Most of the reactions to Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation delivered by Pope Francis last Friday, have been welcoming, which seems fitting seeing as the Holy Father calls on the Church to be more welcoming in the text. Even those bishops whom we suspect were in the minority at the synod have issued positive statements. That said, some of the responses have been remarkably negative.
In other words, the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for His Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls “a more rigorous pastoral care.” The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops, and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself. There is no consistent effort to relate the text, in general, or these citations to the magisterium, the Fathers of the Church and other proven authors.
Earlier, he claims that Pope Francis himself indicated that Amoris Laetitia is not an exercise of the magisterium, citing paragraph 3 of the document. It is obvious that Cardinal Burke wants to downplay the significance of this document, but I read paragraph 3 and it only says that the magisterium can’t solve all problems, not that the document is not an exercise in the magisterium. And, so far from this text being merely an expression of what Pope Francis “personally” believes, the fact that the pope stuck so closely to the conclusions of an overwhelming consensus on the world’s bishops gathered in the synod lends the text even greater magisterial weight, not less. Funny, I do not recall Burke and others making the case that Familiaris Consortio was not an exercise in the papal magisterium, even though that text, too, was the result of a synod.
The National Catholic Register also published a very strange article by Fr. Raymond De Souza in which he analyzes Amoris Laetitia in terms more suitable for realpolitik analysis of great power diplomacy. “The same Pope Francis who threw open the Synod of Bishops to a protracted and divisive debate found himself restrained by that same synodal process in the end,” he writes. I did not find the debate, really a discussion, unnecessarily “protracted.” After so many years in which synods ceased to function as real arenas for discussion, I suppose there was some pent up need to discuss matters. Nor was the debate divisive. There were differences of theological approach, to be sure, as there have been throughout the history of the Church. But, as noted above, the synod achieved overwhelming consensus on each and every paragraph of the final Relatio last year. But, “divisive” suggests that the pope was working against his primary mission, which is to guarantee the unity of the Church. It is a loaded word. I am sure De Souza and his ilk thought there was really nothing to discuss. They had all the answers. So, to them, the two year process was protracted and divisive. To the rest of the world, it was kind of refreshing.
And, I would like to know from Fr. De Souza when he interviewed Pope Francis and found out that the pope felt “restrained” by the process. From everything I have read about what the pope has said publicly, he found the process liberating, constructive, important, indeed I think the case could be made that Pope Francis is committed to the process, and to whatever outcomes that process yields, mindful that the ecclesiology of Vatican II was, insofar as it applied to the Synod of Bishops, frustrated in recent decades. If Father knows differently, he should explain his sources and, seeing as he is speaking in sweeping claims about how the pope felt, I would hope one of those sources is Pope Francis himself. I am guessing that is not the case.
I would also note that the National Catholic Register is owned by the Eternal Word Television Network. In the past two weeks, many, many bishops have fallen all over themselves praising this “apostolate.” Care to rethink that praise? It should be obvious to anyone who watches that network or reads their newspaper that they are opposed to Pope Francis. After the publication of these two reactions to the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, it takes a willful disregard for the truth to believe otherwise.
The worst response came from Professor Ed Peters, who teaches canon law at Sacred Heart Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit and who is also a consultor to the Apostolic Signatura. I encourage all to read his post in its entirety. Before delving into his particular brand of canonical commentary, he opines, “one must recall that Francis is not a systematic thinker. While that fact neither explains nor excuses the various writing flaws in Amoris, it does help to contextualize them. Readers who are put off by more-than-occasional resort to platitudes, caricatures of competing points of view, and self-quotation simply have to accept that this is how Francis communicates.” Where to begin? MUST one recall, or even assert, that Pope Francis is not a systematic thinker? Might it not be the case that Pope Francis understands, what Peters does not, that systematic thinking has proven lousy at conveying the Gospel to the people of God? And the rest of the commentary is so condescending, I have to say that if I were a bishop, and I think we can all be glad that I am not, and I had a seminarian at the seminary where Peters teaches, I would be on the phone with the rector first thing in the morning to inform him I was removing my students so they would not be poisoned by this snide, hateful man.
Peters does not reserve his nastiness for the Supreme Pontiff. While Pope Francis calls upon the Church to be more welcoming and compassionate towards those in irregular marriages, such as those who have been divorced and remarried civilly, Peters refers to such unions as “objectively adulterous post-divorce pseudo-marriages.” How is that for welcoming? Really, if a seminarian is being taught this, is it any wonder that some turn out to be “little monsters.”
There have been other bad pieces. George Weigel at National Review claims that Cardinal Kasper lost, reducing the discernment the bishops engaged into the the kind of commentary more appropriate to a basketball game. Clare Chretien, at the Federalist, laments that Pope Francis is probably heterodox and is definitely part of the Church’s “identity crisis.” (Why is the Federalist interested in this subject at all?) Poor Ross Douthat at the New York Times has decided that having been a Catholic all of ten minutes, he is now in a position to decide upon the pope’s orthodoxy. Please.
The Holy Father warned against those who take the teaching of the Church and throw it like a stone at other people’s lives. Indeed. This morning, Archbishop Christophe Pierre was named as the new nuncio to the U.S. and we all wish him a big “bienvenue.” He has his work cut out for him.