So much to discuss, and I won't come close to getting to it all.
But, first, I suggest we observe a moment of respect for Dogma, which is
so often treated shabbily and disdainfully, especially by cowards,
fools, and sycophants:
the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my
religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any
other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream
and a mockery. As well can there be filial love without the fact of a
father, as devotion without the fact of a Supreme Being. What I held in
1816, I held in 1833, and I hold in 1864. Please God, I shall hold it to
the end. ...
Secondly, I was confident in the truth of a
certain definite religious teaching, based upon this foundation of
dogma; viz. that there was a visible Church, with sacraments and rites
which are the channels of invisible grace. I thought that this was the
doctrine of Scripture, of the early Church, and of the Anglican Church.
Here again, I have not changed in opinion; I am as certain now on this
point as I was in 1833, and have never ceased to be certain.
That from Apologia Pro Vita Sua by Blessed John Henry Newman, who was not a coward or a fool, or anything resembling a sycophant.
Back on January 8th, on the Epiphany of the Lord, the Chicago Sun-Times reported
that Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago was "presiding over the opening mass
for National Migration Week at Holy Name Cathedral. People from more
than 40 countries participated in the service, many dressed in their
native garb. The service was meant to answer Pope Francis’ call 'for a
culture of encounter with all immigrants and refugees.'" This stood out:
his homily, Cupich compared the strife of present-day migrants to the
magi who sought Jesus Christ after his birth. Cupich said “there is
great joy that the church experiences day after day as it works with
migrants and immigrants,” helping them find jobs or places to live.
The comparison is curious. The magi from the East were not migrants;
they were not fleeing their country; they were not looking for a place
to live; they did not require assistance in finding a permanent
residence. And, having visited the Christ Child and the Holy Family, we
read, they were "warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [and] they
departed to their own country by another way" (Matt 2:12). This is not
to express some partisan point about immigrants and refugees, but to note the misuse of Scripture for political ends by certain Church leaders.
Cardinal Cupich refers to "following the light of diversity", as if the
magi's decision to follow the star can be crammed into a discussion
about immigration policy that appears to have only two sides: the
enlightened, loving side that welcomes everyone regardless, and the
bigoted, fearful side (equated somehow with Herod's fears) that seeks to
shut down borders altogether. (Here is the full homily; more on the Cardinal in Chicago below.)
Following the Trump administration's executive order on immigrationwhich inspired the New York Times
to deem President Trump a Christian theocrat and the U.S. bishops to
question if he possessed any Christian virtuesArchbishop José H. Gomez
of Los Angeles wrote an essay for CNA
that had a little bit of everything in it. One point of criticism in that essay seems
to be on very solid ground: "The first thing to say is that these
executive orders seem like they were put together too fast. Not enough
thought seems to have been given to their legality or to explaining
their rationale or to considering the practical consequences for
millions of people here and across the globe."
Fair enough. But then there was this:
does God intend our compassion for people to stop at the borders of
Syria? Are we now going to decide that some people are not worthy of our
love because they have different skin color, a different religion or
were born in the “wrong” country?
As a pastor, what troubles me
is that all the anger, confusion and fear that resulted from last week’s
orders was entirely predictable. Yet that does not seem to have
mattered to the people in charge.
First, the President and his
administration are notor should not bein the business of figuring out
who is "worthy of our love"; they have the responsibility of taking
prudent and lawful measures to defend and protect the United States.
Most people who are not U.S. citizens do not, strictly speaking, have a
right to enter and live in this country, just as I don't have the right
to move to Canada, Mexico, or Italy and expect to be given entrance,
shelter, and whatever else I ask for or demand. Nations have a right and
a duty to control their borders; the government should not be in the
business of "love" (as the 2015 SCOTUS ruling on "Obergefell" suggests
Secondly, Archbishop Gomez expressed his deep concerns
about how the executive order has led to anger, confusion and feara
result that those in political leadership didn't appear to foresee or even really care about.
I must say, I had the same reaction and thought upon reading “Amoris Laetitia” the first time. As I wrote after reading the Exhortation:
the chapters on “pastoral perspectives” (ch. 6) and “accompanying,
discerning and integrating weakness” (ch. 8) are often problematic, even
contradictory. Many of those divorced and in “a new union,” says
Francis, have “proven fidelity, generous self-giving, Christian
commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great
difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would
fall into new sins”.
curious statement is followed up by a footnote that casts direct doubt
on the realistic possibility of such couples abstaining from sexual
relations - by referencing a passage from Gaudium et Spes that has
nothing at all to do with those divorced and civilly remarried. Other
footnotes also puzzle. There are constant calls for “discernment” and
references to impediments and problems that mitigate responsibility and
culpability, to the point that one wonders if any married person has
ever really committed an actual sin.
I summed up my CWR piece
on it by saying, "In short, this is a text that has something for
everyone, and a text that will likely frustrate everyone as well." As
many readers know, the confusion, frustration, and even anger has only
we have in many instances, then, are bishops addressing political
policies in great detail while laity grapple with matters of faith and
morals. There's nothing wrong with that in theory, but in both practical
and pastoral terms it's becoming a complete disaster. One of the
pressing problems within the Church is a deep erosion of trust in
bishops, especially when bishops don't seem focused on proclaiming the
Gospel in and out of season.
In my opinion, Amoris Laetitia
(which does in fact have several excellent and edifying passages), has
become a disaster, in no small part because the ambiguity of chapter 8
has now led to a glaring gash and clash within the Church over the matter
of Communion for divorced-and-"remarried" Catholics. There have been, of
course, many attempts to proclaim the "clarity" of the chapter in
question, with each declaration becoming a bit more surreal and a bit
more frustrating. Thus, here is Cardinal Cupich today:
#AmorisLaetitia expresses with “absolute clarity" marriage doctrine in full fidelity to traditional Church teaching https://t.co/CkFAj1dMH5
Cardinal Cupich (@CardinalBCupich) February 14, 2017
who? Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical
Council for Legislative Texts, whose 30-page booklet, published by the
Vatican publishing house, was presented earlier today in the Vatican.
And what did Cardinal Coccopalmerio have to say at the presentation?
Well, nothing at all, as he wasn't present:
"Presenting the book, Father Maurizio Gronchi, theologian, professor at
Rome’s Pontifical Urbaniana University and consultant at the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and veteran journalist
Orazio La Rocca, expert in Vatican affairs." Phil Lawler remarks on the strange absence of the Cardinal:
the Vatican announced a press conference for the launch of the
Coccopalmerio bookwith enough ballyhoo to confirm the impressions that
this was a bid to end the debatethe cardinal himself failed to appear
for the event. The cardinal’s office explained that he had a scheduling
Now wait just a minute. If you are a publisher, planning the launch of a new book, the very first thing you do is make sure the author will be available for the press conference. If you are the author, and a date is suggested, the very first thing you do
is check for potential conflicts. Are we really expected to believe
that neither the author nor the publisher did the very first thing to
ensure that the press conference would be a success? If this book (a
booklet, really) was considered so important, why couldn’t the cardinal
rearrange his schedule to attend the press conference, even if he did
have a conflict?
Much attention was given this book presentation
as it was rumored to be a sort of unofficially official papal response
to the dubia presented last fall by the four Cardinals. But apparently that wasn't the case at all. What was going on? The CNS piece about the event contains this strange bit of confusing descriptive:
Costa told reporters the cardinal’s book is not “the Vatican response”
to the challenges posed by U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and three
retired cardinals to the supposed lack of clarity and potential
misunderstanding of “Amoris Laetitia.” Rather, he said, it is an
“authoritative” reading of the papal document and a contribution to the
So, it's not a "Vatican response", although
Cardinal Coccopalmerio is part of the Vatican, but it is authoritative,
presumably because Cardinal Coccopalmerio is part of the Vatican. Got
it? Keep that in mind.
The news accounts indicate that all the
usual, dreary, shallow arguments have been recycled by Cardinal
Coccopalmerio, with the following quote from his book (translated by Fr. Z) indicating that the papacy of sentimentality may not have been officially involved, but was certainly an influence:
and remarried, unmarried couples living together, are certainly not
models of unions in harmony with Catholic doctrine, but the Church
cannot look the other way. For which reason the sacraments of
reconciliation and of communion ought to be given also to so-called
wounded families and to those who even though living in situations not
in line with the traditional canons on matrimony, express a sincere
desire to draw closer to the sacraments after an adequate period of
Ah, "sincere desire"! One need not be a canon lawyer,
theologian, or low-level bureaucrat to realize that if "sincere desire"
is the criteria, then there ain't much of a criteria. For more on all
of that, see Dr. Edward Peters' post: "Cardinal Coccopalmerio's blow upon a bruise".
I was reminded by a CWR contributor that back in July 2000, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts issued this Declaration "Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who Are Divorced and Remarried". One excerpt out of many possible:
In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.
2. Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon's substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading. One cannot confuse respect for the wording of the law (cfr. can. 17) with the improper use of the very same wording as an instrument for relativizing the precepts or emptying them of their substance.
A week ago Our Sunday Visitor newspaper published a piece, "Implementation split on new family teaching," by Brian Fraga that captured some of theagainconfusion:
intellectuals, moral theologians and journalists seem to be just as
divided as bishops when analyzing whether Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic
exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), permits
Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church to receive
absolution and the Eucharist. …
Regardless of whether they
believe the exhortation provides them with flexibility, the fact is that
many bishops in the Church have taken the same document and arrived at
very different conclusions on what it says about admitting back to the
sacraments divorced and civilly remarried Catholics whose first union
has not been annulled by the Church.
Examples are given; I am
quoted as saying: "All of us, no matter our situation, are called to
reject and confess sin, live rightly according to the commands of the
Lord and his Church, and not seek excuses or exceptions that justify our
situation or weakness..." I also sent Mr. Fraga the following remarks, which
were not included in his article, about the Malta directive which stated
that if after a process of “discernment” a divorced-and-"remarried"
couple "manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to
acknowledge and believe that [they] are at peace with God, [they] cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of
Reconciliation and the Eucharist” and then cites Amoris Laetitia (notes 336, 351):
terms of faith and the sacraments, this is deeply problematic since no
Catholic can absolve himself from sins, and certainly no Catholic can be
absolved from a sin when they know they are committing an act of sin.
Morally, that document flatly states that some such Catholic are in
"complex situations where the choice of living 'as brothers and sisters'
becomes humanly impossible and give rise to greater harm” (again citing
AL, note 329). Further, that meansput bluntlythat some people are in
such “complex” situations that God’s grace is not sufficient. Or that
there are situations in which people have no choice but to commit acts
that are sinful. And that, of course, is not just false, but very
dangerous for the spiritual well-being of souls.
All that to
say that many bishops, of course (Abps. Sample of Portland and Chaput,
for example, here in the U.S.), rightly reject these sorts of
interpretations, and insist that AL must be interpreted in light of and
in harmony with the Tradition, which teaches very clearly that those
with grave sin must not receive Communion. That teaching, it must be
noted, has not changed, and a statement by a group of bishops or a hazy
footnote in an Apostolic Exhortation cannot change it.
There are other issues, not as often remarked, including how we understand the nature of the Church and the communio
that exists within her for the sake of union with Christ and the
salvation of souls. For instance, to speak of "the issue of how to
reintegrate divorced and civilly remarried Catholics into the life of
the Church” could be taken to suggest that such folks are outside the
Church or are being pushed away from the Church. But that, I would
insist, is faulty and misleading, for the Body of Christ is always open
to everyone who is willing, by God’s grace, to do what is necessary to
have full communion, to be holy, and to be perfect as the Father is
perfect (cf. Matt 5:48). All of us, no matter our situation, are called
to reject and confess sin, live rightly according to the commands of the
Lord and His Church, and not seek excuses or exceptions that justify
our situation or weakness.
Returning to the matter of
authoritative readings, varying interpretations, and conflicting
perspectives among bishops and cardinals, the OSV article has this
humdinger of a quote:
Father James Bretzke, a moral theologian at Boston College, noted that
Pope Francis’ reluctance to further clarify the document and its
application is intentional. “Pope Francis is well aware of what’s going
on, but I think he believes, methodologically as a way of governance,
that these sorts of issues are best interpreted at the ground level,”
Father Bretzke said. “He has by and large avoided the temptation to come
down on high and cut off discussion or responses at lower levels, and
not just in this area, but many others as well. This is the principle of
subsidiarity in practice.”
No, not really. And for the simple
reason that doctrineand, yes, we are talking about doctrine, not just
"pastoral practice"is not up for democratic vote, or some sort of
regional movement this way or that way. The notion that Situation A and
Situation B can be identical, but one will handled in a completely
opposite way because it is in Chicago and not Krakow is absurd, unless
you believe the Anglican Communion's approach to governance, authority,
faith and morals, and doctrinal truth has been a winning, smashing
innovation. Subsidiarity, while an essential part of the Church's social
philosophy, is all about political governance and the relationship
between immediate or local social institutions and more distant
institutions, especially the State:
understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or
juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a
corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to
refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space
of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom
and responsibility must not be supplanted. (Compendium, 186; cf CCC 1883-85)
Pope, as supreme pastor of the Church, has a duty and responsibility to
defend, uphold, and clarify Church doctrine, especially relating to
faith and morals (cf. CCC, 888-892). Does the approach being taken by
Pope Francis indicate that is what he is doing? Or wishes to do?
Which brings me to these bracing remarks, made by Douglas Farrow in the March 2017 edition of First Things:
with a pope whose own remarks seem somewhat erratic is one thing. But
how are we to reckon with a situation in which the administration of the
sacraments, and the theology behind their administration, is
succumbing, with his blessing, to regionalism? In other words, how are
we to reckon with a situation, nicely timed to the quincentenary of the
Reformation, in which being Catholic begins to look quite a lot like
The trauma of the two synods on the family,
which led to Amoris and to the dubia, is a trauma for which Francis
himself is largely responsible. The ongoing rebellion against Humanae
Vitae and Veritatis Splendor is something that he has permitted, if not
encouraged. And the flaws in Amoris are of his making. His unwillingness
to respond directly to the dubia is not, then, a matter of taste only.
In any event, the very fact that the dubia have been putand they have
been well put, whether or not they should have been put publiclyhas
carried the whole difficulty beyond matters of taste. Cardinal Müller’s
denial that there is a doctrinal problem here is unconvincing. ..
can be no surprise, then, that the sacraments are under renewed attack.
For the sacraments are the means by which the Church is ordered and by
which she distinguishes, on a practical level, between good and evil.
(What is the point of forbidding the evil of divorce, if not to uphold
the good of marriage and its witness to the covenant of our salvation?
What is the point of forbidding suicide and euthanasia, if not to uphold
the sanctity of life and the good of honoring the Lord and Giver of
Life?) The sacraments, of course, are much more than that. They are
instruments of grace by which God communicates to us his own life
through participation in our Lord Jesus Christ. They are not rewards for
goodness, but the means of sharing in the God who is good. That is why
they are holy sacraments, and it is their very holiness that makes them
the object of attack.
If the sacraments were merely means of
moral and ecclesial order, or rewards for goodness, it might very well
be “pharisaical” to deny them to those deemed somehow disordered, given
that we are all disordered, each in our own way. We might then appeal
for greater flexibility in sacramental discipline, tempering our concern
for justice by our concern for mercy. But the sacraments are not ours;
they are Christ’sjust as our bodies are not strictly ours, but have
been reclaimed by God in Christ. We do no justice to the mercy of
Christ, we show no mercy to those who would enter the justice of Christ,
if we change the conditions for reception of the sacraments to conform
to private decisions about good and evil.
Amen and amen!
Oh, and speaking of God communicating to us his own life through
participation in our Lord Jesus Christ, I do heartily recommend reading Called To Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification (Ignatius Press, 2016).