When Popes Collide
by Christopher A. Ferrara
April 13, 2018
An astonishing aspect of the ecclesial crisis that Pope Francis has provoked with Amoris Laetitia (AL) is the diametric opposition of his program to the teaching of the very Pope he has canonized. Never before in the history of the Church has a Pope blatantly contradicted the teaching of one of his own predecessors on a matter of faith and morals.
AL announces the utter novelty — and therefore, the utter falsity — of the moral teaching that the Sixth Commandment represents an “ideal” one cannot expect the divorced and “remarried” to follow in every case. To quote the already infamous paragraph 303:
“Yet 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, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”
In defense of his own teaching in Familiaris consortio, upholding the Church’s bimillenial discipline, rooted in divine law, which forbids Holy Communion to public adulterers, John Paul II taught precisely the opposite in line with all his predecessors:
“It would be a very grave error to conclude from this that the norm taught by the Church is itself only an ‘ideal’ that must be adapted, proportionately, accommodated, it is said, to the ‘concrete possibilities of man’: according to a ‘balancing of the various goods in question.’ But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man is one speaking? Of man dominated by concupiscence or of man redeemed by Christ? Thus, it is this which is involved: the reality of man redeemed by Christ. Christ has redeemed us: he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has liberated our freedom from the domination of concupiscence.
Moreover, in Veritatis Splendor, John Paul rejected precisely AL’s false appeal to conscience and a nonexistent disjunction between exceptionless negative moral precepts and their “pastoral” application:
The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost…
“[S]ome authors have proposed a kind of double status of moral truth. Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law.
“A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. 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.
“No one can fail to realize that these approaches pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God’s law…”
The “normalists,” with their tortured attempts to defend the indefensible, can no longer hide the undeniable truth about this pontificate: it represents, incredibly enough, the attempt by a Pope to overturn the infallible teaching of the Church on the moral law. The faithful must not only reject that attempt but actively oppose it in any way they can according to their stations in the Church. We must obey God rather than man, even if the man in question sits on the Chair of Peter. For the Pope is but a servant of the Truth that makes us free, not the Oracle of Rome.