By Phil Lawler | Jan 06, 2017
The debate on Amoris Laetitia has been simmering steadily since my last entry on the subject. Father Raymond de Souza has helped put that debate in perspective, with a clear and compelling summary—easily the best that I have seen—of where the argument now stands.
At this point the theoretical arguments for and against the “Kasper proposal” have been explored thoroughly. In this short comment I propose to take a step back, and assess how well (if at all) those arguments match the everyday realities of life in the Catholic Church. Proponents of change tell us that we should learn from the “lived experience” of the faithful. Let’s apply that standard to the matter at hand.
In theory, the “Kasper proposal”—as set forth in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia—suggests that Catholics who are divorced and remarried should meet with their pastors, and begin a lengthy, in-depth, soul-searching exploration of their situations. In theory, this process will enable them better to recognize their own failings, their need for God’s mercy, and the steps they should take to bring their lives fully into harmony with the demands of Christian morality. In theory it sounds edifying. But is it likely to happen? Is it a realistic expectation?
That long, demanding journey of discernment would be possible only if a couple made a firm commitment to the process, and found a priest equally willing to guide them along the path. How many couples would be willing to put in the necessary hours, to take each of the inevitably painful steps? How many priests?
Isn’t it far more likely that ordinary couples, if they wanted to return to Communion, would seek out a priest who would give them quick approval to do so, without putting them through the rigorous spiritual exercises envisioned in Amoris Laetitia? Isn’t it more likely that many priests would be all too willing to provide that sort of rubber-stamp approval, to avoid a long and frustrating process? The process sketched out in Chapter 8 of AL requires a level of commitment that, frankly, we aren’t likely to encounter often.
In the American parishes with which I’m familiar, priests are available to hear confessions just 30 to 45 minutes a week. Yet that short stretch of time is usually adequate to accommodate the few penitents who show up. Now we are being asked to believe that in these same parishes, priests will voluntarily set aside hour after hour to meet with couples in irregular situations—and that those couples will suddenly demand those sessions.
Certainly I know good priests who already do spend hours in the confessional or in counseling sessions, wrestling with the problems of troubled couples. And I know lay people who, having rediscovered their faith, sought out intensive spiritual direction. Without exception—do you suppose this is a coincidence?—they oppose the Kasper proposal.