St. Thomas Aquinas: “No so fast, Francis!”

June 16, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – It has been less than two months since the release of the Open Letter  which accused Pope Francis of the delict of heresy (see prior discussion with links  to the Open Letter here), and its been less than two weeks since the release of the “Declaration of Truths.” (Prior discussion here).

Each of these documents assert that it is against the faith to give communion to public adulterers.

“It must be noted that the denial of Communion to divorced and invalidly remarried or cohabiting couples is, in itself, a doctrine based on Sacred Scripture and founded upon the divine law. To assert the possibility of giving Holy Communion to divorced and invalidly remarried couples implies, by a necessary inference, the belief in heresies II, IV, and V, or else a denial of the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage.” (Source: Open Letter, page 7. See Roma Locuta Est’s note 1 below for definitions of the Open Letter’s discussion of heresies II, IV and V)

“By virtue of the will of Christ and the unchangeable Tradition of the Church, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist may not be given to those who are in a public state of objectively grave sin, and sacramental absolution may not be given to those who express their unwillingness to conform to Divine law, even if their unwillingness pertains only to a single grave matter (see Council of Trent, sess. 14, c. 4; Pope John Paul II, Message to the Major Penitentiary Cardinal William W. Baum, on March 22, 1996).” [Source: Declaration of Truths, #37]

These statements clearly articulate the traditional Catholic teaching that the divorced and civilly married cannot receive communion without first receiving sacramental absolution, having the firm purpose of amendment to conform to Divine Law.

The Open Letter provides strong evidence that Pope Francis by acts and by public statements has either favored and even directly advocated this heresy (see section A (7) in Open Letter).

In terms of other evidence, we have also noted here on Roma Locuta Est that Pope Francis supplied a preface to a book which supports an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia that would allow communion for adulterers in certain cases (see Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface).  It is difficult to believe that Pope Francis is unaware of that author’s interpretation, yet he has neither corrected that author nor removed his preface from the work in question. (NB: We provided a three part rebuttal of that work, beginning here).

Now comes news in the Jesuit newspaper, Civilta Cattolica, that Pope Francis has again made public statements that almost certainly must be construed as advocating communion for unrepentant adulterers in civil marriages in certain cases. The June 13, 2019 article of the Civilta Cattolica, entitled “Stir Up the Indifferent: A conversation with Jesuits in Romania” provides the Pope’s response to a question from a Hungarian Jesuit regarding marriage nullity issues. To this question, Pope Francis responded in part saying (emphasis added):

“When the synod on the family began, some said: “See, the pope summons a synod to give communion to the divorced.” And they’re still saying so today! In reality, the synod took a step on the path in matrimonial morals, passing from the casuistry of decadent scholasticism to the true morals of St. Thomas Aquinas. That point at which Amoris Laetitia speaks of the integration of divorcees, eventually opening up to the possibility of the sacraments, was developed according to the most classical morals of St. Thomas, the most orthodox, not the decadent casuistry of “one can or one cannot.”” (Source:  La Civilta’ Cattolica, June 13, 2019)

In rejecting “one can or one cannot” answers to the question of whether it is proper to “give of communion to the divorced,” Pope Francis is certainly, in my opinion, suggesting communion in some cases is possible. There does not appear to be any other credible explanation of his words and meaning. If this is the case, as it appears, he proves the case of the Open Letter on this question, while with respect to the Declaration of Truth, he contradicts the proposition #37 (quoted earlier).

If Pope Francis did not think Amoris Laetitia changed the prior teaching one cannot give communion to unrepentant, public adulterers at all (cf Familiaris Consortio 84), there would be no need or reason for him to speak in regard to such public adulterers of the “opening up to the possibility of the sacrament” and his rejection of a “one can or cannot approach

In just a few days of the Declaration of Truths, Pope Francis has seemingly contradicted both that document, and confirmed the accusation of the Open Letter on the question of communion for unrepentant, civilly remarried, public adulterers.  Nothing more needs to be said on that question in this article, other than that the bishops and cardinals must now take up these questions.

Pope Francis vs. St. Thomas Aquinas

However, before leaving this topic altogether, I would like to clear the air regarding the Pope’s claim that St. Thomas Aquinas is an ally to the argument suggesting unrepentant, civilly remarried, public adulterers can receive the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist without a firm purpose of amendment. On that question, let’s take a look at some of the things St. Thomas Aquinas has said, which touch on this very question.

On the question of a “firm purpose of intention,” there are some who argue that adulterous acts within a civil remarriage may not always be mortal sin.  However, St. Thomas Aquinas taught (emphasis added):

“It is written (Tobit 4:13): ‘Take heed to keep thyself . . . from all fornication, and beside thy wife never endure to know a crime.’ Now crime denotes a mortal sin. Therefore fornication and all intercourse with other than one’s wife is a mortal sin” (Summa Theologica II-II, Q 154, A 2).

On the question of unrepentant sinner receiving absolution, the argument seems to be, in some cases, the adulterous acts might only be venial, and or it is alleged that an intention to one day cease adulterous acts–but not now–suffices for a “firm purpose of amendment.” However, St. Thomas Aquinas taught (emphasis added):

“Penance is to deplore past sins, and, “while deploring them,” not to commit again, either by act or by intention, those which we have to deplore. Because a man is a mocker and not a penitent, who, “while doing penance,” does what he repents having done, or intends to do again what he did before, or even commits actually the same or another kind of sin. But if a man sin afterwards either by act or intention, this does not destroy the fact that his former penance was real, because the reality of a former act is never destroyed by a subsequent contrary act: for even as he truly ran who afterwards sits, so he truly repented who subsequently sins.” (Summa Theologica, Sacrament of Penance; Question 84; Article 10: “Whether the Sacrament of Penance may be repeated?”; Reply to Objection 4)

Some who have argued for giving communion to civilly remarried adulterers, suggest that there might be situations where it may be good to continue adulterous sexual relations in the context of civil remarriage, for example, as for the peace of the family.  An example of such an argument (and a hypothetical case) may be found and is rebutted in Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface (NB: a longer treatment of the question may be found in The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’).  However, with regard to those who suggest there may be a wholesome benefit for committing acts of adultery, at least in certain cases, St. Thomas Aquinas taught (emphasis added):

“We should not agree with the commentator on this point, since one ought not commit adultery for any benefit just as one ought not tell a lie for any benefit, as Augustine says in is work Against Lying.” (De Malo, Question 15, Article 1, Reply 5. p. 421)

What’s more, many of those who make the argument that there may be benefit, also make recourse to the argument that a good intention may change the evil nature of the acts. However, St. Thomas Aquinas is cited by the Catholic Catechism (emphasis added):

An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means” (CCC 1759); or when St. Thomas Aquinas citing Sacred Scripture (Proverbs 6:30-32) says that while necessity may excuse theft, it can never do so for adultery: “…Secondly, theft is stated not to be a great fault in comparison with the guilt of adultery, which is punished with death. Hence the text goes on to say of the thief that “if he be taken, he shall restore sevenfold . . . but he that is an adulterer . . . shall destroy his own soul” (Summa Theologica II-II, Q 66, A 6, RO1).

The Catholic Catechism also says on the question above: “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adulteryOne may not do evil so that good may result from it” (CCC 1756 – see here).

Pope Francis by clear implication believes that communion can be given to unrepentant, civilly remarried, public adulterers at least in certain cases. He calls upon St. Thomas Aquinas as a support of his position. However, St. Thomas Aquinas taught (emphasis added):

Therefore Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it” (Summa Theologica III, Q 80, A 6).

As is clearly evident, St. Thomas Aquinas cannot be used to defend a teaching that suggests adulterers can fruitfully receive the Sacrament of Penance without a firm purpose of amendment to conform their lives to Divine Law. Further, St. Thomas Aquinas cannot be used to defend a teaching that allows distribution of Holy Communion to public adulterers. Pope Francis is in error. St. Thomas Aquinas most certainly does not support his position.

Let us pray for Pope Francis that he remembers the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, entitled Pia Fidelis, set during the time of the Arian crisis. The first book of the Pia Fidelis trilogy. The Two Kingdoms, should be out later this summer or by early fall (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).

Note 1:  Heresies II, IV and V given by the Open Letter are as follows:

“II. A Christian 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. [Council of Trent, session 6, canon 20: “If anyone says that a justified man, however perfect he may be, is not bound to observe the commandments of God and of the Church but is bound only to believe, as if the Gospel were merely an absolute promise of eternal life without the condition that the commandments be observed, let him be anathema” (DH 1570). See also: Mk. 8:38; Lk. 9:26; Heb. 10:26-29; 1 Jn. 5:17; Council of Trent, session 6, canons 19 and 27; Clement XI, Constitution Unigenitus, On the errors of Pasquier Quesnel, 71, DH 2471; John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia 17: AAS 77 (1985): 222; Veritatis splendor, 65-70: AAS 85 (1993): 1185-89, DH 4964-67.]” (Source: Open Letter)

“IV. Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right, or requested or even commanded by God. [Council of Trent, session 6, canon 21: “If anyone says that Jesus Christ was given by God to men as a redeemer in whom they are to trust but not also as a lawgiver whom they are bound to obey, let him be anathema”, DH 1571. Council of Trent, session 24, canon 2: “If anyone says that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not forbidden by any divine law, let him be anathema”, DH 1802. Council of Trent, session 24, canon 5: “If anyone says that the marriage bond can be dissolved because of heresy or difficulties in cohabitation or because of the wilful absence of one of the spouses, let him be anathema”, DH 1805. Council of Trent, session 24, canon 7: “If anyone says that the Church is in error for having taught and for still teaching that in accordance with the evangelical and apostolic doctrine, the marriage bond cannot be dissolved because of adultery on the part of one of the spouses and that neither of the two, not even the innocent one who has given no cause for infidelity, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other, and that the husband who dismisses an adulterous wife and marries again and the wife who dismisses an adulterous husband and marries again are both guilty of adultery, let him be anathema”, DH 1807. See also: Ps. 5:5; Ps. 18:8-9; Ecclesiasticus 15:21; Heb. 10:26-29; Jas. 1:13; 1 Jn. 3:7; Innocent XI, Condemned propositions of the ‘Laxists’, 62-63, DH 2162-63; Clement XI, Constitution Unigenitus, 3 On the errors of Pasquier Quesnel, 71, DH 2471; Leo XIII, encyclical letter Libertas praestantissimum, ASS 20 (1887-88): 598, DH 3248; Pius XII, Decree of the Holy Office on situation ethics, DH 3918; 2 nd Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 16; John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 54: AAS 85 (1993): 1177; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1786-87.]”(Source: Open Letter)

“V. It is false that the only sexual acts that are good of their kind and morally licit are acts between husband and wife. [I Corinthians 6:9-10; “Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.” Jude 1:7; “As Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication, and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.” See also: Romans 1:26-32; Ephesians 5:3-5; Galatians 5;19-21; Pius IX, Casti connubii, 10, 19-21, 73; Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 11-14; John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, 13-14.]”(Source: Open Letter)



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