Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., center, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and law professor Helen Alvare at George Mason University are seen April 8 in Washington prior to the start of a discussion about Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on family life. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
There are as one might expect in a document of this length and written with access to the kinds of resources a pope commands, many good things said about marriage in Amoris.
Whether those things speak with any special profundity or clarity is
better left, I think, for each reader to decide individually.
said, however, one must recall that Francis is not a systematic
thinker. While that fact neither explains nor excuses the various
writing flaws in Amoris, it does help to contextualize them.
Readers who are put off by more-than-occasional resort to platitudes,
caricatures of competing points of view, and self-quotation simply have
to accept that this is how Francis communicates.
Some juridic issues that were widely anticipated include:
Holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Francis does not
approve this central assault tactic against the permanence of marriage,
but neither does he clearly reiterate constant Church teaching and
practice against administering the Eucharist to Catholics in irregular
marriage situations. And, speaking of ‘irregular marriage’, nearly every
time Francis uses that traditional phrase to describe what could more
correctly be termed pseudo-marriage, he puts the word “irregular” in
scare quotes, as if to imply that the designation is inappropriate and
that he is using it only reluctantly.
Internal forum. Francis makes almost no commentary on the so-called “internal forum” solution. What little comment he does make on the internal forum in AL 300 is not controversial.
Canon law in general. Francis makes almost no use of canon law in Amoris. What few canonical comments he does make are not controversial.
‘Same-sex marriage’. Francis leaves no opening whatsoever that ‘same-sex marriage’ can ever be regarded as marriage. AL 251.
Some problematic points (in no special order) include:
Speaking of divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, Francis writes:
“In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility
of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point
out that if certain expressions of intimacy [i.e., sexual intercourse]
are lacking ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the
good of the children suffers’ (Gaudium et spes, 51).” AL fn. 329. I fear this is a serious misuse of a conciliar teaching. Gaudium et spes
51 was speaking about married couples observing periodic abstinence.
Francis seems to compare that chaste sacrifice with the angst public
adulterers experience when they cease engaging in illicit sexual
2. Speaking of “Christian marriage, as a reflection
of the union between Christ and his Church”, Francis writes “Some forms
of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at
least a partial and analogous way.” AL 292. This simple phrasing
requires significant elaboration: forms of union that most radically contradict
the union of Christ and his Church are objectively adulterous
post-divorce pseudo-marriages; forms of union that reflect this union in
a partial, but good, way are all natural marriages. These two
forms of union are not variations on a theme; they differ in kind, not
just in degree.
3. Speaking of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church
2384 describes as “public and permanent adultery”, Francis writes that
some post-divorce marriages can exhibit “proven fidelity, generous
self-giving, [and] Christian commitment”. AL 298. Many will wonder how
terms such as “proven fidelity” can apply to chronically adulterous
relationships or how “Christian commitment” is shown by the public and
permanent abandonment of a previous spouse.
4. In AL 297, Francis
writes: “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic
of the Gospel!” To the contrary, it is precisely the logic of the
Gospel that one can be condemned forever. CCC 1034-1035. If one meant,
say, that no one can be ‘condemned for ever’ by earthly authority,
one should have said so. But, of course, withholding holy Communion
from those in “public and permanent adultery” is not a “condemnation” at
all, so the point being made is not clear.
5. In AL 280-286,
directly discussing sex education for youth, I did not see any
acknowledgement, indeed not even a mention, that parents have rights in
this important area. Perhaps that is to be gleaned from comments about
parents made elsewhere in AL.