Cancelling Public Masses, Natural and Political Justice

In the past weeks, ever more dioceses around the world have cancelled Masses either in conformity with civil law forbidding public gatherings, or on their own initative to help slow down the spread of the new corona virus SARS-CoV-2. Among not a few faithful churchgowers, this step has been hard to accept. Some have criticized it, on the grounds that, in the face of hardshpis, threats to man's physical health, and the like, the faithful need the sacraments and the public prayer of the Church MORE, not less, and that, in the past, when the Church was more conscious of its spiritual mission, this was its response to epidemics. This article by Msgr. Charles Pope, and this one by Fr. Jerry Pokorsky are fairly representative of the arguments made.

Some good responses have been made, such as Steve Skojec's or Rebecca Weiss's articles

Here I don't want to get into the details, but rather look more closely at the substance of the argument that cancelling public Masses can be reasonable and indeed obligatory, by reason of natural justice that prohibits risking the health of others without their consent except for a proportionate good in the same order. One might, legitimately, risk one's own health to some extent for the sake of spiritual goods (though even this can easily be excessive), one may not, except by way of just punishment, do bodily harm or induce grave risk of bodily harm to another merely for the sake of spiritual benefit.

The argument has two basic premises:

The minor premise: The gathering together of persons at Mass, even after taking the precautions that are in the power of church authorities (and even after taking the precautions that are in the power of each individual), poses a grave risk in the mid-term to the health and life of persons who have not chosen to accept this risk for the sake of spiritual benefit.
It is NOT merely a matter of the risk posed to those attending Mass; if that were to be the case, it might well be enough, at least in some cases, to ensure that those attending Mass are informed of the risk they are taking. The risk is that, as COVID-19 is infectious even before the onset of symptoms, one or more persons could be infected with COVID-19, quite possibly even without having any symptoms yet, and infect others present at Mass, and that these others will in turn infect others NOT present at Mass.

Note: If a similar risk would be present whether or not gatherings at Mass occur, the risk could not properly be attributed to the celebration of public Masses. So, if no other steps were being taken to mitigate the spread of the virus and sickness, the Mass probably could not be considered a great additional risk. The greater that steps are taken in other contexts to minimize risk of infection, the greater significance will the risk involved in the celebration of public Mass have.

The major premise: To cause grave risk to the health of persons who have not consented to accept this risk, except for the sake of bodily health or countering a greater risk of bodily harm, is contrary to natural justice and the fifth commandment.

Therefore, given the stated circumstances, for persons to come together for Mass is contrary to natural justice.

In some cases, such as in Italy or Germany, public Masses have been forbidden by political authorities. At least abstractly, the political authority, rather than the Church, is the competent authority to determine what means are required in relation to the end of bodily health of its citizens, and in this sense, given that the law is fair, not imposing an undue burden on one group as a means to the end (for example, prohibiting Masses but allowing sport events), the State does have competence to make such statutes. Of course if the state were to abuse its authority by imposing manifestly unreasonable statutes, neither the Church nor individuals would be bound to obey them. But given that the laws or statutes are in themselves reasonable or plausibly so, the Church does right, as a rule, follow them.

The Unity and Disunity of Christians

Over at the blog Unam Sanctam Catholicam Boniface wrote an article The Battle Lines Have Changed, in which he puts forward the principal thesis that the primary division among Christians is not along confessional lines, but between those who profess a creed received through tradition, recognizing an external (definitively binding) authority, and those who do not. I don't agree with everything there, and would be disinclined to describe the one side simply as "traditional", but agree emphatically with the general idea. It brings to mind Ratzingers article Relativism: The Central Problem for Faith Today. And it is something I've been thinking about and brought up in conversations a number of times.

Within and outside the Catholic Church a great deal of energy is spent discussing the Church's teaching and discipline on the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, Anointing of the Sick, on marriage, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, clerical celibacy, ordination of women. Catholics disagree and argue about whether the Church is right or wrong on such matters, whether its teaching is infallible, fallible but right, or plain wrong.

These disagreements pale in comparison with the disagreement between those who accept the creed, "I believe in Jesus Christ, his Only Son" as defined by the Nicaean Council, or "on the third day he rose again from the dead" as taught by the Scriptures or indeed in any significant sense beyond that in which many other persons live on in memory. Points on which, of course, the Catholic Church is in agreement with Orthodox Churches and many other Christian denominations.

The Purposes of Punishment according to Thomas Aquinas

Punishments, whether punishment with which parents punish their children for misbehaving, judges declare punishment for a crime, or God punishes men's sins, have various ends or purposes. Thomas Aquinas summarizes these purposes under two headings: 1. To restrain or inhibit voluntary evil; 2. to establish order there, where a crime has made disorder.

The evil of punishment is imposed to coerce and to order the evil of guilt. (De Malo, q. 1, a. 5, ad 7)

After the remission of sin, punishment is needed for two ends: to settle the debt, and to provide a remedy (In IV Sent., dist. 20, q. 1, a. 2, qa. 1)

Punishment as salutary: healing evils or preventing them

Inasmuch as punishment is aimed at restraining or hindering evil, Aquinas describes punishment as medicinal or salutary, either for the wrongdoer himself, or at least for the larger community. In the best case, the punishment helps to rehabilitate the wrongdoer, training him to live justly as a member of the larger human community; in any case, it helps secure the community freedom from injustice by deterring subsequent crimes by the one guilty of wrongdoing or by others, whom the threat of punishment deters from such crimes; making the criminal incapable of committing further crimes by imprisonment, exile, removal of status or authority used to commit crimes, etc.

Punishment as retribution: balancing out the wrong done

Inasmuch as punishment is aimed at balancing the crime, by which an individual has exerted their will against the requirements of justice and the common good, with an imposition by the community of something contrary to his will, Aquinas describes punishment as vindictive, or retributive.

We have an intuitive feeling: one who has done wrong has harmed another person or the community, thereby deprived that person and the community of some good, and so owes them a debt; again, one way of (at least partially) resolving this debt is by "paying back" the evil to the wrongdoer.

Where is the justice in this "payback"? What distinguishes this "payback" from mere vengeance, or the notion that "two wrongs (i.e., a wrong done to the wrongdoer) make a right"?

St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

"the failing of a voluntary action is the essence (constituit rationem) of sin and guilt, so the failing of any good imposed on someone contrary to the will of the one on whom it is imposed, is the essence of punishment. For punishment is imposed as a medicine for guilt, and as setting it in order. As medicine, inasmuch as man, by reason of punishment, is held back from guilt when, in order that he not suffer what is contrary to his will, he foregoes doing a disordered action that would otherwise please his will. It sets it in order, since by guilt man transgresses the limits of the natural order, giving more to his will than he ought. Hence he is led back to the order of justice by punishment, through which something is taken away from his will. From this it is evident that a fitting punishment is not given for guilt, unless the punishment is more contrary to the will than the guilt is pleasing. (Compendium theologiae, ch. 121)

A person who acts unjustly creates an inequality within the community, a disturbance of the order by which all are members of the community are fundamentally equally ordered to the common good of the community as participants in it. The inequality consists in an excessive exertion of the wrongdoer's will against the order of natural or civil law by which the common good is preserved and promoted. Insofar as freedom is a good, this exercise of free freed from the demands of law, is a kind of advantage the wrongdoer has arrogated to himself in comparison with other citizens: he enjoys freedom and other common goods of the community preserved by the order of law, while not respecting the equal right of others under that law.

This inequality, consisting in the exertion of an individual's will against the demands of law and the common good, may be removed, and equality of all citizens with respect to the common good and the law, by the imposition, by a competent authority, on the wrongdoer of something contrary to his will.

Since the purpose of punishment is the re-establishment of equality before the law, punishment can only be imposed by one authorized to apply the law in the name of the community; such an authority may also declare, in a particular case, that punishment will not be imposed (amnesty), which insofar as it is a judgment made by a lawful authority for the common good, is in its own way equally a re-establishment of the order of justice.

Retribution is essential in constituting punishment

In order for punishment to be just, indeed, to be punishment in the strict sense, it must have an element of retribution. Civil authorities might come upon of the idea of deterring theft by taking some random person, whipping them publicly, and announcing, "this and ten times more will be done to anyone who commits theft". This, however, would not be punishment, but terrorizing, not a just subordination of individual good to the common good, but the instrumentalization of individuals for the state.

Healing or inhibition of evil is the primary purpose of punishment in civil or human communities

Yet while retribution is necessary in order that punishment actually be punishment rather than merely a way of striking fear into the populace, it is not the principal goal. Aquinas sees the goal or purpose of punishments within civil communities (in contrast with punishment in purgatory or hell imposed by God as creator and ruler of the universe) as being medicine for or restraint of sin.

  • Punishments are not directly intended by the legislator, but are medicines, as it were, for sin. And therefore the equitable person does not apply more pain than suffices for restraining sin. (Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics V, lectio 16)
  • The infliction of punishments should not be sought for its own sake, but punishments are inflicted as medicines for restraining sins. And thus they have the character of justice just insofar as they restrain sins. (ST (Summa Theologiae) II-II, q. 43, a. 7)
  • The punishments of this present life are more medicinal than retributive, for retribution is reserved for the divine judgment. (ST II-II, q. 66, a. 6)
  • The punishments of the present life are not sought for their own sake, because this is not the time of final retribution; but they are sought insofar as they are medicinal, aiding either the correction of the sinning person, or the good of the republic, whose tranquility is procured by the punishment of people who sin. (ST II-II, q. 68, a. 1)
  • Vengeance is made by inflicting something painful on the sinner. Therefore we must consider the mind of the avenger. If he intends principally the evil for the one on whom he takes vengeance, and rests in that evil, vengeance is completely unlawful, since to delight in the evil of another person pertains to hatred, which is contrary to the charity by which we should love all men. Nor is someone excused, because he wills evil on someone who inflicted evil on him, just as one is not excused because he hates someone who hates him… but if the avenger principally looks to some good that is attained through punishing the sinner, e.g. his correction, or at least restraining him [from further sin] and quieting others, and the preservation of justice and the honor of God, vengeance can be licit, so long as the other suitable circumstances are present. (ST II-II, q. 108, a. 1)
  • Vengeance is licit and virtuous insofar as it tends to restrain evils. (ST II-II, q. 108, a. 3)
  • All mortal sinners are worthy of eternal death as regards the future retribution, which is according to the truth of the divine judgment. But the punishments in the present life are rather medicine (than retributive). And therefore the death penalty is only inflicted for those sins that result in grave harm to others. (ST II-II, q. 108, a. 3, ad 2)

Consequently, to consider retribution alone, or to punish merely to "pay someone back" for a crime committed, is an insufficient reason to punish, and therefore to punish in this way would be unjust. Again, to impose a greater punishment than necessary in order to attain the goals of healing the evil, and/or preventing or restraining future evils, is inappropriate and therefore unjust.

The goals of punishment set certain limits to what punishment may be suitable and just for a given crime, but also provide guidelines: the suitable punishment will depend on the nature of the crime, how voluntary the crime was and how set the wrongdoer's will is on wrongdoing, how prone people in general are to such a crime, whether the deed tends to be attractive or abhorrent, etc. I will return to this point in a subsequent post.

(Update August 8, 2018: two more citations from St. Thomas Aquinas added)

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – disobeying divine law without sin

‘It is [sic] 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”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.’ (AL 301)
The theologians claim that this statement understood as meaning that a Catholic believer "can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action", is heretical.
Amoris Laetitia seems to suggest, at least with the second part of the hypothetical "A subject may know full well the true, yet… be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin" that an individual may, due to being obligated in conscience to act a certain way ("does not allow him or her to act differently… without further sin"), not bear grave guilt in the violation of the "rule" that puts them in an "irregular" situation.
In this hypothetical, Amoris Laetitia is envisioning somewhat who is caught between two (perceived) obligations: the obligation of the rule in question, and the obligation of another rule that applies in this particular circumstance. For example, some one who married for a few years, without children, was divorced by the first spouse, has civilly remarried in ignorance of the fact that divorce cannot dissolve a valid marriage, been living in this civil marriage for many years and had children with the second partner, may come to learn of the indissolubility of marriage and the consequent obligation of fidelity to the first spouse, yet at the same time believe themselves bound by the grave obligation of justice to their second partner (including sexual giving of self to the partner). Such a person, caught between two apparent divine obligations, may discern in conscience that their greater obligation is to the current partner; the argument of Amoris Laetitia implies that such a person does not thereby necessarily commit a mortal sin.
One might quibble about whether such a person really knows "full well" the rule, but that is more an argument about words than a substantial argument about the matter in question.
The two major points one might raise are: is it possible, without grave fault, to believe that one divine law obliges one to break another divine law? In general St. Thomas Aquinas held that ignorance regarding divine law was culpable, and so, in speaking about the case of a perplexed conscience, which obliges a person to do something contrary to divine law, he argues that a person, so long as they are in that ignorance, sins by disobeying their conscience, since they do not follow the divine rule as it is presented to them by their conscience, and likewise sines by following their conscience, since they do not follow the divine rule that they should have know. He does make exceptions for insane persons, who are not capable of any moral action, but it is not clear whether he would make any further exceptions. However, considering the various external factors that lead someone to accept something as a moral obligation, it seems necessary to admit that in some cases, ignorance regarding divine laws may be not gravely culpable. If this is true, someone who erroneously believes that he is bound by a "higher" (as far as he perceives it) divine law to disobey another divine law, would be inculpable. One may not be obliged, by catholic Faith, to believe that there are such cases. But it is not in the least heretical to hold that there are; and indeed, this very statement of Amoris Laetitia provides a reason, based on church authority, to hold that there are, even if a small reason considered in itself.

The first part of the hypothetical "may… have great difficulty in understanding 'its inherent values'", I find harder to interpret, and potentially more problematic. But whatever exactly is meant by understanding "its inherent values", it seems to imply at any rate not really having "full knowledge" of a divine law in a morally relevant sense. I may come back to this, if I think I have something enlightening to say about a relationship between "knowing a rule" and "understanding its inherent values".

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – sinning by obeying divine law

‘It is [sic] 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”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.’ (AL 301)
The theologians claim that this statement understood as meaning that "a person with full knowledge of a divine law can sin by choosing to obey that law", is heretical.
Taken as an ordinary person would take it, this is most certainly not heretical. Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas and, after him, most moral theologians, recognize the case of someone obliged by their conscience to do something contrary to a divine law; this is in fact a classic case of a "(qualifiedly) perplexed conscience". (E.g., in de Veritate, q. 17, a. 14, objection 8 and response, Aquinas considers the case of someone whose conscience obliges him to commit fornication, and in Quodlibetal 3, q. 12, a. 2, of a heretic obliged in conscience to preach against the Catholic faith.) While some theologians of his time argued that such a person was not obliged to obey their conscience, St. Thomas Aquinas argues that such a person is obliged to obey their conscience, and sin if they do not, at and the same time, they sin if they do obey their conscience, by acting on an erroneous conscience that they should have corrected. Aquinas notes that such a person is not absolutely forced to sin, only conditionally, so long as they do not correct to conscience. Just as, so long as someone accepts a false principle as the basis of his thought, he cannot avoid error, so, so long as a person persists with an erring conscience, he cannot avoid sin. (ST I-II, q. 19, a. 6, ad 3) This teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas is taught by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself." (CCC 1790)

One could say that the theologians' claim is technically correct, since, if a person's conscience tells him that he is obliged to do something incompatible with obeying a certain divine law, though he will sin if he disobeys his conscience and obeys that divine law, it would not be by choosing to obey that law that he sins, but by disobeying the law that his conscience puts forth as the reason why he is obliged to do something else. But, if our concern is with what Amoris Laetitia intends to say, or with how an average reader will take it, this technicality seems not to be really relevant. Under the given circumstance, if he chooses to obey that divine law, he will be sinning.

The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – some couples allowed to receive?

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.

2.1.3 Some few (or many) "irregular couples", who live in objectively sinful situations — only after an examination in their personal conscience (with a priest's help or alone)?

According to this third interpretation of AL, that put forth by Rocco Buttiglione and others, the couples meant by AL as those who could receive the sacraments would be: couples who live in adultery or other grave sins, but who, on account of their limited ethical understanding or weakness of will “good adulterers”, or, put more generally, those who are “only objectively, but not subjectively sinners”, who indeed by reason of their subjective state are “sinners in a state of grace”. For such couples the sacraments could be a help on their journey in the spirit of the Gospel. In this case the invitation to receive the sacraments would be limited to certain, perhaps few couples in “irregular situations.” A logical fallacy that we need to avoid

We could see a certain logical fallacy in Amoris Laetitia and in certain of its defenders, such as Rocco Buttiglione and Rodrigo Guerra López, concerning the assumption that many “couples in irregular situations”, who objectively live in grave sin, could for subjective reasons be inculpable. We could formulate the fallacy as follows:

  • 1. To commit a grave sin presupposes the knowledge that what one is doing is a grave sin.
  • 2. Many divorced and remarried persons do not know that they commit a grave sin when they (without the annulment of the first marriage) marry again.
  • 3. Therefore, many divorced and remarried persons do not commit a grave sin in marrying again.
  • 4. (Therefore, they live, if they have not committed another grave sin, in the state of grace and we should admit them to the sacraments.)

The fallacy is based on an equivocation regarding the expression „knowledge“ in the first and the expression „do not know” in the second premise, as well as the fallacy of a tacit (false) presupposition.
The tacit false presupposition is that one cannot be guilty, indeed gravely guilty for one’s lack of knowledge or one’s ignorance and for one’s own moral blindness, and that therefore no one who doesn’t recognize his own sin as such commits a grave sin.

Certainly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is true:

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.

But the same number 1859 of the Catechism continues:

Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart [Cf. Mk 3:5-6; Lk 16:19-31] do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.

Among these things are adultery, murder, etc. Therefore we cannot assume an inculpable ignorance of the evil of murder or adultery, because there is no such thing as inculpable ignorance of the moral law that God has “written on the heart”, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nr. 1860) says.

Consequently, the second premise of the syllogism is false, since a man, under normal circumstances (if he is not psychically gravely ill or something similar), in an original intuitive knowledge always knows about the moral evil of adultery, since the natural moral law is “written” (belongs to man’s natural moral reason) on the heart / conscience of man. There is a kind of deep, not always reflectively known, and often repressed knowledge, that is enough to make a man gravely guilty, even if he does not consciously recognize this knowledge.

In reference to the sin of idolatry, which Paul describes as “inexcusable”, it is said in Romans 1:21-23:

“For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:21-23).

Now we can recognize the aforementioned equivocation as cause of the error. If one (without guilt) does not know that one commits a sin, one cannot commit a sin. But if, e.g., because one has deadened one’s conscience by many unrepented murders, is blind to moral values and no longer recognizes the evil of one’s actions, this is no inculpable ignorance, that would acquit a man of grave sins.

Dietrich von Hildebrand proved this by profound philosophical analyses, distinguishing four kinds of blindness to moral values, which for various reasons are culpable, sometimes gravely culpable, when, for instance, they follow from repeated unrepented evil deeds, by which the sinner dulls his conscience (blindness of obduracy). Ethical blindness can also occur because someone has a strong affection for what is subjectively satisfying, and at the same time does not want to consciously sin, but has a limited will to act morally uprightly, which easily leads him into the blindness of classification, in which he doesn’t classify his own behavior as an instance of the adultery or murder recognized as per se evil.

Or he is subject to a partial actual value blindness, no longer recognizing as such moral demands that forbid his particular vices, etc.

Paola Premoli De Marchi, in an outstanding book, applied the results of these analyses and the roll of freedom in knowledge in an original manner to a “ethics of consent” and developed it substantially and uniquely.

For the aforesaid reasons can we in no way validly conclude that the many divorced and remarried persons, who are blind to their own sin, are inculpable or live “in the state of grace.” Is this "discrimination" between "evil adulterers and homosexuals" and "inculpable/good adulterers or homosexuals" tenable and practicable?

Is such a differentiation a practicable solution? I believe that the attempt to put it into practice leads to insurmountable impossibilities and difficulties. With regard to the unequivocal cases of adultery and bigamy, who shall distinguish, on a case-by-case basis, the good and inculpable adulterers or homosexuals and the evil adulterers or homosexuals (those in a state of grace and those living in grave sin)? On what basis?

AL says (even if not unequivocally), the distinction between „subjectively good adulterers“ (in the state of grace) and „evil adulterers“ (who live in mortal sin and therefore, according to the code of canon law, may not be admitted to the sacraments, if they persist in their non-marital cohabitation) should take place with the approval of a priest or confessor.

Here is the question: How can that work? Should priests declare some couples who live in adultery guiltless and tell them that in their case the reception of the sacraments does not require conversion or giving up their adulterous relationships, and that they can receive sacramental absolution from their sins and living communion with the Church without repentance and without the resolve to amend their life and to live as brother and sister? And other couples, on the other hand, who were true adulterers, may in no event receive the sacraments without the firm resolve to distance themselves from sinful, adulterous relationships, and to live in complete continence? Is it not manifest the discord and the private and public scandal that would arise, when different adulterous, in concubinage, lesbian or homosexual couples get contrary answers from the same priest? Is it not moreover clear that only a priest who had the gift of seeing souls could undertake this work of distinction? Is it not, further, evident, that many couples in “irregular relationships” would seek a “merciful” priest, who would give them the sacraments, and if he did not give them permission, would report such a confessor or at least make a complaint against him and other “cruel” priests, “who sit on the chair of Moses”? Are not immediately evident the catastrophic pastoral consequences of such a discrimination and disunity among priests that would arise from such a “new order”, which Spaemann fittingly called “chaos as a principle”? So, since evidently priests cannot make such distinctions, shall we leave such judgment to the conscience of each individual couple? But to leave this judgment to each couple and each individual, who shall now be judge over themselves and their state of grace, although they knowingly live in grave sin, is that not a pastoral catastrophe? Is there no risk of sacrilege, if couples in adulterous, bigamous or homosexual relationships receive Holy Communion or sacramental absolution of their sins without the intention to change their life?

If the Holy Father Pope Francis wants to allow civilly remarried couples to receive the sacraments, why is there in AL not a single word of warning about the real danger of committing sacrileges, if adulterous, bigamous or homosexual couples receive Holy Communion? Why, in 260 pages, is the Word of Scripture not mentioned a single time, that “no adulterer shall enter the kingdom of heaven”? Why, in this context, is there not a single word confirming what Paul says, that “he who unworthily eats the Body and drinks the Blood of Christ, eats and drinks judgment unto himself”? Would it not be merciful to recall this truth to “irregular couples”, rather than telling them that they are “living members of the Church”? If a change in the sacramental discipline of the Church allows couples, who objectively live in so grave sin that until recently they were subject to excommunication, to receive the sacraments, then the complete silence regarding the real danger “to eat and to drink judgment unto oneself by the unworthy reception of the Eucharist” is beyond understanding. This very serious, horrible danger is certainly present, if couples who live in adultery or other grave sins such as concubinage or homosexual relationships, receive Holy Communion. And if the words of Sacred Scripture say that there is such a danger for souls, not to mention this with a single syllable or even point-blank to deny it, virtually invites couples, who live in objective contradiction to the Church, to persist in this contradiction. And if they, moreover, are assured that “no one will be condemned forever,” this is, I think, no act of mercy. What else could it be than an act of cruelty? Much crueler than it would be to leave a passenger boarding a ship in ignorance of the face that he will very likely soon die, since the ship has a large leak and could easily sink?

I therefore consider it necessary, for the sake of the holiness of marriage and the Eucharist, and for the sake of the eternal life of the faithful, for the Holy Father himself to remind us all that we should guard ourselves from this danger. Concerning the observation of Pope Francis, that not every divorced and remarried person is subjectively living in grave sin, but could rather, on account of his ignorance, have acted with a clean conscience and so live in the state of grace: I do not deny this. Much less do I deny that for such a person the reception of Holy Communion could be spiritually fruitful.

Nonetheless we should not lose sight of two things: (a) we cannot assume that this is the normal case of a divorced and remarried couple, and (b) it must be clear that neither a normal priest nor an individual person in this circumstance can know this or claim it with the least confidence to its being the truth. Therefore, everyone who objectively is living in grave sin should so live and act, as though he were subjectively living in sin. Appeal to sinners to convert, or confirmation that they are living members of the Church?

It is certainly true and can be a great comfort, for these couples to know that God’s mercy is always present and ready to forgive them and to say to them: „Neither do I condemn you.” But we should not forget the following words of Jesus: “Go, and sin no more.” Besides, if the conversion from sins is absent, then a (evil) civilly remarried divorced person is no longer a “living member of the Church” and is not “on the way of life and the Gospel.” If he does not convert, the Father’s word about the lost son apply to him: “Your brother was dead,” although the way to confession and repentance always remain open to him. And for the one who chooses that way, the word applies: “Your brother lives.” Why risk blasphemy and public scandal rather than teaching divorced and remarried faithful who are subjectively free of mortal sin and live in a state of grace the blessing of spiritual Communion?

Furthermore, to avoid the great evil of a sacrilege and a public scandal, without depriving divorced (and without certification of nullity) remarried persons of sacramental grace, one could teach couples who are perhaps by reason of the purity of their conscience in a state of grace, the possibility of “spiritual Communion.” They could inwardly ask God to grant them “spiritual Communion.” This proposal of Cardinal Kasper regarding spiritual Communion of divorced and remarried gave rise to a controversy. The argument made in this controversy, that everyone who can receive spiritual Communion, can also receive sacramental Communion, suggests the equation of sacramental and spiritual communion.

The controversy, and in particular this suggestion, demand clarification, which Johannes Stöhr, e.g., makes.

Without offering a refined theological explanation, which would be beyond my competence and exceed the limits and the goal of this article, I would just like to make the follow notes. Following Stöhr, we can distinguish:

  • 1. One meaning, which Stöhr calls the principal meaning of spiritual communion, consists in the abiding inner communion with Christ after the worthy reception of sacramental communion – perfection of sacramental communion together with lasting effects in the soul. That means, in turn, frequently repeated acts of devotion. I do not refer here to this meaning, since it is only applicable to couples who are allowed to receive the sacraments.
  • 2. Different from that is the desire of a Christian to receive sacramental communion when this is for compelling external reasons not possible, e.g., on account of sickness, professional duties, belated recollection of the law of fasting, etc. It means, however, not only not the same bodily nearness to Christ as the reception of the sacrament, but is, as a mere desire, not even like the sacrament, as our fourth kind of “spiritual communion” is.
  • 3. Sometimes what is meant is the desire to receive, although there is an objective impediment. In this connection one could have the unchristian notion, that spiritual communion in this case could be a substitute for sacramental communion, it could actually be possible for all. Stöhr is completely justified in criticizing this notion. To Stöhr's distinctions I would add further meanings of “spiritual communion” that seem to me to be the most important in our context.
  • 4. We could understand spiritual communion not as the mere desire for sacramental communion, when the latter is for external reasons not possible, but as a kind of spiritual-mystical communion, which doesn’t mean the real bodily presence of Christ of sacramental Communion, as Stöhr rightfully remarks, but that is much more than a mere desire. We can certainly not exclude that, even when the form and matter of the sacrament, that God effects and bestows a spiritual and quasi-sacramental union with Him, which bestows no less graces than are received by someone who receives communion with a lukewarm heart or out of routine. Indeed, according to the measure of love of the communicant, the opus operantis, more grace and a deeper union with God may be bestowed on such a “man of desire as Daniel” than on someone sacramentally communicating with a lesser yearning and love. And no man can determine the measure or the limits of the union, that God can bestow on one spiritually communicating in this way.

According to the interpretation of AL made by Rocco Buttiglione, the persons meant by Pope Francis are first of all such as objectively live in a state of grave sin, but on account of the imperfection of their knowledge and will still live in a state of grace. And that there are such persons, who only outwardly fall into Stöhr's third category, while inwardly belonging to the second group of persons he names, who, in other words, despite their objective sinful actions do not inwardly live in grave sin, is, with AL (and Thomas Aquinas) indisputable. And it is these persons, and also the fourth group of persons I distinguish – those who by reason of a “marriage of conscience” live in “irregular situations” – that I mean, when I speak of the gift of spiritual communion, to which these persons can have access. A prerequisite, to be sure, is that they do not consciously and willingly commit grave sin, but for subjective reasons, despite their objective sin, are not subjective grave sinners. And such persons, who in my opinion one should still exclude from sacramental real Communion, can, if they truly live in the state of grace, receive the graces of a spiritual-mystical Communion (in the fourth sense) – entirely without the danger of sacrilege, that presupposes the physical-real presence of the Lord.

Otherwise, if divorced and remarried persons are objectively as well as subjectively living in a state of sin, one may not say that they are „living members of the Church“, without renouncing their sins of adultery or homosexual acts. Their sacramental Communion would cause public scandal and would decrease, for them, and for others, reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. For these reasons, and the reasons given in the next section, we should ask the Holy Father to revoke the admission to the sacraments of couples who objectively live in grave sin.

Interview with Cardinal Schönborn – Islamic Terror and Debates in the Church

The following is excerpted from an interview given by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, published in the Austrian journal "The Standard" (Original German text).

STANDARD: Everyone is in shock over the attack in Nice. How do you explain such hatred?
Schönborn: For me the central question is: why does someone become a terrorist? What leads to someone getting into a truck and, with utterly no restraint, simply driving into a crowd and killing men, women and children? What is the source of this grave disturbance of humanity? Religious fanaticism can certainly give an impulse in that direction, but it cannot explain it completely. There is also a component of insanity.
STANDARD: What is the appropriate answer to such attacks?
Schönborn: Experience tells us: No one becomes a perpetrator, who wasn't previously a victim. For this reason, among all security measures that a society can employ to defend against terror, the most important are love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness. So that no more become perpetrators.
STANDARD: The terror attacks result in constantly growing reservations vis-à-vis Muslims. How can one mitigate this?
Schönborn: These are complex issues. At the current time terror has an Islamic label — justified or not. At any rate, it is not Christians, ex-Christians or men of other religions. It is Muslims. That is a big problem for Islam, which it must tackle. On the other hand, we should not forget that the majority of the victims of terror are Muslims. But certainly many are justified in looking for clearer statements from Islamic authorities.
STANDARD: Do you also look for a clearer statement?
Schönborn: Yes. Still, one has to be careful with the question, to what degree this terrorism has inner-Islamic roots. We also have, in the Bible, very many awful passages, which admittedly interpreted in a christian manner have to be read differently.

STANDARD: So said in another manner: Christianity has worked through the chapter of its history involving violence and has distanced itself from violence, and this is lacking in Islam?
Schönborn: Yes, that is so. But to be honest I have to add that the distancing of Christianity from antisemitism, from the excesses of wars of religion, etc., is not so very old. We ourselves went through a learning process. Without the terrors of the holocaust there probably wouldn't have been a clear confession against antisemitism.

STANDARD: On the Catholic Church: after difficult years with the coming to be known of cases of sexual abuse and the call to disobedience of pastors, it is at the present time strikingly quiet in the Catholic Church in Austria. Do you enjoy this holy harmony?
Schönborn: I cannot report a great deal of quiet. We currently have intensive inner-ecclesial debates — less in Austria than internationally. There is currently a very strong, significant inner-ecclesial opposition to Pope Francis that is very actively and vehemently involved. While Pope Francis finds a great acceptance in milieus that in general don't have much to do with the Church, there is a polarization within the Church.

STANDARD: So there are two camps?

Schönborn: It doesn't take the form of camps. The clear majority agree with the pope and are happy about what he does. But there are also many voices that are very concerned. Last week I had a talk with Pope Francis. Among other things, he said something that made a great impression on me: We have to try to lovingly win over the inner-ecclesial opponents.

STANDARD: How are the pope's opponents to be won over? Are meetings planned?

Schönborn: We are in the midst of a great debate within the Church — and it is good, that it takes places. We've gotten too used to there simply being the conservative and the liberals. Somehow we just resigned ourselves to that fact. But the Gospel is neither conservative nor liberal: it is challenging.

STANDARD: But this difficult situation puts the brakes on the Pope's desire for reform, doesn't it?

Schönborn: I believe that already much has happened. Pope Francis relies on processes. Things are started up, and things get moving. He did that for two years with the synod on the family. It is a journey, and a lot has to be discussed. Change doesn't happen at the end, but on the way. A simple example: in the 2014 synod the talks were incredibly abstract. A year later people spoke suddenly of reality, even bishops told of their situation with families. And, lo and behold, they didn't simply theorize abstractly. In a certain sense the journal is the destination, because it moves towards a goal.

The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – all couples allowed to receive?

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.

2.1.2 All „irregular“ couples: divorced, adulterers, lesbian and homosexual couples?

Many persons interpret the couples, who materially are living in grave sin, but who now by AL shall be welcomed at the Lord’s table, in a form completely opposite to the first answer: “All divorced and remarried persons, adulterers, lesbians and homosexuals, bisexuals and other couples should be admitted to the sacraments without any restrictions.” Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines through its president, and many German bishops, but also US bishops such as the Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich, have interpreted AL in the same sense. The same applies to Cardinal Schönborn, who in an interview went so far as to say that Pope Francis, at least as regards the reception of the sacraments, had eliminated every distinction between regular and irregular couples. (cf. Schönborn, July 6, 2016)

This interpretation of the couples, who should be admitted to the reception of the sacraments and draw help and graces from them, not only contradicts Familiaris Consortio 84, is not only the negation of that which FC and many other documents teach. It is the radical, contrary and absolute opposite of the traditional teaching.

If instead of none, now all adulterous, homosexual, lesbian and promiscuously living couples shall be invited to the sacraments, there are truly no more limits, as Fr. Spadaro assures us. Why not administer the sacraments to couples, nurses and doctors, who through abortion or assistance thereto have been automatically excommunicated?

If one were to put the explanation and practice of the sacraments in line with this interpretation and its pastoral consequences, one would desecrate the holy temple of God, indeed one would transform it into a temple of Satan and a horrible site of every Eucharistic sacrilege and blasphemy. In view of such an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, which stands in stark contradiction to the repeated papal request for Eucharistic adoration, I believe it is extremely urgent to clarify that this neither is nor can be what the Pope intends, but a completely false interpretation and a total misapprehension of the meaning of AL. It is quite clear from the text of AL that this is a false interpretation of AL.

Still, in view of the fact that this interpretation is advocated by Bishops’ conferences, Fr. Spadaro, cardinals and archbishops including Archbishop Cupich, who was recently promoted to membership in the Congregation for Bishops, a very clear papal explanation that this interpretation of the words of AL is a radical misunderstanding is urgently necessary and must be given as soon as possible, if one wants to prevent total chaos.
A further reason urges this, namely that the offering of the holy sacraments to all (even granted that this understanding of AL is incorrect, as I believe it is) seems to be supported by the following words of AL:

„297. It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.”

When one, moreover, considers the Holy Father’s silence in reaction to this interpretation by the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and the fact that Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. was a close collaborator in working on the text of AL, it is difficult to call into doubt what he says about AL (unless the Holy Father explicitly excludes this interpretation, which all bishops and faithful should humbly ask him to):

„The exhortation, following the synod's concluding document, goes the way of examining individual cases, without setting any limits to integration, as was formerly the case.“

This silence of Pope Francis strengthens the false and scandalous second interpretation of who, according to AL, the couples are, who should be admitted to the sacraments, above all when one considers that it is in no way a general tendency of Pope France to let everything go its way, without making public corrections. Thus the Pope, a short time ago, immediately and publicly corrected the impression that had arisen with many persons, that the simple invitation of Cardinal Sarah, motivated by noble liturgical considerations, that priests, as a way of meditating on the deepest goal of the liturgy (the glorification of God), should more frequently celebrate ad orientem (versus Deum), announced a change of the liturgical norms of Paul VI, according to which the Holy Mass should normally be celebrated versus populum. (In reality this norm was never absolute, and moreover was in part modified by the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI on the right of all priests to celebrate Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Rite (sic)). This immediate and very public critical reaction (which I regret), by the Pope to a mere, very beautiful suggestion of Cardinal Sarah, which was completely in his area of competence and moreover only recommended something that is allowed to priests anyway according to the currently valid norms for liturgical celebration, gives the world all the more reason to believe that when the pope is silent regarding the scandalous second interpretation of “couples in irregular situations” (who objectively are living in a state of gave sin) who now should without distinction be invited to the sacraments, his silence indicates his consent to this interpretation.

The same thing applies to the pope’s silence regarding the newest interview of Cardinal Schönborn in Corriere della Sera, in which the Cardinal, whom the Pope declared to be the most competent interpreter of AL, made the unbelievable claim that Amoris Laetitia had completely eliminated the distinction between “regular” and “irregular” couples. (This corresponds exactly to the interpretation that according to AL there is no restriction on the couples who are to be allowed to receive the sacraments, and in addition imputes to AL, that it puts marriage on the same level as concubinage, adulterous and homosexual couples.)

Many persons must think that the papal silence regarding this interpretation is a sign of papal consent. Without the promptest reaction of the pope to these interpretations the whole world must be that Francis supports this second interpretation of “couples in irregular situations” (in a state of grave sin).

Pope Francis seems, moreover, to encourage this second interpretation of the couples who should be admitted to the sacraments, by his recent appointment of Archbishop Cupich as member of the Papal Congregation for Bishops. For Archbishop Cupich defends this second interpretation regarding the admission to the sacraments more radically than any other American bishop, indeed he publicly distributes the Sacrament of the Eucharist to politicians, who for their support of abortion are automatically excommunicated, and, to top it all, defends this interpretation of AL by calling this document a radical “rule-changer” and considers it a good thing to distribute Communion to public advocates of abortion, a crime punished by excommunication (and forbids the priests of his diocese to take part in a march for life and in public priests for the abolition of abortion laws).

I therefore call on all Catholics, urgently to implore the Holy Father in the name of God and of the souls deceived by such false and scandalous interpretations of AL, to very soon make such a clear statement, to hinder a spiritual catastrophe and sacrilege without end in God’s sanctuary and as far as possible, to stop a total confusion among priests and faithful.

It is impossible that the Pope teaches this. Still, I believe, that reducing the complete chaos that has arisen from this interpretation and its high ranking advocates in the church, presupposes that the pope himself exclude this second answer with the strongest expressions possible and publicly declares in a commentary to AL: “It is false to maintain that it is a correct interpretation of AL, that all who live in concubinage, adulterous, homosexual, lesbian, and all other “irregular” couples are invited to the Lord’s table before they convert!”

I believe that this interpretation of the text of AL is untenable, not only because it simply cannot be that a Pope should teach such monstrosities, but also because Pope Francis in AL speaks of a testing and an examination, ideally with a priest, which should precede the reception of the sacraments by such priests.

This brings us to the third understanding of those „couples in irregular and objectively gravely sinful situations,“ who now should be admitted to the Lord’s table:

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.


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.