August 25, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – Scott Eric Alt recently published an article on his Patheos blog re what he calls the Francis Derangment Syndrome, apparently this article is part 24 or something of a series. Mr. Alt was set off in this most recent installment by Patrick Coffin’s interview with Cardinal Burke which touched upon issues related to the potential invalidity of the conclave (see here) [NB: one topic touched upon in the interview was the “influential Italian gentleman” who visited McCarrick before the pre-conclave general congregations. In my article, I provide my theory as to identity of this Italian. See The “Influential Italian Gentleman” . In a separate article, I identify a probable violation of Universi Dominici Gregis by the late-Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. See 2013 Conclave: Was there a violation of Universi Dominici Gregis 12?].
The purpose though of this article is not to address Mr. Alt’s “derangement syndrome” files. Rather, his article did provide the occasion to peruse his writing on Amoris Laetitia which I found to be of greater interest. Roma Locuta Est has published a couple responses to Mr. Alt’s articles in the past (see To Be or Not to Be a “Correctionist” and Why the Case of Pope Honorius Matters, Mr. Alt).
There are reasonable and decent Catholics who have real concerns about (1) things Pope Francis has said and written, and not said or written; and, (2) things Francis-apologists [note 1] write about things Pope Francis has said and written, or not said or written. Now, granted, I am not a regular reader of Mr. Alt’s articles. So, my recent perusal of his library may have been insufficient, but the articles I did read leave me a bit puzzled. I suppose I would place Mr. Alt into the category of Francis-apologists somewhere in the group described in recent articles (see The Confusion of the Francis-Apologists) and Mark Shea (see Mark Shea – aka he who exudes the “Odor of Sanctimony” – and other apologetic hacks).
To explain my puzzlement, let’s take a brief stroll through the Alt library on Amoris Laetitia. Soon after the release of Amoris Laetitia, Mr. Alt attacks “chicken little blogs” for concerns over footnote 351 (305).
“Now, all this is important because for a very long and tedious April we have been told, on all the Chicken Little blogs and across the social media Webosphere, that footnote 351 is the “smoking gun” that permits communion for those in an irregular union without requiring them to abandon their sin.” (Alt, May 1, 2016)
By November of 2016, in the face of the many calling for Pope Francis to clarify Amoris Laetitia, Mr. Alt loudly lamented “how many times must Amoris Laetitia be clarified” in an article entitled “how many times must Amoris Laetitia be clarified?” In this article, Mr. Alt writes:
“Back in April, the wery month the pope released Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Schonborn addressed “the question of this little footnote.” (That’s footnote 351, if I may refresh your memory, dear reader, the smoking gun, the elephant in the corner, the heresy in the Church, the prevailing of the gates of Hell, which, if we are to believe 1 Vader 5 and the other usual suspects, says that unrepentant couples in an adulterous union may nevertheless receive communion.” (Alt, November 16, 2016)
Mr. Alt goes on to say later in the same article (emphasis added):
“Why, dear me, what Schonborn and Muller say about Amoris is exactly what I said about it all through the month of April!
Don’t doubt me, dear reader.
More importantly, don’t doubt the princes of the Church who have already given this same clarification multiple times. I fail to understand why prelates must rush out upon demand to clarify Amoris Laetitia over and over and over again. How many times is enough? Seven? Seventy? Seventy times seven? 35 quintillion?” (Alt, November 16, 2016)
And then Mr. Alt concludes the same article (emphasis added):
“I just fail to understand what more should be clarified, and so does Dave Armstrong.
Perhaps you can help me, dear reader.” (Alt, November 16, 2016)
So, in this article, Mr. Alt brags that Müller and Schonborn have clarified Amoris Laetitia’s meaning for us, just as he, Mr. Alt, had down “multiple times.” He said, in fact he fails “to understand why prelates must rush out upon demand to clarify Amoris Laetitia over and over and over again. How many times is enough? Seven? Seventy? Seventy times seven? 35 quintillion?”
Yet, just a fortnight later, Mr. Alt had changed his snarky, arrogant, and infallibly confident tone, to declare he’s changed his mind about Francis’ in an article rightly entitled “I’ve changed my mind about Pope Francis.”
“I mean, I do like Pope Francis. I’ve defended Pope Francis. I want to believe—I really want to believe—that footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia can (and should) be read consistently with Familiaris Consortio 84. I have argued as much multiple times on this wery blog.
The pope, in footnote 351, says that “in some cases” couples who are in an irregular marital union but unable to separate for the sake of children can “receive the help of the sacraments.” In the main text (par. 305), he says that such couples are in “an objective situation of sin,” even if “not subjectively culpable.”
Now, it is standard Catholic teaching that, if grave matter is present, mortal sin nevertheless may not be. If a person has a cocaine addiction, for example, the presence of addiction impairs freedom of the will sufficiently that there is no “subjective culpability.”
Of course, once such a person acknowledges this problem, he needs to get help to break the addiction.
Similarly, a couple who contracted an irregular marriage (divorce and remarriage without annulment, for example) may not be “subjectively culpable” if their conscience had not been fully formed at the time of the wedding. Or perhaps they were not Catholic at the time, and their church permitted such a marriage.
Again, once the couple become aware of the “objective situation of sin,” it is their responsibility to correct it. They can no longer appeal to their lack of “subjective culpability.”” (Alt, November 30, 2016)
Recall, in his earlier screed Mr. Alt had confidently assured his readers, that Cardinal Schonborn had clarified (just as Mr. Alt himself had done for his reader multiple times!) clarified Amoris Laetitia. However, in his November 30th article, Mr. Alt now declares “Schonborn’s words have been inconsistent and themselves not at all precise.” Similarly, while Mr. Alt had previously pointed to the supposed “35 quintillion” clarifications of others in his earlier articles, now two weeks later (November 16, 2016) he admits “None of these clarifications carry Magisterial weight.” Mr. Alt’s infallible confidence and certitude have deserted him by the time he concluded this November 30, 2016 article (emphasis added):
“And because of all this, many believe that the pope wants confusion, likes confusion, does not wish to clear up confusion, and if there is confusion he must scoff at confusion.
No. We have a pope, in part, so that he can answer questions such as these, which arise from time to time in the Church. They have arisen now. For the good of the body, for the unity of the Church, the pope must answer them. He alone can do so with authority. That is why we have a pope.
I want to believe Amoris Laetitia is consistent with Church teaching, but if it is, why does the pope have such a difficult time clarifying that consistency?
My point in all of this is not to knock Mr. Alt for changing his mind. Amoris Laetitia and all that swirls around has been confusing. It certainly took intellectual honesty on Mr. Alt’s part to make his about face. I commend him for it. Sincerely. Above he even seemed to both magnanimously recognize and to be sympathetic with the sort of confusion prevalent among many Catholics as being real and understandable; the same confusion he had heretofore abused with mockery and derision dripping with undisguised contempt. So, that article was something of a breath of fresh air.
However, Mr. Alt’s sympathetic understanding of the confusion of others was not to last long. The ill winds of snark and contempt had returned to his Patheos page by at least April 2017. By then, while Mr. Alt admitted while “true it is that I have said myself: Pope Francis should answer the dubia on Amoris Laetitia…” (Alt, April 24, 2017), he seemed to have lost a sense of heart for those not as equipped as he to handle confusion on a question of faith and morals. Now, in April 2017 he spoke of the “the Incoherence” of those wanting a clarification of Amoris Laetitia, and answers to the Dubia in an article entitled: “The Incoherence of “Just Clarify Amoris! Answer the Dubia!””
In that article, Mr. Alt says, in part:
“But all this sheds light, too, on Cardinal Burke’s refrain that, without answers to dubia, he will have no choice but to “formally correct” Pope Francis? On what? If Amoris Laetitia is heretical, why do you submit dubia? For a clarification or a conviction? If Amoris Laetitia is not heretical, what are you correcting? If you don’t know, why do you presume guilt?” (Alt, April 2017)
In my opinion, Mr. Alt contradicted himself. The point of asking for clarification, which Mr. Alt agreed to in late November 2016 article, was to clarify how or whether Amoris Laetitia was consistent with Church teaching. Mr. Alt said that himself in his article five months earlier: “I want to believe Amoris Laetitia is consistent with Church teaching, but if it is, why does the pope have such a difficult time clarifying that consistency?” Furthermore, he himself had then said of the Dubia: “These strike me as fair questions.” Mr. Alt himself expressed the doubt previously over whether Amoris Laetitia (or certain interpretations of it) were or were not consistent with Church teaching. Why the seeming turnaround? Now…he declared this all incoherent!
What seems missing in Mr. Alt’s discussion of Amoris Laetitia in his articles is his own clear statement of his understanding of what he believes it to mean, and which interpretations that are out there which he believes are erroneous. He seems to approach more definitive statements by November 2017, in his response to the Filial Correction.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ wills”—The Correctors boldly claim this final and seventh heresy is to be found in Amoris Laetitia—“that the Church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried and of refusing absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it.”
Hmm. Now, I have refuted all the other charges of heresy the filial ones have made against the Holy Father. And you will recall, dear reader, I often had the difficulty in finding out exactly where in the text of Amoris Laetitia they think they find those notions. This is because they do sloppy work. They never say, “Well, heresy 3 is to be found in paragraph 297 in these words.” No. And thus I find the same trouble with supposed heresy 7. I find no passage in Amoris Laetitia—certainly not the passages quoted by the filial ones as smoking guns of some sort—where Pope Francis invokes the will of Christ or says anything about the Church “abandoning its perennial discipline” with regard to the Eucharist. Search for yourself.” (Alt, November 2017 – Part VII)
There are two observations I have here. The “filial ones” as Mr. Alt mocks them, are really making two points regarding the perennial tradition of the Church in the citation above. The first is the doctrinal truth that D&Rs in an objective situation of sin cannot receive Holy Communion if they continue to live more uxorio, i.e., this teaching doesn’t even touch upon subjective guilt for the act of adultery.
While Mr. Alt may disagree with the “filial ones” that a denial of this truth is to be definitely found in Amoris Laetitia in his November 2017 article, he had previously allowed there was sufficient doubt to warrant clarification on this very point (cf Alt, November 30, 2016). Thus, it appears to me that Mr. Alt as of November 2017 denied Amoris Laetitia actually allowed communion for D&Rs in an objective situation of sin. What is not as clear to me is, what would Mr. Alt believe if it could be demonstrated to him Amoris Laetitia did actually allow it? Would he hold Amoris Laetitia to be erroneous — or a new “doctrine” to be true? He doesn’t tell us.
The second observation involves what the “filial ones” (in Mr. Alt’s terms) alleged regarding the perennial tradition of the Church which would refuse “absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it.” Mr. Alt denied in his November 2017 article that this truth was abandoned in Amoris Laetitia. Indeed, at one point of his rebuttal of the “filial ones”, Mr. Alt wrote:
“Third, to find this particular heresy here, the filial ones would have to assume that the “particular situations” the pope has in mind involve people who express no contrition or purpose of amendment. But here the “reading into” problem arises again. Pope Francis does not say that.” (Alt, November 2017 – Part VII)
Ok, fine. We are now to understand, per Mr. Alt, that those finding this particular error have “read it into” the text of Amoris Laetitia. Okay. That is Mr. Alt of November 2017. But if we refer to “early Alt” of November 2016, Mr. Alt then had noted a clarification of Amoris Laetitia was necessary to “forestall” such an interpretation (emphasis added): “If someone in a state of mortal sin, not disposed to receive the Eucharist, receives the Eucharist anyway, that compounds the problem. It is a harm to both the individual who receives and the priest who knowingly distributes. A definitive clarification would, potentially, forestall this.”(see Alt, November 30, 2016).
So, let’s try to sort this out. Mr. Alt faults the “filial ones” for reading a denial of this truth into the text of Amoris Laetitia, which he himself stated needed a clarification to forestall such an interpretation. Okay, fine. Mr. Alt does not see such a denial in the text. What is less clear, to me at least, is whether Mr. Alt would agree with the “filial ones” that if such an abandonment of the perennial tradition of the faith was found in Amoris Laetitia that this would, in fact, be a problem. Does Mr. Alt hold it would be or not?
Now, by May of 2019, Mr. Alt was onto mitigating circumstances. Replying to an article by Richard Spinello in Crisis magazine, Mr. Alt in an article wrote:
“Well, it sure does not sound as though Pope Francis believes in a “pliant moral doctrine.” Does it? Where there is some pliancy in Amoris Laetitia, it has to do with the reality that grave matter does not always equal mortal sin. This is standard Catholic moral theology. The Catechism lists three conditions for mortal sin, and only one of them is that grave matter be involved. But there must also be “full knowledge” and “deliberate consent.” And Pope Francis recognizes, as did St. John Paul II before him in Familiaris Consortio, that individuals approach full understanding of the moral law gradually.” (Alt, May 2019)
Now, this brings us somewhat up to date. Above, Mr. Alt seems to me to suggesting that D&Rs can engage in adulterous acts without these necessarily being mortal sins, perhaps due to some lack of “full knowledge” or “deliberate consent” (NB: I addressed this notion in a recent article On the Doctrine of Mitigating Circumstances and in The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’). It is not clear to me, at least in the recent articles I’ve read, whether Mr. Alt would, therefore, argue such D&R’s engaging in adulterous acts — which Mr. Alt might consider venial sins in certain limited conditions — could receive communion per footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia — but still in direct contravention of Familiaris Consortio 84.
In an earlier article in which he tried to rebut Dr. Brugger on AL 303, Mr. Alt wrote (emphasis added): ”
“But the pope’s exact words are “what is for now the most generous response that can be given to God.” That is “what God is asking.” Perhaps you may not, overnight, be able to abandon a sin you have been guilty of a long time. Things you do by habit you often need to abandon in stages. Yes, I avail myself of the confessional; I make a firm purpose of amendment; but perhaps in three days I fall again. The “most generous response” is to recognize the error, return to confession, and try again. God does not say, “I want you to keep sinning.” He does say, “If you can’t abandon your sin overnight, I want you to move in that direction.”” (Alt, May 4, 2016)
Mr. Alt at least appears to admit a “firm purpose of amendment” is required, i.e., with the intent not to engage in adulterous acts. However, is Mr. Alt unaware that many Francis-apologists advance the argument that such an intention is not necessary to receive sacramental absolution and receive Holy Communion? Does Mr. Alt agree with them or not? If not, then some of these same Francis-Apologists are as confused by Mr. Alt’s true position as am I, as one such Francis-Apologist website cites Mr. Alt as a resource on Amoris Laetitia (see Where Peter Is Resources)!
For example, the Where Peter Is website holds the position that adulterous acts by D&Rs in some cases may be only venial sins, and that these sins need not be confessed with the firm intention not to engage in them again. Where Peter Is holds to Stephen Walford’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, where a D&R individual or couple under certain conditions, can intend to continue adulterous sexual relations (NB: Mr. Walford makes this claim in his book “The Pope, The Family and Divorce” on pages 102-104. I rebut his example in my three part rebuttal The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’ and Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface). Others have offered variations of Mr. Walford’s example [see note 3], which I rebut, also along with Mr. Walford’s, in my article On the Doctrine of Mitigating Circumstances.
As the reader here will recall, Mr. Alt seemed to previously defend the notion that Amoris Laetitia could not mean an overturning of Familiaris Consortio 84, which denied communion to D&Rs in an objective situation of sin (irrespective of their subjective culpability for that sin) living more uxorio. Recall, in November 2016 he had told us that “A definitive clarification would, potentially, forestall” such an interpretation (i.e., one that contradicts FC 84). Indeed, again in November 2017, he denied Amoris Laetitia could be read to deny the perennial teaching reaffirmed by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio 84.
So, here is my conundrum. For most seeming “Francis-apologists” (see note 1) I’ve read, their positions are pretty clear. I’ve written quite a number of articles to oppose what I see and firmly believe to be errors in the writings of Mr. Walford (see Summa Contra Stephen Walford) and of Mr. Gabriel at the Where Peter Is blog (see here and here). These Francis-Apologists say that Amoris Laetitia has changed the discipline of Familiaris Consortio 84. Does Mr. Alt now agree with them? If not, where are his articles against them? For where the “filial ones” might fear heresy, the Francis-apologists are engaging in it. Where is Mr. Alt’s ire?
However, for all the quantity of what Mr. Alt has written, it is not clear — to me at least — where he really stands on Amoris Laetitia. Yes, yes. We know he dislikes ‘reactionaries’, Cardinal Burke, One Peter Five, Republicans, LifeSiteNews, etc., etc. We know that…a “quintillion times over” by now in Alt-speak. But where has Mr. Alt said firmly and clearly what his full position is on the question of Amoris Laetitia and the various interpretations of it in circulation? Like I said…I haven’t read all of what he’s written on the subject…so the fault is mine if somewhere in his body of work there is a clear statement (and I do apologize–there might be such an article from him)…but the thing is…I have read a lot of his articles while researching my article, and in all of them no real definitive statement emerges).
Does Mr. Alt still accept the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 which absolutely denies communion to all D&R in objective situations of sin — regardless of subjective guilt — who continue to live more uxorio — without exception? If he accepts it, why doesn’t Mr. Alt direct at least some of his ire and mockery against writers like Mr. Walford or the writers at Where Peter Is [See note 2] who defend an interpretation that Amoris Laetitia allows such D&Rs to receive both absolution and receive Holy Communion while intending to continue engaging in adulterous acts? Those suggesting this is possible have provided a number of examples claiming these examples are not mortal sins (see note 3). Does Mr. Alt agree with their analysis of these examples or does he believe it is rash to suggest these examples are only venial sins? Does he believe D&R’s who intend to continue to live more uxorio can receive sacramental absolution and receive Holy Communion? Mr. Alt has found time to write 24 “derangement syndrome” articles, but where are his articles on these key issues which are at the center of the debate?
So, I am flummoxed. How is it possible for someone like Mr. Alt who has written so much on Amoris Laetitia to have actually said so little that is definitive about his opinion? I am unsure. Alt right vs. Alt wrong? Which Alt is Alt? Perhaps his readers might ask him. They, at least — as well as the many he has attacked over the years on matters related to Amoris Laetitia — deserve a straight and full answer on his true opinion on all these questions if he is going to be dishing out infallible accusations of “derangement” in others.
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 StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).
- By “Francis-apologist” I mean “Francis” not as in the real Pope Francis, but the Pope Francis as interpreted by said apologist. Thus, the “Francis-apologist” may or may not actually be interpreting the real Pope Francis correctly.
- Where Peter Is references Alt’s blog as a resource for defending Amoris Laetitia, but their view of Amoris Laetitia is that D&Rs living more uxorio can continue to receive communion under certain circumstances, and that their adulterous acts in certain cases are only venial sins.
- In Mr. Walford’s example, found on p.102-104 of his book, The Pope, The Family and Divorce, the focus is on a couple, where both spouses share the same mutual duress or coercion. Both decide to continue their adulterous sexual relationship in the face of their supposed constraints (NB: I rebutt his argument here and here). Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, in a September 13, 2016 article on CatholicCulture.org, offers an example where one of the spouses decides to continue sexual relations under supposed “duress” (see Not heretical: Pope Francis’ approval of the Argentine bishops’ policy on invalid marriages). Cardinal Coccopalmerio offers a slight variation of the supposed hard case in an interview with the Jesuit magazine America (see here), which I commented on here. The cardinal’s scenario is the same in the essentials. A spouse who knows what is right, intends to act contrary now and into the future. My recent article addresses the principles used in all of these cases (see On the Doctrine of Mitigating Circumstances).