Fr. Murray on 1 year after ‘Amoris laetitia’: The state of the question.

Juan Manuel de Rosas (17th Governor of Buenos Aires Province 1835 -1852)

Juan Manuel de Rosas (17th Governor of Buenos Aires Province 1835 -1852)

My friend Fr. Gerald Murray, frequent contributor at The Catholic Thing and quite simply the best clerical TV commentator around (EWTN has to kick its game up to deserve him).

Fr. Murray has offered comments about Amoris laetitia one year after its release.  HERE

Amoris Laetitia: Year One

[… what I cut was good, but I wanted to get into the marrow…]

[A status quaestionis…] What are we to make of Year One of the Amoris Laetitia era? We have had: papal silence on the dubia; papal approval of a draft statement by a group of Argentine bishops of the Rio de la Plata region that opens the door to the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics; affirmations by Cardinal Müller that Holy Communion cannot be given to those living in a state of adultery; the publication by the pope’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, of the statement by the Bishops of Malta that couples in invalid second marriages can receive Holy Communion if they at are at peace in their conscience with that decision; the reaffirmation by the Bishops of Poland that the teaching and discipline enunciated by St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio have not changed, and that only those civilly remarried couples who live as brother and sister may be admitted to Holy Communion; the Archbishop of Philadelphia saying the same thing; while the bishops of Belgium and Germany agree with the bishops of Malta and Rio del La Plata, Argentina.

This is the current unholy mess. As the four Cardinals lament: “And so it is happening – how painful it is to see this! – that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta.”

There cannot be a divided truth about the indissoluble nature of marriage, or the nature of mortal sin or the nature of human freedom and responsibility for one’s freely chosen acts. The truth is one and must be defended from errors and misinterpretations.  [Some claim that while doctrine has not changed, discipline has.  However, is that a distinction without a difference?  Praxis is rooted in doctrine and reflects it.  They can’t be inconsistent and be, well, Catholic.]

Geographically different doctrine within the same Catholic Church is not simply bizarre. It is impossible. If such is found to be the case, then we are dealing with error in one place and true doctrine in another. It is not that hard to tell which is which.

In an explanatory note accompanying the dubia, the Cardinals prophetically identified what would be at stake if Amoris Laetitia did, by the express intent of Pope Francis, change the Church’s discipline concerning the non-admission to Holy Communion of those living in an adulterous union:

It would seem that admitting to communion those of the faithful who are separated or divorced from their rightful spouse and who have entered a new union in which they live with someone else as if they were husband and wife would mean [wait for it….] for the Church to teach by her practice[There is it!  I asked if that was a distinction without a difference.] one of the following affirmations about marriage, human sexuality, and the nature of the sacraments:

— A divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond, and the partners to the new union are not married. However, people who are not married can under certain circumstances legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy. [If we break down what the innovators and libs want, it really comes down to sex.  To accomplish their agenda in the Church, sex has to be separated from the ends of marriage.  Thus, they find strong allies from the homosexualist lobby.]

— A divorce dissolves the marriage bond. People who are not married cannot legitimately engage in sexual acts. The divorced and remarried are legitimate spouses and their sexual acts are lawful marital acts.

The logic here is airtight. [NB] If either of these alternatives is in fact what Amoris Laetitia intends, then it is Amoris Laetitia that needs to be revised. If Pope Francis did not intend either of these alternatives, then it is reasonable to ask him to clarify this as chaos and division spread, thus putting an end to the further growth of beliefs and practices contrary to the doctrine of the Faith.

The lay faithful ask to be confirmed in the Faith of the Church, and pastors of souls, especially parish priests, ask to be freed from what the Cardinals call in their second letter a “situation of confusion and disorientation.” These are holy desires. It cannot be in anyone’s true interest to leave matters where they now stand.

Fr. Murray’s analysis is sound.  At the same time, there is another “if… then” which is suggested by what Tracey Rowland wrote in her terrific recent book Catholic Theology.

I’ve posted this before, but repetita iuvant.  I’m convinced that Dr. Rowland is on to something.  In relation to what Fr. Murray offers, Rowland description of the Pope’s ‘People Theology’ and his favorite four principles suggests another “if… then” binomial.  Thus, Rowland:

… ‘People’s Theology’. One of the most extensive articles on this subject is Juan Carlos Scannone’s ‘El papa Francisco y la teologia del pueblo’ published in the journal Razón y Fe. 86 In this paper Scannone claims that not only is Pope Francis a practitioner of ‘People’s Theology’ but also that Francis extracted his favourite four principles – [1] time is greater than space, [2] unity prevails over conflict, [3] reality is more important than ideas, and [4] the whole is greater than the parts – from a letter of the nineteenth-century Argentinian dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793– 1877) sent to another Argentinian caudillo [a type of personalist leader wielding political power], Facundo Quiroga (1788– 1835), in 1834. These four principles, which are said to govern the decision-making processes 17_06_27_screenshot_EGof Pope Francis, have their own section in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [check out 217-237] and references to one or other of them can be found scattered throughout his other papal documents. Pope Francis calls them principles for ‘building a people’. A common thread running through each of these principles is the tendency to give priority to praxis over theory. [Read that again… priority of praxis over theory.  Remember my comments that, right now more than ever even in the 80’s and 90’s, “pastoral” is used as a weapon against “doctrine”, “intellect”, “academics”, even “magisterium”, and certainly “law”.] There is also a sense that conflict in itself is not a bad thing, that ‘unity will prevail’ somehow [Hegel] and that time will remove at least some of the protagonists in any conflict. The underlying metaphysics is quite strongly Hegelian, [yep] and the approach to praxis itself resembles what Lamb classified as ‘cultural-historical’ activity and is associated primarily with Luther and Kant rather than Marx. Professor Loris Zanatta of the University of Bologna has published an article entitled ‘Un papa peronista?’ in which he makes the claim that Pope Francis has used the word pueblo or people some 356 times in his papal speeches, that Pope Francis believes that poverty bestows upon people a moral superiority, and accordingly, that for Pope Francis, the ‘deposit of the faith’ is to be found preserved among the poor living in ‘inner city neighbourhoods’.  Such a reading situates Pope Francis squarely in the territory of Scannone’s ‘People’s Theology’.

Rowland, Tracey. Catholic Theology (Doing Theology) (Kindle Locations 4240-4257). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So, Fr. Murray is accurate in his presentation of his “if … then” propositions.

However, if Tracey Rowland is right, then it may be that Pope Francis is simply not interested in such reasoning.

Are the Four Cardinals (and a lot of other people) using one operating system and the Holy Father (and those around him – including a lot of people who want to instrumentalize the chaos for their own agenda within the Church) using another?  Their operating systems don’t talk to each other or network together easily.

More on those “Four Priniciples”.  I found this at Iglesia Descalza:

Already as Provincial of the Jesuits, Bergoglio stated, and then as Archbishop of Buenos Aires explained in more detail, government priorities leading to the common good12, namely: 1) the superiority of the whole over the parts (being more than a mere sum of the parts), 2) that of reality over ideas, 3) unity over conflict, 4) time over space. Reportedly, they are taken from the letter of Juan Manuel de Rosas (Governor of Buenos Aires) to Facundo Quiroga (Governor of La Rioja, Argentina) about the national organization, written from the Figueroa estate in San Antonio de Areco (December 20, 1834). Rosas doesn’t make these options explicit, although he takes them into account. Later — now as Pope — Francis introduced the last two priorities in the encyclical Lumen Fidei (55 and 57). Finally he develops and articulates them in Evangelii Gaudium 217-237, presenting them as a contribution based on Christian social thought “for building a people” (first, the peoples of the world, but also the People of God).

There is a lot more there, including analysis of each of the Four Principles.


Friends, if you want to understand more about Pope Francis, you should obtain this book as soon as possible.

 Catholic Theology.  


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  1. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    “reality over ideas” — sounds unnervingly like Maurice Blondel’s notions of truth.
    It also assumes that careful consideration of the reality of a situation (ideas) must give way to whatever people want to do in any given situation.

  2. FranzJosf says:

    The dog not barking here, it seems to me, is the unspoken premise underlying all the arguments of the Card. Kaspar types: God’s Grace is not enough. I’m no theologian, so maybe I didn’t express that quite right, but it seems to me that no once on their side is even mentioning God. People can’t live as brother and sister It’s too hard, and no one can do it. But, of course, people can WITH GOD’S HELP.

    This is one unholy mess. The rise of the Maltese Bishops’ thinking, along with their sympathizers, is an unmitigated disaster for the Church.

  3. cwillia1 says:

    I am not interested in learning more about Pope Francis. He is not a heretic but that is a very low standard in assessing a pope’s work. I do not see any spiritual benefit at all from hanging on his every word and trying to reconcile his thinking with the mind of the Church.

  4. WesleyD says:

    While I am quite unhappy with Amoris laetitia, I think that in addition to the two interpretations that Fr. Murray identified, there are two more possibilities that are consistent with AL:

    (3) The first marriage is permanent, so partners in a second “marriage” gravely sin when they have sexual relations. If they have met with a priest and understood the Church’s teaching, and persist in sexual activity, their sin is mortal. However, the Eucharist should be given to them despite this public and mortal sin.

    (4) The first marriage is permanent, so partners in a second “marriage” objectively gravely sin when they have sexual relations. However, many people today are so badly catechised that their sin is not mortal. Moreover, when they meet with a priest, he should hide the truth from them, lest their sin become mortal. And as they are merely in venial sin, they can receive the Eucharist.

    I absolutely oppose both of these theories, but some of the defenders of AL seem to be closer to these views than to the two that Fr. Murray mentioned.

    And finally there is one more possibility: The writer(s) of AL didn’t actually think carefully about its theological implications, and they are deliberately choosing to not think about them now.

  5. tho says:

    cwillia1 sums up my thinking also. Reading the catechism or any of the great Catholic philosophers is more beneficial than wasting our time trying to figure out what Pope Nincompoop aka Francis is trying to do.

  6. sibnao says:

    Yes, Chris G-Z above said it. The “reality over ideas” thing just burns me! Have we not seen how ideas SHAPE reality? Have we not remembered that we are spiritual beings, whose ideas are creative in a magnificent and terrifying way? This strikes me as being profoundly blind to Christian anthropology. It is to deny that we are spiritually immortal, endowed with mind-boggling power over the natural realm and over our own activities. The medievals understood this better, and that is why they burned heretics at the stake. I don’t condone the burning, but I do think they saw what ideas can do, and how vigorous we should be in correcting bad ones.

    And here again is the core issue: Truth. Either such a thing is, or it is not. If there is truth, then it is to the Enemy’s advantage to persuade us that there isn’t. As Prof. Kreeft has his demon say in “The Snakebite Letters”: Dim the lights! And if there is no truth, then why does anyone bother to talk about anything, including the pope? Why does anyone care?

  7. Tom W says:

    I thought that AL came down to the application of “conscience” to moral life choices, as it is a well established Catholic teaching. Meaning, the discerning individual would identify all options for life choices under consideration, apply their conscience as guided by Catholic teachings, weigh them accordingly, and then choose the “lesser/least evil” option under a clear conscience.

    More to the point, although it is a “known wrong choice” to be an adulterer, there is “some” worse choice to not be an adulterer that has been hypothesized. I am not volunteering to identify that “worse choice”, but that is the basic argument as I understand it.

    Naturally, this “calculus of conscience” argument is ripe for rampant rationalizations, phony strawmen, etc, but this is my understanding of where the rubber meets the road in AL – so where discussion could be more effectively focused.

    …just a guy in the pew/what do I know ?

  8. Charles E Flynn says:

    The correct understanding of the meaning and function of “conscience” in Catholic moral teaching was explained in a short book with emphasis on bioethics by one Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

    On Conscience

  9. Benedict Joseph says:

    You, Father Zuhlsdorf, and Father Murray are a supreme double-barreled shot gun. Bravo.
    As for the philosophical perspective undergirding the Pope’s “reasoning” which Dr. Rowland excavated, I’m afraid I’m left entirely bewildered. What is the need for a relatively unknown individual priest/bishop with unsubstantial academic expertise to come up with this “devise” for framing “his theology?”
    That the four governing principles of the Pope’s perspective are gleaned from the depth musings of a nineteenth century South American dictator, let alone their nature, gives me pause.
    Is the mind of Jesus Christ insufficient, or is it simply obsessive-compulsiveness driving the continual reinvention of the wheel.
    This bespeaks to me someone out of his depth and in personal need of being held in higher regard than what his natural lights would provide. Academic wannabes are not uncommon, but they do appear to be particularly common among the clerical class where the drive to abandon vice and acquire virtue should rather be paramount.

  10. steve51b31 says:

    You shall know them by the fruit they bear !
    …… and who they surround themselves by ?
    …….. and who they propagate upon the world ?

  11. Traductora says:

    Once again Francis makes the Church revolve around himself. There is no justifiable reason for any pope’s needing to be “understood” in any way apart from the teachings of the Church.

  12. John the Mad says:

    It grieves me to no end to say that our pope is in serious error. I cannot, and will not, abandon Truth, for to do so means I abandon the Way and the Life as well. I am a sinner, but I am a sinner who will not repudiate our Lord and Saviour for a spurious papal mercy.

    Accordingly, I will not follow Francis, obey him, or honour him in his papal office whenever he strays from Scripture, Tradition or Catholic teaching, unless, and until, Francis conforms himself to, and Catholic doctrine. Mercy without doctrine is not of the Church. steve51b31 it right.

  13. marcelus says:

    The great Juan Manuel de Rosas!! Head of the Argentine Confederation, despised by liberals who went on to beat him in 1852. Alongside . from the province of La Rioja, his peer, Facundo Quiroga, the tiger of the planes!!! Whose banner was a skull and bones on a black background and the lettering: Religion or Death!! Murdered i Cordoba

  14. surritter says:

    WesleyD is 100% correct. As much as I like Fr. Murray’s assessment, his limiting the choices to two possibilities is too narrow. The “mercy” crowd likes to preach that the Eucharist is a sacrament of healing, so another school of thought from the Kasper camp is that the second union is indeed sinful, but these poor saps are doing the best they can and the Eucharist can be their strength to eventually move toward full reconciliation.
    Of course, we all know that reconciliation begins with repentance, but the lefties want to “meet them where they are” and that is where they claim that they are not messing with doctrine.

  15. JARay says:

    Well I’m with “John The Mad”. I’m another John who is mad. In a sense I am with “cwillia1” but as for Pope Francis not being a heretic, I’m afraid that I am not quite convinced on that issue just yet. There are many who would differ but don’t include me in their number just yet.

  16. FranzJosf says:

    So, whatever happened to St. Paul’s words? “I can do all things through Christ, which strengthenth me.”

  17. pmullane says:

    “reality is more important than ideas, ”

    It strikes me that this itself is an ‘idea’ and one that people seem to cling to ignoring the ‘reality’ of the crisis that the church finds itself in, and that indeed the approach of dealing with ‘reality’ without reference to the ‘ideas’ that the Church has pondered on for two millennia (drawing on the best thought that man has produced in the ages and guided by the light of the revelation of God) has left us with a ‘reality’ of deflation and confusion. It strikes me that this is a less hokey but just as stupid ‘idea’ as ‘singing a new church into being’, and just a rehash of the errors of the reformation (ultimately, pride).

    “conflict in itself is not a bad thing, that ‘unity will prevail’ somehow”

    This is a suicidally mad way of thinking. I cannot think of one piece of evidence to support this idea.

    ” To accomplish their agenda in the Church, sex has to be separated from the ends of marriage. Thus, they find strong allies from the homosexualist lobby” (Fr Z)

    It seems to me that there is a strong homosexualist lobby within the Church.

  18. Imrahil says:

    I’d add just a slight nuance to the first of the two alternative affirmations which the Church seems to teach by her practice:

    where it says “they can legitimately”, I’d add “or with only venial sin”.

    That too is a possible explanation for what the Church seems to teach.

    (At least the German Bishops would vividly protest that against the second Interpretation about actually dissolved marriage bonds. Just as a note.)

  19. OldProfK says:

    As a fine Christian and moral thinker once wrote, “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.”

    …which brings to mind the words of another fine thinker, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

  20. thomas tucker says:

    If there is no distinction between teaching by practice and teaching by word, do we conclude that the Pope is teaching heresy?

  21. hilltop says:

    I’d like to observe that it is an idea that reality is more important than ideas…

  22. hilltop says:

    Ah! Hat tip to Pmullane above. I join my observation to yours!

  23. Imrahil says:

    Dear Thomas Tucker,

    no, because the no. 1 of the two alternatives above has never been outdogmatized by a Pope or a Council, and never was addressed with sufficient clarity to be out-dogmatized by ordinary Magisterium.

    Hence, the term “heresy” does not apply.

  24. Kerry says:

    Not a pilot, but I read that when flying at night, and in fog, or what have you, when what one sees or feels about the planes attitude cannot be trusted, only a fool does not trust his instruments. (There have been, as I read, planes flown almost straight into the sea or the ground, because the pilot trusted his human senses and not his instruments.)
    If the current confusion in the Church is analogous to spatial disorientation in flight, I suggest the Catechism is the instrument panel.


  26. Jann says:

    “And finally there is one more possibility: The writer(s) of AL didn’t actually think carefully about its theological implications, and they are deliberately choosing to not think about them now.” (WesleyD)

    That last phrase brought a chill to my bones – so redolent of theological language discussing the fall of Satan, of the angels. And somewhat appropriately, for it seems reference to the whole supernatural sphere has been avoided and the commandments of God are cast as merely restrictive rules.

  27. thomas tucker says:

    @Imrahil: is it not dogma by practice, rather than by proclamation?

  28. Serviam says:

    Here is an if/then that seems pretty clear to my simple mind: If we say (teach) one thing, but we do (practice) another, we are to be called a hypocrite. Then, instead of saying “I’m a Catholic,” I would have to rather say, “I am a hypocrite.”

    Thank the Lord for Fr Murray!
    And thank you Fr Z!


  29. Imrahil says:

    Dear Thomas Tucker,

    well, whatever a “dogma by practice” is, to deny it is not a formal heresy.

    Dear WesleyD and Jann,

    it takes much to believe that the writers of AL were so totally off the present discussions, even if they should only be present Western-culture non-Latin-America discussions, that they wouldn’t instantly know about the implications Westerners would take.

Comments are closed.