Amoris Laetitia – The Accelerating Crisis

An article caught my attention not long ago, wherein the author posits that Amoris Laetitia was “really written to ‘normalize’ homosexuality.” [1] This is particularly interesting to me, since I recently wrote an analysis of some of the Pope’s statements on homosexuality [2], concluding that the Pope has effectively kept silent on his intentions for dealing with homosexuality in the Church, and that we have yet to clearly see the direction he is heading with respect to solving the problem of homosexuality within the Church, an issue he was first asked about in 2013. [3]

So this article, written by a priest who remains anonymous, comes as a direct answer to the uncertainty I noted, and it is certainly an alarming answer. The article stands in marked contrast to the reaction elsewhere throughout the Church to Amoris Laetitia, which has ranged from detailed criticisms of specific sentences all the way to aggressive and liberal implementation of certain statements in the document. But this is the first time I have seen a clear motivation, namely the “moral approval of homosexual behavior,” postulated as the goal of Amoris Laetitia.

If Father is right about the goal of Amoris Laetitia, and that goal is realized, then a whole host of dominoes in the moral architecture of the faith fall immediately. The fundamental connection between traditional marriage and human sexual activity primarily ordered to the transmission of life will have been decisively shattered, and will lead to, as Father convincingly argues, the overturning of “the entire moral order.” This will no doubt be catastrophic for the Church.

But are we facing that disaster yet? I have a nagging feeling that we have not seen the end of the controversial and confusing teaching issuing from the Vatican and certain senior members of the hierarchy. What we have seen with Amoris Laetitia is most probably the preliminary salvo of a bigger fight.

For the near term, I think it is quite reasonable to say that Amoris Laetitia has engendered massive confusion within the Church. I want to discuss here the varied reactions to Amoris Laetitia, and what those reactions might portend for the future.

The controversy resulting from Amoris Laetitia is due not only to its content, but also to its style of writing. This is a poorly written document, so poorly written that nobody really knows definitively what key texts within it mean. This is reflected in the structure of two of the major negative reactions to Amoris Laetitia, the famous “Dubia” questions written by four Cardinals to request clarification from the Pope himself regarding certain passages, and the list of censures to particular Amoris Laetitia propositions collectively produced by 45 theologians. [4, 5] The Dubia are written as questions which require yes or no answers, with the intent being to extract a precise meaning for the passages in question. If such questions must be asked, by no less than Cardinals, then those passages are ambiguous. The censured propositions addressed by the 45 theologians reflect a similar lack of certainty about the meaning of the troubling parts of the document. Each of the censured propositions begins with “If understood as meaning,” or similar conditional statements. Due to the way the document was written, even these theologians cannot tell exactly what the document intends to convey.

A key area which has been thrown into confusion by Amoris Laetitia is the Catholic discipline that sin involving objectively grave matter, regardless of an individual’s subjective culpability, prevents reception of holy Communion. For the case of the divorced and remarried, this discipline was clearly stated by Pope John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio 84:

“The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.” [6]

However, Amoris Laetitia can be read to imply that in certain exceptional cases, access to holy Communion for the divorced and remarried is permissible. This issue happens to be the subject of the first of the Dubia questions. It is included among the propositions listed as heretical by the 45 theologians, and it is also among the seven heretical propositions identified by 62 catholic scholars in August 2017 as requiring correction. [7]

This implication in Amoris Laetitia is of particular concern for two reasons. First, we all know what happens with exceptions – they quickly become the rule. John-Henry Westen relates how similar arguments for exceptional cases were used by the Anglicans to approve contraception in 1930 at the Lambeth Conference. [8] Second, the applicability of this change in discipline is not constrained to just the issue of the divorced and remarried. The thought process inherent here can be applied to any difficult situation in which the matter is objectively grave but individual subjective culpability may be mitigated. It breaks Pandora’s box wide open. The movement to expand this sort of thinking to other behaviors is already happening. Cardinal Kasper, for example, has used Amoris Laetitia to state that homosexual unions contain elements of Christian marriage and that it implicitly may support the use of contraception. [9,10]

The lack of clarity in Amoris Laetitia, and the significance of the doctrinal content in question, have led to the confused situation which now exists. Here are just a few examples illustrating the conflicting interpretations being taken by bishops around the world:

The bishops of Buenos Aires developed guidelines based on Amoris Laetitia in 2016, which explicitly offered “the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist” for the divorced and remarried. Subsequently, Pope Francis provided written approval to their interpretation, stating “There are no other interpretations.” [11]

The Kazakh bishops have confirmed the indissolubility of marriage, and denied any justification for admission of the divorced and remarried to holy Communion. [12]

The Polish bishops stated in June 2017 that the Church’s teaching on holy Communion for the divorced and remarried has not changed. [13]

The bishops of Malta have stated that the divorced and remarried “cannot be precluded from participating in . . . the Eucharist.” [14]

The Archdiocese of Washington has published a pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia. Although the document quotes liberally from Amoris Laetitia, including even some of the most controversial sentences, it also specifically states “No, the Church’s teaching has not changed; objective truth remains unaffected,” and “No, prudential judgments of individuals about their own situation do not set aside the objective moral order.” The document does not, however, address the the specific issue of holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. [15]

Matthew Brunson provided a recent summary documenting many further examples of conflicting responses among bishops regarding Amoris Laetitia, but notes that overall the great majority of Catholic bishops have so far remained silent. [16] This uneasy tension cannot be sustained. As these bishops are faced with responding to implementing guidance from their national bishops’ conferences, they will have to break their silence and take a stand. The next synod on youth in October 2018 should indicate whether forthcoming Church teaching will continue to incorporate ambiguous and controversial statements similar to those characteristic of Amoris Laetitia. Matthew McClusker warns that preparatory synod documents already show such attributes. [17]

The words of Hillaire Belloc, written in 1938 and defending the Church against what he called “The Modern Attack,” seem absolutely prescient:

“There is a clear issue now joined between the retention of Catholic morals, tradition, and authority on the one side, and the active effort to destroy them on the other side.” [18]

References

1. Anonymous. “Priest explains how Amoris Laetitia was really written to ‘normalize’ homosexuality.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/priest-explains-how-amoris-laetitia-was-really-written-to-normalize-homosex

2. Newton, Lawrence. “Those 5 Words – Revisited.” TheProgressivePandemic.
http://theprogressivepandemic.com/2018/04/28/who-am-i-to-judge-revisited/

3. “Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight, Papal Flight, Sunday, 28 July 2013.” Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day.

4. Pentin, Edward. “Full Text and Explanatory Notes of Cardinals’ Questions on ‘Amoris Laetitia’”
NCRegister.
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/full-text-and-explanatory-notes-of-cardinals-questions-on-amoris-laetitia

5. Skojec, Steve. “Theological Censures Against Amoris Laetitia Revealed.” Onepeterfive.
https://onepeterfive.com/theological-censures-amoris-laetitia-revealed/

6 . “Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Pope John Paul II to the Episcopate to the Clergy and to the Faithful of the Whole Catholic Church on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (22 November 1981).” Apostolic Exhortations.
https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html

7. “Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis.” Correctiofilialis.
www.correctiofilialis.org

8. Westen, John-Henry. “Anglicans approved contraception with ‘Amoris Laetitia’ argument. Here’s how Pope Pius XI responded.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/anglicans-approved-contraception-with-amoris-laetitia-argument.-heres-how-p

9. Laurence, Lianne. “Cardinal Kasper: Pope’s silence on contraception in Amoris may mean approval.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-kasper-makes-contraception-proposal-the-popes-silence-may-mean-go-

10. Hoffman, Matthew Cullinan. “Cardinal Kasper: Homosexual unions are ‘analogous’ to Christian marriage.” Lifesitenews. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-kasper-homosexual-unions-are-analogous-to-christian-marriage

11. “Guidelines of Buenos Aires bishops on divorced/remarried.” Cruxnow: Global Church.
https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2016/09/18/guidelines-buenos-aires-bishops-divorcedremarried/

12. “Kazakh bishops affirm indissolubility of marriage – and its implications.” Catholic World Report.
https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/01/02/kazakh-bishops-affirm-indissolubility-of-marriage-and-its-implications/

13. “Polish Bishops Say “No!” To Amoris Laetita…Silence From Scots Hierarchy.” Catholictruthblog.
https://catholictruthblog.com/2017/06/09/polish-bishops-say-no-to-amoris-laetita-silence-from-scots-hierarchy/

14. Pentin, Edward. “The Puzzling Backstory to Controversial Maltese Directive.” NCRegister.
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/the-puzzling-backstory-to-maltese-bishops-controversial-directive

15. His Eminence Donald Cardinal Weurl, Archbishop of Washington. Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family – A Pastoral plan to Implement Amoris Laetitia. Archdiocese of Washington, 2018.

16. Bunson, Matthew E. “Amoris Laetitia Remains Amorphous.” NCRegister. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/amoris-laetitia-remains-amorphous

17. McClusker, Matthew. “Vatican Youth Synod Poses New Threat to Faith and Family.” Voiceofthefamily. http://voiceofthefamily.com/vatican-youth-synod-poses-new-threat-to-faith-and-family/

18. Belloc, Hillaire. The Great Heresies. Milwaukee: Cavalier Books, 2015, page 128.