So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

AMORIS LÆTITIA LIBRARY • Authoritative Links & Essays



LIBRARY OF LINKS
  1. Thomas Peters (American Papist): The Papacy is in Crisis [2-MAR-2017]
  2. The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults (from the blog That The Bones You Have Crushed)
  3. This Disastrous Papacy [Lawler 1-MAR-2017]
  4. "Francis-church"? Documenting a questionable trajectory [1-Mar-2017]
  5. When public correction of a pope is urgent and necessary.
  6. Debating 'Amoris Laetitia': A Look Ahead—Fr. Raymond J. de Souza
  7. Bishop Laun agrees with dubia.
  8. Professors Jan-Heiner Tück and Helmut Hoping support Four Cardinals and the dubia (1Peter5)
  9. Robert Spaemann, friend of Benedict XVI, on the dubia of the Four Cardinals (CH)
  10. Robert Spaemann on Amoris Laetitia (CNA)
  11. 8-Dec-2016 Letter of Support for 5 Dubia: Carambula, Kwasniewski, Guerra, Hunwicke, Pierantoni, et al.
  12. Those Ambiguous Parts of Amoris Laetitia
  13. Bishop Stephen Lopes: A Pastoral Letter on Amoris Laetitia
  14. Confraternities of Priests call for clarification of Amoris Laetitia 1-FEB-17
  15. The Maltese directive makes answering the ‘dubia’ urgent: Dr. Ed Peters [15-Jan-2017]
  16. The German Bishops slip further from the Truth of Tradition.
  17. Divorce is of the Devil—St. Augustine
  18. Pope’s doctrine chief rebukes bishops using Amoris to ‘justify situations against the will of God’
  19. Cardinal Brandmüller/LifeSiteNews: Anyone who opens Communion to adulterers ‘is a heretic and promotes schism’
  20. Reading Amoris Laetitia in Light of Trent, by Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC [27-FEB-2017]
  21. There are other, canonically distinct, manners of receiving Communion and other, canonically distinct, types of would-be, if problematic, communicants. Peters [24-FEB-2017]
  22. The Holiness of the Marriage Bond (DIE HEILIGKEIT DES EHEBANDES)
  23. Fr. Gerald E. Murray: When Cardinals Clash
  24. Dr. Ed Peters: contra Cardinal Coccopalmerio [14-FEB-2017]
  25. The Church Cannot Teach Error
  26. The Maltese Disaster: Dr. Ed Peters
  27. Is Keller’s essay really the way Amoris should be read? Dr. Edward Peters [7-Jan-2017]
  28. Cardinal Burke: LaVerità interview [11-Jan-2017]
  29. Carl E. Olson guts Fr. Spadaro's Casuistry [6-Jan-2017]
  30. EWTN: Latest on Amoris Laetitia [5-Jan-2017] YouTube
  31. Spadaro’s Irrational Faith: Lawler [6-Jan-2017
  32. Cardinal Arinze: Communion for divorced-and-remarried is a rejection of Divine Law.
  33. A Canonical Primer On Popes & Heresy: Dr. Edward Peters [16-Dec-2016]
  34. Fr. Woodall: Dubia Need to Be Answered Soon (Pentin/Register)
  35. http://www.mondayvatican.com/vatican/pope-francis-what-if-it-is-just-a-matter-of-language
  36. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/full-text-and-explanatory-notes-of-cardinals-questions-on-amoris-laetitia?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NCRegister%2FEdwardPentin+Edward+Pentin#When:2016-11-14
DUBIA of the FOUR CARDINALS

1. A Necessary Foreword

The sending of the letter to His Holiness Pope Francis by four cardinals derives from a deep pastoral concern.

We have noted a grave disorientation and great confusion of many faithful regarding extremely important matters for the life of the Church. We have noted that even within the episcopal college there are contrasting interpretations of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.

The great Tradition of the Church teaches us that the way out of situations like this is recourse to the Holy Father, asking the Apostolic See to resolve those doubts, which are the cause of disorientation and confusion.

Ours is, therefore, an act of justice and charity.

Of justice: With our initiative, we profess that the Petrine ministry is the ministry of unity, and that to Peter, to the Pope, belongs the service of confirming in the faith.

Of charity: We want to help the Pope to prevent divisions and conflicts in the Church, asking him to dispel all ambiguity.

We have also carried out a specific duty. According to the Code of Canon Law (349) the cardinals, even taken individually, are entrusted with the task of helping the Pope to care for the universal Church.

The Holy Father has decided not to respond. We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.

And so we are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation.

We hope that no one will choose to interpret the matter according to a “progressive/conservative” paradigm. That would be completely off the mark. We are deeply concerned about the true good of souls, the supreme law of the Church, and not about promoting any form of politics in the Church.

We hope that no one will judge us unjustly, as adversaries of the Holy Father and people devoid of mercy. What we have done and are doing derives from the deep collegial affection that unites us to the Pope, and from an impassioned concern for the good of the faithful.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller
Cardinal Raymond L. Burke
Cardinal Carlo Caffarra
Cardinal Joachim Meisner

2. The Letter of the Four Cardinals to the Pope

To His Holiness Pope Francis
and for the attention of His Eminence Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller

Most Holy Father,

Following the publication of your apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, theologians and scholars have proposed interpretations that are not only divergent, but also conflicting, above all in regard to Chapter VIII. Moreover, the media have emphasized this dispute, thereby provoking uncertainty, confusion and disorientation among many of the faithful.

Because of this, we the undersigned, but also many bishops and priests, have received numerous requests from the faithful of various social strata on the correct interpretation to give to Chapter VIII of the exhortation.

Now, compelled in conscience by our pastoral responsibility and desiring to implement ever more that synodality to which Your Holiness urges us, with profound respect, we permit ourselves to ask you, Holy Father, as supreme teacher of the faith, called by the Risen One to confirm his brothers in the faith, to resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity, benevolently giving a response to the dubia that we attach the present letter.

May Your Holiness wish to bless us, as we promise constantly to remember you in prayer.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller
Cardinal Raymond L. Burke
Cardinal Carlo Caffarra
Cardinal Joachim Meisner

Rome, September 19, 2016

3. The Dubia

It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?

After Amoris Laetitia (301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “Declaration,” June 24, 2000)?

After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 81, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?

After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?

4. Explanatory Note of the Four Cardinals

CONTEXT

Dubia (from the Latin: “doubts”) are formal questions brought before the Pope and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asking for clarifications on particular issues concerning doctrine or practice.

What is peculiar about these inquiries is that they are worded in a way that requires a “Yes” or “No” answer, without theological argumentation. This way of addressing the Apostolic See is not an invention of our own; it is an age-old practice.

Let’s get to what is concretely at stake.

Upon the publication of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia on love in the family, a debate has arisen particularly around its eighth chapter. Here specifically, Paragraphs 300-305 have been the object of divergent interpretations.

For many — bishops, priests, faithful — these paragraphs allude to or even explicitly teach a change in the discipline of the Church with respect to the divorced who are living in a new union, while others, admitting the lack of clarity or even the ambiguity of the passages in question, nonetheless argue that these same pages can be read in continuity with the previous magisterium and do not contain a modification in the Church’s practice and teaching.

Motivated by a pastoral concern for the faithful, four cardinals have sent a letter to the Holy Father under the form of dubia, hoping to receive clarity, given that doubt and uncertainty are always highly detrimental to pastoral care.

The fact that interpreters come to different conclusions is also due to divergent ways of understanding the Christian moral life. In this sense, what is at stake in Amoris Laetitia is not only the question of whether or not the divorced who have entered into a new union can — under certain circumstances — be readmitted to the sacraments.

Rather, the interpretation of the document also implies different, contrasting approaches to the Christian way of life.

Thus, while the first question of the dubia concerns a practical question regarding the divorced and civilly remarried, the other four questions touch on fundamental issues of the Christian life.

THE QUESTIONS

Doubt No. 1:

It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance, and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

Question 1 makes particular reference to Amoris Laetitia, 305, and to Footnote 351. While Note 351 specifically speaks of the sacraments of penance and Communion, it does not mention the divorced and civilly remarried in this context, nor does the main text.

Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 84, already contemplated the possibility of admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to the sacraments. It mentions three conditions:
  • The persons concerned cannot separate without committing new injustices (for instance, they may be responsible for the upbringing of their children);
  • They take upon themselves the commitment to live according to the truth of their situation, that is, to cease living together as if they were husband and wife (more uxorio), abstaining from those acts that are proper to spouses;
  • They avoid giving scandal (that is, they avoid giving the appearance of sin so as to avoid the danger of leading others into sin).
The conditions mentioned by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and by the subsequent documents recalled will immediately appear reasonable once we remember that the marital union is not just based on mutual affection and that sexual acts are not just one activity among others that couples engage in.

Sexual relations are for marital love. They are something so important, so good and so precious that they require a particular context, the context of marital love. Hence, not only the divorced living in a new union need to abstain, but also everyone who is not married. For the Church, the Sixth Commandment — “Do not commit adultery” — has always covered any exercise of human sexuality that is not marital, i.e., any kind of sexual relations other than those engaged in with one’s rightful spouse.

It would seem that admitting to Communion those of the faithful who are separated or divorced from their rightful spouse and who have entered a new union in which they live with someone else as if they were husband and wife would mean for the Church to teach by her practice one of the following affirmations about marriage, human sexuality and the nature of the sacraments:
  • A divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond, and the partners to the new union are not married. However, people who are not married can under certain circumstances legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy.
  • A divorce dissolves the marriage bond. People who are not married cannot legitimately engage in sexual acts. The divorced and remarried are legitimate spouses and their sexual acts are lawful marital acts.
  • A divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond, and the partners to the new union are not married. People who are not married cannot legitimately engage in sexual acts, so that the divorced and civilly remarried live in a situation of habitual, public, objective and grave sin. However, admitting persons to the Eucharist does not mean for the Church to approve their public state of life; the faithful can approach the Eucharistic table even with consciousness of grave sin, and receiving absolution in the sacrament of penance does not always require the purpose of amending one’s life. The sacraments, therefore, are detached from life: Christian rites and worship are on a completely different sphere than the Christian moral life.
Doubt No. 2:

After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?

The second question regards the existence of so-called intrinsically evil acts. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, claims that one can “qualify as morally evil according to its species … the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behavior or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.”

Thus, the encyclical teaches that there are acts that are always evil, which are forbidden by moral norms that bind without exception (“moral absolutes”). These moral absolutes are always negative, that is, they tell us what we should not do. “Do not kill.” “Do not commit adultery.” Only negative norms can bind without exception.

According to Veritatis Splendor, with intrinsically evil acts no discernment of circumstances or intentions is necessary. Uniting oneself to a woman who is married to another is and remains an act of adultery, that as such is never to be done, even if by doing so an agent could possibly extract precious secrets from a villain’s wife so as to save the kingdom (what sounds like an example from a James Bond movie has already been contemplated by St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, q. 15, a. 1). John Paul II argues that the intention (say, “saving the kingdom”) does not change the species of the act (here: “committing adultery”), and that it is enough to know the species of the act (“adultery”) to know that one must not do it.

Doubt No. 3:

After Amoris Laetitia (301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “Declaration,” June 24, 2000)?

In Paragraph 301, Amoris Laetitia recalls that: “The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations.” And it concludes that “hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

In its “Declaration,” of June 24, 2000, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts seeks to clarify Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.” The Pontifical Council’s “Declaration” argues that this canon is applicable also to faithful who are divorced and civilly remarried. It spells out that “grave sin” has to be understood objectively, given that the minister of the Eucharist has no means of judging another person’s subjective imputability.

Thus, for the “Declaration,” the question of the admission to the sacraments is about judging a person’s objective life situation and not about judging that this person is in a state of mortal sin. Indeed, subjectively he or she may not be fully imputable or not be imputable at all.

Along the same lines, in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 37, St. John Paul II recalls that “the judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience.” Hence, the distinction referred to by Amoris Laetitia between the subjective situation of mortal sin and the objective situation of grave sin is indeed well established in the Church’s teaching.

John Paul II, however, continues by insisting that “in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved.” He then reiterates the teaching of Canon 915 mentioned above.

Question 3 of the Dubia, hence, would like to clarify whether, even after Amoris Laetitia, it is still possible to say that persons who habitually live in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, such as the commandment against adultery, theft, murder or perjury, live in objective situations of grave habitual sin, even if, for whatever reasons, it is not certain that they are subjectively imputable for their habitual transgressions.

Doubt No. 4:

After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 81, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?

In Paragraph 302, Amoris Laetitia stresses that on account of mitigating circumstances “a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.” The Dubia point to the Church’s teaching as expressed in John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, according to which circumstances or good intentions can never turn an intrinsically evil act into one that is excusable or even good.

The question arises whether Amoris Laetitia, too, is agreed that any act that transgresses against God’s commandments, such as adultery, murder, theft or perjury, can never, on account of circumstances that mitigate personal responsibility, become excusable or even good.

Do these acts, which the Church’s Tradition has called bad in themselves and grave sins, continue to be destructive and harmful for anyone committing them in whatever subjective state of moral responsibility he may be?

Or could these acts, depending on a person’s subjective state and depending on the circumstances and intentions, cease to be injurious and become commendable or at least excusable?

Doubt No. 5:

After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?

Amoris Laetitia, 303, states that “conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God.” The Dubia ask for a clarification of these affirmations, given that they are susceptible to divergent interpretations.

For those proposing the creative idea of conscience, the precepts of God’s law and the norm of the individual conscience can be in tension or even in opposition, while the final word should always go to conscience that ultimately decides about good and evil. According to Veritatis Splendor, 56, “on this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called ‘pastoral’ solutions contrary to the teaching of the magisterium, and to justify a ‘creative’ hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.”

In this perspective, it will never be enough for moral conscience to know “this is adultery,” or “this is murder,” in order to know that this is something one cannot and must not do.

Rather, one would also need to look at the circumstances or the intentions to know if this act could not, after all, be excusable or even obligatory (Question 4 of the Dubia). For these theories, conscience could indeed rightfully decide that, in a given case, God’s will for me consists in an act by which I transgress one of his commandments. “Do not commit adultery” is seen as just a general norm. In the here and now, and given my good intentions, committing adultery is what God really requires of me. Under these terms, cases of virtuous adultery, lawful murder and obligatory perjury are at least conceivable.

This would mean to conceive of conscience as a faculty for autonomously deciding about good and evil and of God’s law as a burden that is arbitrarily imposed and that could at times be opposed to our true happiness.

However, conscience does not decide about good and evil. The whole idea of a “decision of conscience” is misleading. The proper act of conscience is to judge and not to decide. It says, “This is good.” “This is bad.” This goodness or badness does not depend on it. It acknowledges and recognizes the goodness or badness of an action, and for doing so, that is, for judging, conscience needs criteria; it is inherently dependent on truth.

God’s commandments are a most welcome help for conscience to get to know the truth and hence to judge verily. God’s commandments are the expression of the truth about our good, about our very being, disclosing something crucial about how to live life well. Pope Francis, too, expresses himself in these terms, when, in Amoris Laetitia, 295: “The law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception.”

—Translation provided by the cardinal signatories.


A Brief Note on Thomism and Moral Claims


By Father Basil B. Cole OP

On account of his great wisdom and authority, Saint Thomas Aquinas’s name is sometimes invoked to bolster the claims of theologians, including as a defense of Amoris Laetitia. If you have the Angelic Doctor on your side, you are doing pretty well. This raises questions about what sorts of claims and documents warrant being called “Thomistic,” and how one might reasonably justify the appellative. The following observations might prove helpful for answering such questions.

First, something might be called Thomistic because it takes a cue from the methodology perfected by Aquinas. Like many authors, Aquinas uses many different “voices” depending on the occasion. He provides commentaries on Scripture or theological works, lectures on the Creed, a straightforward exposition of theology in his Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG), and so on. But his most unique and valuable contribution is in the Summa Theologiae (ST). There he asks literally hundreds of questions, and he always answers them in light of Catholic tradition—especially Sacred Scripture and the Fathers—with the help of solid philosophy. Sometimes he says “yes,” sometimes “no,” but he always provides a helpful distinction when he says “‘yes’ in one way, but ‘no’ in another.” He liked clarity. As he said, it is the work of the wise man “to arrange and to judge,” that is, to meditate on the truth, teach it to others in an orderly fashion, and to refute opposing falsehoods (see ST I, q. 1, a. 6, c. and ad 2; SCG I, c.1).

Second, something might be called Thomistic because it follows Aquinas’s actual teachings. This can have varying results.

Sometimes, but only very rarely, following Aquinas can lead a person into error. Certainly this would be the case now if one denied the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the grounds that Aquinas denied it. Similarly, a person would be wrong to support abortion because Aquinas believed in the delayed hominization of the human embryo (see ST I, q. 118, a. 2, ad 2). Both issues have been abundantly clarified by the Church since the time Aquinas wrote (see Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus and John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae n. 57). In these cases, we must follow the Church and not proposed interpretations of Aquinas. Magisterial teaching does not intrinsically depend on St. Thomas Aquinas, but on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, interpreted in continuity with previous teachings and in light of the most sound thinking. In the end, following Tradition is the most authentically Thomistic position, for he firmly opposed any doctrinal position that was not faithful to divine revelation and the Church’s binding teachings.          

Another tangle one can encounter is when quoting Aquinas piecemeal or without full advertence to his theological project. St. Thomas was nothing if not a complete and consistent thinker. To pick and choose his statements without considering their context and relation to his other relevant insights would be about as disastrous as proof-texting Sacred Scripture. One might suppose that a situationist ethic is supported by Aquinas when he states, “In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all. […] The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail” (ST I-II, q. 94, a. 4; quoted in Amoris Laetitia n. 304). Isolated from Aquinas’s other statements, it could seem as if the doctor of the Church is saying that no moral rule is absolute, but that discernment is needed in each and every situation to know whether or not a general moral principle applies in a particular situation. However, this is not authentic Thomism. Situation ethics contradicts Aquinas’s firm affirmation that there are some moral norms that always hold for everyone: these are the precepts of the Decalogue (ST I-II, q. 100, a. 8), and similar universal negative precepts, for they condemn acts that are “evil in themselves and cannot become good” (ST II-II, q. 33, a.2). He specifically says that “one may not commit adultery for any good” (De Malo, q. 15, a.1, ad 5). In the same vein, Aquinas holds that some acts “have deformity inseparably attached to them, such as fornication, adultery, and others of this sort, which can in no way be done in a morally good way” (Quodlibet 9, q. 7, a. 2). The reason for these exceptionless norms is that human nature does not change, nor does the Gospel and the Church’s mandate to transmit it unsullied through the centuries. Certain positive norms need to be adapted to the times, such as one’s relation to the environment. In such cases, Magisterial teaching adapts to changing conditions—but always without contradicting reason and the truths already articulated by the Church.

Finally, with a Thomistic moral theology, one can embrace an authentic position of Thomas and benefit from the insights he offers to illuminate the truths of faith held perennially by the Church. For example, he explains the relation between the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. Aquinas builds on St. Paul’s teaching, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). Aquinas says, “Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it. […] A priest who has knowledge of the crime can privately warn the secret sinner, or warn all openly in public, from approaching the Lord's table, until they have repented of their sins and have been reconciled to the Church” (ST III, q. 80, a. 6). Furthermore, Aquinas states that, whatever reasons a person may have for engaging in sex outside of marriage, “actions done for the sake of pleasure are simply voluntary,” so one cannot rightly claim that exterior pressures cause him to sin (ST II-II, q. 142, a. 3). Once a person regularly sins against marriage in this way and develops the vice of intemperance, his reason is darkened and he becomes enslaved by his passions (ST II-II, q. 142, a. 4). Such a person is not capable of fruitfully receiving the sacraments until he repents of all his sin and makes a determinate effort to avoid the near occasions of sin: “it belongs to penance to detest one's past sins, and to purpose, at the same time, to change one's life for the better” (ST III, q. 90, a. 4). Aquinas’s teaching is clear: a person should not receive Holy Communion or absolution from sins who does not intend to change his life and forsake public sin—including being sexually active with another person who is not his sacramental spouse—a sin of scandal whereby one leads others into sin (ST II-II, q. 43, a. 1).

In sum, a burden of proof lies on anyone who wants to fly the banner of Thomism over his moral edifice. But even this is not sufficient for a nod of approval from God. Whether one is Thomistic in methodology or in content, what is most important is to be faithful to the teachings of Christ as expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as handed on through the perennial teaching of the Church, for “The apostles and their successors are God's vicars in governing the Church which is built on faith and the sacraments of faith. Wherefore, just as they may not institute another Church, so neither may they deliver another faith, nor institute other sacraments” (ST III, q. 64, a. 2, ad 3).

The rhetorical strategy to debunk the dubia

By Phil Lawler Dec 16, 2016
   
At this point it’s quite clear: close associates of Pope Francis, defenders of Amoris Laetita and critics of the four cardinals who submitted the famous dubia are all reading from the same script. When you notice that many different people are using the same arguments—in fact the same phrases, even the same words—you know that someone, somewhere at the Vatican, has put together “talking points” for those who want to debunk the dubia.

We could probably speculate about the source of this media strategy. But first, notice that it is a media strategy. Prelates and pundits have been making public statements about Amoris Laetitia and its critics, clearly intending to reassure the public and to diminish the impact of the dubia. Taking a careful look at those statements, and noticing the arguments that keep appearing, we can easily discern the main talking points:
  1. Don’t talk about the dubia. The goal of this coordinated activity is not to answer the dubia but to sweep them off the table. So don’t mention the questions that the four cardinals actually asked; they might sound too reasonable. Instead, do your best to convey the impression that the cardinals were asking trick questions, or probing into arcane possibilities. Above all, don’t let on that each of the dubia would allow for a simple Yes/No answer.
  2. Say that Amoris Laetitia is perfectly clear. Point to others who have remarked on the document’s clarity. Don’t mention those who have said the opposite. Don’t call attention to the fact that different bishops have issued contradictory interpretations. If you want to push the argument further, accuse the four cardinals of spreading confusion. They say that Amoris Laetitia is the source of the confusion; let’s take the offensive, and steal that argument away from them. Remember how, in high school, your teacher said, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question?” Forget that.
  3. Poke fun at the traditional Church teaching and at the old-fashioned pastors who uphold it. If you’re speaking through the mass media, this will be easy, because you can play upon popular ideas, prejudices, and sympathies. Everyone has friends who are divorced; aren’t they nice people? Do we want to punish them? Does anyone still believe that Catholics in a state of sin should not receive Communion before making a sacramental confession? Heck, who goes to confession anymore? Even a priest can write, in a (theoretically) Catholic newspaper, that the requirement for a divorced and remarried Catholic to abstain from sex is “not only absurd, it is unjust.” That’s the message we need to convey: that Church teaching must change, because today people think it’s absurd.
  4. Say that the dubia reflect a simplistic approach. The document is perfectly clear, but the recommendations call for a more nuanced understanding. Thus The Australian Archbishop Coleridge says that the four cardinals are seeking a “false clarity”, which is not compatible with the reality of married life. Dublin’s Archbishop Martin chips in that some people “are unsettled by the ability of the Pope to place himself in the midst of the uncertainties of people’s lives.” Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, the Spanish Cardinal Fernando Sebastian Aguilar observes that the cardinals “do not understand what Francis wanted to say” (a bit of a slip, there, since if they don’t understand, it would seem reasonable to ask questions). Then, in a nastier tone, he adds: “If those who doubted would save some paper and hear more confessions, then they would understand better.” You see, this deeper understanding of the complexities comes from hearing confessions, counseling, and other pastoral involvement. Skip lightly over the fact that when priests hear confessions and counsel couples, they apply principles that they derive from Church teaching—so that although the circumstances of individual cases may be murky, the teaching in papal documents should be clear. Emphasize that the Pope writes as a pastor. But…
  5. Come down hard on papal authority. Especially if you are not a bishop—and therefore will probably not be seen as an authority figure in the Church—act astonished that anyone would dare to question what a Roman Pontiff has written. Never mind that the four cardinals are only asking questions. Never mind that you yourself have probably questioned papal statements in the past. Never mind that in its most contentious recommendation, Amoris Laetitia seems to be a direct contradiction of previous papal documents, so some papal teaching must be questioned. Never mind that Pope Francis himself has called for free debate and encouraged people to “make a mess.” Hammer away on papal authority. Take as your model this argument by Austen Ivereigh, who suggests that we should move on and leave the dubia behind. “Roma locuta, causa finite, as Catholics used to say,” Ivereigh writes—notwithstanding the fact that this whole debate is caused by the fact that Roma has not “locuta’d” clearly on the key issue.
  6. Don’t be afraid to impugn the integrity of people who disagree. Again, follow Ivereigh’s example. He wrote of an “anti-Francis revolt” that had taken on “a newly vicious tone.” And then he proceeded with his own vicious attack on critics of Amoris Laetitia. (That’s always an effective rhetorical tactic, you know: accuse the other guys of doing precisely what you’re doing yourself.) So write angry Tweets, saying that the other side is writing angry Tweets. We’ll be speaking a lot about “accompanying” couples in troubled relationships. But we don’t want to “accompany” the people who disagree with us. Shout them down. Ridicule them. Don’t give them a chance.
  7. Paint a rosy picture of relationships between Catholics and their pastors. The “Kasper option” presumes that a divorced and remarried Catholic has engaged in a deep, lengthy examination of conscience, aided by a discerning pastor. Portray that sort of penitent-confessor relationship as the norm, even though we all know it’s the exception. Don’t get bogged down worrying about the lackadaisical priests who will quickly tell people not to worry about the “old rules” against adultery—or the divorced couples who will seek them out, avoiding the more conscientious priests who might be more demanding. Insist that the question of whether or not someone receives Communion should be strictly between the individual and his pastor. Does that argument have a familiar ring? Yes, you’ve heard it before: the claim that government shouldn’t set rules, because the question of abortion should be “between a woman and her doctor.” You might not be entirely at ease with the comparison, but the argument is a proven rhetorical winner.
As you read through these talking points, you might notice some contradictions. We’re saying that it’s all very simple, yet we’re saying that it’s all very complex. We’re insisting that “Rome has spoken,” yet the whole point is that Rome has not spoken, leaving fundamental questions up to individual priests. We’re inveighing against “clericalism,” yet giving priests enormous new powers with no means of accountability. We’re saying that the Pope is a pastor rather than a lawmaker, yet we’re trying to lay down the law. We’re telling people that Amoris Laetitia upholds the traditional Church teaching, yet we’re making fun of that teaching. These are not comfortable arguments to make. That’s why we’re trying to end the debate quickly. When in doubt, remember point #1: Don’t talk about the dubia.

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