We’re approaching the beginning of the “Amoris Laetitia Family Year,” marking the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s landmark exhortation on the family and to celebrate the joy of love and the family. This special year will be kicked off with an online event this Friday, March 19 (the Feast of St. Joseph), sponsored by Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, the Diocese of Rome and the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute, all based in Rome.
The purpose of the virtual event, “Our Daily Love,” is to help promote a greater implementation of Amoris Laetitia in the Church. According to Vatican News:
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the three organizers explained that the online event is “the beginning of a path rather than a celebration” as the apostolic exhortation contains a wealth that is yet to be discovered. They explained that the Pope wants to “provoke” the entire Church into action, and in this regard, the three entities intend to offer a contribution that is capable of blending pastoral care and theology in view of the World Meeting of Families.
The online event, divided into two parts, will be streamed live for all on the YouTube channel of John Paul II Institute as well as on the platforms of the other promoters.
“The apostolic exhortation contains a wealth that is yet to be discovered.” Sadly, this is quite true. This “second chance” to review the document is much needed, due to the backlash against Amoris—and the crisis in the Church it spawned—among its so-called traditionalist and conservative wings. Over the past five years, we’ve seen nothing less than rebellion against the pope and the rejection of magisterial authority by Catholics who have historically prided themselves on their “orthodoxy.”
Recently I had an exchange with a professor from the Washington DC branch of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family regarding Amoris Laetitia. Specifically, I was concerned about how, during an online lecture I attended, he openly endorsed the “dubia” document that was published by four cardinals in late 2016. This document essentially challenged the orthodoxy of the pope’s exhortation and attempted to entrap Pope Francis with a series of accusations (written in the form of loaded questions). Put simply, he thought the questions were fair and denied the suggestion that they had already been effectively answered. He said the dubia still haven’t been resolved, and suggested that if my interpretation of the exhortation was accurate, Amoris Laetitia contradicts the Deposit of Faith.
The implications of this exchange suggested a breakdown in fidelity to the pope and a deterioration of the theological understanding of authority in the Church and of papal primacy—at a pontifical institute, no less. These principles, which have been laid out clearly by the two Vatican councils and by the popes of the last 150 years, have come under attack during this pontificate by public figures like Cardinal Burke (one of the architects of the dubia), who constantly tries to justify his dissent against the teachings of Pope Francis.
Those who teach the faith bear serious responsibilities. Regarding dissent by theologians against the teachings of the ordinary Magisterium, the Vatican instruction Donum Veritatis states that when the pope promulgates a teaching on faith and morals, “the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith” (23). It is nothing short of scandalous that a professor from a pontifical institute on marriage and the family would call into question the legitimacy of a major magisterial document by the pontiff on marriage and the family. No wonder Pope Francis decided to overhaul the Institute!
The Holy Father has exercised sound judgement in ignoring the dubia, especially after the cardinals released it to the public (in violation of Donum Veritatis 23, which states that those who reject Church teachings should “avoid turning to the ‘mass media'”). Nevertheless, the responses to the dubia of Rocco Buttiglione, Rodrigo Guerra, and Archbishop Victor Fernandez should settle the matter (even though a plain reading of Amoris would suffice as well). Additionally, the pope has explicitly stated that the Buenos Aires Guidelines are Authentic Magisterium, so there should be no question about what Amoris Laetitia chapter 8 says or how it should be interpreted.
Even the most well-intended and intelligent (and even holy) theologians are overruled by the decisions of a pope from time to time. And they are to prayerfully submit to his authority when it happens. The result of the dissent stirred by the dubia cardinals against Pope Francis is a division in the Church that will not heal until they finally accept his doctrinal authority and assent to the exhortation. If not, I fear we are headed for schism.
Let us pray for a successful Amoris Laetitia Family Year, one that focuses on the rich fruit of the exhortation rather than the past controversies surrounding it. It’s well past time to move beyond the dubia. This Friday, we will have a second opportunity to receive the exhortation as it was intended. Let’s make the most of it.
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