Key doctrinal errors and ambiguities of Amoris Laetitia

The following presentation was delivered by Matthew McCusker, Deputy International Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, at the Rome Life Forum on 6 May 2016.

Key doctrinal errors and ambiguities of Amoris Laetitia in the light of Catholic teaching on the family


The publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on 8th April 2016 marked the end of the synodal process that was launched back in October 2013, when Pope Francis announced that two synods would be held to discuss the pastoral challenges facing the family and the role of family in the modern world. This synodal process was increasingly marked by controversy as it become clear that a powerful group of cardinals and bishops were attempting to use the synods to force changes in Catholic teaching across a wide number of areas related to human life, marriage and the family.

It was because of these increasing concerns that the Voice of the Family coalition was founded in August 2014. A team from Voice of the Family was present here in Rome at both the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014 and the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. Both of these assemblies witnessed serous divisions between synod fathers who wished to uphold Catholic teaching on marriage and the family and those wished to undermine or alter it.

Voice of the Family’s primary intention at both synods was to provide assistance to those synod fathers who were striving to defend and promote the Church’s teaching. We also sought to  accurately report what was taking place at the synods in order to assist the wider Catholic public make sense of events. It has been to this end that we have produced in-depth analyses of the most important of the synodal documents; our analysis of the Final Report of the Ordinary Synod is in your conference packs.

The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is the concluding document of the synodal process. In the weeks since its publication it has been the subject of much commentary and analysis, with many commentators finding much that causes concern. In this short presentation I wish to give a brief overview of some of the document’s most serious problems, with particular regard to Voice of the Family’s three core principles.

These core principles, which we adopted at the beginning of our work, are as follows:

  • First, that marriage, the exclusive, life-long union of one man and one woman, is the foundation of a stable and flourishing society and the greatest protector of children, born and unborn
  • Secondly, that the separation of the procreative and unitive ends of the sexual act, which is intrinsic to the use of contraception, has acted as a major catalyst of the “culture of death”
  • Thirdly, that parents are the primary educators of their children and that the protection of this right is essential for the transmission of the Catholic faith and for the building a new “culture of life”

Marriage and Amoris Laetitia

I will begin therefore by considering Amoris Laetitia in the light of Voice of the Family’s first principle, the defence of marriage. We, like many others, first became concerned about the synodal process as a result of the address given by Walter Cardinal Kasper to the consistory of Cardinals held on the 20th February 2014.

In this address Cardinal Kasper proposed the admission of divorced Catholics, living in invalid second unions, to the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion without true repentance and amendment of life.

This address, which was explicitly praised by Pope Francis, was the opening salvo in a concerted campaign to use the synodal process to bring about a clear change in the Church’s teaching on this issue.

Indeed, upon the publication of Amoris Laetitia the first question that everyone seemed to ask was: “Has the Apostolic Exhortation changed Catholic teaching in this area?”

The first remark we must make then is that it is of course impossible for there to be any change in Catholic teaching on this issue. No authority on earth can annul the words of Our Lord Himself, or the constant tradition of the Church, which teaches that marriage is an indissoluble union, which is brought to an end only by the death of one of the spouses. Nor can any authority on earth negate the words of St Paul on the Eucharist, upheld by the constant Tradition of the Church, that “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself” (1 Cor 11:29). It is on these unmovable foundations that the Church proclaims her immutable doctrine, enshrined in Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The question that we should be asking is not “Does Amoris Laetitia change Catholic teaching?” which it cannot do, but “Does Amoris Laetitia contain statements which contradict or undermine the Church’s unchangeable teachings?”

The answer that we must give to that question is a definitive “yes”. There are statements in Amoris Laetitia which directly contradict the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, and there are further statements that undermine it without directly contradicting it.

Before discussing these contradictions and ambiguities it is important to point out that if Amoris Laetitia was intended to teach what the Catholic Church has always taught, this could have been made perfectly clear by simply restating the Church’s traditional teaching in a clear and unambiguous manner. This could have been easily done by quoting from one of the many ecclesiastical documents that has already treated of this question.

With one simple unambiguous statement Pope Francis could have put an end to much of the confusion that has been caused by the synodal process and he could have brought clarity and peace to many troubled Catholics.

However, he has chosen not do this.

It would be impossible in this short presentation to discuss all the different ways in which Amoris Laetitia, in its more than 250 pages, undermines Catholic doctrine on this and many other matters, so we will go straight to the most erroneous sections of the document, which are mostly found in Chapter Eight, a chapter entitled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness”.

Encouragement to adultery?

A  particularly troubling subsection of Chapter Eight is that entitled “The discernment of “’irregular’ situations”.

In the first two paragraphs of this subsection, nos 296 and 297, we find two similar statements. In paragraph 296 the Holy Father writes:

“The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone forever”.

And in paragraph 297 he writes:

“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.”

Now it is very difficult to make sense of these statements, because, of course, we know that it is precisely in the gospels that Our Lord Himself speaks many times about the possibility of men and women being condemned forever as a result of sin; “depart from me you cursed into the everlasting fire” he represents himself as saying on the day of judgment, “and these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.” (Mt 25:41, 46). And, the Church, while always desiring and working for the conversion of sinners, nonetheless, will refuse the sacraments indefinitely to those who fail to repent of grave sin.

The “logic of the gospel”, to use the Holy Father’s phrase, and the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church, both respect the free will of the individual, including when they choose to remain in grave sin.

It is in this context that Pope Francis begins explicit discussion of the question of the “divorced and remarried”. He explains that “divorced and remarried” Catholics find themselves in a variety of different situations and draws attention to one case in particular, that is, and I quote:

“a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins.”

Now, remember that we are talking here about an adulterous union, a union which directly violates the sixth commandment, and the words of Our Lord recorded in the gospels. Amoris Laetitia is suggesting here that a union which violates the fidelity owed to the marriage vows can itself display “proven fidelity”, that a union contrary to the command of Christ, can display “Christian commitment”, and that an adulterous union can be the place for “generous self giving”.

The Holy Father’s reference to “the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins” is a reference to the conviction an individual might that have that abandoning a new union would cause harm to children that have come from that union, or to the other party. Hence Pope Francis continues by quoting a statement from Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II which notes that that there can be situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.”

However there’s a serious problem here, because Pope Francis has chosen to quote only half of the sentence. Pope John Paul II had continued by stating, that: “they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”

Pope Francis has chosen to remove that second half of the sentence, to remove that part of the sentence that upholds the duty of complete continence for those “divorced and remarried” persons who continue to live together for the sake of their “children’s upbringing”.

But the situation is far worse than this. Amoris Laetitia has not only eliminated reference to “complete continence” from the quotation from John Paul II, but has actually inserted a footnote suggesting that “complete continence” might, in some cases, not in fact be possible or even desirable.

The footnote, no. 329, reads:

“In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’.”

This extraordinary claim is of course gravely wrong, because:

  • First, all sexual acts outside of a valid marriage are intrinsically evil and it is never justifiable to commit an intrinsically evil act, even in order to achieve a good end
  • Secondly, because one cannot speak of “faithfulness” when referring to a union that itself violates the fidelity due to the original marriage. By using the word “faithfulness” Amoris Laetita is again conferring a degree of legitimacy on adultery.
  • Thirdly, to imply that children might suffer because their parents live chastely is clearly to suggest that it can sometimes be beneficial to children that their parents continue to commit adultery. The implication of this, is that it might sometimes be appropriate to tolerate, or even, perhaps, as would be the logical consequence, to encourage, adultery.

And this is not the end of the problems with this footnote. The final part of the note, the words “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers”, is taken from the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes. However in Gaudium et Spes the words are used with reference to married Catholics, in the context of procreation, not of those cohabiting in an invalid union. The full sentence in Gaudium et Spes is as follows:

“But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperilled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 51).

Pope Francis then is taking words originally written about married couples and applying them to those living in adultery.

We cannot therefore avoid the conclusion that in paragraph 297, and its accompanying footnote 329, Amoris Laetitia not only seems to suggest tolerating adultery but actually suggests that adulterous acts might in some cases be necessary for the good of children.  And in order to achieve this end the Apostolic Exhortation distorts the teaching of Familiaris Consortio and Gaudium et Spes.

Paragraphs 301 & 303

The idea that sin can sometimes be beneficial or appropriate is not restricted to paragraph 297. In paragraph 301 we read that it:

“can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.”

In other words, there are certain concrete situations in which a person cannot do other than commit sin.

And in paragraph 303 Amoris Laetitia states:

“…that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.”

And it goes on to say:

“Conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

In other words, there can be cases, according to Amoris Laetitia, where in “certain situations” that are “objectively” contrary to “our understanding of marriage” that is, the Church’s understanding, there can be acts that do not “correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel”, which can yet be recognized as “what God himself is asking”. That is, it would seem that the document is suggesting that there are cases, when God can be asking a person, in a particular situation, to do to something that is objectively wrong.

These few sentences raise a whole number of questions, especially in light of other passages in the document, and I wish to consider some of these very briefly under the following headings: “situation ethics”, “fundamental option”, “gradualism” and the “natural law”.

Situation ethics

We will begin with situation ethics. In his encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor Pope John Paul II gave an authentic explanation of the role of conscience when he stated that:

“Conscience thus formulates moral obligation in the light of the natural law: it is the obligation to do what the individual, through the workings of his conscience, knows to be a good he is called to do here and now. The universality of the law and its obligation are acknowledged, not suppressed, once reason has established the law’s application in concrete present circumstances. The judgment of conscience states ‘in an ultimate way’ whether a certain particular kind of behaviour is in conformity with the law; it formulates the proximate norm of the morality of a voluntary act, ‘applying the objective law to a particular case.’” (No. 59)

In Amoris Laetitia on the other hand we see conscience presented as reaching a conclusion that deems that a particular action, that is not in conformity with the objective law, can not only be tolerated, but can even be what God desires. The paragraph thus reflects the approach of situation ethics, which rejects universal and binding moral norms and denies that there are certain acts which are intrinsically evil and can never be committed in any situation.

Fundamental option

Closely related to situation ethics is the theory of “fundamental option” which separates individual moral acts from a person’s overall moral orientation. It holds that a person can commit specific gravely immoral acts while remaining fundamentally oriented to God. That is, a person could remain in a state of friendship with God while committing acts that fulfill the traditional criteria for mortal sin. This is exactly what is implied in paragraphs 303 and 301, indeed the following words of Pope John Paul II from Veritatis Splendor could almost have been written as a commentary on this paragraph. John Paul II wrote:

“According to the logic of the positions mentioned above, an individual could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms or rules. By virtue of a primordial option for charity, that individual could continue to be morally good, persevere in God’s grace and attain salvation, even if certain of his specific kinds of behaviour were deliberately and gravely contrary to God’s commandments as set forth by the Church.

“In point of fact, man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made ‘a free self-commitment to God’. With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses ‘sanctifying grace’, ‘charity’ and ‘eternal happiness’. As the Council of Trent teaches, ‘the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin’.” (No. 68)


A third approach evident in Amoris Laetiita is that of the “law of gradualness”, which, according to the most common usage of the term, maintains that the obligation of obedience to the moral law only imposes itself gradually as a person matures and develops and becomes capable of observing the law. This would mean that an individual is not in fact obliged to live according the fullness of the moral law at certain points in his or her lifetime.

This approach was debated at the Synod of Bishops in 1980 and was corrected by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio. In this document he wrote that married persons:

“cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. ‘And so what is known as “the law of gradualness” or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with “gradualness of the law”, as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.’”(No. 34)

However throughout the synodal process the “law of gradualness” was frequently invoked by those pursuing radical change in Catholic teaching. In the interim report of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod the “law of gradualness” was explicitly used to justify the admission to Holy Communion of the “divorced and remarried”. However, due to opposition from synod fathers all direct references to it were removed in the Extraordinary Synod’s final report and only one indirect reference can be found in the final report of the Ordinary Synod.

Amoris Laetitia on the other hand includes a subsection, in Chapter Eight, entitled “Gradualness in pastoral care”. This section, and indeed the whole document, is pervaded by the implication that the Church’s teaching on marriage presents an ideal that is to be aimed at, rather than a reality that is binding on all.

Natural law

This reduction of the moral life to the level of an ideal leads us to consideration of the document’s approach to the natural law. Time and time again Amoris Laetitia speaks of marriage as a gospel ideal, without seeming to acknowledge that it is also a reality in the natural order.

Throughout the synodal process we have observed efforts to eliminate reference to the natural law and the use of language which conflates the natural and supernatural orders. This is explained in more detail in the Analysis of the Final Report, which is included in your conference packs.

In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis proposes a false understanding of the natural law. In paragraph 305 he states that the natural law cannot be presented as, and I quote:

“an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”

This is simply false. The natural law is the eternal law of God, as imprinted on rational creatures, to direct us to our final end. It is real and objective, not a merely a source of “inspiration” for a “deeply personal process of making decisions”.

In all our analyses of the synodal documents Voice of the Family has warned that the abolition of the concept of an immutable natural has been at the heart of the radical agenda pursued over the last two years. Amoris Laetitia confirms the worst of our fears.

 “Mitigating Factors in Pastoral Discernment”

It is in the context of this denial of the natural law that the most direct contradiction of Catholic teaching regarding the reception of the sacraments by “divorced and remarried” Catholics is to be found. In the subsection of Chapter Eight entitled “Mitigating Factors in Pastoral Discernment” the Holy Father correctly notes that it is possible for a person to commit an objectively grave sin while not being subjectively culpable of mortal sin. He goes on to state that a person in this state can, and I quote directly:

“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”

What help then should the Church offer to those who are living in a state of objective grave sin? I imagine that most of us here would answer that the Church ought to share the teachings of the Church with clarity and charity, because it is those teachings that ultimately lead to happiness, in this world and the next.

But what kind of help does Pope Francis foresee? In footnote 351, which refers directly to the quote I have just read out, he states, of those living in objective grave sin, with no present intention to amend their lives, that:

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

Pope Francis is stating here that individuals who are living in public grave sin can, in certain cases, be admitted to both the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion while remaining in their sinful lifestyle, if it is determined that their sin is inculpable.

This statement of the Holy Father is incompatible with the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church. This teaching requires that all those living in an objective state of public grave sin be denied Holy Communion. It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II stated in Familiaris Consortio, with respect to the “divorced and remarried” that, and I quote:

 “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.” (No 84)

This objective contradiction remains even if an individual is not subjectively guilty of mortal sin. It is the objective reality that takes precedence in determining whether an individual is to be admitted to Holy Communion.

Pope John Paul II continued by stating another important reason why the “divorced and remarried” could not be admitted to Holy Communion:

“if these people”, he taught “were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

Now, the scandal caused by the reception of the Eucharist by the “divorced and remarried” is not removed simply because a priest has come to the conclusion that a particular individual has no subjective guilt. What the rest of the flock see is simply a person, “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin”, to use the wording of Canon Law, being admitted to Holy Communion.

It is also extremely difficult to conceive of any appreciable number of cases where a person will remain without culpability for mortal sin after engaging in a proper process of discernment with a faithful priest. Clearly the duty of any priest in dealing with a “divorced and remarried” person is to share with them the truth of Church’s teaching.

The moral law, after all, is an intrinsic part of the order established by God. If a person is living in permanent grave sin, they are doing something which is harmful to themselves and to the common good, even if they have not been culpable of sin up to that point. It would be a serious failing of both justice and charity for any priest to abandon a person to a life of objective sin, and that is exactly what would be done if the priest left a person in ignorance as to the nature of their sin or confirmed them in it.

It is quite clear then that the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of Pope Francis directly contradicts the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church on the question of the admission of “divorced and remarried Catholics” to Holy Communion.

The “culture of death”

Voice of the Family’s second core principle is “that the separation of the procreative and unitive ends of the sexual act, which is intrinsic to the use of contraception, has acted as a major catalyst of the ‘culture of death’”.

We can deal with this point much more briefly than the first because, unfortunately, the Church’s teaching on contraception is undermined by the same erroneous approaches that we have outlined above. Situation ethics, fundamental option, gradualism and the denial of the natural law, have all been used over the last fifty years to undermine the Church’s teaching on the use of contraception.

Amoris Laetitia makes no direct reference to contraception, despite the devastating consequences of the use of contraceptives in many areas of human life, not least the killing of unborn children by abortifacient methods. The consistency of this omission, which can be seen throughout the synodal documents, and also in the encyclical letter Laudato Si, would seem to reflect the approach adopted by Pope Francis in his 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro in which he said “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.”

Amoris Laetitia certainly fails to grapple with the scale of the threat to unborn children, the elderly and the disabled. Estimates indicate that over two billion unborn lives have been destroyed by abortion over the last century. Yet in a document addressing challenges to the family, which is more than 250 pages long, there are only a small number of passing references to abortion. There is no mention at all of the destruction caused by artificial methods of reproduction, which have also resulted in the loss of millions of human lives.

On the few occasions when the encyclical Humanae Vitae is mentioned it is in the context of “responsible parenthood” and the exercise of conscience by spouses in this area, for example paragraph 82 states that Humanae Vitae “highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth”, paragraph 222 states that “decisions involving responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience” and that “parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God”. Such statements, which in another context might not be troubling, do give cause for concern given the false approaches to moral theology adopted in the document and the failure to clearly restate what the Church actually teaches about contraception.

As far as same-sex unions are concerned Amoris Laetitia states, in paragraph 52, that:

“We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, may not simply be equated with marriage.”

This implies:

(i) that “same-sex unions” are one of the “great variety of family situations”

(ii) that “same-sex unions” offer a “certain stability” and

(iii) that “same-sex unions” can be “equated” with marriage on some level, if not “simply”.

This approach reflects that adopted in the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod and the Instrumentum Laboris of the Ordinary Synod and which was rejected twice by the synod fathers. It is has been adopted nonetheless in Amoris Laetitia despite the quotation in paragraph 251 of a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which states that there are “no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”.

Sex Education

In the final section of this presentation I wish to discuss Amoris Laetitia in the light of the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children, especially with regards to sex education.

First, we must note that Amoris Laetitia does make reference to the fundamental right and duty of parents to act as the primary educators of their children. In paragraph 84 the Holy Father speaks of the Church’s role in supporting families in the raising of children and goes on to state that:

“At the same time I feel it important to reiterate that the overall education of children is a ‘most serious duty’ and at the same time a ‘primary right’ of parents. This is not just a task or a burden, but an essential and inalienable right that parents are called to defend and of which no one may claim to deprive them.”

The problem is that this assertion of parental rights is found in Chapter 1 of the document and not in the chapter actually entitled “Towards a Better Education of Children”. In this chapter, no 7, which is twenty-two pages long there is no mention of the rights of parents. Even more problematic is that there is a subsection of Chapter 7, entitled “The Need for Sex Education”. This subsection on “The Need for Sex Education” makes no reference to the role of parents at all, though it does make reference to “educational institutions”. Indeed, the clear implication of this subsection seems to be that sex education is something to be carried out by educational institutions and not by parents.

Given that a whole chapter is dedicated to education of children, it does seem extraordinary that the only reference to parental rights is in a completely different chapter, in which they are not particularly relevant. Indeed, given the gravity of the threat to parental rights, especially in the area of sex education, it is a matter of serious concern that this reference, brief enough already, has been separated from its proper context and placed in a completely different part of the document, more than one hundred pages earlier.

There is in fact an urgent need to reassert that sex education is, as Pope John Paul II taught in Familiaris Consortio, “a basic right and duty of parents” that “must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them.”

In 1995 the Holy See reiterated this teaching in the document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. Speaking of education in “the value of sexuality and chastity” the document states:

“Other educators can assist in this task, but they can only take the place of parents for serious reasons of physical or moral incapacity.”

With regard to “education in sexuality and true love” the document states:

“In this context, based on the teaching of the Church and with her support, parents must reclaim their own task… For education to correspond to the objective needs of true love, parents should provide this education within their own autonomous responsibility.” (No. 24)

Yet in Amoris Laetitia, in a section explicitly intended to argue for “The Need for Sex Education” parents are not mentioned at all, but “educational institutions” are.

And what is this sex education that is so desperately needed? To see the reality of sex education we need look no further than the World Health Organisation’s “Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe”. These guidelines suggest the following topics should be taught to children who fall into the specified age brackets:


“enjoyment and pleasure when touching one’s own body”

“early childhood masturbation”

“right to explore gender identities”


“same-sex relationships”

“respect for different norms regarding sexuality”

9 – 12

“differences between gender identity and biological sex”

“sexual rights” as “defined by IPPF [International Planned Parenthood Federation]”


“acceptance and celebration of sexual differences”

“violation of sexual rights”

“right to abortion”

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is the kind of sex education that is being proposed in Amoris Laetitia. Yet it is certainly the case that the document fails to come even close to discussing the real threat facing children. We read, for example, that today the “language of sexuality” is “sadly impoverished”, and that “sexuality” is “trivialised”. Such criticisms of modern sex education are grossly insufficient, considering that the purpose of this subsection is to discuss the need for sex education. 

It is important to note here that this is not the first time during this pontificate that the attitude of those in positions of authority in Rome towards parental rights have given us cause for concern.

We have described in our analyses of both the Instrumentum Laboris and the final report of the Ordinary Synod how both of these documents denied parents their full rights over the education of their children by stating, quite explicitly, that the family, and I quote directly, “cannot be the only place for teaching sexuality.”

Furthermore, the encyclical letter Laudato Si in its six paragraphs on “Educating for the Covenant Between Humanity and the Environment” (209-215), makes no reference at all to parents, despite the work of education being primarily their responsibility. This is very troubling given the close associations between the environmental movement and the population control lobby. Who exactly will be carrying out this education in environmentalism? Is it not likely that it will be environmental charities that work for the reduction of human population through promoting access to contraception and abortion?

In this connection I wish to draw attention to workshops held in the Vatican, under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) in November 2015 to discuss how to use children as “agents of change” to implement environmentalism and “sustainable development.” The briefing document for this event said that schools would have to “absorb” the Sustainable Development Goals, the same Sustainable Development Goals that include calls for universal access to “reproductive health”, a term which is defined by UN bodies and power western governments, including the US government, as including access to abortion and contraception, including abortifacient forms. At this event representatives of the Holy Father met with some of the world’s leading proponents of population control, such as Dr Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to Ban Ki-Moon to discuss common action. The briefing warned against “parents” and “agencies” that “basing themselves on religious principles, oppose scientific evidence to the detriment of children.”

The manner in which parental rights are treated in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia does little to reassure us that there has been any change of direction in the Vatican.


When we examine the Apostolic Exhortation in the light of Voice of the Family’s core principles we cannot but be seriously concerned about its content. The document directly contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church on a number of points and adopts gravely problematic approaches to moral theology.

If we were asked to recommend a document on marriage and family life, perhaps by somebody interested in the Catholic faith, or by a young person exploring the Church’s teaching, would we be able to recommend Amoris Laetitia?

Would we say that the Apostolic Exhortation is a wonderful document, except for the paragraphs in which it encourages reception of the Eucharist by individuals living in public adultery and suggests that adultery might be beneficial for children? Would we say that there was much to be learnt, except when it seems to propose situation ethics, fundamental option and gradualism and attacks the very foundations of the natural law?

Clearly this is not possible. A document which contains doctrinal error cannot be considered an appropriate means for propagating Catholic truth.

That is why we are convinced that the only way forward is to demand that this document be withdrawn. It must be repudiated either by Pope Francis or by one of his successors. In the meantime, the grave errors contained within it cannot go unchallenged.

Matthew McCusker

Rome Life Forum, Friday 6th May 2016