Fascinating exchanges over the meaning of ‘Amoris laetitia’ – Is some clarity emerging?

Fascinating exchanges over the meaning of ‘Amoris laetitia’ – Is some clarity emerging?

Posted on 14 April 2017 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

If you haven’t been following this, you might tune in.

Pope Francis’ document Amoris laetitia has sparked sharp divisions and debates. The sides have drawn up pretty much into two camps… well… three if you count the uninformed, which is pretty large.

For the 1st anniversary of Amoris, Washington DC’s Archbishop Card. Wuerl said:

He notes that the pastoral guidance of Amoris Laetitia, found in chapter 8, has been controversial, but explains why there is no cause for alarm:

“The hermeneutic required for a fruitful appropriation of the document’s teaching on this point is based on the understanding that none of the teaching of the Church has been changed: This includes the doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, the directives of the Code of Canon Law, and also the role of individual conscience in the determination of personal culpability…..

“The exhortation does not create some sort of internal forum process in which a marriage can be annulled, or in which the objective moral order can be changed…. Instead, the exhortation places greater emphasis on the role of the individual conscience in appropriating those moral norms in the person’s actual circumstances.”

Fr Raymond de Souza then made the sound point at the ever iffy Crux that the bishops of Malta, in their guidelines for applying Chapter 8 issued a while back (aka “The Maltese Fiasco”), the bishops of Germany and curial Cardinal Coccopalmerio think that something has changed. Whereas Card. Wuerl tries to uphold John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris consortio, the others say Amoris revises it.

So, in simple terms within this complicated debate, there are a couple camps. One camp holds that doctrine and discipline haven’t changed, and the other holds that it has. De Souza rightly concludes that they can’t both be right.

Then, again at iffy Crux – and this is another example of why Crux is iffy – the former editor of the ultra-liberal Pill (aka The Tablet), Austen Ivereigh, and now an editor for Crux – wrote a condescending rebuttal of Fr. de Souza stating:

The hermeneutic of interpretation of Pope Francis’s document on the joy of love, says Wuerl, is that the Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed. Questioning that idea, de Souza responds that Wuerl can only be right if the German and Maltese bishops are wrong.

This is a classic maneuver of those whom the cardinal accurately describes as “challenging the integrity” of Amoris. De Souza says he hopes Wuerl is right, that “nothing has changed”; but if it hasn’t, then how can the Maltese bishops say “something has changed?”

But Wuerl never says nothing has changed. He says church teaching and laws on marriage haven’t changed.

Something has changed, not in church law or doctrine, but in moral theology and the pastoral application of sacramental discipline.

This shouldn’t be necessary to say, but for the record, Amoris Laetitia throughout its nine chapters upholds, promotes and passionately seeks to restore lifelong, faithful, stable, indissoluble unions.

In response to Ivereigh’s patronizing response to de Souza comes the deft canonist Ed Peters.

Peters published simultaneously at the Catholic World Report and his own blog In The Light Of The Law a post which reveals the fatal flaw in Ivereigh’s snooty piece. Peters writes (with my [Fr. Z’s] comments [in brackets]):

Sever ‘canon law’ from ‘pastoral pratice’ and lots of things make sense

I am tempted to address at length Austen Ivereigh’s commentary onFr. Raymond de Souza’s observations on Cdl. Wuerl’s statementon Francis’ document Amoris laetitia, but at a certain point the law of diminishing returns sets leaving such an exercise tedious.

So let me just say: Ivereigh is free to argue that Amoris does not undermine Church teaching on sin, but he needs to respond to those who disagree with his claim with something more than paternalistic tsk-tsk’ing [Peters also noted Ivereigh’s condescension] and, before anything else, he needs to face the simple fact that Wuerl can’t be right (as I think he is, if narrowly read) and the bishops of Malta also be right (as I think they certainly are not)—which is de Souza’s main point.

The reason Ivereigh misses de Souza’s point is, I suspect, that, deep down, Ivereigh thinks that “canon law” and ‘approved pastoral practice’ are two fundamentally different things. [This error has infected a great many people today, churchmen, newsies, etc. It is dangerous.] Thus Ivereigh could logically hold that canon law (including the barring of divorced-and-remarried Catholics from holy Communion) has remained the same, while at the same time holding that pastors may admit such persons to holy Communion under conditions other than those already recognized by the Church (namely, separation of abodes, or a commitment to live as brother-sister where the irregular marriage is not known). Ivereigh would be right, if canon law has little or nothing to do with what pastors should really do.

At some point I hope that Ivereigh et al will sit down, look at the text of Canon 915 and the numerous ecclesial values behind it, and recognize, among other things, that degrees of personal culpability (which Ivereigh and others go on and on and on about, as if that were the central insight his adversaries lack) have nothing to do with the operation of the objectively oriented Canon 915, the main law that controls pastoral practice in this area—whereupon they will do one of two things: (1) accept that tradition and promote it, or (2) acknowledge that tradition and honestly call for changing it. [!] At which point all sides would be talking about the same, and the dispositive, issue.

What I fear is that, instead, Ivereigh et al, ignoring the connection that must, and usually does, exist between law and practice, will simply keep on repeating that canon law has not changed but good pastoral practice has. Which is a huge waste of time.

Peters got this exactly right.

I am reminded of the exchange in Aristophanes The Birds between Meton and Pisthetaerus.

Let’s be honest about what Amoris says and doesn’t say without verbose fan-dances which attempt to square the circle.

The ongoing debate about Amoris Ch. 8 reveals a possible approach of Pope Francis, who, so far at least, has declined to offer any clarifications. He has not, for example, responded to the Five Dubia of the Four Cardinals.

As Tracy Rowland points out in her terrific new book Catholic Theology (Doing Theology), …

If Pope Francis has sympathy for any particular approach to Catholic theology, it is that of ‘People’s Theology’. One of the most extensive articles on this subject is Juan Carlos Scannone’s ‘El papa Francisco y la teologia del pueblo’ published in the journal Razón y Fe. In this paper Scannone claims that not only is Pope Francis a practitioner of ‘People’s Theology’ but also that Francis extracted his favourite four principles – time is greater than space, unity prevails over conflict, reality is more important than ideas, and the whole is greater than the parts – from a letter of the nineteenth-century Argentinian dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793– 1877) sent to another Argentinian caudillo, Facundo Quiroga (1788– 1835), in 1834. These four principles, which are said to govern the decision-making processes of Pope Francis, have their own section in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and references to one or other of them can be found scattered throughout his other papal documents. Pope Francis calls them principles for ‘building a people’.

A common thread running through each of these principles is the tendency to give priority to praxis over theory. [NOTA BENE…] There is also a sense that conflict in itself is not a bad thing, that ‘unity will prevail’ somehow and that time will remove at least some of the protagonists in any conflict. The underlying metaphysics is quite strongly Hegelian, and the approach to praxis itself resembles what Lamb classified as ‘cultural-historical’ activity and is associated primarily with Luther and Kant rather than Marx.

The ongoing conflicts between the camps which have sharply divided over Amoris laetitia may reveal a kind of “Hegelian” approach to doing theology favored by the Holy Father: let the positions clash and, over time, things will settle down and there will have emerged a new approach, changes in doctrine, revised laws, etc.

In the meantime, Ed Peters got it right and Ivereigh got it wrong. De Souza is right to point out that both Card. Wuerl (in what De Souza cites) and the bishops of German and Malta, etc., can’t both be right about Amoris.

Lastly, I renewed my serious questions about why the Knights of Columbus would bankroll Crux if this is what Crux is determined to produce. This is the second time that Crux – with the Knights’ money – has published something troubling by Ivereigh, whom Crux employees an editor.

Perhaps it is time for Knights to think about shedding their KC insurance.

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One comment on “Fascinating exchanges over the meaning of ‘Amoris laetitia’ – Is some clarity emerging?

  1. Fascinating exchanges over the meaning of ‘Amoris laetitia’ – Is some clarity emerging?

    It’s like with a punch bowl. You let it sit for a year, then the swirling mass settles so you can clearly see the turd at the bottom of the bowl.

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