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A Critique of the Critique of the Critics of Amoris Laetitia

Austin Ivereigh has another critique of the critics of Amoris Laetitia. This time, he tells them they should look at concrete cases. In case they can’t think of any, he supplies one. (I utilize the Fr. Z protocol of placing my own commentary in color.) austin-ivereigh

To take an obvious example, a woman abandoned by her abusive husband who remarries to provide for her children might be in the same legal category as the philandering playboy who ditches his wife for a younger model, but no one could claim that both are in the same moral category.  Ah, that distinction between legal and moral. 

Imagine that the woman in the first case, over time, experienced a radical conversion in her life, and is today an active member of the church community. I remember when I appeared before a tribunal seeking an annulment. I was asked, “are you a practicing Catholic?” I said, thinking myself clever, “That is what this hearing will decide.” Father was not amused. “Are you going to Mass?” “Yes, Father,” says I. So much for cleverness. Let us suppose she cannot, for technical reasons, obtain an annulment (these are rare cases), and the first husband has long since remarried.

Apply Canon 915, and she is an adulterer obstinately persisting in sin who must be barred not just from the sacraments but from taking part in the life of the Church as a reader or catechist. But, you just said she is an “active member of the church community.”  One has to be a reader or catechist to be an “active” member? 

At no point does Amoris say – as Burke puts it – “that’s all right, go ahead, and you can live that way and still receive the Sacraments.” It says that many such cases require an individual discernment because they cannot simply be lumped together as ‘adultery.’ But wait: she is having sex with someone to whom she is not validly married: what is that, if not adultery? 

What Amoris says is that a pastor approved by his bishop should arrange for, in effect, a long retreat involving an examination of conscience, a facing-up to truth, a light-and-shadows discernment, applying the truths of Catholic doctrine on indissolubility and the Eucharist to this particular, unique, concrete situation. Really? Where, Austin, does it say that? I don’t remember Amoris proposing a new procedure. Wouldn’t that amount to a new round of legalism? But I digress.

dustbowl-motherAs it happens, my father once told me about a case very much like this. In his Polish coal mining/farming community in Southern Ohio, he knew a woman with many children whose husband had abandoned the family. My father: “The priest made it so she could get married again.”  I didn’t think to ask him what the priest did, but I assume that back in the 1930’s or thereabouts, he helped her get an annulment.

What I did ask my father was, “Why did she want to get married again?” My father looked at me like I had lost my mind. “She couldn’t make it on her own.” Alot of small children. A farm. Grinding poverty to begin with. No social assistance state. No employment opportunities for mothers.

The priest accompanied her through the annulment process.

cardinal-burke
Cardinal Burke at work.
cardinal-carraffa
Cardinal Carraffa, founder of the JPII Institute on Marriage and the Family

Our poor moderns imagine they are the first ones to think of these cases, the first ones to find humane and truly moral solutions to them. It strains the imagination to think that a canon lawyer of Cardinal Burke’s stature has never considered any concrete cases. Cardinal Carraffa, another of the Four Cardinals, was the founding president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He has no doubt, considered numerous difficult cases. Rather than find ways to redefine terms to accommodate modern life, he chose to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith on marriage.

This is the essential point that the redefiners of doctrine refuse to face: the solution to our problems is to teach the Catholic faith. As St. Paul said to Timothy, “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.”  (2 Tim 4:2)

So what if it is currently out of season?

3 thoughts on “A Critique of the Critique of the Critics of Amoris Laetitia

  1. I’m a divorced Catholic. In fact I received an annulment from my first marriage in order to be received in the Church – I had married another before I ever thought about conversion- in June 2007. I had married another in 2003, and we came into the church together. Since then my wife decided to divorce me, and I have lived a chaste life because I haven’t gone through the annulment process a second time. I accept Christ’s clear teaching on divorce and remarriage, even though I ignored it before coming into the Church. I’m grateful for Christ’s clear teaching, but I’m troubled by the very ambiguous statements in Amoris Laetitia. It is right and courageous for Cardinal Burke and his three confreres to submit the dubia to the Holy Father. I should think he would gladly clarify what he has written, but apparently that isn’t the case. I would never deny someone the sacraments because they’re sinners because I’m a sinner. I would deny them the sacraments if they stubbornly persist in their sin. Yet If accompaniment means counseling the sinner- spiritual work of mercy- toward repentance, then that’s a good thing. Whatever extenuating circumstances exist, shouldn’t they be explored by the marriage tribunal?

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