Pope St John Paul II introduced an important novelty in 1980 saying that the divorce and remarried should not commit adultery. Pope Francis, according to his ghost-writer – Archbishop Fernandez, says one can get round this by using a wonder new product - Situation Ethics Plus – with the magic ingredient culled in the South American rain forest known as AL304.
Approved in such diverse countries as Germany, Malta, Belgium etc, it can save you from the embarrassment of being seen not to go to Communion and even from the torture of going to Confession. It is available on prescription from your Parish Priest. Trials are being conducted as to whether it provides relief in other conditions such as rape, murder or arson. There have been reports, very few so far, of possible side effects as with all medicines such as uncontrolled weeping, feeling that someone is attacking you with a pitchfork, gnashing of teeth and a generalised burning sensation. If you do experience any of these sensations please do NOT bother your Parish Priest or rush to your local Accident and Emergency department as it is probably too late.
A critique of an Article by Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández
Fernandez is believed to be the ghost-writer of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia and thus close to Pope Francis and his thinking. He has has now published an article, which I was cite in this critique. (Víctor Manuel Fernández, "El capítulo VIII de Amoris Laetitia: lo que queda después de la tormenta". [Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia: what is left after the storm], Medellín, 168, (May/August 2017), pp. 449-468]
I am indebted to the Rorate Coeli website for references to this article including a translation into English to be found here. Perhaps one should really start at the beginning but there are times when one extraordinary sentence that stands out above all else namely needs pushing to the front. This passage is one of those...
'St. John Paul II’s proposal to the divorced in a new union to live in perfect continence, as a requirement to make access to Eucharistic communion possible, was already an important novelty'.
This 'proposal' is set out in Familiaris Consortio paragraph 84:
'Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."'The quote is from St John Paul's homily at the end of the 1980 Synod which can be found here, page 1082 in Latin.
Surely what St John Paul II is saying is that a divorced and remarried couple who have sexual relations are not in the state of grace which is a prerequisite for Communion but, more importantly, a prerequisite for eternal life. To describe that as a novel proposal is preposterous. For two thousand years we have had the teaching of Christ that divorce and remarriage is adulterous. Go back another thousand years or so and we have the ten commandments forbidding adultery. Novel? Only in wonderland or whatever desolate wasteland the Church now occupies.
|Revisionist of the Magisterium of St John Paul II|
Now, I suppose what Victor Fernandez might argue is that the novelty was the idea that the divorced and remarried could live together in continence and thus be in a state of grace whereas previously living together was always regarded as gravely sinful regardless of whether it was a chaste relationship or not. I do not know whether he would argue for that interpretation but it is not an interpretation that is going to occur to most readers. Surely that is obvious to anyone.
A third interpretation might be that Fernandez is saying that up till then there had been an idea that as a matter of conscience in the internal forum where the person is convinced that his first marriage is invalid but has not yet got an annulment or cannot produce sufficient proof then those in the second marriage are entitled to receive communion. This was a pastoral approach current in the 1970s but was firmly quashed by JPII in 1980. But the problem with that interpretation is that JPII was tightening matters up and therefore it cannot be taken a first liberalising step as Fernandez would like. In any case a couple in that situation were not validly married according to the law of the Church prior to obtaining an annulment and regularisation so they were not in a state of grace.
But let us go back to the start of this essay...
Fernandez starts with a summary where he recounts Pope Francis's endorsement of the position taken by the Bishops of Buenos Aires. I commented on that position, last January, as follows:
'In September 2016 we had the criteria of the Bishops of Buenos Aires which clearly stated that AL gave an opening to communion for the divorced and remarried who found continence too difficult. They referred to another footnote which has a particularly egregious and dishonest reference to a letter from St John Paul II which gives no support whatever to the idea that confession does not require a firm purpose of amendment as claimed by AL. All that JPII said was that the knowledge that one would probably sin again does not invalidate that firm purpose. In fact these criteria were merely a draft which had met criticism from some of the clergy in Buenos Aires but, when Pope Francis gave his absolute indorsement to it, it was no doubt set in concrete.'
Fernandez headlines what Pope Francis wrote:
"THERE ARE NO OTHER INTERPRETATIONS"
...and goes on to shamelessly repeat the misrepresentation of what St John Paul II wrote. Fernandez therefore claims that Pope Francis has no need to provide further explanation. He says that the Pope's letter to the Buenos Aires Bishops does not have the same weight as an Encyclical but his implication is that Amoris Laetitia has only this interpretation made by those Bishops and endorsed by the Pope as Pope.
'St. John Paul II’s proposal to the divorced in a new union to live in perfect continence, as a requirement to make access to Eucharistic communion possible, was already an important novelty. Many resisted this step. Still some today do not accept this proposal because they believe it leads to relativism.'
So here we have the idea that the words of St John Paul II were a first step in some process of which Amoris Laetitia (AL) is a further step. Amoris Laetitia has been criticised as leading to relativism but here Fernandez by coalescing these two steps into a process managing to suggest that some would accuse JPII's words as leading to relativism. This rather suggests that Fernandez would claim that his comment about novelty is based upon the idea that somehow JPII was relaxing some earlier discipline. He provides no evidence for that idea and it is not credible that people would interpret his remark in that way.
He then goes on to repeat the misinterpretation of what JPII wrote about the validity of a firm purpose of amendment. A firm purpose of amendment i.e. a purpose not to repeat the sin is an essential element in a valid confession. Of course, it has always been understood that the penitent may know that there is a possibility that he will fail again but that not does not invalidate the firm purpose of amendment. He might be guilty of presumption not to do so! Fernandez refers to the footnote in AL at paragraph 312 which reads:
'Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution”
Fernandez goes on to say:
“Against this careful precision of John Paul II, some seem to demand a kind of strict control of what others do in intimacy.”
One really begins to wonder what goes on in confessionals in South America. Are they the "torture chambers" of which Pope Francis spoke; are there confessors who suggest installing CCTV in the bedroom? In my experience, confessors might advise on avoiding occasions of sin but are usually satisfied with a purpose of amendment expressed in an act of contrition without further comment e.g. “I firmly resolve, by the help of your grace, never to offend you again, and carefully to avoid the occasions of sin.” Although I wonder how many of us even get that right in our acts of contrition.
One gets the feeling that Pope Francis and his entourage have set up a straw man of some Jansenist or extreme Calvinist Church spouting hell-fire sermons which needs to be constantly attacked. Perhaps this may have some relevance in South America but it quite foreign to any experience elsewhere where extreme laxity is more often the order of the day.
There then follows a piece about giving scandal:
When the need to avoid scandal is spoken about, we must note that this only happens when people "flaunt" their situation as if it were correct (cf. AL 297). Otherwise, scandal would also be given when the first marriage has been declared null, since probably many who see them go to confession and communion do not know about the annulment.
This is incorrect. Scandal will occur in the way denied in the second sentence. People who have divorced, remarried and then obtained an annulment should not be shy about informing people of the annulment so that they are not scandalised. A validating marriage ceremony in their parish church is a good opportunity to inform at least the local congregation.
|Cardinal Marx of Germany|
This section finishes with the strange assertion:
The great resistance that this issue provokes in some groups indicates that this question, beyond its importance in itself, breaks a rigid mental structure, very concentrated in issues of sexuality, and it forces them to broaden their perspectives.
Here we are again talking about 'rigid mental structures' and accusing people of having an obsession with sex. Why the great resistance to AL should show that that resistance is unfounded or 'broken' escapes me. Exactly the opposite seems to be happening.
In the next section headed ABSOLUTE MORAL STANDARDS AND HUMAN LIMITS we come to an ignorant illusion. Fernandez writes:
Francis does not affirm that general moral laws cannot provide for all situations, nor that they are incapable of impeding the decision of conscience. On the contrary, he says that "[they] set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected." However, "in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations" (AL 304). It is the formulation of the norm that cannot provide for everything, not the norm itself.
This is arrant nonsense. Take murder in English law. It is a crime at Common Law. That is to say there is no Act of Parliament defining it. It has been defined by various commentators such as Coke onwards. There are various Acts which partially define and redefine and there are many cases i.e. judgements written by judges which form precedents for further definition. No doubt there will be further Acts and cases in the future. However the basic idea that murder is a crime remains and all subsequent law on the subject is implied in that one idea. Thus the basic norm that murder is a crime does cover all cases and provides for all particular situations. What Fernandez is implying is that this is not the case and therefore the norm can be interpreted in whatever chaotic manner that suits the whim of a judge or in this case a cleric regardless of any guiding principle or precedent. This confirms what Pope Francis has already said about what might only lead to an intolerable casuistry.1
This is just one example of the anti-intellectual approach. It is interesting that he quotes a very valid point about discernment:
Some claim to simplify the matter in this way, by saying that, according to Francis, "The subject may not be able to be in mortal sin because, for various reasons, he is not fully aware that his situation constitutes adultery." (This is what Claudio Pierantoni stated in a recent conference, very critical of Amoris Laetitia in Rome on April 22, 2017.) And they question him that it makes no sense to speak about discernment if "the subject remains indefinitely unaware of his situation."
In answer to this we are told that Pope Francis regards all this as much more complex but then evades the question by saying:
In any event, the specific and principal proposal of Francis, in line with the Synod, is not concerning the considerations on the formulation of the norm. Why then is this question part of his proposal? Because he calls for much attention to the language that is used to describe weak persons. For him, offensive expressions such as "adulterer" or "fornicator" should not necessarily be deduced from the general norms when referring to concrete persons.
Thus he completely wanders off the point onto a quite different subject as to what language you use. Of course calling someone an adulterer rather than gently pointing out their action is adultery is not perhaps the best way of encouraging them to correct their behaviour but what has that to do with his theory about norms? Fernandez finishes this section with the sentence:
This makes it possible not always to lose the life of sanctifying grace in a “more uxorio”cohabitation.
Thus these ideas are to apply not only to the divorced and remarried but also to anyone cohabitating in a sexual relationship perhaps including those involved in sodomy in a same-sex marriage? By talking of losing the life of sanctifying grace presumably he means ceasing to be in a state of grace. This is a point I will come back to.
That is stretching what JPII actually said which was:
This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.3
Obviously they could separate but what JPII is saying is that there could be strong reasons against separating. To take the word 'cannot' out of context in that way suggesting an absolute prohibition or impossibility is seriously misleading. In the same way where Pope Benedict spoke of an irreversible situation, it is misleading to say that there could be an absolute impossibility.4 What both former Popes are saying is that where there are very serious reasons for not discontinuing the cohabitation then they must live as brother and sister.
However Pope Francis has taken this further referring to...
...a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin 5
Quite what is meant by the reference to further sin is not explained. Fernandez is using the idea that two former Popes have said that there are irreversible situations. He gives the example of a woman in that situation where the irreversibility is 'amplified' (quite how I do not understand) to say that in such a situation guilt and imputability are diminished. But at this stage he is not saying that there is no guilt.
His next section is entitled BEYOND SITUATION ETHICS. Situation ethics where there are no universal moral rules and everything depends upon circumstances is of course contrary to Catholic teaching as it denies that any action can be intrinsically evil. So initially one wonders where we are about to go beyond situation ethics! It would seem that Fernandez wants to retain the idea of intrinsically evil acts – objective sin – so as to comply with Catholic teaching but in reality only takes into account subjective guilt in assessing whether a person is living in God's grace. Does Fernandez mean that 'living in God's grace mean that the person is in a state of grace and therefore eligible to receive communion. There is a crucial quote from AL:
"Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace" (AL 305).
If Fernandez is saying that 'living in God's grace' means being in a state of grace then somebody whose subjective culpability is diminished is eligible for communion. That is the clear implication of the words 'or fully such' in the above quote. He does not say to what degree culpability would be lacking so effectively it seems that anyone with the slightest excuse for committing a mortal sin can still be in God's grace.
The next section headed THE POWER OF DISCERNMENT makes it clear that in his view being in God's grace is being in a state of grace. Thus effectively the circumstances govern whether Communion can be received or not and we are fully into situation ethics and the sop to an objective situation of sin is just that i.e. a pretence that he and Pope Francis are in compliance with Catholic teaching. This is just a laughable attempt to evade accusations of heterodoxy; it is difficult to believe that an Archbishop can seriously believe that anyone is going to buy this sophistry. It is truly BEYOND SITUATION ETHICS and perhaps should be called BEYOND SITUATION ETHICS PLUS.
So one can now have the situation where one can say that one was not fully culpable because one had had a couple of drinks before committing adultery and this is sufficient excuse to claim one is still in a state of grace. Of course, it will be argued that this only applies to the extreme hard case but we had that argument when abortion was legalised. We all know about the slippery slope that followed and the current situation where we have abortion on demand virtually regardless of circumstance.
|St Paul can't quite believe what he is reading...|
Fernandez then talks of a change in discipline. By discipline I understand rules which go beyond revealed truth such as the requirement to go to Confession at least once a year. Here we are concerned with the rule that those in mortal sin should not be admitted to Holy Communion. But there is a separate revealed warning from St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27:
And therefore, if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord's body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord's body for what it is.
So, here we have not only a disciplinary rule but a teaching from the Apostle Paul. It is surely the teaching that is much more in question. The individual will know whether he is in a state of grace or not and this should decide whether he goes to Communion or not. That is going to be a common occurrence for a practising Catholic. However, for a priest to refuse Communion in accordance with the discipline is going to be a rare event as he will have to be certain about the state of the soul of the individual. Indeed, such is almost unknown in today's Church e.g. the controversy about whether politicians who have voted in favour of abortion should be refused communion.
Fernandez seems to recognise that there is teaching apart from discipline in this matter. He discusses the exercise of the discipline:
The disciplinary consequences of the norm remained unaltered, because they were based only on an objective fault against an absolute norm. Francis proposes to go one step further. It is true that the general norm is not purely a discipline, but it is related to a theological truth, such as the union between Christ and the Church which is reflected in marriage.
Fernandez refers to the second paragraph of AL where Pope Francis criticises:
...deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.But that was a general remark and was not directed to this question in particular and there is no indication of what these undue conclusions are or what makes them undue. Thus whilst acknowledging the theological Pauline ban on communion Fernandez goes on to examine the case for changing the discipline in the next section entitled THE LEGITIMACY OF A CHANGE IN DISCIPLINE.
The problem Fernandez then has is in disentangling the discipline from the doctrine. He gives various historical examples which would be too tedious to query here but he concludes by saying:
As of those changes in the understanding of doctrine, there were, as a consequence, various changes in discipline.
But here he has said that the understanding of the doctrine is not changing; so why does he think the discipline should change?
He then points to RECENT CHANGES OF DISCIPLINE REGARDING NEW UNIONS such as the divorced and remarried previously not being allowed a church funeral but now being allowed such., but notably he fails to point out that there has been no change in doctrine entailing that change in discipline. He says that discipline can be changed without doctrine being changed – surely a statement of the obvious although there would be limitations to this where for instance the change in discipline clearly contradicts the doctrine.
The problem, which he stealthily fails to point out, is the message that a change in discipline sends out to the faithful. The faithful will inevitably conclude that if the discipline against giving Communion to those not in a state of grace is removed then it is perfectly okay to receive Communion unworthily. If you first of all say that the Church can say that you cannot go to Communion in certain circumstances and then say the Church no longer says you cannot then everyone will interpret that as permission granted.
There is then a statement about about the two rules doctrinal and disciplinary:
The rule that no one who is not in grace God ought to receive Eucharist by its very nature does not tolerate exceptions. Whoever receives the Body and the Blood of Christ unworthily eats and drinks his own condemnation. The rule according to which persons in God's grace are excluded from communion as the canonical penalty for the counter-witness which they have given, however, may be subject to exceptions, and this is exactly what Amoris Laetitia tells us.
It is a bid odd to talk about a rule that people in a state of grace are excluded from Communion in the third sentence above. It is difficult to understand what Fernandez is saying; no such rule exists. Is he talking about a situation where there is a mistake about the person being in a state of grace i.e. the rule is that people not in a state of grace are excluded from communion? The English translation on Rorate Coeli is missing a word at that point, but checking the original Spanish, he definitely is talking about a rule which excludes people in a state of grace from receiving Communion. Perhaps he did not mean to write that and it is just a typo but frankly does it matter? There are two different rules:
- The doctrine laid down by St Paul that he who takes communion unworthily eats and drink to his damnation.
- The rule where those not in a state of grace should not partake of communion.
Fernandez says there is no exception to the first but that there are exceptions to the second. Incidentally as a matter of Canon Law that exclusion is not a canonical penalty although it could become one if a penal process is instituted and concluded so as to impose a penalty. Refusing Communion is more akin to preventing someone from harming themselves in the way St Paul indicates. It must be pretty rare that anyone is refused Communion and the institution of a penal process so that it becomes a penalty must be very rare indeed. If the person giving out communion refuses Communion in the mistaken belief that the person is not in a state of grace then that is simply an unfortunate but serious mistake. The only thing one could say is that application of the rule should be done with the utmost care and where the facts are certain which explains why it so rarely happens. However if such mistakes arise it is hardly a reason for relaxing the rule.
In the next section RECOGNITION OF LIMITS AND GOOD THAT IS POSSIBLE Fernandez says that Pope Francis is in no way suggesting that the cohabitation is anything other than immoral. (Note that he is here talking of cohabitation – to what does that extend?) but that there may be...
"great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins." (AL 298)
No explanation is offered by Fernandez or Pope Francis as to what those new sins might be. Does one really have to comment on the absurdity of the idea that it is okay to commit one sin so as to avoid falling into another sin? We are really into that meaningless waffle so characteristic of Pope Francis at this point in Fernandez's essay. There is the claim that other things can make up for the wrong being done. One is reminded of those films of Hitler playing with dogs and children. Herein lies the atomic bomb that Professor Seifert has recently written about. Sin may be what God is asking for as the best response possible!6
Under the heading CONSCIENCE there then follows an attack on using logic, reason or intellect in these matters. The problem with that is illustrated by an African Bishop saying that his people, whom one might surmise have only rudimentary education, have no problem in adhering to the orthodox view and are not blinded by this sophistry.
Fernandez then rambles on about the process of discernment with a priest saying it is going to be very much dependent on the local church – so what is adultery in one country is adultery in the next – a situation we have already seen in Poland and Germany.
Finally in a SECONDARY QUESTION we are told that Pope Francis wanted to introduce all this in a discrete manner by the use of footnotes. Laughter is the only possible response. So what conclusion can one come to on all of this. Let me try and summarise his argument as follows:
Pope St John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio says that a divorced and remarried couple who for serious reasons do not find it possible or rather advisable to separate should not have sexual relations i.e. should not commit adultery. Fernandez says this is an 'important novelty' and the purpose of his article is to contradict that idea. He claims that this is what Pope Francis intended when he approved the draft statement of the Buenos Aires Bishops – there are no other interpretations. Fernandez pretends that JPII was moving in the same direction! He has no conception of the scandal that these proposals are causing and will continue to cause with divorce being made to look a very easy option.
Throughout there is an anti-intellectual bias claiming one cannot derive norms for individual situations from the general norm “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Thus this makes it possible not always to lose the life of sanctifying grace in a “more uxorio”cohabitation.
I think we can take it that he understands that losing the life of sanctifying grace entails no longer being in a state of grace. He then makes the false claim that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI said there were situations where adultery was unavoidable. Not only untrue but a simple and deadly heresy.
He then tries to counter the claim that he is into situation ethics by saying that Pope Francis accepts the Pauline teaching that receiving Communion unworthily leads to damnation but merely objects to the rule that a person is not eligible to receive Communion if they are not in a state of grace. I think he sees this latter rule purely as one which allows a celebrant to refuse Communion to such people. Essentially he is claiming that this is not situation ethics as Pope Francis adheres to the Pauline doctrine at the same time as criticising the disciplinary rule. This is really situation ethics plus or known as simply 'having your cake and eating it'.
The idea is that anyone who is not 'fully culpable' of adultery has not committed a mortal sin and is therefore eligible for Communion. It is not therefore the extreme hard cases that are to be excused but anyone who can claim they were not 'fully capable'. This is a slippery slope. A couple of drinks might remove culpability? Further all this extends to all 'irregular unions' – fornication, sodomy, bestiality – where is the line to be drawn? And why not apply this to all of the deadly sins?
In summary there are two different rules:
1. The doctrine laid down by St Paul that he who takes communion unworthily eats and drink to his damnation.
2. The disciplinary rule where those not in a state of grace should not partake of communion.
Fernandez is saying that Pope Francis accepts there are no exceptions to the first but there are to the second. They see the second rule as something which the priest acts upon and can relax. It is rather like saying that throwing oneself of Beachy Head leads to certain death but we are not going to counsel or stop anyone from so doing and might even encourage them to do just that.
1 Amoris Laetitia para 304
2 Final Relatio of the Synod para 51.
3 Familiaris Consortio para 84
4 http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis.html para 29b
5 Amoris Laetitia para 301
6 AL303 but for Professor Seifert's heartfelt plea see https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/amoris-laetitia-is-a-ticking-atomic-bomb-set-to-obliterate-all-catholic-mor