Monday, April 11, 2016

Amoris Laetita: Opening An Even Bigger Door?

Well, Amoris Laetitia is out and krazies are spattered with the fecal matter they have thrown into the fan.   Everyone is reacting to it—progressives and conservatives.  After Mass yesterday it was the only subject of conversation during the coffee hour.  The pastor and the parochial vicar have some very different thoughts on it, though I would label neither of them “conservative.” One little old lady couldn’t stop crying as she told us how she had gone forty years without Holy Communion—“every Sunday having my heart pulled out of my chest and crushed,” because she had left an abusive husband and civilly married a man—who could provide for her five girls.  She loved her second husband and she found graces every day in their relationship; she had grown deep in prayer and grace throughout the years, but her hunger for the Eucharist had to go unsatisfied.  Finally able to have her marriage in the Church blessed (the abusive husband has died), she is at Mass every morning and says she never takes the sacraments for granted.   Another woman told us “I am in an invalid marriage and I can go to Holy Communion every day.  O, we were married by a priest—at Mass even—but we have always planned, because of a gene that runs in my family for dwarfism—not to have children.  That renders my marriage invalid.  But I know that before God Bob and I stand in his grace.  And nothing keeps me away from the Christ in the Eucharist.”
I want to look at Amoris Laetitia not as a pastoral document about the remarried but from a different perspective, a sign of greater things to come in the Church.  For almost five centuries Catholic theology, like its Liturgy, had been frozen and not allowed to develop.  This was due primarily as a reaction to the Protestant Reformations and the challenges to our traditional faith.  Through those Middle Ages where the Church was so strong, the universities were the center of theological debate.  A particular subject of debate was whether the Blessed Virgin had been conceived with or without Original Sin.  The Dominicans, ironically, opposed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Franciscans and Carmelites supported it.  But all matter of theological topics were up for argument and it was from the give-and-take, in the arguments pro and con, that the magisterium was able to formulate doctrines.  The Reformation put an end to all that.  Martin Luther posted his list of 95 theses he wanted to debate at the University Church of Wittenberg and suddenly the Church said: no more debate.  We will define our doctrines sitting here in our Roman ivory towers.  Students for priesthood were pulled from the universities and locked into closed seminaries where ideas could be controlled.  Catechisms for the laity and manuals for the seminarians appeared: here are the questions: here are the answers.  Memorize the answers.  It was a time of doctrinal retrenchment.  And it only got worse.  In the nineteenth century as Protestant scholars begin looking at the scriptures from historical, linguistic, and structural perspectives and new insights began to emerge: there are four sources for the Book of Genesis not a single author; Paul did not write Hebrews (among other books attributed to him); there are inconsistencies in the Resurrection narrative, etc.   And then scholars—both Catholic and Protestant—got into the Church Fathers and found some wide discrepancies both among the Fathers and between the Fathers and contemporary Catholicism.  Rome totally freaked and the papacies of Leo XIII and Pius X built a strong firewall against “modernism.”  The walls did not last.  In the years after WWI, Catholic scholars surreptitiously began working again in the forbidden fields.  Some were caught and silenced—Congar, Chenu, deLubac—but the tide was overwhelming.  In 1943 Pius XII sanctioned biblical studies with the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. The work of the historians and patristic scholars came out into the light again as well.   Little by little the Catholic intellectual world began to open up again.
The one area that has remained shut—indeed padlocked—is the sexual moral theology.  When it comes to morality of economics, politics, immigration, human rights—no problem.  The Church has made huge strides.   But don’t dare say a word about human sexuality.  Any number have tried—including Charles Curran—and the axe always falls.  Hopefully Amoris Laetitia is the unchaining of a much-needed theological investigation into contemporary issues for which the old sixteenth-century answers no longer seem to work.
No intellectual discipline stands in a vacuum and especially today there is an appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of sound scholarship.  Theology always stood on the shoulders of Philosophy.  Today—if it is to have credibility—the Church also needs both to dialogue with and to draw on the sciences: the behavioral sciences, the social sciences, and the physical sciences.  This does not mean “surrendering” to the surrounding culture—far from it.  In the spinning whirl of contemporary culture the Church needs to keep its compass pointed to the Truth but it does not do this by burying its head in the sands of the answers of simpler days.    Today we face not only divorce and remarriage, but same-sex attraction, gender identity, artificial conception, genetic engineering, stem-cell research, embryology, various forms of contraception, abortion, surrogacy, and even potential cloning of human persons.  We have a lot of work to do to catch up on our scientific knowledge and bring it into dialogue with our theology if we are to have anything credible to say—or be listened to—in the world in which we live.  To quote a famous moral theologian: If the Church does not listen to the world, then the world will never listen to the Church.   

Finally, one more note about Amoris Laetitia.  In the years before, during, and for sometime after Vatican II there was an outstanding moral theologian teaching in Rome: Father Bernard Häring, CSsR.  Häring taught moral theology in Rome from 1949 until 1987.  He had a very different approach than other theologians, declaring that moral action was not about following a set of external rules, but fundamentally a dialogue between the soul and God with the soul desiring to root itself in God’s will.  I think Amoris Laetitia calls us all—not only the divorced and remarried—to do just that: with rigorously honest hearts to conform our actions to the will of God as best as we can discern, and leave the laws and prescripts to the scribes and the Pharisees who choose to live by law rather than by grace. Häring was pushed into a gentle exile by Cardinal Ratzinger in the John Paul years.  His methodology was seen as too dangerous to the sort of authority Rome wanted to exercise.  I think that in many ways, Amoris Laetitia is a vindication of the contribution of Bernard Häring and a signal we are back on track. 


  1. Back on track ? You mean by tolerating personal sin and elevating social and public policies into Good vs. Evil, like Laudato Si ? Gee, no Christian church has ever dumped moral values and elevated social justice nonsense to the highest order. I am sure it is a prescription for moral, theological, and attendance success. Let's just call AL "Lambeth II."

    I also like how every DRM was formerly in an 'abusive' marriage. I have yet to see someone say "I just got tired of the guy/gal, and thought I could do better." Yes, I am sure that never has happened in all of time memorial.

    Why not call this the Catholics vs. the Protestants, instead of conservatives vs. progressives ? Because you would be hard-pressed to tell me where the regressives differ from Protestnatism, that is to say Liberal Protestantism, in their theology or moral beliefs. Not surprisingly, all of these regressives are from Western Europe where the Church has been destroyed.

    And that's who you want guiding us into the future? God Help Us.

  2. Well, I am sorry that you don't like Francis and where he is taking the Church, but your "tolerating personal sin and elevating public policies into Good vs Evil" is a characterization of Francis' agenda and one that clearly reveals your biases. I am afraid that you are going to grow only more and more unhappy in his remaining tenure but take comfort in the thought that his successor will almost certainly reflect a swing of the pendulum, though to what degree it is hard to say. The pre-conclave meetings of the Cardinals will be fascinating as they debate out these policies and where the Church should go.

  3. Consolamini, I DO like Francis -- personally. But I look at who elected him to Pope and their secret (and not-so-secret) agenda and I see moral decay. I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I have yet to see you say anything bad about the state of the Catholic Church in all these "liberal" Cardinals dioceses.

    Are you aware that Mass attendance used to be 80% in these countries ? And now its down to single-digits ? You don't see cause-and-effect there ?

    Religion in general and Catholicism in particular are belief systems predicated on a Higher Being. Strip away the underlying rationale for that belief, and it all collapses. There are better social clubs with better benefits than a church if all you want to do is hang out.

    I see nothing in Pope Francis' message about salvation or saving souls. I hear him wanting people to come back to the Catholic Church -- WHY ??

    So they can feel good about themselves ?

    So they will change their behavior ?

    So they won't feel left out ?

    So they will stop engaging in their sinful behavior ?

    What is the end game here, Consolamini ? Does Pope Francis think Anglicanism or Episcopalianism is the way to go ? Lutheranism, where they have already started to split like the As and Es ?

    Have you researched what Francis did to the Church in Argentina ? It's not exactly inspiring confidence in those of us who studied his past. Doesn't make him a bad person, anymore than a failed businessman is a bad person.

    Just means you don't want to entrust him with your capital -- or Faith.

    1. Well, you know I do want to entrust my capital to him--that is my Faith. I have been reading the gospels for half a century now, and in this Pope I hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. O sure, Jesus speaks through each of the popes (at least their varied holinesses let him) but I can recognize the voice of the shepherd when Francis speaks. I know that a lot of people put all sorts of spins on what he says and does. He is too liberal. He hugs gay people, He wears a clown-nose to be funny, He laughs too much, He doesn't genuflect at Mass, he put a beach-ball on the altar at Santa Maria Maggiore. I read it all. But I see the passion he has for migrants. I see the tenderness he shows to the handicapped. I hear him speak honestly about his own faults and failures. I'm sorry you feel different, but I have a pope I can believe in and, more important, a pope I can believe.
      the day will come when Francis retires or goes to his grave and we will have a new pope. Trust me, it won't be another Francis. Maybe the red shoes will come out again and we might even see him sitting on a throne. Who knows. He will probably be more about Law and Order and less about the environment and economic injustice. And he will be Pope too. I'll live with it I i will miss Francis, but whoever is pope steers the barque and I go along for the ride. Right now I am just grateful for a sail full of wind and a blue sky.

  4. I always enjoy little kernels I pick up from your posts. This was my favorite today:
    "Martin Luther posted his list of 95 theses he wanted to debate at the University Church of Wittenberg..."(emphasis added)
    Why do I like this? Because although it makes perfect sense (the word 'theses' should have been a clue to me) the idea that Luther was seeking academic debate has never been connected for me and I've got a little age on me. So thank you.

  5. My fear is that younger priests have been so poorly formed and are so rigid in their outlook that the document won't have the intended impact. Already, the commentary has been mixed and some on the right have decided that Pope Francis really meant living as brother and sister or "spiritual Communion." Our buddy, Cardinal Burke, declared that this obviously wasn't part of the Magisterium and Pope Francis was just writing his reflections on this topic because he was bored. I am afraid that this will not change what happens in many dioceses and parishes one bit. The only thing that I can think of is perhaps the laity will be more active in developing their consciences rather than just obeying.

  6. What do you mean by 'conscience' ? You mean the right to disagree with the Church and pretend you are Catholic ? Can a Catholic believe in white superiorty and denigrate blacks ? Is racism tolerated under the "I'm personally opposed to racism but....." argument ?

    Catholics must form their consciences in accord with Church teaching. Conscience assesses how a person's concrete action in a given situation accords with Church teaching — not to determine whether one agrees with or accepts Church teaching in the first place.

    1. It is funny but I never used the word "conscience" in the posting. I think you are just out looking for a quarrel. Now, I am old enough to have done my basic religious education in the years before Vatican II--under good Popes Pius XII and John XXIII. And I clearly remember the good Sisters teaching us that we had to form our consciences in the light of Church teaching but that forming one conscience in consideration of the teaching of the Church was not the same as conforming our conscience to the teaching of the Church. We learned that you had to look deeply and honestly into your own soul and question how the teaching applied--or failed to apply--to you. The example the Sisters gave us was Franz Jaggerstatter, the Austrian conscientious objector who was executed for refusing to serve in the Army of the Third Reich. The Catholic Church had no position at the time on conscientious objectors. Jaggerstatter's priest told him he had a duty to serve both to his nation and so he could provide for his wife and children. Jaggerstatter's bishop told him he had to serve that there was nothing in the teaching of the Church to excuse his military service. But Jaggerstatter believed that it would be wrong and he refused to serve and was martyred for his decision. And of course there was Joan of Arc. A panel of bishops told her her visions were from the devil and pointed out that it was forbidden by the Scriptures for women to wear men's clothing. She refused to conform because her conscience told her differently and she paid the price. Yes, in forming our consciences we must pay close attention to the teaching of the Church, but the ultimate decision of what constitutes moral behavior is ours. So go ahead and judge others as you choose but the safer course is to trust they are acting with a graced integrity unless you know something else to the contrary

  7. Hi, Consolamini,
    FrankieB is back as CorvetteKid1969 trying to raise hell at NatCathReporter.

    1. He may also be the poster who has taken another poster's name with one tiny modification.

  8. Here is something to be afraid about.

    An American contributor, a priest with the pretentious pen-name “Monsieur L’Abbé” has published an essay on Rorate Caeli reading Amoris Laetitia through the lens of Brideshead Revisited. Monsieur considers himself acquainted with the Marchmain family; they are “relatable”, a “family for all seasons”. He is “enthralled with them and back to them often.” He frames the pastoral situations he encounters in terms of Marchmain family members.

    The essay reads Brideshead on the most superficial level, one that reduces the novel to “good guys” and “bad guys”; worse, every line betrays a dreadful psychological constraint and immaturity on the writer’s part.

    The gist of it is that Pope Francis would have encouraged Sebastian, Julia, Charles and Lord Marchmain in their sins, rather than confronting them and saving them for heaven.

    Anyone can write tripe like this essay. Auntie has done so many times. It’s not even that difficult to get rubbish like this published, thanks to the Internet.

    But here’s what’s truly terrifying: Monsieur is not an aging priest, living out his final years in an Anglophile fantasy. He is (I presume) young and newly ordained, set loose in an American diocese to counsel and guide people whom he reduces to Waugh’s fictional characters.

    May God have mercy on us all.

    1. I saw the Rorate Caeli posting by “Monsieur l’Abbé” though I hadn’t originally bothered to read it, but I don’t find much dangerous in the article and do find some distress that the “Monsieur l’Abbé” as been entrusted with the cure of souls. I know the type of priest—the affected cleric of a self-chosen pretentious nom de plume who mentally inhabits a world of European aristocracy with its foppish idiosyncrasies. I have been invited to rectories where a coterie of soutane clad clerics gather for their kirs royale before settling down to a multi-course dinner with its bevy of forks to one’s left and a regiment of knives to one’s right and as many as five wine glasses above. And, of course, not a woman in sight—even the people from the caterer’s are all men—and despite the all male presence, a man-eating tiger would starve to death if you know what I mean. Clerical gossip and ecclesiastical fashion are the topics of conversation. One or another will brag about his new cook—“a soufflé for dessert every night, every night. The bishop was coming to dinner weekly until his doctor made him stop.” Another has found a villa in Umbria for two weeks next summer “I just love being so close to Saint Francis…” and never sees the irony. And then these same prelatini will sit in the confessional and give guidance to the mother of five or the man who works two jobs to put his kids through the parish school. No if anything “Monsieur l’Abbé” shows us the need for a serious revaluation of our priests and our candidates for the priesthood. We have many excellent priests who know the faithful entrusted to their care, who can see the everyday challenges to ordinary people, and who can give down to earth spiritual guidance—they have to be the model, not the good “Monsieur l’Abbé.”