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Deceptus laetitia – Part I

by Christopher A. Ferrara
April 26, 2016

A vast amount of critical commentary has already been written about Amoris laetitia (AL), a document the Rorate Caeli blog site rightly summarizes in a single word: “catastrophe.” The focus of this series is suggested by the comment of Carl E. Olson at Catholic World Report (Father Fessio’s publication): “Francis apparently plays a bit fast and loose with some of his arguments and sources.”

That’s putting it mildly, although it is remarkable that even a “mainstream” commentator on a “mainstream” Catholic website feels compelled to note the lack of honesty in the document.  But it must be said in all candor that Francis does not apparently, but rather actually “plays fast and loose” with both arguments and sources — and not just “a bit” but quite gravely.  This alone is sufficient to cover this scandalous document with opprobrium for all time.  In fact, Amoris Laetitia — the “Joy of Love” — might be more aptly entitled Deceptus Laetitia — the “Joy of Deception.”

I grant that this may sound unduly harsh to the reader who has not plumbed the depths of this document.  But anyone who does so might have even stronger things to say about its verbal trickery.

Let me begin this series with an example that is thematic to the document: its truly fraudulent mischaracterization of a phrase by John Paul II in Familiaris consortio, paragraph 84 that “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of the situation.”

This lone sentence is quoted at paragraph 79 of AL to be followed immediately by the proposition that “The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases and factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision. Therefore, while clearly stating the Church’s teaching, pastors are to avoid judgements that do not take into account the complexity of various situations, and they are to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition.”

Having plucked the word “discernment” from its context in Familiaris consortio, AL uses it no fewer than 32 times in the course of its advocacy of a new form of “pastoral discernment” that would allow for a new “integration” into ecclesial life of divorced and “remarried” persons living a state that even the new Catechism (following the words of Our Lord) calls “public and permanent adultery.” The theme of “discernment,” repeated again and again on the pages of AL, culminates in the section entitled “Discernment of ‘Irregular’ Situations.” The word “irregular,” appearing always between skeptical quotation marks, is AL’s new name for “permanent and public adultery.”  That section in turn culminates in the now infamous paragraph 305 and its footnote.  Quoth paragraph 305:

For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not 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 decisions”…

[It] is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end. Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.

Here we see the moral law itself belittled as “black and white,” and even the natural law reduced to a mere “objective ideal.”  It is almost impossible to believe that a Roman Pontiff could write in this way.

And then the fateful footnote, number 351, which both Francis and AL’s co-presenter, Cardinal Schonborn, now admit opens the door to Holy Communion for public adulterers living in mere civil unions while their valid marriages to others continue to exist.  By “receiving the Church’s help” Francis means, says the footnote, that:

In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).

Again, all of this is hinged on the lone sentence AL plucks from paragraph 84 of Familiaris consortio, with its reference to “discernment.”  But now we must look at what John Paul II actually teaches in the same paragraph following the reference to “discernment”:

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”

This is the constant teaching of the Church, affirmed not only by John Paul II and the Catechism he promulgated, but also by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during his reign and also by Benedict XVI in his own post-synodal apostolic exhortation. And yet there is not a single mention of this teaching anywhere in AL, except in footnote 329, which engages in another deception by reducing John Paul II’s reaffirmation in Familiaris of the moral imperative of divorced and “remarried” people observing “complete continence” to a mere “possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them…” 

The deception at work in footnote 329 will be the subject of my next column.  Suffice it to say for now that AL confirms the prophecy of Sister Lucia to Cardinal Caffarra that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”