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First thoughts on the English version of Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia.

April 8, 2016

There are as one might expect in a document of this length and written with access to the kinds of resources a pope commands, many good things said about marriage in Amoris. Whether those things speak with any special profundity or clarity is better left, I think, for each reader to decide individually.

That said, however, one must recall that Francis is not a systematic thinker. While that fact neither explains nor excuses the various writing flaws in Amoris, it does help to contextualize them. Readers who are put off by more-than-occasional resort to platitudes, caricatures of competing points of view, and self-quotation simply have to accept that this is how Francis communicates.

Some juridic issues that were widely anticipated include:

Holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Francis does not approve this central assault tactic against the permanence of marriage, but neither does he clearly reiterate constant Church teaching and practice against administering the Eucharist to Catholics in irregular marriage situations. And, speaking of ‘irregular marriage’, nearly every time Francis uses that traditional phrase to describe what could more correctly be termed pseudo-marriage, he puts the word “irregular” in scare quotes, as if to imply that the designation is inappropriate and that he is using it only reluctantly.

Internal forum. Francis makes almost no commentary on the so-called “internal forum” solution. What little comment he does make on the internal forum in AL 300 is not controversial.

Canon law in general. Francis makes almost no use of canon law in Amoris. What few canonical comments he does make are not controversial.

‘Same-sex marriage’. Francis leaves no opening whatsoever that ‘same-sex marriage’ can ever be regarded as marriage. AL 251.

Some problematic points (in no special order) include:

1. Speaking of divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, Francis writes: “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 [i.e., sexual intercourse] are lacking ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’ (Gaudium et spes, 51).” AL fn. 329. I fear this is a serious misuse of a conciliar teaching. Gaudium et spes 51 was speaking about married couples observing periodic abstinence. Francis seems to compare that chaste sacrifice with the angst public adulterers experience when they cease engaging in illicit sexual intercourse.

2. Speaking of “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church”, Francis writes “Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way.” AL 292. This simple phrasing requires significant elaboration: forms of union that most radically contradict the union of Christ and his Church are objectively adulterous post-divorce pseudo-marriages; forms of union that reflect this union in a partial, but good, way are all natural marriages. These two forms of union are not variations on a theme; they differ in kind, not just in degree.

3. Speaking of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2384 describes as “public and permanent adultery”, Francis writes that some post-divorce marriages can exhibit “proven fidelity, generous self-giving, [and] Christian commitment”. AL 298. Many will wonder how terms such as “proven fidelity” can apply to chronically adulterous relationships or how “Christian commitment” is shown by the public and permanent abandonment of a previous spouse.

4. In AL 297, Francis writes: “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” To the contrary, it is precisely the logic of the Gospel that one can be condemned forever. CCC 1034-1035. If one meant, say, that no one can be ‘condemned for ever’ by earthly authority, one should have said so. But, of course, withholding holy Communion from those in “public and permanent adultery” is not a “condemnation” at all, so the point being made is not clear.

5. In AL 280-286, directly discussing sex education for youth, I did not see any acknowledgement, indeed not even a mention, that parents have rights in this important area. Perhaps that is to be gleaned from comments about parents made elsewhere in AL.

See also: Fr. James Schall’s comments here.

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