A response to Voice of the Family

Voice of the Family wrote the following criticism of Amoris Laetitia:

http://voiceofthefamily.com/key-doctrinal-errors-and-ambiguities-of-amoris-laetitia/

I will address their points one by one:

1.  "Before discussing these contradictions and ambiguities it is important to point out that if Amoris Laetitia was intended to teach what the Catholic Church has always taught, this could have been made perfectly clear by simply restating the Church’s traditional teaching in a clear and unambiguous manner."

I respond that Amoris Laetitia does teach traditional Catholic doctrine on marriage and family life, clearly and unambiguously in Chapters 1-9.  Pope Francis is clear that marriage creates an indissoluble bond between one man and woman, and it must be "open to new life". See paragraphs 42, 52, 53, 62, 77, 86, 123, 125, 134, 178, 223, 243, 292, and 324.

2.  "It is precisely in the gospels that Our Lord Himself speaks many times about the possibility of men and women being condemned forever as a result of sin."

This is in response to Pope Francis's statement, "The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone forever" in paragraphs 296 and 297.  I respond that Pope Francis is simply stating the traditional Catholic teaching that the Catholic Church will always welcome back any person if they repent of their sins.  No penalty of the Church, not even excommunication, is forever.  And the Church does not make the decision of who goes to Heaven or Hell - God alone decides that.  See CCC 1861

3.  Regarding Footnote 329, "First, all sexual acts outside of a valid marriage are intrinsically evil and it is never justifiable to commit an intrinsically evil act, even in order to achieve a good end."

I respond that Amoris Laetitia does not state otherwise.  Footnote 329 reads:
In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers”.
This is simply noting the difficulties that divorced persons in civil unions encounter as they try to comply with the Church's teaching, namely that "it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers."  Recognizing the difficulties faced by divorced persons in civil marriages is not the same as granting them permission to have sex.

4.  "Secondly, because one cannot speak of “faithfulness” when referring to a union that itself violates the fidelity due to the original marriage. By using the word “faithfulness” Amoris Laetita is again conferring a degree of legitimacy on adultery."

I respond that before Amoris Laetitia, in Familiaris Consortio and Sacramentum Caritatis, the Church already recognized that it may be "impossible" for a divorced person in a new civil union to leave that union due to objective circumstances, primarily the welfare of children of the new union.  Therefore, "faithfulness" in Amoris Laetitia must be understood in this sense - faithfulness to whatever good there is in the new union, and yes, children of the union are good.

5.  "Thirdly, to imply that children might suffer because their parents live chastely is clearly to suggest that it can sometimes be beneficial to children that their parents continue to commit adultery. The implication of this, is that it might sometimes be appropriate to tolerate, or even, perhaps, as would be the logical consequence, to encourage, adultery."

I respond that children of an irregular union suffer by the very nature of the union, and there is nothing wrong with the Church acknowledging this.  When a child's parents grow apart, even if in compliance with Church teaching, the child can suffer emotionally and perhaps economically if one of the parents leaves.  There is nothing wrong with the Church acknowledging the difficulties faced by these children.  Acknowledging the difficulty of complying with the Church's teaching does not imply that it is permissible to disobey the teaching.  On the contrary, acknowledging the difficulty of complying with Church teaching is a way of reaching out to people in irregular unions and letting them know that the Church understands their difficulties and wants to help them through the process.

6. "Pope Francis then is taking words originally written about married couples and applying them to those living in adultery. We cannot therefore avoid the conclusion that in paragraph 297, and its accompanying footnote 329, Amoris Laetitia not only seems to suggest tolerating adultery but actually suggests that adulterous acts might in some cases be necessary for the good of children."

This is an unwarranted conclusion.  As explained above, Footnote 329 is simply an acknowledgment of the difficulties that parents and children in irregular unions face as they try to comply with the Church's teaching.  To acknowledge the difficulty of obedience is not to permit disobedience.  Moreover, as the Vicar of Jesus Christ, Pope Francis is entitled to a more charitable interpretation than Voice of the Family gives him, especially when Voice of the Family's conclusion cannot be found in the text itself but is based solely on what they believe to be "implied".

7.  Regarding Paragraph 301: "In other words, there are certain concrete situations in which a person cannot do other than commit sin."

Again, this is an unwarranted, and disrespectful, interpretation.  Pope Francis in paragraph 301 simply repeats the teaching of CCC 1735 that mitigating factors can reduce a person's culpability and the teaching of CCC 1857-1861 that these factors can impair a person's ability to give "deliberate consent".  If Voice of the Family has an issue here, it is with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not Amoris Laetitia.

8.  That is, it would seem that the document is suggesting that there are cases, when God can be asking a person, in a particular situation, to do to something that is objectively wrong.

I respond, again, that Voice of the Family is attacking what they believe Amoris Laetitia is "suggesting" rather than what the text itself says.  The official Latin in paragraph 303 speaks of conscience coming to see with a certain moral security the "oblationem" ("offering") that God is requesting from a person.  This is a useful tool for all Christians in their daily lives - what is the greatest "oblationem" that God is asking from me amidst the difficulties of this particular moment?  Maybe God is asking me to hold back an urge to gossip in the office, or to offer up a Hail Mary when I have a quiet moment.  It is ludicrous to interpret paragraph 303 as stating that conscience can discern that it is permissible to sin in certain situations.  That interpretation cannot be found in the text, but only in the suspicions of those who clearly do not trust the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

9.  In Amoris Laetitia on the other hand we see conscience presented as reaching a conclusion that deems that a particular action, that is not in conformity with the objective law, can not only be tolerated, but can even be what God desires.

I respond, again, that Voice of the Family is attacking a statement that cannot be found in Amoris Laetitia, but only in their own apparent suspicions that the Vicar of Jesus Christ has a secret agenda to change church teaching.

10.  The fundamental option "is exactly what is implied in paragraphs 303 and 301."

I respond, again, the key word here is "implied".  Voice of the Family attacks what they think is implied, rather than what Amoris Laetitia actually says.

11.  Amoris Laetitia on the other hand includes a subsection, in Chapter Eight, entitled “Gradualness in pastoral care”. This section, and indeed the whole document, is pervaded by the implication that the Church’s teaching on marriage presents an ideal that is to be aimed at, rather than a reality that is binding on all.

I respond again that the key word here is "implication".  Voice of the Family has decided to interpret every sentence in Amoris Laetitia in the worst possible way rather than addressing what the text actually says.  Pope Francis in paragraph 295 expressly makes the same distinction that Pope Saint John Paul II made in Familiaris Consortio between the "law of gradualness" and "gradualness of the law."

12.  In paragraph 305 he states that the natural law cannot be presented as, and I quote:“an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”

The quoted language is from an International Theological Commission document published in the year 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI was in office.  Here is the surrounding context of the passage from the original document:
58. Prudence is indispensable to the moral subject because of the flexibility required to adapt universal moral principles to the diversity of situations. But this flexibility does not authorize one to see prudence as a way of easy compromise with regard to moral values. On the contrary, it is through the decisions of prudence that the concrete requirements of moral truth are expressed for a subject. Prudence is a necessary element in the exercise of one’s authentic moral obligation. 
59. This is an approach which, within a pluralist society like our own, takes on an importance that cannot be underestimated without considerable harm. Indeed, it takes account of the fact that moral science cannot furnish an acting subject with a norm to be applied adequately and almost automatically to concrete situations; only the conscience of the subject, the judgment of his practical reason, can formulate the immediate norm of action. But at the same time, this approach does not abandon conscience to mere subjectivity: it aims at having the subject acquire the intellectual and affective dispositions which allow him to be open to moral truth, so that his judgment may be adequate. Natural law could not, therefore, be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making a decision.
Did Voice of the Family write a scathing critique of Pope Benedict XVI after this document was published?  In any event, the point Pope Francis is making, which is clear from both paragraph 305 of Amoris Laetitia and the context of the passage from the International Theological Commission, is that it is not enough for pastors only to quote rules to people.  Pastors also need to take into account a person's situation.  This is not subjectivism, which ignores the objective rule, but realism - taking the objective rule and discerning how it can best be implemented given the particular circumstances of each person. Catholicism is the "both/and" religion - we take into account both God's commands and a person's circumstances, and discern the best way to comply with the commands.

It may be objected that true Christian discernment applies only to affirmative commands, i.e., discerning how best to comply with an affirmative command, and that a negative (prohibitive) command, e.g., "Thou shalt not commit adultery", simply needs to be obeyed regardless of circumstances.  This objection may be answered by stating that valid discernment can include discerning appropriate actions that may help a person to avoid violating a prohibitive command.  In other words, a priest can discern with a person steps that the person can take to reduce sin in their life.  Obviously, such steps depend on the particular circumstances of the person, hence the need for the realist approach stated in Amoris Laetitia paragraph 305.

13.  "In footnote 351, which refers directly to the quote I have just read out, he states, of those living in objective grave sin, with no present intention to amend their lives ..."

The phrase, "no present intention to amend their lives" cannot be found in Footnote 351 or paragraph 305.  I don't know why Voice of the Family is attacking language that isn't in the document.

14.  Pope Francis is stating here that individuals who are living in public grave sin can, in certain cases, be admitted to both the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion while remaining in their sinful lifestyle, if it is determined that their sin is inculpable.

Again, the phrase "while remaining in their sinful lifestyle" cannot be found in the text of Amoris Laetitia.  It is hard to take Voice of the Family seriously if they aren't going to respond to the actual text of the document they are analyzing.

15.  This objective contradiction remains even if an individual is not subjectively guilty of mortal sin. It is the objective reality that takes precedence in determining whether an individual is to be admitted to Holy Communion.

Pope Saint John Paul II did not look solely at the objective situation, but took into account whether a couple in an irregular union had a commitment to live in continence.  Such a commitment, belonging to the thoughts and feelings of both persons, is inherently subjective, and could considerably vary in firmness between each person in the irregular union, let alone from couple to couple.  So it is not true that the Church has always looked solely to objective circumstances, which would simply be that the couple are cohabiting.  Pope Francis has asked the Church to look deeper into the subjective aspects of a person's situation, which is a development, not a contradiction, of Pope Saint John Paul II.  Remember that Pope Saint John Paul II changed church discipline when he abolished the provision in the 1917 Code of Canon Law that called for divorced and remarried couples to be excommunicated following a warning from their bishop.  Church discipline is always developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

16.   What the rest of the flock see is simply a person, “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin”, to use the wording of Canon Law, being admitted to Holy Communion.

The Buenos Aires guidelines approved by Pope Francis address this concern in paragraph 9, noting that it may be appropriate to administer the sacraments in a reserved setting, and also the importance of educating the community. 

17.  It is also extremely difficult to conceive of any appreciable number of cases where a person will remain without culpability for mortal sin after engaging in a proper process of discernment with a faithful priest.

Such cases may be few, but that does not mean they don't exist.  The good shepherd leaves the 99 behind and looks for the one lost sheep.

18.  It is quite clear then that the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of Pope Francis directly contradicts the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church on the question of the admission of “divorced and remarried Catholics” to Holy Communion.

The only thing clear here is that Voice of the Family has drawn their own erroneous implications from Amoris Laetitia, then attacked these implications.  It is much better simply to follow what Amoris Laetitia actually says.

19.  Amoris Laetitia makes no direct reference to contraception, despite the devastating consequences of the use of contraceptives in many areas of human life, not least the killing of unborn children by abortifacient methods.

On the contrary, Amoris Laetitia explicitly condemns contraception in paragraph 44.  Amoris Laetitia also affirms the teaching of Humanae Vitae in paragraphs 68, 82 and 222.  Pope Francis also repeats throughout Amoris Laetitia that marriage must be open to new life in paragraphs 80, 125, 223, 292 and 324.

20.  As far as same-sex unions are concerned Amoris Laetitia states, in paragraph 52, that:“We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, may not simply be equated with marriage.” This implies ...

I'm not going to respond any further to what Voice of the Family thinks is implied by Amoris Laetitia.

21.  The problem is that this assertion of parental rights is found in Chapter 1 of the document and not in the chapter actually entitled “Towards a Better Education of Children”. In this chapter, no 7, which is twenty-two pages long there is no mention of the rights of parents.

Chapter 7 discusses the role of parents in the education of children at length.  The very first word in Chapter 7 is "Parents".   The first paragraph (259) of Chapter 7 reads:
"Parents always influence the moral development of their children, for better or for worse. It follows that they should take up this essential role and carry it out consciously, enthusiastically, reasonably and appropriately. Since the educational role of families is so important, and increasingly complex, I would like to discuss it in detail."

Likewise paragraph 263:
 "Parents rely on schools to ensure the basic instruction of their children, but can never completely delegate the moral formation of their children to others."

Pope Francis discusses the role of parents at length in Chapter 7: paragraphs 259, 260, 261, 263, 264, 269, 272, 278, 279, 287, and 288.

22.  This subsection on “The Need for Sex Education” makes no reference to the role of parents at all, though it doesmake reference to “educational institutions”. Indeed, the clear implication of this subsection seems to be that sex education is something to be carried out by educational institutions and not by parents.

I'm not going to respond anymore to what Voice of the Family thinks is implied by Amoris Laetitia, especially when such implication is based on something that is not in the document.

23.  To see the reality of sex education we need look no further than the World Health Organisation’s “Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe”....  Now, I’m not suggesting that this is the kind of sex education that is being proposed in Amoris Laetitia.  Yet it is certainly the case that the document fails to come even close to discussing the real threat facing children.

Pope Francis does in fact address the immoral sexual education being imposed on children by many secular institutions today, in paragraphs 283-286, and he counters by saying that it is Christian marriage that should be taught as the goal of sex education (paragraph 283).  He expressly rejects contraception (283), masturbation (283), fornication (283), and gender conversion (284).

24.   The document directly contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church on a number of points and adopts gravely problematic approaches to moral theology.

Voice of the Family has not identified a single statement in Amoris Laetitia that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Instead, Voice of the Family has drawn implications that directly contradict church teaching.  That is Voice of the Family's mistake, not Amoris Laetitia's.

25.  A document which contains doctrinal error cannot be considered an appropriate means for propagating Catholic truth.

Voice of the Family has not identified a single doctrinal error in Amoris Laetitia.

26.  That is why we are convinced that the only way forward is to demand that this document be withdrawn. It must be repudiated either by Pope Francis or by one of his successors. In the meantime, the grave errors contained within it cannot go unchallenged.

This is a grave accusation, and one that needs to be justified by more than just "implications" that Voice of the Family thinks are contained in Amoris Laetitia.  Voice of the Family needs to identify explicit statements if they are going to accuse an apostolic exhortation of the Vicar of Jesus Christ of "graver errors" that need to be repudiated.  Voice of the Family has failed to identify a single such error.

I would close by suggesting that Voice of the Family's efforts could be better spent by explaining how Amoris Laetitia is consistent with traditional Catholic moral teaching, and proposing ways in which Amoris Laetitia can be implemented that both respect the Church's objective commands and at the same time show mercy to persons living in difficult situations and help them to live in accordance with the Church's teaching.  This is obviously a difficult task.  It is much easier simply to restate the Church's objective teaching over and over again than to work face to face with people in difficult situations and find ways to reintegrate them back into the life of the Church.  Rather than tearing down the Vicar of Jesus Christ, we should all be seeking to build up the body of Jesus Christ by obedience to its visible head, Pope Francis.

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