Introduction

Catholics dissenting from Amoris Laetitia (AL) usually complain about this magisterial document’s alleged “lack of clarity,” especially on the issue of communion to those who have divorced and civilly remarried. They will point to “confusion” as proof of this alleged “lack of clarity.” What is this “confusion”? The wide array of different interpretations and practices this document has produced from various bishops, episcopal conferences and theologians all over the world.

It is worth noting that some diversity is, in fact, intended by Pope Francis when he issued his apostolic exhortation. For AL states right at its introduction:

Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. (…) Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied

— AL #3

This makes sense, if we understand Francis’ way of thinking. He doesn’t assume (as any person with good sense wouldn’t) that any singular document, no matter how thorough or detailed, can ever encompass all possible situations in the real world. The Holy Father circumvents this by giving enough latitude of action for an orthodox pastor with good discernment to better accompany any divorced and remarried person into a full conversion to the fullness of the Gospel’s mandates. So we read (emphasis from now on is always mine):

If we consider the immense variety of con­crete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases

— AL #300

And again:

It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care

— AL #304

However, even if Pope Francis wants to tolerate a certain diversity in practice, he certainly does not expect this diversity to be so all-encompassing that the document would lose its meaning. After all, “let everyone do as they wish” is a simplistic way to look at reality and certainly wouldn’t have taken so many pages to write. Let us read AL #3 once again: he says that there can be “various ways of interpreting some aspects of teaching” (emphasis on the word “some”), but also that “unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church” (emphasis on the word “necessary”).

Of course, this stirs up a new question: “How do we know what diversity is acceptable and what is not? How do we know how much is too far?

After all, the range of interpretations of AL is so wide that it includes opposite and irreconcilable assertions: from those who claim AL doesn’t change anything from previous practice as defined by Familiaris Consortio (meaning, no civilly remarried couples can receive the Eucharist unless they abide by total continence) to those who claim AL allows communion to impenitent adulterers (which, in practice, means acceptance of any divorced and remarried person who approaches the Eucharist).

Nevertheless, I think both these extremes do not take AL’s own words into account, but rather try to force unto AL a preconceived notion of what the document demands, so as to fit it in an ideologically motivated narrative which doesn’t care for the truth, but only for victory on a culture war. Therefore, the former interpretation (that the apostolic exhortation doesn’t change anything) is espoused by conservatives who disagree with the widening of access to the Eucharist, and the latter interpretation (that any civilly remarried couple can now receive communion) is adopted both by liberals who don’t see divorce and remarriage as inherently sinful and by radical traditionalists who need Francis to be a heretic in order to disregard him.

It is my firm belief, however, that it is possible to know what the true interpretation is by reading AL carefully. The answers are in the text itself. We must simply avoid reading it with an aprioristic conclusion in mind — one that is comfortable with our worldview — and simply allow ourselves to be guided to wherever the truth may take us. It is necessary to do a proper exegesis of this document. This means we must try to understand what is the actual will of the Pope on this issue. What was in the Pope’s mind when he wrote those words?


Question 1 – Does AL allow civilly remarried persons to receive communion or not?

The answer can be found on the much-discussed footnote at the core of the controversy:

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”

— AL, footnote 351

Here, Pope Francis specifically states that the help of the sacraments may be considered. And although he doesn’t specify to what sacraments he is referring to, it is strongly implied by the two subsequent sentences that he means the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. Otherwise the rest of the footnote would not make any sense.

So Francis wants pastors to consider the possibility of the sacraments’ help, namely the Eucharist. To whom does he open this possibility? Footnote 351 refers to AL #305, and AL has been talking about divorced and remarried Catholics since at least #298, which starts with “The divorced who have entered a new un­ion”.

In other words, Pope Francis opens the possibility of the Eucharist to (at least some) people who are civilly remarried.


Question 2 – Does AL allow communion to every divorced and remarried couple?

I think the answer to this question is found in footnote 351 itself. It starts with “in certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments” (note “in certain cases”, which by definition excludes “all cases”).

On the other hand, the main topic of Chapter 8 (where the footnote is located) is discernment. If AL simply opened the possibility to any civilly remarried person who sought it, why spend so much time talking about discernment at all?

But is there textual evidence to the claim that AL doesn’t simply open the floodgates for eucharistic access? Yes there is:

“These attitudes are essen­tial for avoiding the grave danger of misunder­standings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours.”

— AL #300

AL does not give a clean slate for a priest to grant exceptions or sacramental privileges at will. That’s a “misunderstanding” according to the Pope himself.


Question 3 – Does a divorced and remarried person need to live “as brother and sister” to receive communion in all cases?

Since not all divorced and remarried couples may partake of the Eucharist, some may argue that the only ones who can do it are the ones already covered by the previous pastoral paradigm, as defined by Familiaris Consortio. Namely, the couples who would cease to live more uxorio (i.e. stop having intercourse) and live as “brother and sister.”

First of all, some civilly remarried couples may try to stop living more uxorio, but often relapse into temptation. For these cases, Chapter 8 has another footnote:

Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution”

— Footnote 364

A person may be contrite and yet acknowledge that he will most likely sin again. Here, as with any other sin, this is not a valid reason to withhold the sacraments.

However, there is more to it. What about the civilly remarried who do not stop living more uxorio, not by trying and failing, but because there is an impediment to such a resolution in the first place? For example, the Holy Father mentions a situation “where, for se­rious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate” (AL #298) and where “if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking (…) faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (footnote 329 in the context of the same #298). What about them?

Well, in this case another much disputed quote comes into play:

“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.”

— AL #303

Let me highlight, “while yet not fully the objective ideal.” In certain situations where the new union cannot be legitimately regularized, this “objective ideal” would be living as brother and sister.

Can a person be included in the communion line who, according to his conscience, discerns that the most generous response he can give to God is not yet fully the objective ideal (per AL)?


Question 4 – Who is really covered by AL footnote 351, then?

Since it was in AL #303 that Pope Francis talks about not fulfilling the objective ideal, let us re-read this paragraph from the beginning:

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. (…) 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.

— AL #303

It is the conscience that determines what the most generous response that can be given to God is, even if it is not yet the fully objective ideal. This same conscience needs to be “better incorporated into the Church’s praxis” “recognizing the influence of such concrete factors.

What “concrete factors” is Francis talking about? This directs us to the previous couple of paragraphs, which in fact deal solely with those “concrete factors.

For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.

— AL #301

The Church teaches that people with such mitigating factors may not be in a state of mortal sin. And the principle according to which it is possible for a person not in a state of mortal sin to receive communion is doctrinally sound. Pope Francis would only incur heresy if he stated the opposite, allowing people in mortal sin to receive communion.

Also doctrinally sound is the principle according to which a sin with grave matter (like the divorced and remarried living more uxorio) may not be mortal on account of mitigating factors. Grave matter is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for mortal sin. Other conditions come into play (full knowledge and full consent) which, when lacking, diminish the person’s culpability.

Please note that Pope Francis brings up the Church’s “solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors” explicitly to prevent the notion that “the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised“. It is wrong to oppose those two parts of Catholic doctrine, as if discerning the mitigating factors would somehow diminish the demands of the Gospel regarding marriage. The Pope specifically tells us here that they are not mutually exclusive, and in fact it is by remembering Catholic doctrine on mitigating factors that we can apply his pastoral principles without compromising the Gospel.

Later on, in AL #302, the Holy Father quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) to expound on what those mitigating factors may be and then repeats: “For this reason, a negative judgment about an objec­tive situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved”.

Is this what Francis is referring to in footnote 351? Some may argue that the Holy Father doesn’t specifically say these mitigating factors should have an impact on sacramental discipline, only on the pastoral approach.

Well, such objection can only be sustained if we do a fragmented reading of AL. AL #300-303 talks about those mitigating factors. And the footnote 351, opening the possibility of communion to some civilly remarried people, refers back to this part of AL #305:

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

— AL #305

Which ties very nicely with the preceding paragraphs. Hence, the permissibility of communion to some who have divorced and civilly remarried, per footnote 351, has everything to do with mitigating factors that diminish subjective culpability, so that the person can “live in God’s grace” (i.e. not in mortal sin).

In fact, this interpretation is even confirmed elsewhere in the text:

What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases,”335 the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.

— AL #300

Do these consequences also include the sacraments? Please note there is a footnote in there:

This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists.

— AL footnote 335

It seems that the document is actually quite clear. The Eucharist may be given to those in irregular situations who, on account of mitigating factors diminishing subjective culpability, are not in the state of mortal sin.


Question 5 – Is this arrangement definitive?

Should the priest grant communion to a divorced and remarried person in such circumstances at all times? Of course, since Pope Francis wants to give enough latitude of action for a priest to deal with any given sinner in any given situation, he could never create a rigid timetable according to which it would be permissible to grant communion during a randomly defined period of time, and not from thence.

However, it also seems clear that AL does not want this arrangement to be definitive, but only a temporary step to allow the divorced and remarried person to achieve sacramental grace in order to attain the objective ideal. Let us recall AL #303, but this time read it until its end:

“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.”

— AL #303

This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that AL had set a context prior to that, saying:

“All these situations require a constructive response seek­ing to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and fam­ily in conformity with the Gospel. These cou­ples need to be welcomed and guided patiently and discreetly”

— AL #294

And also:

Along these lines, Saint John Paul II pro­posed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stag­es of growth.” This is not a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law.

— AL #295

Subjects who are not in position to understand, appreciate or fully carry out the objective demands of the law” seem to be the ones who have mitigating factors interfering with full knowledge and full consent. And we already established those are the ones considered for communion. These “require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel”.

This is the goal. It is meant to be temporary, while the objective ideal is not attained, even though it is actively being sought.


Provisional Conclusions

From this exegesis of AL’s Chapter 8, namely the controversial paragraphs and their immediate context, we have arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. AL opens the possibility of communion to some divorced and remarried people (footnote 351),
  2. though not all (footnote 351, AL #300),
  3. even if those divorced and remarried people have not yet attained the fully objective ideal (AL #303)
  4. as long as they have mitigating factors diminishing subjective culpability (AL #300-305)
  5. so that they are not in mortal sin (AL #301)
  6. as a temporary arrangement to help them grow into achieving the objective ideal in accordance with the Gospel (AL #294-295, #303)

This interpretation seems to be consistent throughout the document. As far as I’m aware, there is nothing in AL contradicting this interpretation. It also seems to be consistent with the Pope’s actions and words from the time AL was published and, therefore, the Pope’s manifest will.

But is there a way to confirm that this is the correct interpretation?


External validation

There is a way to confirm. Given the mixed reception of AL among the faithful, Pope Francis found the need to clarify what he meant. The Bishops of the Buenos Aires (BA) Pastoral Region have written guidelines on how to receive AL, and the Vatican has published those guidelines both on the www.vatican.va site and in the Acta Apostolicae Sedes, along with a letter where Francis  states, “The writing is very good and explicitly the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.

Let us then see if the BA guidelines match the interpretation I put forward

1. AL opens the possibility of communion to some divorced and remarried people

“Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist”

2. Though not for all people

“First of all we remember that it is not convenient to speak of “permits” to access the sacraments, but of a process of discernment accompanied by a pastor

(…)

This path does not necessarily end in the sacraments

(…)

we must avoid understanding this possibility as an unrestricted access to the sacraments, or as if any situation justified it. What is proposed is a discernment that adequately distinguishes each case”

3. Even if those divorced and remarried people have not yet attained the fully objective ideal

“When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christian with a path of faith, the commitment to live in continence can be proposed. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option and leaves open the possibility of accessing the sacrament of Reconciliation when that purpose is failed”

4. As long as they have mitigating factors diminishing subjective culpability

“If it is recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate liability and guilt, particularly when a person considers that he would fall on a further fault damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist”

5. So that they are not in mortal sin

“These [the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist], in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the strength of grace”

6. As a temporary arrangement to help them grow into achieving the objective ideal in accordance with the Gospel

“These [the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist], in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the strength of grace

(…)

Discernment is not closed, because “it is dynamic and must always remain open to new stages of growth and new decisions that allow the ideal to be fulfilled more fully”, according to the “law of graduality” and trusting in the help of grace”


Erroneous interpretations

I would like to conclude by refuting some interpretations I have seen being thrown around and which conflict with the one I proposed on this article. These erroneous interpretations are usually advanced by those who dissent from AL, in order to set up a heretical straw man to further delegitimize a document (and a pope) they disagree with.

Trouble is, those erroneous interpretations conflict with other parts of AL also. And when we encounter such conflicts, we may proceed in two ways: Either we take the path of the Bible-debunking atheist and claim that conflicting accounts are proof of lack of clarity (and therefore, authority) from the document; or we take the path of the exegete and set to find the manifest will of the author when he wrote those words, charitably assuming he knew what he was talking about and eschewing interpretations that lead to unnecessary conflicts. I will take the second approach here:

a) That AL endangers the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage

Asserting marriage is not indissoluble, or that divorce is justifiable, conflicts with many, many parts of AL (especially on chapters preceding no. 8). I will not be exhaustive on them. A single quote will suffice to prove the wrongness of this interpretation:

“The Christian community’s care of such persons [the divorced] is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage; rather, such care is a particular expression of its charity”

— AL #243

Ergo, AL’s provisions can never be interpreted in a way that weakens the Church’s faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage. Doing so is going against the Pope’s (the author’s) manifest will.

b) That AL asserts divorce and remarriage can be good or justifiable sometimes

This position (erroneously attributed to Stephen Walford by Fr. Murray on EWTN’s “World Over”) seems to me to be flat out wrong. As I have already established, AL deals with mitigating factors diminishing subjective culpability. How can there be culpability (even if diminished) in something that is not wrong?

But what about textual evidence for this? Let us revisit AL #305, where the notorious footnote 351 (allowing communion for some people who have divorced and remarried) is referenced:

“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

— AL #305

From this, we can see that, contrary to what many dissenters have been promoting, Pope Francis is indeed clear on the unchangeable teaching of the Church that divorce and civil remarriage is sinful. He calls it “an objective situation of sin.” Full stop.

Furthermore, Francis echoes John Paul II at least two times on his exhortation, calling into attention that the law of gradualness does not mean gradualness of the law:

“Along these lines, Saint John Paul II pro­posed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stag­es of growth.” This is not a “gradualness of law”

— AL #295

And later:

“Con­versation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judg­ment on what hinders the possibility of a full­er participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church.”

— AL #300

This is the framework according to which we should read AL #305 (and therefore, footnote 351)

c) That AL allows people in mortal sin to receive communion

Dissenters who claim this erroneous interpretation like to conflate “mortal sin” with any sin with grave matter. However, as the CCC #1859-1862 makes abundantly clear, grave matter is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for mortal sin. And, in fact, Francis references this when he says:

“The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

— AL #301

Therefore, AL’s provisions do not apply to people living in a state of mortal sin (as I had already established on my Question 4).

In fact, the notion that Pope Francis would allow people in mortal sin to receive the Eucharist is contradicted by another excerpt of AL (though granted, it deals with another set of sins):

“Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. This is what it means to “discern” the body of the Lord, to acknowledge it with faith and charity both in the sacramental signs and in the commu­nity; those who fail to do so eat and drink judgment against themselves (cf. v. 29). The celebra­tion of the Eucharist thus becomes a constant summons for everyone “to examine himself or herself””

— AL #186

d) That AL allows communion to impenitent sinners

From my answers to Question 3 of this article (that the civilly remarried may receive communion while in an objective state which is not yet the full ideal), many dissenters will triumphantly contest AL, saying that it will allow impenitent adulterers to just keep sinning while receiving the Eucharist.

This, however, comes from a simplistic worldview, whereby a sinner who gives an imperfect answer that doesn’t fulfill the objective ideal… is necessarily impenitent.

“For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must neces­sarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more per­fect response to it.” These attitudes are essen­tial for avoiding the grave danger of misunder­standings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions,” or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own de­sires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.”

— AL #300

Please note: for the discernment to begin, those conditions must necessarily be present. I noticed papal critics often overlook this fundamental part of AL (since everything on Chapter 8 hinges on this, including footnote 351 opening the door for the Eucharist). A person with no love for the Church and Her teachings is automatically excluded from the path of discernment and accompaniment suggested in AL. But how can anyone suggest an impenitent sinner has “humility, discretion and love for the Church and Her teaching?

It is most likely the Holy Father here is talking about people who do love the Church’s teachings, who do want to live in accordance with those teachings, but feel somehow torn between two competing and mutually exclusive responsibilities: God / the Church on one hand and a spouse / children on the other.

In these situations, the person may feel unprepared to follow the fullness of the teaching of the Church, even if he wants to undergo a path of conversion. We must remember that the Holy Father does not validate this decision… it is still an “objective situation of sin” (AL #305). However, the subjective culpability is certainly diminished, so that we can’t really say this person is in mortal sin. And if this person is not in mortal sin, he may receive the Eucharist, not as a “prize”, but as “medicine and nourishment” (footnote 351) to be able to attain strength through sacramental grace.

We can also see that Pope Francis doesn’t have impenitent sinners in mind on another excerpt, even if it doesn’t relate directly to sacramental discipline:

“Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which sepa­rates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion.”

— AL #297

e) That AL says a person’s conscience may discern that God wills him to continue in an objectively sinful state

Those who advance this erroneous interpretation (like Prof. Seifert), usually focus on this quote:

“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

— AL #303

I have dealt with this error here. Reiterating my point, the most fundamental flaw in this interpretation is in assuming that “will of God” here refers to the “not yet fully objective ideal” situation (i.e. remaining in sin) and not to the “most generous response which can be given to God” “for now.

In other words, the will of God is not for the sin to continue, but for the sinner to give a response to God, even if said response is imperfect. This means the sinner won’t become perfected instantly, but undergo a progressive path toward the Christian ideal. If this path is progressive, then the objective situation of sin may persist for some time. It is obviously the will of God, however, that the sinner should begin this path rather than stay where he is.

The error of asserting otherwise derives from a misreading of the plain meaning of the quote. To prove this, we can see that in AL #291, Francis reiterates the Synod Fathers’ statement that “any breach of the mar­riage bond is against the will of God.” How can “any breach of marriage bond” be against the will of God in AL #291 and then be considered something that God’s will asks for in AL #303? We must charitably assume the pontiff is not contradicting himself, and therefore reject this interpretation.

f) That AL contradicts Trent by postulating that a sinner may not have sufficient grace to stop sinning

Finally, some papal critics will affirm AL is a heretical document, since it contradicts defined doctrine in Trent on Justification, namely Canon 18: “If any one says the commandments of God are impossible to keep, even by a person who is justified and constituted in grace: let him be anathema.”

This error too is contradicted on AL’s own terms, when it speaks of the law of gradualness not being gradualness of the law:

“For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without excep­tion; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being advances grad­ually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life”

— AL #295

Please note that AL doesn’t contradict Trent. In fact it affirms it, while at the same time completing it with “even though each human being advances gradually”. It is not a contradiction in doctrine, but a development. Paul Fahey and Brian Killian have addressed this here and here.

Later on, we get another clarification on this topic:

“In con­sidering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living togeth­er, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them”, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

— AL #297


Conclusion

I believe that this is a comprehensive exegesis for Chapter 8 of AL. I wrote this, not to try to find the answer I wanted, but in order to understand the manifest will of the Holy Father in order to better assent to it.

The interpretation I formulated is consistent throughout the document and in no way contradicts other parts of the exhortation that I’m aware of, and is well substantiated by external validation, including the Buenos Aires guidelines. Those are litmus tests I have found lacking in many of the erroneous and outright heretical interpretations being advanced by those who disagree with AL.

In doing so, I reached the conclusion that the document is actually quite clear. Additionally, this is consistent with my experience that the alleged “confusion” is, in fact, being spread (either willingly or unwillingly) by those who do not wish AL’s true interpretation to thrive.

As the Pope himself has said, the answers can be found in the apostolic exhortation itself, as I’ve shown here. Still, apologetics on a rational level is insufficient, if the document is not approached with the proper disposition. I urge the readers to read AL with humility and an open mind, as well as a willingness to concede what the Pope clearly wrote and clearly wants for the Church. Let us no longer use the terms “clarity” and “confusion” to muddy the waters instead of searching for the truth.

[Photo credits: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images]

Pedro Gabriel

Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

21 Shares

2 Responses

  1. Pat says:

    Make me holy oh God, … but, not yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *