Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hard Evidence vs Paranoia: An Unhappy Review of Amoris Laetitia

Thursday has done me the great honor of caring enough to comment on my recent Amoris Laetitia (AL) one-sentence post – the issue being the juggernaut topic: Communion-for-divorced-and-civilly-remarried (CDCRM) and the now infamous footnote 351 (FN351). And so I will repay the favor with a longer reply.

Thursday makes serious charges that merit a sober response and not only for the topic at hand, but also because they extend beyond the present specific topic and suggest a general posture towards an entire category of people and themes. According to Thursday, there is nothing whatsoever of real concern in AL in general, or specifically with FN351; and if anyone does have concerns, there is something wrong with him and how he is reading the document. Thursday cites:

-          Paranoia
-          Taking it totally out of context
-          Assuming the Pope is lying elsewhere in the document

Before addressing each of these three charges (although in a different order), it is worthwhile to review the footnote itself.

351 In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”

Taking it totally out of context
This is a surprising charge because the opposite is true. Only by taking FN351 totally out of context is it possible to read it in harmony with prior Magisterial teaching. The problems with FN351 arise precisely when it is read in context. We will examine three specific matters of context.

1. Context within AL itself
FN351 refers back in the main text to an “objective situation of sin - which may not be subjectively culpable.” And it is clear from the preceding passages that this is about divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters.

So now in context, the point of FN351 is that help from the Church for divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters “can include the help of the sacraments.” And within FN351 itself, the connector “hence” clearly specifies which sacraments: confession and the Eucharist.

Taken out of context, there is no difficulty with FN351 stating that the “Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect.” However, in the context of help from the Church for divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters including the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, this phrase in FN351 takes on a different meaning: that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect sacramental marriage and can include the divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters.

2. Wider Context
Although Francis emphasized that the Synods and Exhortation were about more than CDCRM, it clearly was a topic with high visibility and interest: (a) Appointed by Pope Francis to address the February 2014 Consistory, Cardinal Kasper (a known and vocal supporter for CDCRM) included the topic in his keynote for the synods; (b) Substantial debate and disagreement on CDCRM during the Synods; (c) Public statements from Cardinals on both sides of the issue with pro-CDCRM citing FN351 as the gateway and anti-CDCRM calling it heresy; and (d) A general expectation from the public.

It was an important issue and everyone was waiting for an answer. Will there be CDCRM? Despite all the anticipation from this wider context, AL does not provide a definitive Yes or No.

And furthermore, we must consider AL’s silence on CDCRM in the context of another hot-button topic, same-sex unions, for which AL was willing to provide a definitive No (paragraph 251).

3. AL quotes St. John Paul II out of context
AL itself in paragraph 298 quotes John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio No. 84 out of context. The full passage is below. AL quotes the black text in isolation omitting the red text. This is an egregious misrepresentation of the original meaning.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. 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."

In FN329 for this quotation, AL alludes to the omitted phrase about living in complete continence. However in doing so, it references Gaudium et Spes, again out of context, applying to divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters what Gaudium et Spes says specifically about sacramentally married couples.

Assume the Pope is lying elsewhere in the document
If in fact AL is a Trojan horse for one footnote, it does not necessarily follow that the Pope is lying elsewhere in the document; actually quite the opposite. If he believes CDCRM is valid, the reasonable approach would be to situate it unobtrusively among all the established and unquestioned truths. He would not have to disagree with those truths (making him a liar). He would only disagree that CDCRM should continue to be excluded from the total landscape.

Referring to the out of context quotation and reference cited above, someone could claim that I am calling the Pope a liar there. I am not. I am merely drawing attention to public forensic evidence readily available to anyone who cares to look. I have no access to the inner knowledge and motives of the Holy Father.

This is the most serious of Thursday’s charges because with one word it attempts to undercut any and all questioning of AL and seemingly any papal document. It really is a form of ad hominem rather than answering the arguments directly; but in fairness, I admit my pithy one-sentence post did not provide arguments that could be answered. Nevertheless, this charge must be addressed.

So citing paranoia, Thursday appears to be referring to the psychological state of the traditionalist/sedevacantist type who generally operates on the presupposition that everything beginning with Vatican II is a conspiracy (Masonic, Modernist or otherwise) to substantially change and/or destroy the Church. Such a person reads every papal document after Pius XII with great suspicion looking for the error he “knows” must be there. Such people do exist and their illness prevents them from benefiting from all the overwhelming good that surrounds the minute, supposed errors they have found in (or have read into) the document. This suspicious posture exists outside of traditionalism, but is most easily identified in that crowd.

But a substantiated concern over the explicit vagueness in AL regarding CDCRM is not a sufficient cause for a pathological traditionalist diagnosis. No doubt the traditionalist will cite the same concerns, but that does not mean anyone with such concerns is a pathological traditionalist. As detailed above, there is concrete evidence of (a) an opening for a break from Church practice on a non-trivial matter; (b) an evasive approach with no definitive Yes/No answer; and (c) quoting out of context. 

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, supporting his criticism of AL with writings of St John Paul II and Vatican II documents (something pathological traditionalists would not do), has provided this excellent commentary on CDCRM in AL.

Summary Reply
Why not a definitive No to CDCRM? The only answer that explains why Francis would not simply restate the consistent Church teaching is that it is not what he wanted. 

Then why not a definitive Yes to CDCRM? Too controversial and risk of schism.

So in the end, no definitive answer. Qui tacet consentire videtur (He who is silent is taken to consent).

Beginning with Cardinal Kasper’s key note February, 2014, through two tumultuous synods, and culminating with the explicit vagueness in AL on this question along with dubious quotations and references, it is reasonable to conclude that a policy of CDCRM was a primary objective of the whole ordeal. And it would rely on an artificial divorce of practice from doctrine, and be positioned among many pages restating the traditional Catholic teachings on marriage and family.

Absent a definitive answer, it is no surprise we already are seeing conflicting interpretations of AL on this point. 

For Cardinal Kasper, AL “doesn’t change anything of church doctrine or of canon law – but it changes everything” and interprets AL to allow for CDCRM in some cases.

Moreover since the release of AL, already there are reports of actual demands for CDCRM

Given the decision to withhold a definitive answer, could Pope Francis have expected otherwise?

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