9.4.16

[Updated 2] An honest, charitable, realistic and short comment on Amoris Laetitia, a faithful, orthodox, measured and shorter statement on same, and the more perceptive comments I came across so far

Bishop Robert Barron, April 08, 2016:
"... If I might make bold to summarize a complex 264-page document, I would say that Pope Francis wants the truths regarding marriage, sexuality, and family to be unambiguously declared, but that he also wants the Church’s ministers to reach out in mercy and compassion to those who struggle to incarnate those truths in their lives.

In regard to the moral objectivities of marriage, the Pope is bracingly clear. He unhesitatingly puts forward the Church’s understanding that authentic marriage is between a man and a woman, who have committed themselves to one another in permanent fidelity, expressing their mutual love and openness to children, and abiding as a sacrament of Christ’s love for his Church (52, 71). He bemoans any number of threats to this ideal, including moral relativism, a pervasive cultural narcissism, the ideology of self-invention, pornography, the “throwaway” society, etc. He explicitly calls to our attention the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae regarding the essential connection between the unitive and the procreative dimensions of conjugal love (80). Moreover, he approvingly cites the consensus of the recent Synod on the Family that homosexual relationships cannot be considered even vaguely analogous to what the Church means by marriage (251). He is especially strong in his condemnation of ideologies that dictate that gender is merely a social construct and can be changed or manipulated according to our choice (56). Such moves are tantamount, he argues, to forgetting the right relationship between creature and Creator. Finally, any doubt regarding the Pope’s attitude toward the permanence of marriage is dispelled as clearly and directly as possible: “The indissolubility of marriage—‘what God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Mt 19:6) —should not be viewed as a ‘yoke’ imposed on humanity, but as a ‘gift’ granted to those who are joined in marriage...” (62).

... Now Francis says much more regarding the beauty and integrity of marriage, but you get my point: there is no watering down or compromising of the ideal in this text.

However, the Pope also honestly admits that many, many people fall short of the ideal, failing fully to integrate all of the dimensions of what the Church means by matrimony. What is the proper attitude to them? Like Cardinal George, the Pope has a visceral reaction against a strategy of simple condemnation, for the Church, he says, is a field hospital, designed to care precisely for the wounded (292). Accordingly, he recommends two fundamental moves. First, we can recognize, even in irregular or objectively imperfect unions, certain positive elements that participate, as it were, in the fullness of married love. Thus for example, a couple living together without benefit of marriage might be marked by mutual fidelity, deep love, the presence of children, etc. Appealing to these positive marks, the Church might, according to a “law of gradualness,” move that couple toward authentic and fully-integrated matrimony (295). This is not to say that living together is permitted or in accord with the will of God; it is to say that the Church can perhaps find a more winsome way to move people in such a situation to conversion.

The second move—and here we come to what will undoubtedly be the most controverted part of the exhortation—is to employ the Church’s classical distinction between the objective quality of a moral act and the subjective responsibility that the moral agent bears for committing that act (302). The Pope observes that many people in civil marriages following upon a divorce find themselves in a nearly impossible bind. If their second marriage has proven faithful, life-giving, and fruitful, how can they simply walk out on it without in fact incurring more sin and producing more sadness? This is, of course, not to insinuate that their second marriage is not objectively disordered, but it is to say that the pressures, difficulties, and dilemmas might mitigate their culpability. Here is how Pope Francis applies the distinction: “Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (301). Could the Church’s minister, therefore, not help such people, in the privacy of the rectory parlor or the confessional, to discern their degree of moral responsibility? Once again, this is not to embrace a breezy “anything-goes” mentality, nor to deny that a civil marriage after a divorce is objectively irregular; it is to find, perhaps, for someone in great pain, a way forward.

Will Amoris Laetitia end all debate on these matters? Hardly. But it does indeed represent a deft and impressive balancing of the many and often contradictory interventions at the two Synods on the Family..."
Statement of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in response to the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 09/04/2016:
"The priests and deacons of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in England and Wales affirm with the Holy Father, in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the unchanging teaching of Christ and His Church regarding marriage, the family, and human sexuality. They renew their pledge to continue to follow the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who acts with great clemency towards sinners, but also with pastoral clarity: ‘Go and sin no more’. (John 8:11)

Our members are heartened that the Exhortation calls for a return to the wisdom of Humanae Vitae (82), defence of the ‘inalienable rights’ of the unborn child (83), re-affirmation of the role of parents as the primary educators of their children (84), and warning of an encroaching ‘gender ideology’ (56). In response to the Holy Father’s call, the Confraternity's members particularly pledge themselves to work for better and more profound marriage preparation and accompaniment, and clearer, unashamed and more positive articulation of the good news of the joy of human love.

At a time when moral relativism has caused such confusion, the Confraternity recognises the need to work with pastoral sensitivity, guided by the consistent principles of Scripture and Tradition, and will help its members to discern wisely how to help individuals hurt by the crisis in marriage and family life of which the Holy Father speaks. Those in irregular unions are a particular focus of pastoral concern, and need to be brought closer to Christ and his Church. Confraternity clergy will continue to encourage those in problematic marital circumstances to move forward, by personal discernment in the light of the Gospel, and to deepen their involvement in the life of the Church, without losing sight of the fact that certain situations constitute objective and public states of sin. The Church's pastors must never neglect the call to repentance, and the need to avoid scandal which would cause the weak to fall, while accompanying their people with kindness and understanding.
"

Ross Douthat, The New Catholic Truce, NYT, APRIL 9, 2016:

[My comment: this is the most perceptive comment I read so far]

"MODERNITY has left nearly every religious tradition in the Western world divided...

In each case, disagreements about the authority of tradition, the reliability of Scripture, and eventually the proper response to the Sexual Revolution have made it impossible for liberal and conservative believers to remain in community or communion.

Roman Catholicism, however, remains officially united...

That coexistence depends on a tension between doctrine and practice, in which the church’s official teaching remains conservative even as the everyday life of Catholicism is shot through with disagreement, relativism, dissent.

Because the teaching is consistent, conservatives are reassured that the church is still essentially unchanging, still the faith of the church fathers, Nicaea and Trent as well as Vatican II.

At the same time, the flexibility and soft heterodoxy of many pastors and parishes and Catholic institutions enables liberal Catholics to feel reasonably at home while they wait for Rome to “evolve” in their direction.

Of course many Catholics on both sides have been dissatisfied with this arrangement. And from the outset of his pontificate, it was clear that Pope Francis was one of them, and that he was determined to renegotiate its terms — in liberal Catholicism’s favor.

The question wasn’t just how far he would go in encouraging flexibility. It was how far he could go without hitting a kind of self-destruct button on his own authority, by seeming to change the church in ways that conservative Catholics deem impossible.

Now we have an answer, of sorts. In his new letter on marriage and the family, the pope does not endorse a formal path to communion for the divorced and remarried, which his allies pushed against conservative opposition at two consecutive synods in Rome, and which would have thrown Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage (and sexual ethics writ large) into flagrant self-contradiction.

But what he does seem to encourage, in passages that are ambiguous sentence by sentence but clearer in their cumulative weight, is the existing practice in many places — the informal admission of remarried Catholics to communion by sympathetic priests.

This move means that the truce is still in effect, but its terms have distinctly changed. There is still a formal teaching that remarriage without an annulment is adultery, that adultery is a mortal sin, that people who persist in mortal sins should not receive communion. And there is no structure or system in church life that contradicts any of this. This much conservatives still have, and it’s enough to stave off a sense of immediate theological crisis.

But there is also now a new papal teaching: A teaching in favor of the truce itself. That is, the post-1960s separation between doctrine and pastoral practice now has a papal imprimatur, rather than being a state of affairs that popes were merely tolerating for the sake of unity. Indeed, for Pope Francis that separation is clearly a hoped-for source of renewal, revival and revitalization, rather than something that renewal or revival might enable the church to gradually transcend.

Again, this is not the clear change of doctrine, the proof of concept for other changes, that many liberal bishops and cardinals sought. But it is an encouragement for innovation on the ground, for the de facto changes that more sophisticated liberal Catholics believe will eventually render certain uncomfortable doctrines as dead letters without the need for a formal repudiation from the top.

This means that the new truce may be even shakier than the old one. In effectively licensing innovation rather than merely tolerating it, and in transforming the papacy’s keenest defenders into wary critics, it promises to heighten the church’s contradictions rather than contain them.

And while it does not undercut the pope’s authority as directly as a starker change might have, it still carries a distinctive late-Marxist odor — a sense that the church’s leadership is a little like the Soviet nomenklatura, bound to ideological precepts that they’re no longer confident can really, truly work.

A slippage that follows from this lack of confidence is one of the most striking aspects of the pope’s letter. What the church considers serious sin becomes mere “irregularity.” What the church considers a commandment becomes a mere “ideal.” What the church once stated authoritatively it now proffers tentatively, in tones laced with self-effacement, self-critique.

Francis doubtless intends this language as a bridge between the church’s factions, just dogmatic enough for conservatives but perpetually open to more liberal interpretations. And such deliberate ambiguity does offer a center, of sorts, for a deeply divided church.

But not one, I fear, that’s likely to permanently hold."

James Carroll (Yes THAT James Carroll) Pens the Best Analysis Yet of Amoris Laetitia and It's Relation to Post Vatican II Catholicism:

[My comment: a post in the same vein, quoting a heretic]

"I could have used Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), when I served as a Catholic priest, almost half a century ago. I was ordained in early 1969, a few months after the promulgation of “Humanae Vitae,” the Vatican’s resounding condemnation of “artificial birth control,” which would define my future. I was a chaplain at a university where, true to the era, the norms of sexual morality had been upended. I certainly saw the need, in those wild days, for a humane and ethical analysis of the state of sexual intimacy, personal commitment, erotic longing, and gender rights. But, believe me, the triumphalist salvo from Rome made the moral condition worse, not better. Like many priests of my generation, I declined to affirm the birth-control teaching. On the contrary, I encouraged the young people who sought my advice to be sexually responsible, especially since the mature use of contraceptives could avoid a later choice about abortion.

Oddly, perhaps, this approach did not make me an outlaw renegade. Priests like me, in counselling our fellow-Catholics, operated under the rubric of the so-called pastoral solution, which allowed us to quietly defy Vatican dogma when the situation seemed to call for it. In the confessional booth or the rectory parlor, we could encourage our parishioners to decide for themselves, by examining their own consciences, whether the doctrine of the Church applied to them in their particular circumstance. (We cited the lessons of the Second Vatican Council, which, taking up the theme of responsible parenthood, only three years before, had said, “The parents themselves, and no one else, should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God.”)

The fact that, a generation later, the vast majority of Catholics disregard “Humanae Vitae” shows how effective the pastoral solution has been. But this solution has always been offered as an option in the shadowy private forum—in those off-the-record consultations between confessor and penitent. Preachers never addressed the subject from the pulpit. Everybody in the Church knew that “Humanae Vitae” was a moral teaching with no center, but that, too, was treated like a secret. Popes did not speak of the encyclical’s being ignored, nor did bishops or priests. Catholic lay people have made their declaration mainly by having about two children, like everybody else, and going regularly to Communion, with no questions asked. There has been a tacit understanding, as if the seal of the confessional itself applied, that this nearly universal choice to disobey the Church not be spoken of. Why? To protect the myth of the immutability of doctrine.
"

Michael Brendan Dougherty, The cowardice and hubris of Pope Francis, The Week, April 11, 2016:

[My comment: This one pinpoints the major failures of the Pope: the failure to take a clear stand, the failure to understand what contrition means, reckless conclusions concerning the state of the soul of adulterers, substitution of ideals for commandments, the undervaluation f Divine Grace, official invitation to sacrilege]

"To universal fanfare from the mainstream and Catholic media, Pope Francis has issued a long-awaited document, Amoris Laetitia, "the Joy of Love," as his conclusion to the Catholic Church's two-year Synod on the Family. But to this Catholic, the pope's supposedly reformist document is a botched job.

For two years, bishops presented their respective cases for two contradicting views of marriage, re-marriage, and the Church's own sacraments. Pope Francis didn't choose between these two options. He chose them both. The pope did not effect some grand synthesis. He merely gave his imprimatur to the Church's own confused practice on these matters and, more frighteningly, to its self-doubt.

As a result, the Joy of Love reads as an admission that God, as Catholics understand him, really isn't merciful or gracious to poor sinners. So priests should try to do better from now on.

... The Church's traditional reasoning is straightforward. If a valid, sacramental marriage is indissoluble, and someone contracts and lives within a second civil marriage, they are committing the sin of adultery, and doing so publicly. Like anyone in a state of moral sin — for instance, someone who knowingly missed Sunday Mass through their own fault — they are to exclude themselves from communion, lest they commit a further sin of sacrilege. If they repent of the sin and want to amend their life, they can make a sacramental confession and return.

The German Cardinal Walter Kasper has proposed a way around this — a kind of penitential path in which the remarried person admits some responsibility for their failed first marriage, but persists in the second. For two years, cardinals and bishops lined up on opposing sides of this proposal. Some argued for retaining the Church's traditional understanding and practice. Others pressed for some kind of "pastoral" accommodation to better integrate those who persist in their second marriage into the life of the Church. Pope Francis sided with all of the above. And he did it not by effecting some greater synthesis, but by cowardly obfuscation.

Pope Francis tries to reframe what Catholics have long understood as the truth about marriage and chastity as merely an ideal, possibly an impossible or oppressive one, if taken too seriously by mere Christians. He pits his concept of mercy against marriage, as if a true understanding of the latter were a threat to the former. Pope Francis reveals himself to be a pope of his times, and embodies the defects of the Church he leads; Amoris Laetitia is characterized by loquacity and evasiveness in trying to dignify and disguise moral cowardice borne from a lack of faith.

Chapter 8 of this heralded document begins by describing the kind of person in an "irregular union" who might be considered for pastoral counseling back toward communion. It describes that person as someone possessed of "humility, discretion, and love for the Church." The question of whether this person has sincere sorrow for sin and a firm purpose to amend their life is side-stepped. Repentance and conversion? How old fashioned. Even the term "irregular union" is evidence of the way the Church is abandoning its understanding of adultery, draining away the moral force of its own teaching, as if marriage were merely a matter of paperwork yet to be amended.

Francis cites well-known Catholic teaching about whether a person is truly and fully culpable for their sins as if it were a new revelation, and then draws reckless conclusions from it, such as in paragraph 301 of chapter 8, where Francis simply announces, "Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace." One can see how this substitution of "ideals" for commandments works when, in paragraph 303, Pope Francis posits, absurdly, that in some instances the most generous response a person can offer to God's grace is still itself "not fully the objective ideal."

The message is clear: God's grace is insufficient to assist you to do what he asks of you. Jesuits can do better.

Finally, although the pope rejects a formal institution of the Kasper proposal as a general rule, he strongly encourages the readmission of people in "objectively" adulterous unions to holy communion. He doesn't trumpet this, of course. He buries it in the 351st footnote. For a man showing such great audacity before God, Francis certainly isn't bold before men...

... The Church officially teaches that confession is necessary to be restored to holy communion after committing a mortal sin, and that receiving communion in a state of sin is itself sacrilege. Yet rare is the pastor who seems troubled by the long lines for communion and the near disappearance of the sacrament of confession among the people in his parish. Everyone just sort of knows the Church doesn't really mean what it says.
The Church's blasé attitude here has a pedagogical effect, teaching people that there is no need to have a holy respect or fear when approaching the altar. Naturally, this attitude has worked its way up the chain to a papal pronouncement. Pope Francis' document justifies people receiving communion in a public state of sin by saying that the Eucharist is "not a prize" for good behavior. That is true. But instead the Church has turned it into a participation trophy, something so perfunctory and ultimately meaningless that it seems just too cruel to deny it to anyone.

Perhaps worse than Pope Francis' official invitation to sacrilege is the document's cowardice, cynicism, and pessimism. The Church can no longer even bring itself to condemn respectable sins such as civilly approved adultery. It can barely bring itself to address a man or woman as if they had a moral conscience that could be roused by words like "sin." Instead, it merely proposes ideals; ideals cannot be wounded by your failure to realize them. And it promises to help you out of your "irregular" situation.

This supposed paean to love is something much sadder. A Church so anxious to include and accept you that it must deny the faith that transforms and renews you. It admits that God's commands are not just beyond our reach, but possibly destructive to follow.

Pope Francis is trying to be more merciful than God himself. He ends up being more miserly and condescending instead."

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