Friday, December 15, 2017

Amoris Laetitia dialogue has been healthy

Despite accusations of heresy and rumors of schism, the dialogue surrounding Amoris Laetitia has been healthy for the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church is a family, and family members often get carried away when discussing something important. Even so, the dialogue on Amoris Laetitia has led to sharper distinctions and a better understanding in the Church about the nature of sin, grace and the sacraments.

Pope Francis

The author of this dialogue is, of course, Pope Francis.  He knew what he was getting the Church into:  "everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight" he wrote in the introduction to Amoris Laetitia.  This has been one of his fundamental themes from the first days of his pontificate:
"When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. It is the only way for individuals, families and societies to grow, the only way for the life of peoples to progress, along with the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return."
Many Catholics are asking why Pope Francis put the most controversial part of Amoris Laetitia, access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, in a footnote.  Or why he discreetly released his letter endorsing the Buenos Aires guidelines, at first publishing it in the Vatican newspaper, then adding it to the Vatican website, and finally promulgating it as his official magisterium.

I believe that Pope Francis has done this because he wants to encourage dialogue in the Church.  Rather than simply issue a command ordering the entire Church to act in a certain way, which is his right, Pope Francis prefers instead to encourage everyone in the Catholic Church to dialogue on this important issue.  Pope Francis recognizes that everyone in the Catholic Church has something to offer, whether they are a cardinal or a layperson.  By speaking softly on an important matter, Pope Francis has gotten everyone involved, which is exactly what he wanted:  dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Strong Voices

The voices speaking out on Amoris Laetitia, whether supporting it, opposing it, or simply asking questions, have been loud and strong. And yet for all the cries of schism, heresy and "dictator" behavior, the Catholic Church hasn't splintered, Pope Francis hasn't formed an inquisition, and he hasn't punished anyone for speaking out.

  • Dubia Cardinals:  It's important to remember that the dubia did not criticize Amoris Laetitia or accuse Pope Francis of heresy.  They simply asked questions.  Pope Francis has not officially responded.  Instead, he has encouraged dialogue, pointing in particular to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn as the man to whom questions should be brought.  The dubia cardinals have not been punished for publicizing their questions.  They are still cardinals, they are still bishops, they are still in good standing with the Catholic Church.  Cardinal Burke was even reappointed to the Vatican supreme court following the publication of the dubia.  
  • Cardinal Müller:  Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has spoken extensively on Amoris Laetitia, offering both praise and criticism.  Despite the frequent, extensive interviews Cardinal Müller has given with the news media, Pope Francis has not disciplined him or silenced him.  While it is true that Pope Francis did not renew Cardinal Müller's term as CDF prefect, this was simply the end of Muller's 5 year term, and Pope Francis has indicated he wants to limit terms for all the prefects of the Roman Curia.  Cardinal Müller is still a cardinal, still a bishop, and still in good standing with the Catholic Church.  And he continues to contribute to the dialogue on Amoris Laetitia.
  • Father Weinandy:  Father Thomas Weinandy, former executive director of the USCCB committee on doctrine, published a letter sharply critical of Pope Francis in November 2017.  Although Father Weinandy was asked to resign from his role as a consultant to the USCCB, he still remains a priest and a Catholic in good standing with the church.  He was not defrocked.  He was not excommunicated.  He even remains a member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission, to which Pope Francis appointed him in 2014.  And he will no doubt continue to make important contributions to the dialogue on Amoris Laetitia and other important issues in the Catholic Church. 
  • Filial Correction:  The signatories of the "filial correction" accused Pope Francis of propagating seven heresies.  The signatories included a retired bishop, priests, deacons and laymen.  Despite making such a harsh public criticism of the Pope, the signatories have not been disciplined by the Church.  They haven't been excommunicated.  The bishop, priests and deacons haven't been defrocked.  There has been no punishment at all.  Perhaps the signatories got carried away with their criticisms, but they have still contributed to dialogue in the Catholic Church, and I believe Pope Francis respects that.
  • Social media:  The same can be said for social media.  The Catholic Church has not set up an inquisition to determine the identities of persons criticizing Amoris Laetitia on social media.  Rather, every Catholic has been free to add their voice to the discussion.  With an ever increasing number of priests and bishops participating in social media, these voices are being heard, and this will do a lot of good for the Catholic Church.

That they may all be one

Protestant and Orthodox Christians have often pointed out that the Pope's claims to supremacy evolved over the course of church history.  There is scant evidence, they say, of papal supremacy in the Book of Acts or the early church period.  While this is debatable, it remains true that the Church became more and more centralized in the papacy over the course of history.  The voices of the eastern churches were lost one by one following the Nestorian, Monophysite, and Greek schisms.  Pope Francis is trying to change that.  Rather than continuing to centralize everything with papal decrees, Pope Francis wants the Church to arrive at consensus through dialogue, and this is the best way to open the Catholic Church to reunion with our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters.

God set out His vision for the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:33-34:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Ultimately, God does not want a Church where the Pope has to tell everyone what to do.  It may have been necessary for popes to do so in the past, but the Church eventually has to grow into maturity where every member understands God's will.  We are still a long way off, but Pope Francis has moved the Catholic Church closer to that goal by nurturing dialogue on the important issues raised by Amoris Laetitia.

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