DOUTHAT in NYT: Ongoing ‘Amoris laetitia’ controversy

Dear readers… a lot of time and electrons are being spilled on Amoris laetitia these days because it may be the most important controversy of our time, with long lasting implications for doctrine on faith and morals, and on discipline.  Our Catholic identity is tied to the controversy.  We have to pay attention even though I am sure that many of you are ready for Amorexit (opting out of further discussion of the controverted Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation).   Mind you: Some people should vote for Amorexit and stop paying attention, particularly if it is becoming spiritually toxic for you.  For people who are saying things like “I don’t know if I can remain Catholic because of this!”, I say, tune out and start reciting, often, your memorized Acts of Faith and of Hope.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are in the scrum.

Check out Ross Douthat’s examination of the controversy surrounding Amoris laetitia in his NYT – yes, NYT – Hell’s Bible – column. HERE Pope Francis and his surrogates do not get a pass.

A sample…


Indeed, the exact same post-“Amoris” pattern that we’ve seen on second marriages and the sacraments is playing out presently in Canada with assisted suicide. The bishops in the western provinces are taking the traditional line that Catholics who are planning their own suicides can’t be given last rites, because you can’t grant absolution to someone who intends to commit the gravest of sins shortly afterward … while the Catholic bishops of the Maritime provinces, citing Pope Francis’s innovations as a model, suggest that actually pastoral accompaniment could include giving last rites to people who are about to receive “medical assistance in dying,” because every case of assisted suicide is different and who are we to judge?

In other words, thanks in part to the pope and to “Amoris,” we now have two different implicit teachings from two different groups of Catholic bishops on a literal matter of life and death. And saying “the train has left the station” and labeling one camp of bishops the “dissenters” – which, on the issue of euthanasia, I don’t think Ivereigh [See his ghastly piece.] would do – tells us exactly nothing about how this conflict ought to be resolved.


Not. Going. Away.

One thing leads to another in our Catholic Faith.

Admission of people to Communion who are objectively committing a sin (whether it is adultery or contemplating suicide, etc) has implications for what we believe the Eucharistic to be, about who we believe Christ to be.  Was the Lord (God) wrong when he taught about the indissolubility of marriage?   If He was wrong, then is He divine?  Was the Lord wrong about eating His Body and drinking His Blood?  Is that just idolatry?  If objective adulterers can be admitted to Communion, then why can’t those contemplating suicide be anointed first?  Why not every sacrament for everyone?  What are sacraments anyway?

This is why the Five Dubia are so important and why so many desire clear answers.   It’s not about a lack of “mercy”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    “Accompaniment” is for singers and pianos, not sinners and unfaithful bishops.

  2. Thomistica says:

    Absolutely no reason for despair about Amoris Laetitia. Personally, gotten over my unrest on this.

    We should *welcome* this period as a providential opportunity finally to sort out the post-Vatican II period. Ralph McInerny was right in saying it would take a while for the fruits of a council to be sorted out. Sit back and watch history unfold. Better yet, be a participant in whatever way your talents and time accommodate.

  3. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    Thirty-some years ago when I complained about the confusion and misrepresentation in the fallout from Vatican II, I was told don’t worry, it takes 50 years for the true effects of a council to be seen. Well, here we are, right on time.

  4. Benedict Joseph says:

    Gloria TV reports that on December 16th Cardinal Muller stated that there are situation where the penitent and their confessor can arrive at the decision that a marriage is null and void – in direct contradiction of the Council of Trent.

  5. stuartal79 says:

    Benedict Joseph, Cardinal Muller did not say anything contrary to the Council of Trent. There are indeed very, very rare cases were the civilly divorced and remarried can be admitted (receieve in private )to Holy Communion through the internal forum. These cases are EXTREMELY rare, but they are theoretically possible. I do not care what Gloria TV reported, he did not say that marriages can be declared null and void outside of the tribunal. If Gloria TV reported he said that, they were irresponsible.

  6. Thomistica says:

    It would be useful to hear more about the internal forum cases you are referencing. I posted a question about this in a reply in the Fr. Z’s posting about Ed Feser’s work.
    We hear so little about the canon law treatment of these liminal cases. Again, it’s absolutely critical for supporters of the Dubia to have talking points at the ready about claims about these rare cases. If they exist. I see claims about them but what are the details?

  7. stuartal79 says:

    Thomistica, first of all, I want to be clear that I am a VERY strong supporter of the Dubia. As far as the exceedingly rare cases, I will get back to you this evening with more detail. In my opinion (I am open to correction), one of the problems with A.L. is that it treats these rare cases as if they exist in every parish and diocese, which is simply not plausible.

  8. bombcar says:

    These posts by Fr Gordon MacRae of These Stone Walls helped me be much more at peace with Pope Francis and what’s happening in the Church. God IS with us, always, until the end of days:

    Pope Francis Has a Challenge for the Prodigal Son’s Older Brother
    Pope Francis and the Scandal of Listening
    Coping with the Pope Who Would Not Be King

    None of this denies the importance of the dubia, but it does help understand who Pope Francis is.

  9. MrsMacD says:

    This upcoming year being the 150th anniversary of Fatima, we would do well to remember that Our Lady asked us to pray for peace.

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    AL undermines Catholic teaching as I understand it and as many seem to understand it. It pulls the rug out from under a number of the Ten Commandments. We may be down to 7 or so. If we aren’t, we will be once euthanasia takes hold.
    There are few to no moral absolutes now. Think about that. According to this papacy and this Catholic magisterium, there are few to no moral absolutes. Hold on, punctuation is indicated. According to this papacy and this Catholic magisterium, there are FEW TO NO MORAL ABSOLUTES! As my brother-in-law would say, son of a pup!
    Sorry to yell, but which is more crazy making, silent Cardinals in the face of papal apostasy, or the fact that our church is teaching there are no moral absolutes. I really can’t decide.
    Hey, I’m calm, I’m perfectly calm. But it’s kind of nauseating to see so much “calm” in the face of apostasy. One would hope for some outrage, maybe some yelling, some real emotion, but…we’re all calm, calm as the sea on a clear blue day. Jesus is mocked…yawwwnnn…the Holy Eucharist is given out to adulterers and unrepentant sinners and non-Catholics…(streeetch)….
    up is down good is evil make room for polygamy who am I to judge next comes pederasts as a group to accompany…zzzzzzzzzz…….

  11. Polycarpio says:

    I am a moderate Catholic. I know that I am a moderate Catholic because progressive Catholics think I am a “conservative” and conservative Catholics think I am a “progressive.” I am here because I enjoy reading the insights and appreciate the obvious love of tradition and love of Church in this forum. But I am also here because I think it does me good to hear your perspectives and for all of you to hear mine (perhaps from time to time) and, through me, to hear other perspectives that, though not my own, I may present in a “devil’s advocate” role.

    On “Amoris,” my take is that John Allen and Ross Douthat are right, and Austin Ivereigh is wrong, that the situation is not perfectly clear. However, it will take more than a handful of Cardinals to “correct” the Pope. Unless Pope Francis goes the way of John XXII and formally backs down, which I do not see happening, I think that a formal correction would require at least as convincing a show of force as amending the constitution (arguably it would require more). Therefore, 2/3 of the ACTIVE cardinals, 2/3 of the active bishops, the CDF–and the Pope Emeritus, to boot. Short of that, in time, Ivereigh may be proven right. But not for a while; I mean, if in a 100 years it hasn’t happened, then we might say “footnotes in history” and what not.

  12. benedetta says:

    It’s a shame and embarrassment to devout Christians of all sorts that the Church permits unworthy communions to abortionists, domestic abusers, people who cohabit, people who attack those in their congregation and spread scandal and slander, people who exploit and take advantage of the poor, persons who mistreat and harm children and their mothers…and the list goes on. In many instances people such as these sit and hold court on “parish councils”. I’d prefer that the cardinals work this document out internally until such time as they can get a handle on the full scope of persons receiving in sacrilege and giving scandal. Most priests do not even recite the confiteor. Many priests don’t even have hours for confession or preach that people need to receive the sacrament in order to receive worthily. Many priests themselves are involved in political movements that cause grave harms to Catholics, sometimes minors. Surely there is something weird about singling out divorced and remarried people, who colloquially know the Catholic annulment process to be strange and laughable, when all these others just flip the Blessed Sacrament into their gullets and waltz on back to the pews never giving much of anything a second thought?

  13. Benedict Joseph says:

    stuartal79: I surely hope you are correct, but having been an avid observer-participant of the post conciliar era I am quite familiar with the exception to the rule becoming the common practice. I was shocked to hear the Gloria TV report because I had recently heaved a sigh of relief that Cardinal Muller’s recent remarks about the dubia had been edited and were not faithful to his intention.
    Here we are again.
    Why are the laity being put in this position? What does it say about the leadership that allows this to transpire? Who is accountable? And to whom are they accountable? This is unacceptable, tragic and a scandal that exceeds anything we have seen.

  14. un-ionized says:

    benedetta, I have been thinking about the same things much, though not expressed as well as you. People engaged in destruction within the parishes and who are part of the favoritism and the power structure, such as being on the parish council, would seem to be ignored in all this but sometimes are doing much more harm than those who are being singled out.

  15. demivalka says:


    Polycarpio — does might (a “convincing show of force”) make right? What in the world does the procedural framework of the United States Constitution have to do with Truth? It might be that you are not a “moderate” but instead a very inconsistent thinker. In its essence, the heresy of Americanism holds that the Church needs to be more like America, rather than America needing to be more Catholic. It’s a subtle virus that infects us all who were raised in these United States. Be on guard. The three branches of government cannot save you’re soul.

  16. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    Benedetta has a good point: the problem is far greater than admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion. We have been a long time on this road, winking at all kinds of desecrations. The only difference now is that we have a papal document that seems to condone the evil. And it is already sprouting its progeny: the 10 Catholic bishops in eastern Canada are advising their priests to provide the last rites to people who are planning assisted suicide, because they need “pastoral accompaniment” and that is according to the thinking of Pope Francis and Amoris laetitia. Besides, every case is different so we can’t have black and white and rigidity and neo-Pelagianism, don’t you see.

    We have deliberately muddled moral thinking for so long that I fear most Catholics don’t have a clue that there is a problem. When the schism comes, we will be considered the schismatics.

  17. Polycarpio says:

    @ demivalka

    I could well be a very inconsistent thinker! (But I think not.) My point is not to focus so much on the specifics of the show of force, but on the show of force. Yes, the showing has to be forceful. “Might makes right,” to my mind, is a jingle. It is a clever turn of a phrase. I could counter back with “the force of reason.” My point ultimately is that people doing the correcting of the Pope have the burden of proof. (Take a look at Dr. Peters’ recent post on the subject of process for papal heresy, etc.) It is not to be done lightly, but convincingly. That’s the show of force I am referring to.

  18. Grabski says:

    But how can the next pope put the paste back into the tube?

    [With clear crystal teaching and legislation.]

  19. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Moderate Catholic? Not me. Not Newman, neither.

  20. moon1234 says:

    I do not think it takes many bodies to rebuke Peter when he truly is wrong. Paul did it, multiple times and very forcefully. The Pope is the VICAR of Christ. He is NOT Christ. When one gives the impression of contradicting Christ, then we follow Christ. The Pope is HUMAN as are everyone in the Church. Humans are fallen creatures and as such can take some very bad actions and inactions.

    The problem today is that so many people do not have well formed consciences. They do not know their faith. They follow blindly so are led into error. We need to keep teaching the faith. We need to teach our Children the faith, lest they be led into error as well. If they KNOW their faith it will be much harder to lead them astray.

    Go to the traditional Mass and take your family, friends and catholic neighbors with you. It’s Christmas. Go sing Traditional Christmas Carols in your community. Put your faith in God. Beg him for divine justice. Pray for those who teach error that they may be corrected or be called to their divine reward.

    I have found a traditional parish with traditional priests and that is where I attend Mass, receive the sacraments, etc. Sometimes we just need to shut out the nonsense and focus on the four last things. That will put most of this in perspective.

  21. Polycarpio says:

    @ demivalka

    But to answer the question directly, the 2/3 requirement is similar between the Constitutional amendment process and the Church’s synodal and conciliar ground rules, which similarly require 2/3 majorities for solemn votes. I was also thinking of the process used for John XXII that Fr. Z. wrote about a few days prior, in which two kings, the Patriarch of Jerusalem and a special commission of “masters” were involved (though, it appears that, in that case, the Pope simply backed off).


    Nice try. I meant “moderate” as means to distinguish me from the “conservative” and “progressive” camps, not as a measurement of my fervor of the faith. I would suggest that questioning each others’ doctrinal purity is not the way, unless you simply wish to discount and discard my point of view without having to think about or respond substantively to what I may have to say, in which case it will probably work just fine :)

    (So, to be clear, when I say “moderate” Catholic, I don’t mean that I “moderately” accept the tenets of the faith, or that I moderately attend Mass, etc. Assume that I pray the Angelus every day, a Rosary (or more) a week, regular Mass, and regular confession, and you will be more just to my Catholic identify than if you assume moderate means weak. Moderate means that I did not join the progressive protests against JP2 & B16, nor do I join the conservative backlash against PF. My favorite Cardinal is Mueller, not Kasper, but also not Burke.)

  22. benedetta says:

    I think that the EF, and those attached to it, are going to have to carry a far greater weight in saving the Church in the West than perhaps many had previously thought. This is why for years I have harped on the notion of fortitude and holiness, especially for youth and for families to not let them just ascribe to the current youth culture survival of the fittest/lord of the flies mentalities, which does occur in seemingly or purportedly “orthodox Catholic” circles. A youth prepared to defend others and to defend the faith, and add to the beauty of worship through service and song, who is thinking and literate, will be the one equipped to lead us forward through this. The others though they may think they are “ready” or “righteous” will not necessarily have what it takes. It’s going to take leadership that is far beyond the mentality of the boomers and post boomers of pop culture entertainment and sociality, beyond book smarts and saying the right thing upon command. I understood what was happening about a decade ago and a few listened. Those who did understand what I am talking about. It is within the Church, and has been, for a long time, and became actively working against our communion in the U.S. about two election cycles ago not including this last. The great majority have no clue what is happening, and in their ignorance think that they “support” whatever “it” is, without comprehending that it will bite their happy clappy heads off.

  23. LittleSeal says:

    Serious stuff alright.

    I tend to take the +Muller view that there is a need for some calm heads. The Dubia have been submitted, good. Leave it there. Let’s see how it plays out in the next few weeks. +Burke, while a man of powerful faith, nontheless has a habit of answering one question to much, such as ‘What next, your Grace?’ Talk of formal corrections is premature and suggests this is all an ambush of the HF (I don’t for a second believe H.E. possesses such a spirit).

    If unity is to be preserved, the Dubia must be seen as a genuine act of charity to a beloved Pope, who has gone, or been shoved, off-track. Listing the Pope’s faults and failings has no place post-Dubia.

    BTW, may I suggest Father the deeply disrespectful, sedevacantist term ‘Pope Bergoglio’ be banned from this blog. We don’t need these people here, not now.

    Let +Lefebvre be a warning from history of what can happen when you don’t keep a calm head.

  24. un-ionized says:

    Polycarpio, I am somewhat like you. Many is the time I got run over by the bus.

  25. un-ionized says:

    I am a so called baby boomer and am sick and tired of people telling me what my mentality or my faith supposedly is. There needs to be a recognition that not everyone is the same. There’s a term for the belief that everyone in a particular group is the same.

  26. Charles E Flynn says:

    New interview with Cardinal Burke:

    Cardinal Burke: “No, I am not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy.”, by the Catholic World Report staff.

  27. stuartal79 says:

    Thomistica, an example of someone who could benefit from the internal forum would be a women who was forced into an unlawful marriage against her will. Let’s say she escapes from the unlawful marriage thirty years later and does not have anyone available to bear witness to the fact that her marriage was invalid. This women could benefit from the internal forum. The internal forum would allow her to receive Holy Communion, but it could not actually declare her marriage null. An official declaration of nullity would have to come from a tribunal. This is obviously a very extraordinary example, but that is who the internal forum is supposed to help. A baby boomer (no offense to our resilient and faithful friend un-ionized) on their third marriage should not be making use of the internal forum. A.L. attempts to make what is rare commonplace; and that’s a problem.

  28. un-ionized says:

    Stuartal, i could do with a first marriage! Don’t know about the resiliency, my airy puffiness is about used up.

  29. Windswept House says:

    The two previous popes have both said/written that the Church needs saints more than reformers. Maybe that excludes Francis because he is a revolutionary.

  30. Glengarriff says:

    Stuartal79, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a letter published by The Tablet on 26 October 1991. In this letter Ratzinger effectively retracts his earlier proposal outlined in a 1972 essay on divorce and remarriage. He also addresses the inherent difficulties of the “internal forum solution.” He writes:

    ” . . . Cardinal Seper’s mention in his letter of 1973 of the ‘approved practice in the internal forum’ . . .was not referring to the so-called internal forum solution which properly understood concerns a marriage known with certainty to be invalid but which cannot be shown to be such to a marriage tribunal because of a lack of admissible proof. Cardinal Seper for his part was not addressing the question of the validity of a prior marriage, but rather the possibility of allowing persons in a second, invalid marriage to return to the sacraments if, in function of their sincere repentance, they pledge to abstain from sexual relations when there are serious reasons preventing their separation and scandal can be avoided. By the way, as far as the ‘internal forum solution’ is concerned as a means for resolving the question of the validity of a prior marriage, the Magisterium has not sanctioned its use for a number of reasons, among which is the inherent contradiction of resolving something in the internal forum which by nature also pertains to and has such important consequences for the external forum. Marriage, not a private act, has deep implications of course for both of the spouses and resulting children and also for Christian and civil society. Only the external forum can give real assurance to the petitioner, himself not a disinterested party, that he is not guilty of rationalisation. Likewise, only the external forum can address the rights or claims of the other partner of the former union, and, in the case of the tribunal’s issuance of a judgment of nullity, make possible entering into a canonically valid, sacramental marriage. I might add, moreover, that the numerous abuses committed under the rubric of the internal forum solution in some countries attest to the practical unworkability of the internal forum solution. It is for reasons such as these that the Church in recent times, most notably in the new Code of Canon Law, has broadened the criteria for the admissibility of testimony and evidence in marriage tribunals so that the need to appeal to an internal forum solution would not arise.”

  31. Akita says:

    The times we are living in are surreal. I agree with You Kathleen10, it’s unbelievable that most prelates seemingly do not have a problem with AL or do recognise something is amiss but are silent. The entire moral edifice of Catholicism is crumbling and most Catholics are oblivious.

  32. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    This Pope is the hemlock of my spirituality.

  33. Gilbert Fritz says:

    Little Seal, I agree about the Bergoglio stuff. Fr. Z says it is normal in some places. Maybe so, but I find here in the USA it means the speaker does not want to say “Pope.” Sedavancantist websites and books always call popes by their personal names.

  34. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Dear Polycarpio,

    If I had thought you had meant “moderate” as a measure of your fervour, I might have written “Moderate Catholic? Me too!” However, I took you to mean, in fact I thought it was clear from your post, that you take a via media in certain matters of judgement, and I think you have confirmed that in your reply to me. That was the reason for my comparison with Newman, which I think is sound, and for my assertion that I prefer to take what I think was his view that attempts at compromise between two perceived extremes have historically, even from the times of the Fathers, ended badly for the Church.

    I assert, with Newman, I think, that what is important is the Truth. Whether the truth is perceived by some as “extreme” or “moderate” is neither here nor there.

  35. Pingback: Morning Catholic must-reads: 21/12/16 | CHRONICA

  36. stuartal79 says:

    Glengarriff, good stuff. Considering how badly the application of the internal forum is abused, I have no desire to defend the possible use of it.

  37. LarryW2LJ says:

    So there does seem to be de facto schism within the Church; and it has been going on for some time. It seems the wave is now heading towards a crescendo. One one side you have the (what I like to call) Baltimore Catechism folks, who were brought up on the bedrock of faith (regardless of actual time); and then you have the Kumbaya folks, who were brought up on felt banners, and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”.

    I am glad, then, that I was brought up by may parents and the good Bernardine Sisters with the Baltimore Catechism and all the good things that were received from that education. No need for me to “evolve” towards things that are blech.

  38. Thomistica says:

    Thanks for the note.
    My impression is that how to interpret the internal forum idea is an area of disagreement, possibly conflict, among canon lawyers. I do hope the authors of the Dubia, when they issue the fraternal correction (now a matter of when, not if, it appears) will write a simple to understand synopsis of where the internal forum concept stands in the received tradition. They need to address what is controverted and what is not wrt the internal forum. The text of the correction should again have easy to grasp language for popular consumption, while technical discussion and citations should be relegated to an appendix or footnotes.
    Incidentally, there seems to be an almost studied reluctance of people to address what exactly the tradition says about the concept of the internal forum these days. And especially how, or how it does not, resolve possible inconsistencies between it and the ban on adultery and partaking of the Eucharist. Very many people are saying that Amoris Laetitia is problematic–and its lack of precision and ambiguity are a huge problem–but a lot more needs to be said why *whatever canon law says* is not inconsistent with the received tradition on these topics. You know the old cliche–hard cases make for bad law. If hard cases are accommodated in canon law, how do they do so without undercutting basic teaching of the Church?
    A year or two ago when these issues started coming into the spotlight there may have been more written. But with things coming to a head, as early as January if a fraternal correction comes, a lot more needs to be written to preempt the media spin machine of people like Fr. Spadaro.
    As you point out, “A.L. attempts to make what is rare commonplace”; and that’s a problem”.
    It’s indeed the case that the Pope’s supporters have far more ambitious designs than just invoking the internal forum for liminal cases having to do with marriage. They want to broaden the concept to conscience across the board. And that has incredibly corrosive potentials. My point is more limited–we need to hear from the defenders of the Dubia much more about the liminal cases. Why? Because Fr. Spadaro’s group is going to try to exploit that as an opening for their big designs.

  39. albizzi says:

    Regarding the last rites given (or refused) to the people asking for assisted suicide, I was not aware that this split between the eastern and western canadian bishops also was a sad outcome of A.L.
    In this case, which is the paragraph of the post-Synod exhortation that is used by the eastern bishops to grant the last rites?
    Anyways, in my opinion it is too late and useless to strive avoiding a schism. It is as if there were two very different and irreconciliable Churches headed by the same Pope.
    How is this possible that the divorced/remarried catholic faithfuls may have the choice to just change their parish if their origin parish priest refuses giving them Communion or performing the last rites before their assisted suicide?
    This would be a matter of grave scandal for the “conservative” faithfuls and completely unaffordable by local the bishop who would be obliged to settle the matter in the conservative or liberal way according to his mind thus ostracizing the priests who don’t agree with him.
    No speaking about the Communion given to the abortionnists, the politics who support it, the pederasts, lesbians and LGBT people in general, the people who don’t attend mass every sunday, etc…
    Benedict XVI spoke about “a smaller and purer Church”. The 4 cardinals letter and the Pope’s incredible refusal to answer it are upon to trigger something very serious, probably a schism.

  40. Thomistica and stuartal79, please accept that I am offering this with gratitude for your faith and for your enthusiasm for the the topic. There are about a dozen canon lawyers I know personally who read this blog on a daily basis, and I can tell you that reading the comments on matters such as this (above) can be quite painful at times (not just here but across the many blogs that are dealing with these issues). We often remark on this among ourselves. But the reason why so few of us weigh in or comment in this forum, as canon lawyers, is because it is a difficult forum in which to convey things that often take years of study to understand fully. Also, no matter how exact and comprehensive the answers we give, there are those who will read them in a way that means something else to them, and there are always follow-up questions which, in my experience, lead to “rabbit hole” discussions, and sometimes to even less clarity for readers. To answer Thomistica — and I cannot answer any follow-ups — the reason why one hears so little about the “canon law treatment” of what you are calling “liminal” cases is because there is no canon law treatment of such cases (and “liminal cases” is a term which is foreign to canonical parlance — I am not sure how that phrase suddenly appeared here, as if it described a legitimate category of matrimonial cases). If someone is eligible to apply for a declaration of matrimonial nullity, then he should, although applying for one is not a guarantee that one’s marriage can in the end be declared null. If one cannot apply for a declaration of nullity — for a number of reasons — then given that one’s first marriage still enjoys the presumption of validity, one is still bound by that matrimonial bond. If one is in a subsequent union, and cannot separate for reasons of care of young children, then the “brother-sister” option remains — though, as stuartal79 mentioned, Communion should be in private (the fact of the couple’s merely civil marriage is public, even if most people don’t know about it, whereas their continence is private, even if they tell everyone about it — the other necessary condition for Communion in such a situation is the removal of the risk of scandal, “frater-soror” AND “remoto scandalo”). For all intents and purposes, there is no “internal forum solution” for a person who “believes” his first (failed) marriage is null but for some reason cannot approach a tribunal to prove that nor can he separate from the person with whom he is living “as if married.” Please study carefully the blog post of Dr. Ed Peters on this subject:

    And if I might add, now is a good time for praying Psalm 131.

  41. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Glengarriff,

    Thank you. This letter from Cardinal Ratzinger summarizes what I have been saying ever since the internal forum idea was put forth.

    I can think of several situations where the internal forum is perfectly proper in dealing with whether or not a case of objective adultery is sinful (note: not adultery within a remarriage). Let’s take two easy examples from the neuroscience literature.

    1. A married woman has an unscrupulous male visitor visiting her and her husband for some reason (or, maybe they are just trapped, together). After she is asleep, she wanders into the visitor’s room and has sex with him (he is unscrupulous, so doesn’t stop her). She wakes up the next morning in his bed not knowing what happened. This is called sleep sex. There are other variations involving scatological language, etc. This condition has been known since the late 1990’s (there was even an episode of House that had a plot based on this). The woman, objectively, committed adultery, but is, nevertheless, entirely, subjectively, innocent. The internal forum is the proper place for this. She can go to Communion, even though she committed adultery, because there was a total lack of knowledge about what she were doing.

    2. There is another famous case where a man developed uncontrollable sexual desires because of a brain tumor in the right temporal lobe. Once the tumor was removed, he lost these desires. In this case, there is knowledge, but his will was bring affected. In this case, his actions, while objectively sinful, would be much less so, subjectively.

    For the case of the unannulled and possibly adulterous second legal civil relationship, however, there is plenty of time BEFORE the adulterous affair begins to take the state of the original marriage to an appropriate person for a discussion of possibilities, if for some extreme reason, it is necessary because an annulment cannot be sought. After the affair begins is no time to be invoking the internal forum because the affair has, by then, become an external affair. If one can’t get out of the affair, then continence, is, then, the expected mode of behavior.

    I have said, all along, that Canon Law can be adjusted to eliminate the vast majority of cases trying to invoke the internal forum. Cardinal Ratzinger and I agree on this.

    The majority of reasons for unannulled and possibly adulterous affairs (remarriages) are caused by a single reason – deficient Catholicism. I know I am going to get yelled at for suggesting this, but I have done my homework in researching the reasons for Catholic, “divorce ,” and this covers the majority of cases. Young people are not raised in virtue, they have lukewarm examples of following the Faith, they may have a sex talk, but they, rarely, have a marriage talk that explains marriage from a Catholic perspective, they abandon the Faith because of trial or sophisticated secular arguments, they have a Faith reduced to values clarification, they ignore the strain of inter-religious marriage, etc. They are raised to understand marriage as an emotional state, not a state of religion (used in the sense of binding). Should I be that sympathetic when the marriage dies if they didn’t care enough to be a good informed Catholic before they were married (they didn’t do due diligence to understanding marriage from the Catholic point of view)? Should I be sympathetic when they look for another person to satisfy their, “needs?” True, some adult Catholics and priests give out a false theology of marriage, but with the rise of the Internet, misinformation is less defensible.

    These deficient Catholics follow the path of a bare-bones Catholicism and, then, later, try to rationalize their situation after they get, “re-married.” The time for dealing with these issues was before they got married, originally, or after the marriage broke up (separated). If they could find a priest to, “accompany,” them, then the priest should accompany them all the way to the Tribunal. Heck, let the tribunal decide to invoke the internal forum (if it can be, although I doubt it, marriage being a public act), if worst comes to worst, not the isolated priest. This appeal to the internal forum after the remarriage is insulting. Deal with the issues before or shut up. Shout this from the pulpits. Until Catholics know what they are getting into when they marry, they will always try to find back doors after the fact. I am all for fallen-away Catholics returning to the Faith, even if they have been divorced and remarried, but, darn, sin has consequences, and instead of trying to rationalize something as not being a sin, admit it, accept the consequences and go on. They will do that if the Church is really that important to them. I suspect that for some people who might try to use the internal forum, the Church is not a matter of life or death for them. I am not a fan of trying to sneak up on your salvation. If these people had a burning desire to receive Communion, they would sacrifice anything, even sex, to purchase the Pearl of Great Price. Priests have been known to die to protect the Eucharist from desecration. Shouldn’t that be the attitude of those wishing to receive. In fact, that is a good test, is it, not? I wonder how many of these divorced and remarried would be willing to sacrifice their lives for the Eucharist, much less their pleasure? That is something to think about.

    I cannot see where anyone suggesting the internal forum as a solution should be taken seriously unless they vigorously try to solve the problem from the other end – before the original marriage goes bad.

    Oh, no, people suggesting accompaniment will never admit the obvious – they have failed to properly see to the education and development of their charges. I blame this, in part, on the badly realized ecumenical movement. Many Catholics have come to see civil law as being the same as moral law, which is, essentially, the case for Protestants and seculars with regards to marriage. They have lost sight of the great dignity of Catholic moral teaching in this area. Oh, they want to be accompanied after the fail, but who accompanied them before?

    If my student blows off a hand doing an experiment after I properly trained him in safety techniques, that’s on him. Whoa to me, however, if I fail to train him, properly. This unannulled and possibly adulterous mess is like this situation. They’ve lost a spouse. Whose fault is it, really? Invoking the internal forum for someone who could have sought an annulment before the evidence disappeared is like trying to treat the phantom limb that seems to exist after the explosion as if it were real. For the cases where the couple practice continence in the re-marriage, it is like trying to be accepted for having a mechanical hand, but, in the end, who is at fault, the student or the teacher for not taking safety precautions seriously in the first place?

    Where is the call for education? Where is the demand for virtue? Before you talk about the internal forum, show me that you are serious about being a Catholic to begin with. Too many parents and priests and bishops are failing to properly train their charges.

    Sorry, if I am rambling. Too many things have gone wrong in my life because there was no one who could tell me what was true, at the time, but there were many people who told me what they thought was true, largely based on ignorance.

    The Chicken

  42. Thomistica says:

    Many thanks for the reply.
    Just a few observations.
    1. Perhaps I should have made it clearer (I thought I did in at least one posting) that I am not a canon lawyer. I have the deepest respect for the profession.
    2. As such, I was not at all trying to introduce a new category (“liminal”), nor said anything that suggested I was attempting to do such.
    However: it seemed an apt term to get at the types of claim that appeared here and which I perhaps have misinterpreted–but may on the other hand reflect confusions about canon law.
    “Under Canon Law, there are still legitimate uses of the internal forum in absolving divorced and remarried Catholics. If the ‘external forum’ of ecclesiastical tribunals cannot be used because of lack of witnesses, lack of evidence, or unavailability, the internal forum would be the place of last resort. Also, in cases of impending death, last rites and absolution can be given to a penitent.”
    I am not in any position to make definitive claims about statements like these, or speculation of the kind in
    But I suspect (just that) that very many non-experts labor under the view that canon law has historically admitted exceptions. And, they need to be corrected.
    3. My overall point might have been lost in the wash. It’s just that there will be quite a backlash against any fraternal correction and part of that backlash will exploit layperson lack of knowledge about canon law. Thus the need for any document that articulates that correction to contain non-technical, easy to understand statements about the relevant issues. Scholarly references are important, but should be relegated to an appendix or footnotes.
    4. I really do think that public disclosure by canon lawyers of their stance(s) on Amoris Laetitia provide both an opportunity to explain canon law and will play a crucial role preemptively at this juncture, prior to the fraternal correction. (I doubt the Pope will reply to the Dubia and would lay money on the correction being issued.) Again, I understand that public discussion can lead to misunderstandings. My view however is that that is an acceptable price to pay for preempting any exploitation by Fr. Spadaro and his group of lay misunderstandings about canon law. And, in sum, what a golden moment for canon lawyers to engage the public. Some have, but it would be great to see more of this right now. Perhaps even a collective document by canon lawyers that lays out the relevant points. (If I’ve missed it, ignore this point.) Canon lawyers: *this is your moment*.

  43. WVC says:

    The one comment here that made me gag is the idea that the only way to properly respond to this mess is to show the dubia as charitable correction of a “beloved” pope. I love the office, I venerate the office, I would kiss the Papal Ring if offered the chance, and I certainly pray for the Holy Father every day. However, “beloved” is NOT a term I would ever use for this particular pontiff (nor a long list of other, historical pontiffs), and to intimate that we have to view Pope Francis as “beloved” in order to be charitable is mixing sentimental sap with true charity.

    I’m obviously no judge of popes (but I’m also no Ultramontanist or papaloter), and I doubt there is much if any reasoned and intentional malice in a lot of Pope Francis’s actions that have lead to this great, absurd mess (not that that reduces his objective culpability). However, I have know and like Argentinians, and one Argentinian stereotype that Pope Francis is holding true to is that the mouth tends to move much faster than the brain (and the tendency to use 20 words when 5 would suffice). Another stereotype is the “trying to please everyone in order to be viewed as likeable.” A third and final stereotype is rank stubbornness when faced with the fact of having made a mistake. Obviously it’s not true of all Argentinians, and in some cases some of these traits can be endearing (as with a close a friend of mine).

    I pray for Pope Francis every day, but I pray that the Holy Spirit will open his eyes and give him the grace he needs to correctly fulfill his office. The man has and is continuing to do much harm to the Church he is charged with guarding, teaching, and leading. I just can’t, in all honesty, say I hold such a man as “beloved.” I’m also not going to shed a single tear when his papacy ends, and I certainly hope it ends soon. He’s no Alexander VI, but I’m starting to sympathize with the Catholics of the late 15th century.

  44. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Magdalen Ross,

    I appreciate your caution about fools rushing in where wise men fear to tread, especially when lives are, in some sense, at stake.

    I am not a lawyer, Canon or otherwise. I try to write carefully on Catholic issues, but I am sure I have made many mistakes in the course of commenting on the Internet about them.

    Some of the forums I have posted on are expert forums (humor theory and practice) and some are general forums with experts interacting with non-experts (Catholic, music). Occasionally, an enthusiastic novice will find the site of the expert forum and regale us with his theory about some aspect of the subject (if you think people think they understand Catholicism, you should see what goes on in humor research). Different people on the forum respond in different ways. Some of my colleagues tell them to go read the journals and dismiss them, out of turn. Personally, I think that as long as they are sincere and not obnoxious, it is an act of charity to engage them, even in polite debate, if I have the time, because, sometimes, they raise some really good questions.

    I think, in this day and age, the lay people outside of a field have unprecedented access to materials that, previously, could only be obtained by an expert. Unfortunately, Google searching can have the effect of making people think they know more than they do on a subject, so, humility should always be the watchword when one is discussing matters outside of their field of expertise.

    On the other hand, there have been many contributions in science and mathematics and theology from talented amateurs. Pierre de Fermat was a civil lawyer by training, but his fame rests not in law, but in mathematics, which, by today’s standards, would be considered a hobby for him. The reason he is famous in math is because his results were published and they were true.

    The laity is out there, for good or ill, on the Internet. I wish the Internet were otherwise than the Wild West it has become since AOL opened it to the general public, but there was too little foresight, then, and too much greed, now, to believe that things can go back to the quiet parlor discussions of the bulletin board days.

    For good or ill, it falls on the shoulder of the laity to deal with the poor understanding of Catholicism and even anti-Catholicism that exists online, which has become the primary source of information for many people, especially, young people. They can use guidance from experts, to be sure, but they are out there, doing the best they can. One can only hope that their manner of discussion is charitable, humble, and a good representation of how the Faith has influenced their lives. It is hard, sometimes, to know when one is over ones head in discussing an issue and many people on the Internet will mistake reticence with weakness, and pounce. I suppose, there ought to be training for Catholics who are online, like in the old days of the British Evidence Guilds. Perhaps, that would be a worthwhile project. Until then, discussions will happen and we can only pray to do our best.

    The Chicken

  45. Thomistica says:

    Re. concerns about public discussion of canon law matters perhaps creating misunderstandings, I have to admit this is not something to be overly concerned about. After all, on that reasoning, moral philosophers, or constitutional law, or scriptural experts, or anyone with an academic specialization that is very relevant to human life, should not engage in “public discourse”. And that would be a very bad thing. Canon law is a specialty, but so are many other fields in which specialists share their perspectives with the public.
    I would suggest that the eaerlier claim that “But the reason why so few of us weigh in or comment in this forum, as canon lawyers, is because it is a difficult forum in which to convey things that often take years of study to understand fully.” For the reasons given, I don’t grasp that comment. Canon law is no more or less arcane than any other areas of human knowledge, and where misunderstandings can arise. We want to hear from you folks. Misunderstanding is our problem.
    A different matter, of course, is that many canon lawyers may have legitimate reasons of prudence for not laying their cards on the table, or doing so in a highly coordinated way.
    I should make it clear that none of my comments emanated from someone who pretends to have the least idea about canon law. If Ms. Ross’s invocation of a Psalm was intended to remind laypeople not to wade into areas for which they are competent, anyone can agree on this point.
    That said, it is however useful for specialists to hear the impressions of outsiders, in this case, impressions, perhaps false, from a layperson who has been following journalism about these issues precisely from a layperson, non-technical perspective. Consider it “focus group” type advice.

  46. Thomistica:

    There is no “internal forum solution”. Read Peters on this – slowly and with strong light.

  47. Thomistica says:

    I read Peters’s blog posting on this a while back. This non-canon-lawyer always like reading his commentary.
    It poses a variety of considerations that internal forum defenders (whoever they are) need to take into account: “proponents of the “internal forum solution” for reception of holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics need, at a minimum, to account for …”.
    But, ok, I would have liked a definitive, full bore statement along the lines of “internal forum, non.
    And invocations of it in XYZ popular treatments are misguided. And here’s why.” It’s a lot to ask of Peters, who is very busy, surely. Peters is a careful scholar, and measured (virtues), and so maybe this was a lot for me to desire.
    Would like to hear more about Urrutia, as well. But ok, I’ll read the blog posting again a few times to capture its nuances.
    Was hoping some canon lawyers would comment on the Howard Kainz statement in Catholic Thing that I posed. That’s what triggered my questions, in part. Plus, the Patheos article I linked to needs attending by someone.
    What can we do to get a bunch of orthodox canon lawyers to deliver a full blown denial of problematic invocations of the ‘internal forum’, sometime in the next 1.5 weeks, to preempt whatever media spin will emanate from the Spadaro group within fifteen minutes of a fraternal correction being publicized (maybe in January)?
    Just offering comments from a lay perspective. Again, *not an expert*. Just asking questions. And mainly concerned about what Spadaro’s group will do to muddy waters yet more, in a few weeks, possibly, when the fraternal correction finally and **thankfully** comes.
    Best, Merry Christmas.

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