Carrying this symbol a little further, on a Roman trireme, there were roughly two classes of crew: the officers on the deck, and the oarsmen below, with a “piper” to coordinate their rhythm and speed of rowing. If we imagine this church to be a trireme, all of you would be the oarsmen and women, and I would be the piper. The officers on the deck above would be the bishops, the cardinals, and the Pope as captain. It’s a near perfect analogy, except that Pope Francis seems – both symbolically and actually – to no longer be on board as the Roman trireme’s captain. Indeed, he is the first Pope not to even live in the Vatican, but in a nearby hotel.
Now, if you want to sink a warship, there are three ways to go about it. You can either mount airstrikes from above (heresies, errors, false doctrines); or you can ram it or attack it from your own warship (false religions, schismatic churches); or, more recently, you can torpedo it stealthily from below with a submarine. The first two attack the command structure: the captain and his officers; while the submarine attacks covertly from below, targeting not the officers above, but the common seamen below who propel the boat. And it is this latter tactic – a torpedo from below the waterline – which, sad to say, he who should be the captain of the trireme, Pope Francis, has launched not directly against the doctrine of the Church, but against Her essential composition and engine, namely, marriage and the family.
Frankly speaking, I had hoped to avoid speaking directly to the subject of the Pope’s latest Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, fearing that I might be stepping into a minefield. Reading, however, some of the growing number of analyses of this document, one author, in conclusion to his own analysis, said the following: “I believe that every Catholic has a solemn obligation to publicly condemn this act by Francis as it is an attack on Catholic doctrine and practice and an affront to the Faith. I am not a theologian,” he wrote, “but I do not see how failure to speak out and resist on such a grave and serious public breach of doctrine cannot be a sin of omission.”
I do not believe that the writer of these words has at all overstated the gravity of the catastrophe Pope Francis has foisted on the Church, indeed on all of humanity, for which he bears the supreme responsibility of caring and protecting. And so, as a confirmed soldier of Jesus Christ, not to mention as a priest, neither can I fail in my duty.
Briefly stated, the Pope’s 264 page document of 325 paragraphs and 391 footnotes contains his thoughts and directives on how the Church, her bishops, her priests, and her faithful are to regard and to accommodate validly married Catholics (indeed any) who have divorced their spouses, have attempted marriage with another, and who are now living in what the Pope calls an “irregular” union or an “irregular” situation – what Our Lord Jesus Christ more simply calls “adultery”, a mortal sin against both the 6th and 9th Commandments.
Speaking of adultery, of the twenty-two times the word appears in the New Testament, Pope Francis uses it only three times in his exhortation, all three in reference to but the single incident found in the New Testament of the woman (Mary Magdalene) caught in adultery. But this woman’s adultery is by no means the same species of adultery which our Lord condemns elsewhere, both in the Gospel of St. Matthew (19:3 – 9), and in the Gospel of St. Mark (10:2 – 12); and which is of greater gravity because it is more deliberately chosen than motivated by fleeting passion; because of its pertinacity; and because of the scandal and ruin caused to the abandoned family and to the common good.
What exactly, then, of this graver species of adultery did our Lord say? I quote the exact passage from St. Mark’s Gospel, 10:2 – 12:
“And the Pharisees coming to him asked him, tempting him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?’ But he answering, saith to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ Who said, ‘Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce and to put her away.’ To whom Jesus answering, said, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart, he wrote you that precept. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.’ And in the house again his disciples asked him concerning the same thing. And he saith to them, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery’.”
The adultery of the unfortunate woman is less malicious because, although still mortally sinful, it is less deliberate and more fleeting. But Pope Francis, quite deliberately, equates the lesser malice of the woman’s more casual, more passionately motivated adultery to the much greater malice of the more deliberate and cold-blooded adultery of divorce and remarriage in an apparent attempt to paint the perennial condemnation by the Church of this latter species of adultery with the same hypocrisy which motivated the scribes and Pharisees to condemn the woman caught in adultery. Barely alluding (and only once) to the Gospel passage just quoted, Pope Francis takes 264 pages to obfuscate, to confuse, and, finally, to contradict what Jesus commands in it.
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In treating of this apparently ancient social phenomenon, namely divorce and remarriage, Pope Francis, again never using the word “adultery”, but citing precisely what Jesus Christ calls adultery [i.e. divorce and remarriage], he attenuates its gravity by saying, “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases. The consequences or effects of a [particular moral precept] need not necessarily always be the same” [i.e. adultery need not always be a mortal sin]. [AL, para. 300]
Should you be wondering what exactly is Pope Francis’ ultimate goal in asserting all of this, he makes it more clear in more verbiage, and two footnotes: “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation [i.e. the situation itself and not the moral law dictates the morality of a particular act – situation ethics] no grave fault exists . . . For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain ‘irregular’ situations [divorce and remarriage], one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel [merely hinting again at the Gospel passage I quoted above] are in any way being compromised.”
The Pope continues, “The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation[in any divorce and remarriage] arelivinginastateofmortalsinandare deprived of sanctifying grace” [which, up to the point of this document, has excluded them from receiving Holy Communion].
Having thus minimized the gravity of divorce and remarriage (what Jesus calls adultery) to at worst a venial sin, and returning to the notion of “sacramental discipline” the Pope finally concludes (yes, again in a footnote), quoting from yet another document [Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 44 and 47; AAS 105, 2013, 1038-1040, footnote 336], “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we [priests] act as the 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.”
If I have lost you along the way, let me summarize the essence of what Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia about those Catholics who divorce their spouses and attempt marriage with another. If you doubt my assessment, I will quote the appropriate paragraph numbers, and invite you to read the document for yourself:
1) (§301) Not all situations [speaking of divorce and remarriage] which Jesus calls adultery, and which the Church has traditionally and always deemed mortally sinful are necessarily so;
2) (§§302, 304) Personal circumstances and deficiencies of understanding may mitigate or minimize the gravity of specific situations [this is precisely the false moral principle known as “situation ethics”, a principle universally condemned by the Church in assessing the morality of any human act];
3) (§300, footnote 336) Prudent discernment with the assistance of a competent moral guide (priest or bishop) may well determine a specific instance of an “irregular” union to be only venially sinful, or not at all sinful – even virtuous[!];
4) (§306, footnote 351) Those involved in such “irregular” unions [traditionally regarded by Holy Mother Church as mortally sinful, and therefore incapable of approaching the communion rail until they have first abandoned their adultery and made a good confession – such, Pope Francis insists,] are not to be turned away from Holy Communion as if that were some kind of prize reserved only for the perfect, but rather are to be encouraged to approach the Holy Eucharist as the remedy for the “irregularity” of their situation.
Have I perhaps overlooked some instance in Sacred Scripture or the perennial teaching of the Church where adultery is treated as merely venially sinful? In St. Matthew’s Gospel [19:17 – 18] Jesus tells a young man [emphasis added], “‘if thou wilt enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments. He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery . . .’” Obviously, from what Jesus says here, anyone who commits adultery (anyone who divorces and remarries) and persists in that cannot enter into eternal life. Even in the episode discussed above of the woman caught in the very act of adultery, and dragged before Jesus for condemnation, Jesus ends by saying to her, “Go, and now sin no more.’” (Jn. 8:3 – 11)
The scribes and Pharisees wished to destroy the sin by stoning the sinner. Jesus, however, always strives simply to destroy the sin by applying the moral law, telling her to “sin no more.” But Francis would condemn even this, saying in §305, “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.” In effect, Pope Francis asserts that merely to encourage the sinner to obey the moral law – “to sin no more” – is no better than to throw stones at her.
Indeed, Pope Francis would say in §298 quoting Pope John-Paul II in footnote 329, “In such situations [divorce and remarriage], many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ [i.e. without sexual intimacy]which the Church offers them, point out that when certain expressions of intimacy [i.e. the marital act] are lacking, it often happens that fidelity [in the second marriage] is endangered, and the good of the children suffers [?!]” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 22 November 1981, 84: AAS 74, 1982, 186). What of fidelity to the first marriage, indeed, the only one that exists? What of the good of its children?
My dear friends, never in the history of the Church, from her foundation by Jesus Christ on the Cross until Pope Francis, has any successor of St. Peter ever imagined much less proclaimed it possible for anyone, Catholic or otherwise, to divorce and remarry without escaping the condemnation of Jesus Christ as an adulterer. Graver still, and ignoring even the religious considerations, the consequences at a merely natural level of sanctioning such a possibility directly attacks the natural law at its roots. In torpedoing the barque – the trireme of St. Peter – of the Church – it attacks the foundation of human society – of the common good; and, thus, it attacks the possibility of the survival of the human species.
To nullify the consequences of violating both the Divine and natural laws is to nullify the laws themselves. Imagine commanding a child to do or to refrain from some action; and when he disobeys, failing to correct or to punish him. Will he not conclude, correctly, your commandment to be empty and worthless, and you a fool? This is universal genocide – it is universal suicide. Such is Amoris Laetitia, the death warrant of the human race, signed and promulgated by Pope Francis.
Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri! Amen.
(Sermon for the Sunday after Ascension, May 8, 2016)