Amoris Laetitia (Latin for "The Joy of Love") is an "apostolic exhortation" published over the signature of Pope Francis the Humble on 8 April 2016, following the second meeting (in 2015) of the controversial Synod on the Family. It pushes the Pope's agenda of "reform" of Catholic teachings on morals, sexuality, marriage and divorce, and (particularly) the position of divorced and remarried Catholics. It has been hailed by "progressives" (especially non-Catholics) and panned by traditional Catholics. The majority of Catholics, up to and including bishops and cardinals, are just plain confused.
And no wonder. The text was released initially in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. As of 14 May 2016, there was no Latin version which by Church law would have been authoritative. The English text runs to some 250 pages and 325 numbered paragraphs, with nearly 400 footnotes. There are quotations from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and earlier popes, and from the Second Vatican Council -- now regarded by many as invalid -- but also such dubious "authorities" as Martin Luther King, Jr, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Antonin Sertillanges, Gabriel Marcel, and Mario Benedetti. A very mixed bag indeed.
The confusion that Amoris Laetitia has spread among the faithful -- Are we still Catholic or not?! -- is such that, in September, Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Leo Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner submitted to Pope Francis their dubia (an expression of questioning or doubt) asking him to clarify five fundamental points of Catholic doctrine and sacramental discipline. Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, they wrote, appears to conflict with Scripture and/or Tradition and the teaching of previous papal documents, notably Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor and his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.
On December 8th (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), 23 Catholic academics expressed "profound gratitude and full support" of the dubia, saying clarification of Amoris Laetitia is urgent, as they believe the barque of Peter is "drifting perilously like a ship without a rudder" and shows signs of "incipient disintegration". Professor Joseph Shaw wrote, "The Holy Father alone has the power to resolve the current confusion, and must urgently do so for the good of souls."
Also this week, two leading Catholic scholars, John Finnis and Germain Grisez, addressed a letter to Pope Francis and "to all the bishops in communion with him, and to the rest of the Christian faithful", urging the Pontiff to stop the "misuse" of Amoris Laetitia. Dr Finnis, a retired Oxford philosophy professor, and Dr Grisez, a moral theologian who taught for years at Mount St. Mary's, are among the world's most respected Catholic thinkers. In their letter, they argue that popular misinterpretations of Amoris Laetitia are being used "to suppport errors against the Catholic faith." They call on the Pope to repudiate these errors, and ask "all bishops to join in this request and to issue their own condemnations of the erroneous positions we identify."
The errors they identify, which contradict Church teaching but have been advanced as consistent with Amoris Laetitia, are these:
- that priests can give absolution from sins even when penitents have no intention of amendment;
- that people may be too weak to obey God’s commandments;
- that there is no moral rule to which there can never be exceptions;
- that moral laws are ideals, and it is unrealistic to expect that they will be fulfilled;
- that in some circumstances it is best to violate a moral law;
- that sexual activity is only wrong if someone is exploited or hurt;
- that a valid marriage can dissolve; and
- that there is no one condemned to hell.
"An Open Letter to Pope Francis" was posted on the First Things website (of the Institute on Religion and Public Life) yesterday, December 9th. The article begins: "We invite readers’ attention to The Misuse of Amoris Laetitia To Support Errors against the Catholic Faith, a letter we have addressed 'to the Supreme Pontiff Francis, to all bishops in communion with him, and to the rest of the Christian faithful.' The letter was dispatched for delivery to Pope Francis on November 21." The underlined words -- "The letter" -- were supposed to link to the full text of the open letter. But the link is dead -- removed by command of the Vatican perhaps?