Archbishop Fernández's "Carefully Reasoned Riposte"
|Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, at the Vatican Press Office, Oct. 8, 2014. (Daniel Ibanez/CNA)|
As Britain's leading theological mind makes public his concerns over Amoris Laetitia, the ghostwriter of the dodgy document is wheeled out in Rome to offer a "defence". Leaving behind any shred of journalistic objectivity he had left, Austen Ivereigh responds to both stories in predictable manner:
Probably the UK's most conservative theologian -- so no, not a big deal.— Austen Ivereigh (@austeni) August 18, 2017
Except this is the response of the man who ghost-wrote the most embarrassing Apostolic Exhortation in history, so no, not "carefully reasoned". In fact, "Carefully reasoned" is precisely what this response is not. One might go as far as to say that it makes the pope look even sillier, which seems to be the distinct role of Vatican aides these days.In case you missed Abp Fernández's carefully reasoned riposte to the opponents of magisterial teaching ... #Amoris https://t.co/nTK9H6Vwbq— Austen Ivereigh (@austeni) August 21, 2017
It is worth noting that, once again, we find that the Pope is not prepared to address any of this himself, but not to worry, because there are plenty of cronies willing to have a go for him.
First off, Archbishop Fernández states that the Pope sought to advance the controversial issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics “in a discreet way,” through footnote 351. Well that certainly failed massively didn't it Archbishop? And in any case I thought Pope Francis said he could not remember the footnote? Now you are saying it was all his idea?
In his return-flight press conference this past week from the island of Lesbos, Pope Francis told a reporter who asked him about the footnote that he doesn’t even remember it, and lamented that so much attention has been paid in the media to that footnote - and, indeed, the entire issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried. Instead, he said, the media should focus on the current “crisis” in the family.Archbishop Fernández also affirms that the Pope gave the footnote authoritative backing through his letter to Argentine bishops. The fact that this was not "official" has been used by some people to suggest the Pope is not trying to change teaching. Archbishop Fernández confirms that he is.
Archbishop Fernández goes on to explain that Pope Francis has always maintained that only a person in a state of grace can receive Holy Communion, but also that an objectively grave fault is not sufficient to deprive a person of sanctifying grace, thus “permitting a path of discernment” to receiving the Eucharist, along with a person using their conscience, aided by a pastor and enlightened by Church teaching. This is a line of thought in moral theology I have heard many times before and is sensible and compassionate to the ear.
Notwithstanding that there has always been an element of paternal discretion in dealing with people as a Parish Priest, always done privately, quietly and within the teaching of the Church, the way back, which is indeed there, is via a good confession including firm purpose of amendment which must involve the resolution not to sin again. The confessor must always counsel that fornication (or the giving of scandal to others by virtue of living 'more uxorio') is always gravely sinful. If in the light of this "accompaniment" the individual can come to the form purpose of amendment, reincorporation into Eucharistic Communion, with all its individual and ecclesial consequences can follow: if not then not.
Thus it would appear that Pope Francis & Archbishop Fernández are trying to come up with a one size fits all solution for problems that are complicated and need mercy and justice to be resolved. It seems obvious that walking with people to get them there is the task of the Parish Priest - not Pope Francis and certainly not his cronies! Sin is sin - and the remedy to sin is penance and amendment of life.
Edward Pentin remarks that Father Raymond de Souza has already questioned many of the arguments put forward by Archbishop Fernández.
Noting that the relevant Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia is clearly at odds with Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Father de Souza issued the following critiques in an article published in January this year:
- That while there is nothing problematic in stating that someone might be in mortal sin but not subjectively culpable due to lack of full knowledge or consent, there can be “no lack of knowledge that the behaviour is objectively wrong” in these cases because the discernment process Amoris laetitia proposes requires not only knowledge of the teaching, but a “love of Church teaching.”
- If Holy Communion is allowed for very few exceptional cases of divorced and remarried persons, what is to stop this approach from being applied to the whole of the moral life where circumstances may be equally or more complex? Why limit it to this and not apply it to other moral categories?
- He gives several examples of other moral situations, outside marriage and family, where extricating oneself from a habitually sinful situation would be more difficult than sexual abstinence for a couple in an irregular situation.
- He argues it is incumbent on defenders of Amoris Laetitia to show how the role of conscience can apply in one area of the moral life (sexual morality and marriage) differently than it applies in other areas of the moral life.
He criticises it for “concealing key passages of Familiaris Consortio and finally misappropriating a key Church document on marriage, Gaudium et Spes (51), in order to obtain the appearance of legitimacy in order that the divorced and remarried may receive Communion.”
Noting the widely differing interpretations of the document (some bishops’ conferences firmly ruling out Holy Communion in these cases, others taking the Pope’s line), Father Scanlon asserts that even though Church leaders “hope the orthodox interpretation will be emphasised, it is not what is being stealthily insinuated in this document.”
'Extremely Grave' situation
Drawing on these and other criticisms of the document, prominent Dominican Father Aidan Nichols said last week that Amoris Laetitia has led to an “extremely grave” situation that may need a canonical procedure “for calling to order a pope who teaches error.”
The English theologian said the interpretation of the document, such as the one given by Archbishop Fernandez above, contradicts the perennial teaching of the Church, and that the exhortation effectively argues for “tolerated concubinage.”
Referring to passages in Chapter 8, he also said it seemed to say that actions “condemned by the law of Christ can sometimes be morally right or even, indeed, requested by God.”
He added that as Amoris Laetitia seems to say that it is not always possible or even advisable to follow the moral law, “then no area of Christian morality can remain unscathed.”
Father Nichols' criticism comes after Cardinal Raymond Burke last week reiterated the need for a correction, and outlined how that might be undertaken.
I would also direct you to the public comments made by the eminent Moral Theologian, Canon George Woodall on Catholic World Report. He is a professor of moral theology and bioethics at Rome's Regina Apostolorum university. A former director of the secretariat of the Pontifical Academy for Life, he is also an expert in Canon Law and has published many articles and books on moral theology and bioethics.
The Good News is, as Benedict XVI said recently "God wins in the end".