CRUX: An exercise in contrasts concerning ‘Amoris laetitia’

amoris vaticanAt Crux there were a pair of pieces which were in sharp contrast.

First, take note of Austen Ivereigh’s lengthy (and rather whiny) interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro.  HERE   He’s sooooo misunderstood!  And he tells us about that at jesuitical length.  They start out with unlikely though entertaining explanations about his recent hijinx with Twitter and then he goes into a defense of the controversial parts of Amoris laetitia.   He goes and goes and goes!

Next, check out the latest comments from the once-nearly-ubiquitous John Allen.  No, no… not the story entitled, “How a clown could help the pope engage today’s populist tide”.  (I didn’t make that up.) Rather, look for…

No matter what anyone says, clarity on ‘Amoris’ remains elusive

Despite the insistence of papal allies that everything is clear about ‘Amoris Laetitia’, there’s an important segment of the Church that doesn’t believe that’s true. Whether they’re a minority doesn’t matter – they can’t simply be dismissed, because they include senior figures in the hierarchy.


What are we to take away from all this? For now, two conclusions seem clear.
First, despite the insistence of papal allies that everything is perfectly clear about what the deal is with regard to access to Communion, there’s an important segment of the Church that just doesn’t believe that’s true. Whether they’re a minority or a majority doesn’t matter for the moment – they can’t simply be dismissed, because they include senior figures in the hierarchy. [Even were they relative unknowns, their written dubia deserve respect for what they ask.]
By the way, Spadaro’s willingness to engage in an exchange with Ivereigh represents something that hadn’t been done so far, which is to respond directly to the four cardinals. In itself, that’s arguably an acknowledgment there are questions that still need to be answered.
Second, unless and until Pope Francis delivers a binding magisterial response, the forecast is for local control. We’ve already seen various bishops deliver clearly divergent responses about what the implications of Amoris will be in their dioceses, and there’s nothing to suggest that won’t continue in the absence of a clear and indisputable papal declaration.


There are a lot of really smart people in the Church who want clarity about a great many things in orbit around Amoris laetitia, ch. 8.

I have conversed with a lot of really smart people about this.  They, as I am, are convinced that nothing short of another papal document from Francis will suffice. At the very least the CDF could issue responses to dubia, which Pope Francis would have to order published.

If Amoris laetitia is a magisterial document, then a penned note to a committee of bishops in a conference in Argentina means, effectively, nothing. If an Austrian cardinal gives opinions about the nature of the teaching and its coherence with previous papal magisterial documents, we can shrug and continue to wait for a response that matters. I think it will take a papal document to bring clarity to another papal document.

Is it possible that the Holy Father wants the sort of confusion and division that is going on right now?  If so, I am mystified as to his motive.  Cui bono?  It this an example of the principle cunctando regitur mundus?  Just wait everyone out until, finally, you have your way.  However, the written word is pesky.  It has a way of sticking around.  Just to keep the Latin adages going, scripta manent.  And it’s corollary is verba volant.  That’s why we need a papal document to clarify the papal document that, by a reasonable reading, seems directly to contradict other papal documents of the recent past.   Or else, is this a kind of … experiment?   “Let’s let the two sides clash and bang and see what come out!”  That doesn’t seem very wise to me, and, so, it is unlikely.   When this started to rev up, I and others observed that those who tend to be faithful to the Church’s cult, code and creed will continue to be faithful. On the other hand, those who have a less then easily identifiable relationship with cult, code and creed and who have tended to do exactly as they please hitherto, will probably continue to do exactly as they please in the future.  Except: now they will claim approval – not clearly enunciated in law or doctrine, but by creeping antinomial, anti-intellectual, faux-pastoral incrementalism.  After all, if it isn’t written down and issued in the right way, but just sort of happens until people stop asking questions about it, then … what is it?

Why is it reasonable to want a clarification?  Because this controversy involves more than just who can receive (can. 916), and who can be given (can. 915), Communion.  And it is more than about adultery.  It’s about all manner of grave sins.

The issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried (and all manner of sinners with no firm purpose of amendment) cannot be divorced from key questions.  What… who… is the Eucharist?  What does Communion mean?  Who is Christ, who taught us about indissolubility, about the Eucharist, about Himself?  Was Christ wrong?  If you think so, then you must not believe in Christ’s divinity.  If that’s the case…if Christ isn’t the Eternal Word, consubstantial with the Father, God made man… then what the hell are we doing?

Remember: hard cases make bad law.  When you read the wifty offerings of those who think that Amoris laetitia is clear as a bell, and if you can’t understand that then you must be lacking in “mercy” or “knowledge of Christ” or “intellect” or … pick some other stone to throw… keep your eyes peeled: they will appeal to sad, hard cases.

The moderation queue is ON.

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  1. bombcar says:

    I step back and wonder what the Holy Spirit wants here – and I suspect that the Holy Spirit wants local control; He wants His priests and Bishops to be priests and Bishops, to lead their people instead of waiting around for some Pope to do it. Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit permits what is happening, not that what is happening should be happening.

    We shall see. Christ is still in control of the boat, even if He appears to be asleep.

  2. Matt Robare says:

    I think it’s worth remembering that admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful are works of mercy.

  3. LeeF says:

    I read Allen’s piece earlier today and thought it was a very nice analysis from someone on the “progressive” side. A telling quote is in this excerpt:

    In a separate interview, noted German Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann told the Italian new site Nuova BQ that the pope’s apparent unwillingness to deliver a binding “yes” or “no” might be in contrast to Jesus’s own style of teaching.

    “The pope clearly has a deep aversion facing decisions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Spaemann said.

    Maybe the Holy Father looks on yes/no as legalistic. But most of us here look on it as clarity.

    As to Fr. Spadaro, he sure spends a lot of time on a footnote that is not supposed to be the focus of AL.

  4. JabbaPapa says:

    IMO —

    First, multiple clarifications concerning the proper implementation of Amoris Laetitia have been made, including three informal ones by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Amoris Laetitia itself refers the reader explicitly to Familiaris Consortio 84.

    Furthermore, it is only on the basis of a false hermeneutic of rupture that the misinterpretations in question can occur, particularly given that “the footnote” mentions neither divorce nor remarriage nor adultery in the first place, but that these things must be willfully read into it.

    Nevertheless, it is true that many “liberal”-“progressives” and some of the more extremist traditionalists have de facto combined their diverse excesses and created an atmosphere of confusion among many Catholics, which needs to be clarified.

    If Amoris laetitia is a magisterial document

    This particular “question” is far simpler.

    Amoris Laetitia :
    6. I will begin with an opening chapter inspired
    by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone. I will then
    examine the actual situation of families, in order
    to keep firmly grounded in reality. I will go on
    to recall some essential aspects of the Church’s
    teaching on marriage and the family
    , thus paving
    the way for two central chapters dedicated to love.
    I will then highlight some pastoral approaches that
    can guide us in building sound and fruitful homes
    in accordance with God’s plan, with a full chapter
    devoted to the raising of children. Finally, I
    will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral
    of those situations that fall short of
    what the Lord demands of us
    , and conclude with
    a brief discussion of family spirituality

    The text itself clearly establishes that its third chapter is of a doctrinal nature, and so by consequence magisterial, but not the rest of the text.

    The “footnote” in question is clearly within the section on “pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us”, and so clearly is not magisterial in nature.

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    I am also highly doubtful that simple “yes or no” answers to the five dubia would be at all appropriate. [Yes or no is entirely appropriate. That’s what the questions ask for.]

    The dubia are accompanied by a quite highly complex explanatory text, quite apart from being in their own nature concerned with some deep complexities of theology as such.

    They are deserving of a sufficiently robust response, that I’m not sure that the CDF itself has the necessary Authority nor competence to provide.

    These are matters that IMO properly belong to the Authority of Popes or of Ecumenical Councils, because of their fundamental nature.

    Having said that, well, in Francis’ shoes I’d actually ask, quietly, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for help to compose an answer, as these are matters that would likely benefit from his deep insight into this sort of thornier problems.

  6. Cornelius says:

    Here’s the only plausible reason (to me, that is) why the Holy Spirit allows this chaos and craziness: to clearly separate the sheep from the goats.

    Instead of being all blended together, the sheep and goats will naturally gravitate to their own kind.

  7. L. says:

    “If that’s the case…if Christ isn’t the Eternal Word, consubstantial with the Father, God made man….” Haven’t we proof that this is the view of many Priests and Bishops when they give communion to manifest public sinners, with the excuse of not wanting to “politicize the ‘altar rail’?”

  8. Ultrarunner says:

    So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection?…

    “No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes!”, said a little child.

    “No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes!”, the whole town cried out at last.

    The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

  9. un-ionized says:

    Matt Robare, Unfortunately, too often the admonishment and instruction are done in such a way as to drive people away from the Church. One must take care.

  10. MrsMacD says:

    God allowed the whole post VII fiasco. He has a plan. I’m of the opinion that He’s sifting, separting the wheat from the chaff. My greatest fear is that I am chaff, that I will abandon Truth or follow a lie. I am so weak, so small, so nothing. My hope is Mary, and Joseph. May they keep us faithful. Faithful to God’s Holy Truth.

    I suppose, I can agree with Holy Father Francis on this point; I am insecure, I might abandon Christ! I need all the help I can get, like chant and incence and altar boys (mini priests), and reverence, constancy.

    God have mercy on us, spare us, save us! Save Pope Francis! Help our Holy bishops! Help all bishops, and priests to be Holy! Send us priests O Lord of the Harvest!! Send us strong, manly, saintly priests!! Send us many and very Holy priests! Convert our priests! Grant them an abundance of all virtues, comfort in sorrow, grace in weakness, help in adversity! Sheild them from the relentless attacks of the enemy O Holy Mother. God have mercy on us!! St. Joseph, protecter of Holy Church, pray for us.

  11. un-ionized says:

    MrsMacD, I think you are right about the sifting part. I am pretty likely to be chaff at the very end but I will keep trying because what more can I do?

  12. Pingback: TUESDAY EXTRA | Big Pulpit

  13. JabbaPapa says:

    [Yes or no is entirely appropriate. That’s what the questions ask for.]

    Father Z, my “doubtful” remark does not of course deny the possibility of more simple response.

  14. LeeF says:

    @JabbaPapa who said:
    They are deserving of a sufficiently robust response, that I’m not sure that the CDF itself has the necessary Authority nor competence to provide.

    These are matters that IMO properly belong to the Authority of Popes or of Ecumenical Councils, because of their fundamental nature.

    Authority can be and is delegated by popes, both generally and specifically. One concrete issue does not justify a council, that is what synods are for. And both councils and synods only teach authoritatively when confirmed by the pontiff.

    Competence theologically is surely what the CDF possesses, remembering it is just not the regular staff but also the cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation.

    Now if the HF wanted to be slick, he could reword the dubia and then answer those questions.

  15. Thomistica says:

    One–I think plausible–account of what the Holy Spirit intends here is a resolution of long festering divisions. It’s hard to see this period of history as a providential move to conciliarist attitudes, which in this context, will lead to individual bishops making up morality and sacramental theology on their own.
    This is a very serious period, crystallized by Fr. Spadaro’s reference to a “process” that is unfolding, whatever that is supposed to mean. That word connotes just how dug-in the Pope’s circle is.
    The Dubia needs a reply. Period.

  16. Is it possible that the Holy Father wants the sort of confusion and division that is going on right now?

    If we assume he doesn’t, then how would his behavior be different if he did?

  17. sirlouis says:

    Father, can anyone at all send a dubium to Rome? If laics can do so, might it be helpful for many, many of us to copy the request of the Fearless Four?

    Or do we not want to attempt to force an answer, so that this matter may be put not to the Pope but to a general council, a la Nicaea?

  18. ACatholicGuy says:

    1) The gates of hell will not prevail.
    2) Yet much private revelation talks about Rome falling, etc.

    How to reconcile the two? I think we’re seeing it. Rome seems to be, for all intents and purposes, falling, mostly through confusion and vagaries, even though doctrine isn’t being officially changed. Very clever on someone’s part (i.e. the devil).

  19. Traductora says:

    Good article! I think more and more people are realizing that it is not “just” about marriage. The Church and its doctrine and dogmas are a unified whole, and you can’t really pull out anything as being unimportant without making the whole structure wobble. The Protestant churches initially had, for the most part, a more or less orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, but they began to toss out pieces of the moral law (starting with marriage) and now most of them are nothing but undeclared Unitarians.

  20. PurdueGuy says:

    Here are my thoughts from the beginning of Amoris Laetita that I have not seen any analysis done to it:

    The thinking of pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church,
    honest, realistic and creative, will help us to achieve greater clarity.
    The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even
    among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for
    total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude
    that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue
    conclusions from particular theological considerations.

    “if faithful to the Church”

    “among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for
    total change without sufficient reflection or grounding”

    So, who’s being “faithful to the Church”? Who’s reflecting?
    Who’s being “pastoral” with the “Groundings of the Church”?

    I take being “faithful to the Church” as being “grounded” in all of the Church teachings.

    There are those who take one passage of the Bible and make it THE Bible. Something like “do not judge”. If I recollect there’s also a passage that states “judge with RIGHT judgment”.

    One has to read ALL of the Bible and study it to understand it. Same thing applies here to Amoris Laetitia. I’m sure some people did a word search, found what they wanted and ignored the rest.

    St. Joseph, defender of the Church, pray for us.

  21. frmgcmma says:

    Father John Hardon replied to a question about magisterial documents and their authority. In part, he said:

    “…every papal document which is meant for the faithful throughout the world always contains infallible teaching — in German, that’s “immer”, in Latin, that’s “semper”, in English, that’s “always”. And consequently, the Church distinguishes these documents not on whether they contain infallible teaching or not, but rather on the occasion or the circumstances in which and under which the document is issued. Now, not everything, for example, in an apostolic exhortation — and the very word “exhortation” implies that not everything in that document is intended by the Pope to be infallible. However, the Pope would never exhort people to follow
    what is not true.”

    I wish someone could get that reply to Cardinal Burke since he’s a devoted disciple of Father Hardon. @ 14’10″ff for the whole reply.

  22. cl00bie says:

    Cui bono? The pope. Without clarity, you cannot be “rigid”. Without clarity, you can have words mean, as Humpty Dumpty said: “When I use a word,” (Humpty Dumpty) said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    Clarity is the essence of “rigidity”. If the rules are clear, you can stick to them, if you choose to break them, that is clear also, and you take the hit for breaking them. If they are unclear, there is no penalty for breaking rules that can be bent to the will of those interpreting them.

    The pope is supposed to be primary in the keeping of the sacred deposit of faith. But truth cannot be bent until it contradicts itself, then it become falsehood.

  23. CFH says:

    I would like to ask either Fr. Spadaro, or Pope Francis, where the “mercy” is in telling me, a “divorced” Catholic who has lived the celibate life for over 22 years now — because I love the Faith, the Lord, and the Sacrament more even than companionship and children — why I shouldn’t feel like a chump for doing so, if the unrepentant and non-celibate “remarried” are free to receive Communion?

  24. SenexCalvus says:

    Mr. Robare, nothing I’ve read on the present state of affairs in the Church says anything more than is implied in your single sentence. What does it say about Pope Bergoglio, I wonder, that in his teaching the Spiritual Works of Mercy have now been superseded by the demands of an inordinate desire for sexual intimacy? (Didn’t we just conclude the Year of Mercy?) By no means do I wish to imply anything sordid about Pope Bergoglio’s thoughts. Rather, what I, as a married man, want to know is whether he looks upon us laymen and women as mere beasts. Are we incapable of striving for the same fullness of life to which Our Lord calls clerics and religious? Do we really have to be indulged as mere beatial caricatures of the humanity for which we were created? That kind of paternalistic condescension on the part of clerics turns my stomach.

  25. chantgirl says:

    JabbaPapa- Your hermeneutic of rupture explanation might have been plausible before the Pope’s letter of endorsement to the Argentine Bishops’ Conference, but not after. Clearly, the clarifications coming from the Pope and the CDF are at odds with each other, and the Pope’s clarification is at odds with Familiaris Consortio itself.

    The Pope cannot have it both ways- he needs to respond to the dubia.

  26. JabbaPapa says:

    chantgirl :

    JabbaPapa- Your hermeneutic of rupture explanation might have been plausible before the Pope’s letter of endorsement to the Argentine Bishops’ Conference, but not after.

    In fact, the Argentine Bishops denounced “communion for adulterers” as something particularly scandalous.

  27. chantgirl says:

    JabbaPapa- That may be the case, but they still endorsed communion for some people in adulterous situations. They just didn’t open the floodgates to everyone. It’s not just the liberals and “extremist” trads who are concerned about this.

  28. KatieL56 says:

    Just because it’s getting close to Christmas, a parody
    With apologies to “We need a little Christmas”

    Check out the footnote
    Be sure to read the whole AL exhortation now
    Then check the Dubia
    To some it seems obnoxious; others want clarity now

    For we need some explanations
    Right this very minute
    Some are saying “changes’
    Others just don’t get it

    Yes, we need some explanations
    Right this very minute
    We haven’t changed the rules for sinners
    or judged some ‘losers’, others’ winners’.

    So pick up the pace now
    Turn on the brightest light to give us some clarity
    Please don’t be silent
    It’s time to let us Catholics just have some charity
    now. . .

    For we’ve grown a bit depressed now
    from the big cold shoulder,
    Grown a little sadder
    Grown a little older

    We’d appreciate clear passage,
    Not another boulder,
    We need authentic teaching now.

    For it’s true we all need mercy,
    Need to think of others,
    Need to model Christ for
    our sisters and our brothers
    So we must uphold the gospel
    now and ever after
    Need authentic teaching now.

  29. JabbaPapa says:

    chantgirl :

    they still endorsed communion for some people in adulterous situations

    No they didn’t — despite the frankly hysterical claims from some denizens of these interwebs.

    They merely repeated the provisions of Familiaris Consortio which point out that those who find themselves in situations of matrimonial failure through no fault of their own, and those who are unable to have putatively invalid marriages (including from false intentions of their former spouses before the altar) annulled through no fault of their own (including for reasons of hostility and neglect from their former spouses), are less culpable than those who instigate these evils.

  30. Joe in Canada says:

    ‘”jesuitical” length’? Not ‘”Jesuitical” length’?

    [Yes, “jesuitical“.]

  31. chantgirl says:

    JabbaPapa- If I am looking at an accurate translation, the Buenos Aires Bishops are saying that “Where there are unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly scandalous.”

    This has to do with how the original married couple went about splitting up, and how their children were treated in the process. It really has nothing to do with whether the original members of the couple are living in objective situations of adultery now.

    Also,” 6) In other, more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it comes to be recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes they would incur a subsequent wrong by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351). These sacraments, in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.”

    Maybe I am misreading this, but it sounds like the Bishops are using the children of an adulterous union as an excuse to allow the couple to continue adulterous relations- for the sake of the children!

    Finally, all of these circumstances in these difficult cases may make it difficult to do the right thing and abstain from sin, but it doesn’t change the fact that adultery is occurring. Familiaris Consortio noted the difficulties of certain cases, but nevertheless upheld the need to be continent in order to approach the Sacraments for these couples.

    I really don’t think it is hysterical to read the document and conclude that people living in objectively adulterous situations may receive the sacraments without abstinence.

  32. JabbaPapa says:

    chantgirl, “more complex cases” are NOT situations of simple adultery.

    Cuando hubo injusticias no resueltas, el acceso a los sacramentos es particularmente escandaloso.

    The document mentions this in context of “attitude towards the former spouse”, and of those claiming desires to “remarry” as a sort of “right” that might be compatible with the Christian ideal.

    The “injustices” are not qualified — and acts of adultery with a new spouse are injustices.

    Just as importantly :

    5) Cuando las circunstancias concretas de una pareja lo hagan factible, especialmente cuando ambos sean cristianos con un camino de fe, se puede proponer el empeño de vivir en continencia. Amoris laetitia no ignora las dificultades de esta opción (cf. nota 329) y deja abierta la posibilidad de acceder al sacramento de la Reconciliación cuando se falle en ese propósito (cf. nota 364, según la enseñanza de san Juan Pablo 11 al Cardenal W. Baum, del 22/03/1996).

    The Bishops reiterate the requirement of the “remarried” to live in continence, and the need for Confession in cases of failures leading to the loss of Sacramental Grace. This makes no sense if adultery is somehow not sinful, whereas in fact the Bishops overtly condemned those who claim that it is some sort of “right”.

    Re-read Amoris Laetitia 300 which this refers to — the Pope explicitly condemns double standards, the “easy” pastoral granting of access to the Sacraments, and the contradiction of Catholic Doctrine in these matters.

    A willful misreading of the Bishops’ document is always of course possible, but simple acts of adultery are not “more complex situations” nor can it honestly be claimed that they are not an “injustice” towards a former spouse.

  33. chantgirl says:

    JabbaPapa- What is “simple adultery” versus “complex adultery”? Jesus speaks of all cases of remarriage after divorce (except for an unlawful marriage) as adultery.

    I do not see the Bishops requiring abstinence in 5) but offering it as a suggestion if the situation is favorable.

    You are obviously a faithful priest and want to read the document in continuity with the church teaching, but a great many Catholics of good will have read the same letter and are reaching different conclusions- all the more reason for the Pope to answer the dubia and clarify the situation.

  34. JabbaPapa says:

    chantgirl :

    JabbaPapa- What is “simple adultery” versus “complex adultery”?


    My point was that ““more complex cases” are NOT situations of simple adultery

    i.e. that an adulterer is very simply in a state of mortal sin and must go to Confession, and if this is a case of the regular practice of adultery within “remarriage”, then this is not a “complex” situation either.

    More genuinely complex cases would be those for instance where the Canon Law defines a marriage as being invalid, but where for whatever reasons the Court has not been able to pronounce its annulment, and other such more genuinely difficult situations.

    I do not see the Bishops requiring abstinence in 5) but offering it as a suggestion if the situation is favorable

    The context in 5) is of marriages where only one of the spouses is Catholic whereas the other may see no reason to follow Church teaching, and might indeed insist otherwise — another example in other words of a “more complex” case.

    You are obviously a faithful priest

    Layman actually :-)

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