PART III. Conclusion: Damage Assessment
What will actually happen in the Church in the wake of Amoris Laetitia? First of all, we can thank God that—surely by Providence—Francis’s own choice of approach allows one to dismiss the entirety of the document as nothing more than a personal opinion he has not imposed (and cannot impose) upon the Church, as Cardinal Burke has observed. For example:
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… (308)
Francis may “sincerely believe” that “Jesus wants” pastoral care that does leave room for confusion, but there is no room for confusion in the divine declaration: “Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery.” We have no obligation to treat as an authentic teaching of the Magisterium, or even as a rational thought, Francis’s claim that “Jesus wants” him to “integrate weakness” into the Church for the first time in 2,000 years.
But even if we assume that this document is apparently an act of the Magisterium, in reality it simply cannot be. Just as God cannot contradict Himself, the Magisterium cannot contradict itself. For the Magisterium is the teaching office the Church; it presents what the Church teaches, which is not determined by the latest utterance of the current Pope. Therefore, whatever contradicts the constant prior teaching of the Church cannot possibly belong to the Magisterium, no matter what formal appearances it has been given. Rather, it would constitute error, which is possible with any exercise of the “ordinary” Magisterium that involves true novelties. Otherwise, we would have to say that absolutely every papal pronouncement, no matter what novelty it contains, is infallible. Nor can we place the least reliance on the treacherous Cardinal Schönborn’s assurance, the usual Modernist doubletalk, that “There are true novelties in this document, but no ruptures.” True novelties in the Church’s moral theology and its bimillenial application to public adulterers and fornicators are ruptures by definition.
Amoris Laetitia clearly presents such a rupture in at least two respects: First, it purports to change, not a mere ecclesiastical positive law, but an unchangeable Eucharistic discipline rooted in divine law and intrinsically connected to the integrity of the revealed truth concerning both the Real Presence and the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. Second, it attempts to introduce into Catholic moral theology an absolutely inadmissible form of situation ethics, which the Magisterium has always condemned. Nor can it be argued that the faithful have no capacity to recognize these contradictions but rather must blindly presume that somehow they do not exist. This is the Catholic Church, whose deposit of Faith is objectively knowable, not a gnostic sect headed by the Oracle of Rome, who announces what “Jesus wants” today.
What this means is that for priests and prelates who continue to “prefer a more rigorous pastoral care,” which is to say the unchangeable bimillenial pastoral discipline of the Church affirmed even by Francis’s two immediate predecessors, nothing in Amoris Laetitia can bind them to do otherwise. So the “normalists” will be able to say, just as they always do, “nothing has really changed.”
If only it were that simple. Paradoxically, yet no less truly, everything has changed.
As Cardinal Kasper exults, the document “doesn’t change anything of church doctrine or of canon law – but it changes everything.” Amoris Laetitia changes everything by hollowing out doctrine through permission for a “pastoral practice” that contradicts doctrine while leaving it intact as a verbal proposition and reducing it to a mere “ideal,” along with the natural law on marriage itself.
The post-Vatican II regime of novelty here achieves perhaps the greatest and final advance of its long march of destruction through the Church. Francis’s men are already running amok with the document, brandishing it triumphantly as new and revolutionary authority, from the Pope himself, to engage in exactly what Phil Lawler fears: “an acceleration of an already powerful trend to dismiss the Church’s perennial teaching.” They will tell us, as Cardinal Schönborn already does, that Amoris Laetitia is “an organic development of doctrine”—misleading quotations and footnotes included! An “organic development” in which Francis contradicts the very Pope he canonized, whose true teaching Francis has concealed in a pivotal misrepresentation of what John Paul II meant by pastoral “discernment.”
And so it goes with The Great Façade of non-binding novelties that have plagued the Church for nearly fifty years. The “continuing process of decay” Cardinal Ratzinger lamented and, as Pope, arrested for a time now will penetrate more widely and deeply than before, accelerated by a book-length excursus whose novel aspects have only the weight of opinion yet will still cause incalculable new damage to the ecclesial commonwealth.
Therefore, pace Cardinal Burke, despite its non-binding character the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia confirms every one of the expressions of alarm in the Remnant’s petition this past December, which implored Francis to change course or consider resigning the papacy in keeping with his own promise to do so if he became unfit for the office:
You declare that [a] “revolution of tenderness” will take place during your Jubilee of Mercy…Your stated motive for the “revolution of tenderness” is that, according to you, “the Church herself sometimes follows a hard line, she falls into the temptation of following a hard line, into the temptation of stressing only the moral rules, many people are excluded” ….
Catholics know that a true revolution of tenderness occurs in every soul that undergoes Baptism or, corresponding to the grace of repentance, enters the confessional with a firm purpose of amendment and a contrite heart, unburdens the weight of sin, [and] receives absolution by a priest acting in persona Christi… The Catholic Church has always been an inexhaustible font of divine mercy through her Sacraments. What can your proposed “revolution” add to what Christ has already provided in His Church? Can you declare an amnesty on mortal sin?…
Now, as you condemn the Church’s “hard line” on “moral rules” and proclaim a “revolution of tenderness,” we are faced with the imminent threat of unheard-of “gestures” of “mercy” … Among these gestures would appear to be a post-synodal apostolic exhortation authorizing the admission of public adulterers to Holy Communion according to the judgment of individual bishops or episcopal conferences…
One has the sense of a nearly apocalyptic turn of events in the history of the Church.
Every Catholic worthy of the name has a duty to resist this attempted overthrow of the perennial Magisterium by a wayward Pope who clearly has no respect for the teaching of his own predecessors—having misrepresented the crucial contrary teaching of one of them, along with other sources—and who descends to demagoguery by appealing to a “mercy” that would be the worst kind of spiritual cruelty. It is unthinkable that the leadership of the Church, as a pastoral program no less, could leave souls at risk of damnation in the very condition that places them at risk, even encouraging them to compound their guilt by sacrilegiously partaking of Holy Communion while they consider whether they will cease their continuing adultery or fornication.
This is madness never before seen in the history of the Church. And where are the members of the hierarchy to lead us in the midst of this madness? As it was during the time of the Arian crisis, when Saint Athanasius was almost alone among hierarchs publicly defending the faith, so will it be today: the prelates who stand fast and refuse to repudiate the teaching of their own Church will be very few in number, perhaps so few they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It is fitting, then, to conclude this commentary with the words of one prelate who may be among those few, the very aptly named Bishop Athanasius Schneider, speaking even before the threat of this catastrophe had become a reality:
“Non possumus!” I will not accept an obfuscated speech nor a skilfully masked back door to a profanation of the Sacrament of Marriage and Eucharist. Likewise, I will not accept a mockery of the Sixth Commandment of God. I prefer to be ridiculed and persecuted rather than to accept ambiguous texts and insincere methods. I prefer the crystalline “image of Christ the Truth, rather than the image of the fox ornamented with gemstones” (Saint Irenaeus), for “I know whom I have believed”, “Scio, Cui credidi!” (2 Tim 1: 12) [Rorate Caeli, 2 November 2015]