It has now been 11 days since Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) was released to the public. It is the Holy Father’s reflections and conclusions on the Synod of Bishops meetings on the family. Apostolic Exhortations in the hierarchy of document authority are below Papal Bulls, Apostolic Constitutions, Motu Proprios, and Encyclicals. They are not legislative documents nor do they contain dogmatic definitions or changes to discipline. Amoris Laetitia is unusually large, weighing in at over 250 pages.
Pope Francis has long been rightly concerned with Catholics who feel estranged from the Church. He knows, due to secular propaganda and poor catechesis, that fallen-away Catholics feel rejected and do not participate in the life of the Church. These include those in same sex relationships, those struggling with gender identity and – the largest group – those who are married but living in an attempted “remarriage” outside of the Church.
Amoris Laetitia in many ways is a beautiful presentation, and even defense, of the teaching of the Church. It is also an invitation to those who have separated themselves to return and join all of us in responding to the universal call to holiness. Additionally, it is a document for the faithful intended to strengthen marriages and families.
Much of Amoris Laetitia is very good. It could have been in the same league of Humanae Vitae, but it sadly falls short due to critically muddled messages. A small part of it (particularly in chapter 8 and footnote 351) addressing pastoral care are ambiguous and problematic to the point of overshadowing the rest of the document. The text in question leaves open, for those inclined to interpret it in a certain way (debatably including Pope Francis), “pastoral practices” which are contrary to the timeless teaching of the Church everywhere and in every place, the direct words of Christ Jesus and the explicit warnings of St. Paul on receiving (“taking” is a more appropriate word in this instance) communion unworthily.
That scandal has already begun. Scandal, BTW, means evil actions which occasion others to sin. “Liberal” minded bishops (particularly in Germany, but other places too such as Chicago) have already declared these ambiguous words to be a game changer. For their part in the scandal, the biased liberal media was quick to affirm the same. To wit:
While Amoris Laetitia officially changes nothing, certain priests and bishops through their own interpretations of the ambiguity, are quite likely to offer a path to receiving communion for the “divorced and remarried.” To be clear, these are people who are already married to others and either have not sought a declaration of nullity or whose previous marriages were found to be valid but are unwilling to live in continence (i.e. as “brother and sister”) with their new partners. This acceptance over true repentance may be devastating to their eternal souls. The scandal will be harmful not only to the partners, but their children, their parish and the entire Body of Christ.
Amoris Laetitia, for all of its true and beautiful text, fails to clearly identify such immoral unions as sinful. Quotes from prior documents seem to selectively exclude that too. Instead, the immoral unions are normalized as simply “irregular.” Yes, they are indeed irregular because of their mortally sinful nature. Calling them irregular is misleading.
Likewise, the clear teaching of Christ on marriage, while strongly affirmed, is referred to as the “ideal.” It is ideal only in that any lesser sexual union is mortally sinful. Then again, Jesus’ teaching is described as “proposed” which it is, in the sense of free will to accept or reject Christ.
It is understandable for a pastor to (initially perhaps) use gentle words like irregular, ideal and proposed to open a dialog with those who have strayed. When they appear in an official teaching document and facilitate an interpretation implying acceptance of sin, which some appear determined to do, then they lead to scandal.
Lastly, Amoris Laetitia gives prominence to the “internal forum” and the person’s conscience. A well-formed conscience (i.e. in concert with God’s will) is valid and ancient Church teaching, but internal forum is somewhat technical and readily abused by misunderstanding. Without giving clear direction, the text in Amoris Laetitia can easily lead to the heresy of relativism. Already, America Magazine has declared simply and without qualification “the role of [sic] conscience is paramount in moral decision making” as a key takeaway from the document. With all due respect, that is absurd.
FWIW, my predictions are:
- Amoris Laetitia will fail in its goals, but will be seriously divisive for the Church.
- Those who are “divorced and remarried” will increasingly receive communion (and thereby, as St. Paul warned, “eats and drinks judgment on himself”) — with and without pastoral guidance.
- In areas where bishops tolerate (or worse, promote) this abuse, actual applications for annulments will decline in preference to this express approach.
- Young people contemplating marriage, will have ever more reason to doubt the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. What they see in actions will speak much louder to them than the words to the contrary.
- Likewise, struggling marriages will be weakened as a new acceptance for “remarriage” may appear to be normalized.
- A future “pope of clarity” will have to unambiguously correct this and other official ambiguities which have appeared in recent years.
Amoris Laetitia has much to recommend it, particularly for those who will read it with faithful eyes. Many who have been closely following the shennigans surrounding the Synod on the Family have feared it would be worse. For that at least, they are relieved.
EWTN’s highly respected news program The World Over with host Raymond Arroyo had excellent coverage of the issues raised by Amoris Laetitia last Thursday evening:
I strongly recommend further reading:
- Cardinal Burke’s comments in the National Catholic Register: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and the Constant Teaching and Practice of the Church
- Dorothy Cummings McLean’s analysis for the Catholic World Report: ‘Amoris Laetitia’: The Good, the Disturbing, and the Torturous
- Fr. Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai’s perspective for Crisis Magazine: Separating Opinion from Doctrine in Amoris Laetitia
- Samuel Gregg looks back 125 years ago to how Pope Leo XIII responded to modernity for Crisis Magazine: A Revolutionary Pope for Revolutionary Times
- Canonist Dr. Edward Peters offers his thoughts for the Catholic World Report: First thoughts on the English version of Pope Francis: Amoris Laetitia
- Eduardo Echeverria looks in the light of JPII for the Catholic World Report: Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia and St. John Paul II
- Robert Royal’s summary for The Catholic Thing: Beautiful, Moving, and Divisive
- Jimmy Akin’s bullet points for Catholic Answers: Pope Francis’s New Document on Marriage: 12 Things to Know and Share
- James Schall’s conclusions for the Catholic World Report: In Amoris Laetitia, who is admonishing whom?
- Carl Olson’s summary for the Catholic World Report: Francis’ sprawling Exhortation a marriage of profound and muddled
Fr. Zuhlsdorf has insightful posts on the topic too:
- Important analysis of #AmorisLaetitia: Who won the battle?
- Card. Burke’s reaction to #AmorisLaetitia !
- The Infamous #Footnote351 read through the lens of the Prodigal Son and his prostitutes
- DOUTHAT: “a distinctive late-Marxist odor”
- Robert Royal on ‘Amoris Laetitia’: Beautiful, Moving, and Divisive… Chaos and conflict, not Catholicity
- “There will be those who will try and contort #AmorisLaetitia into the Kaspser proposal”