Beyond Blurred Phrases-Paragraph 303

This article is the second part on the controversial paragraphs in the latest Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”.

The aim of such a writing is to further clarify the matter and to ensure that the faithful understand that such a paragraph seems not to square with what Catholicism has always thought on conscience and thus seeks to invent the so called “creative conscience”, which is a heresy all together.

Paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia states (1): Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.

In St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 56 does not sees the role of conscience as being an interpreter and emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object.

(2) A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.

No one can fail to realize that these approaches pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God’s law.

The issues raised with regards to paragraph 303 have been put into perspective in the closing statement on the 5th doubt written by the Dubia (which seeks clarification on such matters):

(3)“Do not commit adultery” is seen as just a general norm. In the here and now, and given my good intentions, committing adultery is what God really requires of me. Under these terms, cases of virtuous adultery, lawful murder and obligatory perjury are at least conceivable.

This would mean to conceive of conscience as a faculty for autonomously deciding about good and evil and of God’s law as a burden that is arbitrarily imposed and that could at times be opposed to our true happiness.

However, conscience does not decide about good and evil. The whole idea of a “decision of conscience” is misleading. The proper act of conscience is to judge and not to decide. It says, “This is good,” “This is bad.” This goodness or badness does not depend on it. It acknowledges and recognizes the goodness or badness of an action, and for doing so, that is, for judging, conscience needs criteria; it is inherently dependent on truth.

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Beyond Blurred Phrases-Paragraph 302

Since its publication Amoris Laetitia has split the Church, unlike any other document which has been published for the last 50 years. It has caused quite a reaction on both sides of the aisle, an outpour of joy for those who seek to further their liberal agenda and an outrage for those who seek to affirm the special place that marriage and the Eucharist have in our Faith. The reason why there has been such a reaction was due to the claims made in paragraphs 302 all the way to paragraph 305.

Than why is there so much reactions when it is only about these four paragraphs? Well, because these four paragraphs when accepted diminish the role of the Eucharist when given to the cases mentioned. This is a classic in liberal thinking, whereby errors are introduced in sound doctrine. Such errors destroy the foundation of our Faith, the way the Church sees marriage and the crucial role of the Eucharist in the Catholic life.

  1. Paragraph 302 of Amoris Laetitia states (1): The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability”. For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved. On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases”.

    In the last part when it comes to what the Synod Fathers discussed during the Synod in 2015, one finds: “Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” To this the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith, in the 1994 letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried members of the faithful said:

(2) At the same time it confirms and indicates the reasons for the constant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”(9). The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.

The Exhortation mentioned above is Familiaris Consortio which was written in 1981 by St John Pawl 2, here is the quote on the above mentioned matter:

(3)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.

Note on objectivity as mentioned above: There can be no division between the objective and subjective realms. Both pertain to the one act and must be taken in consideration in judging an act. Hence, there claiming some kind of supremacy for the subjective realm, at the expense of the objective realm is somewhat unbalanced, i.e. to say the objective realm is not an ideal to be admired, but the goal for which every Christian should strive. The objective realm should inform all our actions, because it is such a realm that gives the moral character of an action.

Thus, the subjective should always be guided by the objective, for the subjective is more prone to err. And let us be honest we all find ways how to “subjectively” quite our conscience for our wrong acts. Thus, sin is one reality, it is called a sin because it objectively contradicts some good for the human being. It is not a sin because I feel bad about it, or because the situations around me show me that, but because it is contrary to human good, namely irrational.

Secondly, even if moral culpability is lessened because of some genuine subjective disposition, however that does not mean that the person is not missing out on some human good. Hence, the subjective state of sin is called so because it contradicts the objective Divine Law, otherwise you cannot identify any sins at all.

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Responding to a False Claim on the CDF

In today’s issue of the Sunday Times Fr Joe Inguanez wrote an article asking whether the Veri Catholici article (against the Eucharistic Communion to divorced and remarried) which appeared previously on the Times, was in fact aimed at Archbishop Scicluna/ Bishop Grech or at Pope Francis. The response to such a question I will give on next Thursday’s, Friday’s, Saturday’s and Sunday’s articles where I will be showing how previous Church documents disapprove of Amoris Laetitia’s paragraphs 302 all the way to 305. In this article I would like to show that what Fr Joe said at one point in time in his article is utterly false.

Fr Joe Inguanez writes: For diverse reasons, these guidelines took many (both clergy and laity) by surprise: some were elated that our bishops had taken a step which by several standards may be considered both pastoral and courageous; others felt that our bishops had betrayed the Church’s official teaching. A proof that the latter position is untenable is that if it were so, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) would have publicly come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

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My response: Yes our bishops have betrayed Church teaching and here is why:

In 1994 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote a letter on divorced and remarried. Here is a piece which addressed the situation at hand, namely whether Communion can be given based on different situations.

(1)At the same time it confirms and indicates the reasons for the constant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”(9). The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.

The Exhortation mentioned above is Familiaris Consortio which was written in 1981 by St John Paul II, here is the quote on the above mentioned matter:

(2)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.

Secondly the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has responded, in an interview to Il Timone (on Eucharistic Communion for divorced and remarried):

“For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.”

In addition to this he also said (with indirect reference to the Maltese Bishops and others who followed suit):

“Amoris Laetitia” must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church. […] I don’t like it, it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting “Amoris Laetitia” according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine. The magisterium of the pope is interpreted only by him or through the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the pope, this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church. To all these who are talking too much, I urge them to study first the doctrine [of the councils] on the papacy and the episcopate.

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