Amoris Lætitia: “Keep your distance, though, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance…”

Keep your distance, though Chewie...

A scene from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), which serves to put Pope Francis’ “Amoris Lætitia” in perspective…

The kind readers of this blog, who are familiar with the celebrated Star Wars saga, may well remember this dialogue from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, between Han Solo and his faithful sidekick, the Wookie Chewbacca. Forming part of a special Rebel Alliance commando team, along with young Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, they pilot a stolen Galactic Imperial shuttle, the Tydirium, towards the forest moon of Endor. Their very desperate mission? Attempt a vital sabotage of a highly-defended shield generator, which is protecting the final stages of construction of the Empire’s dreaded second, much larger and more powerful Death Star, an armored space station with enough firepower to destroy entire starships and even an entire planet, with just one super-laser blast.

As the stolen shuttle nears for a landing on Endor, the Rebel commando team naturally fears detection by the ever vigilant Imperial Star Fleet. They will need to secure their free passage by responding with the adequate secret password, obtained at high price. During their unsure approach, Han Solo advises Chewbacca: Keep your distance, though, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance. When his non-human co-pilot growls, asking just how he should go about doing this, Solo responds: I don’t know, fly casual…

It occurs to me that these lines from Han Solo, accurately reflect the general, overall impression that Pope Francis has wanted to give to his “Apostolic” Exhortation Amoris Lætitia, made public on 8 April 2016. How so, you may well ask, dear reader?

Well, upon reading this rather lengthy papal document, one can’t avoid the sense of wanting to carefully introduce practical, sweeping changes in traditional Catholic doctrinal moral principles regarding marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time, wanting to hide behind an apparent fidelity to Catholic orthodoxy.

In other words: “Keep your distance, though, Francis, from appearing heterodox, providing tidbits of orthodoxy here and there, but don’t look like you’re trying to promote error.” And as sidekicks like Cardinals Kasper, Marx, Baldiserri, Schönborn (and other like-minded prelates) asked him how to do this, the answer is: “Fly casual!”

In other words, affirm some Catholic doctrine, which is what expected from papal Magisterium. Though, alas, in this case, enough Catholic orthodoxy, that is, akin to distraction, just enough to content the ever-willing and ever-complacent neo-conservatives, only to undermine Catholic doctrine somewhat later on.

Contradicting paragraphs, where two realities can be and not be, all at the same time. And oh yes, the footnotes! Making mischief in the footnotes…

Simple mathematical calculations explain all this rather easily. For each Catholic doctrine Francis mentions in Amoris Lætitia, we add one point (+1). For each Catholic doctrine that Francis undermines in Amoris Lætitia, we subtract one point (-1). If someone were to do this in an exhaustive way, what would the net result be? Low positive numbers? Maybe zero (0)? Maybe even negative numbers?

If after a very careful analysis of the document in question—such as the one Italian Professor Roberto de Mattei calls for (his article provided by John Vennari of Catholic Family News (here)—we might find that Francis may have undermined more Catholic doctrinal points, than affirmed them. But again, this is mere speculation.

Even so, the affirmation of just one Catholic dogmatic doctrinal principle—such as the indissolubility of a valid, ratified, and consummated marriage—only to be undermined somewhere else—even if only in the footnotes—is that not enough evidence that this papal document is flawed?

Some conservative Catholic media in the world are insisting in the continuity of doctrine present in Amoris Lætitia. That it’s just a question of pastoral sensitivity, approach, and applicability for our times. Ah, but is that really so? A canonical marriage, if valid, ratified, and consummated, is indissoluble, right?

OK, so how are we to interpret, in perfect continuity and fidelity to Catholic revelation and doctrine, paragraph 305 and corresponding footnote 351 of Amoris Lætitia, which clearly undermines the indissolubility of marriage, if only in certain cases, (which as Christopher Ferrara of The Fatima Center and The Remnant so aptly puts it, “certain cases” in Novus Ordo Land means everybody within a week):

305. For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would be speak the closed heart of one used to hiding be hind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”. (349)

Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions.” (350)

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end. (351)*

Discernment must help to and possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.” (352) The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.

And we read footnote 351*: In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).

Quite frankly, it’s very hard to understand how one could be living in an objective state of sin, such as same-sex relations, divorced, “re-married” (aka public adultery), and yet somehow be in a state of grace.

Yes, in traditional Catholic morality, there are attenuated or aggravated circumstances which mitigate or worsen—respectively—a moral situation. But to suggest that it is possible to be living in (mortal) sin and in grace at the same time, is simply not the Catholic perspective.

During the Pope’s recent Visit to Mexico, there took place an emotional testimony of Umberto and Claudia (link to the video here). Before Pope Francis and a large, supportive crowd in a soccer stadium, Umberto speaks of their story: he was single, she was (and is, of course) canonically married, divorced, with three children, and they have been civilly married now for 16 years, being blessed with an 11-year old child of their own, who is an altar boy.

He tells of how for years they felt that the Church was no place for them because of their situation. And how one day, they were touched by the Lord, and welcomed into an ecclesial group for divorced and “re-married” couples, where they found love and mercy. Of how their welcome back into the Church by friends there and the priests, made them experience the Lord’s love and embrace, making their hearts overflow.

Umberto acknowledges that he and Claudia cannot receive the Eucharist, but they notwithstanding “enter into communion” through their volunteer activities, such as helping the poor and visiting the sick. This prompts a rousing applause from the crowd, and the warm embrace of Francis.

I do not doubt Umberto’s and Claudia’s sincerity. But honestly, this whole affair just has the look and feel of a very carefully staged “certain case” scenario, in order to gain the emotional support of Catholics, and as a preparation of what is to come in terms of granting Communion to the divorced and “re-married.”

I mean, look how nice this couple is. Look at their mutual stability. Look at how they were apart from the Church. Look at how they have come back to a less-doctrinally rigorous, and more welcoming Church. Look at all the charitable activities they are both doing in the ecclesial community. They even have an altar boy.

But in the end, they cannot receive Holy Communion. And they know it, and even humbly acknowledge it before the Pope and the crowd. One can’t get but the feeling of pity… What if they just could receive Communion one day? Wouldn’t that be the logical and merciful end result of a path of “integration?” Maybe, just maybe, that’s the general (aka “case-by-case”) idea. Hmmm…

And sure enough, our hearts and minds have been prepared to think just this. Umberto and Claudia are doubtless nice people, but they are living in an objective state of public adultery…

I am not a heartless priest. Nor is the Holy Catholic Church as sadly, Francis is always suggesting for keeping with doctrine. With no ecclesial marital nullity declared, divorced and civilly “re-married” couples is certainly a tough pastoral problem, but is the answer really to be found against the will of Christ the Lord?

Now, some will argue: oh, but Pope Francis is not authorizing Communion for all the divorced and “re-married” Catholics! Well, of course not. But it’s undeniable that in Amoris Lætitia, he very carefully opens a door to that possibility for certain cases. Exactly which cases? Why, like that of Umberto and Claudia, naturally.

What criteria of discernment determines these supposedly limited, special cases? A pastoral accompaniment, i.e., the “internal forum,” with the individual conscience of the couple as the final arbiter, as Francis himself suggests?

But indeed, are these questions even necessary? Even the tacit admittance of just one certain case, of just one exception, is enough for denying the dogmatic reality of the indissolubility of a valid, ratified, and consummated canonical marriage, i.e, what is it that Our Lord says? Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder (Mt 19: 6); What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Mk 10: 9).

Francis has opened the door to exceptions that cannot be, and yet can be now, and will be from now on. It’s not just a matter of the exception being made the norm, it’s the acknowledgement that there can be an exception to dogmatic realities of the sacrament of matrimony.

And that’s all we need. From this beach-head, everything else, every “irregular” situation, goes after like a flood. I think neo-Catholics aren’t grasping this fundamental breach on the Titanic’s hull.

One hundred and four years ago, during the reign of Pope St. Pius X, late on the night of 14 April, the Titanic struck the iceberg that sank her with a loss of over 1,500 lives.


RMS Titanic, at 23:40, 14 April 1912…

Today, 15 April, the date of the posting of this article, a week after the public presentation of Amoris Lætitia, it’s too late for avoiding the iceberg that we knew all along was in our ecclesial navigational path. No amount of neo-conservative damage control pumps to bail water out of the stricken ship will do anymore: it’s time to man the lifeboats. Just as a mere precautionary measure, of course.

But… how many lives will be lost this time, for such negligent pastoral navigation of the Barque of St. Peter?

Though it may well be that traditionalist Catholics (aka Catholics), Third Class passengers that we are, be denied access to the precious few lifeboats available during the sinking of the “spirit of Vatican II Church,” we’ll be floating about the shipwreck, and charitably picking up others from the icey seas of the postconciliar springtime…

ChurchMilitantTV provided an article (here): Regarding divorced and remarried couples, Pope Francis “clarified” two months ago (!) that integrating into the life of the Church doesn’t mean receiving Communion. He adds that to do so would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration.

OK, so integrating into the life of the Church doesn’t mean receiving Communion, i.e., at some point, i.e., at all, i.e. ever? Really? Is that what Francis means? One cannot choose but wonder…

Of course, people can be integrated fully by being able to receive Communion… IF they abandon their objectively adulterous state of life. But this is never implied by Francis. Then what’s the point of “integration” if you simply “do” things (lectors, catechists, visitors of the sick, etc., apart from the pastoral wisdom of allowing this) if you cannot ultimately receive Communion?

This is similiar to the activist notion of liturgical “participation” in the Novus Ordo, i.e., just doing things, not a more profound participation in the sacramental mysteries of our Redemption.

To do so (give Communion in these cases) would impair the path of integration?? Integration… integration… to what? If you don’t amend your lives and can’t ultimately receive Communion?? Is not full integration to the Church living in a state of grace and being able to receive Holy Communion?

Oh… but we should no longer speak of living in a state of grace or in a state of sin… Ah… and then we are to recall the emotional case presented to us of Umberto and Claudia… An exception to the “rule?” Whereby the the rule will become ironically exceptional…

Again, note the use—or rather the misuse—of language. “Irregular situations,” which are not by any means limited to objective public adultery, i.e., same-sex immorality, etc. Or “not fully such,” “not living the ideal,” a refusal to call realities by their name, i.e., living in a state of sin, possibly even in a state of mortal sin.

According to some, that language is now out, thanks to Amoris Lætitia. Of course, that’s just one interpretation among others… But all told, is it a correct one? That’s the only thing that matters.


Here in Europe, for example, it’s become very fashionable to refer to abortion as a mere “interruption of the pregnancy,” very nice and neat, huh? And diabolical laws regulating abortion are actually called “laws of women’s health reproduction.” Gee, ain’t that just swell?


Let’s be very honest here: the careful, ideological manipulation of language, wreaks utter havoc in the minds of people, who are dumbed and duped into going along with anything. And the longer we are exposed to this “linguistic radiation,” the more difficult it is to treat it.

If today we refuse to call a sinful situation “living in a state of sin,” by calling it a mere “irregular situation,” “not living fully the ideal,” what’s to prevent in the near future dispensing with even such irregularity?

Today’s “exception” will all-too-easily become the “norm.” And what’s normal or commonplace, is no longer irregular. That’s just how this works. Though some call it “doctrinal development,” this is actually getting acustomed to living in sin, and being proud of it!


So, let’s ponder Roberto de Mattei’s comment that Amoris Lætitia is clear… in its vagueness. What a curious way of putting it, wouldn’t you say?

That a papal document (its level of Magisterial authority and adherence we leave to His Eminence, Cardinal Burke, who has made a comment on this, playing down its relative importance: here), that a papal screed, discussing important doctrinal and pastoral concerns, should be clear, but clear in its vagueness, clear in its ambiguity…

Regarding Cardinal Burke’s assessment, my friend Louie Verrecchio published his own assessment: here.

OK then, so is Amoris Lætitia clearly ambiguous? It would certainly seem so. But then does it not also make it ambiguously clear? Like, by design? Don’t take my word for it.

Let Francis say so in his own words: I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street’ (Amoris Lætitia no. 308, ref. to Evangelii Gaudium no. 45).

So Francis is telling us that he recognizes that some in the Church would rather have what he calls “a more rigorous pastoral care,” one that he constantly laments and rejects in his daily homilies as pertaining to the heartless, ecclesial Pharisees and Doctors of the Law, that is, all those who wish to live by, teach, and counsel, nothing less and nothing more, than the Church’s perennial doctrine on marriage and human sexuality.

Yet ironically, he also recognizes that this more rigorous pastoral care “leaves no room for confusion.”

In other words, he clearly prefers some room for confusion (doctrinal?, pastoral?), through an obviously less rigorous (less Catholic?) pastoral care for today’s complicated circumstances. You know what this sounds like? Readers may remember during the World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013, when he told the world’s youth: ¡Hagan lío!

If I may, a linguistic observation: South American Spanish normally refers to the second person plural by the common pronoun—and hence verb form—employed by the third person plural—“ustedes” (Uds. or Vds.), but not distinguishing from a formal or informal “you.” Thus Francis, referring to his listeners, said “hagan lío,” that is, “¡hagan (ustedes) lío!”

In the Spanish spoken in Spain (more properly Castilian, as the language traces its origins to the Kingdom of Castile), the ustedes pronoun and corresponding third person plural verb form, refers only to the formal second person plural “you.” The informal second person plural pronoun for “you” is “vosotros” and enjoys a proper verb form. Thus to the ears of Spaniards, Francis would have said to those youth: “haced lío,” that is, “¡Haced (vosotros) lío!”

In any case, his phrase has normally been translated to English as to go out and “make a mess.” But to be more literally precise, the meaning is rather to “make an upheaval.” Either translation is good since he was directing himself to youth, and most probably with a particular meaning his expression may have in his native Argentina.

Whatever. Making rather a mess of things, making an upheaval, has been most characteristic of the Francis pontificate these past three years.

Daily homilies that the Vatican website puts up as “Daily Meditations” but are not direct quotes of what Francis actually pronounces, curiously enough.

A strong desire to grant interviews, especially to Italian atheist journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, who does not record his interviews, requiring the a posteriori intervention of Vatican Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, to perpetually “clarify” what the Pope “really meant,” and can’t seem to ever do the first time around.

Arduously eager interviews on the papal plane during his to/from Apostolic Visits, always causing an uproar on some doctrinal front…

So yes, making a mess, making an upheaval. But constantly causing confusion in his way of communicating as Pope? Is this reasonable? A highly important question, especially after three years of it.

So much so, that John Jalsevac of LifeSite News published an article on the ever growing number of Catholic commentators who are not only expressing serious concerns over Amoris Lætitia, but are also getting quite tired of having to interpret in a Catholic manner the Pope’s interventions, be they oral or written (here):

Indeed, there is the sense that the pope’s exhortation may mark something of a sea change in the world of Catholic journalism. For the past three years most Catholic writers have been at great pains to explain and interpret Pope Francis in the clear light of traditional Church teaching – even as one detected a growing anxiety in the subtext of the glut of “what the pope really said” articles that flooded our Facebook news feeds or e-mail inboxes after every puzzling papal proclamation.

But by this time the question many Catholic journalists are naturally asking is: why do we have to keep doing this? Why does it require such hard work simply to understand what the pope is saying and how it might be construed as being in conformity with established teaching? In reference to the exhortation itself: why do we even have to engage in such tortured exegesis simply to understand individual footnotes, let alone the full text – and even then, why are so many intelligent thinkers arriving at such divergent interpretations of key passages? Would it have been so hard to be a bit clearer, as previous popes were?…

In other words: the confusion you’re experiencing is a feature, not a bug. What many Catholic writers are asking is: to what end?

Papal confusion: a feature, not a bug. For over three years running. Just let that sink in. To what end indeed… And just wait for the practical pastoral applications in the dioceses of the world when Amoris Lætitia becomes… operational.

I fear it will be very similar, alas, to Return of the Jedi again: when leading the star-fighter attack upon the Empire’s second and uncompleted armored space station, and upon witnessing the super-laser obliterate one of the Rebel Alliance’s star cruisers, General Lando Calrissian exclaims: That blast came from the Death Star! That thing’s operational!

But of course, all of us know that it’s just a matter of correct interpretation, right?

Patrick Archbald of The Remnant delightfully posted in Facebook: Once again, stop telling me to interpret these documents in a Catholic way and start telling them to write them in a Catholic way. And also: Hey supposedly orthodox prelates, how ’bout you stop telling us how to read it and start publicly telling them how to write it? Mmmkay?

Being far less eloquent, I’m inclined to sum up the Francis way of communication in several inter-connected phrases: “No, I didn’t say that… but that’s what I meant… that’s what everybody understood… but everybody has misinterpreted the words I didn’t actually say… but really meant.” Sigh…

For all that, Pope Francis was once very clear when he made this comment in an interview: There is no Catholic God. There is just God. And as he himself has said in homilies: Francis’ God is one of surprises. Well, if you take my meaning, dear reader, Amoris Lætitia is no different… Surprise!

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