May 16, 2016, Monday — The Three Positions (And Now Four) On Amoris Laetitia

The text below is the Editorial in the May edition of Inside the Vatican, which is just out. (To obtain a copy of the issue or to subscribe for one or more years, click here. We welcome new subscribers, of course. If you do not want to subscribe but would like a sample issue for free, please call in the US 1-800-789-9494.)

pngThe cover of this May issue (left) deals with the struggle of Cardinal George Pell to reform the finances of the Church and the Vatican, under the title “Mission Impossible?”

The Editorial argues that three main positions on the teaching in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia have emerged since the text was made public in Rome on April 8, and lists the three positions:

(1) those who see no rupture, and praise the document;

(2) those who see a rupture (and who for this reason call for the revision or withdrawal of the document);

(3) those who believe a rupture might have occurred, but did not (and who therefore do not call for the revision or withdrawal of the document, and praise the good things in it).

The Editorial ends with a call for Catholics to remain united even as they praise or blame the Pope’s text, since the unity of the Church is critical for her mission, and the opponents of the Church are only pleased if the Church suffers from internal divisions.

Following the Editorial is a new article, just out today, which offers a 4th category of interpretation that is worth considering. It come in an article by Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister, picking up on a text by French Dominican Fr. Thomas Michelet, who teaches at the Angelicum in Rome.

Fr. Michelet’s 4th position is:

4) “In reality, both positions are right. On the one hand the document has not changed doctrine and discipline in that which is founded on the Word of God, because it could not do so. It is needless to affirm that it has done so, because it did not have the power. On the other hand, something has indeed changed, but only in that which could be, without touching doctrine and the discipline that results from it. At the least there is a pastoral change, in acceptance and long-term accompaniment. But there is more, according to the Pope…”

For the rest of his argument, see below…

Following the text of Fr. Michelet, I send for the second time an invitation to join us on our pilgrimage at the end of June “In the Footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI.” (If you would like more information, send an email to [email protected] or click here.)

First, then, is the text of the editorial….

Editorial, Inside the Vatican, May 2016

The Debate Intensifies

Throughout the Church, there is intense debate over the new Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). Some see it as a “rupture” with the Church’s doctrinal tradition, while others say that isn’t true…

By Robert Moynihan

“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’ (marital relationships).” —Cardinal Chris­toph Schoenborn, presenting Amoris Laetitia in Rome on April 8

“If we analyze certain statements of AL with intellectual honesty within their proper context, we find ourselves faced with difficulties when trying to interpret them in accordance with the traditional doctrine of the Church… All members of the Church… have a duty to report this and respectfully request an authentic interpretation.” —Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, in mid-April

“Paragraph 305 together with footnote 351 – in which it is stated that believers can be allowed to the sacraments ‘in an objective situation of sin’ ‘because of mitigating factors’ – directly contradicts article 84 of Pope John Paul II’s exhortation Familiaris consortio… That this represents a rupture (with the doctrinal tradition of the Church) emerges without any doubt for every thinking person who knows the re­spective texts… Every single cardinal, but also every bishop and priest, is called upon to preserve uprightly the Catholic discipline of the sacraments.” —Prof. Robert Spaeman, German Catholic philosopher and friend of Pope Benedict XVI, in an April interview

“What has been taught by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio and by Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis is still valid in an unchanged way… If Amoris Laetitia intended to rescind such a deeply rooted and such a weighty discipline, it would have expressed itself in a clear manner and it would have given the reasons for it. However, such a statement with such a meaning is not to be found in it.” —Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a talk in Spain in early May

“Anyone who thinks there is an opportunity to receive absolution and communion in Amoris laetitia, they would have to seek it in the footnote 351 in Chapter 8… But it must be asked whether a footnote of about three lines is sufficient to overthrow the entire teachings of Popes and Councils on this subject. Certainly not!” —Cardinal Walter Brandmueller, interview with the German news agency KNA, also in early May

Francis in The Joy of Love has stirred up a hornet’s nest.

The Pope clearly wrote this document for two purposes:

(1) to remind Cath­olics, and the whole world, that marriage and family are beautiful, precious gifts, in an age when fewer and fewer people are marrying; and

(2) to reach out to men and women in “irregular” situations (in particular, men and women who have married, divorced, then “remarried” without annulments), in order to “integrate” these men and women more fully into the life of the Church, up to and including access to the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The reaction to this text has fallen into three main categories:

(1) Those who see no rupture. These have praised the Pope for his eloquence on behalf of marriage and family life, and for his opening to those in “irregular” situations in order to “reintegrate” them into the life of the Church; they find no break with the Church’s doctrinal tradition; Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, whom the Pope chose to present the text on April 8, is the principal exponent of this interpretation;

(2) Those who see a rupture. These have criticized the Pope sharply for an alleged “rupture” allowing divorced and “remarried” Catholics to receive communion without ceasing to live together; a leader of this group, Prof. Robert de Mattei, a conservative Italian Catholic scholar, writes: “Nothing changes in doctrine but everything is changed in praxis…. The circumstances and the situation, according to the new morality, dissolve the concept of intrinsic evil and public and permanent sin… The rule of the Church was ‘the divorced, remarried civilly, who live together, cannot receive the Eucharist.’ Amoris Laetitia in contrast, establishes: ‘the divorced and remarried, in some cases, can receive Holy Communion’”;

(3) Those who believe a rupture has not yet occurred; this might be called “the party of the footnote,” in the sense that those holding this position believe Pope Francis, if he had intended to change doctrine (which in any case, according to Catholic belief, is something he cannot validly do), he would have done so in the body of his text, not in a footnote (referring to footnote #351); men like Cardinals Gerhard Mueller, Walter Brandmueller, Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, each in differing ways, seem to hold this third position.

The position of Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the traditionalist group which has been separated from Rome since 1988, but still hopes to return to union with Rome in the near future, is especially complex, but also especially relevant.

“This is an apostolic exhortation entitled The Joy of Love,” Fellay said on April 10, “but it makes us weep.”

On May 2 (Feast of St. Athan­asius), Fellay’s official statement said: “Objective rules are replaced, in Protestant fashion, by the individual’s conscience. This poison is in part attributable to personalism, which, in the matter of pastoral care of families, no longer places the gift of life and the good of the family first and foremost, but rather the personal fulfillment and spiritual development of the spouses… We humbly but firmly implore the Holy Father to revise the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and most especially Chapter 8.”

And yet, despite this fierce criticism, Fellay on May 1 gave a homily where he stressed the need to remain… united with Pope Francis.

“Despite all human misery, despite the fact that even a Pope is now saying unbelievable things on morality and trying to tell us that sin is the state of grace — what we are hearing today is unbelievable, unheard of! — well, despite that, this Pope can still accomplish actions that sanctify and save,” Fellay said. “God has not taken from him his power to bind and to loosen (see Mt. 16:19). He can do good and he still does…

“It does not mean that we approve the evil that is done; far from it, we reject it and guard ourselves from it. But at the same time we recognize that in the Church there is something stronger and greater than the things we see: there is God, the infinite God, infinitely holy, infinitely good.

“There is one path that has been given to us for our salvation, for there is no other. If we wish to go to heaven, we have to go through the Church, the Roman Catholic Church; there is no other path. We can try to invent whatever we want: it is all to no avail. It is the only path. So we must not leave the Church…”

Even as he criticizes Francis, Fellay clings to the Church. “There is no other path,” he says. Words all of us can well keep in mind.

[End Editorial]

Sandro Magister Today, Citing Fr. Michelet

And here is an important piece circulated today by Vaticanist Sandro Magister (link).

Francis: “I Can Say: Yes. Period”

This is how the Pope responded to the question of whether something has changed with respect to the previous discipline on communion for the divorced and remarried. A Dominican theologian explains what this innovation is. But how will it be put into practice?

by Sandro Magister

ROME, May 16, 2016 – At a distance of almost two weeks, not a single line has appeared yet in L’Osservatore Romano concerning the monumental discourse delivered by Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller on May 4 in Oviedo for a correct interpretation of the post-synodal exhortation (link).

While on the other hand almost every day the newspaper of the Holy See devotes useless space to the empty plaudits of this or that cardinal in praise of the papal document.

And yet Müller is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And in that discourse of his he does nothing other than exercise the best he can his role of “theological organization” of the magisterium of Francis, meaning “active collaboration with the ministry proper to the Pope,” for the benefit of the whole “people of God.”

What follows is another contribution that moves in the same direction of interpretation, accurate and constructive, of Amoris Laetitia, in particular of its little footnote that has become its interpretive cross.

It is footnote 351, hailed by progressives as the “open sesame” of communion for the divorced and remarried, but in reality not as affirmative as they claim.

The footnote follows this passage of paragraph 305 of the exhortation:

“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”

And this is what it says:

“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’ (ibid., 47: 1039).”

How is this key point of Amoris Laetitia to be understood? Responding to this question, further below, is Fr. Thomas Michelet, a French Dominican who studied in Fribourg, Switzerland, professor at the pontifical university of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, known as the “Angelicum.”

This commentary first appeared in French in Riposte Catholique.

One key element of Fr. Michelet’s analysis is the credit that he gives to the response of Pope Francis — at the press conference on the flight back from the island of Lesbos — to the question of where there are truly new possibilities now that did not exist before, in support of access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried.

Francis responded, and Michelet points it out: “I can say: Yes. Period.” And it does not matter that shortly afterward, when asked specifically about footnote 351, the Pope said: “I do not remember that footnote.”

Because the unassailable matter of fact remains: in the judgment of Francis, there is something new. And so one may not maintain that what is said in Familiaris Consortio continues to apply unchanged, and that’s it.

Fr. Michelet identifies precisely what is new that Francis is supposed to have introduced into pastoral care for the divorced and remarried, without explicitly breaking with the perennial doctrine on the Eucharist and marriage.

But how this process — vaguely hinted at by the Pope — will be understood and put into practice in the Church remains to be seen. The beginnings are those of a Babel.

“Amoris Laetitia,” Footnote 351

by Thomas Michelet, O.P.

The commentaries are multiplying, becoming ever more contrasting, with regard to a simple footnote of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” on love in the family, the now famous footnote 351.

On one side Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Professor Robert Spaemann, Professor Roberto de Mattei, and some others have decried a change of discipline contrary to Catholic doctrine, which would consist in allowing communion for the divorced and remarried; something that in effect certain imprudent and poorly informed pastors say is now possible.

This could therefore lead one to say that the Eucharist can be received in a state of grave sin, or that remarrying after a divorce is not a grave sin, which would therefore mean that marriage is not an exclusive and indissoluble commitment. The subsequent stage would be that of proceeding with the blessing of second civil marriages, or even of second sacramental marriages.

Needless to say, all of this is perfectly contrary to the teaching of the Church, founded on the Word of God. About this there is no question.

On the other side Cardinal Müller, Cardinal Burke, and most of the bishops instead affirm that the document has not changed in any way the doctrine and discipline of the Church, as presented by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, no. 84.

This is also the position of Cardinal Schönborn, entrusted with the official presentation of the document in the press office, to whom Pope Francis referred further consultation during the press conference on the way back from the island of Lesbos.

Nonetheless, on the same occasion the Pope replied in the affirmative to the question of whether the document concretely changed anything concerning access to communion for the divorced and remarried: “I can say: yes. Period.” It is therefore difficult to maintain the contrary and hold firm that nothing has changed, against the Pope himself.

In reality, both positions are right. On the one hand the document has not changed doctrine and discipline in that which is founded on the Word of God, because it could not do so. It is needless to affirm that it has done so, because it did not have the power.

On the other hand, something has indeed changed, but only in that which could be, without touching doctrine and the discipline that results from it. At the least there is a pastoral change, in acceptance and long-term accompaniment. But there is more, according to the Pope.

Footnote 351 follows number 305 of “Amoris Laetitia,” which recalls that in an objective situation of sin it is possible not to be subjectively culpable.

This is well-established doctrine, because in order to commit a mortal sin grave matter is not enough; full knowledge and deliberate consent are also required (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1415).

Confessors are well aware that a penitent may not confess an objectively grave act because he has no idea that it is a sin. Now, a “material sin” cannot be turned into a “formal sin.” If this is the case (but one must make sure of it), the penitent can then validly receive absolution.

But at the same time the confessor has the duty to straighten out the deformed conscience, for the sake of reforming it; this can take time and therefore require adequate spiritual accompaniment. It is not enough to recall the law from the outside: it is also necessary that the person truly understand and accept it on the inside. The document says nothing different.

This case is already well established in the doctrine and practice of the Church, even if it is part of that “science of the confessional” which the faithful are presumed not to know, because it presupposes a good formation in moral theology and a good practice of the confessional. The innovation of the document is above all here: in the fact of presenting in full light a practice that previously remained in the shadows, in the secrecy of the confessional. Not because it is shameful, but because it presupposed keys of comprehension that many do not have and cannot have.

So now is this perfectly legitimate and doctrinally well-founded practice also being extended to the divorced and remarried? Footnote 351 does not say so expressly. But it also does not rule it out.

Now, if it were to rule it out, that would not change in any way the current practice as presented by Familiaris Consortio. But if one is to grasp what the pope is saying, namely that something that did no exist before is now possible, it is there that one must look.

With that, the regime of Familiaris Consortio has effectively changed. Not in the sense that sinners aware of their grave sin go to receive communion: this is not possible and will never be so. But in the sense that persons who do not know they are in grave sin can receive “the help of the sacraments” until they become aware of this sin in spiritual accompaniment. They will then stop receiving them until they have changed their way of life to conform fully with the demands of the Gospel, according to Familiaris Consortio. This is not a matter of making an exception for them, but rather of applying to them the general regime already established for all other cases.

Familiaris Consortio recalled that it was not possible to give communion to the divorced and remarried, because it was thought that such ignorance was impossible in their situation. In effect, just as sin is not committed without knowing it or wanting it, in the same way there is no marriage without knowing and wanting it. And therefore either every attack on the fidelity of the marriage was necessarily culpable, or if the person had truly acted unknowingly, this meant without fail that his sacramental marriage was null “ab initio,” that it had never existed, in the absence of true consent to what marriage is.

Now, the progress of psychology and at the same time the “progress” of a society confused and with no point of reference make it so that ever more persons are unaware of that which was once evident to all. With the effect that what applied to all the other categories of sin also does to the divorced and remarried. One cannot fail to notice that this is happening. Even if the conditions are extremely strict, the cases are ever more numerous, in proportion to estrangement from the Church.

While distinguishing the situations, John Paul II had maintained the rule, for a pastoral reason and therefore out of a prudential decision, for the sake of avoiding scandal. It is therefore not contrary to divine doctrine and law that Pope Francis should make another prudential decision, taking into consideration these possibilities of the distortion of conscience, while still holding firm the rule of avoiding scandal (AL 299).

It is not that sinners are allowed to “sort it out with their conscience”; it is that one must now start from much farther away in order to be able to reconcile a sinner with the Church. Because consciences are ever more deformed, and one must therefore reform them first of all in order to allow them to advance on a journey of perfection.

But the pope is clear on the fact that all are called to conversion: “missionary conversion” for pastors; conversion to the demands of the Gospel for sinners. This conversion simply cannot be presented as a preliminary and an insurmountable obstacle; it must be the goal that is aimed for, toward which to proceed resolutely, even if this takes time and comes by stages. God has always done this with his people.

What is sure is that this document is incomprehensible in the context of a “morality of law” that is that of Kant or of the Jansenists. But it is perfectly compatible with the context of a “morality of virtue” that is that of Saint Thomas Aquinas, “doctor communis.”

(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)


Join me in Rome and Germany for a very special pilgrimage,
“In the Footsteps of Pope Benedict”


Announcing a Special Pilgrimage

“The new Pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before men and women of world — not his own light, but that of Christ.” —Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, speaking about himself shortly after becoming Pope in 2005 (in the photo below, he is on the upper right as a young priest)

“My mother was very warm-hearted and had great inner strength; my father was more markedly rationalistic and deliberate. He was a reflective believer. He always understood clearly at the outset what was going on and always had an astonishingly accurate judgment. When Hitler came to power he said: There’s going to be war…” —Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on his childhood in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s (link)


(In this family photo, in the back row are Fr. Georg (left, the future Pope’s brother, now 92) and Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (right, the future Pope, now 89); in the foreground, his sister Maria Ratzinger, who died in 1991 (she was his housekeeper, and her death was very hard for him to take) and his parents, Maria and Joseph Sr.)

jpeg-3“With an eye to his retirement, my father bought an old, likewise very simple farmhouse in Hufschlag near Traunstein. Instead of tap water, there was a well, which was very picturesque. On one side of the house there was an oak forest interspersed with beeches, on the other side were the mountains, and when we opened our eyes in the morning, the first thing we could see was the mountains. In the front we had apple trees, plum trees, and a lot of flowers that my mother had cultivated in the garden.” —Ibid.

“From the very beginning — it was exactly the same for my brother and sister, I think — I had a lot of interest in the liturgy. My parents had already bought me my first missal when I was in the second grade. It was actually terribly exciting to penetrate into the mysterious world of the Latin liturgy and to find out what was actually happening, what it meant, what was being said. And so then we progressed by degrees from a children’s missal to a more complete missal, to the complete version. That was a kind of voyage of discovery.” —Ibid.

jpeg-4“When later Cardinal Faulhaber paid a visit to our region, with his imposing purple, he impressed me all the more, so that I said, I would like to become something like that.” —Ibid.

“In the six years of theological study one encounters so many human problems and questions. Is celibacy right for me? Is being a parish priest right for me? Those were indeed questions not always easy to deal with. I always had the basic direction before me, but there was no lack of crises.” —Ibid

An Extraordinary Pilgrimage

I’m writing to invite you to join our first Inside the Vatican Signature Pilgrimage to Rome and Germany “In the Footsteps of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI” from June 26 until July 6, 2016.

jpeg-5Over 11 days, this pilgrimage will bring us into touch with the life and spirituality of this Pope, whom Pope Francis has described as a “good Grandfather.”

This pilgrimage will be in search of the wellsprings of Benedict’s thought and action, and will also be in honor of him, for it will begin on the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

Benedict was ordained a priest on June 29, 1951, at the age of 24, together with his older brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who is also still alive — they were both ordained at the same Mass.

Their 65th anniversary as priests falls on June 29. For this reason, the pilgrimage will begin in Rome, to be in Rome for that anniversary.

jpeg-6This will also allow us to attend the great celebration of Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Square. The feast of these two patron saints of the Church of Rome is celebrated every year on June 29.

During our first three days, we will see some of the places in Rome which were most important to Pope Benedict, as Rome is Benedict’s second home. He has lived in the city since 1981 — for 35 years.

After visiting Rome and the Vatican, and talking with people in Rome who have long worked and lived with Emeritus Pope Benedict, we will turn our steps toward Germany, where he was born.

(Below, a view of Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany, which we will visit)

While on pilgrimage, we will be reading Benedict’s writings, studying them, and coming to understand better his mind and heart.

In particular, we will read Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus,” published in the year 2000), a text he wrote at the request of Pope John Paul II.

In it, Benedict reaffirmed the central teaching of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

(A view of the Weltenburg monastery on the River Danube, which we will visit)

Day by day, we will explore the development of Benedict’s life and thought.

jpeg-9He was a somewhat “liberal” theologian as a young man, but became more conservative after 1968.

(Photo left, Father Joseph Ratzinger dressed in jacket and tie)

During his papacy, Benedict XVI advocated a return to Christian faith and sacramental life to counter the increased secularization of many Western countries.

He has said that relativism’s denial of objective truth, and the denial of moral truths in particular, is the central problem of our time.

He revived a number of traditions, including recognizing that the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated.

He has always loved music, especially Mozart.

He has been described by some as “the main intellectual force in the Church” during the past half-century.

Through readings I am choosing, we will have a chance to glimpse the essence of his thought.

(Here, a view of the city of Regensburg, where the future Pope taught theology, and where his brother still lives today; we will visit the city as part of our pilgrimage)

After we leave Rome we will go from his “second home” to his “first home”: Bavaria, in southern Germany.

jpeg-11For six days we will visit the places where he was born, grew up, studied, preached and worked as a bishop.

We will visit his birthplace (Marktl-am-Inn in southern Germany).

We will visit the little towns he lived in as a boy when his father, who was a policeman, was forced to move house to take new postings — all in Bavaria (Traunstein, Tittmoning, Aschau).

We will visit places he himself visited on pilgrimages with his mother, brother and sister, especially Altoetting, a Marian sanctuary that is one of the most beautiful places in the world, a place of peace and profound holiness.

We will visit the church where he was ordained 65 years ago.

We will visit the places where he taught as a university theologian, in Regensburg and in Munich.

jpeg-12In Regensburg, we are scheduled to meet with Benedict’s brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger.

We hope to be able to talk with him about his younger brother and their life together over the decades — the two still spend several weeks each year together.

There may be few better ways to get to know the mind and heart of Pope Benedict than to join us on this pilgrimage.

(Left, Father Joseph Ratzinger as a young priest)

The trip will be a time of reading, reflection and prayer for all of us, visiting the places of Emeritus Pope Benedict, in early summer, where each place we will see will be more beautiful and peaceful than the last…

Please consider joining this very special pilgrimage “In the Footsteps of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

I hope you will join me on this profound spiritual journey.

Best wishes,

Robert Moynihan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Inside the Vatican magazine

Email now to receive our Information Packet
or to reserve your place!

Limited places available.

(Here, a meeting with then-Pope Benedict in 2010)

jpeg-13P.S. There are always many things we could do with our limited time, of course, but this particular pilgrimage will be so extraordinary that you may regret missing it.

It will only take 11 days, and yet it will bring the entire life and work, mind and heart, of Pope Benedict into focus. I hope you will consider joining us!




Note: The Moynihan Letters go to some 20,000 people around the world. If you would like to subscribe, click here to sign up for free. Also, if you would like to subscribe to our print magazine, Inside the Vatican, please do so! It would support the old technology of print and paper, as well as this newsflash. Click here.

What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

Facebook Comments