Why the Resistence to “Amoris Laetitia”?

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Those who reject AL as morally incorrect, get creation wrong. And if you get creation wrong, you get the Metaphysics wrong. To say the thesis outright: people are not understanding Amoris Laetitia because the notion of creation, according to the testimony of Joseph Ratzinger, has dropped out of theological consciousness, and has left the created order to an abstract rationalism, certainly including matrimony. The correct interpretation of the created order must be made in the light of the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ such that creation is to the Creator as the human nature of Christ is to His divine Nature. The relation of creation to Creator is to be found in the relation of Christ’s humanity to His divinity, and that in the Person of Christ Himself. Creator and creation are really distinct as are human nature in Christ to His divine nature. The human nature of Christ is what the Church understands by the created order. The human nature of Christ is the medium through which the divine Person lives out His relation to the Father. The nature don’t act. The human intellect doesn’t think. The human will does not will. The divine Person thinks and wills through them. His “I” is the protagonist of both. They are not in parallel, but are compenetrated by His Persona. The take away is that the created nature, although distinct from the divinity, cannot be what it really is without being compenetrated by the sanctity of persons who are “other Christs.” And if they live the vocation to be “other Christs,” they will put Christ at the summit by their lives and work, and they will perceive Him there. The conclusion is that the pope’s documents Amoris Laetitia cannot be reduced to morality when its reality is Christ’s Love and Mercy. It is not a document reducible to morality, but a supernatural phenomenology of self-giving. It is a work of the subject living outo who He is as Mercy.

Creation from Nothing – Unavailable to Human Reason Without Revelation

The Greeks got the metaphysics on contact with Abrahamic faith in the 6th c. B.C.,[1] but they did not get creation.  As evidenced by Sokolowski’s ‘Christian Distinction” between God and the world. The Greeks did not “get” creation because creation is not “gettable” by reason alone. Creation from nothing is unavailable to human reason without revelation. One can reason to a supreme being, to a first cause, to a necessary being, to a perfect being, to a final cause of all things. But one cannot reason to a Creator who creates from nothing. That has to be revealed to us. And in the case that the mind reasons to a Supreme Being –  first cause, necessary being, perfect being and final cause –  since they are all in the genus “being,” it becomes a competition, a zero sum such that the more we explain the supreme being, the less we need explain the world (miracles), and the more we explain the world, the less need we have for the supreme being (science and ideology replace religion).

         And, as it is revealed to us, the God-Man Jesus Christ becomes the cognitive key insofar as He is both Creator and divine (as Person) and created (His humanity). The Council of Chalcedon (451) proclaimed that there is one Person and two natures in Christ and that they are not in parallel but dynamized by the same one Person of the Son of God. Such a misunderstanding has in fact developed a two-tiered image of reality as supernatural/ natural, grace/nature, faith/reason, Church/state… and which continually defy resolution because they are false problems arising from a false Christology. The natures in Christ are not tiered in parallel but compenetrated by the same one Person of Christ. There is no divine Will distinct from the divine Persons. So also, there is no human will in Christ that wills independent of Himself. Such a suggestion betrays abstractive and objectifying thought that is not realist. Only persons will. Hence, the one divine Person of Christ wills as both God and man, divine and human, and the uncreated and created natures find themselves one (although really distinct as uncreated and created) in the one Person. The necessary conclusion must be that the created, human nature of Christ must be shot through with the dimensions of the diving Person. And this must mean that we should find the intelligibility, relationality, love of Christ throughout the entire created material order, particularly in the human order. In a word, the meaning of man must be Christ. Gaudium et spes #22 reads: “He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart.

Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”

And so He, the Son of God, is the prototype of all man’s actions. And so, “You have heard that it was said to the ancients…, You have heard what was said to the ancients…,  But I say to you…. You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect. ”  (Mt. 5, 21-43).

                And this is the light in which Amoris Laetitia is to be interpreted:

                 I consider that the persistent resistance to the papal document “Amoris Laetitia” comes as the result of the pervasive absence of creation as the context of the universal consciousness of the world. And since the media pervasively control public opinion, and is shot through with an empiricist, abstract and reductive ideology, we would do well to consider the remarks of Joseph Ratzinger to comment on what I consider the context forcing the non-reception of the document.

The Correct Interpretation of the Created Order as the Context to Understand Christ’s Mercy  in Matrimony              

  “I [Ratzinger] would like to list three areas within the world-view of the Faith which have witnessed a certain kind of reduction in the last centuries, a reduction which has been gradually preparing the way for another ‘paradigm.’”

In the first place, we have to point out the almost complete disappearance of the doctrine on creation from theology.[2]  Nature still appears as an irrational form even while evincing mathematical structures which we can study technically. That nature has a mathematical intelligibility is to state the obvious, the assertion that it also contains in itself a moral intelligibility, however, is rejected as metaphysical fantasy. The demise of metaphysics goes hand in hand with the displacement of the teaching on creation (my underline).

Enter Duns Scotus and William of Occam

Blogger: What produced the mentality that perceives reality reductively and in abstraction whereby there is no room for gradualness of healing and restoring what was lost? In a word, how was the millennium with Creation understood correctly transmuted into the second reductive millennium?

Let me introduce here what many today consider to be the source of the most profound yet subtle deviation in Western [and therefore global] thought today, that damaged the millennial faith-experience concerning creation: the introduction of univocal thinking that embraces God and the world within the same abstract notion of “being.” I offer Robert Barron: “In an effort to make the ‘to be’ [esse] of God more immediately intelligible, Duns Scotus proposed a univocal conception of existence, according to which God and creatures belong to the same basis metaphysical category, the genus of being. Though God is infinite and therefore quantitatively superior to any creature or collectivity of creatures, there is nevertheless no qualitative difference, in the metaphysical sense between the supreme being, God and finite beings. Whereas Aquinas insisted that God is categorizable in no genus whatsoever, Scotus held that God and creatures do belong together to a logical category that, in a real sense, transcends and includes them. The implications of this shift are enormous and, to my mind, almost entirely negative”.[3]

And on pg. 193 of his “Priority of Christ,” Barron writes that, “A principal consequence of this epistemological decision was that God and worldy things can be compared, since they can be gathered together under thd same general metaphysical category. Though God remains infinite and creatures finite, nevertheless, both God and creatures on this reading, are beings and hence mutually commensurable. As the late medieval world gave way to the modern, this conception of the God-world relationship became solidified. As a result a great confidence that one could speak of God in a rationally clear manner took hold of many moderns.”

[1] The Axial Period

[2] As typical instances, we may cite two compendia of modern theology in which the doctrine on creation is eliminated as part of the content of the faith and is replaced by vague considerations from existential philosophy, the 1973 edition of the ecumenical “Neues Glaubensbuch” published by J. Feiner and L. Vischer, and the basic catechetical work published in Paris in 1984, “La foi des catholiques.” In a time when we are experiencing the agonizing of creation against man’s work and when the question of the limits and standards of creation upon our activity has become the central problem of our ethical responsibility, this fact must appear quite strange. Notwithstanding all this, it remains always a disagreeable fact that “nature” should be viewed as a moral issue. An anxious and unreasonable reaction against technology is also closely associated with the inability to discern a spiritual message in the material world.

[3] R. Barron, “The Priority of Christ,” Brazos (2007) 13.

 Understanding Francis and the internal forum

Holy Father does not change doctrine in family document, pushes for careful formation of conscience 

Kurt Martens


The ink of the post-synodal apostolic exhortationAmoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) is not even dry, and already various commentators, particularly in the secular press, have decreed that Pope Francis now allows Communion for the divorced and remarried, adding that he permits it through the use of the internal forum for the formation of a correct judgment, which then grants that access to the Eucharist. It is hard to find even the slightest support for such a headline in a document that is, on the one hand, very pastoral in nature, and that, at the same time, presupposes knowledge of the Church’s teaching on the subject matter. Some explanation is warranted other than the simplistic statements we find in the secular media. To put it in the words of Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto: the exhortation states that everybody needs to be welcomed back more fully into the life of the Church, but that welcome is not necessarily going to include Holy Communion.

No change in doctrine

First of all, and to be clear, Pope Francis does not change Church doctrine. On the contrary, he confirms the teaching of his predecessors, in particular Familiaris Consortio of Pope St. John Paul II andSacramentum Caritatis of Pope Benedict XVI, both documents also being post-synodal apostolic exhortations. As recently as 2007, in Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI wrote: “The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2-12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.” He added immediately: “Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving Communion, listening to the word of God, Eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.”

Pope Francis explicitly states that neither the two family synods in 2014 and 2015, nor the exhortationAmoris Laetitia, provide “a new set of rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (No. 300). In other words, he rejects the internal forum solution as proposed by Cardinal Walter Kasper and others, which would have required change of the law and practice of the Church in how to solve, in the internal forum, the readmittance of the divorced and remarried persons to holy Communion. Unlike the external forum — in other words, the tribunal for marriage cases — the internal forum — sacramental (confession) or nonsacramental (e.g. spiritual direction) — is not something that is public. What happens in the internal forum, stays in the internal forum; once something is out, it becomes part of the external forum. No new doctrine is proposed, and no new rules are promulgated.

Understanding the internal forum

So what then does Pope Francis mean when he mentions the internal forum in Amoris Laetitia? Here, the pope is concerned with accompanying divorced and remarried persons in order to help them to understand their situation, in accordance with the unchanging teaching of the Church. The recommended forum for this accompaniment is the internal forum, that is, in the confessional or in spiritual direction, as a private and discrete way of assisting those most vulnerable. Pope Francis writes that this conversation 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” (No. 300).

There are two elements that are important to highlight here. First of all, the Holy Father encourages the use of the internal forum as the place for the conscience to be formed and the place where the Church accompanies her children back to the path of faith: the Way that is Jesus Christ. There is no mention anywhere in Amoris Laetitia of an internal forum solution as proposed by some — or the “anything goes” approach. In this context, an anecdote shared by Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is illustrative. In addressing the assembled body of Mundelein Seminary, the late Cardinal Francis George congratulated the orthodox seminarians for their devotion to the dogmatic and moral truths proposed by the Church, but added that it is insufficient to simply drop the truth on people and walk away. Being “pastoral” in this context means that you also help them to integrate that truth and live the logical fruits of embracing that truth. Pope Francis proposes the same thing in Amoris Laetitia, albeit without the eloquence of a Cardinal George or Bishop Barron.


  • * * * * * * * * * * * 

My email to Kurt Martens

Dear Dr. Martens,

 It was refreshing to read your short piece in the June-July “Inside the Vatican.” What  most interests me is that you move the discourse from a reductive and objectified horizon ruled by a morality of rules and propositions where the entire discussion on AL – both pro and con – seems to take place, to the realist-subjective horizon of the “I” and conscience. And by “conscience” I do not mean the Stoic-Greek practical syllogism leading to an objective practical judgment, but the Christian conscience which is the experience and consciousness of the acting “I” as imaging the creating and redeeming God. You say it: “By putting such an emphasis on the conscience and the internal forum, the pope makes… higher demands on the faithful and the priests than before.”


   Of course, the exhortation is not about the moral question of whether divorced-remarried Catholics can receive Communion, but the deeper and more important question of whether matrimony is a way of sanctity. And since the “bond” is the mutual gift of two “I’s,” unless the discourse be phenomenological, the discussions become ships passing in the night. As you say,the internal forum is not a place to solve every problem, “but rather a place to discover first that there is a problem to be solved, and secondly that the solution is Christ.” The problem, of course, is to understand that the prototype of marriage is Christ and the Church, and that the bond is the gift of the very self. The entire Church has to go through that consciousness raising to understand what Francis is after. And with that, of course, is the understanding of conscience as explained by Ratzinger in his “Conscience and Truth.” In that light, AL makes immense good and supernatural sense. Fr. Bob Connor

Let me clarifiy the use of words like “phenomenological” and “conscioiusness.” When Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of “conscience,” he uses the Christian and Platonic word “anamnesis” as in non-amnesia, not forgetting. He refers to St. Basil of the 4th c. and early Christian literature of conscience as a consciousness, and not a concept or idea. It has much to do with the way the Person of Christ can be known. As divine Person, He cannot be objectified in the sense that we could place Him in a larger context of intellegibility since He is Creator. What can be greater than the “I” of the Creator. Hence, He cannot be known abstractively in a concept whereby we could render Him an object of our knowing.  That’s why to speak of “knowing” God, or “knowing” Christ is sui generis.

Joseph Ratzinger did us an immene service with the depth and simplicity of his “Behold the Pierced One” because in his first three theses he explains in the most straight forward and scriptural way that one can know Christ only by becoming Christ and experiencing the Christ that one has become in oneself. Mt. 11, 27 proclaims this outright: “no one knows the Son except theFather; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Hence, only persons know persons. And the only person that one experiences personally is the self in the self-determination of freedom. “Conscience” is that consciousness. And – this is critical – if that free action resulting from self-determination (not an interplay of intellect and will as accidents of substance, but the self mastering/subduing self), is  an act of going out and beyond oneself, then there is an imaging of the divine Person of the Son. One then experiences and becomes conscious of self as Son.” One knows Christ “from within,” that is, in one’s own consciousness. And since “Son” is total receptivity from the Father, one, moved by the Love that is the Spirit, cannot but stammer “ABBA.”

Ratzinger explains that the tendency to go out of self is primarily an ontological thrust to act in a certain way and not in another due to the dynamic of the person made in the image of the divine Person. Hence, conscience is consciousness – “not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an innner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it ! That is what my nature points to and seeks.” This consciousness is conscience.

This is what Pope Francis means by “internal forum.” It is not a conceptual “solution” but a raising of consciousness ab intus by permitting Christ to look at us and draw us out of ourselves – with wise spiritual direction into an exerience of Himself. In that experience, we will know if we are in grace or not in grace and how to access the sacraments.

I repeat the remarks of Kurt Martens:

“So what then does Pope Francis mean when he mentions the internal forum in Amoris Laetitia? Here, the pope is concerned with accompanying divorced and remarried persons in order to help them to understand their situation, in accordance with the unchanging teaching of the Church. The recommended forum for this accompaniment is the internal forum, that is, in the confessional or in spiritual direction, as a private and discrete way of assisting those most vulnerable. Pope Francis writes that this conversation 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” (No. 300).

There are two elements that are important to highlight here. First of all, the Holy Father encourages the use of the internal forum as the place for the conscience to be formed and the place where the Church accompanies her children back to the path of faith: the Way that is Jesus Christ. There is no mention anywhere in Amoris Laetitia of an internal forum solution as proposed by some — or the “anything goes” approach. In this context, an anecdote shared by Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is illustrative. In addressing the assembled body of Mundelein Seminary, the late Cardinal Francis George congratulated the orthodox seminarians for their devotion to the dogmatic and moral truths proposed by the Church, but added that it is insufficient to simply drop the truth on people and walk away. Being “pastoral” in this context means that you also help them to integrate that truth and live the logical fruits of embracing that truth. Pope Francis proposes the same thing in Amoris Laetitia, albeit without the eloquence of a Cardinal George or Bishop Barron.”

“Amoris Laetitia: Doctrinal Orientation For a Pastoral Discernment

See last paragraph for the final point in English

“Amoris laetitia: Pautas doctrinales para un discernimiento pastoral”


© Angel Rodríguez Luño:  Rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross


La Exhortación Apostólica Amoris laetitia ofrece las bases para dar un nuevo y muy necesario impulso a la pastoral familiar en todos sus aspectos. En el capítulo VIII se refiere a las delicadas situaciones en las que más se pone de manifiesto la debilidad humana. La línea propuesta por el Papa Francisco puede resumirse con las palabras que componen el título del capítulo: “Acompañar, discernir e integrar la fragilidad”. Se nos invita a evitar los juicios sumarios y las actitudes de rechazo y exclusión, y a asumir en cambio la tarea de discernir las diferentes situaciones, emprendiendo con los interesados un diálogo sincero y lleno de misericordia. “Se trata de un itinerario de acompañamiento y de discernimiento que ’orienta a estos fieles a la toma de conciencia de su situación ante Dios. La conversación con el sacerdote, en el fuero interno, contribuye a la formación de un juicio correcto sobre aquello que obstaculiza la posibilidad de una participación más plena en la vida de la Iglesia y sobre los pasos que pueden favorecerla y hacerla crecer. Dado que en la misma ley no hay gradualidad (cfr. Familiaris consortio, 34), este discernimiento no podrá jamás prescindir de las exigencias de verdad y de caridad del Evangelio propuesto por la Iglesia’”1 . Parece útil recodar algunos puntos que conviene tener en cuenta para que el proceso de discernimiento sea conforme a las enseñanzas de la Iglesia 2 , que el Santo Padre presupone y que en ningún modo ha querido cambiar. Por lo que concierne a los sacramentos de la Penitencia y de la Eucaristía, la 1 Francisco, Exhortación Apostólica Post-sinodal Amoris laetitia, 19-III-2016, n. 300. La cita interna es del n. 86 de la Relación final del Sínodo del 2015. 2 El Santo Padre así lo dice explícitamente en Amoris laetitia, n. 300. 1 2 Iglesia ha enseñado siempre y en todo lugar que “quien tiene conciencia de estar en pecado grave debe recibir el sacramento de la Reconciliación antes de acercarse a comulgar”3 . La estructura fundamental del sacramento de la Reconciliación “comprende dos elementos igualmente esenciales: por una parte, los actos del hombre que se convierte bajo la acción del Espíritu Santo, a saber, la contrición, la confesión de los pecados y la satisfacción; y por otra parte, la acción de Dios por ministerio de la Iglesia”4 . Si faltase del todo la contrición perfecta o imperfecta (atrición), que incluye el propósito de cambiar de vida y evitar el pecado, los pecados no podrían ser perdonados, y si no obstante la absolución fuese impartida, la absolución sería inválida5 . El proceso de discernimiento tiene que ser coherente también con la doctrina católica sobre la indisolubilidad del matrimonio, cuyo valor y actualidad el Papa Francisco subraya fuertemente. La idea de que las relaciones sexuales en el contexto de una segunda unión civil son lícitas, comporta que esa segunda unión se considera un verdadero matrimonio, y entonces se entra en contradicción objetiva con la doctrina sobre la indisolubilidad, según la cual el matrimonio rato y consumado no puede ser disuelto, ni siquiera por la potestad vicaria del Romano Pontífice6 ; si, en cambio, se reconoce que la segunda unión no es un verdadero matrimonio, porque verdadero matrimonio es y sigue siendo sólo el primero, entonces se acepta un estado y una condición de vida que “contradicen objetivamente la unión de amor entre Cristo y la Iglesia, significada y actualizada en la Eucaristía”7 . Si, además, la vida more uxorio en la segunda unión se considerase moralmente aceptable, se negaría el principio fundamental de la moral cristiana según el cual las relaciones sexuales sólo son lícitas dentro del matrimonio legítimo. Por esa razón, la Carta de la Congregación para la Doctrina de la Fe del 14 de septiembre de 1994 decía: “El fiel que está conviviendo habitualmente ’more uxorio’ con una persona que no es la legítima esposa o el legítimo marido, no puede acceder a la Comunión eucarística. En el caso de que él lo juzgara posible, los pastores y los confesores, dada la gravedad de la materia y las exigencias del bien espiritual de la persona y del bien común de la Iglesia, tienen el grave deber de advertirle que dicho juicio de conciencia riñe 3 Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica, n. 1385. 4 Ibid., n. 1448. 5 Cfr. Ibid., nn. 1451-1453; Concilio de Trento, Sess. XIV, Doctrina de sacramento paenitentia, cap. 4 (Dz-Hü 1676-1678). 6 San Juan Pablo II, en su discurso a la Rota Romana, del 21-I-2000, n. 8, declaró que esa doctrina ha de tenerse definitivamente. 7 San Juan Pablo II, Exhortación Apostólica Familiaris consortio, 22-XI-1981, n. 84. 3 abiertamente con la doctrina de la Iglesia”8 . El Papa Francisco recuerda justamente que pueden existir acciones gravemente inmorales desde el punto de vista objetivo que, en el plano subjetivo y formal, no sean imputables o no lo sean plenamente, a causa de la ignorancia, el miedo o de otros atenuantes que la Iglesia ha tenido siempre en cuenta. A la luz de esta posibilidad, no se podría afirmar que quien vive en una situación matrimonial así llamada “irregular” objetivamente grave esté necesariamente en estado de pecado mortal9 . La cuestión es delicada y difícil, porque siempre se ha reconocido que “de internis neque Ecclesia iudicat”, acerca del estado de lo más íntimo de la conciencia ni siquiera la Iglesia puede juzgar. Por eso la Declaración del Consejo Pontificio para los Textos Legislativos acerca de canon 915, citada por el Papa Francisco10, en la que se decía que la prohibición de recibir la Eucaristía comprende también a los fieles divorciados vueltos a casar, puso mucho cuidado en precisar qué debe entenderse por pecado grave en el contexto de ese canon. El texto de la Declaración dice: “La fórmula ’y los que obstinadamente persistan en un manifiesto pecado grave’ es clara, y se debe entender de modo que no se deforme su sentido haciendo la norma inaplicable. Las tres condiciones que deben darse son: a) el pecado grave, entendido objetivamente, porque el ministro de la Comunión no podría juzgar de la imputabilidad subjetiva; b) la obstinada perseverancia, que significa la existencia de una situación objetiva de pecado que dura en el tiempo y a la cual la voluntad del fiel no pone fin, sin que se necesiten otros requisitos (actitud desafiante, advertencia previa, etc.) para que se verifique la situación en su fundamental gravedad eclesial; c) el carácter manifiesto de la situación de pecado grave habitual”11 . La misma Declaración aclara que no se encuentran en esa situación de pecado grave habitual los fieles divorciados vueltos a casar que, no pudiendo interrumpir la convivencia por causas graves, se abstienen de los actos propios de los cónyuges, permaneciendo la obligación de evitar el escándalo, puesto que el hecho de no vivir more uxorio es de suyo oculto12. Fuera de 8 Congregación para la Doctrina de la Fe, Carta a los Obispos de la Iglesia Católica sobre la recepción de la Comunión eucarística por parte de los fieles divorciados vueltos a casar, 14-IX-1994, n. 6. 9 Cfr. Francisco, Amoris laetitia, n. 301. 10 Cfr. Ibid., n. 302. 11 Consejo Pontificio para los Textos Legislativos, Declaración sobre la admisibilidad a la Sagrada Comunión de los divorciados que se han vuelto a casar, 24-VI-2000, n. 2. 12 Cfr. Ibidem. No está de más tener en cuenta que no se puede exigir que los fieles que 4 este caso, en la atención pastoral de estos fieles habrá que tener también en cuenta que parece muy difícil que quienes viven en una segunda unión tengan la certeza moral subjetiva del estado de gracia, pues sólo mediante la interpretación de signos objetivos ese estado podría ser conocido por la propia conciencia y por la del confesor. Además, habría que distinguir entre una verdadera certeza moral subjetiva y un error de conciencia que el confesor tiene la obligación de corregir como se ha dicho antes, en cuanto que en la administración del sacramento el confesor es no sólo padre y mé- dico, sino también maestro y juez, tareas todas éstas que ciertamente ha de cumplir con la máxima misericordia y delicadeza, y buscando ante todo el bien espiritual de quien se acerca a la confesión.


Los aspectos doctrinales mencionados, que pertenecen a la enseñanza multisecular de la Iglesia, y muchos de ellos al magisterio ordinario y universal, no deben impedir a los sacerdotes empeñarse con espíritu abierto y corazón grande en un diálogo cordial de discernimiento. Como escribe Papa Francisco, se trata de “evitar el grave riesgo de mensajes equivocados, como la idea de que algún sacerdote puede conceder rápidamente ’excepciones’, o de que existen personas que pueden obtener privilegios sacramentales a cambio de favores. Cuando se encuentra una persona responsable y discreta, que no pretende poner sus deseos por encima del bien común de la Iglesia, con un pastor que sabe reconocer la seriedad del asunto que tiene entre manos, se evita el riesgo de que un determinado discernimiento lleve a pensar que la Iglesia sostiene una doble moral”13. Por el contrario, sabiendo que la variedad de las circunstancias particulares es muy grande, como muy grande es también su complejidad, los principios doctrinales antes mencionados deberían ayudar a discernir el modo de ayudar a las personas interesadas a emprender un camino de conversión que les conduzca a una mayor integración en la vida de la Iglesia y, cuando sea posible, a la recepción de los sacramentos de la Penitencia y de la Eucaristía.


“The above mentioned doctrinal aspects, which belong to the millennial teaching of the Church and many of them to the ordinary and universal Magisterium, should not stop  priests from entering with an open spirit into a cordial dialogue of discernment [blogger: “discernment” of what? Ans. Conscience]. As pope Francis writes: we are trying “avoid the grave risk of mistaken messages such as the idea that some priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions,’ or that there are some persons who have sacramental privileges in exchange for favors. When one finds a responsible and prudent person who does not try to impose his or her desires above the common good of the Church, with a pastor who knows how to recognize the seriousness of the business that he has in his hands, one avoids the risk, one avoids the discernment that could lead one to think that the Church has a double standard.” On the contrary, knowing that the variety of particular circumstances is very great as well as their complexity, the doctrinal principles mentioned above should be of help in discerning the way to help the interested person to undertake the way of conversion [Blogger: to what? The gift of oneself, in conscience, before God]:which may lead him/her to a greater integration in the life of the Church, and when possible to the reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

Remember: Having informed self of the Magisterial and perennial teaching of the Church, and having sought  prudent and informed consultation with a spiritual director, the ultimate court of appeal is one’s conscience where one decides about oneself alone with God. Re-read Ratzinger’s “Conscience and Truth” in this blog.

Marriage Is Good News: A Way of Sanctity

“Marital spirituality is a spirituality of the bond, in which divine love dwells” [Amoris Laetita, 315]
by Livio Melina:

The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family welcomes with filial gratitude and respect the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia with which Pope Francis has completed the path begun by the Synod two years ago. We have also walked this path and wish to make our contribution by opening our mind and heart with clarity and parresia (speaking with frankness). We rely on the fruitful inspiration from St. John Paul II, “the Pope of the family,” developed throughout these 34 years of research and teaching, always founded on the experience of pastoral work with families.

Here I want to offer some brief reflections after a first reading of the apostolic exhortation. Later there will be time and opportunity to go deeper into the teachings of Pope Francis which are characterized above all by his great pastoral zeal to proclaim the Good News about the family from the point of view of mercy. He strives to meet families in the midst of their problems and weaknesses, while opening to all a path to conversion and growth in love.

In ecclesiastical circles and in public opinion at large, there has been great interest in one particular question which is definitely not the most important one from a pastoral perspective: the possibility of allowing divorced persons who have entered a new civil marriage to receive the Eucharist. But as Pope Francis himself has said, this was not the central issue in the Synod. We only need to consider the great challenges the Church faces regarding the family in the world today: the fact that young people hardly bother to get married; the loss of the role of marriage in society; the new ideologies that threaten the family; and above all and especially, the great task of bringing Christ to all families in a new evangelization…. Nevertheless, attention has centered on one specific point, seen as the ultimate test for an eventual change of position on the part of the Church (some even speak about a “revolution”), although perhaps, as has been said, only at the pastoral and not the doctrinal level.

A path to accompany and to integrate persons who are distanced

Consequently, we might legitimately ask: does this recently published text really represent a change in the traditional discipline of the Church, finally allowing divorced persons who have “married again” to receive Communion, at least in some cases? After having read the eighth chapter in which the question is considered, there is only one possible conclusion: the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia does not change the discipline of the Church which is based on doctrinal reasons set forth in Familiaris Consortio 84 and confirmed in Sacramentum Caritatis 29. Indeed, the body of the text in chapter eight does not even mention the Eucharist. Nowhere in the new post-synodal exhortation does Pope Francis say that divorced persons who have “married again” can approach the Eucharist without the condition of “living as brother and sister.” Hence this requirement of Familiar Consortio 84 and Sacrametum Caritatis 29 remains totally valid as a reference point for discernment. The minimum that should be asked to legitimize a change in a discipline rooted in the tradition and doctrine of the Church, firmly established by the Church’s Magisterium (cf. Mt 5:37), would be a clear statement free from all ambiguity. In fact, St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio and Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis expressed themselves with absolute clarity.

It is evident, then, that Pope Francis, who has insisted on the importance of the principle of synodality in the Church, has not wanted to go beyond the decisions of the Synod. Hence, we must clearly state that now too, after Amoris Laetitia, admitting divorced persons who have “married again” to Communion outside the situations foreseen in Familiaris Consortio 84 and Sacramentum Caritatis 29, goes contrary to the discipline of the Church, and that pointing to this as a possibility is contrary to the Magisterium of the Church.

On the other hand, what this new exhortation from Pope Francis offers is a path of integration that would allow these baptized persons gradually to come to a Gospel way of life. The objective norms do not take into account subjective culpability. Only God can judge what is in a person’s heart. But these norms express the demands and the goal to which all evangelization aspires: a life in complete conformity with the Gospel which the Church is called to offer to all men and women, without exceptions and without casuistry. This goal is possible because it is what the Gospel demands (no. 102). With respect to the negative moral norms that forbid intrinsically evil acts, there can be no exception or gradualness, no discernment that would legitimize such acts. This is the unambiguous teaching of St. John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor.

What then is new in chapter eight? It is not the newness of a change in doctrine or in discipline. It lies in the merciful pastoral viewpoint of Pope Francis: in his desire to bring the Gospel to those who are estranged, doing so by following a logic of progressive integration. The exhortation points out that there can be circumstances in which those who objectively live in a state of sin, may not be subjectively guilty because of ignorance, fear, disordered affections or other reasons, which moral tradition has always recognized and the Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions in no. 1735. This is important to keep in mind: it means that we ought not to judge or condemn these persons, but rather be merciful and patient with them, as God the Father is with each one of us. We need to help each person find the path to convert from sin and grow in charity. While Amoris Laetitia states that it is impossible to declare that a person is in mortal sin without taking into account personal responsibility, which may be attenuated or even lacking (no. 301), this does not take away the need to make clear that, despite everything, we are dealing here with an objective state of sin (cf. no. 305).

A new pastoral perspective for the Church

But then, once we have excluded casuistic and tendentious interpretations, what does the Holy Father really want to tell us with this text? Here is the simple and decisive answer: he wants to announce a new way of evangelizing the family and invite everyone, in whatever situation they might find themselves, to undertake this journey: “Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together!” (no. 325) He himself suggested this key for interpretation in his interview when returning from the Holy Land in May 2014, when he said that the key question that inspired him to convoke the synod was not a matter of casuistry, but the urgency to proclaim “what Christ brings to the family.” In his exhortation, the Holy Father points out that unfortunately in our Western societies, even among many baptized persons, marriage is no longer perceived as good news. This is the true pastoral problem that the apostolic exhortation addresses in a courageous way. The Pope wants to open up a new path to proclaim the good news of marriage and the family in the life of the Church.

In order to understand this correctly, we need to realize that the Pope places at the center of his meditation the hymn to charity found in 1 Cor 13 (chapter IV), in which the apostle St. Paul speaks about charity as a “more excellent way.” Thereby the Pope shows that for him love is an ever new path to travel in complete fidelity to God’s plan for human love.

God’s design for human love naturally includes the fundamental dimensions that we find in St. John Paul II’s theology of the body and that have been taken up and highlighted by Pope Francis in the current document (cf. no. 150 ff): sexual differences, indissoluble and faithful unity, and openness to life.

[Blogger Comment: Notice that these three dimension are the Trinitarian meaning of person as relation: the sexual difference of male-female as mutually opposing relations of donation and reception; indissoluble because each person is  the action of self-giving; openness to life: unavoidable if the self-gift is total.]

Regarding this path of love, we highlight below several decisive elements in Amoris Laetitia that have great value for pastoral renewal.

  1. The centrality of the educational question, teaching people that matrimony is a vocation to love (chapter VII). The exhortation frequently speaks about a “journey,” “history,” “narration.” These are terms that show the importance of freedom in time: the Church not only “goes out” and draws close to people, embracing them as they are, but she makes herself their traveling companion, meeting them where they are and helping them to reach an attainable goal. Facing affective illiteracy and the frailty of freedom when it comes to making demanding and irrevocable decisions (“forever”), the answer can only be a renewed commitment to formation in the family, the Church and social groups.
  2. Clear teaching on conjugal love and fruitfulness stemming from the encyclical Humanae Vitae. We are asked once again take up the encyclical of Paul VI (the 50th anniversary of this document will be celebrated in 2018), finding there the Church’s teaching on how to bring the Gospel’s light to bear on sexual intimacy. It is a light that is very much needed in a culture that, after the sexual revolution, has forgotten the language of the body and sexuality (no. 222). This truly prophetic magisterium corresponds perfectly to the perspective of an integral human ecology.
  3. The recognition of the pastoral importance of the family in the Church. The family is not principally a pastoral problem among many other problems that need to be resolved. Rather it is the foremost means for evangelization in a more “family-based” Church, a Church that has the profile of the “family of God.” We need to set up a “virtuous circle and synergy” between the Church and the family. Just as the family is a “small domestic church,” so too the Church at large ought to have the features of “the family of God” (nos. 86-87), and these aspects should be lived in practice.
  4. The sacramental character of Christian life. Christianity is based on an historical event that affects us in the flesh and transforms our flesh. Pastoral plans drawn up over a table will not save us, and still less those that seek to adapt Christian morality to the mentality of a Western world in a state of crisis. That is why we need to overcome any tendency to view human love as merely emotional or conventionally contractual, and recover the meaning of marriage as the vocational “hinge” of Christian life, for those called to it. To weaken matrimony in its constitutive demands would mean to lose, along with the ontological realism of the sacraments, the divine gift that sustains the Church’s life.

Rising above a logical casuistry, there comes into view the expansive positive horizon that Pope Francis’ exhortation opens up for the Church’s mission, byemphasizing the educational question as the decisive pastoral question. The Pontifical John Paul II Institute feels a special responsibility here, because of the mission it has received and its extensive experience in the theological and pastoral fields.

Msgr. Livio Melina:  (born in Adria, Italy, on August 18, 1952) is a priest of the Catholic Church and an Italian theologian. Currently Melina is President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, where he is also a tenured Professor of Moral Theology.

April 10, 2016



Consciousness and “Amoris Laetitia”

Karol Wojtyla does the phenomenology of consciousness in the following way: consciousness is the cognitive dimension of the experience of the self in act. The self is NOT consciousness, but becomes conscious of itself as the most real being I have access to since I experience myself directly in the moment of moving myself to act. There is no medium between me and myself. Hence, the greatest realism for the human person is the experience of myself in the free act. I can form a concept of myself – that is, I become an object for myself – by reflecting on the consciousness that took place in the experience of being a freely acting person Continue reading “Consciousness and “Amoris Laetitia””

Quick Before I Forget


It seems that the conservative backlash against “Amoris Laetitia” and Francis in general  is his jolly vagueness, or a happy-go-lucky imprecision.

This is unacceptable by those who have fought the hard fight against the fast and easy liberalism of the late 60’s and 70’s who took Vatican II and ran with it seemingly doing whatever they wanted. The doctrinal shibboleth was contraception, the clear violation of truth was legalized abortion and the peaceniks were against war which was supposedly waged on the altar of a just world order. Continue reading “Quick Before I Forget”

In Defense of Conscience: Protagonist of “Amoris Laetitia”

There is considerable criticism of Amoris Laetitia [AL] because of purported ambiguity. It comes from an objectified reduction of the faith to the abstraction of symbols and doctrine. In defense I would say that this shows the weakness of the critics as having swallowed the cool-aid of the present Gnostic mind that is positivist and reductive where the “true” (as they understand it) is the objectified and the factual, not realizing that that is abstractive and unreal. It is infected by -if not the child of – the Cartesian “cogito.” It goes hand and hand with the Pelagian “control” where the false self is at the center running the culture from the wheel –house of the clear and distinct idea. Wed this to the economy of enlightened self-interest of liberal capitalism and we have a thumb-nail sketch of the damage being done to the family and the person preventing the injection Trinitarian Life [Zoe] into the global culture. It imperils salvation while disguised as an angel of doctrinal light. It is reminiscent of the Scribes and Pharisees.

            For example: The lead story of “Inside the Vatican” of April 2016: After taking note of the AL affirming all the traditional objective truths of marriage, the article says, “Nevertheless, there is an element of controversy that is widely acknowledge, sparked by the pastoral principles and practices that Pope Francis recommends.

            “With regard to the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics – and there are millions of these – the document recommends that pastors be more ‘welcoming.’ However, the text offers no specifics on how to do this.

            “The Pope says that priests and bishops around the world should meet with people in these situations and ‘walk with them,’ as they ‘discern’ their spiritual condition in order to ‘integrate’them into the life of the Church.

            “Therefore, this document does not settle the question of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. Rather, the question is left open, to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

            “Pope Francis explains his decision not to give clear guidelines on this point in this way: ‘Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the Magisterium.’ He adds: ‘Each country or region… can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive ot its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied’” (AL 3).

 * * * *

            The rector thought and criterion behind this article is that every truth must be articulated conceptually in doctrine or it is being left to the vagary of a relativistic conscience that will decide anything it whimsically wants. But this is not true. This precisely what Maritain used to call “emperiological” knowing, a faulty and non-realist epistemology at root. I would suggest that what is massively faulty here is the meaning of conscience as derived from the Greek intellectualist Stoicism and not ontologically based as that below by Ratzinger who makes the offering from the Fathers of the Church particularly St. Basil. (See Ratzinger’s “Conscience and Truth” 1990 Texas and “Conscience” below). Conscience in this reading is the experience of the ontological “I” as imaging the divine Persons as Relations to each other. I offer below an attempt to defend the Christian meaning of conscience taken from Joseph Ratzinger’s “Conscience and Truth” op. cit below.

 “In Defense of Conscience as Conceptual Ambiguity”

“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification” (Amoris Laetitia #305)


            There are two levels of experience, that of the external senses and abstraction; and that of the self (as acting person) that is consciousness and conscience. In ordinary life experience, the facts and abstractions that we perform fit into a “context” which is the experience we have of ourselves as acting persons. That “fitting” takes its “meaning” from the “context” which is ourselves. Without that context of the self, we would not know what anything “means.” “Amoris Laetitia” is a necessarily a long and developed document on the acting person in a conjugal relationship because it describes the experience of the “I” transcending itself which gives “meaning” to all the objective morality of concepts that are the litmus test of the orthodoxy of Christian faith. The brouhaha that has emerged around the document arose from the fear that the pope was going to deny a principle truth of objective morality (supported by scripture) because he has emphasized the high road of mercy (mercy trumping morality).[1]

From “Amoris Laetitia” (37): “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. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. 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. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”

Pope Francis is here talking about conscience. It’s important to say what conscience is, and what conscience is not. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that it is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears it echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[2]

It is important to note that conscience is not “a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents.” Before these remarks, Ratzinger quotes Newman: “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, – still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.” Why? Because conscience is my immediate access to the Creator Who is giving me being, and therefore my ontological tendency which is experiential for me. As experiential it is a consciousness – a memory – of who I am and what I am to do in this particular human-divine reality which is matrimony. Ratzinger says further that “The sense for the good has been stamped upon us, as Augustine puts it.  We can now appreciate Newman’s toast first to conscience and then to the pope. The pope cannot impose commandments on faithful Catholics because he wants to or finds it expedient.” Rather, “(t)he anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself. But this ‘from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but is ordered to it. It has maieutic [midwife] function, imposes nothing foreign but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely, its interior openness to the truth.”[3]

                This ontological tendency that becomes “conscience” blooms into the act of Christian faith when confronted with the God-man who says: “Go, call thy husband and come here”(Jn. 4, 16). Perceiving the call to go out of self with the truth of self: “I have no husband” (Jn. 4, the woman experiences the act of Christian faith when he affirms her self-gift: “Thou hast spoken well, ‘I have no husband,’ for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. In this thou hast spoken truly.” (Jn. 4, 18) and reveals Himself to her explicitly: “I who speak with thee am He” (Jn. 4, 26).

Ratzinger explains that up to the point of her asking Him for water that will leap to eternal life, she is working in the world of sensible experience: water as an object. When he asks her the non-sequitur to bring her husband, “she is brought face to face with herself. In general, we can reduce what is happening to the formula: one must know oneself as one really is if one is to know God. The real medium, the primordial experience of all experiences, is that man himself is the place in which and through which he experiences God… As we have said, the woman must come first to the knowledge of herself, to the acknowledgment of herself. For what she makes now is a kind of confession: a confession [in which, at last, she reveals herself unsparingly. Thus a new transition has occurred – to preserve our earlier terminology, a transition from empirical and experimental to ‘experiential’ experience, to ‘existential experience.’ The woman stands face to face with herself. It is no longer a question no of something but of the depths of the “I” itself and, consequently, of the radical poverty that is man’s I-myself, the place where this “I” is ultimately revealed behind the superficiality of the something. Beyond every something it must ensure the involvement of man himself, of this particular man. It must produce self-knowledge and self-acknowledgment so that indigence and need of man’s being will be evident.”[4]

The Year of Mercy, the extraordinary and ordinary synods, the intervening year of study and reflection where every doubt and insight was welcomed, and the character of Francis’s “Amoris Laetitia” were all at the service of the family in the Church to “out” the experience of itself. “Catechesis,” Ratzinger wrote, “must lead to elf-knowledge, to the exposing of the “I,” so that it lets the masks fall and moves out of the realm of something into that of being. It goal is conversion, that conversion of man that results in his standing face to face with himself. Conversio (‘conversion,’ metanoia) is identical with self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is the nucleus of all knowledge. Conversion is the way in which man finds himself and thus knows the question of all questions: How can I worship God? It is the question that means his salvation; it is the raison d’être of catechesis.”[5]

At this point, something took place in the woman such that she went off to the Samaritan town to announce that she had encountered the Messiah in a Jew. She, a woman who up to this moment had been living in a state of fornication living with the 5th of five men, goes off to the town and announces that she has encountered the Messiah. This must have been done with force and clarity since “many of the Samaritans of that town believed him because of the word of the woman who bore witness, ‘He told me all that I have ever done.’”

Is the woman in the state of grace? She has gone to confession to the Lord. In the dialogue with the Lord, she had come to a knowledge of herself. She had come clean about herself. And this coming clean – this going out of herself, had enlightened her as to the water she was really looking for.

[1]  (296) Here I would like to reiterate something I sought to make clear to the whole Church, lest we take the wrong path: “There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous”.[326] Consequently, there is a need “to avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” and “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition”.[327]

  1. It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. 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.”


[2] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience,” Ignatius (2006) 32.

[3] Ibid. 34.

[4] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 353-355.

[5]Ibid. 355.

Living in An Objective State of Mortal Sin While Being in Grace Ontologically and Subjectively

“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” (Amoris Laetitia #305).

Pope Francis has been severely criticized for muddying the waters of clear moral criterion in the case of irregularities such as communion for the divorced-remarried. Until now it was clear from Scripture that divorce was permitted to the Jews by Moses, but that it was because of the hardness of their hearts and, as Our Lord said, “it was not so from the beginning” (Mt. 19, 8). It is also clear that pope Francis upholds all the objective moral limitations for marital union: “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman, who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society. Some form of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way (292). Continue reading “Living in An Objective State of Mortal Sin While Being in Grace Ontologically and Subjectively”

How Can a Person Be in a Bad Place and Become Christ?

How can a person be bad in a good place? That is, how can a person be baptized, in the state of grace, a man married to a woman, or a woman married to a man, in a canonically correct wedding, witnessed by a Church minister who is duly ordained, having exchanged vows of consent – and yet not be married?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: They entered matrimony without the fullness of faith as self-gift: “Further study is required, however, concerning the question of whether non-believing Christians – baptized persons who never or who no longer believe in God – can truly enter into a sacramental marriage. In other words, it needs to be clarified whether every marriage between two baptized persons is ipso facto a sacramental marriage. In fact, the Code states that only a “valid” marriage between baptized persons is at the same time a sacrament (cf. CIC, can. 1055, § 2). Faith belongs to the essence of the sacrament; what remains to be clarified is the juridical question of what evidence of the “absence of faith” would have as a consequence that the sacrament does not come into being.[3][1]

Now, how can a person be in a bad place?  – A) A homosexual prostitute wearing a condom so as not to infect another with AIDS; B) a divorced-remarried woman having children by the second union who is sorry for the failed marriage, cannot get an annulment, cannot abstain from sexual union to maintain a stable union for the sake of the children and begins anew to make the gift of herself in the present union for love of the father and the formation of the children – and yet grow in sanctity?


The locus of moral goodness is the gift of the self independent of the objective moral state of affairs.

I quote Wojtyla and myself from the previous blog on Bishop Barron’s Q and A:

Karol Wojtyla established the “I,” or the “internal forum” as an ontological reality in a “summary” of his “Acting Person:” Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Person.[1] He bases that ontology on the lived experience in the moral act when the “I” masters self, gets possession of self to make the gift of self. He writes that “The experience of the human being cannot be derived by way of cosmological reduction (sensation and abstraction to concept traditionally yielding “rational animal”); we must pause at the irreducible, at that which is unique and unrepeatable in each human being, by virtue of which he or she is not just a particular human being  – an individual of a certain species – but a person subject. Only then do we get a true and complete picture of the human being. We cannot complete this picture through reduction alone; we also cannot remain within the framework of the irreducible alone (for then we would be unable to get beyond the pure self). The one must be cognitively supplemented with the other. Nevertheless, given the variety of circumstances of the real existence of human beings, we must always leave the greater space in this cognitive effort for the irreducible…

“My lived experience discloses not only my actions but also my inner happenings in their profoundest dependence on my own self. It also discloses my whole personal structure of self-determination, in which I discover my self as that through which I possess myself and govern myself… In my lived experience of self-possession and self-governance, I experience that I am a person and that I am a subject

“These structures of self-possession and self-governance, which are essential to every personal self and shape the personal subjectivity of every human being, are experienced by each of us in the lived experience of moral value – good and evil…. In any case, experience teaches that the morale  is very deeply rooted in the humanum, or, more precisely, in what should be defined as the personale. Morality defines the personalistic dimension of the human being in a fundamental way; it is subjectified in this dimension and can also be properly understood only in it. At the same time, however, the morale is a basic expression of the transcendence proper to the personal self. Our decisions of conscience at each step reveal us as persons who fulfill ourselves by going beyond ourselves toward values accepted in truth and realized, therefore, with a deep sense of responsibility.”[2]

This profound presentation of Wojtyla shows that the discovery of the self in the experience of going out of self in generosity, service, etc. is the occasion of experiencing “the good.” It makes sense, since he (Wojtyla) had gone to scripture (Mk. 10) to hear Christ tell the rich young man that God alone is “good.”  This is the grounding of the good throughout the encyclical Veritatis Splendor.That means that the triplicity of self-gift that is the Trinity of Persons means “good.” And that the human person – ontological self – is good insofar as he mimics that self-transcendent relation (that is Father, Son and Spirit). With this, the good is grounded in being.

This will come to mean that, no matter what objective sinful irregularity a person may be in, he/she will always be able to become good by the free determination of self to make the gift. This is the meaning of Benedict’s remarks about the homosexual prostitute who makes a gift of self to another by wearing a condom, thereby hopefully avoiding spreading AIDS to him. Analogously, a divorced-remarried man or woman who has entered a second union to which he or she is bound by engendering children, can become better and better pace the adulterous state, if there is sorrow and conversion. That is to say, the large topic of Amoris Laetitia is not the particularity of this moral case. Rather, this moral case is the stimulus to see that matrimony is the common way to holiness by the sincere gift of self (GS #24), and that even in the hard cases of irregularity, sanctity is still possible for all.

[1] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Person,” Person and Community Land (1993) 209-217,

[2] Ibid. 214-215.




Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

The Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 14 September 1994 concerning the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful was met with a very lively response across wide sections of the Church. Along with many positive reactions, more than a few critical voices were also heard. The fundamental objections against the teaching and practice of the Church are outlined below in simplified form.

Several of the more significant objections – principally, the reference to the supposedly more flexible practice of the Church Fathers which would be the inspiration for the practice of the Eastern Churches separated from Rome, as well as the allusion to the traditional principles ofepicheia and of aequitas canonica – were studied in-depth by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Articles by Professors Pelland, Marcuzzi and Rodriguez Luño[1], among others, were developed in the course of this study. The main conclusions of the research, which suggest the direction of an answer to the objections, will be briefly summarized here.

  1. Some maintain that several passages of the New Testament suggest that the words of Jesus on the indissolubility of marriage allow for a flexible application and cannot be classified in a strictly legal sense.

Several exegetes point out critically that with regard to the indissolubility of marriage, the Magisterium cites almost exclusively one pericope – namely, Mk. 10:11-12 ­– and does not sufficiently take into account other passages from the Gospel of Matthew and the First Letter to Corinthians. They claim that these biblical passages speak of a certain exception to the Lord’s words about the indissolubility of marriage, notably in the case of porneia (Mt. 5:32; 19:9) and in the case of separation because of the faith (1 Cor. 7:12-16). They hold that these texts should be an indication that, already in apostolic times, Christians in difficult situations had known a flexible application of the words of Jesus.

In replying to this objection, one notes that magisterial documents do not intend to present the biblical foundations of the teachings on marriage in a complete and exhaustive way. They entrust this important task to competent experts. The Magisterium emphasizes, however, that the teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage is faithful to the words of Jesus. Jesus clearly identifies the Old Testament practice of divorce as a consequence of the hardness of the human heart. He refers – over and above the law – to the beginning of creation, to the will of the Creator, and summarizes his teaching with the words: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate,” (Mk. 10:9). With the coming of the Redeemer, marriage is therefore restored to its original form intended at creation and is wrested away from human arbitrariness – above all from the whim of the husband, since for wives there really was no possibility of divorce. Jesus’ words on the indissolubility of marriage overcome the old order of the law with the new order of faith and grace. Only in this way can marriage fully become a God-given vocation to love and human dignity and the sign of the unconditional covenant of divine love, i.e., a sacrament (cf. Eph. 5:32).

The possibility of separation, which Paul discusses in 1 Cor. 7, regards marriage between a Christian and a non-baptized person. Later theological reflection has clarified that only marriages between baptized persons are a sacrament in the strict sense of the word, and that absolute indissolubility holds only for those marriages falling within the scope of Christian faith. So-called “natural marriage” has its dignity from the order of creation and is therefore oriented toward indissolubility, but it can be dissolved under certain circumstances because of a higher good – which in this case is faith. This is how systematic theology correctly classified St. Paul’s reference as the privilegium paulinum, that is, the possibility of dissolving a non-sacramental marriage for the good of the faith. The indissolubility of a truly sacramental marriage remains safeguarded; it is not therefore an exception to the word of the Lord. We will come back to this later.

Extensive literature exists regarding the correct understanding of the porneia clauses, with many differing and even conflicting hypotheses. There is no unanimity among exegetes on this point. Many maintain that it refers to invalid marital unions, not to an exception to the indissolubility of marriage. In any case, the Church cannot construct her doctrine and praxis on uncertain exegetical hypotheses. She must adhere to the clear teaching of Christ.

  1. Others object that the patristic tradition leaves room for a more varied praxis, which would be more equitable in difficult situations; furthermore, the Catholic Church could learn from the principle of “economy” employed by Eastern Churches separated from Rome.

It is claimed that the current Magisterium relies on only one strand of the patristic tradition, and not on the whole legacy of the ancient Church. Although the Fathers clearly held fast to the doctrinal principle of the indissolubility of marriage, some of them tolerated a certain flexibility on the pastoral level with regard to difficult individual cases. On this basis Eastern Churches separated from Rome later developed alongside the principle of akribia, fidelity to revealed truth, that of oikonomia, benevolent leniency in difficult situations. Without renouncing the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage, in some cases they permit a second and even a third marriage, which is distinct, however, from the sacramental first marriage and is marked by a penitential character. Some say that this practice has never been explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church. They claim that the 1980 Synod of Bishops proposed to study this tradition thoroughly, in order to allow the mercy of God to be more resplendent.

Father Pelland’s study points out the direction in which the answers to these questions can be sought. Naturally, for the interpretation of individual patristic texts, the work of historians is necessary. Because of the difficult textual issues involved, controversies will not be lacking in the future. Theologically, one must affirm the following:

  1. There exists a clear consensus among the Fathers regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Since it derives from the will of the Lord, the Church has no authority over it. For this reason, from the outset Christian marriage was distinct from marriage in Roman society, even though in the first centuries there did not yet exist any canonical system. The Church in the time of the Fathers clearly excluded divorce and remarriage, precisely out of faithful obedience to the New Testament.
  2. In the Church at the time of the Fathers, divorced and remarried members of the faithful were never officially admitted to Holy Communion after a time of penance. It is true, however, that the Church did not always rigorously revoke concessions in certain territories, even when they were identified as not in agreement with her doctrine and discipline. It also seems true that individual Fathers, Leo the Great being among them, sought pastoral solutions for rare borderline cases.
  3. This led to two opposing developments:

– In the Imperial Church after Constantine, with the ever stronger interplay between Church and State, a greater flexibility and readiness for compromise in difficult marital situations was sought. Up until the Gregorian reform, a similar tendency was present in Gallic and Germanic lands. In the Eastern churches separated from Rome, this development progressed farther in the second millennium and led to an increasingly more liberal praxis. Today in some of these churches there are numerous grounds for divorce, even a theology of divorce, which is in no way compatible with Jesus’ words regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Without fail, this problem must be addressed in ecumenical dialogue.

– In the West, on account of the Gregorian reform, the original concept of the Church Fathers was recovered. This development came to its conclusion at the Council of Trent and was once again expressed as a doctrine of the Church at the Second Vatican Council.

On doctrinal grounds, the praxis of the Eastern churches separated from Rome cannot be taken up by the Catholic Church, as it is the result of a complex historical process, an increasingly liberal – and thus more and more removed from the words of the Lord – interpretation of several obscure patristic texts which were significantly influenced by civil law. Furthermore, the claim is incorrect that the Church simply tolerated such a praxis. Admittedly, the Council of Trent did not pronounce any explicit condemnation. The medieval canonists, however, consistently spoke of the praxis as improper. Furthermore, there is evidence that groups of Orthodox believers who became Catholic had to sign a profession of faith with an explicit reference to the impossibility of a second marriage.

  1. Many propose to allow exceptions to the Church’s norm on the basis of the traditional principles of epikeia and aequitas canonica.

Certain marriage cases, it is said, cannot be handled in the external forum. Some claim that the Church should not simply rely on juridical norms, but on the contrary ought to respect and tolerate the conscience of the individual. They say that theological notions of epikeia andaequitas canonica could serve to justify, from moral theology as well as juridically, a decision of conscience at variance from the general norm. Especially regarding the question of receiving the sacraments, they claim that the Church should take some steps forward and not just issue prohibitions to the faithful.

The contributions made by Professor Marcuzzi and Professor Rodríguez Luño throw light on his complex problem. To this end, there are three areas of inquiry which clearly need to be distinguished from each other:

  1. Epikeiaand aequitas canonica exist in the sphere of human and purely ecclesiastical norms of great significance, but cannot be applied to those norms over which the Church has no discretionary authority. The indissoluble nature of marriage is one of these norms which goes back to Christ Himself and is thus identified as a norm of divine law. The Church cannot sanction pastoral practices – for example, sacramental pastoral practices – which contradict the clear instruction of the Lord.

In other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception.[2]

  1. However the Church has the authority to clarify those conditions which must be fulfilled for a marriage to be considered indissoluble according to the sense of Jesus’ teaching. In line with the Pauline assertion in 1 Cor. 7, she established that only two baptized Christians can enter into a sacramental marriage. She developed the legal concept of the Pauline privilege and the Petrine privilege. With reference to the porneiaclauses in Matthew and in Acts15:20, the impediments to marriage were established. Furthermore, grounds for the nullity of marriage were identified with ever greater clarity, and the procedural system was developed in greater detail. All of this contributed to delineating and articulating more precisely the concept of the indissolubility of marriage. One can say that, in this way, the Western Church also made allowance for the principle of oikonomia, but without touching the indissolubility of marriage as such. The further juridical development of the 1983 Code of Canon Law was in this same direction, granting probative force to the declarations of the parties. Therefore, according to experts in this area, it seems that cases in which an invalid marriage cannot be shown to be such by the procedural are practically excluded.

Since marriage has a fundamental public ecclesial character and the axiom applies that nemo iudex in propria causa (no one is judge in his own case), marital cases must be resolved in the external forum. If divorced and remarried members of the faithful believe that their prior marriage was invalid, they are thereby obligated to appeal to the competent marriage tribunal so that the question will be examined objectively and under all available juridical possibilities.

  1. Admittedly, it cannot be excluded that mistakes occur in marriage cases. In some parts of the Church, well-functioning marriage tribunals still do not exist. Occasionally, such cases last an excessive amount of time. Once in a while they conclude with questionable decisions. Here it seems that the application of epikeiain the internal forum is not automatically excluded from the outset. This is implied in the 1994 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which it was stated that new canonical ways of demonstrating nullity should exclude “as far as possible” every divergence from the truth verifiable in the judicial process (cf. No. 9). Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false. Others maintain that exceptions are possible here in the internal forum, because the juridical forum does not deal with norms of divine law, but rather with norms of ecclesiastical law. This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions.
  2. Some accuse the current Magisterium of reversing the doctrinal development of the Council and of substituting a pre-conciliar view of marriage.

Some theologians claim that at the new magisterial documents having to do with questions of marriage are based on a naturalistic, legalistic concept of marriage. Attention is given to the contract between the spouses and to the ius in corpus. It is claimed that the Council overturned this static understanding and described marriage in a more personalistic way as a covenant of love and life. Thus it would have opened up possibilities for resolving difficult situations more humanely. Thinking further along this line, some scholars pose the question of whether or not one could speak of the death of the marriage, if the personal bond of love between the spouses no longer exists. Others resurrect the old question of whether or not the Pope would have the capability of dissolving marriage in such cases.

Yet anyone who attentively reads the more recent statements of the Church will note that their central assertions are based on Gaudium et spes and that they further develop the teaching contained therein in a thoroughly personalist line, in the direction indicated by the Council. However, it is inappropriate to set up a contradiction between the personalist and juridical views of marriage. The Council did not break with the traditional concept of marriage, but on the contrary developed it further. When, for example, it is continually pointed out that the Council substituted the broader and theologically more profound concept of covenant for the strictly legal concept of contract, one must not forget that within covenant, the element of contract is also contained and indeed placed within a broader perspective. The fact that marriage reaches well beyond the purely juridical realm into the depths of humanity and into the mystery of the divine, has always been indicated by the word “sacrament,” although often it has not been pondered with the same clarity which the Council gave to these aspects. Law is not everything, but it is an indispensable part, one dimension of the whole. Marriage without a juridical dimension which integrates it into the whole fabric of society and the Church simply does not exist. If the post-Conciliar revision of canon law included the realm of marriage, this is not a betrayal of the Council, but the implementation of its mandate.

If the Church were to accept the theory that a marriage is dead when the two spouses no longer love one another, then she would thereby sanction divorce and would uphold the indissolubility of marriage only in word, and no longer in fact. Therefore, the opinion that the Pope could potentially dissolve a consummated sacramental marriage, which has been irrevocably broken, must be considered erroneous. Such a marriage cannot be dissolved by anyone. At their wedding, the spouses promise to be faithful to each other until death.

Further study is required, however, concerning the question of whether non-believing Christians – baptized persons who never or who no longer believe in God – can truly enter into a sacramental marriage. In other words, it needs to be clarified whether every marriage between two baptized persons is ipso facto a sacramental marriage. In fact, the Code states that only a “valid” marriage between baptized persons is at the same time a sacrament (cf. CIC, can. 1055, § 2). Faith belongs to the essence of the sacrament; what remains to be clarified is the juridical question of what evidence of the “absence of faith” would have as a consequence that the sacrament does not come into being.[3]

  1. Many argue that the position of the Church on the question of divorced and remarried faithful is overly legalistic and not pastoral.

A series of critical objections against the doctrine and praxis of the Church pertain to questions of a pastoral nature. Some say, for example, that the language used in the ecclesial documents is too legalistic, that the rigidity of law prevails over an understanding of dramatic human situations. They claim that the human person of today is no longer able to understand such language, that Jesus would have had an open ear for the needs of people, particularly for those on the margins of society. They say that the Church, on the other hand, presents herself like a judge who excludes wounded people from the sacraments and from certain public responsibilities.

One can readily admit that the Magisterium’s manner of expression does not seem very easy to understand at times. It needs to be translated by preachers and catechists into a language which relates to people and to their respective cultural environments. The essential content of the Church’s teaching, however, must be upheld in this process. It must not be watered down on allegedly pastoral grounds, because it communicates the revealed truth.

Certainly, it is difficult to make the demands of the Gospel understandable to secularized people. But this pastoral difficulty must not lead to compromises with the truth. In his Encyclical Veritatis splendor, John Paul II clearly rejected so-called pastoral solutions which stand in opposition to the statements of the Magisterium (cf. ibid. 56).

Furthermore, concerning the position of the Magisterium as regards the question of divorced and remarried members of the faithful, it must be stressed that the more recent documents of the Church bring together the demands of truth with those of love in a very balanced way. If at times in the past, love shone forth too little in the explanation of the truth, so today the danger is great that in the name of love, truth is either to be silenced or compromised. Assuredly, the word of truth can be painful and uncomfortable. But it is the way to holiness, to peace, and to inner freedom. A pastoral approach which truly wants to help the people concerned must always be grounded in the truth. In the end, only the truth can be pastoral. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32).

[1] This text reproduces the third part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Volume 17 of the series produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled “Documenti e Studi”,  On the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried, LEV, Vatican City 1998, pp. 20-29. Footnotes have been added.

[2] Cf. Angel Rodríguez Luño, L’epicheia nella cura pastorale dei fedeli divorziati risposati,ibid., pp. 75-87; Piero Giorgio Marcuzzi, S.D.B., Applicazione di aequitas et epikeia ai contenuti della Lettera della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede del 14 settembre 1994,ibid., pp. 88-98; Gilles Pelland, S.J., La pratica della Chiesa antica relativa ai fedeli divorziati risposatiibid., pp. 99-131.

[3] On this matter the norm referred to by John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Familiaris consortio, no. 84, is quite valuable: “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.’” See also the Apostolic Letter of Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, n. 29.

[4] During the meeting with clergy in the Diocese of Aosta, which took place 25 July 2005, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this difficult question: “ those who were married in the Church for the sake of tradition but were not truly believers, and who later find themselves in a new and invalid marriage and subsequently convert, discover faith and feel excluded from the Sacrament, are in a particularly painful situation. This really is a cause of great suffering and when I was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I invited various Bishops’ Conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people’s painful plight, it must be studied further.”