When I read Pedro Gabriel’s excellent exegesis of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia last week, I was impressed by how thoroughly and definitively he had affirmed what the exhortation says about the reception of Holy Communion for those in irregular situations. His piece also established a clear link from Amoris Laetitia to the Buenos Aires guidelines.

After reading Pedro’s piece, no one should ever be able to insist on alternative interpretations to that aspect of Amoris Laetitia or claim to be confused by it. He analyzes a plain reading of the text, a reading in context (exploring other parts of the text in order to confirm Pope Francis’ meaning), and a reading against an external source (verifying that his interpretation aligns with the interpretation of the Buenos Aires bishops, which was endorsed by the pope).

Was this necessary? Evidently so, given the number of commentators and critics who have repeatedly stated that Amoris is confusing and decrying the resistance to their assertions by insisting that they are “just asking questions.”

Still, I have trouble believing that a group of Catholics as well-educated as many of those who have long claimed to be confused about Amoris Laetitia suddenly and collectively lost their reading comprehension skills. How can theologians and scholars, people who have written impressive and lengthy analytical works on scripture, Aquinas, and John Paul II become so baffled by a contemporary papal exhortation, largely written in contemporary and non-theological language?

It seems to me that the “Pope Francis is confusing” crowd isn’t actually confused by him at all, except perhaps when they get a good laugh at an out-of-context phrase culled from his daily homily or spread around a hit piece or poorly researched story about Francis.

This is why I wince when I hear something like, “We are just asking honest questions,” or “When will he clarify Amoris Laetitia?”

More often than not, these statements come from those who disagree with Pope Francis, and are holding out for an answer more to their liking. Deep down, they know what they, as Catholics, are called to assent to, but they don’t want to.

They know what Amoris Laetitia “seems” to say, and their “confusion” is that they cannot reconcile it to their understanding of moral theology. Nor are they willing to defer to the Church on this question. Even though they really do understand Amoris, they are unwilling to agree with it, for any of a number of reasons.

And they seem to be unwilling to admit that in their humanity, they might be limited in their capability to reason, or that they might simply be wrong. They ignore that in the past, there have been many Catholics who were both intelligent and honest, and sincerely disagreed with the Church on some point of doctrine or discipline. “Dissent is for those people over there,” they seem to say.

Their imaginations are unable to concede that in this case, it is they who stand against the teachings of the Church. It grieves me greatly because many of those who defy the pope have been strong Catholics, often heroically virtuous, and extremely devout. This brings to memory the prediction made by Bl. Paul VI about those least likely to be happy about the changes to the Mass in 1969:

“4. We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience. It is the kind of upset caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits. We shall notice that pious persons are disturbed most, because they have their own respectable way of hearing Mass, and they will feel shaken out of their usual thoughts and obliged to follow those of others. Even priests may feel some annoyance in this respect.”

We will never know whether Pope Paul expected something to the degree of the resistance led by Marcel Lefevbre. Today’s resistance might be even more extreme, as it has been fueled by social media. In what direction it might go is still in question. But given the ferocity and anger behind much of Pope Francis’s opposition, and his steadfastness in the face of it, there might be some ugly times ahead.

This is why I asked the important question, “what is your endgame?” The Vatican position has become more and more clear. The expectation is that Amoris Laetitia will become more deeply embedded in the Magisterium. The Church is moving on, with even the Polish bishops approving guidelines that affirm the pope’s position. The likelihood that the next pope will continue Francis’s legacy grows greater with each consistory.

A century from now, today’s opposition to Pope Francis could be either a footnote or a paragraph in Church history books. This will depend on to what degree his critics continue to work against him, and to what extremes their attempts at obstruction will eventually reach. But whatever they do, be assured that the Holy Spirit cannot be stopped. If it is God’s will to bring to life the Church that Francis envisions, no one can stop Him.

Francis’s critics can postpone a decision for a long time. Eventually, however, they will have to make a choice: Do I stand with the Church?

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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Is it really confusion?

12 Responses

  1. Toni says:

    It is more even than mere disagreement with the Pope Francis detractors – it is belligerant defiance against the Vicar of Christ and the fomenting of dissension against him.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Toni, there are certainly a large number who are belligerent, I agree. But there are some who avoid direct criticism, and claim to be just trying to understand by asking questions. It certainly foments dissent, but they themselves try to be above the fray – seeking to “clarify” the pope – performing a service, so to speak.

  2. Anne Lastman says:

    Mike thank you for your comments.
    I was present at a certain conference in Rome before Amoris Letitia was presented to the faithful and even before this fomenting had begun, though a Cardinal assured the audience present that no doctrinal changes would be made in document.
    At that conference there were kudos for the former Pope Benedict XVI and critism for Pope Francis by those who have led the pack at the beginning including a Cardinal and social media personality.
    These began the ball rolling.
    It is my opinion that this disrespect for Pope Francis became possible because of the resignation of former pope Benedict XVI. This changed the papacy from a charism unto death or even like a marriage “I do” until death to “I do” until it gets hard, to a job like any other job and if its a job then it becomes easy to “hire and dismiss.”
    The ongoing virulent critisicms of His Holiness has been a determination to so destabilise his words and leadership of the church enough so that dismissal becomes possible
    For these individuals the now changed nature ensures that if enough critism is levelled at the Pope then his dismissal can be achieved.
    As a lay person I have no difficulty understanding AL or be confused by it. The confusion has occurred because of their undermining of the Pope.

  3. Chris dorf says:

    Excellent Anne and Mike

  4. carn says:

    “Is it really confusion?”

    Yes, it is.

    “After reading Pedro’s piece, no one should ever be able to insist on alternative interpretations to that aspect of Amoris Laetitia or claim to be confused by it.”

    No, i am still able to insist on being confused by AL; especially due to Pedro’s piece.

    But reasons, arguments, etc. are probably not of interest for you based on the observation that you have more restricted comment policy since a few weeks.

    Instead your intent seems to be to put up walls so you condemn people who happen to be outside these walls.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      We decided to moderate the comments because we had a disproportionate stream of irrelevant or repetitive comments from 2-3 readers. We welcome comments that challenge our positions, but at a certain point they get out of hand.

      • carn says:

        “We welcome comments that challenge our positions,”

        Then feel challenged:
        “After reading Pedro’s piece,”

        You made his argument yours.


        “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)?”

        and the following under “Question 4 – Who is really covered by AL footnote 351, then?”

        i cannot understand in any other way, that

        if two persons face the decision of either risking that “faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (e.g. by not having sex with each other) or to do something at least in principle only a decision between the two of them, but which is formally an intrinsic evil act (e.g. having sex with each other although not married),

        that then the morally correct decision for both would be to do the latter,

        if furthermore sufficient mitigating factors are present.

        This leaves me with three potentially confusing conclusions:

        a) According to this reading of AL, committing an intrinsic evil act would be the morally preferably course of action under some very specific circumstances, namely if sufficient mitigating factors are present. I am a bit in doubt, whether i got that correct, cause in general i thought that if some action is intrinsic evil the morally correct decision between doing and not doing it would always be the latter (although someone doing the former might not be guilty); hence, i am honestly uncertain or confused, whether i got the message correctly.

        b) As i have to be honest, i would therefore whenever someone asks me for advice about whether committing some intrinsic evil act is the right thing to do, have to carefully check whether it is a similar situation, in which somehow due to mitigating factors committing the intrinsic evil act is the morally preferable course of action; thats because if i get asked about advice i try to give correct advice. Or in other words, advising to do something which is formally adultery is sometimes the correct thing to do. I am sceptical about that conclusion, hence, in doubt, hence, confused.

        c) I cannot summon up a single example for mitigating circumstances, in which both of such a couple would have mitigating factors such, that for both of them to not attempt to stop having sex is with sufficient reduced guilt. Hence, i am confused about why the issue seems to be about admiting both of a couple, if it seems to be impossible for such a case existing in reality and meeting all criteria.

        I can up with scenarios in which one of a couple is in sufficiently mitigating circumstances, that a lack of attempt to not have sex with the other one does not preclude a valid confession; but not both of the couple.

        Whatever you answer, it is hard how you could argue, that i am not honestly confused about what exactly the message and the consequences are.

        Especially, i am a bit cautious about the message, that maybe sometimes under specific circumstances it might be correct for me to advice someone to do something intrinsic evil; yet, that is a pratical issue i face regularly, that there are quite some mitigating factors nearly begging for the intrinsic evil act to be somehow not yet that bad; currently, i resist the temptation to advice towards an intrinsic evil act, no matter what mitigation is out there; but if sometimes committing the intrinsic evil act is “ok” due to mitigating circumstances, i can skip that precaution.

        Is that what the Pope wants me to accept? That sometimes due to committing a intrinsic evil act being “ok” due to mitigation, i should in my advice about intrinsic evil acts also sometimes advice to do such act in case of sufficient mitigation?

        And i am an evil dissenter if i would prefer to have that spelled out in detail and explicit?

      • Mike Lewis says:

        The point is that the meaning is clear. If you disagree with the clear meaning, then that is another issue.

        Pedro is simply explaining the “what.” Not the why or how.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Carn – your last comment is precisely the kind of thing that makes Mike post apropos. Yet again, you make it all about whether an intrinsically evil act is justifiable.

        Which is something that is CLEARLY and REPEATEDLY contradicted on my post. And on Amoris Laetitia, by the way (as I have explained).

        It is quite discouraging that after someone spends so much time and effort denying that Pope Francis ever said that intrinsically evil acts are justifiable, someone may come around and say he is confused because it seems I’m saying intrinsically evil acts are justifiable.

        You may be confused, but after a certain time, there is nothing more a person can do to help you, besides telling you to read it again, more thoroughly and probably with an atitude different than “consider yourself challenged” and “you owe me a place to comment”. That is not the atitude of a person who is confused and humbly trying to understand.

        I believe that you are confused, and that makes you suffer and I respect that and may try to help you on a private forum. However, the way you are managing your confusion right now is not conducive to solving it, only to aggravating it, and it’s not the fault of anyone on this blog or of the Pope himself.

        If you really want to dispel your confusion, you may start by re-reading my post and trying to find there the parts where I said that divorce and remarriage is never justified. You will see that they abound and in fact there is a full section devoted too it.

        Do that before commenting here again. Otherwise, there is nothing I can do to help you and your comments will just be an exercise of sealioning that hinder our mission, meaning they will not be approved.

      • carn says:

        “If you really want to dispel your confusion, you may start by re-reading my post and trying to find there the parts where I said that divorce and remarriage is never justified.”

        I reread those parts.

        But since my issue never touches the question of whether divorce and remarriage is justified, rereading those parts cannot change anything. And i wonder why you even think that rereading those parts could help anything. It seems that whatever i may not understand about AL and other things, you seem not to understand what i do not understand about it.

        I guess this is a dead end one way or another.

        “That is not the atitude of a person who is confused and humbly trying to understand.”

        In case you did not notice, Mike Lewis called out anybody who read your post and still claiming confusion to be effectively a liar; as i read your post, still claim confusion, he calls me indirectly a liar; and his last post does not change that; i confess that i lack humbleness to some extent in regard to people calling me a liar.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        From my article:

        “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.
        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.
        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.
        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.”
        Again, no one is saying that those sins (BE IT DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE OR LIVING MORE UXORIO WHILE IN THAT SITUATION OR WHATEVER) are justifiable or are not evil. What we are arguing is that these people may, while sinning, not be in mortal sin on account of OTHER FACTORS besides the gravity of the sin, and *while they are still in sin* they are not in *mortal sin* and therefore may receive the Eucharist.

        It is a sin.
        It is wrong.
        It is not justified in any situation.
        But they may still receive the Eucharist.
        Because they are not in mortal sin on account of mitigating factors.
        Not being in mortal sin does not mean “not in sin”
        Not being a mortal sin does not justify the sin.
        Not being in mortal sin does not make it right.
        It just means that some of the conditions for mortal sin (full knowledge and full convent) are lacking.

        An intrinsically evil act is not the same as a mortal sin.
        A person who commits an intrinsically evil act may not be commiting a mortal sin.
        A person who is not in mortal sin may receive the Eucharist.

        If after all this, you still claim that it is unclear whether Pope Francis (or myself) advocate that intrinsically evil acts (like divorced and remarried living more uxorio) may sometimes be justified, then please consider that the problem may not be lack of clarity. More clear than this is impossible.

  5. Jong ricafort says:

    Great post review on AL based on dissenters feedback.
    I agree that the some dissenters who are a learned man in scriptures and Church Doctrines and history would insist that they are still confused when a simple ordinary members can embraced the heart of the message of Pope Francis which is God infinite mercy.
    The couples situations in our era must be addressed as the Holy Spirit Inspiration to Pope Francis is every wounded soul must not separate themselves from the life of the Church thru extra Pastoral accompaniment.
    This is the New Evangelization, not strict orthodoxy but a Church that is alive and docile to the Voice of the Holy Spirit. The bigger picture is Pope Francis is preparing the whole Church(Clergy and faithfuls) to be docile now to the Voice of the Holy Spirit and be empowered by seeking Conversion.
    AL is just an instrument to deliver this message.
    See the signs of times, from St. JP2,Pope BXVI and now Pope Francis all in unison echoing the Mercy of God. We are truly living now in the Time of Mercy.
    As Pope Francis simply put it “The Divine Mercy is Infinite but the Time of Mercy is Not”

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