What follows is a translation from Josef Seifert's article in German, published by aemaet (pdf) July 24, 2016, and released under the Creative Common's License with Attribution CC BY 3.0). I will post parts of the translation as blogposts, and the complete translation (in progress, as I get to it), as a separate page: The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert.
The article begins, in the first section, by mentioning the wealth of beautiful thoughts that Amoris Laetitia contains, and the wonderful core of AL's message, the merciful love of God for every man, as well as a small part of its statements that could have the greatest effect and that give us reason for concern and sorrow.
The second part concerns the question, who are the couples in “irregular situations”, to whom AL intends to grant access to the sacraments. Four fundamentally different answers that dominate the current discussion about AL are critically addressed, in order to show that a clear statement about which answer is true and a rejection of blatantly false answers is urgently necessary:
1. No „irregular couples“?
2. All „irregular couples“?
3. Some, to be carefully examined, couples in irregular situations?
4. “Irregular couples”, that have entered an apparently valid marriage of conscience and to whom AL for the first time grants recognition and legitimacy?
Since the second answer would transform the holy Temple of God into a temple of Satan, it can certainly not be the pope’s answer. But since it is nonetheless suggested by from high church dignitaries, we cannot pass it over in silence, it urgently deserves the strictest rejection.
The third answer reveals itself as that intended by Pope Francis. It is examined carefully and a series of questions are raised about it. These show that every sorting out of “good persons in irregular situations” of adultery, homosexual acts, who despite their living in objectively grave sin are subjectively in a state of grace and need no repentance and conversion before the reception of the sacraments, and “evil adulterers” and homosexuals, who can be admitted to the sacraments only after repentance and conversion, exceeds the capacities of the individual priest and of the couples concerned.
While the fourth answer and the proposal of marriages of conscience that could in certain circumstances substitute for the church tribunals is presented with great sympathy as a potential merciful reform and employment of the subject and conscience in its legitimate rights by Pope Francis, it is shown that it also contradicts the teaching and tradition of the Church, as well as rational principles of justice, so that finally, only the first answer remains, which holds that Pope Francis has changed nothing regarding the sacramental discipline and can, for various reasons, effectively change nothing regarding it.
The third part addresses a series of statements that a least upon a first reading seem false, indeed heretical, and that would demonstrate the radical break affirmed by Spaemann of AL with teaching and tradition: a break with the teaching of the Gospel and the Church on the moral order, on per se evil and disordered actions, on the commandments of God and our ability to fulfill them with the help of grace, on the indissolubility of marriage and the holiness of the sacraments of the Eucharist and marriage, on the sacramental discipline and pastoral action of the Church that arise from the Word of God and the 2000 year-old tradition of the Church, on the necessity of faith in Christ for eternal salvation and the danger of eternal damnation (hell).
Since the statements concerned bear upon fundamental elements of Church teaching, a clarification and retraction of the false sense (for the most part immediately understood as the sense of the passages) is requested.
The fourth part shows, through various examples from Church history, that criticism, also by laity, of non-infallible statements of the Pope, is completely compatible with Catholic tradition and teacher: beginning from St. Paul, Emperor Constantine, and Athanasius through St. Catharine till the present the legitimacy and necessity of such a critical examination of all things, including non-infallible statements of a pope. The topic is, therefore, the dramatic question of a clarification and correction of AL in teaching and practice.
The quintessence of my article is: if it is not possible, as it does not seem to be possible, to interpret the aforementioned and other declarations of AL in continuity with the constant teaching of the Church’s magisterium, we ask the Pope, the representative of Jesus Christ on earth, humbly, yet forcefully and decisively, to correct statements that nearly every reader of AL understands in a mistaken sense, which contradicts Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church, and to reject decisively disastrous interpretations of the statements of AL. If that does not take place, every more bishops’ conferences (like that of the Philippines) will of necessity very soon interpret AL badly or wrongly, or make erroneous statements the foundation of their pastoral and teaching office. Since the Pope himself, and not malicious journalists or interpreters have said or written these and other things, I consider it a duty of all Catholic, to ask the pope humbly but categorically to replace errors with truth, false interpretations with right ones, muddled statements with clear ones. So that the word of Sacred Scripture and the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, that the Church the “firm pillar of the truth” is, and the Pope, when he teaches in harmony with the Gospel and the Church, our highest teacher of truth is, may shine with a new radiance.
Following the publication, which I did not authorize, of my article on Amoris Laetitia (Lágrimas . . . Tränen. . .) in several languages, I have decided to publish the correct version of it that has been approved by me. Before the publication of this article I wrote a personal letter to his Holiness Pope Francis. The letter and this article are not in the least “against the Pope.” As a Catholic I believe rather that Pope Francis is the representative of Jesus Christ on earth, the successor of St. Peter, the rock, on which Jesus built his Church, the “Holy Father.” Furthermore, I expressed to Pope Francis my complete loyalty to his magisterial office, to him as the supreme earthly representative of our only teacher, Jesus Christ, in the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the “pillar of the truth.” I say this here in order to put aside any impression that I intend to attack the pope, to damage him or his legitimacy. My criticism has, rather, the goal of supporting him and assisting him in his fundamental task of teaching the truth.
1.1 Joy over Amoris Laetitia
Many voices throughout the world have responded with joy and praise to the last document of Pope Francis, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL). And without doubt, this text contains many beautiful thoughts and deep truths, which bring before our eyes the beauty and the happiness of true love, glorify God and delight the reader. Above all, the text radiates the merciful love of God and the pope for all men in whatever situation they are in: in economic or moral poverty, in material and spiritual wealth, in sin or in virtue. The text contains treasures of truth. Above all, Amoris Laetitia – like Jesus, who in his words, the words of the God-man himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus graced us with a summary of the Gospel – places at the center of Christ’s message the love and the boundless mercy with which God loved and redeemed us through the incarnation, the passion, the death and the resurrection of his only beloved Son Jesus Christ. I share with the entire Catholic world joy about these aspects and about other precious parts of the teaching of AL on marriage, the gift of life and the dreadful evil of abortion.
1.2 Sadness over Amoris Laetitia and Petition for clarifications and corrections
But despite all the joy over the beautiful message of the joy of love and all the praise from many bishops, cardinals and lay persons, I believe that some passages of AL, and precisely those that tend to make the greatest impression, are an occasion of great concern and deep sadness, not only because some of them could easily lead to misunderstandings and consequently to abuses, but also because others – at least apparently – are opposed to God’s Word and the teaching of the holy Catholic Church on the moral order, on per se and disordered actions, on the commandments of God and our ability, with grace, to follow them, on the danger of eternal damnation (hell), on the indissolubility of marriage and the holiness of the sacraments of the Eucharist and marriage, as well as on the sacramental discipline the pastoral activity of the Church that arises from God’s Word and the 2000 year-old tradition of the Church.
I therefore see myself compelled, as a philosopher who chose for the International Academy for Philosophy and for his own life the motto “diligere veritatem omnem et in omnibus”, to love all truth and to love it in all things, and as a Catholic, to share the reasons for this sadness not only with the pope personally, but also with all Catholics and all readers of this article. My hope thereby is that many of them, inflamed with love for God and for immortal souls, will implore the pope to clarify certain passages of AL and to correct others.
Not only because of the duty to correct the unauthorized publication of my first draft of this article, but also in view of the fact that Amoris Laetitia is a public document and not a private communication, I want not only to submit the present, final version of my article to the Holy Father in a personal letter, but to also publish it. For, I am deeply convinced that unclear statements, which are open to contrary interpretations, and indeed precisely such statements are urgently in need of clarification. And papal statements, which, at least in their formulation, are false, or even merely seem false and contrary to the teaching of the Church, are just as urgently in need of correction.
By the publication of these critical thoughts I follow the example of St. Paul, who publicly criticized the first Pope, Peter, who was established by Jesus himself, an example that St. Thomas presents to us all as a model of our action under certain circumstances and as an extremely serious duty, even then, when such public criticism will offend some persons or bishops. Here, the truth has primacy.
The passages that in my opinion urgently require clarifications or corrections are sometimes hidden in few lines and in footnotes in the eighth chapter.
Some formulations in AL that seem dangerously ambiguous, cry out for clarification. Others – and in this I go further than Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his magnificent public letter to the pope (Schneider, 2016) – I consider to be false and believe that they should be retracted by the pope himself. I begin with the request for clarifications, and suggest some fundamental points of clarification.