“An Interpretation of Amoris Laetitia From Tradition is Not Possible” — Interview With Abbé Claude Barthe by Roberto de Mattei
Translation: Giuseppe Nardi
Abbé Claude Barthe: Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia is incompatible
with the Church’s tradition
(Rome) The French priest Abbe Claude Barthe was one of the first people already on 8 April, the date of its publication, to take a position on the Apostolic Letter, Amoris Laetitia. The theologian has written many books, among others, La messe, une forêt de symboles (The Mass, a Forest of Symbols), Les romanciers et le catholicisme (The novelists and catholicity) and Penser l’oecuménisme autrement (Ecumenism Thinks Differently ). The historian and Catholic thinker, Roberto de Mattei conducted an interview for Corrispondenza Romana with Abbé Barthe to deepen the analysis.
Prof. de Mattei: it is very interesting for us to give Abbé Barthe the floor because you in your response to Amoris Laetitia were not, as others had initially tried in the first moment, to read the Apostolic Letter on the basis of a traditional framework, and we share your reading.
Abbe Claude Barthe: I can not see how one could interpret Chapter VIII of the letter within the meaning of the traditional doctrine, honestly. It would mean doing violence to the text and not respecting the intent of the editors who want to introduce a new element: “Therefore, it is no longer possible to say …” (AL, 301).
Prof. de Mattei: And yet, what is said in the Apostolic Exhortation that is not so new.
Abbe Claude Barthe: You’re right, it is not new on the part of theological protest movements. Since the Council, under Paul VI. and John Paul II., there was a great undertaking primarily of protest theologians to attack Humanae Vitae with the help of books, “explanations” of theologians and congresses. At the same time the demand of Communion for “remarried” divorced (and also homosexuals as couples and cohabitants), I would say, played a symbolic role. One must know that it has long been the practice of many priests in France, Germany, Switzerland and many other places to allow “remarried” divorcees to communion, and to give them absolution when they want it.
The most common support for this demand came through a pastoral letter of 1 July 1993 of the Upper Rhine Bishops Saier, Lehmann and Kasper, entitled: “For pastoral care of people from broken marriages, divorced and remarried divorcees.” It was about “respect for a decision of conscience.” It contained exactly, among other things, the arrangements of the current Apostolic Exhortation: in theory there would be no general admission to Communion, but the exercise of an examination with the priest to see whether the new partners “are authorized by their own conscience, to approach the table of the Logos.” In France, some bishops (Cambrai, Nancy) have published files of diocesan synods that go in the same direction. Cardinal Martini, Archbishop of Milan, had also called for changes in the Discipline of the Sacraments in one general assemblyheld on 7 October 1999 at the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Europe speech that was a real program for a pontificate.
And in fact you go to France, Belgium, Canada and the US even further: Some priest, even a relatively large number, celebrate for second marriages a small ceremony without the bishops prevent them. Some bishops encourage this practice even as it has done “divorcés remariés Chrétien” (Remarried divorced Christians Desclée de Brouwer, 1990) Msgr. Armand le Bourgeois, the former bishop of Autun in his book. The “Ordodiözesanen” as that of the diocese also “regulate” this ceremony even, discreetly, to be so without bells, without the blessing of the rings.
Prof. de Mattei: Share the assessment that Cardinal Kasper played a leading role?
Abbe Claude Barthe: At the beginning already. From Pope Francis called shortly after his election as a “great theologian”, he prepared the ground with his speech to the Consistory of 20 February 2014 which caused a great sensation. From there the matter was continued with great skill in three stages: two synodal assemblies in October 2014 and in October 2015 the reports contained the “message” Kaspers.
Between the two Synods of the text was on September 8, 2015 Mitis iudex Dominus Iesuspublished whose architect Msgr. Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota is, the easier the nullity of marriage, mainly because it takes place in front of the bishop when the couple together the nullity request, and it alone can decide, because the double sentence was abolishes.Some canonists spoke in this case already a cancellation by mutual consensus.
The synod is a kind of lead core, which formed Cupola [the cars of Abbé Barthe Italian word refers to the leaders of a mafia organization], around the very influential Cardinal Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod, together with Msgr. Bruno Forte, archbishop of Chieti-Vasto and special secretary of the Synod, which is the number two, to Msgr. Fabio Fabene, new member of the Congregation for Bishops and undersecretary of the Synod, then still Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who was responsible for the message of the Synod Assembly, and all together carefully supported by Msgr. Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, and by the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Roman Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica . Added to this are other influential persons, all of which are close to the Pope as Bishop of Albano and C9 Cardinal Council Secretary Marcello Semeraro and Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Family Council. To them yet arrived Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna added, the main responsible for the Catholic Catechism, of the role of guarantor assumed at the Synod that the text of the final report was already orthodox what Cardinal Müller refused. This whole team contributed a considerable amount of work in order to achieve the desired goal …
Prof. de Mattei: To create a text of more than 250 pages submitted by the second Synodal Assembly …
Abbe Claude Barthe: Even earlier … The text of the post-synodal letter was broadly in September 2015 that is, before the start of the second Synod on marriage and the family, elaborated.
Prof. de Mattei: You spoke of a desired target. What exactly?
Abbe Claude Barthe: It is very possible that it was at the beginning the intention of Pope Francis to grant only a “pastoral” and “merciful” pass. Since theology is a rigorous science, principles had to be announced, justify a decision of conscience, can go according to the people who live in public adultery, to the sacraments. From the beginning, many passages of the Apostolic Exhortation prepare the doctrinal statement of the eighth chapter. It is the talk of “situations of weakness or imperfection” (AL, 296), and most of the divorcees who viewed “in a second, settled over time compound, with new children, with proven loyalty, generous dedication, Christian commitment, with the awareness of the irregularity of their situation “involved,” and great difficulty, these turn back without feeling the conscience that you fall in new debt (AL, 298). In this “imperfect” situation (AL, 307), which relates to the “perfect ideal marriage,” says the Apostolic Exhortation rules for a “special distinction” (AL, 301) on.
This happens naturally with the help of a priest “in the internal forum” (for both partners of the new compound?) That the interested parties would permit a correct judgment of conscience to form (Al, 300). This judgment (? The priest ?, the partner with the explanation of the priest) do it because of “conditionalities or mitigating factors […] possible that one in the middle of an objective situation of sin – which is not subjective culpably or at least not completely is “can go to the sacraments (AL, 305). It does not say whether this ruling also applies to the other priests who are interested to administer the sacraments. Anyway, it must be said that the text is not focused on access to the sacraments, which is treated in a footnote, what a pretty bashful impression (footnote 351).
Stresses, however, is a theological principle, which is summarized in paragraph 301 that it applies to quote again: “It is therefore no longer possible to say that all who live in any so-called ‘irregular’ situations, who are in a state mortal sin and have lost sanctifying grace.The restrictions have not only to do with a possible lack of knowledge of the standard. A person can, even though he knows the standard exactly, have great difficulty in understanding the values at stake in the moral norm,’  or he may be in a specific situation, which does not allow him differently act and make other decisions without a incurring a new sin.”
A principle that can be analyzed as follows: 1) the basis of specific conditionalities, would be that people who are in “active” public adultery and know the moral rule prohibiting them, invite a guilt if they were to leave this situation (especially compared to the birth of children); 2) The people who live in the “active” public adultery, therefore, would not commit mortal sin if they remain in this state.
In fact, the negative consequences that result from the completion of the adulterous condition are (the children born of illegitimate connection would suffer from the separation of parents) not new sins, but the indirect effect of a virtuous action, namely the ending of a sinful state.
Natural justice must be respected, this applies especially to the continuation of the education of children from the second union, but outside a sinful state. So here we have a frontal contrast with the previous lesson that John Paul II., stressed in paragraph 84 of Familiaris Consortio. This clarified: If serious motives prevent it, that the “remarried” end in common life under one roof, then they have to live like brother and sister. This is contrast is the new doctrinal proposal: Under certain conditions, adultery is not a sin.
Prof. de Mattei: You are saying that one must not recognize the faith instinct?
Abbe Claude Barthe: All can not be reconciled with the natural and Christian morality. Those with knowledge of the moral norm have committed themselves sub gravi (the divine commandment that prohibits fornication and adultery) whose sin can not be excused, and therefore it can not be said that they in themselves are in a state of grace prior. St. Thomas Aquinas says in a Quaestio of the Summa Theologica, which all moralists well know, in Quaestio 19 of IA and IIÆ: It is the quality of an object that our quest arises that makes a voluntary act good and not the circumstances the action (Art. 2), and even if it is true that human reason can err and can take a bad action for good (Art. 5), are not some errors excusable, it is especially not those who disregard that one is not allowed to approach the wife of another, which is in direct opposition to the law of God (Art. 6).
Elsewhere, where it is also well-known to the moralists, in Quodlibet IX, Quaestio 7, Article 2, St. Thomas explains that circumstances can not change the value of an action, but its nature is one of the killing or punishing an offender to satisfy justice or legitimate defense. It is in this case not unjust violence, but a virtuous action. In contrast, he emphasizes that with some actions, badness is inseparably linked, as in fornication, adultery, and other similar actions. You can never be good.
A child who reads the catechism understands this, Pius XII said in a speech on 18 April 1952 with which he condemned situation ethics that does not rely on the universal moral law, such as the Ten Commandments, but “in real and concrete conditionalities and circumstances in which one must act, and according to which the deciding individual conscience must judge and decide.”
Pius XII. recalled that a good intention can never justify objectionable means, and that there are situations in which man, and especially the Christian, must sacrifice everything, even his life, to save his soul. The same thing happened in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor of John Paul II., when she says that the circumstances or the intentions of a dishonest act in itself can never turn into a subjectively honest effect of their object. He said, quoting St. Augustine (Contra mendacium): fornication, curses, etc. remain, even if they were committed for good reasons, always sins.
Prof. de Mattei: What’s to be done?
Abbe Claude Barthe: The words of Christ can not be changed: “Even a woman commits adultery when she divorces her husband and marries another marriage” (Mk 10:12).Professor Robert Spaemann, a German philosopher and friend of Benedict XVI.commented that any reasonable person can see that here we have a break. I do not think that one can be content to assert an interpretation of the eighth chapter of the Apostolic Exhortation, according to which nothing has changed. One must also take the Pope’s words seriously, which confirmed the presentation of the letter by Cardinal Schönborn on the return flight from Lesbos
The theological principle is clear and the commitment to truth requires us to say that it is not acceptable. This also applies to the related proposals, such as those who claim that illicit cohabitation or the communion of the divorced and remarried the ideal of marriage are embodied “at least partially and in analog.” (AL, 292). It is therefore to be hoped, in the strong sense of theological hope, that many pastors, bishops and cardinals will speak in a clear way for salvation. At the same time, by the infallible Magisterium of the Pope or the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, to solicit, request and demand an authentic interpretation – in terms of the interpretation of the revealed Depositums, including Depositums of natural law, and all that which is associated with it – that which differs and thus confirms in the name of faith what is true and rejects what is not.
It seems to me that today, 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, we are entering into a new Post-Conciliar phase. We have seen a few passages on ecumenism, on religious freedom, breached the dam of doctrinal and theological Roman ecclesiological doctrine which was believed to be safe and well knit. Then another dam was built to withstand against the surge of modernity, the natural and Christian morality, whose starting points were Humanae Vitae of Paul VI. and all subsequent documents of John Paul II. on this subject. Everything that was described as the “Restoration” as Joseph Ratzinger described it in “State of the faith,” was largely built on the basis of the defense of marriage and the family.
Everything happens now, as though the dam will break at any moment.
Prof. de Mattei: Someone might accuse you exaggerated pessimism …
Abbé Barthe: On the contrary. I think we are witnessing a crucial moment of Post-Conciliar history. It’s hard to say what the consequences will be of that which we are experiencing, but it will be considerable. And despite everything, I’m sure that it will be positive in the end. First of all, I am safe by faith because the Church has the words of eternal life. I am also confident a very real way, because the need for a return to the Magisterium, the teaching that is actually one, will emerge more clearly in the future.