objectively wrong to give Holy Communion to the adulterer in those circumstances. It is this very problem that has convinced me that the present situation cannot continue. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

  3. Isn’t there a principle that a law of doubtful interpretation is not binding? Even without stacking the questionable propositions up against the known and unambiguous teaching of the Church, how can anyone be bound by them when nobody can agree on their meaning?

  4. Geoffrey says:

    Isn’t there a difference in that Amoris laetitia is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation and not an apostolic constitution, encyclical letter, or motu proprio?

    I wish Pope Benedict XVI’s post-synodal apostolic exhortations received this much attention!

  5. un-ionized says:

    Jmgcork, it could be that the priest is a member of an order and is not a priest of the diocese. I believe in that case there can be a special Mass with the bishop for that. I don’t know if it’s required.

  6. Sword40 says:

    If our Archbishop or either of his assistant Bishops were to personally install each new pastor, they would not have time for much else. We change pastors around here like most people change socks.

  7. comedyeye says:

    My bishop told me that the AL controversy would probably not be solved until the next pope takes over.

  8. Phil_NL says:

    Also, there’s a big difference between ‘adhering to the teachings’ and ‘teaching those teachings’, or ‘promoting them’. This goes beyond that dreaded footnote. It’s the difference between accepting that the room for interpretation in a lot of areas seems rather great (greater than thought, at least), and ascending the pulpit and proclaiming in a loud voice that moral issues cease to matter and all can do whatever they want now.

  9. Cornelius says:

    I believe it was Phil Lawler (or maybe Ross Douthat) who said that PF has not explicitly commanded that the remarried be given absolution and communion, and that therefore the faithful cannot be obliged to obey a command that PF himself will not give (perhaps because the HS is restraining him?).

  10. a catechist says:

    Installation of a pastor isn’t common practice in the U.S. (disclaimer: the plural of anecdote isn’t data) I’ve known of it done once in a parish I attended. The parish was generally considered a difficult assignment I was told by long-term parishioners. A well-liked pastor died abruptly while returning from a vacation and it was quite a shock to the parish. The archbishop took the unusual step of preaching the pastor’s funeral homily himself, and he soon after had an Installation for the new pastor. It was the priest’s first pastorate. Under the circumstances, I thought it was good to give extra attention to a distressed parish while also emphasizing the authority of the new pastor.

  11. hwriggles4 says:

    I don’t think a good priest wants to preach on errors. As a Catholic revert, I would probably walk out of Mass if a priest gave a homily on climate change (I think priests and bishops have better things to do with their time), and if a priest gave a homily supporting women priests, I would leave.

    That said, I am often puzzled by certain second collections mandated by certain dioceses. When CCHD and CRS come around, I put a short note in the box explaining why I didn’t give. If I was a Parish priest when these collections came around, I would play dumb when the Chancery asked where the money was.

    I would say to the Chancery, “Oh, sorry, I had such a busy week that I never got the signs up, and forgot about getting a bulletin insert or a pulpit announcement. I am so sorry.”

  12. Elizium23 says:

    I enjoy full-time residence in the Diocese of Heaven on Earth, where our bishop, another Extraordinary Ordinary, has interpreted Amoris laetitia to mean what it has always meant for 2000 years: no Communion for you!

    However, I regularly visit my family in the Diocese of Ipsydipsy, where the Ordinary has interpreted AL in the Argentinian fashion, and has even held a synod to implement AL, so it is my sincere understanding that the Holy Father’s preferred interpretation will be taught, lived, and enforced in this territory for the foreseeable future.

    Prayers of Thanksgiving to St. John Chrysostom for holy bishops, and to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his assignments of those holy bishops, and also to Pope St. John Paul the Great, who did the assignment for my diocese – a cherry city for a plum pastor.

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