Fr. Murray on the Buenos Aires Bishops and the Pope’s affirming Letter

My good friend Fr. Gerald Murray has a helpful piece today at The Catholic Thing about the ongoing Amoris laetitia controversy.  He offers some clarity about the interpretation by the bishops of Buenos Aires of the ambiguous content of Chapter 8.  Subsequently Pope Francis wrote them a private letter endorsing their views.  That letter was later published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis with a note from the Secretary of State that it was part of the Pope’s official teaching.

That, however, doesn’t clear up anything.

Fr. Murray rightly points out that the Buenos Bishops contradict themselves in their document.  The Buenos Bishops also state – and this is now approved by the Pope – that diocesan bishops retain the authority in their own dioceses when it comes to the situation of the divorced and civilly remarried.

Also helpful in Fr. Murray’s piece is his distilling the controversy into simple terms:

Here’s the problem: When a group of bishops teaches that persons in invalid second marriages are free to judge that it is not “feasible” for them to avoid committing acts of adultery, they are telling the faithful that they are not at fault for doing what the Catholic Church teaches to be gravely sinful. “Feasibility” means “the state or degree of being easily or conveniently done,” and even more precisely “capable of being done, accomplished or carried out.” The avoidance of mortal sin does involve difficulty and inconvenience. But the Church does not teach that grown-up people in their right minds are incapable of obeying God’s commandments.

To say to someone that it may be infeasible for him to refrain from acts of adultery is to advise him that, in effect, he is not subject to God’s law in this matter. When pastors tell Catholics living in sin that they are not really guilty of mortal sin as long as they decide that they cannot “feasibly” observe God’s law, the shepherds have seriously failed them.

This unchristian fatalism of denying man’s freedom and ability to avoid committing mortal sin leads to the incredible claim that adultery is not that bad for some people, that they are free to receive both sacramental absolution and Holy Communion without renouncing the intention to commit acts of adultery, and that this reception of the sacraments will “dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace.” This plainly contradicts the Gospel as taught by the Church through the ages.

Do read the whole of Father’s piece over there.


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  1. Verygrateful1 says:

    Will someone please explain why Matthew’s loophole on abandoning a marriage doesn’t apply to almost all modern marriages. The loophole seems to say that a spouse can be abandoned in case of adultry, and I suppose that almost all modern divorces involve adultry.

    I tell people that Jesus said marriage is for life and they usually disagree citing Matthew.

    It’s weird, all the hundreds of opinions spouted about Bergolio’s heresy on adultry, and I never read anybody explain away the loophole, even though this is what the average Catholic or Protestant would cite in agreeing with Bergolio.

    I know the loophole is wrong, I just forget why my theology professor said so 40 years ago.

  2. Kevin says:

    “The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament” by Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch –

    “1. Patristic View Several Church Fathers suggest Jesus allowed for divorce in cases of serious sexual sin such as adultery, but he never permitted remarriage after divorce. The spouses may separate in these circumstances by a legal arrangement of living apart, but they cannot break the marriage bond, and they are not free to remarry. This view finds support by a consideration of the Greek word porneia, translated “unchastity”, in Mt 19:9. While the word has a broad range of meaning, it can mean “adultery”, as in the Greek OT (also translated “harlotry”; Sir 23:23; Ezek 16:33; Hos 2:2). Thus, an adulterous situation may give cause for separation so long as the spouses do not embark upon a second marriage. This squares with St. Paul’s teaching that a separated couple has only two options: be reconciled to one another, or remain single (1 Cor 7:10-11).

    2. Levitical Law View This position interprets “unchastity” in Mt 19:9 as invalid marriages where the spouses are too closely related. Thus, “except for unchastity” (Mt 19:9) means “except where unlawful unions exist”. Such unions ought to be severed because of the impediment posed by near blood-relations. A divorce under these conditions does not sunder a true marriage bond because a valid marriage never existed. It is equivalent to an annulment. This view is supported by two NT instances where porneia refers to incest. In Acts 15:20, 29, the apostles charge Gentile Christians to abstain from blood and unchastity. The OT background for this decision in Lev 18:6-18 suggests that unchastity refers to prohibited marriages between closely related kinsfolk. In 1 Cor 5:1-2 (translated “immorality”), porneia clearly refers to an illicit union of a man and his father’s wife.

    3. “No Comment” View According to this position, Jesus sets aside Jewish debates over the grounds for divorce in the Old Covenant (Deut 24). Because Jesus is revoking the OT concession on divorce, he brackets the whole issue and sets it off to the side as irrelevant. Thus, “except for unchastity” (Mt 19:9) means “regardless of the OT grounds for divorce”. Jesus refuses even to comment on Deut 24:1. To do so would blunt the force of his own teaching, since he is not clarifying or reaffirming Moses’ permission, he is abolishing it. Each of these views faithfully upholds Jesus’ prohibition against divorce and remarriage (cf. Mk 10:11, 12; Lk 16:18). He restores marriage to its original purity as a lifelong union of love and fidelity. Greater still, Jesus elevates marriage, transforming it into a New Covenant sacrament. Married couples are now called to be an image of Christ and his enduring love for the Church (Eph 5:21-33; cf. Rev 19:6-8). Through the sound principles of biblical interpretation and the guidance of tradition, the revolutionary standard of Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce is preserved intact in his Church. «Back to Matthew 19:1.”

  3. gracie says:

    A priest who’s a media consultant once said that the way to get a message across is to keep repeating it. It’s important that a message be framed correctly and, frankly, the words “the Church has taught from the beginning” is a non-starter for most people. Christians don’t base their behavior on what the Church says – they base it on what Jesus Christ says. This may sound as if I’m splitting hairs since the Catholic Church’s mission is to preserve, protect and pass on those Words. I don’t think so, however. You see, when people hear “the Church says” they often think not of Jesus but of the Church hierarchy and religious they know and there’s always some among those groups who are deeply flawed. This gives one the psychological out to say, “Who the hell are they to tell me what to do?” It would be much more effective, imho, to repeat ad nauseam, “This is what Jesus Christ teaches”, “This is what Jesus Christ commands”. It’s very hard, psychologically, for a Christian to find fault with Jesus. In fact, it’s impossible, if he wants to call himself a Christian. A person’s conscience must be pricked and you’re not going to do that if you keep telling him he has to do something because “the Church says so”. That may have worked in the past but in our current societies it’s a non-starter. Catholics will obey what the Catholic Church says only if they first know it is what Jesus Christ said. Unfortunately the Catholic learned, academic elite too often park Jesus at the side while they quote with great relish encyclicals and letters and Pope so and so said this and that that glaze over the average person’s eyes. You can’t build up the walls until you first lay the foundation and that’s the one thing the Church doesn’t seem very interested in doing anymore.

  4. TonyO says:

    Gracie, I would caveat what you said with a qualification: it depends on whom you are speaking to. If it is someone who is divorced and remarried, they almost certainly have heard that the Church does not consider the second marriage valid (either they tried to get a priest to do the 2nd marriage and he refused, or they did not try because they knew it would not happen), so telling them “The Church doesn’t consider your marriage valid” is just repeating what they already know and have already repudiated and then grew calluses to avoid “dealing” with it. The calluses get in the way of their “hearing” what you say.

    But if you are talking to children, or teaching teens what “the Church says” and why, and so on, it is certainly a necessary part of their education to know definitively both that “Jesus said it” and that “the Church has always explained what Jesus said this way”. Not pointing out the unanimity of historical Church teaching on this FAILS to educate fully.

    It is also a part of properly teaching the youth to recognize WHY the unanimous agreement of the Apostles, the Fathers, the Doctors…etc matters, why it presents a critical feature of the teaching. Every teacher of doctrine – including parents – should make an effort to distinguish in what way the Church teaches something. That she proposes something as “pious belief” versus “infallibly asserted, irreformable, and definitively to be held by all the faithful” are very different senses of “the Church teaches X”. Teens, especially, should be clued in on the difference between what the Church teaches definitively and what is not, so they know the boundaries of seeking to inform their faith versus “seeking to resolve doubts”, because it is a sin against the virtue of faith to knowingly doubt what has been taught as what must definitively be held by all the faithful.

  5. rhhenry says:


    Here’s the short version of my understanding of Paul Mankowski, SJ’s analysis of “porneia” in Matthew’s Gospel (it is basically the “Levitical Law View” referenced by Kevin earlier), found in his chapter in the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ”:

    “Porneia” is an attempt to render into Greek a Hebrew word. The Hebrew word is best translated into English as “incest.” Jesus is therefore saying, “No one can get divorced. By the way, you’ll note that this prohibition does not technically apply to those of you in incestuous marriages, because you are not actually married at all, because your attempt at marriage failed because of being too closely related to your intended spouse.” This exception was put in to clarify things for some converts who were worried about abandoning their (incestuous) spouses in order to live chastely; they would not actually be divorcing their spouses when they abandoned their invalid marriages.

    Mankowski sums up his own analysis thus: “For this reason the Matthaean qualifications may be termed diriment exceptives, inasmuch as they are not strictly speaking exceptions to a rule, but conditions under which the rule is logically otiose. The same holds true if the referent of [the original Hebrew word] is broadened to include polygamy [. . .] .”

    The entire book was very good, and overall not too difficult to follow. It has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of our own marriage.

    I would not have read the book (available through, by the way, for anyone who has access) without it being promoted on this blog; for that, Fr. Z., I am grateful.

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    Just FYI — there’s a new book accusing Benedict XVI of being a modernist/postmodernist heretic.

    Prima facie it looks fairly dodgy, the text describing its argument (given above) appearing to have the common flaw of some Italian intellectualism of speciously arranging contents around some a priori presumption (here, fundamentally that Vatican II is a “modernist” Council expressing heresy, so that therefore all post Vatican II Popes must therefore be modernists as well), and then imagining that the thematic organisation of one’s content around such positions might be sufficient to demonstrate their validity (whereas in fact, only those already sympathetic to such arguments will be likely to be convinced by texts organised around such flaky, vague structures — ironically the descriptive text in the above link deliberately uses rhetorical vagueness to try and denounce theological vagueness).

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