Pope Francis and Ideology

It is unfortunate that the Holy Father’s overall emphasis on legalism is such that he never addresses the antithesis of legalism, namely, antinomianism, leaving us with a lopsided picture of contemporary culture.

Pope Francis leads his general audience at the Vatican Jan. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has consistently spoken out against the temptation of “making the Gospel an ideology”, as he did in Bogota on September 7, 2017. Earlier in a homily on May 19, 2017, Francis warned about making “doctrine .. . an ideology”. What is ideology? And how does the Gospel and doctrine become ideological? He doesn’t really say. Still, the best place to look for an answer to this crucial question as to what is ideology is his July 28, 2013 Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM).

What is ideology?

What, according to Francis, renders the Gospel an ideology? In this address, we get an answer to this question. Ideology is a perennial temptation, he says, “to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church.” What does Francis mean by this?

The Church’s life of faith is, according to Francis, an indispensable epistemic and hermeneutical context for properly interpreting the Gospel. Furthermore, the Gospel is not to be reduced to interpretations of faith, but rather the Gospel itself provides its own meaningful content, its own message, which is a transcultural substance of faith that is the normative basis of our non-ideological interpretations (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nos. 40-41, 45, 116-117, 129). Any approach that succumbs to the above described temptation would be epistemically and hermeneutically defective because it measures the Gospel by an external standard that is foreign to the revelatory narrative.

Moreover, Pope Francis is self-consciously aware that there can be no interpretation of the Gospel without presuppositions. He explicitly rejects a “neutral” (his own word is “antiseptic”) hermeneutics—in other words, a presuppositionless hermeneutics, that is, “detached and unengaged, which is impossible.” He adds, “The way we ‘see’ is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. . . . The question [is], rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it?” He replies: “With the eyes of discipleship.” In other words, with the eyes of the supernatural gift of faith we see reality, make judgments, and then act as missionary disciples.

Examples of ideology

What are some examples of an ideological rendering of the Gospel that Francis gives in the 2013 CELAM address? Sociological reductionism, for one, which “involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.” For another, there is what Francis calls “psychologizing,” “which ultimately reduces the ‘encounter with Jesus Christ’ and its development to a process of growing self-awareness. . . . It ends up being an immanent, self-centered approach. It has nothing to do with [self-] transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.”

Still another is what the pope calls the “Gnostic solution.” This too purports to offer a “higher spirituality.”

It was the first deviation in the early community [see the works of Irenaeus] and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally, its adherents are known as ‘enlightened Catholics’ (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

Turning now to the question regarding the rendering of doctrine as an ideology, how does one become an “ideologue of doctrine,” as Francis puts it? Briefly, by ideologues of doctrine, on the one hand, Francis seems to means people who just want the Church to “indoctrinate,” to “rubberstamp” its teaching, say, about marriage and family, indeed, to take “dead stones to be hurled at others.” They are legalist, and hence ideologues of doctrine. Typical of Francis’s rhetoric here is to claim that the legalist is dogmatic or rigid, offering general and abstract norms. In response to such a view, Francis says, in his concluding speech at the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family, “The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness”. He adds elsewhere in the same vein, “Their [ideologue of doctrine] hearts, closed to God’s truth, clutch only at the truth of the Law, taking it by ‘the letter’”. One can find similar comments throughout his pontificate.

On the other hand, by ideologues of doctrine Francis seems to mean those who manifest a “hostile inflexibility,” succumbing to the temptation that in thinking about doctrine there is only one way to express or formulate in sentences those fundamental doctrinal truths. So, if one varies from those particular traditional formulations, he is ruled out as lacking in orthodoxy (see “Pope Francis’s Address to the Synod Fathers,” October 18, 2014). Thus, the great danger posed by ideologues of doctrine, according to Pope Francis, is that even “with the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity” we may “hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance” (Evangelii gaudium, no. 41). Francis urges us to resist doctrinal rigidity, that is, immobilism at the level of theological formulation or expression, because it may lead to petrifaction of the understanding of faith.

Informing the pope’s resistance is the Lérinian legacy of Pope John XXIII, who draws on Vatican Council I, which had in turn drawn on the monk and theologian St. Vincent of Lérins (died c. 445). I have written extensively about this legacy most recently in my book, Revelation, History, and Truth: A Hermeneutics of Dogma (Peter Lang Publishing, 2018) This legacy is, arguably, based on the distinction between truth and its historically conditioned formulations, between form and content, propositions and sentences, which was presupposed by John XXIII in his opening address at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia. John stated: “For the deposit of faith, the truths contained in our sacred teaching, are one thing; the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [eodem sensu eademque sententia], is another thing.” The subordinate clause in this passage is part of a larger passage from Vatican I (Dei Filius 4.13-14), and this passage is itself from the Commonitórium primum 23.3 of Vincent of Lérins:

Therefore, let there be growth and abundant progress in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, in each and all, in individuals and in the whole Church, at all times and in the progress of ages, but only with the proper limits, i.e., within the same dogma, the same meaning, the same judgment.

Some brief comments here are in order. The terms used by Francis are inexact, and the contexts in which they are used is not always evident to the reader, but nonetheless we can get within range of what he is pointing at.

Critique of ideology

So, regarding the “psychologizing” ideology, one might think in terms of what philosopher Charles Taylor describes as the “new individualism.” With the emphasis of this individualist search for authenticity promising “to help you find yourself, realize yourself, release your true self, and so on” (A Secular Age, 475), we can understand why Francis holds this approach to be immanent and self-centered. Adds Francis, “[I]t can take the form of a spiritual consumerism tailored to one’s unhealthy individualism” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 89).

Regarding the “gnostic solution,” we get a definite clue to understanding the pope’s meaning here and why he calls “enlightened Catholicism” a version of Gnosticism. Gnostics appealed to a secret heritage that was a source of revelation parallel to Scripture and hence they claimed to have unlocked the true meaning of Scripture. Similarly, like a gnostic, “enlightened Catholics” claim to have a more profound understanding of revelation and hence they break, according to the then Joseph Ratzinger, the “connection of the living faith with the authority of the Church, embodied in the episcopal succession.”

In his own words, the gist of Pope Francis’s critique of “enlightened Catholicism” is: “The temptation to neglect the ‘depositum fidei’ [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]”. We may put Francis’s critique of “enlightened Catholicism” in line with Vatican I’s teaching:

For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy Mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. (Chapter 4, nos. 13-14)

Ideologues of the Gospel and doctrine

These three examples are insightful (albeit brief) critiques of ideologues of the Gospel. I have written at length in Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II (Lectio Publishing, 2015) about both aspects that I have suggested above are implied in his view of those Francis calls doctrinal ideologues. Legitimate questions arise from Francis’s critique of doctrinal ideologues despite claims by some to the contrary. I’ll highlight two issues here.

First, the pope’s overall emphasis on legalism is such that he never addresses the antithesis of legalism, namely, antinomianism (from Greek anti, against + nomos, law), leaving us with a lopsided picture of contemporary culture. And we surely live in a culture of antinomianism, of moral subjectivism, emotivism, relativism, situation ethics. Furthermore, confusion over Francis’s view of the moral law arises, in particular, from the contrast that he draws between “letter and spirit”. What does he mean? He doesn’t say. Is Francis placing the Spirit over against the content and demands of the moral law? Surely not, but undoubtedly these statements above beg for clarification. Moreover, and most to the point, Francis never actually addresses the question: if the moral law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7:12), which he surely believes it is (see Amoris Laetitia [AL], no. 295), then what is its validity in all situations of the Christian life?

The importance of this question especially arises in Chapter 8 of AL, particularly given the reintroduction of proportionalism in the moral logic of pastoral reasoning (AL, Footnote 329, and nos. 298, 304-305). This logic seems to tilt in the direction of a situation ethics at the level of pastoral care, and hence, despite Francis’s disclaimer to the contrary (AL, nos. 295, 300), of the gradualism of the law, meaning thereby that there are “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations” (John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, no. 34). I say despite his disclaimer that he is not proposing a gradualness of the law because 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.

Unlike Aquinas, however, Francis overlooks the distinction between “moral absolutes” (exceptionless moral norms, or negative moral norms that hold semper et ad semper) and “prima facie obligations” (affirmative norms). This results in a conflict between the objective moral law that holds semper et ad semper (“always and forever”), such as, adultery is objectively wrong, on the one hand, and pastoral practice on the other. Regarding pastoral practice, 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? Opinions differ about his response to this question. I have written about this issue in an earlier Catholic World Report article and so I won’t repeat myself here. For now, let us just note that the pope attempts to free himself from “legalism,” a “cold bureaucratic morality” (AL, no. 312), and hence from being a “doctrinal ideologue,” by applying a moral logic of pastoral practice that seeks situational exceptions to the moral law and hence creates a conflict with what Francis clearly accepts on theological grounds, namely the moral absolute and hence exceptionless moral norm that adultery is wrong (AL, nos. 303-305). Hence, the specter that the Church maintains a double standard, which is exactly what Pope Francis rejects (AL, no. 300), looms large in discussions of the moral logic of pastoral reasoning.

Second, regarding doctrinal truth, confusion over Francis’ view of doctrine also arises again from the contrast that he draws between “letter and spirit,” insisting that “the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit.” What is the difference between the “letter” of the doctrine and its “spirit”? Francis doesn’t say. Perhaps Francis’s answer to this question is expressed by him in the following claim, “In reality, doctrine has the sole purpose of serving the life of the People of God and it seeks to assure our faith of a sure foundation” (Address to the Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, January 31, 2014).

But how does doctrine serve that purpose? And how does doctrine have a secure foundation?

Lérinian legacy of Vatican II vs. a pastoral approach to doctrine

Yes, the pope warns against reducing doctrines “to a set of abstract and static theories,” and in that sense urges the pastoral purpose of doctrine. Still, he doesn’t set up an opposition between doctrine and pastoral care: “Theology and pastoral care go together. A theological doctrine that cannot be guiding and shaping the evangelizing purpose and pastoral care of the church is just as unthinkable as a pastoral care that does not know the treasure of revelation and tradition with a view to better understanding and transmission of the faith” (“Discorso Del Santo Padre Francesco Alla Comunita Accademica Del Pontificio Istituto Giovanni Paolo II Per Studi Su Matrimonio E Famiglia”). Yet, Francis’s rhetoric about doctrines raises question about whether he is anti-doctrinal. A representative example of such rhetoric is found in AL.

He claims there that “at times we [the Church] have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, from removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families” (AL, no. 36). He speaks of an “excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace” (Ibid). Francis adds, “[This] has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.” Speaking of situations common in our culture that contradict the Church’s teaching on marriage, the pope says, the Church must refrain from

imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would ‘indoctrinate’ that message, turning it into ‘dead stones to be hurled at others. (AL, no. 49)

Now, some interpreters (e.g., Richard Gaillardetz) of Pope Francis’s rhetoric have wrongly suggested that he is really defending what they call a “pastoral approach to doctrine.” But this approach tends to reduce the content of faith (fides quae creditur) to its purpose, and this is not Francis’s Lérinian position. In fact, like John XXIII, he calls for the preservation of the “integrity of the faith.” Says Francis, “We see then that the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances. It constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 45).

Furthermore, a pastoral approach to doctrine wrongly suggests that the unchangeable truths of doctrines is unknowable such that nothing determinate and true can be said and known about them. This approach is historicist in perspective, in short, collapsing the dogmatic distinction of unchanging truth and its formulations into a historical context, meaning thereby, as Christoph Theobald, SJ, puts it, “subject to continual reinterpretation according to the situation of those to whom it is transmitted.” This historicist “turn” in a pastoral-oriented model of doctrinal change results in a model in which both truth itself and its formulations are subject to reform and continual reinterpretation and re-contextualization such that “doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge [because] particular doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God’s transforming love.”

But this model of perpetual hermeneutics fails as an interpretation of Pope Francis because it is inconsistent with his Lérinian perspective of Vatican II. According to that perspective, it is reality, which can be known by us, and in that sense provides our faith with a “sure foundation.” For dogmatic formulations, to quote the British Catholic theologian Gavin D’Costa, “must bear some determinative relationship to truth itself . . . unless one has a view that language has no proper referencing function to reality.” And perpetual hermeneutics would be inconsistent with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “We do not believe in formulas, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch” (no. 170). Still: “we do approach these realities with the help of formulations of the faith which permit us to express the faith and to hand it on, to celebrate it in community, to assimilate and live on it more and more.”

Pope Francis aims at freeing us from the ideologues of doctrine by appealing to the Lérinian legacy of Vatican II. Admittedly, he has not always been consistent in his expressions of this legacy, and hence that has given aid and comfort to some of his interpreters that he is really proposing a pastoral approach to doctrine.

At his best, Pope Francis looks to Vincent of Lérins since the pope is persuaded that a Lérinian approach to doing theology in the stream of the Church’s living tradition avoids the temptations of rigidity or immobilism at the level of theological formulation or expression, and hence a doctrinal ideology. Francis does not hold the truth itself to be variable with time and place, but only its formulations, urging an expansion of its expression, namely, as he puts it, “seeking ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness.” In a nutshell, this is the hermeneutics of continuity in renewal and reform. But what changes is “the forms for expressing truth … in order to develop and deepen the Church’s teaching.” He makes this point abundantly clear throughout Evangelii Gaudium. Thus, one needn’t turn to a pastoral approach to doctrine in order to avoid becoming an ideologue of doctrine. The Lérinian perspective of Vatican II can avoid ideology by accounting for (a) the need for new expressions of truth; (b) explain why propositions of dogmas/doctrines are unchangeable, irreformable, or definitive; and (c) distinguish between unchanging truth and theological formulations.

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About Eduardo Echeverria 34 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.


  1. “New formulations of truth…”

    An upcoming synod. A review of Humanae Vitae. Capital Punishment’s absolute prohibition. Doctrine is legalistic and therefore Pharisaic.

    A forlorn Catholic landscape. Now littered with the husks of once infallible certainties.

    I can now act in a former way that once was regarded as sin but a individual, tailored pastoral approach that has been given to me with a mercy that is absolute…I’m now “of the world” and revel in my acceptance in these modern times.

    I feel odd on the inside, though.

    A real barrenness. Dryness. What I think is a “dark night of the soul” but more like a building dread.

    • let us get down to reality. For example, here is a situation; here is a couple in an irregular situation with two children. They are trying to be celibate or truing to avoid sexual contact. Its a cold night and decide to sleep in the same bed. There is some sexual pleasure from hugging. Should they be denied confession and denied the sacraments. Who is to judge?

      • Denying confession to someone seeking to confess sins has happened, specifically, when and to whom?
        The issue is reception of the Holy Eucharist while not being in a state of grace. The bishop of Rome and his lieutenants suggest this is possible without causing additional sin. That, is most very doubtful, indeed.
        Confession is always available and encouraged. It is not denied.
        Whether the sinner is truly contrite and forthcoming is another matter, of course.

      • “Who is to judge?”

        While you parrot the Pontiff in order to excuse sin, I’ll quote Christ Himself to prove you both wrong.

        “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Luke 12:57

      • Truth is to judge.
        There is a reason God has taught us through Scripture and our own personal dramas over and over and over again that truth is immutable and anyone who says otherwise is lying and following the voice of the devil. Situations never, got it, NEVER alter truthful principles of our innate divinely endowed humanity and human condition no matter how much our sinfulness tries to teach us, falsely to lie to ourselves, no matter what prelate or cabal of prelates or theologians teach us, falsely to lie to ourselves. Lying to ourselves is the one and only talent every human being on the face of the earth, and every human being who ever lived, except Jesus Christ and His mother Mary, shares as their greatest personal talent. And lying to ourselves is the most common of human experiences, right up there with breathing, which is why we so often get idiotic theological sophistry masquerading as wisdom and why we are so vulnerable to believe it.
        God is not an idiot, but we are. In order for ascertaining the truth about right and wrong to be complicated, God would have to be an idiot, and we would not be idiots. But we, the delusional sinners, are the idiots, which is why we need to tell ourselves we are not idiots and that morality changes over time, so we can lie to ourselves when we want to escape being bound by it. And ideological progressivists, like Francis, who believe that truth is mutable, call the non-ideological ideological. Ideological progressivists can be so obtuse on the matter, they can call a man who abandons his family, leaving them suffering, to run off with his secretary, a loving sort of thing to do, remaining oblivious to what should be but often are not self-evident negative consequences of such behavior, because to sophists, their use of consequentialism only sees what it wants to see, which is why God knows better in having given us inviolable “RIGID” natural law rather than leaving us to our own caprices of our own self-serving forms of moral judgment based on our own idiotic presumptions of consequentialist reasoning where we become like gods, as Satan promised, and call evil, good, and good, evil.

  2. As a lay oerson, the gist of what I got from this article is that the Pope suggests the Magesterium (Pope, Bishops) can use their Holy Spirit discretion in individual situations to make judgments. The writer disagrees because he wants clarity and thinks the Magesterium should only follow dogma and doctrine already established by the Magesterium (Popes, Bishops) of the past. I agree with the Pope, he and the Bishops are entrusted to lead us and as time evolves, they have the God given authority to make judgments as humanity grows and gains more knowledge. It makes sense to me when I compare our church to the field of medicine. The field of medicine is good and made to help people be healthy. Many years ago, the treatment for children’s fever was Aspirin. Later it was found that Aspirin may cause Reyes Syndrome in children, so the field of medicine now recommends that children should never be given Aspirin. So it is with the Church, it should be flexible and adapt to current knowledge when it’s leaders, the Magesterium choose to make any changes. They have the God given ability to do that.

    • “59. Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and all men, but rather inaugurated a religious movement adapted or to be adapted to different times and places.”

      That sounds like what you are saying. And that is from the Syllabus of Errors, Pope St. Pius X’s “Lamentabili.”

    • They have no Magisterium to change ‘Thou shalt not commit adultary’. Heterosexual or homosexual.
      Although this pope and his lieutenants think they do.
      But I’m simply a uneducated, rigid Pharisee.

    • The office of the pope is to protect and defend the truths of revelation which we have received from Jesus. The pope has no authority to alter it. Medicine is purely a human science, and as such can progress from errors and mistakes to better methods.
      But revelation is given from God, and contains no errors. We can grow in our understanding of it, always in a way that never altres its truth. I’m afraid you have fallen into relativism.

  3. I attended a far left, protestant seminary for a degree in psychotherapy. It is scary how much Francis sounds like those professors. Almost all the quotes in this article could have been uttered by those professors at that seminary.

  4. The point being that it is Francis’ legalism or idealogy that appoints and awards pro-abortion, anti-Gospel people in Christ’s Church and positions?

  5. What is Truth? If it isn’t the Gospels of Christ it cannot be found. “Ideology is a perennial temptation, he says, ‘to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church'” (The Pontiff). Dr Echeverria studies the issue of ideology as defined by Francis, the implicit vagaries of interpretation of the revealed Word and leaves us with three excellent premises for guidance. Yet the final premise (c) “distinguish between unchanging truth and theological formulations” brings us back to where we began. Any attempt to set definitive guidelines that avoid insult to the integrity of the Gospels will end in a vicious circle of speculation. It suffices to say much of St Vincent Lerins’ premises are couched in the language of the Neo Pelagianism of his theological cultural milieu that must be interpreted as such. As I argue if we accept the Pontiff’s reinterpretation of the Gospels we have something entirely new, Cardinal Parolin’s “new paradigm”. I keep reminding of the Apostle in Gal 1:8. What then is Truth, if not the literal meaning given us in the Eternal Word. If you love me keep my commandments Jn 14:15.

    • An addendum: As to Dr Echeverria’s premise (c) there must be reasonable distinction. Example Christ’s use of Semitic hyperbole, “If your hand causes you to sin” We don’t cut off our hand. “Give to whoever asks” We don’t give to Planned Parenthood. Literal meaning refers to the expressed permanency of truths of the faith such as indissolubility of marriage, and those held as permanent doctrine within the Apostolic Tradition.

  6. The other day I just sat down, opened the New Testament and started reading. What a breath of fresh air compared to the theological non-sense coming from Rome these days. So much of what passes for theology these days is a negotiated Christianity that seeks to make impotent the simple words of Christ. Better to listen to Christ in the Gospels rather than other “shepherds”.

  7. The Catholic Church has a Divine foundation. By definition, It must have eternal truths. Methods of applying those truths are up for debate but not the truths. But Francis has not declared this.

    Otherwise, the Church never had the truth and Christ was not serious about that “Gates of Hell” statement.

    The human field of medicine does not have a divine origin but a human one; change and innovation can only be its constant in a broken world where death and illness entered upon Original Sin.

    The pastoral method is one thing and the truth it is addressing is the other. It can change and innovate but the current atmosphere is where the method and the truth is being conflated. And the pope is, by all appearances, deliberately doing just that.

    And the very scenario of that cold night is the temptation before us. If that is solved by consummation through an absolute mercy that now understands human frailty as surrender, how does that someone come to the truth about sexual intimacy?

  8. “Pope Francis aims at freeing us”

    Oh please. The Truth remains unchanged. It does not need the novelties of the latest person inhabiting Peter’s Chair. It does not need overblown encyclicals that take months of interpreting. It does not need councils we have yet to take in and make our own. The concept of the Development of Doctrine has been hijacked to mean truth is close to unknowable. Faithful laymen know better. Francis elevates clergymen who sound like relativists. That is not the way of freedom, anymore than photo opps or UN light shows.

    • Basically it seems to me nobody needs an annulment anymore nor for that matter does it matter to get married at all and one wonders why St. John the Baptist bothered at all. It seems like there are no real or practical limits and in essence truth kind of exists but we are not going to worry ourselves about it too much because repentance is too hard or at least getting an annulment is too hard. Additionally it seems me that the pope’s extremely radical departure from previous norms, even if he is right, does not address scandal at all, nor provide the needed catechesis for lay people to understand let alone accept, so, how is that pastoral? How is any sacrament believable anymore? Why do I bother to repent of anything at all isn’t it too difficult anyway, why rush, it’s about gradualism. In the end most of the people in the peas will love it because they never were catechised anyway. I regret my catechesis already for ignorance is truly bliss and I am left confused for my efforts.
      Have I missed something?

  9. Very erudite piece, but it leaves judgement where it started…disturbed. Such erudition pales before the clarity of Christ’s truth criteria: judge them by their fruits. And what are the clear fruits of this pontificate? Disagreement, division, dissension and a growing confusion, which is of the devil. We have cardinals, bishops, priests, informed laymen and whole Christian national communities contradicting each other in doctrinal issues and pastoral practice. Where is the one, universal Catholic Church? It doesn’t take much erudition to see that under Bergoglio the Church is undergoing a practical and spreading schism at all levels. I am not impressed by Bergoglio’s occasional and I believe calculated reiteration of Catholic orthodoxy, his pastoral and doctrinal obfuscation speak louder. Echeverria is starting to feel disturbed by these contradictions : rightly so and about time. When judged by Christ’s criteria, the Francis effect is not just disturbing, but truly devastating.

  10. “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor 5:1)
    Our pope understands that he only needs to add little yeast.
    Prey of him and our Church.

  11. As I understand Church teaching in all the catechisms from the Didache to the universal catechism of Saint John Paul, and especially the words of Jesus, that there are only two roads on which we journey in this fallen world: the road to heaven and the road to hell as our final destination. One is narrow and hard, the other is broad and easy. The truth is that most of us go to hell because of the sins of the flesh, according to Our Blessed Mother at Fatima. Jesus tells us this. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft false witness, slander. These are what define a man.” Matt15:19-20. I think abortion or sodomy are not on the list because the Jews knew these acts were an abomination. So, is it ideological to teach people that such practices can lead them into hell or is it an act of love and compassion. When Saint John Paul told people who were in an adulterous relationship to live as brother and sister he knew that with the God’s grace it could be done. Why would he tell people to do this if he believed that subject circumstances can mitigate the consequences of an intrinsically evil act? As a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars I was present at a meeting when Msgr William Smith, a noted moral theologian at Dunwoody in New York. He was at a luncheon meeting with Pope John Paul II with the New York bishops. He told us that one bishop asked the pope if it was true that people who are invincibly ignorant do not go to hell. The pope looked up from his soup and said, ‘only the priests who teach invinciple ignorance go to hell.’ After that no one asked him any more questions.

    • It does seem as though Pope Francis is, gradually, carefully, trying to dismantle the entire magisterial effort of Pope St. John Paul II to permanently clarify what the Church teaches and what it does not on morality (as in Veritatis Splendor). PF creates such confusion, and it seems intentional, even though he is quite poor at expressing himself in precise, clear terms.

  12. Regarding Richard Gallardetz it’s not sure how much he is to be fully respected. Even a farmer can notice that, as one of our Catholic theologians he is known to fake it. We always worry about his habit of catagorizing those ever so slightly right of center as, “of the far right”. His somewhat acceptance by top FT writers is a point of concern too

  13. I still dont know what an ideology is. I still cant understand what this pope thinks. i still am clueless as to where this CHurch is headed. Other than that goo article.

    • Here is an example of the bishop of Rome’s ideology: accepting, as a gift, an image of the Crucified Christ affixed to the Communist hammer and sickle from the socialist/Marxist Evo Morales, on the occasion of the official visit by this Vicar of Christ to Bolivia. Smiles were had all around…of course. Google it.

  14. Catholics cannot be instructed in one generation that some behaviour is a mortal sin and then in another that it is not. If it can change its mind in serious moral matters, or even obfuscate the truth therein, then we might as well go off and make up our own morality as suits us. We believe in Christ’s uniquely abiding presence in His Catholic Church keeping it from error.

  15. As a layperson with no specialized training in theology or canon law, I’ve read this article carefully, trying to gain understanding of the Pope’s implied teaching in “Amoris Laetitia,” and his criticism of ‘legalism.’ I haven’t been able to do so. Judging from a number of papal comments, the Holy Father’s use of the term inevitably applies to those who differ with him. The word appears most often as a weapon levelled against distinctions presently being made between considerations of doctrine and moral practice. Perhaps we should stop trying to define his meaning, and just regard accusations of’legalism’ as breathtakingly-hurtful missiles meant to shut down opposition. After all, who wants to be a harsh, unloving, rule-spouting legalist? Trying to define meaning may be, in this case, a thankless exercise.
    Though what I’ve read here is the argument of a gifted scholar, I would also be grateful for links to related letters and studies written for the average Catholic. The points surrounding this controversy can be made easily accessible to everyone who cares. (I heard a gifted professor say that one should be able to explain a truthful idea to a ten-year-old, and the Church has long been able to do so.) The reasoning here, though, seems circular, reiterating its first points at the conclusion, with related reflections and citations between. There can also be the problem that in many scholarly articles, terminology can serve to obfuscate rather than to clarify an argument.
    As indicated in other comments on the article, no matter how loyal to the Holy Father we want to be, it’s not possible that doctrine based on the words of Jesus, taught for millennia and affirmed by the Magisterium, can be reinterpreted to permit contradiction. And contradiction presently abounds.
    Would we ever say, “This act in these circumstances is objectively mortally sinful for all the faithful in your circumstances for all time, but if you feel you must, go ahead….”? There can’t be mercy with that sort of understanding, if by mercy we consider the entire and eternal good of the person. If such a statement could ever be approved by the Church, the entire deposit of faith could be negotiated when circumstances grew difficult, when we desired religion that accommodated our needs or even our passions. But wait: that’s happening, isn’t it?
    What must then follow is that there could be no reliable teaching. I know that is not the case. (I had a mother who was careful with our catechesis so ideas could be explained to ten-year-olds) In my own sinfulness, I always have access to the truth and to the sacraments; I want to be forgiven rather than excused. It’s not ‘legalism’ to say that for many moral issues, the directive “Thou shalt not….” still and forever applies.

6 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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