An Essay In Subversion
With good reason does Phil Lawler call Amoris Laetitia a “subversive” document that will likely cause “an acceleration of an already powerful trend to dismiss the Church’s perennial teaching.” To read Chapter 8, comprising paragraphs 291-312, is to understand that these pages, which explicitly advocate “accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness” in the Church, could not have been more cleverly written for subversive ends.
(1) “Moral ecumenism” and praise of “irregular” sexual relationships; Christian marriage reduced to an ideal (291-294).
Amoris Laetitia attempts to invest with the cloak of the Magisterium the preposterous “moral ecumenism” first floated at Synod 2015. According to this repellant novelty, the Church is now supposed to recognize the “constructive elements” in relationships she has traditionally condemned as mortally sinful, including second “marriages” and “even simple cohabitation,” so long as they tick enough boxes on a new checklist of “constructive features” that supposedly confer nobility on illicit sexual unions: “stability,” “deep affection,” “responsibility for offspring” and “an ability to overcome trials in the midst of a storm.” (293)
Just as “ecumenism” harps incessantly on the “good elements” in false religions laden with heresy and superstition, leaving their practitioners undisturbed in their errors, the newly invented moral ecumenism of the Synod of Francis will now harp incessantly on the good elements in false relationships involving adultery and fornication, leaving their participants undisturbed in sin. In 2016, after the Synod, the concept of living in sin is suddenly abolished, just as the concept of being outside the one true Church was suddenly abolished after Vatican II.
Accordingly, also in line with ecumenism, Amoris Laetitia now informs us that “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament…” (292) The reader will readily guess what is coming next: “Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way.”
So, Christian marriage now becomes the “fullness” of marriage, while illicit sexual unions of various kinds are seriously described as “partially” realizing this “ideal.” In like manner, the Catholic Church is “ecumenically” described as merely possessing the “fullness of truth” while other religions have a more or less acceptable quantum of it. Thus everyone is safe right where he is, although it would be better to have “fullness.” The effects of this notion on conversions to Catholicism are obvious; the effect will be the same on conversions to Christian marriage.
The next element of subversion (quoting Synod 2015) is a moral justification of civil marriage and even cohabitation as alternatives to the “ideal” of Christian marriage: “The choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situations…. celebrating marriage is considered too expensive in the social circumstance. As a result, material poverty drives people into de facto unions.” (294)
One can only laugh at the Synod’s claim that poverty makes a simple Catholic wedding ceremony impossible, or that “shacking up” is less expensive than living in Holy Matrimony under the same roof with the same person. One is reminded here of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, which sought to undermine Christian marriage and promote divorce by cataloguing various “cultural alternatives” to the divine institution as dry anthropological facts. (294)
According to Francis, “de facto unions” are now to be viewed as “opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.” (294) Thus people living in sin are now said to have “part” of the reality of marriage—a proposition as nonsensical as the claim that heretics who reject the very existence of the Catholic Church and practice various forms of gravely sinful sexual immorality are somehow in “partial communion” with her.
What Romano Amerio has called the “loss of essences” in postconciliar thinking—a tendency to avoid distinguishing with exactitude good from bad, true from false, licit from illicit and often even one thing from another—now claims Christian marriage and even the moral law itself. The reduction of marriage to an “ideal” radically undermines respect for the divine institution Francis purports to defend, and the only licit conjugal relation between man and woman now becomes the mere end point on a scale of relational choices, all of which are to be viewed as more or less good. Mortally sinful sexual unions are no longer to be treated as threats to salvation, but only as stages in a “gradual” moral development.
This “loss of essences” is practically a theme in Amoris Laetitia. Accordingly, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, notorious for his “gay-friendly” and pro-divorce orientation, rejoiced during his presentation of the document to the world: “My great joy as a result of this document resides in the fact that it coherently overcomes that artificial, superficial, clear division between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’…”—that is, between moral and immoral conjugal unions.
(2) “Integrating weakness” of those in immoral sexual unions; objective conduct and consequent scandal and profanation of the Eucharist ignored (295-299).
As I have noted before on these pages in reference to Synod 2015’s final report, the Church’s perennial ban on the reception of Holy Communion by public adulterers in purported “second marriages” is no mere changeable discipline. Rather, as the Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts observed in 2000, rejecting the very effort Francis has been spearheading for the past three years, that discipline, while enshrined in Canon 915, “is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws….”
The issue is not the subjective culpability in particular cases of the divorced and “remarried,” as implausible as the claim that they are unaware of their sinful condition may be. Rather, the real issue as framed by the Pontifical Council is this:
[T]he reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage.
That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact, it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.
Thus, Amoris Laetitia purports to abolish a discipline that cannot be abolished without violating divine law. It does so by the two-step of a general “integration” according to “pastoral discernment” conducted by parish priests, followed ultimately by admission to the sacraments in “certain cases” according to the same “discernment.”
First, “integration.” Here Francis gets down to the business of “playing fast and loose” with his arguments and sources, to recall Carl Olsen’s comment. Just as Synod 2015 did, Francis misleadingly cites John Paul II for a supposed “law of gradualness” in obeying “the objective demands of the law.” (295) But in Familiaris consortio John Paul II was actually speaking of spiritual progress while rejecting any notion of “gradual” acceptance of moral precepts that bind all men:
And so what is known as “the law of gradualness” or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with “gradualness of the law,” as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. (Familiaris consortio, 34).
As we shall see, Francis is proposing precisely that there be “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” He contrives to avoid the accusation by asserting that while the moral law is the same for all, the duty of obedience to the law can vary according to “concrete circumstances,” which is just “gradualness of the law” in disguise or situation ethics by another name.
Next, “Discernment of ‘Irregular Situations.’” Here Francis—quoting the Synod he stacked with progressives to insure generation of the verbiage on which he now relies—begins to hurl revolutionary thunderbolts:
The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever… there is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition…. (296)
It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves. (297)
In other words, people living in an objective condition of mortal sin need not repent and amend their lives because “no one can be condemned for ever.” Apparently, Francis envisions a kind of statute of limitations on mortal sin, upon the expiration of which it no longer constitutes any real impediment to ecclesial life. No, the “weakness” of everyone must be “integrated” sooner or later! Above all, that of the divorced and “remarried.”
Francis next provides some suggested criteria for a new procedure of ranking the quality of relations constituting public adultery:
The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. (298)
Incredibly enough, we have a Pope who seriously proposes that some public adulterers be given First Class treatment, while others perhaps should remain in Coach, at least for part of their “journey” toward “integration.” That a Roman Pontiff could declare in a papal document that public adulterers of any kind exhibit “fidelity” and “Christian commitment” makes one wonder if Francis thinks that, after fifty years of “ecumenical dialogue,” it is time for the Catholic Church to emulate the Anglican Church in recognition of Henry VIII’s groundbreaking foray into “Catholic divorce.” His surprise attack annulment “reform” certainly moves in that direction.
Performing his next sleight of hand with sources, Francis again quotes John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio (84), this time for the proposition that “The Church acknowledges situations ‘where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.’” (298) There are no ellipses to indicate the missing words before and after, which Francis clearly wishes to conceal. The complete sentence reads: “This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
What does Francis have to say about John Paul II’s teaching, also the constant teaching of the Church, that divorced and civilly remarried couples who cannot separate because of children must live in complete continence and abstain from all further adulterous sexual relations? It defies belief, but there it is, buried in a footnote to the misleadingly cropped quotation.
In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility [!] of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 51).
Notice, first of all, how the footnote further misrepresents John Paul II’s teaching by reducing his affirmation of a positive moral duty in such cases to a mere “possibility” that the Church “offers.” What besides horror mingled with fear should the faithful experience when a Roman Pontiff suggests that people living in adultery need “intimacy” in order to remain “faithful” to their partners in adultery and for the good of the children.
Worse, as Sandro Magister so trenchantly notes, Francis has delivered “a slap in the face” to the faithful Catholics who have obeyed the constant teaching John Paul reaffirmed by living chastely in situations of civil “remarriage” where children make separation impossible: “It is said to them in fact that in doing this they could do harm to their new family, because ‘if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’ The implication is that the others [the divorced and “remarried”] do better to live a full life as spouses, even in second civil marriages, and perhaps now even receiving Communion.”
Adding insult to insult, the same strategic footnote contains still another misrepresentation of source material. The quotation from paragraph 51 of Gadium et spes actually refers to the situation of validly married couples in which one or both spouses avoid marital relations out of a disordered fear of having children. Moreover, the quotation is wholly inaccurate. As the English text at the Vatican website reads: “But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered.” Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the phrase “courage to accept new ones” is missing from Francis’s quotation.
Turning to his primary aim in “integrating weakness”—Holy Communion for the divorced and “remarried”—Francis next “agrees” with what his manipulated Synod declared:
[T]he baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal…. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surmounted. (299)
Thus, all restrictions on the performance of ecclesial functions by public adulterers, from being godparents and “Eucharistic ministers” to teaching religion classes, are now to be reviewed as unjust “forms of exclusion.” The outcome Francis desires is that all such restrictions are eventually abolished, as he demanded more than a year ago:
They are not excommunicated, that is true. But they cannot be godparents at baptism, they cannot read the readings in the mass, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach catechism, they cannot do some seven things. I have the list here. Stop! If I take account of this it seems they are excommunicated de-facto… Why can’t they be godparents?
This “integration” of adulterers (and cohabiters), which would rather conveniently benefit Francis’s divorced and “remarried” sister and cohabiting nephew, is to be accomplished through “[c]onversation with the priest, in the internal forum,” where “discernment” will assess the public sinner’s “humility, discretion and love for the Church” before granting “exceptions.” The exceptions will not be granted “quickly,” but will ultimately be granted. (299)
Intimating what is to come in paragraph 305, paragraph 300 and its footnote tie “integration” specifically to the sacraments. After alluding to “the immense variety of concrete situations” among the divorced and “remarried” and others living in “irregular” unions—as if the word “concrete” adds something to the question—Francis, quoting Synod 2015 but going beyond it, calls for a “pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”
The italicized words are Francis’s alone, including what will be a thematic reduction of moral laws to “rules.” The footnote, citing nothing but his own views in Evangelii Gaudium, undeniably prepares the way for Holy Communion to be given to public adulterers deemed subjectively inculpable according to the new “discernment”:
- This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in another document applies: cf. Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 44 and 47: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1040.
In sum, Francis’s novel “pastoral discernment” ignores objective conduct in favor of a programmatically indulgent presumption that people living in a continual state of public adultery are subjectively blameless for a myriad of reasons that could be found in their “concrete” situations. According to this approach, it would be impossible to insist that anyone is “subjectively” in a state of mortal sin that would impede his participation in any aspect of ecclesial life no matter what his “objective” behavior. This idea will eventuate in the explicit opening to Confession and Holy Communion in paragraph 305.