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 the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.