Blog Note: RomaLocutaEst welcomes Edward J. Barr, an old friend, as a guest contributor.
A Pius View of Amoris Laetitia
August 19, 2019 (Edward J. Barr – Guest Contributor) – It has been quite challenging for me to decipher the true meaning of the Pope’s teaching on Amoris Laetitia. I frankly am stumped with the twisted “logic” that states that Amoris Laetitia is in conformity with Church teaching. After all, such teaching clearly holds that the divorced and remarried cannot receive communion without the proper repentance and change of lifestyle, while the Pope has supported dioceses in Malta, Argentina, Germany and elsewhere that support the exact opposite view. Yet I have been told that this apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the “ordinary magisterium” — papal teaching — to which Catholics are obliged to give “religious submission of will and intellect.” But to what are we to give “submission of will and intellect?”
Up until Amoris Laetitia Church teaching was clear – Roman Catholics who break their marriage vows remain within the church but cannot receive Communion even if they feel able to do so with a clear conscience. For the faithful to decide on personal conviction alone that they can receive the Eucharist despite not following the Church’s teachings (repentance and cessation of “marital relations”) is prohibited. Yet the more I read commentators that claimed there is continuity between Amoris Laetitia and Church teaching the more my head began to spin. Yet I continued to search for some document that would provide a logical view in support of the continuity position.
I didn’t completely succeed, though I must admit I was interested in one opinion that gave an historical analogy on how a Pope could change Church discipline regarding divorced and “remarried” Catholics. It was claimed that the laudable goal to open the floodgates of Christ’s mercy through the sacraments could be achieved by relating Amoris Laetitia to Sacra Tridentina Synodus. This was the initiative of St. Pope St. Pius X to increase the practice of frequent communion. The Pope felt that the corruption of the world could be combatted by frequent and/or daily Communion, which he promoted in his 1905 decree. However, when I investigated further I found that the Pope actually sought to strengthen Church teaching by stipulating that frequent and daily communion be addressed with even greater prudence. He specifically did not expunge the requirement to be in a state of grace, as some proponents of Amoris Laetitia maintain de facto if not directly. Sacra Tridentina Synodus promotes frequent and daily Communion, …” so no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention (recta piaque mente) can be prohibited therefrom”. The reverse is also true.
Another obvious difference is that Sacra Tridentina Synodus was issued in part as a rebuttal to the Jansenism heresy. The heresy was a denial of man’s participation, via the exercise of his free will, in his salvation. This led in part to the faithful not actively seeking the Eucharist; in fact, many believed themselves unworthy. Pope Pius X exhorted them, “Accordingly all hostile prejudices, those vain fears to which so many yield, and their specious excuses from abstaining from the Eucharist, must be resolutely put aside…” (Mirae Caritatis) Clearly this is not the case today, where in Western Churches the Communion lines are long while the Reconciliation lines are almost non-existent.
Yet there are churches that HAVE changed Church teaching on the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried couples, so they must not believe that Amoris Laetitia is in continuity with previous doctrine (I know, I know, they can’t change Church doctrine, so they say they aren’t and institute guidance that does just that). How have they fared? How do the churches that embrace the progressive “aggiornamento” and the preeminence of personal conscience viewpoint of Amoris Laetitia fare as compared to those churches that stand firm in the teachings that Christ and His Church have always taught? No greater contrast can be seen than that between the dying church of Germany (and their Western European brethren) and the thriving church of Poland. Why would this be? If frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist for all is encouraged since, per Cardinal Kasper, it is “medicine for sinners on their penitential journey,” shouldn’t the church in Germany be thriving? Of course not, since unrepentant sinners cannot benefit from the sacraments. On the contrary, it can be incredibly harmful (see 1 Cor. 11:27-29); yet this fact is conveniently ignored by the Kaspar clan.
Perhaps it is time for the Holy See to emulate the early Church and clearly define the differences between Christ’s Church and our pagan culture, rather than slipping towards a universalism that diminishes both Christ’s sacrifice AND His promises. The most profitable accompaniment would be to help sinners better understand their need for repentance so that they can participate fully in and receive the graces that come from Holy Communion.
While I understand the concern of the Kasper contingent to address the needs of the modern world, I fear their solution will further lead to increased confusion, subjective judgements, and a watered-down faith that would be “Protestant like” in its individualized interpretations. In the words of my Marine Corps company commander back in my Second Lieutenant days, “good initiative, bad judgement.”
Edward J Barr is an attorney, a Marine, an intelligence officer, and a university faculty member.