“It’s helpful to view Pope’s Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ in context of Church guidance”

CP&S: We have been requested to publish this article by one of our commenters – “in the interest of a healthy balance between the traditionalist and orthodox positions”

By William R. Hamant* on ‘Morning Call’

Copies of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia' (The Joy of Love) are on display April 8 at the Vatican.

Copies of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’ (The Joy of Love) are on display April 8 at the Vatican.

Among those who have written recently on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” are two extremes: those who claim (somewhat naively or insincerely) that Francis changed nothing, that the document is simply a much-needed meditation on the beauty of marriage and the difficulties facing it today; and those such as Pope Francis’ fellow Jesuits at Georgetown, for whom everything has changed and who quite openly see Francis as a corrective to the dogmatic and heavy-handed magisteria of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

In the middle are those who argue more soberly that “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) needs to be seen in the context of the Church’s tradition as expressed through previous magisterial declarations, for one or both of the following reasons: Either the document is vague or incomplete and must be interpreted in light of clearer statements; or the document is a “pastoral” document and not meant to be binding on Catholics — or at least as binding as other, more authoritative statements.

One prominent figure in this middle camp is Cardinal Raymond Burke. He believes that Francis does not understand his exhortation to be part of the infallible, binding magisterium, but rather is a personal reflection on the work of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops.

The document can be pastorally helpful, but the faithful must keep its pastoral nature in mind, lest they be led into confusion by certain sections or choices of words. Burke points to Francis’ phrase, “the ideal of marriage,” as an example of a potentially “misleading” manner of speaking: Christian marriage, Burke insists, is not an “ideal,” but a reality that gives that couple the grace to live the life they promise to live together. This is an area of concern that I share.

Cardinal Burke is right to highlight the scale of degrees of authority with which popes speak at various times. I respectfully do not agree that “Amoris Laetitia” is a “personal reflection” on the part of Pope Francis. But like the cardinal, I would place myself in this middle camp, holding that other documents of the Church’s teaching (e.g., John Paul II’s encyclical letter “Veritatis splendor,” his apostolic exhortation “Familiaris consortio” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church) are more authoritative and clearer where Francis is ambiguous or gives perhaps an incomplete picture.

One of the most ambiguous or even misleading elements in the document is Francis’ treatment of “culpability” — the extent to which I am more or less guilty for doing something objectively wrong. Not all parties involved in a civil divorce, for instance, bear the same level of responsibility and guilt. This is tremendously important for the Church’s pastoral response to wounded and broken families, and Pope Francis is right to highlight it.

But culpability for civilly ending a marriage is irrelevant for the no-less-crucial question of whether a couple is sacramentally and indissolubly married in the first place. However much there are degrees of culpability, there are no degrees of marriage: It is an objective bond that is either there or isn’t.

The much-discussed issue of whether the divorced and civilly re-married may present themselves for the public action of receiving Communion cannot be separated from whether one is bound in the public covenant of marriage to someone other than one’s legal spouse. The pope risks giving the impression that there is wiggle room when there is none.

Closely related is the completeness of the doctrine of conscience in “Amoris Laetitia.” The pope rightfully stresses that conscience speaks directly from within one’s heart, and that the Church must “form” but never “replace” the conscience. Yet nowhere does Francis mention that I can be guilty for following an erroneous conscience, if it is my fault that I believe something good that is in fact evil — a point without which the doctrine on conscience guarantees the salvation even of Hitler.

Finally, the pope speaks of the difficulty of applying principles to circumstances in a way that often seems to downplay the importance of the principles themselves. In this way Francis speaks of an “abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage” and warns against a “cold bureaucratic morality,” as if truth could be nothing more than artificial and coldly bureaucratic.

It was the merciful Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and who promised, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The truth is not an external condition imposed on God’s mercy; it is mercy’s form and an essential condition.

Such are the points of ambiguity or incompleteness in the pope’s otherwise very beautiful exhortation. To clarify or complete these points requires the Church’s established magisterium.

  • William R. Hamant is an assistant professor of theology at DeSales University.
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13 Responses to “It’s helpful to view Pope’s Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ in context of Church guidance”

  1. Robert says:

    Sometimes Silence speaks louder than words

  2. Can anyone tell me the difference between the Traditionalist and the Orthodox position… One caveat.. they must keep a straight face while doing so.

  3. JabbaPapa says:

    Traditionalism is a political faction within Catholicism — orthodoxy is the position of every faithful Catholic, traditionalist or otherwise.

    Some of the more extremist traditionalists place themselves outside the boundaries of orthodoxy as such.

  4. Robert says:

    Excuse me what is the ONE HOLY CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH mean? As this is the mystical Body of Christ to use words such as political faction, extremist etc.. is to not be a Catholic. The saints come in all shapes and varities including one who lived on a pole St Symeon the Stylite . St Joseph Labre for instance (the tramp). Hermits, Kings, queens etc. etc.
    This inclusive language is meant to create and accentuate differences. It is the language of schism.
    The top priority is holy celibrate priests worthy of Our Sinless Lord. The issue is sacrilegious communion. That’s it nothing else. Sacrilegious.

  5. toadspittle says:

    “..to use words such as political faction, extremist etc.. is to not be a Catholic.”
    Don’r be so absurd, Robbet.
    How about words like “schism,” and ” celibate”? They OK?

  6. kathleen says:

    Jabba @ 7:19 yesterday

    Dear Jabba, I wish I had seen your answer to Geoff earlier, as I think the first part of your explanation to him needs a bit of clarification.

    There is Traditionalism and Tradition – they are not understood as being synonymous – and so a Traditionalist could be describing someone who holds to either one of these terms.

    According to the Catholic Dictionary, Traditionalism is described as:

    “The theory that all human knowledge of God and religion comes from tradition. In its extreme form, it denies that reason can arrive at any certain knowledge of divine things. It proceeds from the view that God first made a comprehensive primitive revelation when the human race learned to speak. In this original revelation, God bestowed on people all the basic religious truths that have been handed down by successive generations to the present day. General reason or common sense guarantees the unfalsified transmission of its heritage. The individual receives it by oral teaching. Religious knowledge is entirely and only a knowledge of faith. […]”

    Whereas Tradition, although coming from the same root word, is described as:

    “Literally a “handing on,” referring to the passing down of God’s revealed word. As such it has two closely related but distinct meanings. Tradition first means all of divine revelation, from the dawn of human history to the end of the apostolic age, as passed on from one generation of believers to the next, and as preserved under divine guidance by the Church established by Christ. Sacred Tradition more technically also means, within this transmitted revelation, that part of God’s revealed word which is not contained in Sacred Scripture. Referring specifically to how Christian tradition was handed on, the Second Vatican Council says: “It was done by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received–whether from the lips of Christ, from His way of life and His works, or whether they had learned it by the prompting of the Holy Spirit” (Constitution on Divine Revelation, II, 7). (Etym. Latin traditio, a giving over, delivery, surrender; a handing down: from tradere, to give up.)”

    I imagine it goes without saying, that those of us who describe ourselves as “Traditionalists”, are saying that we are followers of Tradition. All true Catholics should surely agree with the importance of the “passing down of God’s divine revelation” without permitting the errors of Modernist novelties to seep into the Faith.
    Perhaps this misunderstanding of what a real “Traditionalist” is has led many to simply describe themselves as “orthodox Catholics” (as JH once pointed out). 🙂

  7. Robert says:

    The twin pillars of the Faith are Sacred Tradition and Revelation. As Augustine pointed out there are only two City’s that of God and that of the World Satan.
    The language of the gutter and the world applies. Thesis and Antithesis followed by resolution. Division is a necessary to enforce change hence divide and conquer.
    How convenient to create or encourage the creation of two camps (allegedly in ONE HOLY CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH). Division lies behind what is called democracy,
    Malachy Martin said that Satan had been Enthroned in the Vatican early 1960’s. Paul VI confirmed the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. So am I surprised at this gutter language of the world? No.
    Rome could share the same Fate as Jerusalem (the Fathers of the Church considered this). Right now the watering down of the Faith and the double speak of Masonry is clearly evidenced.
    Toad the word ignored by you is sacrilegious!

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    There is Traditionalism and Tradition – they are not understood as being synonymous – and so a Traditionalist could be describing someone who holds to either one of these terms.

    Exactly, kathleen

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    This interview with the theologian, Abbé Claude Barthe, in which he expresses his belief that AL cannot be interpreted in the light of Tradition, may be of interest to those who read French and/or German

    You would do better to cleave instead to Cardinal Müller’s extremely clear explanations, in his duty as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that no adulterers nor any others in any present state of mortal sin are in any manner of Sacramental Eucharistic Grace.

    This is the Catholicity that we and our pastors must cleave to, not to whichever sort of wild conjecture.

  10. JabbaPapa says:

    Furthermore that article supports a direct lie : Ils ont été rejoints par le cardinal Schönborn, archevêque de Vienne, qui fut maître d’œuvre du Catéchisme de l’Eglise catholique, et qui a joué ici le rôle de garant de l’orthodoxie du texte, que se refusait à assumer le cardinal Müller

    In fact, the final text of Amoris Laetitia was subjected to his personal approbation.

  11. JabbaPapa says:

    His gross misrepresentations of Thomistic philosophy are BTW quite obscene.

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