Hebrews 13:8-9 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them.
“Three months ago, in a country, in a city, a mother wanted to baptize her newly born son, but she was married civilly to a divorced man. The priest said, ‘Yes, yes. Baptize the baby. But your husband is divorced, so he cannot be present at the ceremony.’ This is happening today. The Pharisees, or Doctors of the Law, are not people of the past, even today there are many of them. That is why we shepherds need prayers.”
As presented in the Gospels, the Pharisees were men who cared so much for the letter of the Law that the Spirit of it passed them by; one feels they were the spiritual predecessors of modern Health & Safety experts. Jesus was clear about the importance of not binding the people with extra burdens. Any priest who acted in the manner described by the Pope, should have recognised that his actions were not going to contribute to family stability, or even, perhaps, to the bringing of the cild to baptism. It is hard to know quite what the priest thought he was achieving.
In such circumstances, the ‘rigorism’ condemned by the Pope, seems to stand rightly condemned.
But then when, as last February, the Pope takes the line that rigorism includes priests who tell divorced people that they can remarry, he seems, to many of us, the ignore what the Lord Jesus says in Mark 10:1-12. To accuse any priest who upholds that teaching as a ‘Pharisee’ seems to take the word to that point of uselessness occupied by a word like ‘fascist;’ anyone of whom one disapproves, falls automatically into that category. It is a word for the polemicist, not the apologist.
No Catholic can cavalierly dismiss the insistence on dogma as pharisaism. The Laws of the Church derive from the teachings of Jesus. Yes, and of course, how easy it would have been to have been able to do as the original Pharisees could, and allow divorce on certain grounds; but Jesus was clear on this. We can, as many churches have, choose to caveat His words, and effectively allow divorce; but try as we might, we cannot pretend we are abiding by His words.
All of this is by way of prelude to Fr Thomas Weinandy’s thought-provoking article in In the National Catholic Register. A member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, Fr Weinandy spoke on the theme of the four marks of the Church: “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” All of these were, he said, at risk, not least from the confusion created by the Holy See itself.
This is a theme we have considered here recently. There is certainly a place of robust discussion and deep questioning, and even for the sort of contrarianism which can make a seminar or lecture go with a swing, but it seems an unlikely role for the holder of the See of St Peter, not least in an age of instant communication. An septuagenarian who, by his own admission, does not read social media, may, perhaps, have an imperfect understanding of how his words are received by millions who do not spend their time in theological controversy. Fr Weinandy has a better understanding, and that gives him cause for concern.
In spite of all the controversy following Vatican II, there was never any doubt over where Blessed Paul VI, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI stood regarding the Church’s “doctrine, morals, and liturgical practice.” But, Fr Weinandy
“Such is not the case, in many significant ways, within the present pontificate of Pope Francis,” Father Weinandy continued. Praising the Pope for his personal holiness and his concern for the young and the marginalised, he goes on to observe:
that “at times” the Holy Father appears to identify himself “not as the promoter of unity but as the agent of division,” and that his desire to — in the Pope’s own words — “make a mess” in the belief that a greater unifying good will emerge, is a cause for great concern.
By doing nothing to calm the doctrinal division and moral discord within the Church caused by some of his own ambiguity, the Pope, Fr Weinandy suggests, may have transgressed has transgressed the foundational mark of the Church – “her oneness.”
It seems hard to counter Fr Weinandy’s thesis. Does that mark him out as a ‘rigorist’? Are there not, as suggested in the opening paragraphs, times when rigor is necessary? I would suggest that Fr Weinandy’s interesting lecture is read by all with a concern for these things. I would further suggest that attempts to write him off as a Pharisee miss the point. Dogma is dogma. doctrine is doctrine, and if one does not like them, then there are plenty of alternative ecclesial communities which will accommodate those of that point of view.
Catholicism poses a fundamental challenge to the contemporary belief that everything is relative (except, of course, the truth that there is no such thing as truth). Truth is the person of Christ, and what flows from that belief. It is precisely for this reason that there is concern when any occupant of the See of St Peter seems not to be giving a clear statement of Catholic belief; if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound … and all that. As an academic I am always happy to stir up thinking by questioning the assumptions my students have about their subject, but what is appropriate in one arena is not in another. I happen to believe that the University where I work is a force for good in the world, and even if I had doubts about some of the things it does (I don’t), I would not raise the issue in public. It remains a mystery to me why Pope Francis cannot follow that simple rule.
One lesson he, and the rest of us, can learn from the postmodernists is that it is not the authorial voice which is authoritative; it is what is heard, as much as what was meant by the author, which counts. If people keep getting a certain impression about what the Pope is saying, that does not mean they are right, but it does mean that those who advise him might point out that greater clarity would be useful.
Of course, there will always be those whose perspective is such that they will misread what is said. One of the things which has concerned me from the start of this Papacy is that from the moment Francis stepped out onto the balcony, there were those who were criticising him. They might want to tell us that everything that has happened since justifies their doubts, even as those who oppose them would tell us that such a reaction os simple self-confirmation bias. From there we descend into the world of ‘fake news’. As with President Trump, those who have no time for him will read everything he does and says as confirmation that they are right. Those on the Right who take the view that such a reaction simply proves the Left will never give Trump a break, might, if they are critical of Pope Francis, like to ponder the irony that in the eyes of the Pope’s supporters, they are doing what liberals do to Trump. As so it goes on.
In all of this, what of the faithful? As with much of our political discourse, it may be a sobering reminder that most people do not follow what obsesses parts of the blogosphere.
The Pope is infallible only in certain matters and on certain issues. If the impression has gained ground over the last thirty years that almost everything the Pope says is to be taken as Gospel, then that certainly would not be the fault of those who spent so much time criticising St Pope John Paul II. The irony of those people now shifting their position to the one they used to criticise is not lost on some of us; nor is the irony of their opponents changing places with them.
Contrary to what is sometimes implied, the Catholic Church has always had a lively intellectual life. How could it be otherwise in a living Church? In a world with 24/7 media this allows more of us access to that process, but we should remember that just as we would object to anyone impugning our good faith in taking up a position, so others will object if we do the same. Tone influences what is heard. From His Holiness down, all who engage in such discussions would do well to remember that.
Of all the topics to approach on my return, that of the present Pope ought, probably, to be the last one. At the moment his reaction to allegations of child abuse in the case of Bishop Barros have raised real concerns about his grasp of such a crucial issue; it is, his critics and supporters (agreeing for once) quite unlike him. But then what would it mean to ‘be like him’?
His critics focus on his reaction to the issue of re-married people within the Catholic Church, rightly pointing to the ambiguity of his stance. If anything is clear in this mess, it is that Francis himself wants to extend mercy to couples he thinks needs it, finds the traditional teaching of the Church an impediment, and is looking to see whether allowing local bishops to make a decision is a way to achieve that objective. In view of the fact that Catholic teaching was formulated to deal with Catholic marriages, and in view of the the fact that many converts contracted marriages in other denominations (whose orders the Church does not recognise) or civilly, there is a case for considering how to deal with a pastoral situation exacerbated by our Society’s inadequate understanding of what a sacramental marriage is; whether Amoris Laetitia is the optimal way of conducting that discussion seems doubtful. But the blunt response that teaching designed to deal with Catholic sacramental marriages has to apply to all marriages, seems worth questioning.
But now the Pope finds himself embroiled in a sex abuse scandal concerning the Chilean Church. Christopher Altieri, a respected Vatican commentator, sums it up admirably in the Catholic Herald:
At this point, there are four possibilities: Collins [Marie Collins, a former member of the Pontifical Commission on abuse and Cruz [who alleges he was a victim of Fr Karadima’s abuse, and who wrote an 8 page letter to the Pope which she gave to Cardinal )O’Malley] are both lying about the letter; Cardinal O’Malley gravely misrepresented the diligence with which he discharged his promise to deliver it directly to Pope Francis (though Collins has expressed full confidence in him on several occasions); Pope Francis received the letter and did not read it; Pope Francis received it and read it, only to forget about it.
We hear much from the Pope about the rigidity of clericalism, but in all of this there is something of that. It is the echo of the way in which Churchmen of the Pope’s generation deal with these cases as they first came to light, that is within the Church and without regard to external standards of safeguarding. At the very least the Pope needs to clear this up swiftly. But, as with the famous dubia, His Holiness has been swifter to condemn his critics than to answer them. At some point, smelling of the sheep involves deal with them in a transparent way. One can only hope.
Why hope? There is an almost open sense of something like schadenfreude among some of the long-time critics of the Pope at the latest trials, but that is to ignore that, as ever, there are two sides to the story. To say that the Pope has attracted praise from non-Catholics is a double-edged sword to those Catholics who feel betrayed by what they see as his departures from the straight way; but if the Church speaks only to itself in language it alone understands, it betrays its Great Commission. One might feel the Holy Father goes too far in the other direction, but Mission matters. It would be a great shame if yet another Pontificate were to be mired by the enduring legacy of child abuse.
Satan knows his enemy, and he will always target the One True Church. Since the late 50s, at least, we had had what amounts to a Catholic Culture war between modernisers and those who feared that the baby was being thrown out with the bath-water. The fruits of modernisation are meagre, and whilst the German Church maybe extremely rich in cash, thanks to the Church tax, it is, like most other European Churches, poor in vocations and people in the pews.
The Catholic Church is far from alone in fighting this culture war. In my own former Church, the Anglican Church, with a patrimony which has much to contribute to the Catholic Church, a route has been taken which Catholic modernisers can only envy; but they might like to ask themselves whether the current situation there is one they would wish to imitate?
The Catholic Church is identified with the successor of St Peter, and it is a matter of regret that any Pope should become the object of partisan manoeuvrings; but it was, history suggests ever thus, just not so widely known in an era before mass media.
As Lent approaches, each of us can only do what we are taught to do, which is to pray for the Holy Father, our Archbishops, Bishops and Priests, and the Religious. They are the front line of the war against Satan, and they need the support prayer provides.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The best way to reply to everyone’s comment’s after some thought I believe is in post format. I have been perusing through George Weigel’s new book on Pope St. John Paul II Lessons in Hope in which I was struck by a particular passage written Weigel about understanding the man and philosopher Wojtyla. Weigel writes, “There are theologians who write as if they never studied philosophy at all—and it shows, usually in confusion…philosophy is essential prerequistite to doing theology seriously…for there is no way to understand John Paul II’s magisterium—his teaching as pope—without understanding the rudiments of his philosophical position.” In light of Weigel’s point, I am really struck by his words to the point that in regards to our own discussions here, I am moved to reexamine my own life and education to understand why I have arrived to this particular conclusion. I am not a relativist, I believe the truth to be the truth; however, I do fully understand that our perceptions shaped by our environmental factors guide the manner in which we interpret the truth.
Prior to my degree in history, I was a Classics major, so I do have a background in basic classical philosophy, although I have read briefly the points of more modern philosophers—unimpressed. I am reminded in my early years as a student of the famous Plato Allegory of “the Cave.” Slaves being chained to a rock; their perception of reality dictated by the darkness and the small ray of light producing shadows on the rock, and the slave that breaks free rises to the top and see the world and everything that causes the reality of the cave below.
At this point, I must reject Cartesian philosophy that our experience could be nothing more than a dream state and our existence is the only sure thing we can possibly know. Dreamlike states do not follow any laws of nature and therefore do not possess the vital logical elements to come to any proper conclusion of the truth. For example, Descartes would say experience could be imagined; however, experience dictates that in we cannot dream of things or imagine them without any sort of priori knowledge of them, they must be revealed to us for ourselves to grasp them. Naturally, Classical philosophy makes clear that if one can imagine some attributes they have been observed to be true.
So, the Cave example illustrates also that no matter the difference of experience—there are truths that both the slave from above and the ones in the cave can both understand. The slave that escapes understands the origin of the shadows and the cause from the sun; nonetheless, the slaves in the cave can have no such experience. However, through our human reason, the slave from above could still possess the methods to explain the concept of light by having the cave slaves manipulate the shadows with their own environment. The slave from above can also block the sun entirely during the day to exhibit that the source of light, which causes the shadows, exists somewhere outside the cave, and possibly can explain it must be its own celestial body. It may be true that the slave from above cannot explain other facets of the outside world such as the nature and essence of trees, but it is possible to explain the source of light the absence of it is darkness.
Although the experiences of the cave slaves and the one from above are different—through reason—the conclusion of the truth of a source of light and darkness can still be reached by both parties.
So, what is the effect of this allegory on my own theology? I ask, “If I believe two people to be good Catholics or Christians and they’ve come to two different conclusions, what is the possible cause of their experiences that have led to these conclusions?” And, “What truths can be reached by both parties with their common experiences?”
Therefore, in regards to theology, I began to reflect on Christ, other parts of the Gospels, and St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
In many ways, in the Gospels, Christ asks us to become poor or like the poor. Naturally, the reason for this is because, like the outside the cave, those of us who have experienced being poor—I should preface destitute—can have absolutely no understanding of those who live these experiences everyday.
Let’s take a look:
21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 
21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 
42 A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. 44 For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, 
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. 13 Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; 14 blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Of course, these are just the passages that I’ve found briefly, but naturally, what they tell you is to either be the poor by giving up your possessions or to be around the poor by making them your guests, and thus, by doing so, you remove yourself from the cave.
I will tell you that it wasn’t from sitting in class that gave me this understanding of Plato’s allegory, it was twofold, first with my new job, it forced me out into the poorest of poor neighborhoods in my community, I saw first hand what it was like to be poor in my community. All of my previous conceived ideas that I held in my ivory tower were washed away. The second is when I started a ministry for studying early church history at my parish and studied how the early Church Fathers used the philosophy of the pagans to better their own Christian philosophy by understanding that any can possess truth. So, it wasn’t until I left my cave that I began to put all of these things together.
So, let us bring out the lessons of Christ in the Gospel and St. Paul in marriage while examining Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia to see if we find a common understanding of the truth that has been revealed to us by experiences.
In regards to divorce let’s get straight to it with Christ’s words in Matthew Chapter 19:
3 Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” 4 b He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” 7 d They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” 8 He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” 10 [His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. 12 Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” 
A fairly straightforward text, one that I’ve used time and time again to illustrate that all Christians must accept Christ’s definition of marriage and any of those who advocate for same-sex marriage is guilty of espousing heresy. I also agree with my orthodox Catholic brothers and sisters that Christ is very clear on his teaching on divorce. It’s impossible. I believe it to be prudent to reflect on the ending of this particular passage:
He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. 12 Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
Now, I’ve grown up Catholic, I can tell you that honestly the only time in my diocese a Catholic is instructed on Christian marriage is during Pre-Cana. I will state this to be a grave mistake, in Christ words here, he instructs that there are those who are incapable of marriage—I have never heard this lesson taught in a homily or any other Catholic resource to best honest, but it’s lesson that must be stressed early on within our Catholic families. I would surmise that withholding a proper discourse on such a lesson many are married, even if they go through pre-Cana, who are not fit for marriage. Therefore, naturally, annulments, divorces, second marriages, and children divided up among all these situations are victims of the failure of the Church to teach the proper understanding of marriage early on in every Catholics’ life. As such, we shall address the experience of those children in the frameworks of the cave allegory and those who completely ignore it by the lack of mercy in their legalism. In fact, by illuminating such a glaring misinstruction by the Church with Christ’s teaching on marriage, it gives some credence to Pope Francis’ words:
“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say ‘yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”
It should not be a large leap of reason to understand that if no one is taught that there are those incapable of marriage, then there are many of us Catholics without the proper understanding for discernment in such a Christian vocation. I do not doubt by living among my own peers there are many who say forever without any concept of what that possible means. Of course, this is Pope Francis’ understanding “They don’t know that it’s indissoluble, they don’t know that it’s for your entire life. It’s hard,” 
Now, what is St. Paul’s understanding of marriage?
Advice to the Married. 1 Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: “It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman,” 2 but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. 4 A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control. 6 This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. 7 Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
8 b Now to the unmarried and to widows I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire. 10 To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): A wife should not separate from her husband 11 —and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say (not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; 13 and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy.
15 If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 
Again, I agree, it is pretty straightforward, but again, remove yourself from the cave. Imagine, if your wife or husband in a valid marriage leaves you, and you are one of those who cannot possibly control your desires in which St. Paul speaks. You may have corrupted view of marriage, you may be living a life of sin by adultery or adultery through a second marriage, but it would be prudent to examine whether in this particular situation when reflecting on St. Paul’s teaching by your habits, by your knowledge, etc. whether you’re fully culpable of mortal sin in such situation. I believe to dismiss such examples, which could be very common, would be merely looking at the shadows of the cave; not listening to the explanation of light by the surface slave.
Again, let’s examine St. Paul in Ephesians 5:
Wives and Husbands. 21 Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. 24 As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her 26 to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, 27 that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. 33 In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. 
This particular passage was the source of sermon message at my wedding. Do our husbands have a proper understanding that our marriage must be a true representation of Christ’s love for the Church? Many get caught up on the submission of the wife in the text; however, no one bats an eye when St. Paul says the Husband must willingly die for his wife. Again, I agree the teaching is straightforward, but the first time I heard a proper teaching on this text was when I was 27 years old, I was already well into my years of discerning marriage without the proper instruction from the Church and culture. These situations must all be considered when examining a step by step resolution when solving the Church’s marriage crisis.
Of course, let me explain, none of this is contradicted by the Catechism’s understanding on sin, the teachings of the magisterium and it is a full reflection footnote 351 in Amoris Laetitia:
“ In certain cases [emphasis added], 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.” … I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Of course, let us examine this under the other controversial footnote 329:
In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters,” which the Church offers them, [emphasis added] point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”
So what about those children? Should their parents to submit to legalism? Perhaps, but it’s apparent that their parents from an early age, and I would surmise the children themselves will be, have been in a dark damp cave without the proper Christian teachings on marriage, which should have occurred throughout their entire life. And without the proper teachings, they cannot have the proper knowledge of the gravity of their actions and they certainly may not be in full possession of their will under the habit of which they should have been warned and discussed by St. Paul. Therefore, to deny these individuals of communion, is a lack of mercy to receive one who none are worthy to receive, one who may give them a proper understanding through the grace of His sacraments.
“Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
 George Weigel, Lessons in Hope (Basic Books: New York, 2017), 11.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 19:21.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mk 10:21.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mk 12:42–44.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 4:18.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 14:12–14.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 19:3–12.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Co 7:1–16.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Eph 5:21–33.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I write today, after some thought as a testimony of my position, I still support the Pontificate of Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. There are many opinions in regards to his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, and sadly not enough clarity on the matter, but I believe there to be good reasons to give him still the benefit of the doubt.
As noted by the National Catholic Register:
None of the passages of Amoris Laetitia cited by the correction explicitly denies that a person who knowingly and willingly commits grave evil cuts himself or herself off from God’s grace.
Amoris Laetitia does explore the possibility that a person who commits grave evil may in some cases not have full knowledge or deliberate consent when doing so, but precisely insofar as they lack full knowledge and/or deliberate consent, such a person is not necessarily committing mortal sin.
The position is consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”131
1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”132 The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.
1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
The fact is that it is true that there are possibilities for someone to be in a relationship that from the outside may appear to be gravely sinful; however if that particular person does not meet the three requirements for a mortal sin then they are less culpable. Pope Francis should not be criticized for attempting to bend—not break– understanding as an example of God’s mercy. The National Catholic Register also reminds Catholics to recognize the authority of the Catechism of the Catechism by citing Fidei Depositum 3. As of now, faithful Catholics should understand the exhortation under the precepts of the established teachings of the Catholic Church. Of course, this is the understanding also of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput:
“Archbishop Chaput, on July 1, issued pastoral guidelines for his archdiocese on the Pope’s exhortation. He said the document is best understood when read “within the tradition of the Church’s teaching and life.”
My own Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, a known orthodox Catholic bishop–who has brought back the Latin mass to the diocese, restored the St. Michael Prayer to all masses, withheld communion from Senator Dick Durbin, performed an exorcism on the Illinois House—has written in support of Amoris Laetitia:
There are no changes to canon law or church doctrine introduced in this document, as Pope Francis explains, “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (n. 300). Rather, the Holy Father says, “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur” (n. 307).
Pope Francis himself notes that it is a lengthy document. “Consequently,” the Holy Father writes, “I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text. The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs. It is likely, for example, that married couples will be more concerned with Chapters Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight. It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for ‘families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity’” (n. 7).
Following the Holy Father’s request, I encourage Catholics and all people interested in strengthening marriage and family life to read the entire Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis “patiently and carefully.” As Pope Francis so frequently requests, please pray for him and for all those called to the vocation of marriage and family life as well as those who minister to them.
So I ask that for those among us not to misconstrue my words. I still believe it to be prudent and the duty of the Pope to still clarify his teachings on the matter of his exhortation, but I refuse to frame the Church in a myopic political language of left vs. right or Traditional Catholics vs. Vatican II Catholics—these are the seeds of division. There is only the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I believe Pope Francis should also answer the scholars who have attached their name to the Filial Correction.
I believe it prudent for the Pope to give a proper answer within the context of the deposit of our faith because I believe that the author of the Filial Correction, Professor Claudio Pierantoni, makes a fair point of the ramifications of no such answer:
It’s very difficult to say, but I believe they haven’t issued it yet because they fear a schism. But I think the opposite is true: that if they don’t do it, there will be a schism. To not speak of the true doctrine, to not correct errors, for fear of schism is a contradiction. Only truth can unite. If error spreads it will cause a split, from parish church to parish church, from bishop to bishop, from country to country. It would be a practical schism, which in fact already exists, but if the correction doesn’t take place, it will get much worse.
I fully believe that some squabbles between Catholics are completely silly. I would almost surmise that some Catholics have been wanting to leave the Church for some time, only waiting for some excuse to do so because of so-called heresy. In many ways, we’ve forgotten to love our brothers and sisters in the Church. Naturally, I think to myself, if we cannot get our own house in order, how can we convince our fellow protestant Brothers and Sisters in Christ to come to the Church? In the wake of these “scandals” and “heresy,” I cannot stop but think of Christ priestly prayer:
20 “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
“Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
 Jn 17:20
These words are reported by the site 1 Peter 5 as coming from the mouth of the Holy Father when asked to explain why he wanted some members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith removed from their posts. The full reported quotation is:
“And I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons for any of my decisions. I have decided that they have to leave and they have to leave.”
We need to be careful here, not least in view of the epidemic of ‘fake news’ which assails us daily. What we call ‘fake news’ is often no more than the tendency we all have to live in echo chambers of our own devising. We read websites written by people with whose views we are already in sympathy, and those sites tend to focus on parts of the picture which confirm the views they have already formed. The site in question here has taken a critical view of Pope Francis from the beginning, and it must be admitted, even by his admirers, that he has given his critics a great deal of ammunition: his handling of the two Synods which resulted in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia; his criticism of the Papal Curia; his criticism of his opponents as being over ‘rigid’; and his habit of speaking extempore on aircraft. Despite his claims to enjoy parrhesia, the Holy Father, like many of his temperament in authority, is happier dishing out the criticism than he is taking it.
On the whole, as regular readers will know, I have been inclined not to take the extremely critical view of the Pope that some readers here do, and I have been roundly criticised for it, and being a firm defender of the right to free speech, have not spared myself criticism from other Catholics here; we all have the right to a view, and when all is said and done, except to Sedevacantists, Francis is the Pope, and he, too, has the right to his views. Thus far he has not sought to pronounce Magisterially against the teaching of the Church, and it is perhaps significant that in the matter of the dubia he has avoided giving a straight answer, merely not contradicting his spokesman and others when they say the matter ‘is clear’. His own view seems clear enough:
Some still fail to grasp the point, “ Francis said, referring to certain criticisms directed at the “Amoris Laetitia”, “they see things as black or white, even though it is in the course of life that we are called to discern”. The Council told us this, but historians say that a century needs to pass before a Council is properly assimilated into the body of the Church… we are half way.”
The need for many shades of grey is what irritates his critics, but as he realises, the messiness of ‘real life’ is often not black and white. Which is why it is disappointing, if true, that he thinks he does not need to give reasons for removing people from their posts. It may well be true he does not have to, but it would speak more to the central themes of his papacy, humility and mercy, were he to do so in privately to those concerned. To quote some wise words:
“How many times do we in the Church hear these things: how many times! ‘But that priest, that man or that woman from the Catholic Action, that bishop, or that Pope tell us we must do this this way!’ and then they do the opposite. This is the scandal that wounds the people and prevents the people of God from growing and going forward. It doesn’t free them.”
That, of course, is a quotation from his own words.
It is easy, which is why it is done so often, to reinforce the voices in one’s own echo chamber and, as some have long done, to conclude that this Pope is a soixante-huitard bent on implementing a ‘spirit of Vatican II’ agenda. But many of those who have come to this conclusion, held it almost from the beginning, and reinforce it through the echo chamber. We are told by Leonardo Boff that the Pope is on his side and soon intends to give permission to the Brazilian bishops to have married priests. Commentators who would give no credence to Boff on anything else, report his words as though they are Gospel truth, not, of course, because they have suddenly decided that Boff is a reliable source, but because what he says fits with their picture of Francis. And so the echo chamber gets louder. In other news, Pope Francis still condemns abortion and gender ideology and supports the teaching of the Magisterium. But since this is not the sort of ‘news’ wanted in the Catholic culture wars, it is not ‘news’. David Cameron once got into a deal of trouble in the Commons when he told a woman MP to ‘calm down dear’, but despite that, I am tempted to think that on the subject of Pope Francis, that advice might not be bad advice.
A confession. Like most people in the UK, I cannot take a man called Trump seriously. In this part of the world it is a euphemism for breaking wind – you might as well be ‘The Donald J Fart’. Mind you, given the amount of noxious hot air the fellow gives out, the name may be appropriate. He appears to have no control over what comes out of his mouth, so it was fun when motor mouth mogul confronted Rambling Pope Frank. Who really knows what Frank says? There’s always someone to explain it wasn’t what it looks like. He seems to have suggested that if Trump wanted to build walls, that made him no Christian. Trump exploded that there is a wall round the Vatican, and that he felt insulted. I was quite enjoying it, and then suddenly it went away.
There is little point in quoting what either man has said in the past, as they have both realised that in a 24/7 media, no one really cares, but it is interesting that the Pope seems to think he could come to a judgment about whether someone is a Christian. I can see where he’s coming from – looking after the poor and the dispossessed is quite high up on the list of things Jesus values in his followers, and he says nothing about building walls to keep them out. Mind, nor does he say anything about economic migrants. On that theme, are there any other sort? Am I wrong in thinking that, with the possible exception of the Native Americans, and the definite exception of the slaves, everyone else in the USA is descended from those who were ‘economic migrants’? If only the original inhabitants of Manhattan Island had thought of Green Cards, they might still be masters of their own land. Mind, again, if that is your example, I can see why you’d be worried.
Most ordinary folk know something has gone wrong with our societies. Those of my generation grew up in an era of social mobility – that a lad from my background to go to university at all was unusual in the previous generation, but not quite so much in mine. Now, it seems to have stuck. Some already rich people (remind me someone where Trump’s money came from?) have got richer; most of us don’t feel we have, or that our children are going to be better off than we were. In a society weaned on materialism, this really matters – after all, what other sort of yardstick exists in it? It is not as though our societies value other things. If an ‘illegal immigrant’ is going to ‘take your job’, then there’s nothing most folk have been taught that says we should look after those who have less than we do. Trump taps into the anger, and the rhetoric, he is the perfect exemplar of a society which knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
He and Pope Frank were probably motor-mouthing past each other – but at least the latter was saying something Jesus might have said. As for Trump – hot air with a noxious smell.
Mark tells us that Jesus said, in chapter 14, 7 “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” And if that isn’t enough, our governments will redefine what it means to be poor to make sure enough remain so to justify the bureaucracy. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Luckily for us the Pope wants to make sure, as well. Actually, that’s unfair because it’s not only the Pope, I’ve heard the same poppycock from the Anglicans, from many Lutherans, and most of the rest of the so-called Christian church. Recently, Pope Francis spoke at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Dylan Pahman had some thoughts on what he said, which I agree with.
Pope Francis boldly calls for “change, real change, structural change.” What change would Pope Francis like to see? He makes this clear: “It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.” So far so good. Who doesn’t want that?
So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?
Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthyeconomies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.
That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.
The only two exceptions were Liechtenstein, which wasn’t ranked at all by Heritage, and France, which was ranked 20th of the 20 according to the HDI, and which once was far more economically free. The takeaway? Nearly all of the top countries that have the sort of economies the Pope wants are also characterized by fiscal responsibility, openness to trade, accessible credit, and generally business-friendly environments. That is, precisely the policies that the pope decries.
Now, it might be unfair of me to criticize Francis for not being an economist . . . or, for that matter, not even being familiar with the basic conditions of economic growth taught in any Econ 101 course. At least hedidn’t forget to mention Jesus. But it shouldn’t be controversial to say that he is still speaking outside of his competence and vocation. It is one thing to call attention to the moral roots of economic problems; it is another to pass judgment upon which prudential policies are the best means to moral ends.
I mostly refrain from bashing the Pope on economics, for two reasons: Firstly: He’s a priest, a pastor, and I suspect a good one, that doesn’t require a good (or even indifferent) economic education. And Secondly: he’s from a part of the world where the writ of the law does not run, where like in Medieval France, the word of the King (despot, strongman, whatever) is the law, and economic freedom cannot exist without security of property, which if we are not careful, we in the United States and the United Kingdom may be about to learn, as our governments become increasingly unlawful.
In any case, Saint Pope John Paul II said in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus:
Can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?
The answer is multi-faceted, but he cautiously answered yes, proposing that the free economy “ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World.” Far too many of these countries, including Latin America, are still waiting. And Pope Francis is increasingly part of the problem, not the solution.
One of the first signs that not all was well between Pope Francis and some of his followers came on Maundy Thursday, only a fortnight after his election. Already breaking with the usual practice, by holding a Mass at a young offenders’ institution, Francis went further by kissing the feet of the prisoners, including women who were Muslims. The world’s press, who had been wondering what to make of this new Pope, immediately took to him, and ever since they have been in awe of his humility and gift for capturing hearts. Not so the self-styled traditionalists, who, already suspicious of a man who hadn’t worn the right clothing, decided that this was all too much. Some saw in it the prelude to the ordination of women, and those bishops who had not wanted women included in the foot washing had a fit of the vapours; apparently Francis had broken some ‘law’. That was, of course, the sort of thing the Pharisees used to say about Jesus, and ‘James’ men’ did not much care for Peter sharing table fellowship with Gentiles. It has always been the case that those preoccupied with the letter miss the Spirit – Jesus had much to say about it.
Women in prison, migrants and Muslims are all, to some extent, marginal, and in doing what he did, Francis showed they were included in God’s mercy. Would someone like to claim they aren’t? The woman at the well was welcomed by Jesus long before she knew who he was; indeed his attitude to her helped the process; he certainly broke with Jewish custom, and, for all I know, law; but he did a wonderful thing to her and her community. Francis was following that example.
The arguments against what he did smack of the spirit of the Pharisees. Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, so only men’s feet should be washed. Really? Well all the Apostles were Jews, so perhaps only Jewish men should have their feet washed by the Pope? Heck, Peter was Jewish, so perhaps only Jews should be Pope? The American bishops took a much more sensible attitude. A
document issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that the inclusion of women in the foot-washing rite is an “understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, ‘who came to serve and not to be served,’ that all members of the church must serve one another in love.”
The bishops’ document continues, “It has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the church and to the world.”
The Catholic faith is big on symbols, rightly seeing that they convey a message far more powerfully than words, and the American bishops ‘got it’, as did most of the world. Here was a Pope who believed what Jesus said and wanted to act on it. It is sad that some people brought their church politics into this. Because so-called ‘liberals’ liked what he did, so-called ‘conservatives’ had to oppose it. This is not politics, it is Christianity, and those labels are as useful and appropriate as saying that “I am of Apollos” or “of Paul”. The Law did not save you, Christ’s sacrifice did. So be grateful and extend to all the mercy he has extended to you – and stop behaving as though He died only for you – He didn’t.