But that hardly eliminates the massive problem with this utterly unprecedented 256-page “apostolic exhortation.” What motivates all the pages to follow here is that Pope Francis has promulgated Amoris Laetitia as if it were an authentic and binding act of the Magisterium and that it will be treated as such by his collaborators and by ecclesial progressives throughout the Catholic world. Amoris Laetitia is, therefore, yet another addition to The Great Façade of pseudo-doctrines in the form of non-binding pastoral and disciplinary novelties and new attitudes and “approaches”—all emerging for the first time during that great epoch of enlightenment known as the Sixties. These include the new liturgy (which the faithful were never actually required to attend), “ecumenism,” “dialogue” and “interreligious dialogue.” Their combined effects have been ruinous.
And now this.A commentary at the Rorate Caeli blog site said what had to be said for the sake of truth: “There’s no other way to put it: The pope’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia is a catastrophe.” Voice of the Family likewise recognized what was immediately apparent from a reading of the critical Chapter 8: “Our initial overview provides sufficient cause to regard this document as a threat to the integrity of the Catholic faith and the authentic good of the family.”
Even normally middle-of-the-road commentators have not concealed their alarm over the document’s patent downgrading of Our Lord’s demanding teaching in the realm of sexual morality and Francis’s thematic argument that “mitigating factors” and “concrete situations” somehow convert mortally sinful adultery and fornication into mere “irregularities” falling short of the “ideal” of Christian marriage but nonetheless possessing “constructive elements.” See extended discussion at II.
EWTN’s show The World Over presented a politely devastating critique by Fr. Gerald Murray, Robert Royal and Raymond Arroyo. The participants described passages to be examined here as “dangerous,” “very disturbing,” “very problematic,” “not the language of the Gospel,” “very odd,” “very strange,” “a big mistake,” “set[ting] up straw men to knock down,” “a direct contradiction of John Paul II in Familiaris consortio and subsequent documents,” “not in accord with what the Church has said until now,” “false mercy” favorable to “‘Father Friendly’ who wants to sell the store,” that would make receiving Communion “a badge of honor that you receive even you though you know what you are doing is contrary to the teaching of the Church,” and an “attempt to paper over what really is a change of doctrine… but denying that you’re changing the doctrine.” As Arroyo observed, according to the general tenor of the document “the exception becomes a very difficult rule, or no rule at all” while the Church, to quote Father Murray, becomes involved in “the excuse-making business, not the Gospel business.” Given the last word, Father Murray, citing the natural right of the faithful to voice their concerns as recognized by the Code of Canon Law, concluded:
Flattery would mean we keep our mouths shut and say nothing. But Gospel frankness… calls upon us to say, Holy Father, either you have been poorly advised or you have an incomplete conception of this issue…
I don’t want to criticize the pope…. but what I will say is when you do something in public that contradicts what your predecessor did, there has to be an accounting for it and a responsibility to upholding the gospel, and I think that’s what many bishops, Cardinals and priests will call for.
In The Catholic Thing, Robert Royal dismissed the claim of the usual whitewashers that Francis has not authorized Holy Communion for public adulterers in “certain cases” (as shown below). That is exactly what he has done, as Francis himself just admitted during his inflight press conference on the return from Greece. See Part II at (6). Royal laments the inevitable consequences:
Writing for LifeSiteNews, Philip Lawler stated:
Amoris Laetitia— “The Joy of Love”—is not a revolutionary document. It is a subversive one…. Unfortunately, the net effect of the Pope’s approach will very likely be an acceleration of an already powerful trend to dismiss the Church’s perennial teaching, and therefore a decline in respect for the pastoral ministry he hopes to encourage [emphasis added here and throughout].
Catholic World Report, published by Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., presented a symposium of articles on the document, nearly all of them strongly critical in some respect, particularly concerning Chapter 8, the focus of this commentary:
· Father Fessio’s fellow Jesuit, James V. Schall, S.J., agreed that the overall document has a subversive impact respecting the Church’s teaching on sexual immorality and grave sin in general: “But when we add it all up, it often seems that the effect of this approach is to lead us to conclude that no “sin” has ever occurred. Everything has an excusing cause…. One goes away from this approach not being sorry for his sins but relieved in realizing that he has never really sinned at all.”
· Carl E. Olson called Amoris Laetitia “profound and muddled,” noting that “Francis apparently plays a bit fast and loose with some of his arguments and sources.” (Not apparently and not a bit, but actually and quite seriously, as we shall see.)
· The renowned canonist Edward Peters lamented Amoris Laetitia’s “more-than-occasional resort to platitudes, caricatures of competing points of view, and self-quotation…” He noted a “serious misuse of a conciliar teaching [in] Gaudium et spes 51” (a veritable fraud to be discussed below) and marvels at Francis’s astonishing opinion that there can be “proven fidelity” and “Christian commitment” in “chronically adulterous relationships” following “the public and permanent abandonment of a previous spouse.”
· Eduardo Echeverria, Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, offered a series of severe criticisms:
“Francis seems almost (not quite, but almost) incapable of acknowledging that an individual is sinfully responsible for rejecting the truth of marriage and family” …
“So, with all due respect to Francis, I think that he does imply support for the “gradualness of the law” and hence by implication opens the door to a “situation ethics.” (That is exactly what he has done, as I show below.)
Francis “does encourage the ‘dimming of the light’ because he downgrades the moral force of this normative [moral] order when he speaks of ‘rules’ here. He wants to create a moral space to regard a person as inculpable, resorting even to calling those who want to apply these norms unconditionally (in his mind, at this point “mere rules”) as sporting a ‘cold bureaucratic morality.’… This conclusion appears to be a far cry from theCatechism of the Catholic Church…”
Must We Sift the Good from the Bad—Again?
Yet despite such damning (however muted) comments, the above-quoted “mainstream” commentators were at pains to stress the orthodox elements to be found in its meandering 256 pages of promiscuously verbose text. These include a forthright condemnation of abortion at paragraph 83. (Even this, however, is mingled with the false declaration in the same paragraph that “the Church”—meaning Francis—“firmly rejects the death penalty.”) But why should any member of the faithful have to devote any effort to separating out the orthodox parts of a papal document that, as even these mainstream commentators observe, will lead to chaos and conflict in the Church, is subversive, conveys the overall impression that mortal sins are all more or less excusable, resorts to misleading citations, dishonest arguments and caricatures of opposing views, and opens the door to the gross evil of situation ethics?
If a world-renowned head chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant served us a cake whose recipe included “1 tsp. cyanide,” we would hardly praise the other wholesome ingredients because of the chef’s prestige. We would throw the thing away and have him arrested. Where an admittedly subversive “Apostolic Exhortation” is concerned, the faithful have no duty to parse it for acceptable Catholic teaching on marriage and family. Have we not had more than enough of this nonsense? It is not the responsibility of the faithful to “purify” defective papal teaching with defensive post-publication commentaries that “accentuate the positive” while ignoring the negative. It is the Pope’s responsibility to give the faithful teaching whose purity they can trust implicitly in the first place—on every page of every document.
After three years of this sort of thing, we have learned well that this pontificate is a continuing demonstration of the strict limits of papal infallibility, a charism that ends at the frontiers of novelty, where Francis fancies himself a bold pioneer. There is no more telling comment on this document than Father Zuhlsdorf’s initial declaration that “We have dodged a bullet, at least dodged a round to center mass.” Nothing could be more revealing of the disaster of this whole pontificate than the inadvertent recognition that Francis is like some active shooter on a college campus, and that we should be glad he missed or only winged us. Whew. That was a close one!
As for those parts of Amoris Laetitia which affirm, however verbosely, aspects of traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we already have that teaching inabundance from innumerable sources of the infallible Magisterium, includingbeautifully written landmark encyclicals, to which faithful Catholics have already given assent of mind and will. As for unfaithful Catholics, they will not even bother to read the thing, but will simply be content with the news, now being trumpeted throughout the world, that Francis has lightened up on all that “adultery” business. And if, at the end of the tumultuous “synodal journey” that Francis insisted upon and stage-managed from start to finish, tradition-minded Catholics are supposed to exult merely because he did not do what he had no power to do anyway— “change doctrine”—then what was the point of the whole “Synod on the Family”?
The answer to this question is now obvious to anyone in possession of his reason. The Synod was merely the delivery vehicle for Amoris Laetitia, wherein Francis, as I will demonstrate below, finally arrives at the destination he has arranged from the beginning: admission of “certain” (ultimately all) divorced and “remarried” Catholics, along with other habitual public sinners of the sexual variety, to Confession and Holy Communion without prior repentance and amendment of life. The bare doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage is left untouched—indeed paragraph after paragraph of flowery praise is heaped upon it—while Francis’s plan for ignoring it in practice is finally confirmed. Amoris Laetitia widens to commodious dimensions the opening for that outcome already created by the infamous paragraphs 84-86 of the final report of Synod 2015.
But there is more. Exceeding even the most pessimistic predictions, Francis goes beyond his sham of a Synod to proclaim what amounts to a de facto ecclesial “amnesty” on grave sexual immorality generally, if that were possible. This outcome is reached via the document’s reduction of the Church’s moral teaching to “general rules,” Christian marriage to an “ideal,” and even the natural law itself to an “objective ideal” from which departures are deemed excusable based on “mitigating factors” and “concrete situations”—that is, situation ethics, as Professor Echeverria recognizes.
As this essay will show, this catastrophic breakthrough for the neo-Modernist insurgency is found in Chapter 8, whose bizarre title says it all: “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.” Read that title again and ponder its implications before reading further. See discussion at Part II (1) - (5).
As Francis would have it, the Church will now integrate unrepentant, habitual, public mortal sinners into ecclesial life, even though the Church has always taught, for their own salvation, that they are not living members of the Church until they repent, are absolved of their sins, and are restored to the life of sanctifying grace. This “integration” plan will include, but not be limited to, those living in adulterous second “marriages” or simply cohabitating with no intention of ending their immoral situations. This is to be done on the pretext that such people are just so helpless in their sins that they cannot be deemed culpable for them or be required to amend their lives at present, and that “mercy” requires that the Church accommodate their “weakness” until they “grow” spiritually at some point in the indefinite future. But what of God’s grace? In the usual postconciliar mode of Modernist doubletalk, Amoris Laetitia blatantly contradicts itself by declaring: “Through his Church, Christ bestows on marriage and the family the grace necessary to bear witness to the love of God and to live the life of communion (¶ 63).”
If only this were a joke. But Francis is deadly serious. Of course, what I say here requires a demonstration, which follows. It will be quite detailed and thus quite lengthy, but a matter this grave must be demonstrated entirely with the words at issue, and that requires extensive analysis, not general characterizations of the document.
CHAPTERS 1-7: INTIMATIONS OF SUBVERSION
While the focus of this commentary is Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, the preceding chapters contain numerous intimations of the subversion to follow. These rhetorical appetizers for the main course tend to undermine or disparage the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and family and the modern threats to both expounded by a line of great Popes before Vatican II. (There are token citations to Pius XI and Pius XII, but nothing of their uncompromising “rigorism” finds its way into the text).
1. The bombshell in paragraph 3.
From its very outset, Amoris Laetitia unveils an astonishing theme of ethical relativization according to local and individual circumstances. Quoting one of his own peculiar sayings, Francis declares:
Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs…. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.
The implications are obvious and devastating. The passage is clearly designed to pave the way for each region or nation to adopt its own culture-bound “interpretation” of the Church’s universal Eucharistic discipline respecting the divorced and “remarried” and other habitual public mortal sinners, and indeed its own interpretation of other “general principles,” including “some aspects” of Church teaching. As he has throughout the “synodal journey,” Francis invokes “the Spirit” as a continuing source of “revelation” that “guides us toward the entire truth”—hidden until now!—and finally “leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does.” In short, the “God of surprises” Francis introduced to the world at the end of Synod 2014. An alarmingly gnostic view of discipline and doctrine is apparent.
During the EWTN critique mentioned above, Robert Royal noted that paragraph 3 would in practice lead to “this absurd situation that you can get in your car and drive to Poland, and if you are divorced and remarried and receive Holy Communion it’s a sacrilege and a break with Tradition, a slapping across the face of Our Lord. You drive across into Germany and suddenly it’s this new outpouring of mercy and openness to dialogue.”
2. A plate of subversive hors d’oeuvres.
After this ominous overture, Amoris Laetitia serves up numerous hints of the coming subversion amidst pious praise of “God’s plan” for marriage. I highly recommend Chris Jackson’s brilliant dissection and discussion of these tendentious elements, among which he identifies the following:
· praise for the supposedly more “equitable distribution of duties, responsibilities, and tasks” in the “modern” family versus the “older forms and models” (35);
· a laughably feeble protestation that the Church “can hardly stop advocating marriage” because this would be “depriving the world of values that we can and must offer” (35);
· the claim that “there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things”—when Francis never ceases decrying the “present-day evils” he considers most urgent, all of which happen to be politically correct targets (35);
· the false accusation that the Church’s teaching on marriage “is overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation” versus the so-called “unitive” aspect, when exactly the opposite is true (36);
· the false accusation that the Church has presented an “excessive idealization” and an “artificial theological ideal” of marriage” (36);
· the false accusations that the Church has long been “stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace” and has unjustly neglected to “make room for the consciences of the faithful” (37)—an obvious setup for Chapter 8;
· the declaration that “[s]urely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence,” conspicuously failing to specify what is meant by “older forms of the traditional family” (32);
· a rather sly, matter-of-fact mention of “same-sex unions” as part of the “great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability,” even if they “may not simply be equated with marriage” (53)—thus implicitly abandoning the Church’s teaching on the moral duty to oppose legalization and resist implementation of any form of such “unions”;
· subtle demotion of the “indissoluble union between a man and a woman” to merely the one “family situation” that has “a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment”—meaning that “same-sex unions” can have a lesser role, which is quite in keeping with Francis’s refusal to offer any opposition to their legalization in Ireland, the United States and even Italy (52);
· “feminine emancipation” is praised and absolved of any blame for “today’s problems,” while those who think otherwise are accused of “male chauvinism” (54);
· the astounding suggestion—from a Roman Pontiff, no less—that because it is “important to have the freedom to realize that pleasure can find different expressions at different times of life… we can appreciate the teachings of some Eastern masters who urge us to expand our consciousness, lest we be imprisoned by one limited experience that can blinker us” (149);
· a flat rejection of the Scriptural admonition “wives be subject to your husbands,” here replaced by Saint Paul’s other admonition “be subject to one another,” which has nothing to do with the order of authority in the family (156);
· the claim that Catholic priests lack pastoral knowledge of family problems and should learn from the “experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy…”—a veiled indication of what is probably the destination of the next “synodal journey”: the beginning of the abolition of priestly celibacy. (202)
In short, by the time we reach Chapter 8, where nearly all of the damage is done, the reader is prepared for the Big Reveal.
An Essay In Subversion
With good reason does Phil Lawler call Amoris Laetitia a “subversive” document that will likely cause “an acceleration of an already powerful trend to dismiss the Church’s perennial teaching.” To read Chapter 8, comprising paragraphs 291-312, is to understand that these pages, which explicitly advocate “accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness” in the Church, could not have been more cleverly written for subversive ends.
(1) “Moral ecumenism” and praise of “irregular” sexual relationships; Christian marriage reduced to an ideal (291-294).
Amoris Laetitia attempts to invest with the cloak of the Magisterium the preposterous “moral ecumenism” first floated at Synod 2015. According to this repellant novelty, the Church is now supposed to recognize the “constructive elements” in relationships she has traditionally condemned as mortally sinful, including second “marriages” and “even simple cohabitation,” so long as they tick enough boxes on a new checklist of “constructive features” that supposedly confer nobility on illicit sexual unions: “stability,” “deep affection,” “responsibility for offspring” and “an ability to overcome trials in the midst of a storm.” (293)
Just as “ecumenism” harps incessantly on the “good elements” in false religions laden with heresy and superstition, leaving their practitioners undisturbed in their errors, the newly invented moral ecumenism of the Synod of Francis will now harp incessantly on the good elements in false relationships involving adultery and fornication, leaving their participants undisturbed in sin. In 2016, after the Synod, the concept of living in sin is suddenly abolished, just as the concept of being outside the one true Church was suddenly abolished after Vatican II.
Accordingly, also in line with ecumenism, Amoris Laetitia now informs us that “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament…” (292) The reader will readily guess what is coming next: “Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way.”
So, Christian marriage now becomes the “fullness” of marriage, while illicit sexual unions of various kinds are seriously described as “partially” realizing this “ideal.” In like manner, the Catholic Church is “ecumenically” described as merely possessing the “fullness of truth” while other religions have a more or less acceptable quantum of it. Thus everyone is safe right where he is, although it would be better to have “fullness.” The effects of this notion on conversions to Catholicism are obvious; the effect will be the same on conversions to Christian marriage.
The next element of subversion (quoting Synod 2015) is a moral justification of civil marriage and even cohabitation as alternatives to the “ideal” of Christian marriage: “The choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situations…. celebrating marriage is considered too expensive in the social circumstance. As a result, material poverty drives people into de facto unions.” (294)
One can only laugh at the Synod’s claim that poverty makes a simple Catholic wedding ceremony impossible, or that “shacking up” is less expensive than living in Holy Matrimony under the same roof with the same person. One is reminded here of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, which sought to undermine Christian marriage and promote divorce by cataloguing various “cultural alternatives” to the divine institution as dry anthropological facts. (294)
According to Francis, “de facto unions” are now to be viewed as “opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.” (294) Thus people living in sin are now said to have “part” of the reality of marriage—a proposition as nonsensical as the claim that heretics who reject the very existence of the Catholic Church and practice various forms of gravely sinful sexual immorality are somehow in “partial communion” with her.
What Romano Amerio has called the “loss of essences” in postconciliar thinking—a tendency to avoid distinguishing with exactitude good from bad, true from false, licit from illicit and often even one thing from another—now claims Christian marriage and even the moral law itself. The reduction of marriage to an “ideal” radically undermines respect for the divine institution Francis purports to defend, and the only licit conjugal relation between man and woman now becomes the mere end point on a scale of relational choices, all of which are to be viewed as more or less good. Mortally sinful sexual unions are no longer to be treated as threats to salvation, but only as stages in a “gradual” moral development.
This “loss of essences” is practically a theme in Amoris Laetitia. Accordingly, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, notorious for his “gay-friendly” and pro-divorce orientation, rejoiced during his presentation of the document to the world: “My great joy as a result of this document resides in the fact that it coherently overcomes that artificial, superficial, clear division between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’…”—that is, between moral and immoral conjugal unions.
(2) “Integrating weakness” of those in immoral sexual unions; objective conduct and consequent scandal and profanation of the Eucharist ignored (295-299).
As I have noted before on these pages in reference to Synod 2015’s final report, the Church’s perennial ban on the reception of Holy Communion by public adulterers in purported “second marriages” is no mere changeable discipline. Rather, as the Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts observed in 2000, rejecting the very effort Francis has been spearheading for the past three years, that discipline, while enshrined in Canon 915, “is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws….”
The issue is not the subjective culpability in particular cases of the divorced and “remarried,” as implausible as the claim that they are unaware of their sinful condition may be. Rather, the real issue as framed by the Pontifical Council is this:
[T]he reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage.
That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact, it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.
Thus, Amoris Laetitia purports to abolish a discipline that cannot be abolished without violating divine law. It does so by the two-step of a general “integration” according to “pastoral discernment” conducted by parish priests, followed ultimately by admission to the sacraments in “certain cases” according to the same “discernment.”
First, “integration.” Here Francis gets down to the business of “playing fast and loose” with his arguments and sources, to recall Carl Olsen’s comment. Just as Synod 2015 did, Francis misleadingly cites John Paul II for a supposed “law of gradualness” in obeying “the objective demands of the law.” (295) But in Familiaris consortio John Paul II was actually speaking of spiritual progress while rejecting any notion of “gradual” acceptance of moral precepts that bind all men:
And so what is known as “the law of gradualness” or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with “gradualness of the law,” as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. (Familiaris consortio, 34).
As we shall see, Francis is proposing precisely that there be “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” He contrives to avoid the accusation by asserting that while the moral law is the same for all, the duty of obedience to the law can vary according to “concrete circumstances,” which is just “gradualness of the law” in disguise or situation ethics by another name.
Next, “Discernment of ‘Irregular Situations.’” Here Francis—quoting the Synod he stacked with progressives to insure generation of the verbiage on which he now relies—begins to hurl revolutionary thunderbolts:
The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever… there is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition…. (296)
It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves. (297)
In other words, people living in an objective condition of mortal sin need not repent and amend their lives because “no one can be condemned for ever.” Apparently, Francis envisions a kind of statute of limitations on mortal sin, upon the expiration of which it no longer constitutes any real impediment to ecclesial life. No, the “weakness” of everyone must be “integrated” sooner or later! Above all, that of the divorced and “remarried.”
Francis next provides some suggested criteria for a new procedure of ranking the quality of relations constituting public adultery:
The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. (298)
Incredibly enough, we have a Pope who seriously proposes that some public adulterers be given First Class treatment, while others perhaps should remain in Coach, at least for part of their “journey” toward “integration.” That a Roman Pontiff could declare in a papal document that public adulterers of any kind exhibit “fidelity” and “Christian commitment” makes one wonder if Francis thinks that, after fifty years of “ecumenical dialogue,” it is time for the Catholic Church to emulate the Anglican Church in recognition of Henry VIII’s groundbreaking foray into “Catholic divorce.” His surprise attack annulment “reform” certainly moves in that direction.
Performing his next sleight of hand with sources, Francis again quotes John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio (84), this time for the proposition that “The Church acknowledges situations ‘where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.’” (298) There are no ellipses to indicate the missing words before and after, which Francis clearly wishes to conceal. The complete sentence reads: “This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
What does Francis have to say about John Paul II’s teaching, also the constant teaching of the Church, that divorced and civilly remarried couples who cannot separate because of children must live in complete continence and abstain from all further adulterous sexual relations? It defies belief, but there it is, buried in a footnote to the misleadingly cropped quotation.
In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility [!] of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 51).
Notice, first of all, how the footnote further misrepresents John Paul II’s teaching by reducing his affirmation of a positive moral duty in such cases to a mere “possibility” that the Church “offers.” What besides horror mingled with fear should the faithful experience when a Roman Pontiff suggests that people living in adultery need “intimacy” in order to remain “faithful” to their partners in adultery and for the good of the children.
Worse, as Sandro Magister so trenchantly notes, Francis has delivered “a slap in the face” to the faithful Catholics who have obeyed the constant teaching John Paul reaffirmed by living chastely in situations of civil “remarriage” where children make separation impossible: “It is said to them in fact that in doing this they could do harm to their new family, because ‘if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’ The implication is that the others [the divorced and “remarried”] do better to live a full life as spouses, even in second civil marriages, and perhaps now even receiving Communion.”
Adding insult to insult, the same strategic footnote contains still another misrepresentation of source material. The quotation from paragraph 51 of Gadium et spes actually refers to the situation of validly married couples in which one or both spouses avoid marital relations out of a disordered fear of having children. Moreover, the quotation is wholly inaccurate. As the English text at the Vatican website reads: “But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered.” Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the phrase “courage to accept new ones” is missing from Francis’s quotation.
Turning to his primary aim in “integrating weakness”—Holy Communion for the divorced and “remarried”—Francis next “agrees” with what his manipulated Synod declared:
[T]he baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal…. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surmounted. (299)
Thus, all restrictions on the performance of ecclesial functions by public adulterers, from being godparents and “Eucharistic ministers” to teaching religion classes, are now to be reviewed as unjust “forms of exclusion.” The outcome Francis desires is that all such restrictions are eventually abolished, as he demanded more than a year ago:
They are not excommunicated, that is true. But they cannot be godparents at baptism, they cannot read the readings in the mass, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach catechism, they cannot do some seven things. I have the list here. Stop! If I take account of this it seems they are excommunicated de-facto… Why can’t they be godparents?
This “integration” of adulterers (and cohabiters), which would rather conveniently benefit Francis’s divorced and “remarried” sister and cohabiting nephew, is to be accomplished through “[c]onversation with the priest, in the internal forum,” where “discernment” will assess the public sinner’s “humility, discretion and love for the Church” before granting “exceptions.” The exceptions will not be granted “quickly,” but will ultimately be granted. (299)
Intimating what is to come in paragraph 305, paragraph 300 and its footnote tie “integration” specifically to the sacraments. After alluding to “the immense variety of concrete situations” among the divorced and “remarried” and others living in “irregular” unions—as if the word “concrete” adds something to the question—Francis, quoting Synod 2015 but going beyond it, calls for a “pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”
The italicized words are Francis’s alone, including what will be a thematic reduction of moral laws to “rules.” The footnote, citing nothing but his own views in Evangelii Gaudium, undeniably prepares the way for Holy Communion to be given to public adulterers deemed subjectively inculpable according to the new “discernment”:
336. This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in another document applies: cf. Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 44 and 47: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1040.
In sum, Francis’s novel “pastoral discernment” ignores objective conduct in favor of a programmatically indulgent presumption that people living in a continual state of public adultery are subjectively blameless for a myriad of reasons that could be found in their “concrete” situations. According to this approach, it would be impossible to insist that anyone is “subjectively” in a state of mortal sin that would impede his participation in any aspect of ecclesial life no matter what his “objective” behavior. This idea will eventuate in the explicit opening to Confession and Holy Communion in paragraph 305.
(3) The moral law reduced to “general rules”; Saint Thomas abused (301-302).
In the already infamous paragraph 301, Francis next delivers an even broader revolutionary proclamation: “Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are depriv(ed of sanctifying grace.” This ipse dixit covers cohabiters, “remarried” divorcees and presumably even “partners” in the “same-sex unions” that Francis has already cited (53) as an example of the “great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability” even if they may not “simply be equated” with marriage.
Note the key phrase “no longer”—that is, now that Francis is Pope, but not before him. Amazingly, Francis does not even care whether those who are living in sin know that the Church teaches they are sinning, which teaching he demotes to a “rule”: “More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values,’ or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.” (301) It is rhetorically essential to call the moral law a “rule” because the phrase “he may know well the moral law yet have great difficulty in understanding its inherent values” connotes a sociopath, not a poor “abandoned” sinner whose “love” is “wounded.”
The Catholic mind staggers before the spectacle of Pope who, for rhetorical convenience, reduces the moral law to “rules” from which one can be excused if he does not appreciate their “value” or his “concrete situation” supposedly makes compliance impossible—as if the precepts of the natural law were a set of traffic regulations. Saint Paul infallibly teaches that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).” Francis, however, apparently doesn’t agree with the word of God on this particular point. Neither did Martin Luther, whose launching of the “Reformation” Francis will be celebrating next year in Sweden, including a joint liturgy with Lutheran ministers whose churches reject the indissolubility of marriage, condone contraception and abortion, ordain women and practicing homosexuals as “priests” and “bishops,” and support the legalization of “same-sex unions” that Francis has consistently failed to oppose. Perhaps this is just a coincidence.
In support of this enormity, Francis argues that Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that “someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well; in other words, although someone may possess infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult.” Here Francis misleadingly quotes Saint Thomas’s observation, not his teaching, in the Summa Theologiae that “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues.”
But this citation to the Summa is utter nonsense. Infused virtues, unlike the corresponding acquired ones, are animated by supernatural charity, not merely the habit of acting virtuously. Saint Thomas is not discussing sinners whose objective conduct—in this case, adultery, as Our Lord Himself calls it—contradicts the very existence of an infused virtue, or any virtue, of chastity. Rather, Thomas’s subject is saints who possess all the infused virtues, can exercise them, albeit with some difficulty, and do not act habitually in a manner that is even objectively sinful. What a shameful abuse of the Angelic Doctor! As a clearly aghast Fr. Murray observed during the EWTN panel discussion: “I can’t believe a good group of Thomists won’t have a response to that.”
Proceeding with his rules theory of the moral law, in paragraph 302 Francis cites two sections of the new Catechism (§§ 1735 and 2352) concerning factors that might diminish subjective culpability for particular sinful actions. But that principle of moral theology applies to individual sinful acts such as masturbation (§2352), not a continuing state of public immorality and consequent scandal without repentance or any firm purpose of amendment.
As to public adultery in particular, the two sections of the Catechism that Francis studiously fails to mention even once in 256 pages demolish his theory:
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’… If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law [and] and cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists…. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” (§ 1651)
Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery… (§ 2384)
Evidently hoping to forestall or mitigate what he knew was a coming disaster, the retired curial Cardinal Walter Brandmüller issued a statementonly days prior to the publication of Amoris Laetitia (since repeated in substance) which, in keeping with the Catechism and the Church’s invariant teaching, declares that one “who, in spite of an existing marriage bond, enters after a divorce into a new civil union, is committing adultery” and “cannot receive either absolution in Confession nor the Eucharist (Holy Communion) [if he] is not willing to put an end this situation…” Obviously there can be no “exceptions” for certain individuals because “What is fundamentally impossible for reasons of Faith is also impossible in the individual case.” The Cardinal concluded: “The post-synodal document, Amoris Laetitia, is therefore to be interpreted in light of the above-presented principles, especially since a contradiction between a papal document and the Catechism of the Catholic Church would not be imaginable.”
For Francis, however, the contradiction is quite imaginable. He apparently believes he can make it a reality by his own fiat, without the least regard for the contrary teaching of his predecessors—indeed, without regard for truth itself, which the casuistic reasoning of Amoris Laetitia has already twisted repeatedly to get this far. Francis deems it sufficient that during his own minutely stage-managed sham of a Synod “many Synod Fathers”—including those with whom he stacked the proceeding—were of the view that “[u]nder certain circumstances people find it difficult to act differently,” so that “while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” (302)
According to Francis’s moral theory, then, every moral precept would be a “general rule” admitting of exceptions under “difficult” circumstances. The theory is founded on nothing more than his own opinion, quotations from his own documents and ad-libbed homilies, a misleading reference to the teaching of Saint Thomas, and whatever appreciation for situation ethics Francis might have imbibed during his studies and ecclesiastical career.
(4) Supremacy of the individual conscience over morality as “rules” (303).
Next, in paragraph 303, Francis decrees a new supremacy of the individual conscience over the Church’s “rules” on marriage and family. The Drudge Report trumpeted this development under the headline “Age of the Individual Conscience.” Quoth Francis: “Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.”
Apparently, Francis seriously believes that all the Popes, saints, great theologians and doctors of the Church somehow overlooked this important task during the 2,000 years preceding his arrival from Buenos Aires.
Leaving no doubt of the magnitude of his theological coup attempt, Francis even declares that a well-formed conscience, which knows what the “general rule” requires, can still claim an exemption from the “rule” if it “honestly” decides God does not require full compliance at the moment. Believe it or not, the following is the opinion of a Roman Pontiff:
Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever-greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.
It seems impossible to believe that a Roman Pontiff would promulgate a document declaring that even a well-formed conscience is excused from obedience to the moral law it knows if less than obedience is what the actor deems sufficient “for now,” and that God would approve this departure from “the ideal.” How is this passage alone anything other than a sign of an apocalyptic turn of events in the Church?
(5) The natural law undermined; Saint Thomas abused again (304-305).
In paragraph 304 Francis expands his idea that moral precepts are “general rules” not always applicable to particular situations: “It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.” This echoes the previous paragraph’s incredible assertion that even a well-formed conscience may inform an actor that, “for now,” God does not wish him to comply with the “general rule”—i.e., the moral law, which now joins marriage in a kind of Platonic realm of the “ideal.”
Here Francis perpetrates another shameful abuse of the teaching of Saint Thomas in the Summa, deceptively quoted out of context (like the teaching of John Paul II in Familiaris consortio) in order to attack the natural law itself:
Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail. (ST, I-II, Q. 94, art. 4).
Based on this cropped quotation, Francis dares to enlist the Angelic Doctor in support of his claim that “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.”
This is simply outrageous. Saint Thomas is not discussing “formulation” of “rules” at all, as God inscribes the basic precepts of the natural law in human nature as “the first principles of human actions.” Rather, he is addressing the human failure to draw the right conclusions from application of universally applicable, always valid, natural law principles to more complicated factual scenarios. An example Thomas gives is whether goods in trust must be restored to their owner even if the owner intends to use them for an immoral purpose. Other examples would be what exactly constitutes usury or what forms of taking constitute theft. These detailed applications are often the subject of written law (such as laws against usury). And if the morally wrong conclusions are reached in these cases, which Thomas describes as “some few,” it is only because “reason is perverted by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition…” (I-II, Q. 94, Art. 4).
Thus, in context, when Saint Thomas says that a principle of the natural law “will be found to fail according as we descend further into detail” he means only that it fails in application to more complex matters because of defects in reason, not that the principle itself is some sort of inadequate “formulation” that cannot cover the situation if rightly applied. The failure lies with the actor, not with the underlying natural law principle. Moreover, the Church’s teaching authority is divinely commissioned to rectify just such failures by way of her moral theology. Francis implies a massive default in that task.
In any case, the universal moral precept forbidding adultery does not involve any complex application to divorce and “remarriage.” As noted above, the Catechism that Francis ignores states simply: “divorce is a grave offense against the natural law.” It was Our Lord himself who declared to all of humanity that whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. There are no “details” that permit “hardship exceptions” to this divinely expressed application of the natural law, binding all men. Neither, therefore, can there be any “exceptions” to the Church’s intrinsically connected sacramental discipline down through the centuries, as Cardinal Brandmüller observes. That discipline is “based on Sacred Scripture” as John Paul II teaches in the same apostolic exhortation from which Francis misleadingly quotes out of context. And it is Francis himself who has a divinely imposed duty to affirm this, rather than pretending that a life of continuing public adultery or fornication involves the kind of obscure matter Saint Thomas had in view.
This is the umpteenth instance of Francis “playing fast and loose” with sources over the past three years. A team of Spanish diocesan priests has demonstrated meticulously that this tendency pervades the entire pontificate. Even Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press is constrained to note that in Amoris Laetitia Francis is “selectively citing his predecessors” so as to navigate around key phrases that negate his position:
While Francis frequently cited John Paul, whose papacy was characterized by a hardline insistence on doctrine and sexual morals, he did so selectively. Francis referenced certain parts of John Paul's 1981 ‘Familius [sic] Consortio,’ the guiding Vatican document on family life until Friday, but he omitted any reference to its most divisive paragraph 84, which explicitly forbids the sacraments for the divorced and civilly remarried.
Saint Thomas would be horrified at the abuse to which Francis is subjecting his teaching, twisting it into something that more closely resembles John Locke’s confused and incoherent attempt at a natural law philosophy, which I explore in my book on the rise and rapid fall of political modernity. Locke denied that the precepts of the natural law are inscribed in man’s rational soul and innately incline him to act rightly in the exercise of his reason despite the effects of Original Sin (which Locke also essentially denied). And what do we see in Amoris Laetetia but a kind of Lockean attack on the traditional Catholic understanding of the natural law as Saint Thomas expounds it. In paragraph 305 we read the following:
Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions.
In essence, Francis declares—contrary to all of Tradition and divine revelation itself (cf. Rom. 2:14-15)—that the natural law is no law at all, engraved in human nature and inclining reason toward the good, but merely a sort of externalized guideline to “inspire” our “deeply personal” decisions! For this astounding proposition Francis cites, at footnote 350, nothing more than a document of the International Theological Commission, which has no teaching authority whatsoever. The document is entitled “In Search of a Universal Ethic: A New Look at Natural Law.”
The audacity at work here is breathtaking. According to Francis’s “new look at natural law,” a moral precept disobeyed is now viewed, not only as a “general rule,” but merely an inspiring goal that may not be reachable “amid the concrete complexity” (303) of each individual’s situation. In short, a form of situation ethics Catholics cannot possibly accept as an authentic teaching of the Magisterium.
(6) The Poison Pill Footnote; admission of public adulterers and other habitual sexual sinners to the sacraments (305-312); the Pope confirms.
Finally, in paragraph 305 we encounter the poison pill the entire document and the entire “Synodal process” were clearly designed to administer to the Church: authorization for the admission of public adulterers, and by implication any sort of habitual public sinner, to Confession and Holy Communion in “certain cases.” This means, in short order, every case. For as Francis revealed last November to his trusted friend, the militant atheist Eugenio Scalfari, in another interview whose contents neither Francis nor the Vatican denied: “This is the bottom line result, the de facto appraisals are entrusted to the confessors, but at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask will be admitted.”
Reaching the crescendo of his three-year-long demagogic assault on the Church’s imaginary pharisaical “rigorism,” including that of John Paul II, Francis now announces: “a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” Quoting his own previous eruption of ire at the conservative prelates who dared to stand up to him during Synod 2015, Francis opines that merely to apply moral laws would “bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families’.” What a strange accusation to hurl at the very prelates who opposed Francis’s relentless drive for a neo-Mosaic return to the Old Testament dispensation respecting divorce, but rather defended its perpetual abolition by Christ, whose vicar Francis is supposed to be. But then Francis has spent much of the past three years doing exactly what he condemns in the members of his flock—above all, publicly deriding observant Catholics he deems inadequate, almost every day, while railing against judgmentalism on the part of others.
Francis will have none of this “hiding behind the Church’s teachings,” for by “thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.” Yes, the Roman Pontiff has actually promulgated a document whose very theme is the slogan of the empty modern mind: “Well, you see, not everything is black and white.” No, there are many shades of grey—probably at least fifty.
And then the outcome the faithful have been dreading since the “synodal journey” began. With little fanfare and a buried footnote, the synod train at last reaches its destination. Paragraph 305 declares: “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin… a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” And what does Francis mean by the “Church’s help”? He means Confession and Holy Communion, as fateful footnote 351 states:
In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).
The phrase “prize for the perfect” is taken directly from the intervention by Cardinal Kasper with which Francis began the whole charade of a “Synod on the Family”: Kasper’s speech to the consistory of February 2015 in which he unveiled the “Kasper proposal”—the only address Francis permitted, which he later hailed as “beautiful and profound.” The circle of manipulation is completed as Francis finally reveals that the “Kasper proposal” was his proposal all along.
Leaving no doubt of the matter, Cardinal Lorenzo (“the book thief”) Baldisseri and the other Modernist subversives Francis tapped for the occasionmade this clear even to the most obtuse observer at the press conference where they presented Amoris Laetitia to the public. Co-presenter Cardinal Schönborn, continuing the systematic misrepresentation of the teaching of John Paul II on “discernment” in Familiaris consortio 84, put the matter thus in his presenting speech:
Pope Francis reiterates the need to discern carefully the situation, in keeping with St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio (84) (AL 298). “Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God” (AL 205)….
In the sense of this “via caritatis” (AL 306), the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given “in certain cases”. But for this purpose he does not offer us case studies or recipes, but instead simply reminds us of two of his famous phrases: “I want to remind priests that the confessional should not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (EG 44), and the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” …
So, the confessional is a “torture chamber” unless some—meaning ultimately all—unrepentant public adulterers are, at least eventually, allowed to enter without repentance, avoid any commitment to amendment of life, and leave with a declaration of absolution for a continual mortal sin they will simply continue committing because their “weakness” is now being “integrated”. Otherwise, everything would be “black and white.”
Is this for real? Indeed it is. And now we know from Francis himself just how real. During the inflight press conference on his return from the trip to Greece, Francis was pressed on whether, contrary to those who say nothing has changed, Amoris Laetitia authorizes “new concrete possibilities for the divorced and remarried that did not exist before the publication of this exhortation.” Punctuating the answer with an emphatic hand gesture and a nod of the head, he replied: “.” (“ ”) He also recommended that everyone readSchönborn’s presentation in which “your question will have an answer.” And Schönborn answer is: “the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given ‘in certain cases.’” So Francis told the reporter to consult Cardinal Schönborn concerning what Francis affirms in his own document—a runaround and a passing of the buck one would expect from a politician, not a Pope.
In answer to subsequent question on footnote 351 specifically, however, Francis answered: “I don’t remember that note.” That is a rather astonishing lapse of memory concerning a crucial element of the document on which the whole Catholic world is now focusing and Schönborn mentioned specifically in the very presentation Francis urged everyone to read for “the answer” to the question about Holy Communion for public adulterers. He then proceeded to duck the question by suggesting the media are overly concerned with it when the “the real problems” are the decline in the number of marriages, parents with two jobs and no time for their children, young people avoiding marriage, etc. It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that sheer cunning is at work here: Francis says yes, but in a manner that still leaves the barest sliver of space for doubt. Meanwhile, however, yes it is, and everyone is to proceed accordingly.
Consider the moral catastrophe Francis has just unleashed: A public adulterer in a second “marriage” is admitted to Holy Communion as part of a process of “discernment” that allows “integration” while he “gradually” moves toward an acceptance of Church teaching that may never come. Yet once he is made aware by the priest conducting this “discernment” that the Church teaches that his condition constitutes adultery—as if he didn’t know this before!—how can he continue to claim inculpable ignorance of the moral law? Of course he cannot. But, as we saw above, Francis has the answer: even those who know the law are now to be excused from compliance by way of pastoral “discernment” because they find it “very difficult to act differently (302)” on account of “mitigating factors (301-302).”
This logic obviously leads to the de facto elimination of mortal sin as an impediment to Holy Communion on the part of any and all habitual sinners who find it “very difficult” to change their behavior. In which case, as Fr. Schall wonders, why would anyone need to go to Confession at all? “If this conclusion is correct,” he writes, “we really have no need for mercy, which has no meaning apart from actual sin and its free recognition….Therefore, there is no pressing need to concern oneself too much with these situations.”
So, there we have it: Francis calls for an unprecedented new regime of “pastoral discernment” that would bizarrely presume subjective inculpability in the face of endemic conduct objectively constituting public and habitual mortal sin, but now suddenly reduced to mere “irregularities.” In a pair of strategic footnotes sacramental absolution and the Holy Eucharist are recommended to “integrate” and “help” these objective mortal sinners without a prior amendment of life —but only in “certain cases,” as if that constituted a real limitation.
On the other hand, as the new “discernment” is supposedly discretionary with local priests acting under the authority of local bishops, outcomes would vary from parish to parish, region to region, and nation to nation. To recall Robert Royal’s assessment: “
With exquisite irony, Sandro Magister summarizes this whole epochal travesty and the massive insult it represents to all the faithful who have obeyed the Church’s teaching throughout their lives:
The eighth chapter of the exhortation “Amoris Lætitia,” on the divorced and remarried and related matters, is the one that is most astonishing.
It is an inundation of mercy. But it is also a triumph of casuistry, although this is so execrated in words. With the sensation, after reading it, that every sin is excused, and so many are its attenuating factors, and therefore it vanishes, leaving room for meadowlands of grace even in the context of objectively grave “irregularities.” Access to the Eucharist goes without saying, it is not even necessary for the pope to proclaim it from the rooftops. All it takes are a couple of allusive footnotes.
And those who have obeyed the Church until now and have identified with the wisdom of its Magisterium? Those divorced and remarried who, with such good will and humility, for years or even for decades, have prayed, gone to Mass, given their children a Christian upbringing, done works of charity, in spite of being in a second and non-sacramental union, without receiving Communion? And those who have agreed to live with the new spouse “as brother and sister,” no longer in contradiction with the previous indissoluble marriage, and have thus been able to receive the Eucharist? What about all of them, after the “free for all” that many have read in “Amoris Lætitia”?
As we shall see below, however, Francis apparently thinks he can limit his veritable ecclesial amnesty on mortal sin to sins of a sexual variety, making this “apostolic exhortation” an even more bizarre development.
Some neo-Catholic first responders to the scene of this disaster argued desperately that footnote 351 (ignoring footnote 336) means only that people living in sin can go to Confession, be absolved, and receive Communion so long as they have a firm purpose of living chastely. But this time not even the usually indefatigable Jimmy Akin was willing to labor in denial of the obvious. He simply admitted the truth—at least in part. In answer to the question “Does the document foresee any possibility for sacramentally absolving and giving Communion to people who are civilly remarried if they are not living as brother and sister?” Wrote Akin:
It does…. The document thus envisions administering sacramental absolution and holy [sic] Communion to those living in objectively sinful situations who are not mortally culpable for their actions due to various cognitive or psychological conditions. Since they are not mortally culpable, they could be validly absolved in confession and, being in thestate of grace, they could in principle receive Communion. Nothing in this is new.
Nothing in this is new? Akin certainly knows better. He knows that Francis has just overthrown—or rather attempted to overthrow, as this document cannot possibly bind the Church—the teaching of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law and all of Tradition on the impossibility of public adulterers being admitted to the sacraments on account of their objective state in life. Yet Akin blithely pretends nothing of the sort has happened.
But even worse than this, Akin joins Francis in pronouncing the practical elimination of mortal sin itself as an impediment to Holy Communion, for what mortal sinner could not claim to be subjectively inculpable based on “various cognitive or psychological conditions” which (to quote paragraph 302) make it “very difficult to act differently…” And if some habitual mortal sinners are granted admission to the sacraments under that nebulous criterion, on what ground besides a purely arbitrary “pastoral discretion” could the Church’s pastors stand to deny the sacraments to anyone at all, no matter what his “objective” sin? The floodgates are open to mass sacrilege.
Here we see the most dramatic confirmation yet of what this newspaper has contended all long: In order to maintain their niche and a modicum of prestige, there is absolutely nothing certain neo-Catholic opinion leaders are not prepared to swallow in defense of the ever-expanding postconciliar regime of novelty.
Moreover, to admit that Amoris Laetitia is indeed “a subversive document,” as Philip Lawler says, would be to admit the entire traditionalist critique of the regime to which they themselves belong, this document being the lowest point yet on a continuous downward trajectory traditionalist writings have accurately tracked and rightly opposed for decades while the neo-Catholic establishment did nothing but applaud the latest novelty. Having been so wrong for so long, they would rather go down with their sinking ship, which is not to be confused with the unsinkable Barque of Peter. Their vessel is the ghost ship that came out of the fog of Vatican II and will inevitably disappear beneath the waves of history as the ephemeral thing it is. But what calamities the Church must endure until then!
Mission accomplished, Francis brings Chapter 8 to an end with the same rhetorical tricks he has employed incessantly over the past three years: caricature, demagoguery and self-quotation:
It is true that at times “we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (310)
We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. (311)
This offers us a framework and a setting which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues. (312)
Questions abound: Was the Church not the house of the Father, where everyone was welcome, before Francis became Pope? What exactly are these “many conditions on mercy” that rob it of meaning and significance? What is a “cold bureaucratic morality” as opposed to morality simpliciter? What distinguishes “more sensitive” moral issues from merely sensitive ones? Is it just sexuality?
But of course there will be no answers.
(7) A Selective Amnesty for Sins of the Flesh
The preceding analysis demonstrates that we are now confronted with an unprecedented pontifical debacle. Citing nothing but his own previous statements, blatantly misrepresented sources, and the declarations of a Synod he tightly controlled and stacked with handpicked Modernist progressives, while ignoring the directly contrary teaching of his two immediate predecessors in harmony with all of Tradition, Francis now attempts to introduce a mitigated form of situation ethics as pastoral practice throughout the universal Church.
To recall what Prof. Echeverria observes in Catholic World Report: “So, with all due respect to Francis, I think that he does imply support for the ‘gradualness of the law’ and hence by implication opens the door to a ‘situation ethics.’” More than that! Francis opens wide the door, steps inside, makes himself at home, and suggests that all the pastors of the Church join him in building a new moral order for the Church. The very hallmark of heretical German moral theology, exemplified by Francis’s personal favorite, Cardinal Kasper, amounts to a de facto amnesty on sexual immorality.
BUT NOTE WELL: Nothing in Amoris Laetitia indicates that Francis would extend his amnesty for sexual sinners to the other sorts of sinners he never ceases to denounce, including Mafiosi, arms traders, greedy capitalists, polluters of the environment, opponents of uncontrolled immigration, supporters of the death penalty and, lest we forget, the “rigorist” Catholics who oppose his notion of “mercy.” Would Francis, for example, tell the pastors of the Church that because of “various cognitive or psychological conditions” that make it “very difficult to act differently” greedy billionaires, wealthy arms dealers or “rigorist” Catholics are subjectively guiltless and cannot be expected to change their ways in conformity to “the ideal”? The question answers itself.
Antonio Socci, as he has done so often during the tempests provoked by what he dubbed “Bergoglianism” early on, exposes the heart of the matter:
This “revolution” is being carried out by cancelling the notion of “mortal sin” … In compensation, Bergoglio introduces new grave sins. Those of the so-called “rigorists”, guilty of remembering God’s law, but most of all, those [of individuals] who don’t share his political ideas on social questions.
So this entire years-long, dismal affair comes down to an “amnesty” extending only to sins of the flesh. But, as Our Lady of Fatima warned, these are the sins that send more souls to Hell than any other. We are reminded that Sister Lucia of Fatimawarned Cardinal Caffarra, one of the foremost opponents of the Kasper proposal, that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.” Did she know that a Pope would be leading the enemy forces?
Conclusion: Damage Assessment
What will actually happen in the Church in the wake of Amoris Laetitia? First of all, we can thank God that—surely by Providence—Francis’s own choice of approach allows one to dismiss the entirety of the document as nothing more than a personal opinion he has not imposed (and cannot impose) upon the Church, as Cardinal Burke has observed. For example:
I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness… (308)
Francis may “sincerely believe” that “Jesus wants” pastoral care that does leave room for confusion, but there is no room for confusion in the divine declaration: “Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery.” We have no obligation to treat as an authentic teaching of the Magisterium, or even as a rational thought, Francis’s claim that “Jesus wants” him to “integrate weakness” into the Church for the first time in 2,000 years.
But even if we assume that this document is apparently an act of the Magisterium, in reality it simply cannot be. Just as God cannot contradict Himself, the Magisterium cannot contradict itself. For the Magisterium is the teaching office the Church; it presents what the Church teaches, which is not determined by the latest utterance of the current Pope. Therefore, whatever contradicts the constant prior teaching of the Church cannot possibly belong to the Magisterium, no matter what formal appearances it has been given. Rather, it would constitute error, which is possible with any exercise of the “ordinary” Magisterium that involves true novelties. Otherwise, we would have to say that absolutely every papal pronouncement, no matter what novelty it contains, is infallible. Nor can we place the least reliance on the treacherous Cardinal Schönborn’s assurance, the usual Modernist doubletalk, that “There are true novelties in this document, but no ruptures.” True novelties in the Church’s moral theology and its bimillenial application to public adulterers and fornicators are ruptures by definition.
Amoris Laetitia clearly presents such a rupture in at least two respects: First, it purports to change, not a mere ecclesiastical positive law, but an unchangeable Eucharistic discipline rooted in divine law and intrinsically connected to the integrity of the revealed truth concerning both the Real Presence and the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. Second, it attempts to introduce into Catholic moral theology an absolutely inadmissible form of situation ethics, which the Magisterium has always condemned. Nor can it be argued that the faithful have no capacity to recognize these contradictions but rather must blindly presume that somehow they do not exist. This is the Catholic Church, whose deposit of Faith is objectively knowable, not a gnostic sect headed by the Oracle of Rome, who announces what “Jesus wants” today.
What this means is that for priests and prelates who continue to “prefer a more rigorous pastoral care,” which is to say the unchangeable bimillenial pastoral discipline of the Church affirmed even by Francis’s two immediate predecessors, nothing in Amoris Laetitia can bind them to do otherwise. So the “normalists” will be able to say, just as they always do, “nothing has really changed.”
If only it were that simple. Paradoxically, yet no less truly, everything has changed.
As Cardinal Kasper exults, the document “doesn’t change anything of church doctrine or of canon law – but it changes everything.” Amoris Laetitia changes everything by hollowing out doctrine through permission for a “pastoral practice” that contradicts doctrine while leaving it intact as a verbal proposition and reducing it to a mere “ideal,” along with the natural law on marriage itself.
The post-Vatican II regime of novelty here achieves perhaps the greatest and final advance of its long march of destruction through the Church. Francis’s men are already running amok with the document, brandishing it triumphantly as new and revolutionary authority, from the Pope himself, to engage in exactly what Phil Lawler fears: “an acceleration of an already powerful trend to dismiss the Church’s perennial teaching.” They will tell us, as Cardinal Schönborn already does, that Amoris Laetitia is “an organic development of doctrine”—misleading quotations and footnotes included! An “organic development” in which Francis contradicts the very Pope he canonized, whose true teaching Francis has concealed in a pivotal misrepresentation of what John Paul II meant by pastoral “discernment.”
And so it goes with The Great Façade of non-binding novelties that have plagued the Church for nearly fifty years. The “continuing process of decay” Cardinal Ratzinger lamented and, as Pope, arrested for a time now will penetrate more widely and deeply than before, accelerated by a book-length excursus whose novel aspects have only the weight of opinion yet will still cause incalculable new damage to the ecclesial commonwealth.
Therefore, pace Cardinal Burke, despite its non-binding character the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia confirms every one of the expressions of alarm in the Remnant’s petition this past December, which implored Francis to change course or consider resigning the papacy in keeping with his own promise to do so if he became unfit for the office:
You declare that [a] “revolution of tenderness” will take place during your Jubilee of Mercy…Your stated motive for the “revolution of tenderness” is that, according to you, “the Church herself sometimes follows a hard line, she falls into the temptation of following a hard line, into the temptation of stressing only the moral rules, many people are excluded” ….
Catholics know that a true revolution of tenderness occurs in every soul that undergoes Baptism or, corresponding to the grace of repentance, enters the confessional with a firm purpose of amendment and a contrite heart, unburdens the weight of sin, [and] receives absolution by a priest acting in persona Christi… The Catholic Church has always been an inexhaustible font of divine mercy through her Sacraments. What can your proposed “revolution” add to what Christ has already provided in His Church? Can you declare an amnesty on mortal sin?...
Now, as you condemn the Church’s “hard line” on “moral rules” and proclaim a “revolution of tenderness,” we are faced with the imminent threat of unheard-of “gestures” of “mercy” … Among these gestures would appear to be a post-synodal apostolic exhortation authorizing the admission of public adulterers to Holy Communion according to the judgment of individual bishops or episcopal conferences…
One has the sense of a nearly apocalyptic turn of events in the history of the Church.
Every Catholic worthy of the name has a duty to resist this attempted overthrow of the perennial Magisterium by a wayward Pope who clearly has no respect for the teaching of his own predecessors—having misrepresented the crucial contrary teaching of one of them, along with other sources—and who descends to demagoguery by appealing to a “mercy” that would be the worst kind of spiritual cruelty. It is unthinkable that the leadership of the Church, as a pastoral program no less, could leave souls at risk of damnation in the very condition that places them at risk, even encouraging them to compound their guilt by sacrilegiously partaking of Holy Communion while they consider whether they will cease their continuing adultery or fornication.
This is madness never before seen in the history of the Church. And where are the members of the hierarchy to lead us in the midst of this madness? As it was during the time of the Arian crisis, when Saint Athanasius was almost alone among hierarchs publicly defending the faith, so will it be today: the prelates who stand fast and refuse to repudiate the teaching of their own Church will be very few in number, perhaps so few they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It is fitting, then, to conclude this commentary with the words of one prelate who may be among those few, the very aptly named Bishop Athanasius Schneider, speaking even before the threat of this catastrophe had become a reality:
“Non possumus!” I will not accept an obfuscated speech nor a skilfully masked back door to a profanation of the Sacrament of Marriage and Eucharist. Likewise, I will not accept a mockery of the Sixth Commandment of God. I prefer to be ridiculed and persecuted rather than to accept ambiguous texts and insincere methods. I prefer the crystalline “image of Christ the Truth, rather than the image of the fox ornamented with gemstones” (Saint Irenaeus), for “I know whom I have believed”, “Scio, Cui credidi!” (2 Tim 1: 12) [Rorate Caeli, 2 November 2015]
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