February 3, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – This is the second and final part of a series “On the Correct Understanding of Amoris Laetitia: Which is it?” In part one, we looked at the Church’s “constant and universal” tradition and practice on the question of whether Holy Communion can be given to the divorce and remarried with valid prior marriages.
Also in Part 1, we looked at two interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, both purporting to be true. First, there is the interpretation of Cardinal Muller, which in my view, is faithful to the constant teaching of the Church. The second interpretation we looked at was that of Stephen Walford as put forward in his articles, and then his book entitled The Pope, The Family, and Divorce. These two views, again in my view, are in contradiction to one another. Both cannot be true. So what of it? Part 2 continues below.
Vatican Insider, which has been a strong supporter of Amoris Laetitia, seemed for a period of time to highlight two particular defenders of its orthodoxy, Mr. Walford as already mentioned, and Dr. Robert Fastiggi. However, when I looked more closely at these two writers, presented by Vatican Insider, they appeared, to me at least, to have significant differences (see Confusion at Vatican Insider?). For example, consider. Mr. Walford, one of Vatican Insider‘s defenders of Amoris Laetitia, answered the first Dubia with a “yes” (see here). On the other hand, Professor Robert Fastiggi, the other Vatican Insider defender of Amoris Laetitia, answers the first Dubia with a “no” (see here). Mr. Walford’s position is that there has been a significant doctrinal development with AL. Fastiggi’ position seems to be that the doctrine and discipline have not changed. That is to say, there has been no doctrinal development, at least not in the sense or degree that Mr. Walford allows. They both also appear to have differing views on the Buenos Aires Guidelines, as well as their significance in the AAS.
Now among the apologetical class who profess to accept an orthodox interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, the folks at Where Peter Is seem to accept Walford’s interpretation of AL (see here), while apparently disagreeing with Dr. Fastiggi’s, at least to some extent. There are others in the apologetical class who link to writers and articles that seem to contradict each other on key points , and even one who just seems to contradict himself  — though all the while many in this apologetical class just don’t get why many average Catholics are troubled or confused.
The point up to now is, we have at least two distinct claims to an “orthodox” interpretation of Amoris Laetitia (i.e., the Cardinal’s and Walford’s) which contradict the other, they are incompatible. One allows communion for adulterers in certain cases (Walford), and the other rejects this as impossible (Müller, Ratzinger). While Dr. Fastiggi’s views seem to diverge from Walford’s position, where he fits in this spectrum…I will not hazard a guess.
This whole exercise is not one to say “defenders of Amoris Laetitia hold contradictory positions and, therefore, the Pope cannot be defended.” Certainly, the desire to want to defend the pope is understandable and laudable, but fundamentally if there are two contradictory positions, as potentially shown above, then at least one of them is wrong. If one of these views is the orthodox one, then the other view is not. How is that not important? How is that not a matter of interest to anyone following the whole controversy? The search for truth is benefited by seeking clarity here.
Given there are many in the apologetical class who purport to be the defenders of the correct understanding of Amoris Laetitia; I hoped to get some clarification of some opinions on such things, essentially, ‘what do you think the correct understanding is’ or ‘do you agree with Walford?’ With such questions in mind, I attempted in good faith to engage in a conversation with one professional Catholic apologist/blogger ; however, that attempt went south [chronicled here]. But out of that, Dr. Fastiggi provided some reflections on Amoris Laetitia to the aforementioned blogger [see Dr. Fastiggi on Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis, & Aquinas].
Reflections on “Reflections”
First, it must be noted Dr. Fastiggi’s reflections (which I include below) do not profess to answer the sorts of questions I am addressing, e.g., regarding agreement or not with Mr. Walford’s interpretation, etc. While the Doctor’s reflections do not address these questions, an attachment to them did provide a list “showing possible cases that might apply to footnote 351 of AL noted by three Cardinals: Ratzinger, Müller, and Vallini.”
As background for those not familiar with the controversy, in Amoris Laetitita, Pope Francis had written:
“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.” (Amoris Laetitia, 305)
Attached to the Pope’s words above was the now famous footnote 351, which reads:
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” (Amoris Laetitia, n. 351 (305))
The crux of the question here is, what are the “certain cases” and to whom do they apply? As seen in part 1, Mr. Walford would argue adulterers “in certain cases” can be admitted to the sacraments even without a firm purpose of amendment to end their adultery, and still receive Holy Communion. Cardinal Muller, as seen in part 1, would seem to apply certain cases only to unique, special cases involving nullity/invalidity of the first marriage (see here) — and even here, the traditional requirements of the sacraments must be observed. In no case where the first marriage is valid would he allow a D&R to receive communion.
With that as background, I thought with Dr. Fastiggi’s reflections in hand at least, we might check a few “possible cases” and see if they have any bearing on the discussion of Cardinal Müller’s and Mr. Walford’s interpretations of Amoris Laetitia. The question now specifically is:
Is Mr. Walford’s example (see PART 1) of a couple among the difficult cases intended by Amoris Laetitia, footnote 351?
Below, I post below Dr. Fastiggi’s end of the aforementioned correspondence with the professional Catholic apologist. For ease of following the discussion, the “possible cases” found in Dr. Fastiggi’s reflections are indented, followed by my brief, labeled comments where indicated. After that, I’ll provide some concluding comments. Dr. Fastiggi’s letter and attachment follow:
1). From Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1998 essay, “CONCERNING SOME OBJECTIONS TO THE CHURCH’S TEACHING ON THE RECEPTION OF HOLY COMMUNION BY DIVORCED AND REMARRIED MEMBERS OF THE FAITHFUL”
3 c. Admittedly, it cannot be excluded that mistakes occur in marriage cases. In some parts of the Church, well-functioning marriage tribunals still do not exist. Occasionally, such cases last an excessive amount of time. Once in a while they conclude with questionable decisions. Here it seems that the application of epikeia in the internal forum is not automatically excluded from the outset. This is implied in the 1994 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which it was stated that new canonical ways of demonstrating nullity should exclude “as far as possible” every divergence from the truth verifiable in the judicial process (cf. No. 9). Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false. Others maintain that exceptions are possible here in the internal forum, because the juridical forum does not deal with norms of divine law, but rather with norms of ecclesiastical law.
This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions
This essay is found in the third part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Volume 17 of the series produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled “Documenti e Studi”, On the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried, LEV, Vatican City 1998, pp. 20-29. It’s posted on the Vatican website after the 1994 letter of the CDF on this matter.
O’Reilly Comments on Possible Case #1 Above: As indicated, the above refers to potential “new ways” to demonstrate nullity, which as Ratzinger indicated, was implied in the 1994 letter. Ratzinger said this needs further study, so a doubt seems to remain:
“This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions.”
The “exception” noted by Ratzinger in his statement above, I believe, is to recognizing a new way to demonstrate nullity in some particular case when not having or inability to get the regular sort of evidence, and not an exception to give communion short of even that demonstration. This must be the case as the Cardinal stated in the same letter: “In other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception.”
Regardless, in any event, this is not the sort of case with the details and conditions presented by Mr. Walford. The second “possible case” noted by Dr. Fastiggi, follows below:
2). This same difficult case is mentioned by Cardinal Gerhard Müller in his introductory essay (Saggio introduttivo) to Rocco Buttiglione’s book, Risposte amichevoli ai critici di Amoris Laetitia (Milano: Edizioni Ares, 2017), 23–25. With respect to cases in which the nullity of the prior bond is impossible to prove, Cardinal Müller writes:
If the second bond were valid before God, the marital relations of the two partners would not constitute a grave sin but instead a transgression against the public ecclesiastical order for having irresponsibly violated the canonical rules and therefore a light sin. This does not obscure the truth that relations more uxorio with a person of the other sex, who is not the legitimate spouse before God, constitute a grave fault against chastity and against the justice owed to the proper spouse.
O’Reilly Comments on Possible Case #2 Above:
This case, suggested by Cardinal Müller, seems like the one above it. There is a reference to the Cardinal’s introductory essay to Mr. Buttiglione’s book. Subsequently, the Cardinal did provide some clarifying remarks in an interview with Lifesitenews in November 2017 (Cardinal Müller clarifies: There are ‘no exceptions’ to ban on Communion for ‘remarried). One of the questions, and the Cardinal’s answer are provided below from this interview (emphasis mine):
Question: “But in Buttiglione’s essay, he refers to several very particular situations in which there would be a venial sin, so that it should be possible to be absolved and to receive the sacraments while maintaining the state of the second union.”
Cardinal Müller: “In my introduction it is very clearly written that reconciliation is needed, and this is only possible if there is first contrition and a firm purpose not to commit the sin anymore. Certain people who address these issues do not understand that approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not mean automatic absolution. There are essential elements without which reconciliation cannot be achieved. If there isn’t contrition there cannot be absolution and if there is no absolution, if one remains in the state of mortal sin, one cannot receive Communion.
As for Buttiglione, he refers to situations where knowledge of the Catholic faith is a problem. These are cases of unconscious Christians, who are baptized but unbelieving, who may have gotten married in Church to please their grandmother, but without a real awareness. Here it becomes a problem when, after many years, they return to the faith and then question the marriage. There are many such cases. Benedict XVI also looked at the issue. So what’s to be done? In this sense we can say with the Pope that discernment is needed, but this does not mean that one can be granted access to the sacraments without the conditions mentioned above. The issue here is not about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, but about the validity of many marriages that aren’t really valid.”
The Cardinal is clear that the conditions for granting access to the sacrament of Reconciliation remains, the need for confession, contrition, and a firm purpose of amendment. Without contrition, and firm purpose of amendment, there can be no absolution. This is echoed in his Manifesto of Faith.
Regardless, this case does not apply to the scenario in Mr. Walford’s book where the couple decides to resume marital relation even despite knowing their union is wrong. The third possible exception noted by Dr. Fastiggi, follows below:
3). Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the former Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura under St. John Paul II and the Vicar of the Archdiocese of Rome, issued some guidelines on Amoris Laetitia on Sept. 19. 2016, as the Vicar of Pope Francis for the Archdiocese of Rome. These guidelines were by means of a relazione (relation or report) entitled “La letizia dell’amore”: il cammino delle famiglie a Roma” (“The joy of love”: the way of families in Rome”). In his guidelines, Cardinal Vallini refers to footnote 351, and he notes that the footnote (in Italian) uses the conditional and reads: “In certain cases there could (potrebbe) also be the help of the sacraments.”
The use of the conditional shows that Pope Francis is not saying that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics must be admitted to the sacraments. The Holy Father is only noting that they are not excluded from the sacraments in some cases and under certain conditions. What are these conditions? Cardinal Vallini mentions the case in which there is moral certitude that the first marriage was null but there are no proofs to demonstrate this in a judicial setting. In such a case, the only opening to the sacraments would be with a confessor who, at a certain point—in his conscience and after much reflection and prayer—must assume responsibility before God and to the penitent and request that access to the sacraments take place in a reserved manner (in maniera riservata).
O’Reilly Comments on Possible Case #3 Above: Again this case involves a nullity question seen in the other examples above. “Cardinal Vallini mentions the case in which there is moral certitude that the first marriage was null but there are no proofs to demonstrate this in a judicial setting.”
Without going into the merits of Cardinal Vallini’s exception about moral certitude on whether the first marriage is null, or there’s sufficient evidence to be so, it is enough for our purposes here to simply observe this in no way shares the particulars of Mr. Walford’s example. The fourth “possible case” noted by Dr. Fastiggi, follows below:
4).The philosopher, Rocco Buttiglione, in his 2017 book, Risposte amichevoli ai critici di Amoris Laetitia [Friendly responses to the critics of Amoris Laetitia], notes that Pope Francis is not admitting the divorced and remarried to communion but to confession (p. 68). The confessor must use discernment to decide whether to give absolution, which allows the penitent to receive communion.
Buttiglione—who was a friend of St. John Paul II and an expert on the late Pontiff’s thought—recognizes that absolution can only be given when there a resolve not to commit a sin that is materially grave (pp. 180–181). The confessor, though, must be aware of mitigating factors that might limit the responsibility of the penitent for committing acts that are gravely sinful. Buttiglione gives the example of a woman who is in a condition of total economic and psychological dependence on her civil partner, and this man imposes sexual relations on her against her will (p. 171).
Here it’s not a matter of judging a sinful act not to be sinful but of discerning whether the penitent is fully culpable for the sin. Buttiglione notes: “This does not imply that the unmarried can legitimately engage in sexual acts. The acts are illegitimate, but persons (in some cases)—through the absence of full awareness and deliberate consent—can be free from incurring mortal sin” (p. 172). For absolution to be given there must be the resolve to leave the situation of sin even if the penitent (in the case mentioned) cannot promise to avoid immediately the objective act of sin because she’s living in a situation that exposes her to the irresistible temptation to commit the act (p. 172).
O’Reilly Comment on Possible Case #4 Above: Without going into merits or demerits of Buttiglione’s argument, the case presented is that of a woman forced into sexual relations “against her will.” This is essentially rape. This is certainly not the case described in Mr. Walford’s book.
As noted, Dr. Fastiggi’s reflections are not concerned with answering my questions, originally posed here. However, the reflections do summarize portions of Pope Francis’ interview with Austen Ivereigh, published in a book form entitled Let Us Dream, The Path to A Better Future. Thus, I don’t see a need to go through his reflections point by point — as I am not currently planning on reviewing the Pope’s book.
However, I will briefly highlight one of the more interesting elements he cites from the Pope’s Let Us Dream, and that is the discussion about Amoris Laetitia using the “true moral doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas.” Such claims that certain parts of Amoris Laetitia are Thomistic, i.e., in the sense the citations are faithful to the Angelic Doctor’s meaning and teaching in full context, is credibly disputed by various scholars, for example (see here, here, here, and here). To claim Amoris Laetitia is Thomistic on the subject of Holy Communion for D&Rs, who are “open sinners,” in certain cases is an impossible case to make when one considers, as Fr. Thomas Crean, OP observes (emphasis added):
“On the question of the reception of the sacraments, Amoris Laetitia can hardly be considered Thomistic, (because) it does not quote the relevant text from the Summa: “Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it” (3a 80), or the identical teaching in the Scriptum (Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 9 q. 1 a. 5 qc. 1 co).” (See Amoris Laetitia is not a Thomistic Document)
And as Father Basil B. Cole OP notes most glaringly of all, St. Thomas ‘specifically says that “one may not commit adultery for any good” (De Malo, q. 15, a.1, ad 5)’ (see here). Apparently, even St. Thomas Aquinas was not Thomistic enough.
But now, let us return to the question we hoped to have an answer for: “Is Mr. Walford’s example of a couple among the difficult cases intended by Amoris Laetitia, footnote 351?” The four “possible cases” offered by Dr. Fastiggi do not shed any light on this question. The four cases are comprised of three cases involving nullity questions regarding the first marriage, and one essentially involving rape. These do not come close to touching upon the particulars of Mr. Walford’s example in Part 1.
So where does this leave us in understanding where folks stand, those who say they have the orthodox understanding of Amoris Laetitia? Again, using Walford’s example as a test case, we may ask is the couple he described one of the “certain cases” intended by an orthodox reading of footnote 351? Based on what Cardinal Müller has said, it is clear Müller would say an orthodox interpretation of Amoris Laetitia requires a definitive “no.” St. Thomas Aquinas, as quoted above, would say “no”, as he literally says “Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it”, and “one may not commit adultery for any good.” Of course we must assume Cardinal Tobin, who gave Mr. Walford’s book a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur would answer “yes,” and my hunch is, the folks at Where Peter Is would too.
But where there are two contradictory ‘teachings’ (e.g., Müller vs. Walford), obviously they both cannot be true. It is fair to ask, which of them is true? Neither of them? Some other one? It won’t do to simply pass off the search for truth or just asking valid questions as a “crusade” in some dismissive, pejorative sense. If things were so clear, we would not have Cardinals seeking answers to the Dubia, publishing Declarations of Truth, Manifestos, or suggesting that there are “individual bishops and whole episcopal conferences that are proposing interpretations that contradict the previous Magisterium, admitting to the sacraments persons who persist in objective situations of grave sin” (here), or that “whoever thinks that persistent adultery and the reception of Holy Communion are compatible is a heretic and promotes schism” (see here). In the end analysis, it seems quite clear, Cardinal Müller’s interpretation is to be preferred by Catholics of the two examined, as it is clearly more consistent with the perennial teaching of the Church.
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 author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com or StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on Parler: @StevenOReilly).
- When it comes to Pope Francis, there are many things, in my opinion, which are understood with common sense and an understanding of the Catholic Faith to be troubling, confusing, and in need of clarification and answers. With regard to some of the ‘complaints’ against Pope Francis, I have defended him, such as whether he committed formal heresy in Amoris Laetitia 297 (see Does Amoris Laetitia (297) Deny Hell?). Other things are more problematic, such as his claim God willed a diversity of religions, and then there was the Pachamama debacle, and also his Scalfari interviews. Then, on the topic of this article we have the Pope’s unwillingness to answer the Dubia. I do not claim Pope Francis is without a doubt a “heretic.” I do not claim Pope Francis is without a doubt a “formal heretic.” I have said the allegations in the Open Letter are significant and serious, and deserve a hearing and review by the bishops/cardinals. All of these things, and more, taken alone or as a group raise serious questions–and have confused the faithful. If we look at the case of Honorius, for example, even granting him the benefit of the doubt on his orthodoxy, this did not save Pope Honorius from being branded a “heretic” by the 6th Ecumenical Council, even though his words could be and were arguably meant to be understood in an orthodox sense. Accordingly, given all these controversies, and the harsh sentence of Honorius when he was, in fact, orthodox, it would not surprise me in the least if Francis in the end — given all the confusion, etc. — met a similar papal and conciliar judgment as did Honorius in the sense intended by Pope Leo II. (NB: My rebuttal to Mr. William Webster’s treatment of Pope Honorius from his book The Church of Rome at the Bar of History (my rebuttal originally found in This Rock/Catholic Answer may be found here: Guilty Only of a Failure to Teach) and (2) my direct rebuttal to Dr. James White’s attempt to come to Mr. Webster’s defense and reply to my article (see my rebuttal of Dr. White entitled White is Wrong also originally found in This Rock/Catholic Answers).
- The Pope, The Family, and Divorce by Stephen Walford.
- See the Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface
- Mr. Walford goes on in his commentary (p. 105) to explain why the same principles, which might allow adulterers to receive Holy Communion, would not be extended to some other type of sinner such as a serial killer. Here, Mr. Walford has walked through the looking glass. As part of his explanation, he tells the reader that the adulterer, unlike the serial killer, acts out of “mutual attraction” and “they consider it a loving act.” His analysis is nonsensical, as even some serial killers, like the nurse who euthanizes unsuspecting patients, “consider” murder a loving act. Then there is the circularity of his argument here. The “mutual attraction” and the “loving act” he speaks of in defense of his couple are acts between two people with other spouses — the very acts that constitute their adultery! There is certainly no virtue here in either their “mutual attraction” or “loving act.” Of course, Mr. Walford not does raise the most obvious reason why the serial killer of his example cannot be absolved. It is because he does not have a firm purpose of amendment, i.e., he intends to murder again. And we know why Mr. Walford will not draw our attention to that simple fact; because it reveals a fundamental flaw in his argument — his couple intends to commit adulterous acts.
- Amoris Laetitia 303 (emphasis added): “…Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”
- Of course, I do not know how Dr. Fastiggi might view this, but in an example offered in their rebuttal to Dr. E. Christian Brugger’s analysis of 303, Drs. Fastiggi and Eden give “living in continence” as their example of the “most generous response” to God (see Drs. Fastiggi/Eden here). Would Dr. Fastiggi consider “almsgiving and fasting” the “most generous response” to God in such case as presented by Mr Walford? I don’t know. I have no idea.
- A founder (Mike Lewis) of Where Peter Is, which had previously informed us Dr. Fastiggi is a “notable defender of the papacy” in the battle over Amoris Laetitia has stated with regard to Fastiggi’s views on Amoris Laetitia that “His interpretation of the eighth chapter of Amoris seems to leave a little to be desired” (see here).
- Discussed here. A Response to Dave Armstrong
- Discussed here. Alt right vs. Alt wrong…which Alt is Alt?
- Many in the apologetic class just won’t accept that there are sincere Catholic who are troubled and confused on this whole mess. See The Confusion of the Francis-Apologists and Mark Shea – aka he who exudes the “Odor of Sanctimony” – and other apologetic hacks.
- Dr. Fastiggi does appear in the acknowledgements section of Mr. Walford’s book. Consequently, I have wondered if he may have modified any the points of his analysis where he might differ from Mr. Walford given Mr. Walford’s book has a preface from Pope Francis, the support of several cardinals, including a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur from Cardinal Tobin.
- Mr. Dave Armstrong.