EXPAND YOUR READING!!

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

"AMORIS LAETITIA": TWO ARTICLES AND A COMMENTARY


Here are two excelent articles, one by Sandro Magister who isn't on the wave length  of Pope Francis but, nonetheless, gives us a good idea of what the document is about, and the other which, because the writer thinks along the same lines, especially in the title, goes deeper.


Integration Yes, Communion Who Knows? The Pope’s Sibylline Response
Excerpts from the post-synodal exhortation "Amoris Lætitia." In 264 pages and 325 paragraphs not a single clear word in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried 

Selected by Sandro Magister





CONTINUITY OF DOCTRINE, VARIETY OF INTERPRETATIONS


2. […] The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.  […] Each country or region,moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.  


LEGISLATIVE AGGRESSION AGAINST THE FAMILY


53. […] In various countries, legislation facilitates a growing variety of alternatives to marriage, with the result that marriage, with its characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility and openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option. Many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will. Surely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence, yet this should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal.


SURROGATE MOTHERS AND FALSE EMANCIPATION OF WOMAN


54. […] The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making. History is burdened by the excesses of patriarchal cultures that considered women inferior, yet in our own day, we cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers and “the exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture”. There are those who believe that many of today’s problems have arisen because of feminine emancipation. This argument, however, is not valid, “it is false, untrue, a form of male chauvinism”.



GENDER IDEOLOGY

56. Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”. It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised.


ABORTION AND EUTHANASIA


83. Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being. The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, “those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection.


HOMOSEXUALITY AND HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS


250 […] During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, 276 particularly any form of aggression and violence. […]

251. In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex”.


CHASTITY BEFORE MARRIAGE


283. Frequently, sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”. Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place ofacceptance. It is always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies and their desires, as if they possessed the maturity, values, mutual commitment and goals proper to marriage. They end up being blithely encouraged to use other persons as an means of fulfilling their needs or limitations. The important thing is to teach them sensitivity to different expressions of love, mutual concern and care, loving respect and deeply meaningful communication. All of these prepare them for an integral and generous gift of self that will be expressed, following a public commitment, in the gift of their bodies. Sexual union in marriage will thus appear as a sign of an all-inclusive commitment, enriched by everything that has preceded it.


REMARRIAGE AFTER DIVORCE AND “IRREGULAR” SITUATIONS


297. […] No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.

Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion. Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest.

As for the way of dealing with different “irregular” situations, the Synod Fathers reached a general consensus, which I support: “In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them”, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

298. The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.

One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate” (329).

There are also the cases of those who made every effort to save their first marriage and were unjustly abandoned, or of “those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid”.

Another thing is a new union arising from a recent divorce, with all the suffering and confusion which this entails for children and entire families, or the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family.

It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family. The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing”, with an approach which “carefully discerns situations”. We know that no “easy recipes” exist.

299. I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which would allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surmounted. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important”.


NO TO GENERAL NORMS, BUT EVALUATIONS CASE BY CASE


300. If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.

What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same (336).

Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at re- conciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone”.


THE INTERNAL FORUM


What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow.

Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. "Familiaris Consortio", 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”.

These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.


ATTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES


301. For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised.

The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.

More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, 339 or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.

As the Synod Fathers put it, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”. Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well; in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues”.

302. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”.

In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability” (344).

For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.

On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. […] Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases”.


THE PLACE OF CONSCIENCE


303. Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.

Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace.

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. 


NORMS AND DISCERNMENT


304. It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.

I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects... In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all... The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”.

It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.

At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.

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”.

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, 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 (351).

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. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.

306. In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the "via caritatis" must be clearly heard . […]


PASTORAL MERCY


307. In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur. […] A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves.

To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown.

308. At the same time, from our awareness of the weight of mitigating circumstances – psychological, historical and even biological – it follows that “without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best”.

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”.

The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements. […]

311. […] At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity (364). We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel.

It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. […]

312. This offers us a framework and a setting which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues. Instead, it sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate. That is the mindset which should prevail in the Church.

_________


NOTES


(329) John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. 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” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes", 51).

(336) This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in another document applies: cf. "Evangelii Gaudium" (24 November 2013), 44 and 47: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1040.

(344) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia "Iura et Bona" (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72 (1980), 546; John Paul II, in his critique of the category of “fundamental option”, recognized that “doubtless there can occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which have an influence on the sinner’s subjective culpability” (Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" [2 December 1984], 17: AAS 77 [1985], 223).

(351) 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).

(364) Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 [1996], 589). 

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The complete text of the exhortation:

> "Amoris Lætitia"

MY COMMENTARY

I believe that that there is a  profound unity between the theology of Vatican II, the the understanding of Pope Benedict on the Church, and the understanding of Pope Francis on the workings of grace in human relationships.

Bishop Christopher Butler, who was present at the Council as Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, one wrote that, before the Council, he knew who was a Catholic and who wasn't; after the Council, he knew who was a Catholic, but he no longer knew who isn't.  The same thing could be said after "Amoris Laeticia" about grace.  Before "Amoris Laeticia" we knew which marital unions could be lived out in the state of grace, and which couldn't.  However, after "Amoris Laeticia", we know which marital unions can be grace-filled, but we don't know which can't.  As grace and the sacrament of marriage are ecclesial realities, Pope Benedict's answers to the question of membership of the Church and Francis' answers about the different ways of living together are connected.

   Before the Council, the answer about what makes a person a Catholic was put in legal terms, and the papal dogmas of Vatican I were considered an adequate answer to the problem.  A legal answer is clear, logical and satisfying.  Then came along Vatican II which, without in any way denying the dogmas of Vatican I, filled them out by putting the basis and fount of Catholicism in the liturgy and especially the Eucharist.   Communion with the pope is what should happen when all local churches celebrate the same Eucharist, creating a universal organism; but, due to history outside our control, the Eucharist is celebrated by many outside the universal jurisdiction of the pope, which means that there are local and regional churches that are "the Church" because of the Eucharist without acknowledging the pope.  

Foremost among the theologians of eucharistic ecclesiology is Benedict XVI, both as cardinal and pope.   The Church is present, not only among churches that are not in "full communion" with the Church's universal structure, but also in "ecclesial communties" which broke away from the Church's eucharistic structure at the Reformation and now have their own man-made structures while retaining the sacrament of baptism or, at least, faith in Christ.

When we reduce theology to Canon Law and give purely legalistic answers to questions about the Catholic Faith, then Catholicism is clear, logical and uncomplicated.  Once you dig deeper and strive to include other aspects of Catholicism when looking for answers, then you get a messy Catholicism "because there is nothing so queer as folks!"   What Pope Benedict has done for ecclesiology, Pope Francis is doing for Pastoral Theology, for exactly the same reason.  In fact, I don't think you can accept the approach of Pope Benedict without assenting to the approach of Pope Francis, even if Pope Benedict shyed away from it, knowing the can of worms he would be opening!


"Conservative" understanding of who is in mortal sin and who isn't, and a "conservative" understanding of marriage are also completely legalistic and, hence, suffer from the same inadequacy.   Just as a pre-Vatican II conservative would have accepted that membership of the Church depended on accepting papal jurisdiction and would have considered a depth of holiness of someone outside that jurisdiction as irrelevant to whether they were Catholic or not (there is no such thing as degrees of membership), so those conservatives who oppose the views of Pope Francis are likely to consider "mortal sin" as breaking a law of a certain gravity with full knowledge of what they are doing.  They remain "in a state of mortal sin" until they repent of that sin.  They are also likely to believe that Catholic teaching on marriage is identical to the canon law that governs marriage: if you change the rules, you change the doctrine.  Cardinal Burke has said as much.   

When Pope Benedict suggested that divorced and re-married couples should substitute spiritual communion at Mass for sacramental communion, he showed that he agreed with Pope Francis that real life is more complicated than that suggested by Canon Law because  he also knew that someone "in the state of mortal sin" is as incapable of authentic spiritual communion as he is of worthily receiving sacramental communion.  Not all who have divorced and re-married are in a state of mortal sin. Popes Benedict and Francis are in agreement with the theological reality, even if they do not agree on the pastoral policy.

A much clearer indication that the theological positions of the two popes are closer than many people realize  is their effort to heal the rift with the lebevrists.  The media caste Pope Benedict as a "conservative" and, therefore is suspected of being sympathetic to some of the aims ofrthe Society of St Pius X; but no one can accuse Pope Francis of this: yet both popes have been equally anxious to heal the schism.  The best analysis of the motives of Pope Francis,  I believe, comes from Bishop Fellay, the head of the (lebrevrist) Society of Pius X, though I think he is wrong about Benedict who is closer to Francis than he realises.  He writes:
If at first Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, did not see the Society in a particular way that is different from this ecumenical perspective that I just mentioned, I think that there would be nothing at all. I even think that instead we would already be laboring once again under penalties, censures, excommunication, the declaration of schism, and that whole attempt to eliminate a bothersome group. Then why was Benedict XVI and why is Pope Francis now so benevolent toward the Society? I think that the two do not necessarily have the same perspective. In the case of Benedict XVI, I think that it was his conservative side, his love for the old liturgy, his respect for the previous discipline in the Church. I can say that many, and I mean many priests, and even groups that had problems with the Modernists in the Church and had recourse to him when he was still a cardinal found in him—at first as a cardinal, then as pope—a benevolent respect, a desire to protect and to help them at least, as much as he could.
In Pope Francis we do not see that attachment either to the liturgy or to the old discipline. We could even say, quite the opposite, given his many contrary statements, and this is what makes it more difficult and more complicated to understand his benevolence. And nevertheless, I think that there are nevertheless several possible explanations, but I admit that I do not have the final word on the subject. One of the explanations is Pope Francis’ perspective on anything that is marginalized, what he calls the “peripheries of life”. I would not be surprised if he considered us as one of these peripheries which he manifestly prefers. And from that perspective, he uses the expression “walk forward” with people on the periphery, hoping to manage to improve things. Therefore it is not a fixed decision to succeed immediately: a development, a walk, goes wherever it goes…, but at least you are being rather peaceful, polite, without really knowing what the result might be. Probably this is one of the deeper reasons.
Another reason: we see also Pope Francis rather constantly critiquing the established Church, what is called in English the establishment—we say that from time to time in French, too—reproaching the Church for being self-satisfied, a Church that no longer looks for the lost sheep, the one that is in trouble, at all levels, whether poverty on the one hand or even physical danger…. But we see in Pope Francis that this concern, despite the blatant appearances, is not just a concern about material things…. We see very well that when he says “poverty” he includes also spiritual poverty, the poverty of souls that are in sin, that should be brought out of it and led back to the Dear Lord. Even though it is not always expressed that clearly, we find a number of expressions that indicate this. And from this perspective, he sees in the Society a community that is very active—especially when compared to the situation in the establishment—very active, in other words it seeks and goes out seeking souls, it has this concern about the spiritual welfare of souls, and is ready to roll up its sleeves and work for it.
He is acquainted with Abp. Lefebvre; he read twice the biography written by Bp. Tissier de Mallerais, which shows, without a doubt, an interest; and I think that he liked it. And also the contacts that he was able to have in Argentina with our confreres, in whom he saw a sort of spontaneity and also candor, for they hid absolutely nothing. Of course, they were trying to get something for Argentina, where we were having difficulties with the State concerning residency permits, but they hid nothing, they did not try to dodge issues, and I think that he likes that. This may be the rather human side of the Society, but we see that the pope is very human, he assigns a lot of importance to such considerations, and this could explain a certain benevolence on his part. Once again, I am not saying the final word on this subject, and certainly behind all this there is Divine Providence. Divine Providence which manages to put good thoughts into the head of a pope who, on many points, alarms us tremendously, and not just us: you can say that everyone who is more or less conservative in the Church is scared by what is happening, by what is being said, and nevertheless Divine Providence manages to bring us through these reefs in a very surprising way. Very surprising, because it is clear that Pope Francis wants to let us live and survive. He even said to anyone who cares to listen that he would never do the Society any harm. He also said that we are Catholics. He refused to condemn us for causing a schism, saying: “They are not schismatics, they are Catholics,” even though after that he used a somewhat enigmatic expression, namely that we are on the way toward full communion. We wish that we could have a clear definition sometime of this term “full communion”, because you can see that it does not correspond to anything precise. It is an opinion…, you don’t really know what it is. Even quite recently, in an interview given by Msgr. Pozzo about us, he repeats a quotation that he attributes to the pope himself—we can therefore take it as an official position—the pope, speaking to Ecclesia Dei confirmed that we were Catholics on the way toward full communion.[4] And Msgr. Pozzo explained how this full communion can come about: by the acceptance of the canonical form, which is rather surprising: the idea that a canonical form would resolve all the problems with communion!
A little further on, in the same interview, he says that this full communion consists of accepting the major Catholic principles,[5] in other words the three levels of unity in the Church, which are the Faith, the sacraments and the government. In speaking about faith, he speaks here instead of the Magisterium. But we have never called into question any one of these three elements. And therefore we never called in question our full communion, but we skip the adjective “full”, and say quite simply: “We are in communion according to the classic term used in the Church; we are Catholics; we are Catholics and we are in communion, because the rupture of communion is precisely schism.”



It is not that he lumps schismatics, homosexuals, transsexuals, divorced, traditionalists etc together - unless it is to lump them together with Catholics in general: we are all sinners in need of God's mercy to attain to that life of divine sonship which God has in store for all.  This mercy seeps into every situation where there is even the smallest opening, the tiniest hole; and all it needs is the flicker of an eyelid from the sinner, the smallest movement to open the way for mercy, and  for the process of salvation to start.  This is a long way from the "Canon Lawyer in the Sky" which is the portrait of God we get from a particular kind of conservative.

This is an argument really about God.  At the centre of Christianity is the kenotic love of God revealed in Christ.  It ia a love that did not condemn the world but strives to save it.  Christ accepted to suffer the full consequences of the human sin himself, sold all he had to buy our salvation, left the ninety nine sheep to go and find the one that was lost; he died and was crucified for us and then went into the deepest recesses of hell to hunt down and discover those who would respond so that they could accompany him to heaven, even foresaking his conciousness  of his Father's presence in the process, "My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?".   He doesn't wait for us to sort out our own mess: he plunges straight into it and saves us.  This is the God of "The Hound of Heaven".   The result is a messy Catholicism because God's activity cannot be contained in any clear, logical, legal system, and God's love will burst through any barriers we construct.

Just as fiction writers anticipated the submarine and space travel before scientists made them real, so authors like Georges Bernanos, Graham Green and Shusako Endo anticipated the insights of Vatican II and its aftermath, showing us that Catholicism is necessarily messy.

Nothing could be further from weak-kneed liberalism than this view of Pope Francis, which is why the secular media do not understand either Pope Benedict or Pope Francis: their pre-suppositions are different.  Liberalism assumes that God is a great distance from us, if he exists at all, and urges a universal tolerance.  Pope Francis knows God is present in every situation, like a bomb ready to explode.  If we want to find God, we must get our hands dirty, take on the smell of the sheep among whom he is active, and then do what he wants, whether the world approves or not.   In place of a universal tolerance, he urges a universal love, which must include a universal respect, but doesn't always include tolerance.

The theology of Pope Francis has been filtred through his experience of life in the street.   He knows from experience that heroic Christian love can sometimes be found where Canon Law would only discover sin.  He knows that, in the words of the priest in "The Diary of a Country Priest", grace is everywhere.   Why does he, in succession to Pope Benedict, seek out Bishop Fellay and the Society of St Pius X?   Because both popes have seen, their job to cross every barrier, to pull down any wall, to look into any corner and to light up any darkness that they come across "that all may be one." This is what Christ does.  It  is specially so when, every time they celebrates Mass, they are united by the Spirit to all others who celebrate Mass, whether priests or lay people: this is the basic unity of the Church, brought about by Christ in the Holy Spirit.  Our disunity is a denial of the reality of the Mass which, thankfully is not as real as the reality of the Mass.  Neither Pope Francis, nor we ourselves, nor Bishop Fellay can arrogate to ourselves God's right to judge: if we in our separation celebrate the Eucharist in good faith, then we are bound to make real in our own lives the unity with others we celebrate every time we celebrate the Mass separately.  That is what Pope Francis is doing, crossing every barrier, breaking down as many walls as possible, trying to reflect in his own ministry Christ's kenotic love.   Bishop Fellay noticed three ingredients in Pope Francis ministry, a) reaching out to the margins, any margin, everywhere, b) not trying to solve every problem, but walking with all who need it, and c) trusting in God's Providence to do the rest.  

It has nothing to do with modernism or liberalism: modernists and liberals do not trust in God's Providence like Pope Francis does.  What frightens people is that he leaves so much to God's Providence and rejects censorship and control as a poor substitute for trust in God.  He believes in the maximum of free expression, confident that the Holy Spirit will bring unity out of diversity.



Francis' exhortation a radical shift to see grace in imperfection, without fearing moral confusion


Joshua J. McElwee  |  Apr. 8, 2016
Amoris Laetitia

VATICAN CITY In a radical departure from recent pastoral practice, Pope Francis has asked the world's Catholic clergy to let their lives become "wonderfully complicated" by embracing God's grace at work in the difficult and sometimes unconventional situations families and marriages face -- even at risk of obscuring doctrinal norms.
The pontiff has also called on bishops and priests globally to set aside fears of risking moral confusion, saying they must avoid a tendency to a "cold bureaucratic morality" and shift away from evaluating peoples' moral status based on rigid canonical regulations.

In a substantial and already hotly debated document addressing church teaching on family life, Francis says that Catholic bishops and priests can no longer make blanket moral determinations about so-called "irregular" situations such as divorce and remarriage.

Writing in his new apostolic exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia ('The Joy of Love'), the pope strongly advocates for the worth of the traditional, life-long Christian marriage but speaks respectfully of nearly all models of family life.

He also persistently asks the church's pastors to shift away from models of teaching focused on repetition of doctrine in favor of compassion and understanding for peoples' struggles, and how God may be calling to them in the depths of their own consciences.

"It ... can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace," states the pontiff at one point in the document, released by the Vatican Friday.

"It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being," the pope writes later.

"Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits," states Francis. "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."

Earlier in the document, the pope acknowledges that the way the church has expressed its family life teachings in the past has not left enough room for individuals to make appropriate decisions about their own lives.

"We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life," writes Francis.

"We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden," he continues.

"We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations," he states. "We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them."

Such language, openly reevaluating how the church approaches and considers families around the world, pervades the 263-page document, which is expansive in scope.

Beginning with a moving and in-depth exegesis of both Old and New Testament passages dealing with family life, it continues on to address a wide range of issues, first evaluating struggles faced by families around the world and then suggesting pastoral responses.

Francis rarely offers outright direction for how clergy should respond to particular situations, instead giving reflections or general advice and allowing individuals to determine what may be appropriate.

The pope says the church needs to be "humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation."

"We need a healthy dose of self-criticism," states the pontiff. "At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.

"This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite," he continues.

"We have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness," Francis states later.

"Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals," he continues.

Amoris Laetitia, hotly anticipated for months, was written by Francis as a response to two back-to-back meetings of Catholic bishops he hosted at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015 on issues of family life.

Both meetings, known as synods, made recommendations to the pontiff following the prelates' weeks of discussions. The pope's exhortation cites extensively from those recommendations, often quoting from them before then expanding into his own considerations.

The document, which unfolds over 325 numbered points and nine chapters, also quotes extensively from Francis' predecessors, the Second Vatican Council documents, local bishops' conferences, 13th century theologian and St. Thomas Aquinas, and even the late U.S. Protestant Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pope John Paul II receives the most footnotes of any author, with more than 40 citations; Aquinas has at least twelve.

'Pastoral mercy' for divorced and remarried

Francis devotes the whole eighth chapter of the exhortation to considering how the church should act towards Catholics who divorce and remarry without first obtaining annulments, whom church practice has in the past prohibited from taking Communion.

While the pope does not specifically issue a new law or regulation allowing remarried Catholics writ-large to have the Eucharist, he significantly changes the church's stance towards such persons. Like the final document issued by the 2015 Synod, he calls for "pastoral discernment" of individual situations.

He also proposes what he calls "the logic of pastoral mercy" in working with remarried persons.

Citing John Paul II, Francis puts forward the notion of "graduality," meaning that Catholics may sometimes grow toward adherence or understanding of church teaching throughout their lives.

"This is not a 'gradualness of law' but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law," states the pope. "For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception."

"No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!" he exhorts. "Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves."

Francis then distinguishes between remarried persons who have been in their new relationships for lengthy periods of time and those who have only recently moved on from a prior divorce.

"The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment," he states.

In reference to the different situations remarried people can be in, Francis writes about "mitigating factors" that clergy should consider in their pastoral discernment in working with remarried persons.

"The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations," he states. "Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace."

Quoting first from Aquinas and then the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church, Francis states: "A negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved."

In other words, the pope says one cannot judge a person based on how their situations measure up to any general norm.

He then affirms the 2015 synod document's call that "pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations."

Later, the pope expounds on Catholic teaching on conscience, saying that "individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage."

"Conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel," writes Francis.

"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," he states.

"Let us recall that this discernment is dynamic," writes the pope. "It must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized."

Quoting again from Aquinas, Francis says he wants to "earnestly ask that we always recall" one of his teachings in the Summa Theologiae.

“Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects," the pope quotes the saint.

Francis then puts it more bluntly: "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,'" he continues.

Proposing his "logic of pastoral mercy," the pontiff says that while "in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage" there is also "a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear."

"I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion," Francis states.

"But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, 'always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street,'" he continues.

"At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity," writes the pope.

"We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance," he states. "That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth."

Same-sex marriage, contraception, gender ideology

Francis addresses several other sometimes controversial issues throughout the exhortation, including same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion.

While the pontiff recognizes values he says are expressed in committed same-sex relationships, he clearly separates them from heterosexual relationships. He also firmly affirms Pope Paul VI's teaching against use of contraception by Catholics and speaks strongly against abortion.

"We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage," writes the pope. "No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society."

Quoting the 2015 synod document later, he states: "As for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family."

On contraception, Francis states: "From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life."

Yet, later in the document, the pope also affirms and repeats a passage from the 2015 synod document that put the choice to use contraception in the realm of decisions informed by one's conscience.

"Decisions involving responsible parenthood presuppose the formation of conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There each one is alone with God, whose voice echoes in the depths of the heart,'" he writes.

On abortion, Francis states: "So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the 'property' of another human being."

But the pontiff speaks strongly against violence or oppression towards women, stating: "I would like to stress the fact that, even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to promote these rights."

"The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity," the pope states.

"If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women," he continues.

Francis also speaks clearly against the teaching of what he calls "gender ideology," saying: "Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift."

But later he also seems to acknowledge that gender exists on something of a spectrum.

"It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore," states the pontiff. "But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories."

'May we never lose heart'

Francis devotes the fourth chapter of the exhortation to a moving and in-depth word-by-word consideration of St. Paul's famous and often quoted description of love as patient, kind, and bearing and believing all things.

Examining each of the saint's original Greek words, the pontiff puts them into their linguistic and cultural context to better explain the Christian view of love. The reflection reads like a careful, kind back-to-the-basics explanation of how Christians should act.

On Paul's description that love "bears all things," for example, the pontiff states: "Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults." For "believes all things," he states: "Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything."

Later in the chapter, Francis then speaks directly to people considering or just beginning marriage, offering kind and straightforward advice about life-long partnership.

The pope calls on partners to practice dialogue with one another, saying: "Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways."

"Take time, quality time," the pontiff suggests. "This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right."

"Develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person," he advises later. "This means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exist, to think as they do and to be happy. Never downplay what they say or think, even if you need to express your own point of view."

"Keep an open mind," says Francis. "Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both."

The pope concludes the document with a chapter on the spirituality of marriage, citing the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on spirituality born in family life.

"Just as God dwells in the praises of his people, so he dwells deep within the marital love that gives him glory," states Francis.

"The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes," the pope continues.

"The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures," he states. "In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place."

"Life as a couple is a daily sharing in God’s creative work, and each person is for the other a constant challenge from the Holy Spirit," Francis states. "The two are thus mutual reflections of that divine love which comforts with a word, a look, a helping hand, a caress, an embrace."

"All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse," the pontiff concludes. "Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together."

"What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine," he states. "May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us."


[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]



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