Some Catholic voices and media continue to push unfortunate falsehoods about Pope Francis and his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Here is a brief response to some of the more common ‘myths’ of Amoris Laetitia.
1. Pope Francis never answered the “Dubia”
Not directly, but he did make the Buenos Aires directives the official interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, so it reflects his intentions as to its meaning and purpose. Now the Buenos Aires directives #6 states the following:
“If it comes to be recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301–302), especially when a person believes they would incur a subsequent wrong by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351).”
That certainly seems like an answer to the first question of the “Dubia” which asked if it is possible to:
“grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29.”
So when Burke asks: “Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?”
The Buenos Aires document says “YES” with the qualifications stated above.
2. Amoris Laetitia contradicts traditional teaching
No less than Joseph Ratzinger wrote an essay in 1972 outlining the historical precedent for a pastoral practice similar to the Buenos Aires directives. Although he later modified his conclusion as to the prudence of an Amoris Laetitia style approach to the problem of divorced/remarried couples at the present time, he never retracted the historical basis of his prior conclusion nor the principle that the Church can adopts such a practice as it sees fit. Ratzinger wrote:
“It can, of itself [the Church], only live and teach “according to the teaching of the Gospel and the Apostle”. But it cannot entirely exclude the limit cases, in which, to avoid still worse things it must remain beneath that which is strictly speaking to be done. Two such collective limit cases appear till that point in time (i.e., until Trent): the transitional stage from paganism to Christianity (Gregory II), and the Church unity, which requires a limitation of demands to the minimum. No one will assert that these are the only and the last cases in which we must ask in detail and with great care where concretely we can be flexible and where we cannot.[emphasis added]”
Therefore, it is the prerogative of the pope to implement a pastoral approach to the divorced/remarried like the one Pope Francis has adopted in Amoris Laetitia. Pope John Paul II chose not to.
3. Amoris Leitita is unclear and ambiguous
See #1. Since the Dubia was supposed to be for the sake of clarity, any clear answer to the Dubia refutes the idea that Amoris Laetitia is still unclear.
4. Amoris Laetitia contradicts Veritatis Splendor
While Amoris Laetitia and Veritatis Splendor emphasize opposite sides of the same coin, they both affirm the other side of it. Veritatis Splendor, for example, affirms the need to pay attention to the complexities of an individual’s life including any weaknesses that mitigate culpability. And Amoris Laetitia for its part affirms that “it is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator.” I have written more about this here.
5. Amoris Laetitia “does away” with Familiaris Consortio
Familiaris Consortio does state a norm about the behavior of divorced/remarried couples in the form of an expectation of abstinence. However, the same Pope John Paul II also affirmed the law of gradualness, which would apply to those people being referred to in chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia. The Vatican has affirmed that this law of gradualism “is a general principle, applicable to every moral disorder, even if intrinsic.” Hence it is applicable to those couples unable as of yet to live the norm stated in Familiaris Consortio. The reasoning of the Buenos Aires directives also utilizes the same reasoning as Familiaris Consortio, extending it to those couples who feel compelled in conscience into material cooperation with continuing a sexual relationship with their spouse.
There are many more variations of the above. So when negative voices continue to push a narrative of rupture about Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, take with it a great dose of skepticism.