Müller Out, Schönborn In. The Pope Has Changed Doctrine Teachers

For Francis, the right interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia” is not that of the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, but that of the Austrian cardinal. Here, for the first time, is his complete text

by Sandro Magister



ROME, May 30, 2016 – The prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith is still the same, German cardinal Gerhard L. Müller.Who diligently continues to carry out his task, most recently with the monumental address he gave in Oviedo on May 4 for a correct understanding of “Amoris Laetitia,” in harmony with the previous magisterium of the Church on the family:

> Reading Exercises. The “Amoris Laetitia” of Cardinal Müller

But it is increasingly evident that for Pope Francis, it is not Müller but another cardinal who is the teacher of doctrine authorized to shed light on the post-synodal exhortation: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

On May 19, in meeting at the Vatican with the two cardinals and three bishops who make up the presidency of the Latin American episcopal conference, when asked about “Amoris Laetitia” Francis responded as follows, according to the website of the CELAM:

“The pope responds that the heart of the exhortation is chapter 4: love in family life, founded on chapter 13 of the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. While the most difficult to read is chapter 8. Some, the pope say, have let themselves get trapped by this chapter. The Holy Father is fully aware of the criticisms of some, including cardinals, who have been unable to understand the evangelical meaning of his statements. And he says that the best guide for understanding this chapter is the presentation of it made by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., archbishop of Vienna, Austria, a great theologian, member of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, highly expert in the doctrine of the Church.”

Already on April 16, questioned by the journalists on the return flight to Rome from the island of Lesbos, Francis had indicated Schönborn as the right interpreter of the document, recommending that his presentation be read and rewarding him on the spot with flattering titles, even mistakenly promoting him to former “secretary” of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.

But then Müller gave his talk in Oviedo, with the intention of bringing clarity to the carousel of contrasting interpretations and applications of “Amoris Laetitia” that had already gained a foothold. But for the pope, that talk of his wasn’t worth a thing. Just as it wasn’t worth a thing for “L’Osservatore Romano,” which completely ignored it.

For Francis, in fact, the only one that still applies is the interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia” made by Schönborn at the official presentation of the document, in the Vatican press office on April 8, the day of its publication.

But then this presentation must finally be read in its entirety. In its written text and in the extemporaneous additions made by the cardinal. Just as the questions and answers that followed the press conference must also be read.

Further below all of this is completely and faithfully transcribed for the first time, on the basis of the video recording made by the Vatican Television Centre:

> Presentation of the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” – 2016.04.08

It will be seen that, toward the end of the presentation, Cardinal Schönborn indicates free “discernment” of individual cases as the way to admit the divorced and remarried to communion.

And further on, in responding to a question from Francis Rocca of the Wall Street Journal, he outlines one of these cases, asserting that John Paul II and Benedict XVI had hypothesized it.

In this regard he refers to paragraph 84 of the 1981 “Familiaris Consortio,” where in effect pope Karol Wojtyla speaks of “those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.”

So then, Schönborn asserts that “neither Pope John Paul nor Pope Benedict explicitly brought into question” the admission of such to the sacraments, which “was already a longstanding practice.”

And further on, responding to Diane Montagna of Aleteia, he returns to insisting on how in “Familiaris Consortio” that was already “implicit” which Pope Francis now “is saying clearly, explicitly” in the wake “of the organic development of doctrine.”

In reality, neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI ever admitted the divorced and remarried to communion, not even “implicitly,” unless in the second union – kept in place “for serious reasons such as, for example, the children’s upbringing” – they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence.”

In order to get confirmation of this it is enough to reread in its entirety – and not in cherry-picked phrases – precisely that paragraph 84 of “Familiaris Consortio” which Schönborn advances in support of the innovations of “Amoris Laetitia.”

Just as it is also helpful to reread what Joseph Ratzinger wrote on the same question, as cardinal and as pope:

> The pastoral approach to marriage must be founded on truth

For this reason, further below, after the presentation and subsequent question-and-answer of Cardinal Schönborn with the journalists, there is also reproduced as a necessary element of comparison paragraph 84 of the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” of John Paul II.

Followed by a Thomistic theologian’s critique of the improper way in which “Amoris Laetitia” cites Saint Thomas Aquinas.

And to finish, a judgment from Cardinal Carlo Caffarra – who participated in both synods at the direct invitation of Francis, but is also one of the thirteen cardinals who signed the letter to the pope against the dangers of rigging of the assembly – on the “objective lack of clarity” of chapter eight of “Amoris Laetitia” and therefore on the duty to interpret it “in continuity with the preceding magisterium.”

Happy reading!


1. Schönborn: the official presentation of “Amoris Laetitia”

Press office of the Holy See, April 8, 2016. In square brackets the phrases he added verbally to the written text. Original language: Italian.

[I would like to express first of all my gladness, my joy for the way in which Pope Francis speaks of love in the family. For me, quite simply, “Amoris Laetitia” is is a beautiful text. I would dare to say that at times our ecclesiastical documents make for somewhat tedious reading. In spite of the length of this text, it is beautiful reading, at least for me. I would like to say in very personal terms why I read it with such joy, with gratitude and also always with strong emotion. I must say so].

In the ecclesial discourse on marriage and the family there is often a tendency, perhaps unconscious, to discuss these realities of life on the basis of two separate tracks. On the one hand there are marriages and families that are “regular,” that correspond to the rules, where everything is “fine” and “in order,” and then there are the “irregular” situations that represent a problem. Already the very term “irregular” suggests that such a distinction can be made very clearly.

Those, therefore, who find themselves on the side of the “irregular” families must live with the fact that the “regular” families are on the other side. I am personally aware of how difficult that is for those who come from a “patchwork” family, due to the situation of my own family. The discourse of the Church in this regard may cause harm and can give the sensation of exclusion.

Pope Francis’ exhortation is guided by the phrase “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone” (AL 297) as this is a fundamental understanding of the Gospel: we are all in need of mercy! “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). We all, regardless of the marriage or family situation in which we find ourselves, are journeying. Even a marriage in which everything is “going well” is journeying. It must grow, learn, and overcome new phases. It knows sin and failure, and needs reconciliation and new beginnings, even in old age (cf. AL 297).

Pope Francis has succeeded in speaking about all situations without cataloguing them, without categorizing, with that outlook of fundamental benevolence which is associated with the heart of God, with the eyes of Jesus that exclude no one (cf. AL 297), that welcome all and grant the “joy of the Gospel” to all. This is why reading Amoris Laetitia is so comforting. No one must feel condemned, no one is scorned. In this climate of welcome, the discourse on the Christian vision of marriage and the family becomes an invitation, an encouragement, to the joy of love in which we can believe and which excludes no one, truly and sincerely no one.

For me Amoris Laetitia is, first and foremost, a “linguistic event”, as was Evangelii Gaudium. Something has changed in ecclesial discourse. This change of language was already perceptible during the synod process. Between the two synods of October 2014 and October 2015, it may clearly be seen how the tone became richer in esteem, as if the different situations in life had simply been accepted, without being immediately judged or condemned. In Amoris Laetitia this tone of language continues. Before this there is obviously not only a linguistic choice, but rather a profound respect when faced with every person who is never firstly a “problematic case” in a “category”, but rather a unique person, with his story and his journey with and towards God. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis said that we must take of our shoes before the sacred ground of others (EG 36).

This fundamental attitude runs throughout the exhortation. And it is also provides the most profound reason for the other two key words, to discern and to accompany. These words apply not only to the so-called “irregular situation” (Pope Francis underlines this “so-called”) but rather to all people, to every marriage and to every family. Indeed, we are all journeying and we are all in need of “discernment” and “accompaniment.”

My great joy as a result of this document resides in the fact that it coherently overcomes that artificial, superficial, clear division between “regular” and “irregular”, and subjects everyone to the common call of the Gospel, according to the words of St. Paul: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32).

This pervasive principle of “inclusion” clearly troubles some people. Does this not favor relativism? Does the frequently evoked mercy not become permissiveness? Does there no longer exist the clarity of limits that must not be exceeded, situations that must objectively be defined as irregular or sinful? Does this exhortation favor a certain laxity, a sense that “anything goes”? Is Jesus’ mercy not instead often severe and demanding?

To clarify thus: Pope Francis leaves no doubt regarding his intentions or our task: “As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities, or out of a desire to be fashionable or a sense of helplessness in the face of human and moral failings. We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer. It is true that there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things. Nor it is helpful to try to impose rules by sheer authority. What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them.” (AL 35).

[Now, I think that this is the crucial point, the motivation. Pope Francis is an educator, and he knows that only motivation can make one love the Christian presentation of marriage and family].

Pope Francis is convinced that the Christian vision of marriage and the family also has an unchanged force of attraction. But it demands “a healthy dose of self-criticism”: “We also need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation” (AL 36). “We have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families as they are.”

[I emphasize: as they are!].

“This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite” (AL 36).

[Necessary self-criticism!].

I would like to relate here an experience of last October’s synod: as far as I know, two of the thirteen “circuli minores” started their work by first hearing an account from each participant of his own family situation. It soon emerged that almost all the bishops or other participants in the “circulus minor” had encountered, in their families, the themes, concerns and “irregularities” that we, in the synod, have discussed in a rather too abstract way. Pope Francis invites us to speak about our own families “as they are.” And here the magnificent aspect of the synod journey and of its continuation with Pope Francis: this sober realism of families “as they are” does not take us far at all from the ideal! On the contrary, Pope Francis succeeds, in the work of both synods, to offer a positive outlook to families, profoundly rich in hope.

But this encouraging outlook on families requires that “pastoral conversion” we find in Evangelii Gaudium. The following text from Amoris Laetitia outlines this “pastoral conversion”: “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 fulfillment 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” (AL 37).

Pope Francis speaks of a profound trust in the hearts and the nostalgia of men. He expresses this very well in his reflection on education. Here we perceive the influence of the great Jesuit tradition

[I say it as a Dominican!]

in education in personal responsibility. He refers to two contrary dangers: “laissez-faire” and the obsession with controlling and dominating everything. On the one hand it is true that “Families cannot help but be places of support, guidance and direction, Vigilance is always necessary and neglect is never beneficial” (AL 260).

But vigilance can also become excessive: “Obsession, however, is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience… If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy” (AL 261). I consider this thought on education very enlightening in connection with the pastoral practice of the Church. Indeed, precisely in this sense Pope Francis often returns to the issue of trust in the conscience of the faithful: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL 37). The great question, obviously, is this: how do we form consciences?

[An issue that Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict dealt with extensively].

How do we arrive at what is the key concept of all this great document, the key to correctly understanding Pope Francis’ intentions: “personal discernment”, especially in difficult and complex situations? “Discernment” is a central concept in the Ignatian exercises. Indeed, these must help to discern the will of God in the concrete situations of life. It is discernment that grants a person a mature character, and the Christian path should be of help in reaching this personal maturity: not forming automatons, externally conditioned and remote-controlled, but people who have matured in their friendship with Christ.

[A big theme for Pope Benedict!].

Only when this personal “discernment” is mature is it also possible to arrive at “pastoral discernment”; which is important especially in “those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us” (AL 6). The eighth chapter refers to this “pastoral discernment,” a chapter likely to be of great interest not only to ecclesial public opinion, but also to the media.

[I do not dare ask which of you read the eighth chapter first. I cordially invite you to read the fourth chapter first!].

I should however mention that Pope Francis has described Chapters 4 and 5 as central, not only in terms of their position but also their content. “We cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love” (AL 89). These two central chapters of Amoris Laetitia will probably be skipped by many people

[even us theologian and bishops]

keen to arrive at the so-called “hot potatoes”, the critical points. As a pedagogic expert, Pope Francis knows well that nothing attracts and motivates as strongly as the positive experience of love. “Speaking of love” (AL 89). this clearly brings great joy to Pope Francis, and he speaks about love with great vivacity, comprehensibility and empathy. The fourth chapter is a broad-ranging comment on the “Hymn to charity” in the thirteenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians. I recommend meditation on these pages to all. They encourage belief in love (cf. John 4:16) and trust in its strength. It is here that growth, another key word in Amoris Laetitia, finds its main location: in no other place does it manifest itself so clearly, but it can also turn cold. I can only invite you to read and enjoy this wonderful chapter.

I think it is important to indicate one aspect: Pope Francis speaks here, with rare clarity, of the role of the passions, emotion, eros and sexuality in married and family life. It is not by chance that Pope Francis reconnects here with St. Thomas Aquinas.

[I must express my joy in reading this document, which is profoundly Thomistic. It is true, I can prove it, systematically. It is the great vision of Saint Thomas of happiness as the goal of life. And the whole human journey, being on the way, is the journey toward this beatitude that is promised to us and that draws us. Only the good is alluring, and this pedagogical method is extensively developed by Saint Thomas. And this is why Saint Thomas speaks so much of the importance of the passions in the formation and journey to a happy marriage. It is an issue greatly overlooked in modern moral theology, and almost does not exist anymore: the passions. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger insisted a great deal on explicit discussion of the importance of the passions for the moral life. And you will find beautiful pages on this in Pope Francis].

It is here that the title of the Pope’s exhortation finds its fullest expression: “Amoris Laetitia!” Here we understand how it is possible to “discover the dignity and beauty of marriage” (AL 205). But here it is made painfully visible how much harm wounds to love can cause, and how lacerating the experience of a failed relationship can be. Therefore it is unsurprising that it is largely the eighth chapter that has attracted attention and interest. Indeed, the question of how the Church treats these wounds, of how she treats the failure of love, has become for many a test question to understand whether the Church is truly the place where God’s mercy can be experienced.

This chapter owes much to the intense work of the two synods, to the extensive discussions in the arenas of public and ecclesial opinion. Here the fruitfulness of Pope Francis’ method is shown. He expressly wished for an open discussion on the pastoral accompaniment of complex situations, and has been able to fully base this on the two texts that the two synods presented to him.

[This method of the synod, of the two synods, is so important for walking together, for advancing].

Pope Francis explicitly makes his own the declarations that both synods presented to him: “the Synod Fathers reached a general consensus, which I support” (AL 297). With regard to those who are divorced and civilly remarried, he states: “I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that… the logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care. … Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always…” (AL 299).

But what does this mean in practice? Many rightly ask this question. The definitive answers are found in Amoris Laetitia, paragraph 300. These answers certainly offer material for further discussions, but they also provide an important clarification and an indication of the path to follow. “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations… it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.” Many expected such rules, and they will be disappointed.

[I am convinced that it is the necessary choice, the one made by the pope].

What is possible? The pope says clearly: “What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”

What this personal and pastoral discernment can and should be is the theme of the entire section of Amoris Laetitia constituted of paragraphs 300-312. In the 2015 Synod, in the Appendix to the statements by the Circulus germanicus an Itinerarium of discernment, of the examination of conscience that Pope Francis has made his own. “What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God”. But Pope Francis also recalls that “this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church.”

Pope Francis mentions two erroneous positions. One is that of excessive rigor: “a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings” (AL 305). On the other hand, the Church must certainly never “desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur” (AL 307).

Naturally this poses the question: what does the Pope say in relation to access to the sacraments for people who live in “irregular” situations?

[There has been too much concentration on this question. The pope said it: it can become a trap to become fixated on this question].

Pope Benedict had already said that “easy recipes” do not exist (AL 298, note 333).

[He said this in Milan, at the conference on the family].

Pope Francis reiterates the need to discern carefully the situation, in keeping with St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (84) (AL 298).

[On no. 84, a famous text. In which Pope John Paul says: out of love for the truth pastors are obliged to discern situations. And he enumerates three very different situations]

“Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God” (AL 205). He also reminds us of an important phrase from Evangelii Gaudium, 44: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (AL 304).

[I did not put it in my text, but I would say one thing: for me one key of interpretation for “Amoris Laetitia” is the experience of the poor, because in the life of the poor, of poor families, these are exactly the things that are experienced, those little steps on the journey of virtue that can be much greater than the “virtuous” success of those who live in comfortable situations. And one can feel behind this text a whole life experience of Pope Francis, who walked alongside so many suffering, poor families. It is for us also a call to conversion].

In the sense of this “via caritatis” (AL 306), the pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given “in certain cases.” But for this purpose he does not offer us case studies or recipes, but instead simply reminds us of two of his famous phrases: “I want to remind priests that the confessional should not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (EG 44), and the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (EG 47).

[For the sake of reaching clarity here, casuistry does not help. What helps is discernment, accompaniment].

Is it an excessive challenge for pastors, for spiritual guides and for communities if the “discernment of situations” is not regulated more precisely? Pope Francis acknowledges this concern: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion” (AL 308). However, he challenges this, remarking that “We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311).

Pope Francis trusts in the “joy of love”. Love is able to find the way.

[He did not cite Saint Augustine, but one could cite his famous expression: “Dilige et fac quod vis”. Truly! Love and you know what you must do].

It is the compass that shows us the road. It is both the goal and the path itself, because God is love and love is from God. Nothing is more demanding than love. It cannot be obtained cheaply. Therefore, no one should be afraid that Pope Francis invites us, with Amoris Laetitia, to take too easy a path. The road is not an easy one, but it is full of joy!

[Thanks to Pope Francis for this beautiful document!].


2. Schönborn: the question-and-answer with journalists

Press office of the Holy See, April 8, 2016

Q – (Jean-Marie Guénois, Le Figaro) Why is the key point of “Amoris Laetitia” presented in a little footnote and not in the text?

A – I don’t know. I didn’t write the text, the pope did. We can ask the Holy Father why he put it there. Everyone can give an interpretation of his own. For example, as I said, the pope once heard it said: it is a trap to focus everything on one point, because one forgets the question as a whole. And this is why I would suggest that after “Amoris Laetitia” there are many questions to discuss further, and one of the points is a renewal of our sacramental practice, in general, as a whole. Fifty years after Vatican II, it would also be good to think about what the sacramental life means, not only for a particular case, that of the divorced and remarried, but for all of us.

Q – (Francis Rocca, The Wall Street Journal) You cited the 1984 “Familiaris Consortio,” but in this document at no. 84 the pope writes that the Church reiterates its practice founded on scripture of not admitting the divorced and remarried to communion unless they take on the commitment of living in complete continence. So, in black and white, the question is: has something changed with respect to thirty-five years ago? Is there a possibility in the papal magisterium not foreseen by John Paul? And if so, in the continuity of the papal magisterium is there a reason why a subsequent pope could not again maintain that it is opportune and necessary to reiterate this practice?

A – Briefly, in “Familiaris Consortio” at no. 84 Pope Saint John Paul II speaks of three different situations, the third of which is the case in which the remarried have the moral conviction that their first marriage is not valid. He did not draw the conclusion of this fact, but I think that there are situations, which we all know in pastoral practice, where it is not possible to find a canonical solution but where, in the moral certainty that this first marriage was not sacramental, even if the case cannot be settled canonically, with the pastor and the spouses convinced in their conscience, of which Pope John Paul speaks, that they are not married sacramentally, to admit them to the sacraments was already a longstanding practice, which neither John Paul II nor Pope Benedict explicitly brought into question. And the fact that he speaks of living together as brother and sister, it is already an exceptional case, because otherwise they live together maritally, marriage is not reduced to sexual union, it is the whole life that is shared, and therefore they live in a second union fully, except for sexual relations, they have a marital life. And Pope John Paul already said that in this case, if there is no scandal, they can receive the sacraments. So these nuances have always existed, and Pope Francis is not entering into casuistry but giving the essential indication, on which we too must continue to reflect.

Q – (Zenit Spanish edition) Between truth and charity, when a bishop is unable to discern, to whom should he turn, is there someone who must help him?

A – Discernment by its nature involves a certain uncertainty, because as Saint Thomas says, and the pope cites him in his text, the principles are evident, are clear, are very clear, enunciated clearly, but the more one descends into action, into concrete situations, the more delicate discernment becomes, and for this reason the exercise of the Ignatian exercises is precisely the discernment of spirits. Saint Thomas says that this carries a certain anxiety, anguish, that one must indeed discern. And also for this reason it will always be this way: perhaps one priest may be a bit more disposed to a wider vision, another may perhaps be a bit more timorous, more strict in discernment, but this will always be the case, even in family life. Discernment is a delicate but necessary work.

Q – (Washington Post) The principle of discernment, of which you were speaking, by reason of which one could come across a priest of broader viewpoints or someone more timorous, in your view could that be considered a new principle of departure, a new law from which to begin, or a question that remains open?

A – The pope said it clearly, it is not a new canonical disposition, and I can remember right here in this room in 1981, a long time ago, a German cardinal who was famous for his doctrinal clarity, Cardinal Höffner, had responded to such a question: See your confessor. But there is a responsibility for each one of us. One cannot play with the sacraments, it is true, one cannot play with the conscience. The pope speaks a great deal about the conscience: how are you doing, in the couple in difficulty? How do you stand before God in your conscience? On this the canonical rule cannot respond in detail, nor can the pastor. You have to know it yourselves, you cannot play with God. So the case that Pope Saint John Paul enumerates in no. 84 of “Familiaris Consortio,” the case of a remarried couple and, the pope says, in which the marriage is “definitively broken,” he uses this word, if they are convinced in conscience that their marriage was not valid, it is a situation different from the other case that Pope Saint John Paul cites, of one who has broken the valid marriage truly out of carelessness: it is another moral situation, before God and before the community and the Church, before their conscience. So the pope is not innovating in this document, it is important to say this, he is not innovating, he stands in the great pastoral tradition, prudential, of the Church. It is the recourse to pastoral prudence that every priest, every bishop must exercise.

Q – (Gianfranco Svidercoschi) I read the fourth chapter and I was shocked because in the footnotes there is not a single reference to the synod. On sexuality, eros, passion, it limits itself to citing John Paul II, the catecheses on the body, and Benedict XVI. But even more shocking is that this corresponds to what happened at the synod. We have a pope who considers sexuality a great value and a synod that instead does not even speak of it. And so the doubt comes to me of how clerics could know how to speak about the problems of the family.

A– I too was struck by how none of this beautiful fourth chapter was found in the two relations of the synod. But I think that this reveals something. The synod fathers were almost all celibate, yes, with one exception, the major superior of the Petits Frères de Jésus, no, no, him neither, he is not a priest but is celibate, the married persons were experts but not synod fathers. This is the problem, and you are right. Thanks be to God that Pope Francis remedied this, and beautifully.

D. – (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in German, with Fr. Lombardi summarizing the question in Italian) Why is it only in footnote 351 that reference is found to communion for the divorced and remarried?

A – One fact that strikes me is that everyone reads this footnote. So putting [something] in a footnote surprises and draws interest. But I remain firm on this point: Pope Francis wants to present a vision of the whole, and not fixate on one particular point, which is important, but particular. And without comprehensive criteria of discernment, even discernment on “in certain cases this can include the help of the sacraments” would fall from the skies, without connection to the whole.

Q – (Elisabetta Povoledo, New York Times) Who was on the commission that wrote the document?

A – I don’t know. I was not, and I didn’t ask. And I cannot tell a lie saying that I don’t know.

Q – (Felipe Domínguez, São Paulo) – It seems that the document greatly emphasizes the formation of couples and their accompaniment after the marriage. But at the same time you speak of an excessive idealization of family life. What can we bring to this journey of accompaniment of couples in a practical way, other than meetings, catecheses, the usual things?

A – Very briefly. At this moment, when there are so many attacks even on the family, that the pope should express in a loud voice and with beauty and power his trust in marriage and in the family, this is already such a strong message for today’s society.

Q – (Diane Montagna, Aleteia) Just to clarify, I think everyone wants to know, paragraph 84 of “Familiaris Consortio”: has anything in the entirety of those paragraphs changed? Does everything in “Familiaris Consortio” number 84 still stand as-is?

A – I do not see that there has been change, but certainly there is development, organic development, in how Pope John Paul II developed doctrine. I will give an example: never in the history of the Church’s doctrine had man and woman as a couple been considered as such the image of God. Pope John Paul II made this the center of his teaching on marriage. But I dare all the theology experts to say when in tradition this had been done. So it is normal, it is true that there is development. John Henry Newman explained to us how this organic development of doctrine works. Of course, in this sense Pope Francis is developing things. The expression that you used was implicit in “Familiaris Consortio,” implicit, I am prepared to prove it. For me the development is that Pope Francis is saying it clearly, explicitly. It is the classic case of the organic development of doctrine. There is innovation and continuity, For this read the famous talk of Pope Benedict on the hermeneutic of continuity. In this document, for me there true innovations but no ruptures, just as what John Paul did with the image of God applied to man and woman is not a rupture. It is not a rupture but a true development.

Q – (Andrea Gagliarducci, CNA, ACI Stampa) As for point 301 on irregular couples that are not in mortal sin, and for the discussion of innovation in doctrine of which you were speaking, in what way is this compatible with “Veritatis Splendor” of John Paul II, where it speaks of “intrinsic evil”?

A – “Veritatis Splendor” certainly speaks of the clarity of norms on the “intrinsece malum,” but Pope Francis in the document here has a series of emphases on the question of imputability, very important, and cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The imputability that is one of the conditions for knowing is there is mortal sin or not. So it is necessary to read these passages on imputability, which are classics, most of these citations coming from the Catechism and from Saint Thomas.


3. Paragraph 84 of the 1981 “Familiaris Consortio” on the divorced and remarried

84. Daily experience unfortunately shows that people who have obtained a divorce usually intend to enter into a new union, obviously not with a Catholic religious ceremony. Since this is an evil that, like the others, is affecting more and more Catholics as well, the problem must be faced with resolution and without delay. The Synod Fathers studied it expressly. The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation.

Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.

Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.

However, 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. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

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.”

Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.

By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.

With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.


4. Concerning the citation of Saint Thomas Aquinas in “Amoris Laetitia” no. 304

by Richard A. Spinello

In “Amoris Laetitia” n. 304, In order to fortify his overall argument, Pope Francis cites Question 94 (Part I-II) of St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologiae”.

Aquinas would appear to concur with Pope Francis, since he asserts in the fourth article of this Question that general moral principles are subject to certain exceptions. Accordingly, the Pope invites readers to incorporate this Thomistic principle into their “pastoral discernment.”

Question 94 was also frequently cited by the revisionists to support their position that acts like adultery are not intrinsically evil. Aquinas declares here that since moral norms involve particular situations, they apply not universally but only generally, and so are subject to certain exceptions. Hence we can appreciate the appeal of this text for the contentions of “Amoris Laetitia”.

However, Aquinas’s argument is far more nuanced, and “Amoris Laetitia” fails to point out the critical distinction between different types of moral norms.

For Aquinas, norms fall into two broad classifications. There are negative moral norms that hold “semper et ad semper,” always and everywhere without exceptions, because they exclude acts that are “evil in themselves and cannot become good” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 33, a. 2).

But there are also affirmative moral precepts (such as honor your parents) that hold “semper sed non ad semper,” that is, they oblige always but not for every occasion.

The norms discussed in Question 94 (a. 4) unquestionably fall in the latter category. Aquinas’s example makes this quite clear. The affirmative norm that you should return what you have borrowed is subject to certain exceptions depending on the circumstances. Thus, arms entrusted to another should not be returned to their owner if he plans to use those arms to fight against his country.

Aquinas often affirms the existence of specific moral absolutes, these negative exceptionless norms that always forbid killing of the innocent, theft, lying, adultery, and fornication. In several texts he refers to the intrinsic evil of some acts as specified by their moral object. When Aquinas confronts an Aristotelian commentator who says that adultery is not intrinsically wrong, he replies: “We should not agree with the Commentator on this point, for one may not commit adultery for any good” (De Malo, q. 15, a.1, ad.5). In another treatise he describes some human acts that “have deformity inseparably attached to them, such as fornication, adultery, and others of this sort, which can in no way be done morally” (Quaestiones Quodlibetales, 9, q. 7, a. 2).

Thus, Pope Francis’s appeal to Aquinas in this exhortation doesn’t hold up because in Question 94 of the Summa Aquinas is referring only to affirmative norms, and not the universally binding negative norm that forbids adultery.

If Pope Francis wants to assert that the norms prohibiting the taking of innocent life, lying, adultery, and fornication, have exceptions when applied amidst the concrete complexities of life he cannot recruit St. Thomas Aquinas as an ally.

Also, such a position goes counter to a long Catholic tradition that includes the Church’s greatest theologians like Augustine and Aquinas, and extends from Trent to Vatican II.


Richard A. Spinello is a professor at Boston College and at the theological faculty of St. John’s Seminary in Boston. The complete text of his commentary appeared in Il “Crisis Magazine” on May 10 2016:

> Does “Amoris Laetitia” Retreat from Absolute Moral Norms?

And here is the paragraph from “Amoris Laetitia” with the improper citation of Saint Thomas:

304. It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4). It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.


5. Cardinal Caffarra on the “uncertain magisterium” in chapter eight of “Amoris Laetitia”

The eighth chapter of “Amoris Laetitia,” objectively, is not clear. Otherwise how could one explain the “conflict of interpretations” ignited even among bishops? When this happens, one must see if there are other texts of the magisterium that are more clear, keeping in mind the principle: in teachings on faith and morals the magisterium cannot contradict itself. One must not mistake contradiction for development. If I say that S is P and then I say that S is not P, it is not that I have explored the former. I have contradicted it.

So does “Amoris Laetita” teach or does it not teach that there is a place for access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried?

No. Anyone in a state of life that objectively contradicts the sacrament of the Eucharist cannot receive it. As the preceding magisterium teaches, they may however receive it who, not being able to satisfy the obligation of separation (for example because of the raising of children born from the new relationship), live in continence. This point is touched upon by the pope in a footnote, no. 351. Now, if the pope had wanted to change the preceding magisterium, which is very clear, he would have had the duty, and the grave duty, to say so clearly and expressly. One cannot use a footnote, and one of uncertain tone, to change the age-old discipline of the Church. I am using a principle of interpretation that has always been admitted in theology. The uncertain magisterium is interpreted in continuity with that which went before.


This judgment is taken from the interview with the Cardinal Carlo Caffarra in “La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana” of May 25, 2016:

> Caffarra a tutto campo su matrimonio e famiglia


The account of the May 19 meeting between Pope Francis and the presidency of the Latin American episcopal conference:

> Encuentro de la presidencia del CELAM con el Santo Padre Francisco

Among those present at the meeting was the Panamanian José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, made a cardinal by Pope Francis, who on the first day of the discussion at the synod last October made a bit of an uproar with his remarks.

Lacunza urged, in fact, that the successor of Peter “be just as merciful” not as Jesus, as everyone was expecting him to say, but “as Moses,” who granted divorce for the “hard of heart.”

The official spokesmen of the synod did not report anything about these remarks to the press. They were instead cited on the website of the episcopal conference of Poland, prompting a reaction from Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod, who ordered that they be removed.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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