The IssueThe controverted section of Amoris Laetitia is Chapter 8, which deals with the pastoral care of those who are in “irregular” situations, most specifically those Catholics who have been sacramentally married, civilly divorced and now are living in a new conjugal union, either common-law cohabitation or civil marriage. They are living conjugal lives while being validly married to someone else. The traditional pastoral practice of the Church has been that such couples may not receive absolution in the sacrament of confession unless they are willing to cease that conjugal relationship — either by separation, or, if that is considered impossible, by abstaining from conjugal relations. Without at least an intention to do so, there would be lacking the required purpose of amendment, and perhaps even contrition.Without sacramental absolution, the person would not be able to receive Communion, being guilty of extra-marital sexual relations, which are always objectively grave sins. In addition, given that receiving holy Communion has a nuptial dimension — Christ the Bridegroom offering himself to his Bride, the Church, in total and indissoluble fidelity — the divorced and civilly remarried present a counter sign to the communion of Christ and the Church.Since at least the 1970s, principally in the German-speaking world, there has been a sustained effort to modify the Church’s pastoral practice to allow such couples to receive absolution and Communion without a required intention to change their situation. Most prominently associated with Cardinal Walter Kasper, the proposal was authoritatively rejected as incompatible with Catholic doctrine by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and thus expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Selective Footnotes, Missing Encyclical
Amoris Laetitia takes a curious editorial approach for a document of unprecedented length. It does not engage forthrightly the controverted issue at hand, but rather avoids a direct discussion. This is evident in the use of footnotes, which are both ambiguous and misleading. Several key footnotes do not in fact support the text where they appear, citing only portions of passages to pervert their plain meaning.Yet the most astonishing editorial decision of Amoris Laetitia is not the deceptive footnotes that appear, but the encyclical that does not appear. There is not a single reference, in the main text or even in the footnotes, to Veritatis Splendor.St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical on the foundations of Catholic moral teaching is the principal magisterial document on the moral life since the Council of Trent. Ignoring Veritatis Splendor is like writing about the nature of the Church and not making reference to the teaching of Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.