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"When the Rome Hits Your Eye, That's Amoris"

by Tony M.

[To be sung to the tune of Dean Martin's "That's amore."]

UPDATE at Jan 17 below.

Those who have been paying attention to the shenanigans in the upper ranks of the Catholic Church know that there is a bit of a brawl brewing – or being played out in slow motion perhaps – following on Pope Francis’s release of Amoris Laetitia. What’s it all about? And what’s a Catholic to do about it all? This post is mainly to answer questions at least related to the latter – what’s is a Catholic to do in a situation like this. But I will touch on other questions.

First, the bare bones of events:
The Church held a synod on the family, in two parts. First part was in 2014, and it did not go quite the way the Pope wanted.
The second part was in October 2015, where the people the Pope put in charge of running it eventually elicited the required 2/3 majority approval for documents speaking their mind, more or less. These, too, were in some ways short of what the Pope hoped for.

In April 2016, the Pope issued the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (hencefore, just “AL”) to the Church and the world based somewhat loosely on what the Synod said.

In it, especially in Chapter 8, he made some statements about living out family life amid difficulties, and expressed a great deal of sentiment in favor of “accompaniment” and “discernment”. He somewhat clearly implied that pastors should use their discretion to allow Catholics in those difficult family situations greater “participation” in the Church.

The language he used is not as explicit or clear as one would expect if he intended to change official Church practice. It is, in fact, somewhat ambiguous and troublesome in certain ways. Here is our friend Prof. Ed Feser’s discussion of it.

Since then, many bishops have tried to interpret what he means by giving pastoral guidelines to their dioceses on how to “implement” AL. There have been, also, many theologians attempting to “interpret” it, with considerable variation in their takes on it, some more or less diametrically opposite to others.

Due to the level of difficulty interpreting what it means, and to the competing interpretations, and the seeming ambiguity in the document itself that apparently lends itself to such opposed results, on September 17, four cardinals took a rather unusual step: they formally submitted 5 “dubia” regarding AL.

Dubia (the plural form from the Latin for ‘doubt’) are actually a fairly standard tool in the Church hierarchy to obtain an answer from the Vatican about some something troubling a prelate. Bishops of dioceses (and some others) sometimes submit questions to one or another Vatican organ of doctrine or discipline asking for clarification. The tradition, as it has developed, and to make the response simple and clean and easy to understand, is to submit dubia in terms that make a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer readily possible. The Vatican can always expand on the response by explaining its short answer, and it can also refuse to even give a one word answer, if they choose to. But the tradition is to seek the short answer.

In this case, the dubia centered around the ambiguities in AL (particularly, Ch. 8), and whether AL is to be understood so as to undermine or reverse certain teachings in Veritatis Splendor (JPII’s encyclical from 1997), in which he famously supported the traditional Christian teaching that certain kinds of acts are intrinsically disordered and that as a result no addition of good intentions or circumstances can render such acts morally good.

The Vatican did not answer directly. In November, the Pope let it be known that he was not happy with the submission of the dubia. I understand it that this, together with not answering, seems to have implied that the 4 cardinals should not expect a response soon.

The four cardinals in reaction made their letter public. In addition, one of the four, Cardinal Burke (formerly, the archbishop of St. Louis and then the head of the Roman Signatura, now forcibly retired from direct posts) indicated that if the Pope did not see fit to respond, they had further steps to take. He pointed out a concept has been understood to be possible, if not directly and formally invoked under stated rules, to take the Pope to task for a failure to behave appropriately regarding his teaching office.

In addition to these 4 prelates, 45 theologians have asked the Pope for clarification about a number of theses that either are in AL, or have been derived and proclaimed by various ranking churchmen as being true to the point of AL. They have asked the Pope to deny various points that they consider to be either outright heretical, contrary to earlier settled teaching, or offensive to pious ears.

There has been, predictably, a great deal of backlash against these groups, from among the Pope’s ardent supporters. Somewhat oddly, with a few notable exceptions such as theologian Rocco Buttiglione, largely these have relied on invective, name-calling, intimidation, and similar tactics, rather than reasoned argument. Some of them, incredibly, have declared that there is “no ambiguity” in AL, in spite of the obvious evidence of multiple dissenting “implementations” of it among bishops who are not trying to resist the Pope. Somewhat disgustingly, some of these “defenses” of the Pope and AL have used the opportunity to push their own progressive agenda, such as women priests, apparently under the impression that any Pope who is willing to push on the edges of the envelope anywhere in Church practice must be willing to do anything else these progressives would like in terms of doctrine. In spite of the fact that Francis has said that the fact that the Church cannot ordain women priests is a settled question.

Catholics of many stripes are much concerned, even worried, about either the Church falling into outright heresy or schism. My purpose here is to settle some of the worries afflicting regular Catholics, and to extend the conversation about what is the right thing to do with regard to one portion of the Pope’s concern in AL, those in certain difficult family situations. I have no special authority to speak, I am only a layman educated rather somewhat better than the average in the Church, but far less educated than I should like and having read far less of Church Fathers, Doctors, and Popes’ teaching documents than some (small percentage of) others have. So nothing I say that is not merely repeating what the Church has said is to be understood as my definitive position and all is subject to correction. That said, let me dig in:

First of all there seems to be a huge dispute about the “level” of magisterial authority that AL has. This is somewhat of an inside-the-camp discussion for Catholics: only if you believe that the Church has some kind of heavenly writ to be protected from error does the discussion make sense. Relying on Edward Feser’s discussion of the different levels of authoritative teaching which the Church can use, here, we have to recognize two very important points: (1) The format of a apostolic exhortation is not, by tradition, the kind of document in which you EXPECT to find a new formulation of a dogma, or a statement of a newly declared doctrine. There are at least 3 types of documents more suited to that: a decree or dogmatic constitution of an Ecumenical Council, (approved by the Pope); an Encyclical; or a Papal Bull or decree. The nature of an exhortation is generally less on developing and stating dogmatic formulations that have never been seen, and more on, well, exhorting.

(2) Even within a teaching document such as an encyclical, only SOME parts of it are stated in definitive terms and intended to be held definitively, other parts may be tentative, or may state only the Pope’s personal opinions rather than a Church teaching as such, or may be simply asserted at a lower level of insistence. The Pope signals the level of authority he is invoking in a specific passage, and the level of submission to which he is calling us, first by choosing the type of document to issue, and then by choosing either more formal or less formal language, and by choosing to use or avoid certain specified formulas that indicate he is invoking the charism of infallibility, such as: “for the whole Church” and “in virtue of my Petrine office”, and “to settle all doubt” and “must definitively be believed”. When the Pope uses these kinds of phrases he is intending to state official teaching in a definitive way; when he uses all of them, he is making an extraordinary exercise of the magisterial office, and is explicitly invoking the special charism of infallibility by which the Holy Spirit protects the Church. When he does not use them, he is AT MOST making an ordinary exercise of the magisterial office, and this he does when he teaches what has been taught from apostolic days in union with the prior popes and the whole church. AL is full of statements that re-iterate what has been taught universally in the Church from time immemorial, and are exercises of the ordinary magisterium.

(3) This current pope seems to me to be virtually allergic to authoritative declarations in a definitive style and manner, even ones that merely re-state the doctrines that have been taught under the ordinary magisterium from time immemorial. It’s not his style. His interests are elsewhere. He doesn’t use the language of formal declarations anywhere. He isn’t interested in saying “to be held definitively by all Catholics everywhere”.

So: I believe that it would be a mistake to say of AL that “it is absolutely not magisterial” meaning that all of it is non-magisterial, because it participates in the ordinary exercise of magisterial office when it re-states things that have been taught from the Apostles on down. It would also be a mistake to say that it harbors the extraordinary exercise of the magisterial office, he is not attempting to do that. Further, in making this an exhortation rather than an encyclical, and in refusing to employ the language of “definition” as described above, the Pope here does not intend to be laying down teaching that must be held, OTHER than the teachings that he restates that must already be held because they have been handed down within the ordinary magisterial teachings of the Church.

It is my understanding that a bishop or pope rightly expect submission of mind (in certain variations, as explained by Feser) to their teachings which participate in the ordinary magisterial office of the Church. When a bishop re-iterates what Pope JPII said in Veritatis Splendor, which re-states what Pope Leo XIII said, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Augustine, and St. Paul, we must follow where he leads with submission of mind and will, according to the manner in which the teaching is proposed for belief.

At the same time, what the Church cannot do, is demand the exact same sort of submission of mind to a NEW formulation of teaching, without explaining it clearly, and without showing its origin in apostolic sources (especially, the Bible of course) and its coordination with what has always been held, and also without even expressing that teaching in definitive terms. That’s not the way the Church operates. The degree and kind of submission called for actually HINGES on the manner in which the Church teaches it, and that means if she wants religious submission, she has to propose it in a manner that is consistent with that kind of submission.

So far as I know, Pope Francis has not done this with respect to any new formulation of ideas or teaching. At the least, so far as I have seen he has not proposed such a teaching clearly. And he certainly did not use any of the terms of formality by which the Church expresses a higher degree of gravity or obligation of submission. Nor did he effectively ground the new direction he seems to propose in AL in the immemorial teachings of the Church so that it is possible to see the new implicitly within the old and in conformity with what has always been held true. (More on that point later.)

So, if educated readers are having trouble understanding (a) WHAT the Pope is saying, and (b) whether they must agree with it, they can be (somewhat) at ease: our obligation to follow along to in his new perspective is limited. We may give them the respect of the lower sort in the list of Church teachings, which is consistent with the document and language with which he proposes them. This is not the same as “consider them nothing better than Cousin Jimmy’s opinions on next year’s World Series”, but it is also a far cry from the assent of faith.

Okay, now I have beat around the bush long enough: what exactly is the Pope saying that is such a big deal, why is it such a problem, and most of all, what SHOULD we believe as faithful Catholics.

The pope really has created some difficulties in AL. Some of the things seem to invite rather odd things for a Catholic to entertain, much less hold firmly. The big (or biggest) brouhaha is about whether the Church should admit (i.e. give official approval) for Catholics who are married, divorced, and remarried to receive Communion. Well, the difficulty is MUCH more than that, but this is the leading edge of the problem. If all parties were to agree on this leading edge, they would probably agree on much of the rest.

The pope says in Chapter 8 that pastors must “discern” and seems to indicate that they can no longer assume that those living in “irregular” family situations are in fact in a state of mortal sin, nor that they are necessarily blocked from receiving Communion. He pretty much insists that pastors take each case individually without such an assumption. He points to the Church’s long-standing teaching that many mitigating factors can reduce a person’s actual culpability for some sins. The language he uses is strongly indicative that many of these people may be able to receive Communion.

What the Pope does not do is say anything that is NEW and say it clearly. He implies. He indicates. He suggests. He leaves it open that… He refuses to condemn “for always”, but does not precisely say where the limits are.

The problem comes in with the language Francis uses to express the (new?) direction he wants pastors to take. It is just plain ambiguous. For instance:

He speaks much of “discernment” on the part of pastors and the couples that he deals with. What he does not do much of, if at all, is talk about “discerning the actual state of their souls in the concrete conditions of their behavior and knowledge.” He does not state, for example, that pastors have the right and DUTY to actually estimate a person’s state of soul (tentatively, and not “judge” as judges authoritatively deciding on a punishment for a crime, but as doctors estimate with their best educated judgment on a diagnosis before opening up a person to find out what that tumor is). He barely indicates, also, that “discernment” is intended to actually arrive at a conclusion in the priest’s and even in the sinner’s own mind, it is presented as a process but not so clearly with an end point. So, I offer as clarification: to the extent that the discernment is to occur, it should be understood as being directed to CONCRETE conclusions about whether a person is in a state of mortal sin, and whether he can / must change certain concrete behaviors in order to avoid future mortal sins. If THAT’s what “discernment” means in AL, we will avoid a lot of errors. If it’s not, then the errors will creep forward.

Another ambiguity: while the Pope’s language is highly compatible with the picture in which a parishioner comes forward to the pastor and seeks guidance, seeks to lay bare his soul and asks for the priest’s discernment of what he should now do, hardly at all does the language preclude the picture of a parishioner doing the “discernment” on his own, without the pastor’s input. While it is valid to say that a person can and indeed should seek to discern his own rights and wrongs to some extent, what Canon Law does not provide for or permit is that a person does so in isolation from the priest and the Church. If he is engaging in behaviors which outwardly constitute acts of adultery via a second marriage, the public dimension of his behavior – combined with the public dimension of his taking Communion – require that he seek the help of the priests in order to be right with the Church. Jesus’s admonition “whatever you hold bound on earth will be held bound in heaven” presumes that the priests of the Church have jurisdiction over the sacraments, and jurisdiction includes “holding bound” in certain cases. So, if a person reads the lack of clarity in AL to leave room for a person doing the discernment all on his own, this would be a mistake.

Another example of ambiguity: Francis says

I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the 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. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which would allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. 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. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel….[snip] … Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow.

The proper and full meaning of “participation” in the Church, for one who has been severed from full and complete participation by their manifest grave sins in obstinate denial of Church teaching, is for them to repent, confess, be absolved, and be restored to the life of grace. For without the life of grace, there is lacking the due participation in the Church: without the life-giving presence of God in the soul, the soul remains dead. It is our common participation in God’s own life that makes us living members of the same body, by which we participate with each other in God’s life. Without that grace alive in us, we are NOT living members, but dead members. Without that, then, we cannot properly be “able to live and grow in the Church”. Every other form of “participation”, without this kind, is little better than putting band-aids on a corpse: it is window dressing, not substance. It is not formally wrong for a person in mortal sin to practice acts of almsgiving and service to the poor, but neither is it life-giving. Giving alms does NOT “cover a multitude of sins” in a person dead by mortal sin who has no intention of changing; it is only an act good in its species, but defective in its interior reality and substance.

Secondly, even while a person is publicly in a condition of habitually committing grave sins, they remain obligated to continue those acts of membership in the Church that are required of all Catholics: assisting at Mass weekly (at least), and contributing to the welfare of the Church and her members. These obligations do not cease because they are unable to receive Communion. Hence, generally it is not the pastors who have been blocking them from these basic forms of participation, it is largely they themselves who refuse to participate even in those aspects of membership they are allowed (and obliged) to carry out, because they are unable to be admitted to Communion and feel miffed about that.

They cannot be asked to be teachers, because teaching by example is an unavoidable aspect of teaching the faith, and they are unable to give the example that conveys the truth. They cannot be asked to fulfill any role of visibility as a leader, as a person of authority or respect, because the ostensible facts of their condition (REGARDLESS of their actual state of soul) make them unable to uphold the “good example” implied in these positions. This includes, generally, any “liturgical” roles they might otherwise serve in, such as being a lector. Thus, two of the 4 categories of service mentioned are basically out of bounds. {For comparison: if a priest decides that he cannot remain faithful to his vows as a priest, and he petitions Rome to be laicized, he can remain a Catholic in good standing and can receive the sacraments. However, by Canon Law he cannot be a teacher in the Church. This is because his state makes it impossible for him to speak unambiguously the fullness of the Church’s teaching, because his bad example undermines that truth.)

By allowing room for a confused sense of “participation”, this passage contributes to many disgruntled Catholics inferring that the Pope is in favor of these Catholics being lectors and teachers in the parish, even though this would be improper.

Next problem: not to put too fine a point on it, the Pope appears to be not above a little proof-texting. I have 2 examples, one stronger, one more ambiguous. First, he cites St. Thomas in order to say 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”

to seemingly imply that a person in the state of grace, might not be very “well” carrying out the behavior of one of the virtues – i.e. suggesting he might be acting CONTRARY to the objects of the virtue and still have grace. For example, that a person might have charity and grace, and yet act against the virtue of chastity by committing adultery. This is proof-texting: St. Thomas’s text clearly refers to behavior defects that are of their own nature not grave matter, and thus could not be the subject of mortal sin:

It happens sometimes that a man who has a habit, finds it difficult to act in accordance with the habit, and consequently feels no pleasure and complacency in the act, on account of some impediment supervening from without: thus a man who has a habit of science, finds it difficult to understand, through being sleepy or unwell. In like manner sometimes the habits of moral virtue experience difficulty in their works, by reason of certain ordinary dispositions remaining from previous acts. This difficulty does not occur in respect of acquired moral virtue: because the repeated acts by which they are acquired, remove also the contrary dispositions.

The suggested defects are “finds it difficult” in the sense of “feels no pleasure and complacency” in the act, not “finds it difficult to obey the 6th commandment and so defies the virtue in contrary acts like adultery.” He has previously clearly stated that these defects of soul (feels no pleasure and complacency) are not such as to constitute a departure from grace, they are at most VENIAL sins when voluntary (though, more usually, they indicate defects that are not even sins – not even voluntary - they are merely imperfections of the virtue). It is a venial sin to (willfully) do something (that you must do in duty) poorly, slowly, reluctantly. St. Thomas is NOT saying that a person might have charity and the virtue of chastity and, say, commit adultery, and remain having charity and chastity.

The second example is longer and more difficult:

I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “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”. 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.

The fuller quotation from St. Thomas is as follows, on the question Whether the natural law is the same in all men:

As stated above (Articles [2],3), to the natural law belongs those things to which a man is inclined naturally: and among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason. Now the process of reason is from the common to the proper, as stated in Phys. i. The speculative reason, however, is differently situated in this matter, from the practical reason. For, since the speculative reason is busied chiefly with the necessary things, which cannot be otherwise than they are, its proper conclusions, like the universal principles, contain the truth without fail. The practical reason, on the other hand, is busied with contingent matters, about which human actions are concerned: and consequently, although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects. Accordingly then in speculative matters truth is the same in all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions: although the truth is not known to all as regards the conclusions, but only as regards the principles which are called common notions. But 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.

It is therefore evident that, as regards the general principles whether of speculative or of practical reason, truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all. As to the proper conclusions of the speculative reason, the truth is the same for all, but is not equally known to all: thus it is true for all that the three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles, although it is not known to all. But as to the proper conclusions of the practical reason, neither is the truth or rectitude the same for all, nor, where it is the same, is it equally known by all. Thus it is right and true for all to act according to reason: and from this principle it follows as a proper conclusion, [^ª] that goods entrusted to another should be restored to their owner. Now this is true for the majority of cases: but it may happen in a particular case that it would be injurious, and therefore unreasonable, to restore goods held in trust; for instance, if they are claimed for the purpose of fighting against one's country. And this principle will be found to fail the more, according as we descend further into detail, e.g. if one were to say that goods held in trust should be restored with such and such a guarantee, or in such and such a way; because the greater the number of conditions added, the greater the number of ways in which the principle may fail, so that it be not right to restore or not to restore.

Consequently we must say that the natural law, as to general principles, is the same for all, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge. But as to certain matters of detail, which are conclusions, as it were, of those general principles, it is the same for all in the majority of cases, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge; and yet in some few cases it may fail, both as to rectitude, by reason of certain obstacles (just as natures subject to generation and corruption fail in some few cases on account of some obstacle), and as to knowledge, since in some the reason is perverted by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition of nature; thus formerly, theft, although it is expressly contrary to the natural law, was not considered wrong among the Germans, as Julius Caesar relates (De Bello Gall. vi). …

Reply to Objection 2: The saying of the Philosopher is to be understood of things that are naturally just, not as general principles, but as conclusions drawn from them, having rectitude in the majority of cases, but failing in a few.

As is usually the case with difficult passages from St. Thomas, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about understanding him. Generally, there are clues that should point us away from the wrong ways, even if it is not entirely clear. Here, the important clues are that twice he states that the kinds of departures he is talking about are FEW: “failing in a few” and “yet in some few cases”. And his example: when it would not be right to return a man’s goods to him. What may be said about the particular rules that in a few cases do not hold, is that the reason and cause that they do not hold can be found in a HIGHER law or rule: It is conducive to the orderliness of the state to restore a man’s goods to him…but not if the man is planning to use them to overturn the state. In either case (whether to follow the detailed rule or to disregard it) , due reason should be followed: usually, in pursuing the higher-order good by following the general rule, and sometimes (rarely) in pursuing the higher-order good, rather than the lower-order good that following the rule would achieve but at the expense of the higher.

Now, some want to use the above passage in AL to claim that in some irregular situations, a man and woman may CORRECTLY decide that “adultery is usually wrong, but in THIS case it is the better path, and therefore we ought to continue in it.” What they cannot do, however, is CORRECTLY tie such a conclusion to a higher-order good that must be preserved even though that requires disobeying the lower-order rule against adultery. Indeed, this sort of claim seems to be what Francis might meant by his reference to Thomas. But while the PRINCIPLE is entirely valid that people can and should properly consider and act in the few situations where they have to break the existing lower-order rule in order to obey a higher-order good, the principle cannot be invoked for behaviors which are constituted by an object of the act which is INTRINSICALLY disordered. This is the clear and decisive teaching of Veritatis Splendor, #76-78. Acts which are of their very nature immoral because they have a disordered object of the act, cannot become moral acts under ANY intention or circumstance, and thus cannot be made out to be in conformity with a higher-ordered good.

They seek to provide liberation from the constraints of a voluntaristic and arbitrary morality of obligation which would ultimately be dehumanizing.

Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. Although the latter did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question. The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord.

In order to offer rational criteria for a right moral decision, the theories mentioned above take account of the intention and consequences of human action…. But the consideration of these consequences, and also of intentions, is not sufficient for judging the moral quality of a concrete choice. The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is "according to its species", or "in itself", morally good or bad, licit or illicit. The foreseeable consequences are part of those circumstances of the act, which, while capable of lessening the gravity of an evil act, nonetheless cannot alter its moral species….

78. The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the "object" rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas…. Consequently, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil".[127] And Saint Thomas observes that "it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused. 'There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just' (Rom 3:8)"

And so here I will urge my main suggestion on “how Catholics should read AL”: as a Church document, it must be read in a certain way. That way is to take its teachings as in conformity with what has already been definitively taught. Hence, in any passage that is seemingly ambiguous, or even at first glance seemingly at odds with earlier Church teaching, you have to read it in such a way as to conform to the earlier. You have to resolve ambiguities in favor of the extant Church teaching. It is quite nonsensical to suggest that in a given passage, AL participates in the ordinary teaching magisterium while saying something at odds with prior expressions of that magisterium.

This is to say: whatever Francis might have considered he was implying in an ambiguous passage, becomes less critical to the interpretation than what the passage must mean in comparison to Church teaching. For, he issued this as a formal Church document. Francis (and any pope) can issue personal stuff all the time. Both JPII and Benedict published personal reflections in their own name: these are not Church teachings, however valuable they are. But when they publish in the name of the Church, they lose the right to have it ALL their own way, they are constrained by the entire breadth and depth of existing Church teaching, and it is impossible for a pope to issue a document with the Church’s authority and by that authority definitively contradict the Church’s own past magisterial teaching.

Next problem in AL: Francis makes a habit of explaining himself with references to his own prior (non-authoritative) statements, either those as Pope or his earlier statements (his "Address at the Meeting of Families in Santiago de Cuba ", his "Address to the United States Congress"). He also liberally sprinkles references to the issue of other bishops and other bodies, such as bishops’ conferences, local and regional synods, all generally in the last 40 years or so. Hardly ANYTHING that is controversial is adequately supported by a direct reference to an older source, or to a more authoritative source than these low-level ones. His use of references to older or higher sources is all for the easy stuff, the simple, the direct, the straightforward stuff that every Catholic of good will is already in agreement with, more or less: the REGULAR teachings of the Church that neither he nor anyone else is taking issue with. When he wants to bring out something edgy, he never uses those sources.

The reason this causes a special problem is this: all these modern (and, to some extent, modernist) sources suffer from newspeak. That is to say, they say things in difficult ways, ambiguously, strangely, from weird angles and perspectives and in language that has not yet been incorporated into the Church as KNOWN expressions with definite meanings. They are not precise, they are indefinite, they are cloudy and troublesome to pin down. They mean 10 different things to 10 different scholars who use them. As a result, even when we are open to learning and accepting, we are left wondering “what did that mean”. Example:

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”.3

I am sorry to have to say it, but this is a deeply troubled group of words. “Already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject” is gobbledygook. Perhaps Francis knew what he means by these words. I defy any random 10 theology scholars to come to a mutual agreement about them. In fact, this article in the National “Catholic” (sic) Reporter does an admirable job of TRYING to get to the meaning.

It is highly enlightening, in a depressing sort of way: it too is full of gobbledygook language and phrases. But what is most telling is that under the reasoning it applies to explain the role of conscience here, there is no such thing as an act which is intrinsically disordered by having as its object something that is evil of its own nature.*± What JPII said in Veritatis Splendor goes out the window: all acts of whatever nature might be good in their species, and appropriate in their object, depending on the determinations of the conscience, which is not determinate by any standard outside itself. Although the author keeps on SAYING that this is not a form of subjectivism, there is no feature of it that can be actually distinguished from subjectivism or pure relativism. Methinks he protesteth too much.

[*± the use of the expression “object” in Veritatis Splendor and my own comments should be carefully distinguished from the use of “objective” and “subjective” in most modern works, including Michael Lawlor’s article. The latter terms are usually without any precise meaning; by and large, if you consult any number of philosophers, you will get such severe divergences of meaning as to be left standing in quicksand. In no way should one assume that “objective” bears the same notional content as “object of the act” to JPII or St. Thomas.]

[JPII, Veritatis Splendor 44] Thus my Venerable Predecessor Leo XIII emphasized the essential subordination of reason and human law to the Wisdom of God and to his law. After stating that "the natural law is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin", Leo XIII appealed to the "higher reason" of the divine Lawgiver: "But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject". Indeed, the force of law consists in its authority to impose duties, to confer rights and to sanction certain behaviour: "Now all of this, clearly, could not exist in man if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions". And he concluded: "It follows that the natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end; it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe".

So, frankly, what Michael Lawlor is trying to say, and what the International Theological Commission is trying to say, appear to be fairly simple attempts to confuse and reject what Leo XIII said and JPII reaffirmed about conscience and natural law. And other modernist attempts to resolve what this role of conscience is run to other quite inconsistent solutions. Which implies, of course, that what the Pope is saying is ambiguous, uncertain.

Another problem: Francis allows himself to stoop to straw man arguments. Here are 2 examples:

For this reason, 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.

I suggest that not one pastor in 100 uses moral laws merely to “throw stones at people’s lives”, even metaphorically. Francis is setting up (implicitly) the straw man that pastors either DO apply the moral laws to cohabitating couples in order to “throw stones”, or they DON’T apply the moral laws to them, instead they go another path such as “accompaniment” and “discernment”. There are, of course, more options than that, such as “pastors apply the moral laws, in order to encourage a deepening of a person’s respect for moral reality, and invite them to enter into conversion, contrition, rejection of their sins, and grace, just as Christ invited the divorced and remarried woman at the well.” (One is reminded of C.S. Lewis’s comment through Screwtape: the devil’s purpose is often to get the Christian to acknowledge the sinfulness of, and spend immense effort avoiding, sins which he is least likely to commit anyway. Get 17th century French nobles to worry about false humility, when it is vanity that is their besetting sin.)

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

The “it is reductive” accusation is a great one for the liberals: it’s a lot like throwing stones at those who believe what JPII and Leo said. It is a straw man. Again: since when is there any need to “simply” consider whether an action contravenes a general law, without considering also such things as mitigating circumstances (or aggravating ones)? Since when does any pastor actually DO this, knowing that actual mortal sin involves 3 criteria, not one? Why cannot one “consider” that and then go on to consider all the OTHER facets that need to be considered, and come to the conclusion sometimes that “these persons are committed to staying in their habits of objective grave sin, and have no intention of converting their lives to Christ”? In such a situation, the pastor observing that their condition, both objectively* and subjectively* (and manifestly), does not permit them to receive Communion, he will refuse it to them if they present themselves so at Mass.

Next: Francis appears to employ a technique that is either a bait and switch, or simply glosses over important additional considerations that ought to have been added here and were not:

301. For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. 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 are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. 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”,339 or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”

Let’s take the difficult case of Situation A, a man and woman who were both married, both divorced, and both civilly married to each other, and now have 3 kids together. Francis rightly points out that due to circumstances, we cannot know for certain, right off the bat, that they are living in a state of mortal sin. In a theoretical sense, they may have circumstances and conditions within them that impedes either of the 2nd or 3rd of the conditions necessary for an act to be a mortal sin, which are:

(i) It is a gravely wrong act;
(ii) Knowledge that it is gravely wrong;
(iii) Deliberate consent of the will.

When you look at these, there is no doubt at all about (i) (for adultery is inherently a grave matter), so that’s not a candidate for causing the adultery they are engaging in from constituting IN THEM mortal sin. What about the other two?

Well, it is in fact theoretically possible for a couple to not know that their acts of adultery are gravely wrong acts. How? How does anybody not know that adultery is gravely wrong? By their not knowing that their behavior is adultery. How can that be? It is possible that a couple does not know the Church teaching that civil divorce does not erase a sacramental marriage and that they cannot contract another marriage while the first marriage exists. Sad to say, there are a few Catholics so horribly catechized that they don’t know these teachings by the Church. I have even run into Catholics who did not know that in the Catholic Church they have to have their marriage witnessed / blessed by a priest (or deacon) in order for the marriage to be valid. So let us distinguish, break down Situation A into 3 different cases: Scenario 1 is Jane and Jim, who both know that the Church teaches that their second marriage is null because the first is still in force. Scenario 2 is slightly different, where Joe and Jean know THAT the Church frowns on remarriage, but have no understanding of why and don’t quite grasp that civil divorce does not erase the first marriage. Scenario 3 is for Fred and Betty who don’t even know that they have to have a marriage blessed by the Church (and let’s assume this knowledge was in them innocent: they did not have to avoid learning things, they just never heard about Church marriage rules. Somehow.).

For Scenario 3, then, they got “married” outside the Church, and then got divorced and remarried without asking a priest to bless the marriage: they might not know that their second marriage is at risk without their first marriage being null, (and they cannot act on the presumption the first is null without submitting it to the determination of the Church). In real innocence, they don’t know they cannot contract marriage without the blessing of the Church, and they don’t know that civil divorce does not free them for a second marriage.

But it must be admitted that the number of these is very few. Most civilly divorced Catholics (who don’t have a declaration of nullity) refuse to attempt to remarry in the Church because they know darn well their pastor will not do it. The vast majority of Catholics know that the Church rules are sticky in this manner, even if they do not fully grasp the underlying reasons: They know the FACT of the Church teaching, that there is no reality to a second marriage if the first was valid. So, for the 99.99% who didn’t try to get remarried in the Church, this theoretical possibility of being (in innocence) ignorant of the Church teaching does not ACTUALLY excuse them. It must also be said that the couple in Situation 3, since they are not aware of running up against Church rules, ALSO do not imagine themselves having any reason to NOT present themselves to receive Communion, so they aren’t the ones making waves. They simply assume that everything is fine and go on receiving Communion. So their actually being not in a state of mortal sin, and their receiving Communion, are compatible, and the Church’s rules are not preventing someone who “ought to be free to receive Communion” from doing so.

Let’s stop a moment to reflect more fully on that scare-quoted phrase: “ought to be free to receive Communion”. The premises being used by those in favor of a new, more relaxed attitude about admitting remarried Catholics to Communion is this: Only those who are actually in a state of mortal sin are properly excluded from Communion, all those in a state of grace receive Communion with benefit and should be allowed to receive. Some who are divorced and remarried are in a state of grace, because they have defective knowledge or diminished freedom of will. Therefore, those who are divorced and remarried but free of mortal sin should be free to receive Communion.

This argument is erroneous because the first premise is wrong. Although it is true that all those who are in a state of mortal sin should not receive Communion, it does not follow that those who are in a state of grace should be free to receive. This is so for multiple reasons, I will give 3.

First, because it is not true that everyone can be morally certain whether they are in a state of grace or a state of mortal sin. Most people can be, most of the time, but there are difficult circumstances and ambiguous cases. Because of what receiving Communion does when a person is not in a state of grace, (it condemns them further, being yet another grave sin, of an even higher order), it is not an issue with which to take chances. This is not an area about which to say “Well, I am not 100% sure I am in a state of mortal sin, so I am free to receive.” That’s not how it works. If a person has committed acts which, by their inherent nature, are gravely disordered, and he knows that the Church calls them so, most persons who had defective knowledge or diminished consent would be morally uncertain that their state of knowledge or consent is exculpatory enough to excuse them from the guilt of mortal sin. (Not least, because we are poor judges of our own motives, and in matters of habitual sin we are particularly prone to fooling ourselves.) And generally these should not receive Communion in such a state of uncertainty.

Secondly, the fact of having had (in the past) defective knowledge or insufficient consent with respect to these gravely wrong acts does not, all by itself, tell the full story of whether they are properly disposed to receive Communion. If a person is fully prepared to go on committing the same sins, the fact that the prior acts may not have caused the state of mortal sin in him doesn’t by itself leave him ready to receive the grace of the sacrament. The disposition to receive the sacrament which is Jesus Christ, and the concrete readiness to go on remaining in the _same_grave_sins, are mutually incompatible. Hence most remarried couples (i.e. those planning to continue to live as husband and wife) should not receive Communion because they are not properly disposed, regardless of whether their past sins were actually mortal or venial (taking the process of “discernment” as above outlined, in discussion with their pastor who will correctly inform them of the intrinsically disordered nature of the acts of living as spouses with persons who are not actually spouses).

Finally, Communion (as the name suggests) is not a private act alone, is has a very significant community dimension. One does not receive Communion directly and visibly from the hands of Jesus Himself, one receives from a priest, who is ordained so by the Church, which is the community of those united in the Body of Christ. The reception of Communion is thus a public act, whereby one at least implicitly says before the community of the Church “I am properly disposed to receive the Eucharist.” For a person whose life MANIFESTLY is incompatible with the teachings of the Church, because they are in direct defiance of the Church’s rules about divorce and remarriage, receiving Communion causes scandal (leads others to sin), and is thus an act contrary to charity. The Church recognizes this in Canon 915, which directs pastors not to give Communion to those manifestly obstinate in grave sin. A person must consider his impact on others with his social behavior, and avoid causing scandal to others. (St. Paul: Be careful, however, that your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you who are well informed eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged to eat food sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. By sinning against your brothers in this way and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ . 1 Cor 8) So it remains true even of a divorced and remarried couple who have chosen to live only as brother and sister, have repented their past adultery, who intend to follow the Church law about remarriage, who are properly disposed to receive Communion, EVEN THEY may not be able to receive Communion within the community that knows of their remarriage, so as to avoid scandal. This the Pope himself alludes to clearly.

So it is not simply true that everyone in the state of grace is and should be considered free to receive Communion.

Now, returning to the cases: In Scenario 2, Joe and Jean know that they are in violation of Church rules to get a second (civil) marriage, even though they don’t understand why. The fact they don’t understand why is not determinative to whether “they know it is gravely wrong”, the second criterion. A Catholic who once married in the Church cannot be unaware that contracting marriage is, of itself, a grave act, and so implies taking proper and due care in coming to marriage. If they don’t UNDERSTAND why the second marriage is not allowed, and that’s why they won’t approach a priest, they have an obligation (in due diligence) to find out. Failing to do that due diligence is a morally culpable omission, and that culpability implies in some measure responsibility in “knowing that it is gravely wrong”. Generally, refusing to find out why is done because one doesn’t want to know explicitly what one already has a sense of implicitly. Cf St. Paul’s mention of the gentiles who were condemned by the law that they knew implicitly, even though God had not come down and handed them 2 tablets of the explicit Law.

To be thorough here: some relativists will claim that, similar to Scenario 2, if the couple knows that the Church rejects the validity of the civil divorce nullifying the first marriage, but they haven’t accepted that claim, then for their purposes, “they don’t know” that the civil divorce does not annul the first marriage, and then their material adultery will be – in them – non-culpable. This thesis is wrong, it is a false understanding of the conscience and its role in forming moral acts. The person who knows THAT the Church teaches this about civil divorces but doesn’t understand why has 2 morally allowed options: (1) he can accept it submissively, in humility, because it is the definitive position of the Church; or (2) he can search and LEARN why the Church teaches this. This is what it means to follow the obligation to inform the conscience: it includes listening to the Church’s basic guidance, and when you don’t understand, seek instruction. For him to refuse acceptance of this teaching merely because he doesn’t understand it is ITSELF morally disordered, gravely so, and makes his failure to obey the Church discipline in the matter culpable; it is not “invincible ignorance”. And of this act, no such person is with reason morally certain that his culpability is venial rather than mortal; If he imagines that he is morally certain of it, he is willfully fooling himself – i.e. he is compounding his wickedness. So, when the Pope refers to “. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values’ ”, he seems to be glossing over all this: a person’s obligation to inform their conscience does not leave them free to disobey the Church or the 10 Commandments or the civil law when they do not understand their “inherent values”, and it does not render them non-culpable for failing to obey the law.

And, perchance, even if Joe and Jean should happen to have such bad education or upbringing that they ARE actually free from the guilt of mortal sin, and (somehow, strangely) they also are morally certain of this, AND that they somehow escape the censure of improper disposition with respect to intending to continue in this sin, they are not free from the social dimension of receiving Communion: they should still refrain from receiving Communion because the Church with due reasons, (protecting others from scandal), tells them not to.

I guess it is possible that a penitent could seek out Fr. Fluffy who gives bad advice, or even just accidentally land on Fr. Fluffy’s doorstep and get bad advice, i.e. counseling that defies Church teaching on this matter. Existentially, this is not only possible, it is almost certain that it happens. But since Fr. Fluffy is not teaching in accordance with the Church, the Church does not have any doctrinal or juridic reason to stand by what he says as if it were a determinant for her rules. That is to say, while a man might walk away from Fr. Fluffy thinking “I am good to go, I can stay with my “wife” and still receive Communion”, the Church has no reason to say “if and when you receive bad counseling from a priest who rejects the doctrines on the sacraments, then you might be morally innocent of mortal sin and therefore we RULE that you may receive Communion while committing acts which are materially gravely wrong acts.” Such a juridical position would be silly. The rules don’t need to account for that scenario even though it is theoretically possible, that’s not how rules work. You create rules that best promote the common good. What best promotes the common good is the rule that persons living in Situation A as divorced and remarried are not to receive Communion, because materially their acts are those of gravely wrong sins, and it is extremely likely that formally they are committing mortal sins; and because even if they happen to be not committing mortal sins yet, the only safe way for them to discern this is with their pastor, whose instruction and guidance will enlighten them and they will THEN be committing mortal sins if they persist.

And then we tackle the third criterion, deliberate consent of the will: in the situations I am describing, one can hardly suppose that the individuals don’t have deliberate consent of the will to their actions of behaving as a married couple. Generally, what they don’t “consent” to is that that type of behavior is adultery (i.e. in the bedroom treating the second marriage as valid), or that such adultery is gravely wrong, or that by committing gravely wrong acts they disqualify themselves from receiving Communion. But THESE “non-consent” aspects of their behavior are not a failure to consent to the acts they are engaging in, they are a failure to accept reality OF those acts. This JUST IS the moral condition of culpability for grave sin.

People don’t “accidentally” get a divorce, nor re-marry. Nor is it something they do on the spur of the moment. So their acts are not outside the context of “deliberate consent” because of immediacy of some quick reaction to an unforeseen situation. While there was once a time where significantly many women might have married under a kind of moral pressure (that reduces culpability) for entering into marriage, that day is largely past; there are relatively few of that sort these days. Of these, there are far fewer who then divorce, and remarry under a similar sort of moral pressure. The usual list of criteria for causes of reduced freedom simply don’t apply:

“imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”

The choices to re-'marry' and live as married are almost always free deliberately consented acts as that applies to the third criterion of mortal sin. Unless you are Zsa Zsa Gabor, you don’t re-marry by habit. You don’t do it inadvertently. You don’t do it out of duress (you can’t actually contract a marriage in duress, anyway.) Nobody has an inordinate attachment to getting married, though they might have an inordinate attachment to sexual pleasure.

In the very few cases complex and difficult where the second marriage is truly not a freely consented act and therefore it is not culpable as mortal sin, it remains true that (a) the couple themselves would be incapable of a sufficiently unbiased evaluation of that to be morally certain they were in a state of grace, and (b) they would still be constrained by the public dimension of their objective* state (“married” without the approval of the Church) as to the public reception of Communion.

So what I keep seeing in various commenters who are trying to defend certain edgy, extreme, or new positions on admitting the remarried to Communion and pointing at AL for this, is that they keep ignoring the fact that the person whose complex and difficult circumstances (which might concretely imply they are not culpable in the manner of mortal sin), these couples cannot reasonably evaluate their own status in these difficult and complex cases, they must in good faith take it to their priest. And if they take the matter to a priest, they SHOULD be given enough new information and guidance on right morals so that they cannot continue in living with the second “spouse” as if married, without becoming no longer properly disposed to receive Communion.

Comments (30)

Hence, in any passage that is seemingly ambiguous, or even at first glance seemingly at odds with earlier Church teaching, you have to read it in such a way as to conform to the earlier. You have to resolve ambiguities in favor of the extant Church teaching

Heh. A kind of Contra proferentem with Pope Francis being the offerer and the deposit of faith the promisee.

Dear Tony,

A very thoughtful post.

One thing I do want to point out, however, is that simply presenting one's case to a parish priest does NOT satisfy the Canonical requirements for discernment of moral culpability or nullity. These cases cannot be decided in the internal forum, because marriage, being a public act, requires a public declaration for its nullity.

The renown canonist, Ed Peters, has written extensively on this. See, here:



for examples, as well as his articles on his blog:


The Chicken

My comment about the internal forum went into moderation because I included a couple of links. It is important to understand why a priest, acting alone, cannot pronounce a marriage null and if he cannot, then he cannot pronounce there being no sin. I hope the comment gets pulled from moderation.

The Chicken

"When the Rome Hits Your Eye, That's Amoris"

[To be sung to the tune of Dean Martin's "That's amore."]

LOL, I actually sung the Title Line to the tune, and it just cracked me up big time. It's so farcially silly. I broke out laughing. This has got to be one of the best titles for a blog post ever!

P.S. Great post too.

Yup, that's an early entrant for Headline of the Year, Tony.

Truth, and Paul, thanks. We aim to amuse when we cannot enlighten. It's a bonus when we can do both, right?

Chicken, you are absolutely right that an irregular marital situation cannot generally be fixed in the internal forum, with the couple and the parish priest. If I gave the impression that I was aiming in that direction, I am sorry, and I take it back. What I meant to imply was a couple and their parish priest working out in the internal forum a settled conclusion on such matters as "we have been living in a state of mortal sin" and "we cannot receive Communion without first going to confession" and "the Church expects you to live in accordance with your first marriage vows, which means - at an absolute minimum - that you live as brother and sister within your current relationship while you sort out what might be done (if anything) about the first marriage." And "while you are living as brother and sister, unless you make it public among your friends and relatives that you no longer consider yourself married to the second "spouse" and that you are not living as married, you would probably be causing scandal to continue to receive Communion in the parish." Those can be "decided" in the internal forum. And, likewise, alternate conclusions in the rare cases where something truly unusual is present.

Heh. A kind of Contra proferentem with Pope Francis being the offerer and the deposit of faith the promisee.

Scott, that's a great comparison. I particularly loved this line in the linked article:

The reasoning behind this rule is to encourage the drafter of a contract to be as clear and explicit as possible and to take into account as many foreseeable situations as it can.

Yes, the push SHOULD be to get the draftsman to be as clear and explicit as possible. Francis needs to recognize the difference between saying obscure and ambiguous stuff off the cuff, in an interview on an airplane, and saying the same sorts of ambiguous stuff in a formal Church document like an apostolic exhortation. His personal foible of being careless, while excusing SOME of his less admirable quotes, would not excuse him or any other Pontiff in failing to perform due diligence in formal documents. (There's another legalistic metaphor!)

One thing he is doing, (among many others, of course) is forcing many others using up HUGE amounts of time, energy, and effort in clarifying what must be said in order to mop up his little dribbles and drabbles of carelessness. I spent over 10,000 words above on his short-(ish) chapter 8, and others have put out still more than that. If Francis's purpose is to try to get people to focus on the important stuff (like caritas), he is failing at least in part because he is obscuring THAT message with the careless droppings and their cascading effects.

Tony, I hope this is not too harsh to say in this public forum, esp. from a Protestant, but my strong impression is

a) that Francis *wants* to throw out the earlier Church teachings on divorce and remarriage and Communion (fairly wholesale), though he does not try to do so using authoritative formulae and

b) that Francis is positively *hostile* to the rigor, internal consistency, and clarity that are hallmarks of traditional Catholic teaching.

If these are true, then it is not surprising that he sows confusion by alluding to newspeak documents, by strawman arguments, and by insinuating what he wants to say clearly enough to be understood but unauthoritatively enough not to "push the envelope" too hard.

Since I dislike that sort of thing intensely, I rather wish that the Cardinals had moved forward with further fraternal correction rather than allowing Francis to get away with ignoring them. It looks like he took a gamble that they were bluffing and won his bet. I don't attribute bad motives to them. I'm sure they are trying to avoid chaos or schism. (Rather like a governor who "blinks" in the face of a ridiculous Supreme Court ruling because he doesn't want to start a civil war.)

a) that Francis *wants* to throw out the earlier Church teachings on divorce and remarriage and Communion (fairly wholesale),

If I had to bet one way or the other, I could not summon enough evidence to make me happy betting against this position. But since I don't have to bet on this, I prefer to use reticence about direct inferences like this. That is to say, I refuse to draw as definite a conclusion as this. I am willing to say, however, that the documents he issues are loaded with unclarity, and people will use that unclarity to push the progressive agenda, and it seems likely that Francis could envision just that. I don't need to think his documents are heretical to be unhappy with that state of affairs I just described.

I rather wish that the Cardinals had moved forward with further fraternal correction rather than allowing Francis to get away with ignoring them. It looks like he took a gamble that they were bluffing and won his bet.

Oh, heavens, I don't think so. I really don't. I think that Cardinal Burke and his confreres are waiting a seemly amount of time after they made the dubia public, and after Burke issued his warning that further steps were possible, before they take those further steps in correction. At the pace of bureaucracy, I thought 2 months (from the September date they sent in the dubia, to the November date where they announced them publicly) was lightening fast. Nothing gets done in 2 months in the Vatican. I would not even begin to suspect that the cardinals are caving in until at least February, and more plausibly until after Easter. In fact, I would be worried if they came out with something too quickly, as giving it the appearance of undue haste, of trying to unduly pressure the Pope their superior, of impatience when they 'don't get their way right away'.

Ah, having done a little more research, I see that Cardinal Muller, who said that no fraternal correction will take place, is not one of the people actually carrying out the process and is merely giving his opinion. I had mistakenly thought it was some kind of definite statement that those who issued the dubia were dropping the matter, but I was wrong.

Lydia, I see what had you thinking in this direction. This interview with Cardinal Müller:


Cardinal Müller even said that he was surprised that the Letter of the Four Cardinals to the pope – containing the dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia – had been published. “I do not like that,” he added. In Müller’s eyes, it is not at all appropriate “almost to force the pope to answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’” with regard to the dubia, especially because “there is not any danger to the Faith” which would then fittingly call for such a fraternal correction.

I think that Cardinal Müller is in a VERY sticky spot. He clearly sympathizes with the doctrinal intent of the 4 cardinals who sent in the dubia, this he has made clear in repeated instance, such as when he reprimanded the German bishops who have effectively resolved to ignore Canon Law and go with a very lax pastoral approach to the remarriage question (and related ones). On the other hand, he is the Pope's right hand man on doctrinal matters, and cannot be expected to call out the Pope in public, and even a tepid support of the Pope would make waves. So he is trying to thread an incredibly difficult path between these. He can with relative doctrinal safety take the 4 cardinals to task for such things as the timing, the publication, and possible disrespect with which they acted; doing so does not in the least deny their doctrinal points. On the other hand, he goes further in support of the Pope than just these superficial aspects:

“Amoris Laetitia is very clear in its doctrine and [in it] we can interpret [sic] the whole doctrine of Jesus concerning marriage, the whole doctrine of the Church of 2000 years history.”

In the face of VERY contradictory implementations of AL by different bishops, one could suggest this only on the basis of some interpretive framework - like I stated above - that simply automomatically imposes a filter of 2000 years of past teaching and therefore discounts any apparent contradiction with it, even one that is the most reasonable, visible intention of the Pope himself.

Müller is trying to hold threads of two ideas together, and make them fit together, where it is not clear that they CAN be fit together, and so far nobody has yet pronounced a viable model for making them fit together.

Cardinal Müller: There is no exception to the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage. The individual case referred to here relates to the question whether or not all natural conditions (especially the desire to marry) and the right understanding of marriage were given in Faith at the moment of contracting the marriage. In the normal case, an orderly church procedure (marriage process) clarifies whether or not a marriage is valid. In this context, the Pope refers to the “individual cases” in situations in which no clarity can be achieved by the Church, but where a single person, in his conscience, and after careful consultation with his confessor, honestly comes to the conviction of the invalidity of his first marriage. The confessor needs a profound spiritual discernment on the basis of ecclesiastical teaching on marriage. He can not simply suspend the indissolubility of a marriage at his own discretion and judgment and thus ignore the word of God. According to this situation, therefore, general guidelines would be here a contradiction in itself. This is also written in the papal document [Amoris Laetitia]. There is no door opened to a kind of “Catholic divorce,” which is secretly conceived and embarrassedly cloaked with pious words. [my emphasis]

Here is my suggested pathway toward a resolution to the problem, if there is one to be found.

The indissolubility of marriage is the foundational doctrinal fact that cannot be lost. But this is not the ONLY element of the problem, there is a second: the social reality of marriage, which is present in two facets: First, a marriage in itself is a social reality, for a marriage duly contracted constitutes the creative moment of a new social unit, a new family. Hence the act of contracting marriage can never be SIMPLY a matter of a decision between a man and woman, as if society had nothing to say to it.

Secondly, the Church has a role in Christian marriage, for by her action she raises their marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church, and is also an instrumental cause of God bestowing the graces needed for the couple to carry out their marital love in fidelity to their calling. By God's own design, the Church has jurisdiction over the sacraments, and so the sacramental action is under the authority of the Church and her organized structure, through the actions of her priests and bishops. The Church has no authority to give up its jurisdiction of the sacraments, including over marriage.

Hence, so far as I understand the historical position of the Church, (which I might not) it seems impossible for the Church to effectively say, for example, that each couple can marry without the Church's institutional involvement, for doing so would dissociate the sacramental order from the Church's jurisdiction.

However, I think there is ONE SLIGHT WINDOW of room for, and opportunity for, a change not in doctrine but in juridical approach: the presumption of validity that is applied to marriage as currently given under Canon Law. This presumption is, I think, juridical in nature and it therefore could be changed at need. I am not sure how it could work, but modifying the presumption through juridical decrees could give more room for handling irregular situations with more nuance.

Here is the kind of thing I am thinking: right now, if a Catholic enters a civil marriage with a non-Christian, without Church approval, according to the norms of Canon Law that marriage cannot be valid. Suppose they divorce. Formerly, the rules - even for this situaton - say that the Catholic party cannot marry in the Church without first getting a decree of nullity for the first marriage. And all such decrees must be run up through the diocesan tribunal. However, this is bureacratic silliness. If the Catholic can go to his parish priest, and show to him clearly that he never got the first marriage blessed (his home parish records will show this), the parish priest COULD make the judgment that he (the priest) is free to bless the new marriage because the individual is free to marry, because he never had real first marriage at all. This is a juridical issue: it is STILL THE CHURCH institutionally making the decision, just not at the tribunal level. That's OK at least in theory. Is it prudent? Well, we can guarantee some mistakes. However, given that currently the frequent outcome is that a couple who REALLY ARE ontologically free to marry, do attempt a civil marriage without Church blessing because the Church places a bureaucratic barrier to the marriage, and then the couple lives in sin, it is at least PLAUSIBLE that the risks on the other side balance, and it may well be prudent to make this change. Especially if the tribunal cannot hear the case within, say, 4 or 6 months because they are so backed up, I say let's give some juridical relief where it is possible.

But note, EVEN HERE I have not suggested altering the presumption of validity. This suggestion leaves it intact for (a) it STILL requires that the Church authorities pronounce a decision about the prior marriage, and (b) (this is more nuanced) there should be no presumption of validity to something that FACIALLY has no validity to begin with. The whole point of the idea of a "presumption" is that when you are faced with the outward form of a thing, you presume the inward reality is present until it is proven otherwise. The "inward reality" enjoys the benefit of the doubt. In the above case, the OUTWARD FORM does not satisfy the requirements of a valid marriage, and the Church has said so repeatedly. The Church has insisted for many centuries that she has such jurisdiction over marriage that her rules of canonical form actually so constrains a Catholic that they are unable EVEN TO CONTRACT A NATURAL MARRIAGE (non-sacramental) without following the forms. Therefore, according to her own rules, in the above case, the PRESUMPTION should be that the Catholic never achieved a marriage, and a declaration of this should not require high-level authority, for it is only stating what is presumed true anyway.

But this conceptually sets up the sort of changes I suggest COULD be made with regard to the presumption of validity. First, in the social and cultural conditions in which the norms of the "presumption of validity" appeared, a Catholic could be presumed to be aware of most of the natural law truth about marriage - that it must be for life, that it be faithful, that it be open to life. Where, as we have now, such a cultural degradation of "marriage" in the social order that such a large minority of people cannot see the absolute absurdity of "gay marriage", there is much less of a reason for confidence that a couple (including Catholic) actually understands even the natural law about marriage, much less the supernatural features of the sacramental order. Hence, on a purely ontological level, there is more room to DOUBT that a couple (any couple) really did have the required understanding to contract a marriage, and thus more reason to be cautious of imposing a strong legal _presumption_ that they successfully contracted a marriage when they appeared to.*

So, there are at least one or two ways that the Church could, juridically, alter the presumption of validity without calling the doctrine into question. She could lay out a few conditions under which the presumption would NOT hold. For example, if the bride was visibly pregnant at the wedding (or if the baby is born naturally at full term before 7 months pass after the wedding): the emotional and psychological forces at play would make one concerned with the freedom with which she was choosing to marry.* This could provide an outward reality to undermine the application of a presumption of validity. (If the Church encapsulated this in a rule, whether you call this a legal defeater to the presumption, or simply a side-step that says no presumption is to be applied, I don't know - seems to me as much semantics as anything.)

*( I would comment, here, that the kinds of changes here suggested would seem to imply other changes that would be not so pleasing to those who want more nuance and discretion lower down at the parish level: they would imply MORE STRINGENT rules for getting married in the first place. If there is a Canon Law rule that says "if the bride is pregnant at the time of the wedding, there can be no presumption that the marriage is valid", then a pastor might have to tell a pregnant bride she cannot get married, for he has no way of being able to overcome the appearance of doubt about her consent being adequate, regardless of her protestations of her full consent.)

Another pathway to making remarriage more possible would be to juridically create certain straightforward conditions in which the presumption of validity is defeated. If a man was known to others to be addicted to pornography before the wedding, the Church could juridically decide (by changing the rules) that the presumption does not hold - that the the condition of addiction defeats the presumption of validity. If I understand the concepts (and I am not confident of this), by defeating the presumption, the Church might effectively make is so that the substantiation for invalidity be no more than a simple "preponderance of the evidence" or whatever the canon law equivalent is. In which case, a tribunal might then be able to proceed much more swiftly toward a determination of nullity. If you don't have a presumption of validity weighing on the case, it should be easier to establish adequate grounds for a declaration of nullity.

Indeed, this sort of approach might be applied to many other conditions in one or other of the couple: addiction to drugs, habits of committing serious crimes, and depression or other mental illness, any of these could be factual foundations for a juridical defeater to the presumption.

But please note: these possible changes would leave intact that the institutional Church (i.e. the authorities in it) is still juridically involved in the determination of the validity of a prior marriage. So there would be no direct conflict with these changes and the doctrinal position that the Church has jurisdiction over marriage.

At the same time, these changes WOULD require amendments to Canon Law. So, the current position of the Pope that changes to "the rules" are not what he is pointing at, but how the existing rules are being applied, no longer would be maintained. In fact, I think that the Pope is missing a HUGE opportunity here, to alter practice precisely by altering the rules, and this may possibly be because the Pope is quite uncomfortable with the concept of law as binding to begin with. If he were more cognizant of how law (including Church law) constitutes a moral condition on the right behavior of persons, he would be more ready to make the changes he wants through adjustments to laws - especially to laws that no longer sufficiently reflect the conditions that prevail. That's my guess, but I admit it is a bit of arm-chair psychologizing and can be no better than a remote guess.

I want to highlight a contrast that is critical to what is going on here.

I said, on the one hand:

Hence, so far as I understand the historical position of the Church, (which I might not) it seems impossible for the Church to effectively say, for example, that each couple can marry without the Church's institutional involvement, for doing so would dissociate the sacramental order from the Church's jurisdiction.

On the other hand, Card. Müller says:

In this context, the Pope refers to the “individual cases” in situations in which no clarity can be achieved by the Church, but where a single person, in his conscience, and after careful consultation with his confessor, honestly comes to the conviction of the invalidity of his first marriage.

According to the traditional approach to the problem, the faithful teaching of the saints and Fathers and Doctors is that all authority comes from God and in God's providence all exercise of authority duly carried out according to reason and attention to due norms IS GOD'S WILL. That is to say, if in the normal run of things a judge makes a determination of the following sort, properly applying reason and judicially valid principles, then his decision is the concrete expression of what God intends in this circumstance: "(a) the law states a legal presumption in favor of X; (b) no satisfactory evidence here overturns the legal presumption; therefore (c) I hereby declare that X holds." A person might be tempted to say "well, yes, this is a legally valid result, but it still doesn't definitively ascertain the concrete ontological fact of whether X is true. " In a difficult marriage case, the divorced spouse might be in effect saying "I accept the judgment finding that there is NOT SUFFICIENT evidence to overturn the presumption that my first marriage was valid, this doesn't preclude the situation that there really WAS no such marriage, but also that the factual evidence for it never existed or has since been destroyed." In such a situation, the spouse trying to get the annulment would be tempted to then say "I remain firmly convinced that my marriage DID NOT exist", because your declaration is merely that YOU CANNOT PROVE that it did not exist, your determination does not actually prove that it did exist." And, then, go on to treat her first marriage as null, by getting married again civilly.

The temptation to do this is strong, but it overlooks an important facet of Church teaching about authority. God is in absolutely complete control of creation, including the small detail of whether EVIDENCE of a truth is available. If God were to omnipotently decide to ensure that the evidence of the nullity were available, it WOULD be available. If God has instead decided that the evidence is NOT available, then it is His will that the Church (including the spouse) treat the case as "there is no sufficient evidence of nullity". That is, the spouse is obliged to accept the fact of a valid judicial process rightly carried out as indicative of what God intends for her. She is then to understand by this that God intends for her to suffer the unfortunate but by no means immoral condition of going on behaving as if her first marriage was valid even though she remains internally convinced that it was not. This is just what it means to accord the authorities their God-given role. (This principle applies just as much to civil authorities as to ecclesiastical ones: cf. Socrates and his acceptance of his death sentence though based on a false understanding of his actions.)

God can at any time prevent / alter this outcome through his complete control of the providential order. We are obliged to respect his control over both nature and men as so complete that everything that happens TO us that we cannot change as being God's will that we suffer. Thus, we are obliged to submit to the decisions of authority properly made under due forms as "what God intends for me", even if it implies inadvertently incorrect conclusions of facts (like a jail sentence for a crime I did not commmit). In the above case, it is not even an incorrect conclusion of a fact (that evidence for nullity is insufficent), but an imposition of a restraint that ontologically is unnecessary. This is under God's control.

The two problems with this are (a) not so much the individual case, but the frequency with which the juridical norms are successful at locating the ontological truth, or not doing so. And (b) in the individual case, exceptional conditions in which we ought to find a rational basis for departure from the rules.

As to (a) this is a prudential matter, and this is why I suggest that in the cultural context of today, the laws themselves may no longer reflect the reality of what people "normally" understand by "marriage". It's a judgment call for the lawgiver - in this case, ultimately, the Pope. But (again) the proper response to this is a change in law, not merely in practice.

As to (b), this is much more difficult and troublesome. The Pope is right to note that our laws come with limitations and exceptions - situations where application of the words of the law would either violate the spirit of the law, or defeat the higher goods to which the law ought to be subordinate. In the ideal, a judge is empowered to recognize these and set aside the application of the law in these individual cases. (Civil law recognizes the concept of determinations "in equity" here is a couple of ways. For instance, some decisions by judges are set out specifically as "non-precedential", meaning that the judge is finding in this case not a RULE but an exception to the rule, and exceptions are as such not an example to follow generally. Also, in contract law sometimes the judge finds that if the terms of the contract were to be applied as written, X would result, but that X is unconscionable and is to be set aside in this one case.) Speaking generically, the judge may rightly find an exception in a case where, if he were free to submit it to the legislator, the legislator would be able to say "well, no, I didn't intend for the law to have that result HERE in this case."

The problem with thinking that this concept can be used to help the large numbers of people in irregular second marriages is that in principle this approach MUST BE EXCEPTIONAL. It cannot be common. It ceases to be the same principle if it is applied over and over and over to 200 couples in a parish, to 5 million couples in a nation. If the pastors are thinking that they can use this for that many couples, then either (i) they have the wrong sense of what constitutes an exceptional set of facts under which to set aside the rule, or (ii) they have a prima facie reason to say "the law is a bad law" here and get it changed - in which case see (a) above. The Pope cannot imply that the "exceptional" format can be applied to solve the problem for 10% or 20% of these irregular unions, and if that's what he is thinking he is missing what "exception" means for this principle. Since HE IS the legislator, if he thinks the law is failing so many people, he is obliged to change the law, not to tell parish priests to make exceptions so often.

(This is, by the way, an important factor for why it is so important to have wise people at the top both of making law and of judging law. They must be able to rightly ascertain not only "what the law says" but also when obedience to the law is detrimental to the common good, and when to change the law rather than to rely on judicial exceptions. I daresay that of our past 5 or 6 popes, with probably the exception of Benedict, they illustrated some notable failures in this sense of how to be a good lawgiver and judge.)

It seems fairly obvious to me that the Pope *does* want this sort of thing applied in millions of cases, including those that otherwise have every external appearance of validity in Catholic terms. I'm afraid that from a practical perspective making a bunch of new juridical rules that state that there is no presumption of validity in various swathes of cases is only going to "feed the beast" in the sense of giving an inch to those who want to take a mile. I realize that I'm speaking politically here more than theologically, but to me this whole situation of AL reeks of political maneuvering and posturing rather than a genuine attempt to discern and promulgate theological truth.

BREAKING: Malta’s bishops allow civilly remarried divorcees to receive Communion

o "The Maltese Bishops say the new guidelines ...."

o "The Malta Bishops cite AL heavily throughout their document, including passages that are the subject of the dubia submitted by the four cardinals."

o "The Archdiocese of Malta and the Diocese of Gozo have directed their parishes to read a letter this Sunday at Mass explaining the new guidelines on interpreting Amoris Laetitia."

(To be sung to the tune of Dean Martin's "That's amore.): "When the Rome Hits Your Eye, That's Amoris"

Will Malta be allowing non-Catholics to receive communion soon, too? You know being catholic is sometimes not humanly possible, so it just doesn't seem fair to limit it to only catholics.

Malta bishop: living as brother and sister may be humanly impossible for a couple that does not have a valid marriage.

God: being spiritually alive in grace may be spiritually impossible for a couple that lives as married but without actually being married.

Outcome: God wins. Or, put another way: do you want to live humanly, or spiritually?

Or, Resolution of the "Conundrum": If you cannot live in the same house with a person not your spouse and remain chaste, then don't live in the same house with them. If you cannot live chastely, you cannot live spiritually. If you cannot choose to live spiritually, you will remain dead spiritually. Which do you want: to be spiritually alive, or humanly pleased?

If you cannot choose to live spiritually, you will remain dead spiritually.

The other day I was talking about something and quoted "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," where it says, "Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery." The moral I drew was that in the end there are only two paths--the way that leads on high and the path to misery. You pick one or the other.

Whoa, according to Ed Peters the Maltese bishops are telling their priests they have to grant the sacrament of absolution to Catholics living as divorced and remarried and continuing to have sex:

The Maltese bishops, by extending their document to the sacrament of Reconciliation, have basically instructed their priests not to withhold absolution from divorced-and-remarried Catholics who refuse to repent of their “public and permanent adultery” (CCC 2384) even to the point of abstaining from sexual (nb: sexual not “conjugal”) relations. Incredibly, such a directive raises the specter of green-lighting sacrilegious confessions and the commission of solicitation in confession.


Ugh. The term "disaster" for this is quite right.

And this is taking the natural reading of AL standing on its own, I think. It comes down to this: do we join with the innovators who read AL in conformity with the apparent intention of the Pope, or do we join with those who read AL in the hermenuetic of continuity with the entire teaching of the Church, right up to JPII and Benedict (who were no hide-bound reactionaries, not even close).

The Pope appears to think that a Catholic man can in good conscience think that continuing in sexual relations with a woman (whom the Church declares is not his wife) is the RIGHT thing to do, and that this would plausibly remain true even after he consults with his parish priest and even though he is morally bound to conform his belief about what is moral to the teaching of that priest in communion with his bishop and with Rome and with 2000 years of Church teaching. This goes further, of course, there is no way to cordon off this couple from others, and it will be applied to others: that a gay couple can supposedly in good conscience go on doing homosex to each other in spite of consulting with a priest and (presumably) being taught that such behavior cannot be in accordance with God's will under any circumstances because it is inherently disordered. The only way to say such nonsense is to repudiate that a person has an obligation to mold his conscience to a standard outside himself, and that such standard is ALWAYS accessible to him both in the natural law and in the grace of faith which leads us to humbly submit to the Church. This false understanding of conscience presupposes that a Catholic can be right in resisting against submission to the clear teaching of the Church, but the only possible source of "rightness" available, (since it is not found in any law outside him) is within himself: the "rightness" of pure volition, or in relativism that raises the individual above his God. "Ye shall be as gods" says the serpent.

What shocks me a little is the apparent set of orders to the priests. What about the priest's conscience? Why is the conscience of a priest bound to the conscience of the parishioner who is "at peace" with requesting absolution and Communion in such circumstances? This isn't even consistent anarchy in which each man follows his own conscience. It would seem a more consistent reliance on individual, private conscience for the bishops to say that they have no problem with the couple's seeking absolution and Communion, by parish-shopping if necessary, but that the priest who is conscientiously opposed to giving it to them is also not obligated to violate his own conscience.

"This isn't even consistent anarchy in which each man follows his own conscience."

Anarchy? You mean tolerance. This approach makes perfect sense. Doesn't 1 Cor 4:5 obligates him not to judge who is worthy of receiving absolution or communion. (Never mind the context or what the passage really means - that shouldn't be too much of an obstacle.)

To borrow a page from pro-choicers, specifically their argument that pro-life doctors have to be complicit in others getting an abortion, we see that, since set themselves up as the only people to provide their religious services, it would be unfair to deny any 'legit' requests for such religious services, so they have to at least refer their parishioners to some priest who will perform it for them. (They really ought to do it themselves, but look how tolerant I'm being.) Thus it is a parishioners right to have communion.

I would go so far as to say that even non-catholics should be allowed to have communion, since it is sometimes humanly impossible to be a catholic - or something like that - but I'll have to wait for now on that one.

I would go so far as to say that even non-catholics should be allowed to have communion, since it is sometimes humanly impossible to be a catholic - or something like that - but I'll have to wait for now on that one.

No, no, Sean, you don't have to wait.

Lutherans receive Communion at Vatican after meeting with Pope

Over at Ed Feser's blog we had non-Catholics telling us that the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist is essentially "a meeting with Jesus", and every sincere person who wants to meet with Jesus should be allowed to, no obstacles. Never mind what the Catholic Church thinks of its own sacrament.

Besides, this Pope has joined with the "all evangelization all the time, but no conversions away from other faiths" theory of spreading the Gospel. I would like to know what they would make of Jesus's direct command to the Apostles to "go out and teach all nations".

Would it consubstantiate for me or would it still transubstantiate? Would it be fine if I was part of the ELCA, or would that be going too far.

"every sincere person who wants to meet with Jesus should be allowed to, no obstacles"

Didn't Jesus chide his disciples for not letting Lutherans from receiving communion? It was children you say? And they weren't Lutherans? (Probably a Catholic mistranslation.)

As a rule of thumb, outsiders are much better at understanding things than those who are on the inside, and their advice is generally always good (better than those who are part of the groups they critique, esspecially of said groups claim to be administering traditions ordained by God - because God is so behind on the times). Look at what conceding small things has gotten mainline protestantism! They conceded this, gave up that, and pretty soon it seemed as if they gave up a lot - but you'd be mistaken. They are thriving more than at any time in the past (in the same way that a frown is a smile looked at upside down!).

And they weren't Lutherans? (Probably a Catholic mistranslation.)

Heh, that's great!

and pretty soon it seemed as if they gave up a lot - but you'd be mistaken. They are thriving more than at any time in the past (in the same way that a frown is a smile looked at upside down!).

You're darn tootin' right! Dwindling numbers in the churches is a GOOD sign, since it means people are being more sincere about their religion, and more of them are out "witnessing" and "accompanying" and "evangelizing" instead of spending stale time in a cold building. Eventually we will do away with the need for these crazy church buildings altogether - after all, the Apostles didn't need big churches. /end-sarc/

Yeah, I've corrected it for some scribal errors:

But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said to them, "Allow the little [Lutherans]] to come to [receive communion]! Don't forbid them, for the [eucharist] belongs to such as these." - Mark 10:14 (ICT:HCE, or It's Close Enough Translation: Human Construct Edition)

"sincere about their religion"

I believe the term is 'spiritual but not religious.' Jesus is still a great guy and all - don't get me wrong. But you've got to relate to him - - - as a metaphor or something. Take a look at this example and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/24/atheist-pastor-canada-gretta-vosper-united-church-canada and try not to be enraged, and maybe a little bit cheered up. After all, the Catholic Church isn't in shambles like they are!

"witnessing" and "accompanying" and "evangelizing"

In a sense, that could be true! I'd need to consult a few politicians to help me out, but its workable.


You were being sarcastic! If only there was some way to tell!

Figures. You probably read too much from Malachi (like 2:7,8)! I prefer reading Psalm 6:1 - as rendered in the above cited translation: 'Yahweh, you will not reprove me ever.' Also, the rendering of Psalm 51 (and 32) more fully brings out the 'its was humanly impossible' aspect that David was trying to convey.

UPDATE: Fr. Z connects interesting dots for us in the ongoing saga of Amoris. First, he notes that as whopping as some of the footnotes in Chapter 8 are, perhaps the most telling one is the MISSING footnote. The passage in Amoris, which I quoted part of above, is

Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized 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 all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: ‘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.

Apparently, this was not Pope Francis's own expression, but a virtually word-for-word reprise of a statement by Argentinian "theologian" Archbishop Victor Fernandez from 1995. I poked holes in this "theology" above, I won't bother again. What is interesting (in an utterly appalling sort of way) is that this priest (made bishop and then archbishop by Francis almost at once upon his elevation) is the "renowned" (sic) author of a book in 1995, "Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing." This guy is a freaking weirdo of a priest (he claims (admits?) he doesn't know the subject matter personally), and the fact that he clearly was a ghostwriter for AL (as well as the Pope's two prior works) is incredibly troubling. One is tempted to wonder whether this begins to be sufficient reason to relegate this work (or, chapter 8, at least) to no better respect than "my cousin Jimmy's opinion on next year's World Series". (It isn't sufficient reason, but the temptation is there.)

I pointed out, way back at the time of the first synod, that the most likely outcome would be a document that harbored plenty of ambiguity, a la Vatican II, and gave all the room needed for the progressive innovators to decide to run with it and just implement the sacramental regime they wanted all along. I was proven entirely right. More's the pity. I did not anticipate quite so disgusting a source for the nonsense as this guy, but I really should have known better. Someone pretty clever said ages ago that all heresies start below the belt, and I think we can point to some pretty telling signs for this one. Behind the store-fronts of basic nice-guy types like Francis are lurking the sordid, unseemly, screwball notions of "theologians" like this, driving it, urging it, pushing it forward.


I like this line: "It is impossible not to wonder what prompts a priest to pose for the camera in this attitude."

One is tempted to wonder whether this begins to be sufficient reason to relegate this work (or, chapter 8, at least) to no better respect than "my cousin Jimmy's opinion on next year's World Series". (It isn't sufficient reason, but the temptation is there.)

It sounds to me like you'd be better off with Cousin Jimmy. He might be more sensible than Victor Fernandez. Honestly if this isn't reason so to relegate AL, then I'm guessing that even if AL were ghost-written by cousin Jimmy and interspersed occasional references to next year's World Series, that wouldn't be reason either.

Well, until recently I had been passing off the junk passages in AL as "more of the same" from Francis - ambiguous, and generally unhelpful, but not a serious problem to the Church. But with the Pope's fairly explicit approval of the Argentinian bishops' implementation, and with the Maltese bishops' incredibly unCatholic document, and with the Pope's apparent attitude about making the corrections that are called for by the Dubia, I am getting worried. This really could start a major schism the size of that with the Eastern Orthodox, or internal turmoils as disruptive as those with the Arians. If the actors in the present battle (including the 4 cardinals) don't tread carefully, they WILL end up doing great damage to the Church through thoughtlessness. The original fault will be with the innovators, of course: the appeasers, the hierarchs who don't want to make waves, the pedophiles still in roman collars, the pink mafia, and the just plain heretics. But those of us fighting all that ALSO have to tread carefully: there is only one Rome, and only one Body of Christ, only one vine, and we can't sever ourselves from the root. Pray.

Looks like even providing a "referral" isn't enough. (Page in German, but Google translated.)


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