Assessing authority of Amoris laetitia

don bosco dream barque of peter

Saint John Bosco’s dream of the Barque of Peter, the Eucharist and Mary

You will remember that the Most Rev Bernard Fellay, superior of the Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie-X has waxed poetic about Amoris laetitia being – if we can read between the lines – a magisterial document:

“This is an apostolic exhortation that bears the title ‘The joy of love’, but it makes us cry. It is the summary of two synods on marriage. It is very long, there are many things that are correct, that are beautiful, but after building a beautiful boat, the Pontiff dug a hole in the hull under the waterline. You all know what happens then. One may say that we made the hole with all possible precautions, one may say that the hole is small, but the boat is sinking.”

I hope that quote is accurate. It was put up by a friend at Gloria.TV who knows something of Tradition. I’m sure the context has more nuance, but forgive my use of this most intriguing image. What I’m afraid of is that people will use such a thing as an excuse to throw themselves into sede-vacantism or sede-privationism or to leave the Church.

His Eminence, Cardinal Raymond Burke, meanwhile, in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and the Constant Teaching and Practice of the Church over at the National Catholic Register, says that Amoris laetitia has a “personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature”, and then insists: “a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, by its very nature, does not propose new doctrine and discipline, but applies the perennial doctrine and discipline to the situation of the world at the time.”That doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful, by the way. The Cardinal is upset with those who propose that Amoris laetitia is “a revolution in the Church, as a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church, up to now, regarding marriage and the family,” upset because Amoris laetitia, note well, simply doesn’t have the capacity, considering the kind of document it is, to make any departure from anything. It is what it is. Even if it is wrong in parts, that makes no difference. He concludes that “While the Roman pontiff has personal reflections that are interesting and can be inspiring, the Church must be ever attentive to point out that their publication is a personal act and not an exercise of the papal magisterium.”

As you’ll remember, I defended the Cardinal. There is a reason for that and I want to entrench a bit with that reason. I think it is necessary to deepen our understanding of the vocabulary which, up to this time, we really did not have to do. But now it is a necessity. As good old Wikipedia says: “Studies of the Sami languages of Norway, Sweden and Finland, conclude that the languages have anywhere from 180 snow- and ice-related words and as many as 300 different words for types of snow, tracks in snow, and conditions of the use of snow.” Amoris laetitia is like a type of snow that needs a new description by the Sami. This is not word play. It is what it is and we have to deal with it according to the constant teaching of the Church as the Cardinal says. That is our key.

But first, lets go back to Saturday, 17 October 2015 in the Paul VI Audience Hall, to the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, and to the address of his Holiness Pope Francis. The Holy Father says strong things with extremely technical language and with citations having stunning sources. Back in the day, I cited this numerous times as that which pointed to an upcoming decision that would be at least an infallible act of the ordinary magisterium of the Church:

“The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as “pastor and teacher of all Christians”,(15) not on the basis of his personal convictions but as the supreme witness to the fides totius Ecclesiae, “the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church”.(16)

“The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro — indeed, not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro — is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. For the Pope is, by will of the Lord, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful”.(17) Closely related to this is the concept of “hierarchica communio” as employed by the Second Vatican Council: the Bishops are linked to the Bishop of Rome by the bond of episcopal communion (cum Petro) while, at the same time, hierarchically subject to him as head of the college (sub Petro).(18)

15) FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus (18 July 1870), ch. IV: Denz. 3074. Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 749, § 1.

16) FRANCIS, Address to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 18 October 2014.

17) SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 23. cf. FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Prologue: Denz. 3051.

18) Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 22; Decree Christus Dominus (28 October 1965), 4.

Meanwhile, a friend at Rorate has posited and insisted upon an opinion that not only is Amoris laetitia a teaching document of the magisterium, but one that from which one can hardly withhold one’s assent. Citing the above paragraphs after I have done so, so many times, Rorate has it that:

“NOTHING in Amoris Laetitia takes back or reverses this statement of intent. Now, the fact that Francis intended to pronounce authoritatively on the matters of discussion taken up by the Synod does not, by itself, make his pronouncement automatically “magisterial”, but it also means that it is highly unlikely that this lengthy document was written in such a way that it can be dismissed as a mere expression of papal opinion.”

Meanwhile, in Amoris laetitia itself, as Cardinal Burke points out, Pope Francis had this to say, cancelling out what he said previously:

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 [“can seek solutions better suited”=no imposition]. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.3

3 Concluding Address of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13; cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della sessione plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, Turin, 1981 [This has +Bruno Forte written all over it]Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 44; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), 52: AAS 83 (1991), 300; Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 69, 117: AAS 105 (2013), 1049, 1068-69.

4. I must also say that the Synod process proved both impressive and illuminating. I am grateful for the many contributions that helped me to appreciate more fully the problems faced by families throughout the world. The various interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem reflecting many legitimate concerns and honest questions. For this reason, I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather [“gather”=just some Synod Fathers] the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue [“reflection, dialogue” which preempt imposition] and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.

Back to that post on Rorate: “The theme that the cardinal developed at some length and the conclusion he intended readers to draw was that the document ‘doesn’t count’ as real teaching (magisterium) which would impose an obligation of assent on Catholics.”

I agree with that sentence of Rorate. But know this: ex-cathedra teaching is ipso facto authentic. The same cannot be said of “an aid to reflection, dialogue.” It is authentic if it is consonant with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Magisterial interventions such as Trent throughout the ages. The Holy Father specifically refrained from that. That’s important.

I pick on the word authentic because this is a word which obliges someone to give their assent even to the teaching of their local bishop. But if that teaching is not authentic, then there is no obligation. Hey! It can happen! If the Bishop of Rome says that there is no obligation, he is saying that dialogue is possible. Get it? Are there authors that anyone in the world can cite who intimate that anything and everything that the Holy Father teaches is going to be authentic? Yes. But that’s just sycophantic, absurd ultramontantism.

Look, forms of presentation change, sometimes with extreme consequences for the viability of the Church if these changes of forms of presentation are dismissed out of hand. I’ve written on this at great length elsewhere on AEternus ille caelestium, what would have been an ex-Cathedra statement if there ever, ever was one. But it is not. And then Bellarmine tried to burn all the evidence of this misdeed of the now conveniently dead pope right around Europe. Take note.

But Rorate entrenches, saying, “It is makes no sense for Cardinal Burke to say it is ‘non-magisterial,’ or merely ‘personal.'” Sure it does, but let’s back off for just to a moment now to look at the vocabulary. As I said, we’ve not had much occasion to refine the word magisterial, but now we do. So, let’s have at it.

penafortThere’s the Roman Curia which in its various dicasteries puts out all sorts of documents, some better than others, some worse than others. Is all of that the magisterium? In a way, yes. Is it papal magisterium if those documents are provided with an introductory speech given to, say, the Diplomatic Corps, as was the 1993 paper of the Biblical Commission on Interpretation of the Scriptures in the Church (with the caveat that Paul VI ripped the Commission away from the Holy Office so that it is only under its grouping but not part of its teaching authority)? Well, it is the Pope who provides that introductory speech, but even Cardinal Ratzinger at the time attacked the sycophantic ultramonist idea that this had to be given religious assent.

The objection is that a presentation of some bishops’ thoughts by the Holy Father is instantly obligatory for religious assent. No. Does it come forth from the machinery of the bureaucracy? Yes. Is Pope Francis presenting it? Yes. But if it is not presented as infallible, and in fact it is specifically NOT presented that way, then it is fair game for people to decide as to whether it is authentic teaching, the dialogue thing and all that, right? Authentic means in line with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the great Magisterial interventions such as Trent right throughout the centuries. If it is authentic, then one is obliged to take it on board. If it is not authentic, one is not obliged to take it on board. In fact, if it is non-authentic and it is hurtful, one is obliged to dissent from it. In this dissent, one is not dissenting from the Church, but one is rather being obedient to the Church, indeed, to the Holy Father in particular. This does not mean sede-privationism or sede-vacantism, nor is it an excuse to do the Hans Küng thing. People say that such responsibility for examining the teaching of whoever is not fair. Yes, well, grow up. Judas betrayed Jesus, and I’m sure Judas made statements all the time. Peter denied Jesus, and I’m sure Peter made statements all the time. Was Judas always right? Was Peter always right? And you want something better for yourselves?

“The Church has never been so close to dropping into hell as it is now,” exclaimed Saint Robert Bellarmine to, if I remember correctly, Father Andrew, his secretary. And to that observation of Bellarmine my answer is this: times never change, and so what’s the big deal with hanging over hell? Isn’t Christ Jesus our Savior? Isn’t He going to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire? Yes. He is. Thank God. Amen.

penafort-In summary: Yes, O.K., fine, Amoris laetitia is a document put our by the Roman Curia and the Holy Father and it does purport to do some teaching, but in a non-impositional, encouragement of dialogue manner. Call it magisterial all you want, but if it is non-authentic, you are not obliged to follow it. You can cherry pick good stuff, but really the good should be interpreted in view of the bad. You can attack the bad stuff despite whatever else good there is.

Finally: If we are bidden to interpret the document in view of the constant teaching of the Church, it seems to me that we must do this with an eye to a decision regarding authentic or inauthentic. You know why? Because that’s the will of the Holy Father! HE wants us to do that. Don’t blame me. I’m not being rebellious. It just is what it is. And still, I love the Holy Father to pieces. He really delegated heavily for this one. I don’t agree with the extremity of the delegation, but it is what it is.

Finally, I do think I understood something of what Cardinal Burke was trying to do. I hope I put it across in some way people can understand.

Meanwhile, Bishop Athanasius Schneider has made a statement on Amoris laetitia. More on that after a bit. English here.

8 Comments

Filed under Amoris laetitia, Holy See, Pope Francis, Synod on the Family

8 responses to “Assessing authority of Amoris laetitia

  1. Daniel P Furey

    I will say though that the Amoris Laetitia is an extremely poorly written document. It looks like it was written specifically to confuse.

    Makes me miss Pope Benedict & Pope John Paul II and the clarity of ANY of their communications.

  2. Nan

    All of this is beyond me. What I know is that Jesus doesn’t want us to sin, and loves us despite our failings. All can be saved if they want; but they must want.

    Sinning I much easier than trying to follow Church teaching. Just ask the bishops whose skulls pave the road to hell.

  3. sanfelipe007

    Finally. I think you turned a corner, of sorts, Father. Thanks be to God.

  4. I agree with Daniel (above) the more I read the more confused I become. I am grateful that Jesus told us ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against My church.’ Did the Pope approve this? Is the translation accurate?

  5. meshugunah

    If the purpose was to get us thinking and discussing, by golly, AL has been a rousing success.Have to remember to pray to the Holy Spirit before attempting to read AL, or anything about it…

  6. sanfelipe007

    you and I both should remember to pray to the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures to our minds. There was a period when I did it automatically. I have grown lax.

  7. Father Byers, it appears that Cardinal Muller (of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) has also used Bishop Fellay’s analogy of the hole drilled beneath the waterline. …

    In translating from the German newspaper of the Cardinal Muller’s talk given in Spain, Maike Hickson, in an article on the 1P5 blog, says the following regarding communion to the divorced and remarried (without a nullity of marriage) – my addition in square brackets for clarity:

    ‘Müller denies that Pope Francis opened the door to such a disciplinary or doctrinal change. He, [The Pope] rather, opened all the windows because he is aware of the deluge in which the current world lives. He has invited all of us to let ropes down from these windows so that the shipwrecked can enter the ship. However, to admit someone to Holy Communion who lives in a way that is visibly in opposition to the Sacrament of Marriage – even if it were only in a few individual cases – would not mean to open an additional window. It would rather be as if someone had drilled a hole into the bottom of the ship and thereby allowed the seawater to enter the ship. The seafaring of all would thereby also be put into danger and the service of the Church for society would be put into question. Instead of a way of integration, it would be a way of destruction of the Church’s Ark, a leak. If the discipline is respected, there are no limits to the capacity of the Church to rescue families. Additionally, the stability of the ship as well as the capacity to lead us safely to the haven are thereby secured. The architecture of the Ark is necessary, especially so that the Church does not permit that someone remain in a situation which is in opposition to Jesus’ own words of eternal life, so that the Church, thus, “does not condemn anyone forever” (AL 296-297).Cardinal Müller shows us here that “the discipline of the Church has an unmeasurable pastoral value.”

    I hope this whole speech of Cardinal Müller to seminarians in Oviedo, Spain gets translated into English. The full transcript has just been published by the German Catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost, on 6 May. (if by any chance you or your readers speak German).

  8. Father George David Byers

    There are some difficulties with the way some have been interpreting his words.

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