Somehow, the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris laetitia, is at the center of the controversy over the present circumstances and future direction of the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences. At the end of the first essay in this three-part series examining the affair at the crossroads of politics, culture, and theology, the centrality of Pope Francis’s pastoral encouragement to the Church began to come into view. In this second essay, the matter comes more fully into focus.
The architects and executors of the new Institute want the place to have a more sympathetic focus on Amoris laetitia, than they believe it has heretofore received from former faculty and administrators. The president of the new Institute, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, explained the matter to the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, in an interview published July 19:
The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (sic) will naturally be integral to the curricula and in the material that provides magisterial support for the various courses, as well as for in-depth research within seminars and in faculty publications. It is certain that the addition of new faculty and the reshaping of academic programs, made possible now under the new Charter, will permit the adequate development of reflection and study that includes topics now under discussion by theologians. The central importance of the magisterial teaching of Amoris Laetitia (sic), which must guide theological and pastoral understanding of the family—even in its most problematic circumstances—must surely imply recognizing the credence due to the authoritative expression of the living teaching of the Church.
Fair enough. The Institute is the Pope’s, and he may do with it what he pleases. As long as we’re talking about a real expansion, to bring in other — different and more sympathetic — voices, or even about a reshuffling of the administrative deck in favor of those more sympathetic voices, there would be no reason for any expression of outrage and little for complaint.
On July 30, however, Avvenire ran a piece by a senior journalist at the paper, Luciano Moia, in which Moia dutifully parroted the party line regarding two professors, Msgr. Livio Melina and Fr. José Noriega DCJM, whose positions were not part of the “renewal in continuity” Pope Francis envisioned and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia directed at Pope Francis’s behest.
The line is that Melina and Noriega weren’t fired, there simply wasn’t room for them in the new outfit, and anyway Noriega was going to be superior for another four months after the new school year started ineligible. Then Moia explained that Melina and Noriega were troublemakers, who had it coming and got what they deserved.
“No one can forget,” wrote Moia, “that, in the intense synodal season and then also in the months that followed the publication of Amoris laetitia, some few representatives of the Institute’s administrative leadership, together with some teachers, worked themselves breathless with publications, declarations, interventions at congresses and conferences, to minimize the import of the change desired by Pope Francis.”
The problem with that is twofold.
First, either it was all business and nothing personal, or Melina and Noriega were counter-revolutionary malcontents. It can’t be both. Second, and more important for the broader conversation in the Church, Melina and Noriega have been trying to explain how it is possible to understand Amoris in keeping with prior teaching, and in accord with established universal discipline. As moral theologians at a Pontifical institution, that was their job.
Msgr. Melina replied to Moia in Avvenire in early August, impugning the charge of attempting “to minimize the import of the change desired by Pope Francis,” and stridently objecting to some of Moia’s other insinuations:
Having weighed the vagueness of that expression, we desire to underline how the argument already belongs to the natural debate in the theological and pastoral sphere, in which the hermeneutic of renewal in continuity with Tradition is a criterion, to date, never condemned and never retracted by the Magisterium. This, in dutiful tutelage of the “good name” of the professors, who are victims of the provision and now also of calumny; but above all in tutelage of the “freedom of the children of God.” Among these professors are also theologians — who are not mere doctors or court scribblers, weathercocks who pursue the whims of the wind, nor even maîtres à penser salaried to express the opinions of others; salaries, of which some [of those professors] are now deprived, upon motivations that we adjudge unfounded and seriously damaging to our dignity. Finally, allow me to make present to you that defamation is not only a grave sin, against which Pope Francis has repeatedly railed, but also a prosecutable crime.
Moia answered Melina’s letter — to which Professors José Noriega, Stanislaw Grygiel, Monika Grygiel, Vittorina Marini, Przemyslaw Kwiatkowski, and Jaroslaw Kupczak had also given their signatures — saying the truth of his charges is manifest in Melina’s own writings and other public declarations.
Moia adduced two texts: both from a paper Prof. Melina delivered to a 2016 conference at the JPII Institute to offer keys to the interpretation of Amoris, which later made it into a book titled, Quale pastorale dopo Amoris laetitia? (What pastoral approach after Amoris laetitia?), which brought together the acts of the conference. In the first, Melina writes: “…according to that, which is taught by Familiaris consortio (n.32) and by Veritatis splendor, which is an encyclical with explicitly doctrinal intent, and that therefore has a superior magisterial rank with respect to a simple exhortation of a pastoral nature.”
If you’re doing a double take, wondering where the subject and main verb in that last quoted sentence might be, stop. Moia didn’t bother giving them. He had what he wanted in that fragment. He thought he had a smoking gun. “One knows not whence the conviction was born,” Moia glossed, “according to which doctrine (law) comes before pastoral care (man). It certainly does not come from the Gospel, where it is said that ‘the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’.”
Never mind that any 1st semester theology student should be able to tell you that Melina is right about the pecking order of magisterial documents, and explain why. Ignore for a moment that doctrine is not law, and that pastoral care properly understood and practiced is to help Christians conform their lives to the teaching of the Church. Moia’s deployment of one line ripped from context proves absolutely nothing, even as it treats Sacred Scripture as little more than a campaign slogan.
Moia brought a slogan to a professional academic discussion, sure, but that doesn’t matter much when a mitred Frank Nitti is in the stairwell.
The other quote Moia adduced against Melina is this: “Therefore it must be clearly stated that even after Amoris laetitia, admitting the divorced ‘remarried’ to communion, outside the situations envisaged by Familiaris consortio and by Sacramentum caritatis 29, goes against the discipline of the Church, and teaching that it is possible to admit the divorced ‘remarried’ to Communion, beyond these criteria, goes against the Magisterium of the Church.” Moia introduces those lines from Molina with these, of his own: “According to Melina there is nowhere in Amoris laetitia that opens the way to this possibility [to admit divorced and civilly remarried persons to Communion]. In order to avoid falling into contradiction, he ignores taking into examination notes 336 and 351 — an essential part of the text[.]” Melina didn’t account for the fine print.
The problem with this, is that Pope Francis and all but a very few ideologically committed readers agree with Melina on this point. The debate is not over whether Francis has changed either doctrine or discipline, but whether there is room for the kind of pastoral latitude Pope Francis envisions in Amoris for people in irregular situations. More finely couched: the disagreement is not over whether there is any pastoral latitude — everyone agrees there is — but is over how much there is, where to find it, and how to police it.
There is no candid view of the Church since the publication of Amoris laetitia, which could possibly conclude that there is anything close to agreement on those questions. Not even across jurisdictions that have implemented Amoris laetitia through policy measures or particular law, is there general agreement on the scope of the development Amoris countenances. One may fairly ask why a pastoral exhortation calling for deep pastoral discernment needed such hasty implementation anywhere, but that is another subject, entirely.
All that is debatable. At least, it was. Now, however, Moia — writing for the official paper of the Italian bishops’ conference — is claiming that merely framing the issue not only arouses suspicion, but constitutes an act of contumacious disloyalty.
Moia wasn’t done, though. He next pointed his knife at three other JPII Institute professors: José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, and Juan-José Perez-Soba, impugning a book they co-authored under the title, “Amoris laetitia, accompagnare, discernere, integrare (Amoris laetitia: accompanying, discerning, integrating)”. Two of the three professors, at least — Granados and Kampowski — are apparently slated to continue in their work at the Institute. So, their inclusion in Moia’s indictment may be to show the restraint with which the business has been done, or as a warning to them to stay in their lane, or both.
“The basic thesis,” wrote Moia of their book, “is that a magisterial text is valid only if it is placed in continuity with the previous magisterium.” Well, yes. The authors are Catholics, not Mormons. Then Moia quoted their paper:
When in Amoris laetitia, an ambiguous or debated text appears, the only valid interpretation is that which consists in reading it in continuity with the previous magisterium.
“Thus,” Moia went on to proclaim in hand-wringing triumph, “in Amoris laetitia there would be ‘ambiguous and debated’ passages, an evaluation that is not exactly benevolent towards the Pope.” Pope Francis himself was unsure of Amoris’s orthodoxy. We can be fairly certain Granados, Kampowski, and Perez-Soba were on safe ground.
The ground perhaps began to shift beneath the authors when they wrote that the much-discussed footnote 351 was, “very general” and “cannot be referred to the case of the divorced and civilly remarried, for which there exists a very clear magisterium, which serves as a guide to every doubt.” There, the authors may well have exposed themselves to legitimate criticism. It was fairly early in the debate when they wrote that essay, though, and in any case they’re right about the broad applicability of note 351, which ought not be taken only — or even primarily — to refer to Communion for persons in irregular states.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said so. The day Amoris laetitia was released, he spoke with Vatican Radio:
I am profoundly convinced that, 35 years after Familiaris consortio, Pope Francis has given us a beautiful example of what [Bl.] John Henry Newman calls, “the organic development of teaching.” [St.] John Paul II has already innovated in some points: not a break with tradition, but his “Theology of the Body” was something very new; his words on graduality in Familiaris consortio were rather unusual; his words on “discernment” in Familiaris consortio #84 were quite surprising – his strong invitation to discern different situations. Pope Francis is very much in continuity with this, and the Synod was – the two Synods were [as well]. Discernment was a key word in Pope Francis’ Exhortation. It is very “Jesuitical” – discernment of spirits – and that leads him to an attitude that was already present in Pope Benedict’s teaching, in Pope [St.] John Paul II’s teaching, that the Church offers help to those who are in so-called “irregular situations”. He adds a little note, where he says, “In certain cases, also, the aid, the help of the sacraments.” That’s all he said.
CRA: That brings us nicely to the point, because, when we are talking about discernment, we are inevitably also must discuss conscience – but we must let Mother Church form our consciences – and Pope Francis certainly knows this, though it does bear mention. The sacraments: which ones, and in what order?
I think it is fairly clear: there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified. Pope Francis has himself given an example: when a woman [in an irregular marital situation] comes to confess her abortion – the sin, the grave sin of abortion – not to relieve her, even if her situation is irregular – the discernment of the shepherd can be, and I would say, “must be”: you have to help this person to be freed from her burden, even if you cannot tell her that her marital situation has been regularized by this absolution – but you cannot [let her leave] the confessional with the burden of her grave sin she finally had the courage to come to confess. That was the example he had given, and I think it is a very good example for what this little note could mean in certain cases: i.e. “[…]even the help of sacraments.”
Moia next adduced a passage from the renowned John Paul II chair-holder, Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel, who wrote regarding Amoris in May of 2016: “Amoris laetitia constrains us to a profound reflection on the faith, on hope, and on love, that is, the gift of liberty received from God, for Amoris does not bring a clear message regarding the ‘gift[s] of God’ that are the truth, the good, and mercy.” That’s not flattering, perhaps, but it hardly meets even the impossibly vague criterion Moia himself established as the benchmark against which to measure.
Moia also pointed to lines from Grygiel’s essay, which in 2016 predicted, “[P]astors and arch-pastors,” who, “propose a ‘yes, but…’ casuistry that takes into consideration not so much man’s conscience, as his inclination to evil.” Moia further quotes Grygiel, “If things keep going like this, we may soon expect chaos to follow, in which persons subject to the inclination to evil shall go about parishes and even dioceses in search of the most clever casuists.” Thank heaven that has not come true.
Near the end of his screed, Moia returned to work on Prof. Melina, who delivered remarks in 2018, at the presentation of a posthumous volume by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the founding president of the defunct John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, “who, by strange fate, died on 6 September 2017, one day before the Pope should have made the John Paul II Institute cease to exist, which he [Caffarra] had seen born, almost as if the Lord wanted to spare his seeing this thing [done].”
So, Prof. Melina, remembering a deceased figure who dedicated a significant portion of his life to building an institution they both loved, expresses what may fairly be interpreted as at least mild dissatisfaction at their beloved institution’s dismantling, and Moia discovers therein sufficient ground to challenge and defeat Melina’s protestation of “filial respect and cordial obedience.”
Moia’s indictment is so thoroughly inept that one almost wonders whether it wasn’t a false flag operation. It does not come close to carrying its burden, and gives away the store along the way. One would not fall out of one’s chair to learn that, after it appeared, the powers had sent Moia a discreet invitation to stop helping.
Suffice it to say that, should “evidence” of such quality as that, which Moia rehearsed, ever become effectively sufficient to establish contumely warranting dismissal, then the day on which it does will be the day on which free inquiry and unfettered debate of ideas in search of truth in the Pontifical system of higher education both meet unworthy death.
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