Division within Christ’s Church, such as that which exists at present over Amoris rlaetitia, Pope Francis' post-synodal apostolic exhortation is a clear attack by the evil one. Satan’s strategy here is the time-honored one of divide et impera – divide and conquer. Remember Jesus’ words to the Pharisees? “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” Quite simply, no ideology, no matter how sincerely embraced, may substitute for personal conversion, for, in the case of divirced and remarried Catholics, entering the narrow gate.
When Pope Francis issued Amoris Laetitia it produced a controversy around an unanswered question—whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics might be admitted to the Eucharist in certain circumstances. At two synods the proposal, pushed by prelates handpicked by Francis, faced strong opposition from many bishops and didn’t achieve consensus. The document produced by the 2015 synod came up with an ambiguous formula, essentially fudging the issue.
After the synod all eyes were on The Holy Father to see if he would intervene with a clear decision. When it arrived, alas the answer, hidden away in two footnotes, was still ambiguous.
The current fallout centers largely on how the Pope’s words are to be interpreted. The German bishops’ conferences seems more or less united in favor of liberalizing the discipline, while Poland’s insists that nothing has changed. The bishops of Buenos Aires wrote a document suggesting that the way is now open for Communion for the remarried in some cases where subjective guilt might be diminished. Francis answered with a private letter commending this interpretation as the right one. In what has become a familiar aspect of disputes around the Pope’s real intentions, the purportedly private exchange was leaked – a transparent attempt to give momentum to the liberalizing tendency.
The division also divides episcopal conferences internally. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia published norms for his diocese which made it clear that the discipline there would remain unchanged. Those in irregular unions might receive Communion only if they lived in continence. Cardinal Kevin Farrell criticized Chaput and implied that such a policy should be more open to Francis’s favored “option of mercy”.
Then a letter was made public, addressed to the Pope by four cardinals in the form of dubia, “doubts”, traditionally addressed to the competent Roman authority by those seeking clarification of points of Church teaching or canon law deemed insufficiently clear.
Of the cardinals concerned, only one is currently serving, albeit in a role of reduced importance. He is Cardinal Raymond Burke.The other three cardinals are all retired.
The dubia made reference to Pope Saint John Paul the Great’s landmark texts Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor. It is evident that its questions’ intent was to suggest that there are difficulties in reconciling Amoris Laetitia with established Catholic doctrine.
Because the Pope refused to response to the four cardinals, they decided to make the dubia public, a seeming direct challenge to Francis, suggesting that the Holy Father is possibly teaching error.
If Francis were to state that the principles taught by St John Paul II were no longer part of the Church’s teaching, he would provoke open revolt among those who cling to the entire Catholic tradition as it has evolved over the centuries, and relativize his own teaching authority.
If Francis reaffirms the previous teaching, then he must either give up his attempts to reform the discipline of the sacraments, or show that the contradiction is not a reversal of former teaching but a development of doctrine, which it is not.
Challenging the judgments of a pope doesn’t render one a renegade from the Catholic faith. What is concerning is the anti-intellectualism which seems present in those in favor of the heterodox view. One such shepherd admonished the four cardinals for making “sophisticated arguments,” as if this were a sin. Pope Francis has said that “realities are greater than ideas”. This is indicative of Pope Paul VI’s view, outlined in my book, that a contempt for rationality and logical discourse risks handing over the Church to the reign of the emotive and the sentimental in a way which cannot in the end sustain its efforts to evangelize, which is the Devil’s primary desire. Paul wrote:
He (the Devil) is the malign, clever seducer who knows how to make his way into us through the senses, the imagination and the libido, through utopian logic, or through disordered social contacts in the give and take of our activities, so that he can bring about in us deviations that are all the more harmful because they seem to conform to our physical or mental makeup, or to our profound, instinctive aspirations.
Popes are human beings whose job is to teach Christian doctrine, and in cases of necessity to intervene to restore unity on the basis of truth. They can make errors of judgment in pursuing this task, as they have in the past and doubtless will in the future. They teach and govern in union with their collaborators – the bishops – who have a role in advising them and, if necessary, urging caution.
Pope Francis has chosen to open a debate, and as shepherds of the faithful he or one of his successors will be called upon to close it with the help of His brother bishops. Oremus.