The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – no change to sacramental discipline?

Continuing the translation from Josef Seifert's article in German, released under the Creative Common's License with Attribution CC BY 3.0). Complete translation (still in progress), on a single page: The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert.

2. Is the admission to the sacraments of couples in so-called "irregular situations" compatible with the teaching of the Church? Philosophical and theological clarifications and distinctions

The pope allows the admission to the sacraments of „couples in irregular situations" that to some extent Cardinal Ratzinger previously considered. (Though multiple very serious reasons, which he himself and St. Pope John Paul II gave, moved his Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as Pope Benedict XVI, to retract this suggestion that he had made as Archbishop of Munich.)

2.1 Who are the "couples in irregular situations", who are to be invited by the Church to receive the sacraments? A clarification

We must therefore proceed to ask, who are these "couples in irregular situations," who might and should be admitted to the sacraments? Footnote 351 of AL at any rate does not offer this clarification, with the consequence that some bishops' conferences, such as the Philippines' and the Germans', give such an interpretation of this matter raised by AL, that Cardinal Mueller not long ago warned the German bishops of the great danger of a schism that would be no less grave than that of the 16th century. Therefore I passionately asked his Holiness in my letter, in order to avoid the confusion that has arisen in various parts of the Church by "wild" interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, to give us a clarification of several central questions.

I would like, in the following text, to make a modest attempt at such a clarification, by way of analyzing four different and to some extent radically opposed answers to our question, answers that are guiding the current discussions. I am convinced that only one of these answers is the right one.

2.1.1 No „couples in irregular situations" (Adulterers, couples living promiscuously or homosexual couples)?

This answer is the one that Msgr. Livio Melina, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, Cardinal Burke and others give or have given, who say that AL did not change anything about the Catholic sacramental discipline. On the other hand, AL manifestly attempted to change something about the sacramental order, as logically follows from the fact that footnote 351 admits some couples to the reception of the sacraments, who up till the Church had absolutely excluded from reception of the sacraments.

Therefore I believe that this first answer to our question cannot be an interpretation of the text of AL, but is rather a judgment about the character and style, as well as the value, rank and impact of AL. Thus Cardinal Burke in not unclear words said that, in his opinion, AL is not to be reckoned among the papal magisterial documents, but is merely an expression, in writing, of the post-synodal personal reflections of the pope.
Cardinal Burke, Livio Melina, Cardinal Mueller and other interpreters have added that a mere stroke of the pen in a single footnote (351) is incapable, on account of its lacking the appropriate form, to change the sacramental discipline and a 2000-year-old tradition of the Catholic Church, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Codex Iuris Canonici. These texts clearly and unmistakably formulate the ecclesial sacramental discipline, which forbids those pairs or individuals living in an objectively gravely sinful manner (in "an irregular situation") from receiving Holy Communion or sacramental absolution without previous conversion, confession and the resolve to change their life.

Moreover, many of the eleven and the five cardinals, in two recently published books, as well as Cardinal Mueller in his new book, give a much stronger reason why AL has not changed the sacramental discipline of the Church: Cardinal Mueller and a series of other cardinals have with strong reasons presented and, referring to Familiaris Consortio (FC) 84, defended the thesis, that the admission to the sacraments of divorced and remarried is not the matter of a changeable decision of Church discipline, but is part and a logical consequence of the constant and unchangeable teaching of the Church. If they are right on this point, then AL has indeed in no way changed the teaching on the sacraments and the sacramental practice of the Church. "Irregular couples", who feel no remorse and who have made no confession with the firm resolve to live a life of continence from promiscuity or homosexual or adulterous relationships and to sin no more, may neither receive the Holy Eucharist nor sacramental absolution from their sins.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput expressed the same opinion and was for this reason insulted with no subtlety and with incredible crudeness insulted by the mayor of Philadelphia. Also in the book "Remaining in the Truth of Christ" Cardinal Mueller writes, e.g.,

They [divorced persons who have remarried] cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Two reasons are given for this: (a) "their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist", and (b) "if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage." Reconciliation through sacramental confession, which opens the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case of repentance over what has happened and a "readiness to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage". Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as the children's upbringing, the new union cannot be dissolved, then the two spouses must "bind themselves to live in complete continence". … In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, of February 22, 2007, Benedict XVI summarizes the work of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the Eucharist, and he develops it further. In paragraph number 29 he addresses the situation of the divorced and remarried faithful. For Benedict XVI too, this is a "complex and troubling pastoral problem". He confirms "the Church's practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2-12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments", but he urges pastors, at the same time, to devote "special concern" to those affected, in the wish that they "live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, Eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children".

The cardinals Willem Jacobus Eijk, Carlo Caffarra, and others say substantially the same thing, with many arguments and penetrating explanations. These cardinals are without doubt right, that the sacramental discipline and teaching of the Church valid for 2000 years and rooted in the bible, including the prohibition of receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and sacramental absolution without repenting of one's way of life, cannot have been effectively changed by a couple of passing remarks in AL.

So, indeed, for a variety of reasons nothing of the sacramental discipline of the Church has been changed by AL. This applies above all and unconditionally in the case when the teaching on the sacraments and the sacramental disciplinary order of the Church derives from the Word of God and the unchangeable teaching and interpretation of that same teaching by the Church. As a judgment about the actual effect of AL (or the absence of such an effect) cardinal Burke, Chaput, and Caffarra are without doubt correct. The sacramental discipline of the Church did not change, since it has been repeatedly presented by the magisterium as part and consequence of the unchangeable truth of revelation, and, moreover, even if it were changeable, could no more than the Catechism and the CIC be changed by a stroke of the pen or a footnote.

If one, however, asks about the Pope's intention and the announcement of changes, it is certainly not true, that AL doesn't propose changes to sacramental discipline. Together with Rocco Buttiglione, it seems to me impossible to maintain that AL did not attempt to change something pertaining to the sacramental order.

In order to determine, whether these changes or at least some of them are compatible with the Word of God and the constant teaching of the Church, let us look at the remaining three, very different answers to the question: Which couples "in irregular situations" are entitled, according to AL, to receive the sacraments.

The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert – Summary and Introduction

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.

Summary

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.

Preliminary Remark

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. Introduction

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.

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – eternal condemnation

"No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!" (Amoris laetitia, n. 297). The theologians note that a reading that interprets the text to mean that "no human being can or will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell" would be contrary to Sacred Scripture and Church doctrine.

Read straightforwardly in context, what does this text actually mean?

(1) The entire context, before and after this quotation, is treating of how the Church is called to deal with persons in situation of weakness or imperfection. "The Church's way… has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement… The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour our the balm of God's mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. (AL, 296) "The Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of  God who goes out to everyone without exception." (AL 309, quoting Misericordiae Vultus, 11 April 2015)

(2) Consequently, the obvious meaning of the affirmation "No one can be condemned for ever" is that the Church cannot condemn for ever, so as to exclude any from God's mercy who seek it. This statement has nothing to do with condemnation by God, whether in this life or afterwards.

(3) The more difficult interpretative issue concerns the basis for the Church's obligation to show mercy towards all: "No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel" Taken out of context, one might somewhat plausibly think that the "logic of the Gospel" is that no one is ever condemned for ever by God, that the reason why the Church cannot condemn anyone for ever, is that God does not condemn anyone for ever.

However, since the Church, in the respect in which it is being addressed in Amoris laetitia, only has authority over persons in this life, the relevant justification for the Church not to condemn anyone forever in this life, is that God does not condemn anyone for ever in this life, but rather extends mercy to all persons to the extent that they are open to receiving mercy and seek it. There is, consequently, no particular reason to read a stronger position on mercy or condemnation by God into this text.

This is confirmed by the various particular statements fleshing out the logic of the Gospel, the way of Jesus, in the section titled "The logic of pastoral mercy":

"The Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of  God who goes out to everyone without exception" (Bull Misericordiae Vultus 12, 11 April 2015). She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of  the ninety-nine. He loves them all….We are called to show mercy because mercy was first shown to us (ibid, 9)… although it is quite true that concern must be shown for the integrity of  the Church's moral teaching, special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of  the Gospel, particularly the primacy of  charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of  God's love. At times we find it hard to make room for God's unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of  its concrete meaning and real significance.

God's and Jesus's mercy are put forth as exemplars of the Church's mercy in that Jesus "goes out to everyone without exception", shows mercy prior to any goodness on our part ("God shows his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." [Rom 5:8]), not because we are good, but because he loves us. None of this in any way denies or suggests that it is impossible for someone to persevere in rejecting God's mercy unto and after death, and so to exclude themselves from it. So also, there is no real reason to read such a denial of the possibility of hell into "that is not the logic of the Gospel."

(4) That said, Amoris laetitia in these section on the logic of pastoral mercy does give the impression that, de facto, it is always possible to integrate persons with a desire to live within the Church into the community. For example, speaking of one who "wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches", while it is granted that "this is a case of  something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17)", it is also said that "even for that person there can be some way of  taking part in the life of  community."

The document is silent on the possibility that a person, while desiring to be part of the Catholic Church, may reject or act in contradiction to what constitutes its life to such a degree that it is necessary to disallow taking part in the life of the community for so long as the person persists in that rejection — which would not be, on the Church's part, banning those persons from participation in its life "forever", but only so long as those conditions remain. While the Church's willingness and desire to show mercy and mediate the mercy of God should not be conditioned by the desire for and openness to mercy of sinful human beings, that it actually show mercy in a given form, that a person actually be able to take part in the life of the church community, is conditioned in various ways by the persons. "You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.'" (1 Cor 5:11,13). This silence of Amoris laetitia may be the result of a certain naivety or excessive optimism, the assumption that, when persons desire to share in the Church's life, there will always be some fitting way for them to do so. Or, it may be that the Pope believes that the tendency is much more to excess on the part of disallowing participation in the life of the ecclesial community than to excess on the part of allowing it, and so considers it more prudent not to mention the fact that it may be necessary in some cases to disallow participation in the Church's life so long as certain conditions remain.

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – marriage and virginity

Amoris laetitia says, in number 159, "Rather than speak absolutely of  the superiority of  virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another."

The theologians censure the theoretically possible interpretation of this as "denying that a virginal state of life consecrated to Christ is superior considered in itself to the state of Christian marriage." Such a claim would be contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that the married state surpasses that of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema."

What Amoris laetitia actually says is, "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out…" Strictly speaking, it is not denying that there is some sense in which there could be a superiority absolute in some sense (abstracted from some set of considerations or circumstances), but affirming that it isn't necessary to speak about superiority absolutely, that it should suffice to note, first, that the states are complementary, and then, when appropriate, to note the respects in which each one is superior or more perfect.

The judgment "It's not necessary to speak about a superiority" would generally imply either that (1) there isn't a superiority, or (2) while there is a superiority, it would be unhelpful or even misleading to speak about it. Since Amoris laetitia in the previous sentence notes John Paul II statement that the bible does not give us a reason to assert the superiority of virginity as a mere fact (its superiority is not absolute, but in relationship, in relationship to the kingdom of God), there is some reason to think that the rejection of this kind of superiority lies behind the statement "Rather than speak absolutely." On the other hand, since Pope Francis could have simply denied superiority in this sense, there is plausibility to see the reason for the statement "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough etc." as being, on the one hand, that noting the complementarity and specifying the respects in which each is more perfect suffices to communicate the particular values of each, and, on the other hand, that speaking about absolutely superiority might be misleading.

My years of teaching about the states of life have given me a lot of sympathy for this view. It is, indeed, for many people difficult to internalize the proposition "abstracting from particular circumstances of individual cases of consecrated virginity or marriage, christian consecrated virginity is superior as a sign of and means to holiness" without drawing various false conclusions, such as, "no married person is holier than a holy consecrated virgin."

Nonetheless, this statement of Amoris laetitia does seem to me to be a bit overstated, i.e., it doesn't specify "for whom", or "to what end", "it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another etc.", and there seem to be at least some persons and some ends for which it would not be enough to point out complementarity and specific sense of perfection, but for whom and for which it would be important to talk about in what ways these superiorities are "absolute", "conditioned", and/or "relative".

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – death penalty

Amoris laetitia in n. 83, says that the Church "firmly rejects the death penalty." The theologians censure a theoretically possible interpretation of this that would understand it "as meaning that the death penalty is always and everywhere unjust in itself and therefore cannot ever be rightly inflicted by the state." Such a meaning would contradict Church doctrine. Read in context, I don't see anything suggesting that the text would mean anything so absolute. As it is speaking about the Church's mission to defend life, the straightforward meaning of saying that the Church "firmly rejects the death penalty," would be that the Church holds with conviction that the death penalty should not be employed today.

Though it is not relevant to what the common Catholic would understood the text to mean, evidence for this reading is the way Pope Francis elsewhere describes Pope John Paul II's and the Catechism's position on capital punishment. E.g., in his address to the delegates of the international association of penal law, Pope Francis, referring to their statements that the cases where it is necessary to kill an offender are rare, if not practically nonexistent, says that "Pope John Paul II condemned the death penalty, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church." So the weaker language of "firmly rejects" is adequately interpreted in this sense of being practically never necessary.

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoke out stronger against the death penalty. One may disagree with the prudence of this. But as there are not real indications that he intends to use the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia to further opposition to the death penalty or to change Church teaching on it, it would seem more well-advised to address those stronger statements, rather than raising concerns about what the statement "firmly rejects the death penalty" could be interpreted to mean.

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia, part 1

A few weeks ago 45 priests and theologians submitted a letter to all cardinals and patriarchs, appealing to them to ask Pope Francis to clarify a number of points in Amoris laetitia, which, it is said, could be understood in a manner that would be opposed to Catholic faith. E.g., the statement about marriage and virginity, "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another" (n. 150 of Amoris laetitia), if taken as denying that a virginal state of life consecrated to Christ "is superior considered in itself to the state of Christian marriage" would be contrary to the solemn teaching of the Council of Trent.

They do not accuse the pope of heresy or of teaching errors contrary to the Catholic faith, but criticize the text of the document on the grounds that it "contains many statements whose vagueness or ambiguity permit interpretations that are contrary to faith or morals," and indeed "contains statements whose natural meaning would seem to be contrary to faith or morals." They make an appeal for Pope Francis to clarify that Amoris laetitia does not teach these errors.

As the letter has now been leaked to the public, as not a few of the signatories have some kind of connection to the International Theological Institute, where I teach, and as I already previously began addressing some of the issues in Amoris laetitia that are addressed in the appeal, I intend to make a few comments and critiques here and in the following posts.

Noting that the Amoris laetitia does not speak with scientific accuracy, and that the problem with it lies more in the way the statements can or are likely to be taken, the letter suggest that moreover, it would be impossible for Amoris laetitia to teach anything contrary to the faith, as that would exceed the pope's authority.

"The problem with Amoris laetitia is not that it has imposed legally binding rules that are intrinsically unjust or authoritatively taught binding teachings that are false. The document does not have the authority to promulgate unjust laws or to require assent to false teachings, because the Pope does not have the power to do these things…. The document is formulated in terms that are not legally or theologically exact, but this does not matter for the evaluation of its contents, because the most precise formulation cannot give legal and doctrinal status to decrees that are contrary to divine law and divine revelation."

These statements seem to boil down, in effect, "Pope Francis is not teaching or requiring false statements or imposing immoral rules X, Y, and Z, because Pope Francis does not have the authority to teach what is false or impose what is wrong."

I see two problems here: first, the supposed truth or falsity of a statement or legitimacy or illegitimacy of a directive is being used as a principle of interpretation: "the document isn't actually teaching X, because X is false"; secondly, the authors put themselves in the position of privately judging that the statements declared problematic (if understood in a particular way) are, in fact, contrary to divine revelation or divine law.

This hermeneutical approach would be valid only if one took the pope to be unquestionably speaking infallibly in all of his statements in Amoris laetitia, which the authors explicitly deny, and if one supposed oneself to be infallible in one's opinion of what is compatible with or contrary to divine revelation or divine law.

If I am reading a document in order to learn from it rather than in order to impose my own views upon it, then the truth or falsity of a given position, in itself, has no direct hermeneutical value in determining the meaning of a statement the author makes. Only to the extent that (1) the author can be presumed to be intending to speak the truth, and (2) he can be presumed to know or to opine correctly what the truth of a given matter is, and (3) I can be presumed to know or to opine correctly what the truth of a given matter is, can I favor an interpretation of what he says that would make his statements be, in my opinion, true.

We can contrast three attitudes in reading a magisterial text, in which there are textual and other reasons in favor of reading the text to be saying "X", and at the same time, there are reasons to think that X is wrong.

(1) X is wrong, so the pope must not be saying it;
(2) X is wrong, and the Pope is saying X, so the pope is in error;
(3) The pope is probably saying X, and I see a problem with X; is it possible that my view of X is mistaken?… Or that I'm overlooking some reason why his statement should be read to mean something else? Or that the Pope is mistaken?

The third attitude, being ready in the first place to question one's own opinion on the basis of an authority's appearing to contradict one's own opinion, as well as to question one's own reading of his statement, before questioning whether the authority is right, is surely the appropriate attitude to take to someone, precisely as an authority, and in particular, to magisterial authority in the Church. As Lumen gentium 25 teaches, religious submission of mind and will is due even to non-infallible statements of the Magisterium, i.e., even to statements that could, in principle, be wrong. (The submission is due to them in a generic manner as statements of the authority; it does not follow that one must accept the statements as true even if one sees them to be false.)

By immediately using the perceived wrongness of various statements in Amoris laetitia as grounds to presume that the pope can't truly be teaching those things, one may avoid accusing the pope of error, but at the same time, avoid being challenged by the pope to rethink whether there might be some important truth that the pope is speaking which I don't myself clearly or fully perceive.

On this note, I close with a remark of Jeremy Holmes regarding the encyclical Laudato Si, but just as relevant to Amoris laetitia.

Everyone who finds the encyclical troubling should start by listing the "I like it" elements and the "This bothers me" elements. Then he should do one more thing: write down at least ONE element in the encyclical that genuinely challenges him, that is, one way in which he feels this encyclical may change his mind on something he has thought for a long time.

The Spirit leads the Church through weak human beings, and yet we have to be on the lookout for God in the midst of it all. As Fulton Sheen once remarked, Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on an ass. If we don't make a real effort to find ONE element in an encyclical that changes our attitude or conviction, then we have failed as readers.

Pope Francis on Amoris laetitia and reception of Communion by Divorced and Remarried Persons

Pope Francis's comments in an interview (see a transcript and the video of his comments at 1P5) support the interpretation of his intent that I proposed in my previous post, namely that the pastoral practice in dealing with divorced and remarried persons who desire accompaniment by the Church and to live within it, should be somewhat more like the pastoral practice in dealing with persons who, objectively and voluntarily, reject various points of Catholic doctrine and unity, but who desire a certain union with the Church, and/or who have limited access to the sacraments in their own church or ecclesial community. He affirms that there are new, concrete possibilities opened up that did not exist prior to Amoris laetitia, yet at the same time, that to say that alone — "I could say, 'yes, period.', but that would be too small an answer" — without seeing that in the larger context would be a mistake.

In the case of the orthodox, it is clear enough to most people that there are reasons why an orthodox christian is not in a position to accept, e.g., the Church's teaching on the authority of the pope — because he grew up learning to see the Church's teaching as wrong, a human deviation, etc. — and that the Church's acceptance that these persons can in good faith reject the pope's authority does not imply any lessening of the doctrine itself. It does imply, however, this doctrine is not manifestly true to each and every person of good will.

If there are similar externally perceptible reasons why individual persons are not in a position to accept the Church's teaching on the indissolubility and unity of marriage and/or the restriction of genital intercourse to marriage, and the Church accepts these, this similarly does not imply a lessening of the doctrine of indissolubility and unity of marriage itself. It does, however, imply, just as in the case of the orthodox and the authority of the pope, that the Church's doctrine on marriage is not manifestly true to all of good will, not even to all Catholics of good will.

There is, of course, a difference between the orthodox who does not accept the Church's teaching, and a Catholic who does not accept it, namely that the Catholic claims to be Catholic. This could be a reason to maintain a different practice in the two cases, not because of there being a difference in regard to whether one or the other is manifesting persevering in sin or not, but because one claims to be a Catholic, to be with and live with the Catholic Church, and the other does not.

 

Amoris Laetitia and Reception of Communion by Divorced and Remarried

In this post I want to consider what the exhortation Amoris Laetitia seems to suggest regarding the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics, in relation to canon law and to previous statements about it.

According to canon law, nn. 915 (which forbids admitting to Communion those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin) & 916 (which forbids receiving Communion in a conscious state of sin), as interpreted by the pontifical council for legislative texts in its declaration concerning the admission to Holy Communion of those who are divorced and remarried, those who are divorced and remarried may receive Eucharistic Communion without separating from each other under the following conditions:

  • For serious motives they are not able to separate
  • They intend to refrain from acts proper to spouses
  • They have received the sacrament of Penance with this intention
  • They receive in such a way as to avoid scandal

If we generalize these conditions somewhat and refer them to that which gives them their moral and ecclesial significance, we can say, those who appear to be publicly persisting in sin can receive Eucharistic Communion when:

  • For serious reasons they are not able to remove that which gives the public appearance of persisting in sin
  • They intend to refrain from sin
  • They reasonably believe themselves to be in the state of grace, or at least should not reasonably conclude that they are in a state of sin (*)
  • They receive in such a way as to avoid leading other persons to disrespect of the Eucharist or of the good that seems to be contradicted by their public apparent sin

How do these conditions compare with the conditions for non-Catholics, and in particular, Orthodox oriental Christians, to receive the Eucharist from a Catholic minister? (As I pointed out five years ago in that post on the Church's declarations on the matter, this allowance of non-Catholics to receive Communion is the basis of one of the strongest arguments that the Church's current legislation on the reception of Communion by the divorced and remarried is not in its entirety a necessary consequence of the nature of Eucharist and marriage.) Canon 844 § 3 requires that:

  • The non-Catholic members of the oriental Churches ask on their own for the sacraments
  • The non-Catholic members of the oriental Churches are properly disposed.

Since these Christians are in a public state of material schism or material heresy, why doesn't canon 915 exclude them from Eucharistic Communion?

I'm not aware of any even semi-authoritative account, but suggest that the presumption is made that they are not culpable for their schism or heresy, and that this is a common and public presumption. Consequently:

  • they are not able at the time to cease from the public schism, as that would be contrary to their convictions in conscience
  • They are well-disposed, having confessed any grave sins they are aware of and intending to avoid them in the future, etc.
  • It is common knowledge that orthodox are sincerely convinced of their position rather than moved by bad-will, so their receiving communion on their own request causes no great scandal with respect to the obligation to seek and adhere to the true Church.
  • There is no general invitation made to non-Catholics to receive, so it remains clear that it is not a normal, but an exception for them to receive

Would canon 915 require excluding from Eucharistic Communion a divorced and remarried Orthodox Christian who is permitted Communion in his own Church? Or would not the common and public presumption of good-will apply to them in this matter just as much as it does in regard to their schism, so that the objective disorder, the objective sin of adultery would not be an instance of "manifest grave sin" in the sense intended by canon 915?

Are there also particular circumstances in which there can be and is a de facto, common, and reasonable presumption of good-will on the part of divorced and remarried Catholics? If so, the objective disorder and sin as such would be per se no greater grounds for exclusion from Eucharistic Communion than the objective disorder and sin of the separated Orthodox Christians is.

As I pointed out in my previous post, Pope Francis seems to deliberately avoid an express mention of Eucharistic Communion with divorced and remarried Catholics. But the tenor and trend of comments made at multiple places in the exhortation suggests, I think, this view and the corresponding pastoral practice.

What would this look like, concretely? Something along the following lines, perhaps? Everyone in a parish knows that a couple in an irregular marital-like union discussed their situation with the pastor, everyone knows that they would have talked about the Church's teaching on marriage and the Eucharist in their talks with the pastor, and everyone knows that they would not go up to receive unless after those talks with the pastor they were doing the best to follow their conscience (whether trying to abstain from sexual intercourse with each other, or whether yet unable in conscience to accept/believe that abstinence from sexual intercourse was God's will for them).

The big question is, is such a thing really possible, and is it really desirable? How is the congregation going to determine whether a given couple is only going to go up to receive if they are sincerely doing their best to follow their conscience, without classifying people into the "good, sincere and well-intentioned folks" and others who are less well-regarded by the congregation? If the congregation cannot determine that, and the pastor has to allow communion to one couple who have had talks with him (including confidential talks pertaining to the interior forum), and refuse communion to another, is that not a violation of the interior forum?

I note, however, that this big question was, in a sense, just as much a question prior to Amoris laetitia, even if it was pertinent to much fewer couples. If a divorced and remarried couple was refraining from sexual intercourse with each other, it was still the big question, how can they receive Communion in such a way as to avoid scandal?

(*) Cases could, at least, in principle occur where a divorced and remarried person is not guilty of the sin of adultery: e.g., (1) a woman with good reason divorces a husband who abuses her and their children, he goes missing in war, she remarries, he turns out to be alive again, and from the time she discovers that, she ceases marital intercourse with her new partner; or (2) a catholic turned protestant who was married in the Catholic Church is led to believe his first marriage was declared invalid by the Church, he remarries as a protestant, then later converts to Catholicism, and discovers there was no declaration of nullity by the Church)

Amoris Laetitia – Gospel and Grace of Marriage and Family

I've just finished (quickly) reading Pope Francis's Exhortation Amoris laetitia. Here a first few remarks on it.

  1. While at times wordy, there is a great deal of good, deep and concretely helpful advice in the exhortation for families and those who accompany them: about love and emotion, attentiveness to and communication with one's spouse, mutual forgiveness, educating children, the changes in the relationship of spouses to each other as children are born, grow up and leave, about various possibilities and ways for the Church to bring the Gospel to individuals, couples, and families, etc.
  2. The responsibility of the State is touched upon in a number of cases, but mostly just in passing.
  3. An underlying concern in the entire document seems to be: that the Gospel, the call, and the grace of God be spoken and extended to all persons here and now, not only when they are or become willing to hear and accept it in its totality, not only when they themselves take initiative to learn and embrace it. "Pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are. We can no longer be like a factory, churning out courses that for the most part are poorly attended." (Paragraph 230)
  4. This concern manifests itself most directly in chapter 8, titled "accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness". The tension between the fullness of the Gospel of marriage and family and the family situations of weak and sinful human beings is not to be resolved by abandoning the Gospel with its ideal of marriage and accepting those irregular situations as normal in the world of today, nor by abandoning those human beings who have not yet accepted or have deviated from God's plan for marriage and family. This tension must be upheld.
  5. The Pope does not make an express statement on the hot-button issue of Communion for divorced and remarried persons, but implicitly addresses it and locates it within this general concern, that God's call and mercy be extended to divorced and remarried persons, not only when they are able and willing to recognize and follow God's call in its fullness, but even when they recognize and/or follow it only imperfectly and with admixture of error, weakness and sin.

What Pope Francis seems to be suggesting regarding Communion for divorced and remarried persons I'll take up in a separate post. (Here a previous post on Church statements on the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics.)

Does Believing Something Make it More Certain?

When I choose to believe something, do I thereby consider it to be more certain than I considered it before having chosen to believe?

In favor of this: belief implies holding to something as true, rather than as possibly true or probably true; when I choose to believe something for which the evidence is merely probable, I assent to as true, whereas previously I assented to it as probably true, and so I consider it more certain than I did before believing.

Against this: if surely assenting to something implies that I can treat that as an sure truth in itself, I will necessarily consider my belief to be infallible. Suppose, for example, the evidence strongly suggests that someone is telling the truth. I choose to believe that he is in fact telling the truth. Now I know I hold the belief that he is telling the truth. And I know that in all cases in which I hold a belief that X is true and in which X is true, my belief that X is true is true. So if my belief allows me to take the proposition "X is true" as sure in itself, I will conclude that there is it is absolutely certain that my belief is true. This is manifestly unreasonable. Therefore, giving credence to something does not entail or allow me to treat it as certain in itself. A similar problem will follow if I treat it as more certain than before, except to the extent that my belief is in fact evidence of its being true.

The problem here seems to be that we're comparing apples to oranges in comparing the firmness of assent in believe with my estimation of the certainty of some matter (= subjective certainty established by reasoning). To the extent that belief involves choice, and so an act of will moved by the good, whereas my subjective estimation of an objective probability or certainty does not involve choice (per se) but perception, the subjective certainty arising from will may be analogous, but is not directly comparable to the subjective certainty arising from perception or reasoning.