What do the unanswered criticisms of Amoris Laetitia teach us today?

By Roberto de Mattei

Five years ago, on 8 April 2016, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the most controversial document of Pope Francis’ pontificate, was published. This document is the outcome of a process initiated by Walter Cardinal Kasper’s intervention in the February 2014 consistory. Cardinal Kasper’s thesis on how the Church should renew its marriage praxis formed the leitmotif of the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, the final exhortation Amoris Laetitia turned out to be even worse than Cardinal Kasper’s report. While the German cardinal had asked some questions, Amoris Laetitia offered the answer, opening the door to remarried divorcees and implicitly authorising more cohabitations. This is why, in 2017, philosopher Josef Seifert went so far as to say that Amoris Laetitia “has the logical consequence of destroying the entire Catholic moral teaching”.

However, the countless criticisms of Amoris Laetitia – in books, articles, interviews – have made history even more than the document itself. Among these criticisms, two stand out in a particular way. The first is the Dubia presented to the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 19 September 2016 by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Joachim Meisner; the second is the Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis, addressed to Pope Francis on 11 August 2017 by more than 60 Catholic scholars and pastors of the Church, which, within a month of the publication of the document, became 216 theologians, professors, scholars of all nationalities.

Both the Dubia and the Correctio filialis have had a worldwide impact, but neither of these documents has received a response; despite the fact that a request for an audience was made to Pope Francis on 25 April 2017 by the four authors of the “Dubia”, two of whom (Caffarra and Meisner) are now deceased. The refusal of the Successor of Peter to receive the cardinals who are his advisors seems inexplicable, all the more so since Francis wished to make “welcome” the trademark of his pontificate, stating in one of his first homilies (25 May 2013), that “Christians who ask… should never find doors closed”. On the other hand, on 15 March 2021, Luis Cardinal Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in response to a dubium regarding the question “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?”, defined the blessing of homosexual unions as “illicit”, given that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. This statement, which reaffirmed Catholic doctrine, caused an explosion of dissent, especially in Germany. The silence on the issues raised by the Dubia and Correctio filialis, on the other hand, has caused great exasperation in the traditional Catholic world.

This contradictory governing practice risks leading the Church toward a grave schism, or rather toward a process of religious fragmentation that could have catastrophic consequences. The primary responsibility for this situation lies with the supreme shepherd, rather than with the bewildered flock. The number of maddened sheep is bound to increase until Rome makes its voice heard in a clear and definitive way. In this confusion, the publication of two serious and well-documented books offering a bleak picture of the current religious tragedy, is all the more timely. 

The first, compiled by Voice of the Family, is an electronic publication titled The Unanswered Concerns about Amoris Laetitia: Why the Apostolic Exhortation Remains a Danger to Souls. A team from Voice of the Family was present in Rome at both the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014 and the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. Voice of the Family produced in-depth analyses of the most important synodal documents from the perspective of pro-life and pro-family advocates and distributed these to cardinals and bishops throughout the world. Indeed, as the introduction to the volume notes, “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”.

The second volume, Defending the Faith against Present Heresies, is edited by Professors John R.T. Lamont and Claudio Pierantoni and has a preface by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Both works contain the texts of the Dubia and Correctio filialis. The Voice of the Family book also includes “Theological Censures against Amoris Laetitia” by forty-five theologians and the May 2019 “Declaration of the Truths Relating to Some of the Most Common Errors in the Life of the Church of Our Time”. Lamont and Pierantoni’s book also contains the “Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church”, “An Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church”, and the protest “Contra recentia sacrilegia”. In his introduction, John Lamont recalls how these documents came into being; the book also includes contributions by Anna M. Silvas, Fr John Hunwicke, Claudio Pierantoni, Claire Chretien, Roberto de Mattei, Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein, Joseph Shaw, Michael Sirilla, Edward Peters, Edward Feser, Fr Brian Harrison, John Rist, Peter A. Kwasniewski, Maike Hickson, Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap, Pauper Peregrinus, and Professor Lamont himself.         

Re-reading these texts today is instructive, both in terms of form and substance. In recent years, the theological substance of the issues has been lost and the language has often become coarse and aggressive. These two collections of documents, on the other hand, help us to understand how Catholics speak within the Church. It is a pity to see a loss of this theological substance and balanced style in the controversies that have emerged regarding the vaccination against Covid-19. In this debate, some critics of Amoris Laetitia have been accused of inconsistency for accepting the statements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on vaccines issued in 2008 and 2015. The answer to this objection is simple. The signatories of the Correctio filialis never criticised the authority of the Pope or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because the Church is a hierarchical society and it cannot do without a supreme authority. Instead, they criticised a document promulgated by the supreme authority, finding it in contradiction to the previous Magisterium of the Church. In adherence to theological and moral truths, the ultimate court is one’s conscience; but an external objective principle or norm is required on which the conscience can be founded. This external law is stated by the Church through her Magisterium which is, in this sense, the proximate norm of our faith. If this is expressed in an equivocal or ambiguous manner, denying even implicitly on a practical level a truth of faith, concerning, for example, the conjugal union, Catholics have the duty to remember that the doctrine on sacramental marriage cannot be modified by any ecclesiastical authority, not even by the Supreme Pontiff. Those who criticise Amoris Laetitia do not use their own conscience as a point of reference, but the perennial Magisterium of the Church.

The eve of possible schisms is not the time to divide the Catholic world but to unite it on the basis of the Tradition of the Church. Claudio Pierantoni in his “Reflections on a New Dialogue between Traditionalist and Conservative Catholics”, explains how many documents presented in the book he edited with John Lamont are the result of the happy encounter between the representatives of “Catholic Traditionalism” and “Conservative Catholicism” from whose ranks he comes. “May this book be a testimony and an example of the joint effort that has been carried in the last four years, and an encouragement for the years to come,” he writes. I make Professor Pierantoni’s wish my own: to form, in these difficult times, “a new more compact front of orthodoxy”. What is needed is a convergence and alliance of different initiatives of clergy and laity, each at their own level and according to the possibilities available to them, to confront the chaos that threatens us, entrusting ourselves and the success of our battle to the help of God, without Whom no success will ever be possible. The two books that have just been published point the way.

Source: Corrispondenza Romana