(February 22, 2017 – Steven O’Reilly) My last post (Honorius Redivivus) rebutted an argument advanced by Stephen Walford that Amoris Laetitia (AL) was an exercise of Pope Francis’ ordinary papal magisterium in which he developed a discipline that absolutely forbids communion to the divorced and remarried living more uxurio into one that might allow it in exceptional cases. In my response, I argued, in part, that Pope Francis did not demonstrate the implicit or explicit intention to intervene infallibly as evidenced by the tenor and context of his words in AL. In my article, I prescinded from the question as to whether AL. as written, did in fact negate or overturn the teaching of John Paul II (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84; Catholic Catechism 1650). I will now ‘discharge my mind’ on this question.
I will grant, arguendo, that Mr. Walford is correct–AL is an exercise of the pope’s ordinary magisterium on the point in dispute. Having so granted this, does it then necessarily follow that the pope, by means of AL, changed or discarded a discipline which had been confirmed by John Paul II (cf. FC 84; CC 1650) and described by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as a constant and universal practice of the Church, founded on Sacred Scripture, which is binding (cf. CDF 5)? The answer is “no.”
I do not believe AL says precisely what Mr. Walford seems to think it does on the specific issue before us. There is only one place in AL‘s chapter 8 where one might possibly stake a claim that Pope Francis permits communion for the divorced and remarried (living more uxurio) under certain circumstances. This would be AL 305, in which Pope Francis says:
“For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”.349 Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”.350 Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.351 Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”.352 The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.”
However, even granting Mr. Walford’s assumption that AL is an infallible intervention of the pope’s ordinary magisterium, a line-by-line review of section 305 and its associated footnote (n.351)-which we will get to shortly-does not demonstrate the pope ever actually comes round to the point of expressly approving an alteration with regard to the discipline in question. Pope Francis begins section 305:
“For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.
Does anything above change this ‘constant and universal practice founded upon Sacred Scripture’? Nothing. Francis goes on:
“This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”.349
Does anything above change this ‘constant and universal practice founded on Sacred Scripture’? Nothing. This is ‘pastoralese.’ Pope Francis continues.
“Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”.350
This sentence above is further clarified by footnote 350. Footnote 350 (see paragraph 59 of footnote) is not about the divorced and remarried, but a commentary on the natural law. The pope then continues on:
“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”351
Pope Francis speaks here of situations of objective sin-“which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such…” etc. He is not speaking specifically about manifest adultery. Continuing on, he wishes to point out that such individuals, in the situation which he has just specified, can grow in grace “while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” In order to support and clarify his argument about the nature of the “Church’s help” in these cases (i.e., those in an “objective situation of sin–which may or may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such”), he elaborates on the help for them in footnote 351:
“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).”
Note, the footnote begins by saying “in certain cases.” The sense here of “certain” is that of “some,” which is also seen in the Italian text of AL (“in certi casi”). Therefore, to the question: does the pope say that all cases where there is an objective situation of sin-“which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such”-that individuals may receive the “help of the sacraments?” Answer: No. The pope only said “in some cases.” Therefore, “some” cases are presumably excluded from the possibility of the help of the sacraments envisaged by footnote 351.
If the pope had meant all, he should have said so. In which case, footnote 351 should have read something like the following: “In these cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” The fact that “some cases”, not all, might receive the help of the sacraments, allows that there are cases where the “help of the sacraments” is not permitted-such as, perhaps, all cases of manifest sins (e.g, divorced and remarried living more uxurio). Why might not manifest sins be considered in the “some cases” of objective situations of sin for which the sacrament can be of help? Because in cases of manifest sin, beyond the objective situation of sin-and regardless of subjective culpability, there is the public nature of the sin to consider, with its associated risk of causing confusion and error in the Church. Might the pope’s vagueness allow an opening for a liberal interpretation? No. The text in the case of an uncertain reading must be interpreted in light of past teaching. Therefore, since Pope Francis has neither expressly nor definitively approved a change in the discipline, and since such a change does not follow necessarily from his words which are vague and indeterminate at best-we must hold to the teaching of John Paul II (cf Familiaris Consortio 84; Catholic Catechism 1650). This answers Mr. Walford.
On the positive side of things, following AL‘s release, bishops such as Archbishop Chaput have faithfully published communion guidelines that leave the ancient discipline untouched. However, by not explicitly reasserting this constant and universal practice of the Church-when given more than enough’time and the space‘ to do so in AL, the pope has left the gate to the sheep pen wide open for the wolves (see Maltese bishops, German bishops).
The ambiguity of AL necessitated the attempts of the 45 theologians (in their letter and theological critique) and the four cardinals (e.g., see Dubia #1) to seek clarifications on this precise point (and others as well). It is sufficiently clear to anyone following this controversy, that Pope Francis by all appearances desires a change in the discipline. Yet, it remains the case-despite all the troubling news from Rome (e.g., the leaked papal letter, articles in L’Osservatore Romano)-he has not yet expressed himself as Peter on the question. Again, I think this a case of the Holy Spirit protecting the Church from error in this matter. Still, the pope’s tacit nod and silence on the issue (e.g., the Dubia) have had the effect of signaling his approval to the innovators. Unfortunately, silence favors the spread of error. Both sides cannot be right. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he heed both Pope Agatho‘s warning for a pope who would remain silent, as well as the cautionary example of Pope Honorius-a pope who did.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his wife Margaret. He has four children. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. Book one of the trilogy will be completed in 2017. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com.