CHAPTERS 1-7: INTIMATIONS OF SUBVERSION
While the focus of this commentary is Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, the preceding chapters contain numerous intimations of the subversion to follow. These rhetorical appetizers for the main course tend to undermine or disparage the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and family and the modern threats to both expounded by a line of great Popes before Vatican II. (There are token citations to Pius XI and Pius XII, but nothing of their uncompromising “rigorism” finds its way into the text).
1. The bombshell in paragraph 3.
From its very outset, Amoris Laetitia unveils an astonishing theme of ethical relativization according to local and individual circumstances. Quoting one of his own peculiar sayings, Francis declares:
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. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs…. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.
The implications are obvious and devastating. The passage is clearly designed to pave the way for each region or nation to adopt its own culture-bound “interpretation” of the Church’s universal Eucharistic discipline respecting the divorced and “remarried” and other habitual public mortal sinners, and indeed its own interpretation of other “general principles,” including “some aspects” of Church teaching. As he has throughout the “synodal journey,” Francis invokes “the Spirit” as a continuing source of “revelation” that “guides us toward the entire truth”—hidden until now!—and finally “leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does.” In short, the “God of surprises” Francis introduced to the world at the end of Synod 2014. An alarmingly gnostic view of discipline and doctrine is apparent.
During the EWTN critique mentioned above, Robert Royal noted that paragraph 3 would in practice lead to “this absurd situation that you can get in your car and drive to Poland, and if you are divorced and remarried and receive Holy Communion it’s a sacrilege and a break with Tradition, a slapping across the face of Our Lord. You drive across into Germany and suddenly it’s this new outpouring of mercy and openness to dialogue.”
2. A plate of subversive hors d’oeuvres.
After this ominous overture, Amoris Laetitia serves up numerous hints of the coming subversion amidst pious praise of “God’s plan” for marriage. I highly recommend Chris Jackson’s brilliant dissection and discussion of these tendentious elements, among which he identifies the following:
- praise for the supposedly more “equitable distribution of duties, responsibilities, and tasks” in the “modern” family versus the “older forms and models” (35);
· a laughably feeble protestation that the Church “can hardly stop advocating marriage” because this would be “depriving the world of values that we can and must offer” (35);
· the claim that “there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things”—when Francis never ceases decrying the “present-day evils” he considers most urgent, all of which happen to be politically correct targets (35);
· the false accusation that the Church’s teaching on marriage “is overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation” versus the so-called “unitive” aspect, when exactly the opposite is true (36);
· the false accusation that the Church has presented an “excessive idealization” and an “artificial theological ideal” of marriage” (36);
· the false accusations that the Church has long been “stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace” and has unjustly neglected to “make room for the consciences of the faithful” (37)—an obvious setup for Chapter 8;
· the declaration that “[s]urely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence,” conspicuously failing to specify what is meant by “older forms of the traditional family” (32);
· a rather sly, matter-of-fact mention of “same-sex unions” as part of the “great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability,” even if they “may not simply be equated with marriage” (53)—thus implicitly abandoning the Church’s teaching on the moral duty to oppose legalization and resist implementation of any form of such “unions”;
· subtle demotion of the “indissoluble union between a man and a woman” to merely the one “family situation” that has “a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment”—meaning that “same-sex unions” can have a lesser role, which is quite in keeping with Francis’s refusal to offer any opposition to their legalization in Ireland, the United States and even Italy (52);
- “feminine emancipation” is praised and absolved of any blame for “today’s problems,” while those who think otherwise are accused of “male chauvinism” (54);
· the astounding suggestion—from a Roman Pontiff, no less—that because it is “important to have the freedom to realize that pleasure can find different expressions at different times of life… we can appreciate the teachings of some Eastern masters who urge us to expand our consciousness, lest we be imprisoned by one limited experience that can blinker us” (149);
· a flat rejection of the Scriptural admonition “wives be subject to your husbands,” here replaced by Saint Paul’s other admonition “be subject to one another,” which has nothing to do with the order of authority in the family (156);
· the claim that Catholic priests lack pastoral knowledge of family problems and should learn from the “experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy…”—a veiled indication of what is probably the destination of the next “synodal journey”: the beginning of the abolition of priestly celibacy. (202)
In short, by the time we reach Chapter 8, where nearly all of the damage is done, the reader is prepared for the Big Reveal.