On Behalf of Pope Francis

Four Cardinals, namely Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner, have raised questions about Pope Francis’s document Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis has not responded. I do not expect him to respond, and most likely he believes such a response to be outside his personal theological competence. Thus I respond here on his behalf to the five questions asked by the Cardinals:

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?

Response: Yes.

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?

Response: Yes. This however does not mean what you suppose. In particular, as explicitly noted in Veritatis Splendor, the moral object of an act can never be defined adequately by reference to the mere physical action alone, including, for example, the physical action of sexual intercourse.

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)?

Response: Yes. However, it is a mistake to believe that “objective situation of sin” implies “state of sin rather than state of grace.” Because of the danger of this misinterpretation, it might be better in the future, at least in most cases, to refrain from this manner of speech.

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”?

Response: Yes. This however does not mean what you suppose, as stated in the second response. In particular, circumstances and intentions can never make an action with an intrinsically evil object into a good act as long as the act continues to have the same evil object. A change of circumstances and intentions, however, can easily change the object of the act from an intrinsically evil object, to some good object.

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?

Response: Yes. This however does not mean what you suppose, as stated in the second and fourth responses. In particular, while conscience is not authorized to judge that an intrinsically evil object is sometimes good, it is authorized to judge that some particular act does not have this intrinsically evil object.

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2 thoughts on “On Behalf of Pope Francis

  1. It has been nice to find someone who echoes my own thinking about Amoris Laetitia and the dubia. I will share with you some comments I have made at the National Catholic Register:

    I am giving a slightly changed second version my answers to the dubia. (Some have said that I have avoided confronting the dubia; here I will confront them directly.)
    To the first: To the first question of the first dubia the answer is clearly that the Church does not offer communion to someone who is practicing adultery consciously and habitually. But this category does not necessarily exhaust all those who happens to fall under the term “divorced and remarried” Pastoral discernment is necessary in order to discern the characteristics of an individual case, about whether it is the case that the couple can be regarded as practicing adultery, but above all and in the first place to discern how God is at work in this soul and about how the grace of God may be touching a person’s heart and moving him toward salvation, and about what kind of response one should give to God. To the second question: What AL says about people who find themselves in objective situations of sin but with mitigating circumstances does indeed apply to the divorced and remarried. A penitential path towards the sacraments does open for them, but to say there is such a path is not the same thing as to say that they may pass directly to the sacraments. That such a penitential path excludes the sin of adultery is both evident to common sense, and affirmed explicitly by FC. It is not necessary thus that it be repeated.
    Second dubia: The teaching of John Paul II remains valid.
    Third dubia: This question asks whether there is a distinction between things which are clearly not distinct. But there remains a real distinction between someone who is in mortal sin, and someone who is not, even when the matter of mortal sin is present, but one of the three necessary conditions of mortal sin is not present (grave matter, clear consciousness, free will). There remains the distinction between the sinner in himself, and the sinner whose heart has been in the most delicate and fragile way, been touched by God’s grace.
    Fourth dubia: The teaching of John Paul II (that circumstances can never justify an act which is intrinsically wrong and condemned by universal moral precept) is maintained. But Pope Francis never has suggested that circumstances can justify such an act.
    Fifth dubia: The question misrepresents the teaching of Veritatis Splendor, which does not reject the affirmation that human moral conscience is creative as such, but simply the manipulation which uses the term “creative conscience” as a smokescreen to justify the rejection of Divine moral precepts, such as “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Conscience is creative because it is a human participation in the Divine Creative and Benevolent Light.

    Posted by Carl Kuss, L.C. on Sunday, Nov, 20, 2016 7:49 AM (EST):
    When John Paul II speaks in FC number 84 about the repentence presupposed by sacramental absolution for the divorced and remarried he is giving the principle of the thing. He is not giving a tidy set of rules that the confessor is supposed to apply mindlessly. The sacrament of confession depends on the judgment of the confessor (“the sins you forgive are forgiven, those you do not forgive are not forgiven”.) He is not there to apply rules mindlessly in a legalistic fashion. He is not there to give ultimatums on behalf of a rigorist agenda. John Paul II is presenting a bird’s eye vision of the penitential process. If the confessor sees that there is no repentence, he can refuse to give absolution. He is there to support the work of grace in the soul. If he sees that grace is really not at work, that there is a manipulation going on he can refuse absolution. This is part of the priest’s commitment to the pastoral task and to the salvation of souls. It is delicate work. I think Pope Francis expresses this well.

    Posted by Carl Kuss, L.C. on Sunday, Nov, 20, 2016 6:25 AM (EST):
    With regard to the first question: Latin is supposed to make things more clear, not less clear. The expression more uxorio is vague. Does it refer only to the question of whether a couple is having sexual relations (physically). If that is what is meant, say so. The second marriage in itself creates, by definition, a marriage-like relation in some sense. That is taken for granted. But what exactly does more uxorio add to it? If it means that the couple is having sex, then it is obvious that the Church does not approve having sex with someone who is not your spouse (This follows directly from the sixth commandment) and there you have the answer to question one if you believe also in the permanence of marriage, as the Church does, even Cardinal Kasper. And you don’t have to bother the Pope about it. It is furthermore, not the Church that prohibits adultery, but the decalogue. The question is a no-brainer. But the question of adultery is not reduced to the question of sex. Our Lord insisted on that with his doctrine about adultery of the heart. So things are more complicated. Legalists do not accept the complications of life. They want to tie everything up in neat packages. They want to be able to grill people about sex, and then go back to their rectories and their fine wines and cigars, and forget about pastoral accompaniment which seems much too messy for them. Secondly the four cardinals speak of Pope John Paul II admitting the divorced and remarried to communion under three conditions. But what happened to the Church’s practice of not allowing the divorced and remarried to communion? Are we speaking here of an exception here or of the rule, seen in closeup? But in fact the four cardinals are misrepresenting FC. John Paul II presents the practice of the Church: non admission of divorced and remarried on one hand, and of reconciliation through the sacrament of penance on the other. In the sacrament the grace of God intervenes. The couple enters by the grace of God into a new category. It is no longer merely divorced and remarried, but divorced and remarried and touched by God’s grace. This creates an exception to the rule which does not destroy the rule. Pope Francis does the same thing but gives us a broader view of the workings of grace by using the concept of mitigating circumstances. This is good Catholic theology and is opposed to the legalist/rigorist interpretation which reduces everything to rules.

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