Once Again, “Amoris Laetitia” §303

Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein’s criticism in La Stampa of my 2016 CWR article about AL §303 is a failure in hermeneutical charity and, more importantly, both misrepresents my argument and misunderstands the logic employed by Pope Francis.

A journalist takes photos of copies of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), during the document's release at the Vatican April 8, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In their recent La Stampa article “Does Amoris laetitia 303 Really Undermine Catholic Moral Teaching?” (Sept. 26, 2017), Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein argue against certain critics of Amoris laetitia (AL) §303. Their major claim is that these critics—particularly Josef Seifert, E. Christian Brugger, and myself—base “their criticism of Amoris laetitia precisely upon what the Latin text does not say.” They add, “when read in its original Latin, [§303] has a significantly different meaning than it does in the official English translation.” They conclude: “we believe that all these critics misread and distort what Pope Francis actually says in Amoris laetitia 303. This becomes especially clear when reading the Latin text of the passage as published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.”

Speaking for myself, I think it is unfair to criticize me of misreading and distorting AL §303. How could I be held responsible for not considering a text that did not even exist yet when I wrote my original article in April 2016? How could I misread and distort something that did not exist? They could have argued for another reading of AL §303 that clarifies Pope Francis’s teaching—yes, it does need clarification!—in the official English translation in light of the recently released Latin text, showing that these critics should now revise their reading of AL §303. That’s fair. What they did, however, was a failure in hermeneutical charity.

Nonetheless, even with the consideration of the Latin text, I think their interpretation is mistaken when one considers the whole of Chapter 8, particularly the pope’s logic of pastoral reasoning and its implications.

The matter of the “objective ideal”

What are their criticisms? For one, they claim that I misunderstand Pope Francis’s use of the term “objective ideal” (AL §303; see also §298). I allegedly claim the pope thinks that this ideal is unattainable. The Latin text uses the terms “objective exemplar,” which, according to the authors, “does not mean an unattainable ideal; it specifically means a pattern or model to follow.”

But they criticize a straw man. I never said that the “objective ideal” is unattainable on the whole. Indeed, I said:

Yes, of course Pope Francis won’t let go of the ideal of marriage and hence he insists on presenting this ideal to the individual. . . . The pope rejects ‘A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, [because it] would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being’.

In AL, Pope Francis affirms that “the [moral] law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being advances gradually” (AL §295; emphasis added). In other words, Francis adds, the Church “constantly holds up the call to perfection and asks for a fuller response to God” (AL §291). This statement means to support Francis’s claim that “discernment is dynamic” and that “it must ever remain open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (AL §303; emphasis added). Pace my critics, I do not deny this point in the article to which they refer.

So, the difference between my critics and I is not over the question whether the “objective ideal” is completely beyond reach. Of course it is not because, if you will, it is a pattern or model to follow. In other words, over the course of a person’s gradual moral advancement, in order to bring about a fuller realization of the objective moral ideal, the pope explains, “‘the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it’” (Relatio Finalis 2015, 85, as cited in AL §300; see also §303, §307). Using John Paul II’s terms (Familiaris consortio §34), as I did in my article, this dynamic refers to the “law of gradualness,” meaning thereby “the knowledge that the human being ‘knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth” (Ibid). Pope Francis explicitly accepts this law in AL §295. “This is . . . the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law.”

The “gradualness of law”

The crucial question, in my judgment, is whether or not Pope Francis implicitly affirms what John Paul II calls the “gradualness of law.” The latter means that there are “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations,” as John Paul describes it (Familiaris consortio §34). Here we come to Fastiggi and Goldstein’s second criticism of my reading of AL §303, namely, that I have completely misread Pope Francis by arguing that he is “suggesting that intrinsically immoral actions can correspond to the will of God in certain circumstances.” Put this bluntly, of course, their answer is that the pope is suggesting no such thing.

Yet, let us rephrase the question in terms of the distinction between subjective and objective morality. Does Francis hold that someone can make a subjectively good choice, given that this choice is the best that he can do, in an objectively wrong situation, because he has little or no moral culpability, in view of the complexity of his situation and its attendant limits? In other words, can he choose to live together, or only be married civilly, or be divorced and remarried civilly, having sexual intercourse without being judged a sinner (i.e., adultery)? Given the pope’s logic of pastoral reasoning, I believe the answer to this question is “yes.”

Why is this suggestion a reasonable conclusion to draw from the logic of pastoral reasoning, according to Francis? Pope Francis says that there is no gradualness in the law (AL §295, §300). And yet, despite his disclaimer that he is not proposing a gradualness of the law, the pope is arguing that there are exceptions to moral rules. Indeed, he claims that, according to Aquinas, a general moral principle “fails” as one descends into the details of a particular situation-and-person-specific context of discernment. What isn’t clear is which moral rules have exceptions according to Pope Francis. (He recently repeated this point during his visit to Columbia, insisting that his ethics was Thomistic.)

Francis states in AL §304: “It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.” He continues by quoting STh, I-II, q. 94, art. 4 as support for his claim about contextual moral discernment:

I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: ‘Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects. . . . In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all. . . . The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail’.

He adds, by way of conclusion: “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule.”

So, the pope here is defending the gradualness of the law, and hence the necessity of a situation-specific ethic as essential to the logic of pastoral discernment, involving precepts that hold for different individuals and situations, and, furthermore, he purports to enlist Aquinas (and the International Theological Commission) as an ally in supporting this ethic of circumstance. What is confusing is that on several occasions Francis has rejected the claim that his pastoral approach leads to a situation ethics.

Moral absolutes and presumptive moral obligations

Still, with all due respect to Pope Francis, his reading of Aquinas is mistaken and, furthermore, it is the source of the second dubium raised by the four Cardinals. They asked whether there are exceptionless moral norms, that is, moral absolutes. This question arises because Francis fails, unlike Aquinas, to distinguish between “moral absolutes” (exceptionless moral norms, or negative moral norms that hold semper et ad semper) and “prima facie obligations” (affirmative norms).

According to Aquinas, on the one hand, the negative moral norm regarding adultery is such that there are no exceptions to the moral precept that adultery is wrong, always and everywhere, in every circumstance. So, since marriage involves an unconditional promise to be faithful until death do us part, such that it is permanent, there are no conditions under which it would be right to leave one’s spouse, marry someone else, and have sexual intercourse. In that case, one would commit adultery.

On the other hand, a moral precept that has prima facie validity is such that there may be good reason to permit an exception. To take an example from Aquinas: I have a presumptive obligation to return someone’s property to him, say, his car keys, that he has put in my safe keeping. But suppose this individual gets drunk. Under that circumstance it would be morally permissible not to return his keys to him because of the danger he poses to himself and others if he drives his car. In short, there may be certain exceptions regarding the affirmative norm that one should return what one has borrowed, entrusted with for safe keeping. This makes it clear that what Aquinas has in mind here are affirmative norms that oblige always but not on every occasion, and not negative norms (moral absolutes) that hold semper et ad semper, excluding acts that are evil in themselves and cannot become good.

Francis’s failure to make this distinction between moral absolutes and presumptive moral obligations is confusing and could result in disastrous pastoral consequences.

There remains to ask whether the logic of Francis’s pastoral moral reasoning leads to the conclusion that there is a gradualness of the law. This logic is informed by the divine pedagogy of grace, says the pope, of the “Church’s pastoral care for the faithful who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried [civilly].” These relationships may realize “in at least a partial and analogous way” (AL §293), in short, imperfectly (AL §78), in their constructive elements, the reality of true marriage. “‘When a couple in an irregular union attains a noteworthy stability through a public bond—and is characterized by deep affection, responsibility towards the children and the ability to overcome trials—this can be seen as an opportunity, where possible to lead them to celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony’ [Relatio Finalis 2015, 53-54]” (AL §78). These constructive elements are such that they “‘foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth’ [Relatio Finalis 2015, 70; as cited in AL §293].

One must ask why these couples are not married (AL §293, §302). Francis holds that they “are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law” (AL §295). He, consequently, appeals to the distinction between objectively sinful and subjectively non-culpable, recognizing the gravity of the action, but also treating the mitigating circumstances to be such that there is little or no moral culpability in the agent’s action not to be married. In short, invoking the latter distinction leaves us sins without sinners.

This last approach is the one advocated by Pope Francis in AL. Mitigating circumstance absolve or diminish the moral agent’s responsibility and guilt such that, in a complex situation, it limits his ability to make a decision. “Therefore,” says Francis, “while clearly stating the Church’s teaching, pastors are to avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations, and they are to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition” (AL §79).

Distinguishing between objectively sinful actions and subjectively non-culpable conscience is precisely what Pope Francis is talking about in Amoris laetitia. “For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved” (AL §302). Furthermore, since we may have sins without sinners, it can no longer be said “that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (AL §301).

An example—and further problems

Does this mean that the person involved can make a subjectively good choice in an objectively wrong situation given that he has little or no moral culpability, in view of the complexity of his situation and its attendant limits? I will argue that it does, but my critics contest this view. The crux of their objection is that the Latin text of AL §303 appears to deny that claim:

Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.

Here is the Latin of this passage as found in the Acta:

Haec autem conscientia agnoscere potest non modo statum quendam ab universali Evangelii mandato obiective dissidere; etiam sincere honesteque agnoscere poteste quod sit liberale responsum in praesenti Deo reddendum atque eadem conscientia firma quadam morali certitudine intellegere illam esse oblationem quam ipse Deus requirit inter rerum impedientium congeriem, quamvis perfectum nondum sit obiectivum exemplar.

We propose an alternative translation, based on the Latin, as follows:

This conscience, however, can not only recognize a given situation to be objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel; it can also recognize sincerely and honestly what may be the generous response owed to God in the present circumstances; and this same firm conscience can come to understand with a certain moral certitude that this is the offering that God himself is asking amid the mass of impediments, although it may not yet be the perfect objective model.

The example they give is as follows: “Living in continence is difficult, but they [a divorced and civilly remarried couple] come to understand that this is the “generous response” and the offering (oblationem) God is asking of them in the midst of the concrete limitations of their present situation—even though their civil “marriage” does not correspond to the objective model of Christian marriage.” So, they live in continence, in other words, as brother and sister, until such time as they may enter into a true marriage, having received the hoped for declaration of nullity.

One could argue that this is precisely the position of John Paul II in Familiaris consortio §84, as well as his Reconciliatio et Paenitentia §34, and Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis §29. John Paul states, “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’.”

The problem with this example is that Francis does not explicitly endorse it, in fact, he avoids citing it, explicitly referring only to the statement that it is crucial to the logic of pastoral care “‘to exercise careful discernment of situation’” (Familiaris consortio §84, cited in AL §79). If Pope Francis meant what my critics state, then why doesn’t he say so?

Furthermore, he doesn’t because he denies the legitimacy of my critics’ example by appearing to contradict it in footnote 329. He says, “In such situations [‘where for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate’ (no. 298)], many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’ [Gaudium et spes, no. 51].” Is Francis suggesting here that under those circumstances sexual intimacy is morally permissible, a subjectively good choice, for the sake of maintaining a faithful “invalid marriage” so that the children do not suffer?

That is certainly what several of Francis’s interpreters have suggested, such as Fr. Antonio Spadaro; Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts; and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernàndez, Rector of the Catholic University, Buenos Aires. If Pope Francis rejects their interpretation of Al §303 as a distortion and misreading of it, then why doesn’t he say so? Let me suggest that the pope does not say so because he does not hold there to be a “yes” or “no” to that question in the logic of pastoral mercy (AL §305).

Does he, then, hold that a cohabiting couple or a divorced and civilly remarried couple may be free from sin, not committing adultery, although they do not live as brother and sister because of mitigating factors that render them inculpable? I think he does. As he asks, “A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding its ‘inherent values’, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, ‘factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision’ [Relatio Finalis, 51]” (AL §301). Again, let me suggest that Francis’ “logic” here allows a couple the freedom to have sexual intimacy; choosing otherwise endangers both the fidelity of those in the “invalid marriage” as well as the children they are raising raise.

He says:

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. Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. (AL §305)

In sum, this logic of pastoral reasoning, in respect of the divorce and civilly married, is such that it appears to lead to the conclusion that God’s very will for these persons is that they are free to have sexual intimacy for the good of a faithful and stable but “invalid marriage” because that benefits the children. This couple, according to Francis’ logic, is not living in a state of adultery, of grave habitual sin, and hence in contradiction to God’s law (Mt 19: 3-9).

This conclusion has fostered confusion in the Church. Certainly, Pope Francis did not set out to create confusion. He wanted couples in “irregular unions” to be transformed in the pastoral process of accompanying, discerning, and integrating them into the life of the Church. Of course, Francis is right in saying “‘the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them’ [Relatio Synodi 2014, 25], something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit” (AL §297).

Still, as Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently stated in a recent National Catholic Register interview: “I think the Pope should not be blamed for this confusion, but he is authorized by Jesus Christ to overcome it.” He adds, and I conclude with these words:

This discussion is not against him, it is not against his intentions [accompanying, discerning, and integrating people], but there is need of more clarification. Also, in the past, we had discussions about the faith and the pastoral application of it. It’s not the first time this has happened in the Church, and so why not learn from our long experiences as Church, to have a good, profound discussion in promoting the faith, the life of the Church and not to personalize and polarize? It’s not a personal criticism of him, and everybody must learn it and respect his high responsibility.

About Eduardo Echeverria 11 Articles
Eduardo Echeverria is Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his S.T.L. from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome.

29 Comments

  1. I agree with you. When I read the Dawn Eden piece, I was struck by the final example she gave of two people living in continence as the Pope’s mind. I think Dawn has an narrative that is unduly hopeful about “nothing new” has happened. The Argentine Diocese guidelines affirmed by the Pope might even be unknown to her.

  2. Prof. Echeverria,
    If Pope Francis read a little further than his Suuma T. cite, he would have read this landmine of an idea…ie that if God orders a man to sleep with any woman, it is not fornication or adultery….article 5, reply to obj.2:

    Reply to Objection 2. All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another’s wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another’s property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists. Nor is it only in human things, that whatever is commanded by God is right; but also in natural things, whatever is done by God, is, in some way, natural, as stated in the I:105:6 ad 1.”

    This passage could be part of his problem….and where he nurtured this idea of God commanding a sexual act so that it becomes blameless. I’m glad I still have some Merlot left.
    I’ll need it.

  3. St Thomas Aquinas in ST 1a2ae 94, 4 refers to an act of Justice which requires deliberation of the conditions of the act, since its implementation varies according to individual persons and cases. The Pontiff’s mistake in applying Aquinas’ thought on justice in acts to the Sacrament of marriage is to imply that “the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects” in performing a just action “the more frequently we encounter defects” in the exchange of vows that make a marriage a sacrament. Echeverria is correct in principle that we are addressing Adultery in reference to marriage. What the Pontiff actually wishes to say is that the further we examine the exchange of vows the more defects, thus exceptions we find rendering the exchange of vows invalid. Thus for one in such a circumstance to remarry is not Adultery. Echeverria is correct in that we are addressing an exceptionless norm, while the Pontiff is addressing validity of exchange of vows. Therein is the key to the Pontiff’s error. Since he is alleging that a valid exchange of vows is virtually impossible [the reason why he later publicly stated most marriages are invalid then backpedaled]. That is a repudiation of the institution of Marriage by Christ, which in the Gospels Christ when asked about Mosaic divorce law responds with proscription, that to remarry is to commit Adultery. Christ permits no exceptions to his proscription. Canon law therefore requires tangible evidence for a declaration of nullity. The effect of the Pontiff’s exhortation is to disassemble what Christ instituted as indissoluble, and to provide rationale, a universal policy for all parish priests to discern these virtually inevitable exceptions.

  4. Dawn Eden pairs with RF, and EE politely offers a meek rejoinder… and we wonder why the Church is fictionally dying? All we need now is a sappy obit on Hefner from Chris West. Our spokesmen are effectively neutering truth.

  5. “Mitigating factors in pastoral discernment 301. For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain ‘irregular’ situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace”. To further specify the dilemma with which Pope Francis afflicts the Church we are advised in AL as quoted previously regarding ST 1a2ae 94, 4 with a false analogy purporting that the exchange of marriage vows are highly likely subject to defect and thus most are likely invalid. Therefore a subject living in an “irregular” state, adultery for D&R cannot be judged according to their state [they may he adds be living in a state of “sanctifying grace”] but must instead be subject to mercy. Dr Josef Seifert is correct in referencing homosexual union, cohabitation to the Pontiff’s unspecified “irregular” unions. The Pontiff’s approach gives priority to personal conscience and his policy of discernment, since the priest has no other option than to make a value judgment on the subject’s irregular situation. If mercy has priority over judgment then priests are likely to give benefit of the doubt to the subject and provide the sacraments-regardless of their objectively sinful state. The integrity of marriage within the Church will dissolve as this universal policy spreads. This is the religious deception of the premises contained in Amoris Laetitia. The falsehood rests on one indisputable fact. That Christ’s calls Mankind to repentance proved only by relinquishing sinful states of life. If you love me you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15).

  6. The following post may be read along with my comment on Sept 30, 2017 toward the bottom of the article at http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/09/29/questions-and-answers-on-the-filial-correction/

    ‘…Does Francis hold that someone can make a subjectively good choice, given that this choice is the best that he can do, in an objectively wrong situation, because he has little or no moral culpability, in view of the complexity of his situation and its attendant limits? In other words, can he choose to live together, or only be married civilly, or be divorced and remarried civilly, having sexual intercourse without being judged a sinner (i.e., adultery)? Given the pope’s logic of pastoral reasoning, I believe the answer to this question is “yes.”…’

    I submit another understanding can be considered, viz.: instead of ‘Does Francis hold that someone can make a subjectively good choice, given that this choice is the best that he can do, in an objectively wrong situation, because he has little or no moral culpability, in view of the complexity of his situation and its attendant limits?’,
    what if it were re-framed as:
    ‘Does Francis hold that someone can RIGHTLY make a subjectively good choice, given that this choice is the best that he can do, in an objectively wrong situation, because he has little or no moral culpability, in view of the complexity of his situation and its attendant limits?’

    Yes, Francis may hold that someone can make WHAT THAT PERSON *THINKS* IS a subjectively good choice…but Francis is NOT saying that such thinking is correct. He is simply taking that as the actual circumstance which some people may find themselves in.

    Again, instead of ‘In other words, can he choose to live together, or only be married civilly, or be divorced and remarried civilly, having sexual intercourse without being judged a sinner (i.e., adultery)?’
    what if it were re-framed as:
    ‘In other words, can he choose to live together, or only be married civilly, or be divorced and remarried civilly, having sexual intercourse without being judged BY HIMSELF – i.e. the person choosing this path – a sinner (i.e., adultery)?’
    i.e.,
    the person in such a situation doesn’t consider himself a sinner as such because his conscience has recognized ‘with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.’

    Such recognition of conscience ISN’T being endorsed as right by the pope but is merely taken as a fact which must be considered in the pastor’s discernment on how to move forward out of the morass.

    ‘…Pope Francis says that there is no gradualness in the law (AL §295, §300). And yet, despite his disclaimer that he is not proposing a gradualness of the law, the pope is arguing that there are exceptions to moral rules…’

    Er – no he isn’t. He is saying that in some cases, *some people* think there are exceptions to moral rules. In some other cases, some people don’t even understand the gravity of the moral rules / absolutes themselves, or don’t appreciate / comprehend its inherent values.

    ‘…the pope here is defending the gradualness of the law…’

    Again, no he isn’t. As the author admits: ‘What is confusing is that on several occasions Francis has rejected the claim that his pastoral approach leads to a situation ethics.’
    The very fact that he has rejected such a claim should make us pause and introspect – for such rejection is an obvious indication that he is quite aware that such a claim could be raised, but he takes opportunities that present themselves to deny the claim.

    When he quotes Aquinas, he is asking pastors to bear in mind that ‘in matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all.’
    i.e., while the general principles *MAY* be understood (in a rudimentary sense?!?), the individuals concerned may not FULLY be grasping the truth or may have an erroneous grasp / understanding of the truth or may be erroneously convinced of the practical rectitude. Considering the general confusion and illiteracy around what marriage actually is, this is hardly surprising.

    The pope isn’t justifying all these situations; he is simply saying that shepherds/pastors need to discern what exactly is happening in a particular case; what exactly is the understanding of the parties involved about marriage, Church teaching, their irregular situation, etc. (Do they even acknowledge / know wherein lies the irregularity, why and how it must be rectified? etc.)

    Only if the pastor knows / discerns where exactly an individual couple is, would he be able to accompany them in their return to the Father’s house.
    Ergo, AL 305: ‘…a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions…”

    ‘…Still, with all due respect to Pope Francis, his reading of Aquinas is mistaken…Francis fails, unlike Aquinas, to distinguish between “moral absolutes” (exceptionless moral norms, or negative moral norms that hold semper et ad semper) and “prima facie obligations” (affirmative norms)…’

    But Francis has not said there are no moral absolutes; the distinction between such absolutes and prima facie obligations is not what he is concerned about. (For him, that’s a given!) Instead, as noted before, he is encouraging pastors to ‘get their hands dirty’ / ‘soil / muddy the shoes’ in getting to know the ‘smell of the (lost) sheep’ – for he knows that there are confused folks out there who don’t even know that there are indeed moral absolutes (immersed as they are, in a relativistic culture) – or that they are in error in their understanding / perception of their situation, probably due – among other things – to inadequate / rudimentary catechesis.

    And then of course there is AL 301, 302.
    To wit: ‘…More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”. Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well; in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues”.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability…”

    ‘…(Francis) says, “In such situations [‘where for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate’ (no. 298)], many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’ [Gaudium et spes, no. 51].”
    Is Francis suggesting here that under those circumstances sexual intimacy is morally permissible, a subjectively good choice, for the sake of maintaining a faithful “invalid marriage” so that the children do not suffer?…’

    Again, no – that isn’t what he is suggesting. Rather he is simply saying that many people are relying on logic along the lines of Gaudium et spes, no. 51 as a justification for their acts. In other words, he is merely saying ‘MANY PEOPLE, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, POINT OUT that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’.
    He is NOT saying that this rationale / reliance of such people on GS 51 is right. He is urging pastors to be really aware of the logic and rationale for people acting in a certain manner. Only if the pastor is keenly aware of this can he help them get out of the mess they are in. Otherwise he risks being just another ineffective ‘in-the-clouds’ / ‘in-ivory-tower’ theoretician ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families.’

    ‘Does (Francis), then, hold that a cohabiting couple or a divorced and civilly remarried couple may be free from sin, not committing adultery, although they do not live as brother and sister because of mitigating factors that render them inculpable? I think he does.’

    Once again, no, the Pope does not hold that such a couple are ‘free from sin’ even in some circumstances where mitigating factors render them inculpable – because the irregularity / sin persists and needs to be fixed / addressed. As Francis himself acknowledges in AL 302, there is indeed a ‘negative judgment about an objective situation’ (although it does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person). Further on in AL 305, he explicitly acknowledges ‘an objective situation of sin’ – which obviously needs to be addressed inevitably.

    ‘…Let me suggest that Francis’ “logic” here allows a couple the freedom to have sexual intimacy; choosing otherwise endangers both the fidelity of those in the “invalid marriage” as well as the children they are raising raise…’

    Non sequitur. Just as it would be missing the point to say that Pope Benedict endorses condom usage in https://www.ignatius.com/promotions/light-of-the-world/excerpt.htm , it would be rash / reductive to suggest that Francis’ logic “allows” a couple the “freedom” to have sexual intimacy.

    Another instance of non sequitur is that after citing AL 305, the author says: ‘…this logic of pastoral reasoning, in respect of the divorce and civilly married, is such that it appears to lead to the conclusion that God’s very will for these persons is that they are free to have sexual intimacy for the good of a faithful and stable but “invalid marriage” because that benefits the children. This couple, according to Francis’ logic, is not living in a state of adultery, of grave habitual sin, and hence in contradiction to God’s law (Mt 19: 3-9).’

    The key word in that first sentence is ‘appears’ – whereas, in reality that isn’t so. That is to say, from AL 305, one cannot conclude that the pope is saying or indicating that it is God’s ‘very will’ for the divorced and civilly married to have sexual intimacy…
    Such a conclusion would be sustainable / tenable only if AL 305 were to read something along the following lines:
    ‘In an objective situation of sin (such as sexual intimacy by the divorced and civilly married), a person lives in God’s grace, loves and grows in the life of grace and charity…’

    But as we know, AL 305 does NOT read as above but as:
    ‘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.’

    This wording clearly cannot lead to the conclusion arrived at by the author.

    I agree with Cardinal Müller though: a clarification would be helpful.

    • The wording is DESIGNED to be ambiguous- so that an unambiguous interpretion against the 2000 year teaching of Jesus is made by the responding “progressive national church” (e.g. Argentine bishops), and then their disobedience to FC and all before is approved, while maintaining the “veneer” of faithfulness for Francis – who is simply plsying the role of orthodox “beard” for his heterodox electioneers.

      Or as a priest or bishop in Spain recently stated at Mass – “we must be receptive to the new church that Pope Francis is ushering in.”

      Well – he can have his new church – that is his reward.

      I prefer the Holy Catholic Church – the one obedient to Jesus Christ my king.

    • JN the interpretation you give is plausible, except to the extent that someone can commit serious sin and not be responsible. Conscience is the final criterion. For example whether someone doesn’t acknowledge their actions are grave sin doesn’t necessarily absolve them. They can be acquitted of responsibility if they are invincibly ignorant. That is defined as knowledge beyond someone’s capacity to know. The first principles of the Natural Law are known by nature. Otherwise based on some of the argument offered persons who commit heinous crimes do not incur guilt, if they form their conscience in accordance with criteria presented in your comment[for example German soldiers who as Hitler Youth were taught and sincerely believed killing Jews is a good thing remain morally responsible for killing Jews]. Sins like murder, false witness, adultery, deviate sexual behavior are among those known by nature, prescient knowledge realized in social intercourse. We can form a false conscience by choice, a refusal of what the intellect apprehends as evil. That is why Augustine and following him Aquinas adds, “One who follows such a conscience and acts according to it acts against the law of God and sins mortally. For there was sin in the error itself, since it happened because of ignorance of what one should have known” (De Veritate 17, 4 Ad 3).

      • ‘except to the extent that someone can commit serious sin and not be responsible.’

        That there is responsibility is certainly not denied but the extent of culpability is moot and isn’t the same in all cases.

        ‘Conscience is the final criterion.’

        It isn’t, but in some instances, the rut into which some people in irregular situations may have fallen is to be under the mistaken impression that conscience is the final or sole criterion. And some don’t even realize the importance of, or need for properly forming conscience in alignment with what Holy Mother Church teaches. Others may not even be fully or properly aware of what she actually teaches.

        ‘For example whether someone doesn’t acknowledge their actions are grave sin doesn’t necessarily absolve them.’

        Of course. But do ALL concerned actually realize or properly understand the gravity of the sin? Even if they do, in ALL cases, can a pastor a priori, without knowing and discerning the actual facts of a case, make a sweeping generalization that the parties concerned are NOT laboring under, or being constrained by those factors explicitly identified by the CCC, such as ‘duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, and other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability’?

        ‘The first principles of the Natural Law are known by nature.’

        Again yes, but then how sure can a pastor be that despite knowing them, some people have deemed it fit in their (ill-informed / improperly formed) conscience to act in a particular manner due to the existence of factors afore-cited in the CCC?

        ‘Otherwise based on some of the argument offered persons who commit heinous crimes do not incur guilt, if they form their conscience in accordance with criteria presented in your comment’

        Again, that guilt / sin is involved is not denied, but the extent of culpability need not be the same in all cases.

        Re German soldiers who as Hitler Youth were taught and sincerely believed killing Jews is a good thing remain morally responsible for killing Jews
        >>
        Indeed!

        But is there not a difference in culpability – for example – between:
        A) the German soldier who cold-bloodedly and repeatedly kills out of personal animosity against the Jews (and he intends to continue his acts)
        B) the German soldier who repeatedly kills Jews because he genuinely believes what he was taught about the Jews (and he intends to continue his acts so long as he remains convinced of the genuineness of his belief)
        C) the German soldier who repeatedly kills Jews because he is forced/constrained to obey orders (he fears he MAY be suspected of being a Jew sympathizer or in league with the von Stauffenberg resistance and summarily shot by the SS if he didn’t unambiguously toe the party line)
        (and he intends to continue his acts as long as he fears the possibility of such suspicion)
        D) the German soldier who repeatedly kills Jews because he is not only under orders but is also ACTUALLY suspected of being of Jewish blood himself. Further, he is each time given a stark choice by the Gestapo, viz.: every time we order, demonstrate your absolute loyalty to the ‘purity’ of the ‘Aryan’ Reich and kill two Jews or you will first watch your wife and mother being gangraped, then killed along with all your children, and finally you yourself will be killed.

        Objectively, all of the above involve sin. What is the level of culpability, though?

        ‘We can form a false conscience by choice, a refusal of what the intellect apprehends as evil’

        Yes, but some may form a false conscience not by choice but erroneously. The intellect does apprehend evil in the case of some people but due to the presence of one or more factors cited earlier by the CCC, they reluctantly choose what they THINK is the lesser evil.

        ‘One who follows such a conscience and acts according to it acts against the law of God and sins mortally. For there was sin in the error itself, since it happened because of ignorance of what one should have known.’

        This applies in the case of ‘ignorance of what one should have known.’ Can it apply across the board to ALL other cases, especially those in which the other factors (afore-cited by the CCC) are involved?
        Example: duress/fear leading a person to choose what he THINKS is the lesser evil. Yes, even in such cases, there is sin but is it ALWAYS *mortal* sin?

        • JN thanks for a thorough analysis of variables affecting conscience and degrees of culpability. If one were to act on impulse on an occasion it’s perceivable that there may well be a remarkable diminished degree of culpability. A person who habitually practices a gravely sinful act deliberates the act whatever the conditions may be even if coerced [as the German soldier]. Perhaps a good analysis of this is found in the judicial system. Nuremberg jurors did not consider such coercion irresistible. And civil law consistently penalizes the role of accomplice whether or not coerced. Similarly in Catholic moral theology medical staff who indirectly assist in abortion for fear of losing their position are considered guilty of grave sin. A person living in an objectively sinful state has decided to remain in that state. Conditions affecting the decision to remain, children, finances, may reasonably mitigate to some degree different from say a serial murderer. Nonetheless they can’t absolve responsibility for a serious moral decision any more than conditions may affect all of us in moral decisions. If the degree of culpability is diminished it remains grave sin. Otherwise on a wider perspective conscience would be the exclusive arbitrator of good or evil, evil therefore absolved due to conditions cited in AL for all sin rather than the moral order, and it would not have been required for Christ to be crucified.

          • ‘A person who habitually practices a gravely sinful act deliberates the act whatever the conditions may be even if coerced [as the German soldier].’

            But consider:

            CCC 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.”
            CCC 1859: Mortal sin…implies a consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a *personal* choice.

            And as pointed out by the pope in AL, the CCC also holds that:
            (a) imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by…duress, fear, habit, and
            (b) circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility include “force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety,” (etc.)

            In his tortured / conflicted conscience, the German soldier in the fourth example (D) above does not want to kill the Jews. But he is being coerced at gun point *every* time, and his reasoning is to reluctantly choose at least the lesser evil (death of 2 people) instead of the greater evil (rape + death of more than 2 people).

            Considering the above, can it really be said that there is *deliberate* consent on his part – i.e., consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a *personal* choice? And can it still be said that imputability and responsibility are NOT diminished in this case due to duress, fear, habit and/or conditions of anxiety?

            (Civil law and the precedent set by the Nuremberg jurors need not always be in sync with or rise to the level of justice as seen by the Church in the ‘Tribunal of Mercy’, viz., the Confessional.)

            ‘A person living in an objectively sinful state has decided to remain in that state.’

            What if, here again, a proper discernment were to reveal that actually it is not a case of the person ‘deciding’ to remain in that state but being resigned to that state? (She realizes there is an irregularity but chooses what she *thinks* is the lesser evil of continuing to live reluctantly within such irregularity.)

            And as you admit: ‘Conditions affecting the decision to remain, children, finances, may reasonably mitigate to some degree different from say a serial murderer.’

            But in this case, it is moot whether there was a ‘decision’ per se [i.e. consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a *personal* choice] or simply a resignation to what is considered a lesser evil.

            Again, please note: I am not saying there is no irregularity / sin involved either in the German soldier case or in the case of the person living in an objectively sinful state. What needs to be discerned is the extent of culpability and whether there are any mitigating factors.

            ‘Nonetheless they can’t absolve responsibility…’
            Absolving of responsibility – perhaps not, but diminishing of responsibility…?

            ‘If the degree of culpability is diminished, it remains grave sin.’
            Objectively yes.
            But a pastor can discern subjective non-culpability in some cases and diminished responsibility in some other cases.

            Further, as mentioned in my post on Sept 30 at http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/09/29/questions-and-answers-on-the-filial-correction/, the Vademecum for Confessors also refers to inculpable errors of judgment and/or subjectively invincible ignorance – which also need to be considered in pastoral discernment.

      • JN this in reply to your last informative and appreciated comment. The Vademecum is designed for those living in a valid marriage with emphasis on guiding penitents toward a fuller expression of their Christian faith. Exceptions regards to invincible ignorance, habit, even conjugal chastity are understandable within that context and preserving the union, nevertheless always to gradually inform the conscience [conscience as the ultimate criterion understood as a false v conscience informed by the teachings of the Church] of the penitent always with the aim of preserving that marriage. Whereas the same leniency, exceptions, invincible ignorance for an invalid marriage contracted after valid marriage serves to accommodate adultery, a moral absolute not subject to exceptions, invincible ignorance and add injury to that initial valid union. An example is a recent case I addressed for a declaration of nullity where one party was abandoned by their spouse and left with their children. The person who abandoned the valid marriage entered into a civil union with another. How can it be morally conceivable that the premises referred to can be justifiably applied to the spouse who left their valid marriage and remarried civilly? This is one of the major complaints Laity faithful to their marriage, frequently abandoned make on Catholic websites in regards to the Pontiff’s policy of discernment and rectification of a divorced and remarried person. My conviction is that while it may seem compassionate to reconcile the disenfranchised the premises for discernment [needless to say very few pastors or associates are as well informed as you are] will erode the sacrament.

        • Yes, the Vademecum is designed for those living in a valid marriage and I can understand that it is morally inconceivable that the premises referred to can be justifiably applied to the example you cited. However, I wonder whether it is a bit of a leap from there to the sweeping conclusion that inculpable errors of judgment and/or subjectively invincible ignorance can NEVER exist in ANY irregular situation.

          As for subjective non-culpability and/or diminished responsibility, can it be said with surety that they have no relevance in pastoral discernment?

          Consider for example the following case:

          John and Sarah enter into a valid marriage in Church. They are blessed with 2 children. They get a civil divorce on grounds of incompatibility and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. John marries again. Sarah is unable to make ends meet and properly support her children. Mohammed comes into her life; he indicates his willingness to support her children; a civil marriage follows; 2 children are born in this new union. Sarah has a conversion experience; she wants to live as brother and sister with Mohammed. He doesn’t agree, threatens divorce, and forcibly has sex with her whenever he wants. She reluctantly submits each time because she fears/is anxious that she would end up being abandoned and left with no means to support 4 young children. She cannot go back to John because (1) he doesn’t want her back (2) he won’t accept her children by Mohammed (3) he is happily married.

          Can we throw the stone/brand Sarah as an adulteress, lock the prison door, throw away the key, and walk away?

          If a pastor looks at the CCC and AL quotes below to see how Sarah can be helped [including AL footnote 351, (viz, in CERTAIN cases, this CAN include the help of the sacraments)] – would he be guilty of ‘accommodating adultery’ and/or ‘eroding the sacrament’?

          CCC 1859: Mortal sin…implies a consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a *personal* choice.

          AL citing the CCC:
          Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by fear;
          Circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility include conditions of anxiety.

          Sarah regrets the past and wants to turn over a new leaf. Despite her actual wish to live as sister and brother with Mohammed (for the sake of primarily the children of the second union), is her continued reluctant submission to sex out of fear (of being divorced) and anxiety (of both her and her 4 children being abandoned) a consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a *personal* choice? Does such ‘consent’ make her guilty of *mortal* sin and thereby ineligible to approach the sacraments of healing and life?

          In the light of the above, I would encourage the (re)reading of chapter 8 of AL *in its entirety*, together with the footnotes.

          Finally, there is AL 308: I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does
          what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”.
          The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Jesus “expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated.”

          • I do agree JN that there are D&R who aren’t entirely culpable, that the Catholic woman Sarah who by intention [most important] decides to refrain from conjugal relations but who is forced by her Muslim husband to submit is not as described culpable of grave sin. Again there are exceptional cases and we can design them to make a case. In her case if she can’t leave that scenario with her children out of irresistible fear I agree she should be given communion following confession and the commitment to live as commanded by Christ. Otherwise discernment is not the answer unless it were Padre Pio or the Cure of Ars. Without tangible evidence few virtually no priest is capable of making that correct discernment, except by accident without tangible evidence. They are limited to value judgment of what the penitent says. Nothing more. Priests long before Pope Francis and AL have secretly practiced discernment and offered communion. Though I disagree it was and is a conscience issue for them. What Pope Francis has done is promote a universal policy based on an assumption in AL that the majority of D&R entered into an invalid union in their first Church marriage due to the myriad exceptions he cites in Amoris quoting Aquinas in ST 1a2ae 94, 4. And that mercy should prevail over judgment. And clergy throughout the Church are now implementing what will result in dissolution of the indissolubility of marriage. The evidence of a universal policy based on conscience is the Pontiff’s refusal to specify AL and to correct the growing number of dioceses and Nat Bishops Conferences that have adopted a policy of discernment for all priests and all D&R. To say it is really a narrow focused policy of discernment is bogus since there are no criteria for limiting which D&R are candidates for such a discernment. This in effect is a religious deception.

  7. Al this claims, that divorce is absolutely prohibited (… what God joined
    men shall not separate) make me to think,that people are selecting from the New Testament only what fits their perception. I do not need to have a Dr. in philosophy or represent high church hierarchy to be able to read. And reading
    Mathew 19.9 I see some exeption: “…if man divorce his wife for any other reason then unfaithfulness…” Here is the exeption. Mathew is directly quoting herr Jesus. So either he lied to us, or we believe him. What do we choose?

  8. I had thought Eden’s and Fastiggi’s piece was an exercise in futility and seemed desperate, as though they thought to themselves: what can we possibly come up with to counter this? As evidence of this, at least as regards the “filial correction,” the argument is not that the text of AL itself is heretical or cannot give an orthodox interpretation, so their piece missed the whole point. Otherwise they seem to be among those still in denial there is something very wrong occurring, and it’s all a matter of simply “misinterpreting” matters or of those nasty “traddy” folks who dare to point out the problems, who are (allegedly) being uncharitable towards Francis. This can also be seen in their support of a piece by Andrea Tornielli, which, it seems, they failed to discern was essentially an ad hominem attack- some of the signatories are malcontents who criticize everyone, including JPII, so don’t listen to them. Just about every reply to the correction and to concern of things occurring under this pontificate essentially boil down to ad hominem attacks: demonize, attack/insult, marginalize the critics, although Eden and Fastiggi’s at least attempted to address the substance. But no one yet has really addressed and certainly not refuted what the substance of the correction states.

  9. I have seen it said often that divorce is absolutely prohibited. It been my observation that such a statement creates more confusion and mis-understanding than clarity, and from my perspective, is not accurate. Certainly, the increased prevelance of divorce is troublesome as a societal ill but in order to received a decree of nullity, one must first complete the civil process of divorce. I have had personal experience with that scenario and have been married successfully for 42 years of a second marriage, not without its up and downs, but none the less still Lord blest.
    I would hope that the Church would make that distinction clear and encourage the following: that if Catholics find themselves in such the situation of a clearly failed marriage, for everyone’s sake, the better course is to end it and seek the healing process of an annulment. Of course, that should be accomplished before a civil re-marriage. Finally having been a divorcee for a 5 year period before remarrying in the Church, it is obviously both possible and required. Throughout it all, I never refrained from taking Communion.
    Why would I when I tried to avoid mortal sin and when I slipped, I’d avail my self of Reconciliation ASAP.
    Comments please.

    • Brian,
      Look hard at the first sentence of your second paragraph. An annullment is not for failed marriages per se. It is for marriages in which one or both were not capable of a vow or one or both faked a vow by mental reservation. But it is possible to have a failed marriage that is not susceptible of an annullment….ie both were capable of a vow and both meant the vow originally. They need to resurrect their love not seek an annullment which is about validity at the time of the vow via mental health, maturity, reservation etc. Good intact people can change for the worse and in scripture, Solomon is iconic of that.

  10. The article that Dr. Goldstein and I wrote was narrowly focused on the text of Amoris laetitia [AL] 303. We tried to make it clear that we need to understand the meaning from the text itself as contained in the normative Latin. Prof. Echeverria seems to argue that we can understand the meaning of AL 303 via inferences from other parts of the exhortation. These inferences, though, are open to question, but that would take a long time to explain. In addition to Prof. Echeverria, Dr. Goldstein and I also received replies to our article from Prof. E. Christian Brugger and Prof. Joseph Shaw. I give credit to Prof. Brugger for actually trying to argue for his interpretation from the normative Latin text. See https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/yes-amoris-laetitia-303-really-undermines-catholic-moral-teaching-scholar?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com&utm_campaign=e669782cae-Daily%2520Headlines%2520-%252 (which contains my response). I am glad Prof. Brugger raised the points that he did because it made me realize that his reading of the text is really untenable based on the text itself. Prof. Shaw in this article posted on Lifesite News tried to argue that there is no substantive difference between the meaning of the text in the normative Latin and that contained in the posted vernacular texts. I posted my response to him on LifeSite News Friday night only to discover it had been removed on Sat. morning. I posted it again on Sat. morning, and it was up for about 30 minutes and then removed. I’m glad I saved it as a file.

    Here is the essence of my argument:

    Perhaps there is no substantive change in meaning between the normative Latin text of AL, 303 and the other vernacular languages we mentioned. This, though, does not resolve the question of what the text actually means. Dr. Goldstein and I wrote our article to question the way Professors Seifert, Brugger and others understand the text. All of these interpreters seem to assume that “the generous response” owed to God in AL 303 necessarily involves objective sin. Dr. Goldstein and I do not believe the normative Latin text supports such a reading. There is no reason to believe that the “generous response” (liberale responsum) owed to God is the same as the “given situation” (statum quendam) “objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel.” Furthermore, a “response” involves an act of the will, but a “given situation” is a condition and not a personal act. How does one respond with a situation or condition? You can’t respond to a situation with the situation itself. This would be like someone being diagnosed with diabetes and responding to this condition with the diagnosis of diabetes. This makes no sense at all.

    Even in the other vernacular translations, there seems to be no reason to assume that “the generous response” (la risposta generosa; la respuesta generosa; la réponse généreuse; die grossherzige Antwort) is the same as “a situation” (una situazione; una situación; une situation; eine Situation). This is made even clearer by the Latin non modo (not only). Pope Francis is saying that conscience “can not only recognize a given situation to be objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel,” but “it can also (etiam) recognize sincerely and honestly what may be (quod sit) the generous response owed to God in the present circumstances.” The language of “not only … but also” suggests that something else is discerned by conscience beyond a simple recognition that one’s present situation is “objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel.” It would be absurd to think one could offer an objective sin to God. Dr. Goldstein and I, however, do not believe there is anything in the text that suggests that this is what Pope Francis meant. As we said in our article, we believe that the Holy Father is saying “that in some complex and irregular situations a person’s conscience will recognize that God is asking for a generous response, indeed an oblationem, or offering, that moves in the right direction even though it doesn’t completely rectify the objective irregularity of the situation.”

    Prof. Echeverria ends his article with a very valuable quote from Cardinal Müller about the need for more clarification, which can only be provided by the Pope. He fails, though, to mention that Cardinal Müller also says that “in Amoris Laetitia there’s no new doctrine or explication of some juridical points of the doctrine, but an acceptance of the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments.” Does Prof. Echeverria agree or disagree with Cardinal Müller in this regard? It would seem that he disagrees because in his April 2016 CWR article he claims that Pope Francis opens the door to situation ethics and implies support for the gradualness of the law. It’s difficult to see how AL could contain “an acceptance of the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments” and yet open the door to situation ethics and the gradualness of the law. It would also seem that Prof. Echeverria disagrees with Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishops Chaput, Sample, and Prendergast, as well as the Bishops of Poland and the Canadian Provinces of Alberta and the Northwest Territory along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Thomas Olmsted, James Conley, Steven Lopes, Philip Egan, and Vitus Huonder who all understand AL in line with Catholic tradition. Did they miss something or are they being dishonest? To be consistent Prof. Echeverria should be willing to correct them publicly for their endorsement of a papal exhortation that opens the door to situation ethics, the gradualness of the law, and undermines the need ‘for the grace of the sacrament of confession” (as he suggests in his April 2016 article).

    Prof. Echeverris is my colleague and my friend. I wish I could say he responded well to the article that Dr. Goldstein and I published. Unfortunately, he did not. Instead he repeated his problems with Amoris laetitia and failed to address the core of our article, which was narrowly focused on the text of AL 303 itself.

    • Robert F:

      I Can recognize – as many other observers do – that AL is written to function as one part of a 2-part mechanism.

      1st – AL itself is written ambiguously to allow for – 2nd a disobedient interpretion (i.e. disobedient to the command of Jesus and the 2000 years of teaching). This is what was intended and was done by the publication of AL and the subsequent interpretation in response by the Argentine Bishops (disobedient).

      This is intentional and deceptive behavior.

      Thus – your “narrowly focused” analysis of AL is moot. AL is written to enable contradictory interpretations.

    • I wish you had also addressed Dr. Shaw’s point that what you propose is not an argument of the correction and indeed of many critics of Al: as though the text of AL, at least #303, itself is explicitly heretical or cannot lend itself to an orthodox interpretation. Also, one of the points of those who state that AL is in line with Tradition is that it obviously cannot be against it, or that such an act of the papal magisterium could not teach error, and therefore it must be read in light of Tradition. However, this argument by authority you use is also weak because one could then cite the bishops and conferences, and advisors and spokesmen of Francis, who use AL to come up with teaching- and not merely discipline- contrary to Tradition. So, why do the bishops you cite get precedence and others with opposing interpretations do not? (And are you going to publicly correct those of the latter group?) And there we have the problem: the objective reality- and what the “correction” focused on- that AL is being used to come up with teaching contrary to Tradition, and that this arguably includes Francis himself, or that he is at least permitting and approving of these interpretations. As well, those who have claimed to speak for the mind of Francis have criticized the orthodox statements of some of those you mention.

      Although it is perhaps another issue in itself, it begs the question- but there is evidence of this- that AL was deliberately formulated in an ambiguous way so that opposing interpretations could be wrought, and once someone begins a practice based upon a heterodox interpretation, one cannot “put the genie back in the bottle,” and although doctrine will have formally remained intact in some ways, it has been gutted through opposing practice.

      And if it is all just a matter of misinterpretation/mistranslation, then it is even more bizarre why Francis or someone at the Holy See does not simply point this out. And, very importantly, you will notice that Francis and those around him do not say that critics have it wrong when they decry the heterodox interpretations, but rather, how these critics are rigid, etc., and not open to what the Holy Spirit is NOW supposedly inspiring, as opposed to what was previously inspired. One can thus ask: is there anything heterodox or problematic in those interpretations the correction or Echeverria have cited, such as from Archbishop Camille Paglia, Fr. Spadaro, Cardinal Kasper, Archbishop “tucho” Hernandez, the Maltese, Argentinian, German Conferences? If so- and let us take the Maltese guidelines for the sake of argument as they are the most far-reaching and questionable- how do they justify themselves through AL and the mind of Francis, as they do? Are they merely misinterpreting/mistranslating? Why has Francis not disavowed any part of these guidelines and indicated they do not contain his mind, but rather, given explicit public approval of them in toto? There is clearly something here other than mistranslation/misinterpretation, and it is a disservice to pretend there is not, and Francis needs to provide some answers.

    • Greetings Dr Fastiggi! Please forgive my slow mind in these matters, what a far cry this is from your lectures at Mundelein. I would like to ask here, as I have already done privately to Dr Goldstein-Eden, is this: What exactly does Dr Brugger mean by “obvious meaning” in his rebuttal to you chaps paper?

    • Can anyone remember any other time so many people went back and forth and spilled so much ink trying to figure out “What did the Pope mean”? The very fact that everyone is confused speaks the loudest.

  11. True there are nuances of difference in interpretation of AL. There is also a mistaken understanding of Aquinas in ST 1a2ae 94, 4 in which he refers to applying the positive principles of Justice, the right thing to do, whereas Adultery is a negative principle belonging to the coercive authority God has given to the Church. That coercive authority is absolute and not subject to variations of interpretation as one would deliberate whether they are obliged to return a borrowed weapon to an owner intent to kill. The two principles are essentially different. Insofar as “finding oneself in a situation” we are not speaking of finding oneself suddenly caught in a rainstorm. The “situation” is correctly understood by Echeverria as an act. The subject has freely chosen to D&R.

  12. Brian E. Downey:
    “I have seen it said often that divorce is absolutely prohibited. It been my observation that such a statement creates more confusion and mis-understanding than clarity, and from my perspective, is not accurate.”

    I think you are correct. The Church says that there are tragic circumstances where a divorce is necessary to protect the children or a spouse. But a divorce does not change the status of the marriage. Even though they are divorced, in the eyes of the Church they are still married.

    B.E.D.: “I would hope that the Church would make that distinction clear and encourage the following: that if Catholics find themselves in such the situation of a clearly failed marriage, for everyone’s sake, the better course is to end it and seek the healing process of an annulment.”

    This seems to imply that you feel that the Church can end a valid marriage. It cannot. It can examine the marriage and decide whether or not all of the requirements for a valid marriage existed AT THE TIME OF THE MARRIAGE. If all of those requirements existed, then the Church has no power to “dissolve” or end a valid marriage (other than the very limited circumstances for the Pauline or Petrine privilege), nor to grant a declaration of nullity.

    Here is a good article on it from the Knights of Columbus website:

    http://www.kofc.org/en/resources/cis/cis301.pdf

    an excerpt (p7-8):

    Thus a declaration of nullity is essentially different from a divorce. A divorce states that two people, who had been validly married, are married no longer. A declaration of nullity, on the other hand, states that because something which is necessary and indispensable for a valid marriage was missing at the time two people exchanged consent, a valid marriage has not come into existence. It is thus clear that an annulment is not a divorce, “Catholic” or otherwise.

    REASONS FOR AN ANNULMENT There are three ways in which Church law (also referred to as “canon law”) recognizes that a true and valid marriage does not exist in a previous union:
    1) where there was a lack or defect of what is called “canonical form.”
    2) where there was an impediment to the marriage.
    3) where there was a defect in the consent exchanged between the partners (the most significant in the majority of cases).

    B.E.D.: “Throughout it all, I never refrained from taking Communion. Why would I when I tried to avoid mortal sin and when I slipped, I’d avail my self of Reconciliation ASAP.
    Comments please.”

    I see no reason why you should refrain from Holy Communion if you are in a state of grace. Divorce itself is not a sin per se, but when there are sins involved leading up to or in seeking a divorce, they can be repented of and forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The enduring problem comes into play with remarriage. If there is no declaration of nullity, both parties are still married to each other, even if living apart. Sexual relations with anyone else is an act of adultery… even if they “marry” someone else. Confession requires repentance and “a firm purpose of amendment” to go and sin no more. If one is “married” to someone other than their spouse, and intend to have conjugal relations with someone other than the one that they originally validly married, if that spouse is still alive, then any confession would be invalid. Any such “marital relations” are in fact objectively gravely sinful acts of adultery.

  13. Looks like my previous post didn’t include the relevant quotes from your last post – so posting again…

    @ Fr Peter Morello – in reply to your comment on OCTOBER 3, 2017:

    {Again there are exceptional cases and we can design them to make a case…Priests long before Pope Francis and AL have secretly practiced discernment and offered communion.}

    Quite! So just as a long-held belief in the Assumption was officially declared in ‘Munificentissimus Deus’, a long-practiced discernment is now being officially recognized and urged in AL.

    {Otherwise discernment is not the answer unless it were Padre Pio or the Cure of Ars.}

    Er…with respect, surely we should be more confident that a duly disposed and humble pastor would live up to the task of exercising due diligence? He simply has to pray and allow the grace received at the laying on of hands to enable prudent discernment according to the mind of Holy Mother Church.
    (Or is that wishful thinking to be dismissed as naivete?!?)

    {Without tangible evidence, few virtually no priest is capable of making that correct discernment, except by accident without tangible evidence. They are limited to value judgment of what the penitent says. Nothing more.}

    But that statement of yours seems to be contradicted by what follows immediately thereafter, viz.:
    {Priests long before Pope Francis and AL have secretly practiced discernment and offered communion.}

    If those priests could do it, why not priests of today?

    Yes, priests do have to also take in good faith what penitents say in the internal forum. As the Vademecum says: ‘The minister of Reconciliation should always keep in mind that the sacrament has been instituted for men and women who are sinners. Therefore, barring manifest proof to the contrary, he will receive the penitents who approach the confessional taking for granted their good will to be reconciled with the merciful God, a good will that is born, although in different degrees, of a contrite and humbled heart (Psalm 50:19)’

    The penitent should obviously be reminded of the Pauline warning in 1 Cor.11:27-30 to worthily partake of the Supper. Thereafter, if the penitent doesn’t do his / her bit in discerning the Body of the Lord, the sin would be on his / her head, and that’s not a good place to find oneself in. Deliberate deception by a penitent in the Confessional is rare and a different can of worms.

    As for pastoral discernment, a humble, diligent pastor who asks for light from the Lord in discerning according to the mind of the Church would surely receive exactly what he needs.

    {What Pope Francis has done is promote a universal policy based on an assumption in AL that the majority of D&R entered into an invalid union in their first Church marriage due to the myriad exceptions he cites in Amoris quoting Aquinas in ST 1a2ae 94, 4}

    The Aquinas quote from ST, I-II, q. 94, art. 4. is seen in the section entitled ‘Rules and discernment’ in AL. I re-read Chapter 8 of AL [including the afore-mentioned section (# 304 to 306)] but have not been able to clearly identify the “assumption” which you speak of, viz., that {the majority (?) of D&R entered into an invalid union in their first Church marriage due to the myriad exceptions he cites in Amoris.}

    Even if such an assumption is right – irrespective of whether there is a ‘majority’ or not, – prudence demands that pastors should have actually exercised due diligence and discernment in understanding the actual facts of a case. What needs to be avoided is “a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues” (AL 312).

    Indeed, before the Aquinas quote, from the very first line of # 304, the Holy Father seems to be more anxious that discernment (*according to the mind of the Church*) not be treated mechanically but that it should be rightly and properly done – for he says: ‘It is *reductive* simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is NOT enough to discern and ensure FULL fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.’

    Moreover, in AL 300 he says: ‘…Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can *never* prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, *as proposed by the Church*. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”. These attitudes are *essential* for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours.’

    That’s pretty clear!

    {And that mercy should prevail over judgment.}

    Again, I re-read Chapter 8 of AL [and in particular the section entitled ‘The logic of pastoral mercy’] but have not been able to identify where the pope says there should be a “prevailing over” or where he implies that judgment is opposed or a hindrance to mercy.

    An example that serves to illustrate where he is coming from is AL 311: ‘…It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. ‘

    {And clergy throughout the Church are now implementing what will result in dissolution of the indissolubility of marriage.}

    Just as some people, misunderstanding / misinterpreting / selectively choosing from the Second Vatican Council documents, began implementing over-the-top changes based on an imagined “spirit of VC-II”, while others went to the other extreme of setting themselves up as some sort of de facto Magisterium, it wouldn’t be surprising if something similar happens in the case of AL. But in such a case, that would be error on the part of the pastor(s) concerned who are not thinking with the Church. Notwithstanding the possibility of such aberrations, it isn’t wise to ‘throw the baby (=discernment *according to the mind of the Church*) out with the bathwater’, though.

    {The evidence of a universal policy based on conscience is the Pontiff’s refusal to specify AL and to correct the growing number of dioceses and Nat Bishops Conferences that have adopted a policy of discernment for all priests and all D&R.}

    A universal policy based on *conscience*? I don’t see that in AL. I presume you meant ‘discernment.’

    As for {the Pontiff’s refusal to specify AL and to correct the growing number of dioceses and Nat Bishops Conferences that have adopted a policy of discernment for all priests and all D&R} – I think his rationale has been given in AL 3 and 300.

    To wit, AL 3: ‘Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.’

    And AL 300: ‘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…’

    {To say it is really a narrow focused policy of discernment is bogus since there are no criteria for limiting which D&R are candidates for such a discernment.}

    I don’t see why there should be {criteria for limiting which D&R are candidates for such a discernment.}
    Shouldn’t each case need to be carefully assessed by a pastor?

    {This in effect is a religious deception.}

    Is?
    Or
    appears to be / seems to be / is understood (wrongly) by some as?

    Finally, what is one to make of apparently conflicting interpretations of AL by different Nat Bishops Conferences?

    For example, the pope is said to have supported the Argentine Bishop’s Conference who have one interpretation of AL, in respect of which, the pope said: ‘There are no other interpretations’.
    The Polish Bishops Conference have a different understanding.

    Does it necessarily indicate that AL is wrong?
    I don’t think so.
    Does it indicate that one is right and the other is wrong?
    Again, I don’t think so – for, I submit, they both can be right!

    How can this be?
    My musings are as follows:

    I think the AL 3 quote above, particularly the lines:
    ‘Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but *this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it*’
    and
    ‘Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs’
    are instructive.

    Together with that, we must take note of the line in AL 308 which says: ‘I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.’

    Per the pope, Church teaching can include “various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching” – this means, he is ok with “various ways” – *so long as they remain within the overall mind of the Church.*

    Church teaching can even involve “rigorous pastoral care” or “non rigorous pastoral care”.

    ‘*Rigorous* pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion’ is not condemned as such. It is implicitly accepted as *a* (but not the only!) way. The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia urges / exhorts “non rigorous pastoral care”.

    Thus, when Pope Francis endorses the Argentine Bishop’s Conference’s interpretation and says ‘there are no other interpretations’, what he means is that their interpretation is in line with the ‘non-rigorous’ pastoral care which he is urging / exhorting.

    But at the same time, he (or the CDF) has not condemned the Polish Bishops Conference’s understanding. This indicates that the latter have either chosen the ‘rigorous pastoral care’ path interpretation of Church teaching or gone by that bit in AL 3 which says: ‘Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs’.

    Bottomline: doctrine / dogma remain untouched and unchanged while in (sacramental) discipline and pastoral care, freedom / leeway has been recognized (AS LONG AS everything is done *within* the bounds of Church teaching / according to the mind of the Church).

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