In yesterday’s post, I explored the hostile responses from many of Pope Francis’s critics over his ecumenical gestures towards Christians outside of full communion with the Catholic Church, and how the outcry compares to their acceptance of similar gestures — not to mention a major change in sacramental discipline — made by St. John Paul II during his papacy.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at three issues that are at the center of debate during the papacy of Pope Francis, and how Pope John Paul laid the groundwork for the changes currently being discussed. The issues are: the ordination of married men to the priesthood, sacraments for the divorced and remarried, and Church teaching on the death penalty. There is a double-standard at play. Some are willing to grant JP2 a pass for promulgating changes and developments on these issues, but outright reject those proposed or enacted by Pope Francis.

The criticism Francis has received over the possibility of allowing the ordination of married men in some places and situations is a clear-cut example of this double standard. In 1981, Pope John Paul issued a “pastoral provision” that permitted married former Anglican ministers to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood. In 2009, Pope Benedict promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, providing for the creation of ordinariates for former Anglicans, directly subject to the Holy See. Anglicanorum coetibus led to an even greater number of married former Anglican priests receiving ordination to the Catholic priesthood.

I don’t know the total number of married Latin-rite priests, but the US Ordinariate claims to have 69 priests, the UK Ordinariate had 91 as of 2016, and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, based in Australia, had 19 in 2016. Certainly, not all of these priests are married, and many married priests aren’t affiliated with the ordinariate (they work in dioceses, such as the prominent papal detractor Fr. Dwight Longenecker), but I think it’s safe to say there are currently over 200 active married priests in the Latin Church as a direct result of the actions of Francis’s two immediate predecessors.

Many of these married priests, in fact, have become noteworthy figures in the anti-Francis movement. In addition to the aforementioned Longenecker, Fr. John Hunwicke of the UK was one of the signatories of the open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy. Another married priest, Fr. Vaughn Treco, was recently excommunicated for refusing to retract erroneous views on the second Vatican Council and the papacy.

Hopefully these examples aren’t representative, and most married priests are faithful and devoted to Christ and his Church. Yet some of the people who never criticized John Paul or Benedict for their allowances of married priests are outraged at the possibility that Pope Francis might allow for the ordination of married men (of proven virtue) to the priesthood in remote regions of the Amazon.

German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, one of the dubia cardinals, described one of the aims of the upcoming Synod on the Amazon as the “the abolishment of celibacy.” Cardinals Burke and Muller have also been outspoken about the proposal in the synod’s working document. They present it as a backdoor approach to ending the obligation of celibacy in the universal Church. They apparently distrust Francis, who has spoken out strongly affirming the normative discipline of priestly celibacy and insisted that an exception in the Amazon would be limited to rare and extreme situations.

Indeed, on the surface, Francis’s proposal makes more sense than the provision made by St. John Paul II. Most married Catholic priests live in the UK and US. While there is certainly a vocations shortage in both countries, it is nowhere near as dire as the situation in the Brazilian rainforests. The Diocese of Xingu, for example, is reported to have only 27 priests for over 800 congregations. Most of these congregations are small tribal groups, scattered across a vast region and not easily accessible by car or boat. Some of these groups are lucky if they see a priest once a year. But for Francis’s critics, much more important than these Catholics’ access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist is the “hidden agenda” of the synod’s organizers.

Another issue where the same double standard is present is the teaching on the death penalty. Pope Francis’s 2018 revision to the Catechism was actually the second time the teaching was revised. St. John Paul II issued a revision in 1997, which not only strongly discouraged the death penalty, but suggested that when nonlethal means of punishment are available, the death penalty is contrary to the common good and respect for the intrinsic dignity of human life.

We’ve gone into the evolution of this teaching at length many times (See Adam Rasmussen’s analysis here and Pedro Gabriel’s here). The trajectory of the development of the Church’s teaching on the issue is absolutely clear, and it would be naive to think that even Pope Francis’s statement that the death penalty is “inadmissible” is the final word on the subject. But to hear his critics complain about it, you’d think that JP2’s 1997 revision was unchangeable dogma.

Which brings us to the pastoral practice regarding the reception of the sacraments for the divorced and remarried. It is clear that the Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble, and that civilly marrying someone while one’s spouse is still living is an objectively grave sin, and contrary to God’s plan for marriage. Both John Paul and Francis have upheld that doctrine, but both allowed for some people in such situations to be admitted to the sacraments in situations that do not conform to the ideal. John Paul’s exception, articulated in Familiaris Consortio 84, was to allow the sacraments to be received by couples who could not fulfill their obligation to separate if they committed to live as “brother and sister.” Pope Francis, in Amoris Laetitia chapter 8, allows for some Catholics in irregular situations–after honest discernment of mitigating factors in the course of pastoral accompaniment–to receive the sacraments if they are not culpable of mortal sin. Both John Paul II and Francis spoke clearly that the situations are not in conformity with the objective ideal, but both were cognizant that not every case is the same, and that real life often presents messy circumstances beyond our control.

Pedro Gabriel wrote an excellent piece last week on the fundamental continuity between Familiaris Consortio and Amoris Laetitia last week, and I encourage all to read it in order to better understand how both popes demonstrate the same fidelity to Tradition, even with pastoral understandings that occasionally differ.

Once again, however, Francis’s critics claim that St. John Paul’s exception was completely different, theologically and doctrinally. No one disagrees with the claim that John Paul went as far as he believed he could go, but just because he didn’t believe there was room to refine the discipline any further doesn’t mean that it is impossible for a subsequent pope to licitly revise or change the sacramental discipline.

Certainly, pro-JP2/anti-Francis Catholics have devised objections and distinctions explaining why they believe John Paul’s reforms were perfectly orthodox and reconcilable with Tradition, while Francis’s present ruptures and violations of irreformable Catholic teachings. Just as certainly, twenty or thirty years from now, some pro-Francis/anti-JP4 Catholics will make similar arguments about why Francis’s reforms were licit and JP4’s aren’t.

The remedy to such thinking, of course, is a sound understanding and acceptance of Catholic ecclesiology, doctrinal development, magisterial authority, and the living Tradition. What the papacies of both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis teach us is that the Magisterium lives, and that the responsibility of the pope is to interpret in response to the signs of the times, faithful to Tradition, but open to the ongoing movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

 

 

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27 Responses

  1. Avatar Rhonda Santoro says:

    Thank you

  2. Avatar carn says:

    “Once again, however, Francis’s critics claim that St. John Paul’s exception was completely different, theologically and doctrinally.”

    It is.

    With JPII exception at the end of confession the respective people can have the intent to not commit any sinful action.

    Francis exception is understood to mean that at the end of confession the respective people can have the intent to commit a sinful action and that the confession is still valid, since mitigating circumstances are going to make that sinful action only a venial sin.

    That is a relevant difference.

    • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

      Such couples are not fulfilling what John Paul describes as their OBLIGATION: to separate. They might share a home and a common life, raise children together, share a family name, make important medical decisions for one another, and perhaps even be buried next to each other. JP2’s brother/sister exception allows for all of this publicly, as long as they commit to trying to refrain from having relations. When this happens, apparently the true spouse is no longer a concern.

      Can you not see how this arrangement might be problematic for a Catholic to accept?

      Yet JP2’s justification for it is accepted wholeheartedly by his supporters who condemn Francis for considering other situations where additional exceptions may apply.

      • Avatar Jorge says:

        There’s simply no continuity between FC and your interpretation of AL.

        FC recognizes difficulty of these couples that have a responsibility towards their children and allows them to continue living in the same house while making the proper arrangements to live as brother/sister. But there is an absolute requirement by moral theology that they resolve not to have sexual intimacy again. The scandal is avoided or minimized by the requirement that they receive Communion in private, because it cannot be imposed on these couples that they announce publicly that they’re living as brother/sister, even though would be strongly convenient that the people close to them know about this.

        While the ideal would be to separate, there is no mortal sin in living together while sincerely struggling to live chastely. And this is a basic distinction that AL seems to ignore and JPII knew well.

        The purpose of amendment is an absolute requirement, there is no place in Catholic moral theology for knowingly and deliberately committing grave sins. This is a complete novelty in your interpretation of AL that has no foundation in Catholic tradition.

      • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

        Yes. You are restating the justification for the the provision made by St. John Paul II, as well as the reasons behind the limits he set.

        Francis built upon this, and took into additional account situations where culpability is mitigated, where some persons in an objectively grave situation but not guilty of mortal sin can benefit from the help of the sacraments.

        We can exchange talking points all day, and certain arguments might resonate more with certain people. This is human nature. The question is whether we accept what is proposed by the pope as Magisterial teaching, and assent to his reasoning.

        Regarding grave matter – it seems to me that sharing a name, home, raising children, and having legal and inheritance rights with someone who is not your spouse, when your moral obligation is to separate – regardless of whether you are having sex with them, while your true spouse is living – seems quite grave, to be honest. But JP2 didn’t seem to think so, so I accept his teaching.

      • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

        Also, I suggest you read Pedro’s piece on FC and AL. The Church does not see a rupture. If you do, then your issue is with the Church, not those who defend her teaching.

        https://wherepeteris.com/does-amoris-laetitia-contradict-familiaris-consortio/

    • Avatar Fwiffo says:

      “Francis exception is understood to mean that at the end of confession the respective people can have the intent to commit a sinful action and that the confession is still valid, since mitigating circumstances are going to make that sinful action only a venial sin.”

      Does it say that, though? My view of AL’s ambiguity is in an odd space between Where Peter Is’s view and those who think it is completely ambiguous. I think it’s clear that Francis envisions communion being granted in some circumstances where culpability is reduced, but there’s a lot about how it all works in practice and just how broadly that should be interpreted that is unclear. (It can be interpreted either as a very narrow opening for edge cases, like Pius XI’s provision in CC 59 for when spouses disagreed about contraception, or a blank check for almost any second marriage).

      So I disagree with many of AL’s critics about its orthodoxy but disagree with Where Peter Is about whether this approach is wise.

      • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

        I don’t know if everyone with WPI is highly enthusiastic about the pastoral approach laid out by AL (some of us certainly are), but our main focus is to defend its orthodoxy.

        I think it can be abused (what Church teaching hasn’t been?), and there is certainly a legitimate debate about its prudential application. In a sane world, that would be the discussion.

        Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where the Holy Father is being accused of heresy and the papacy is being undermined by people who should know better.

      • Avatar carn says:

        “Does it say that, though?”

        That is what Stephan Walford says in his book, which is endorsed by 4 Cardinals and WherePeterIs and which received a positive foreword by the Pope before the book was finished (i think it was even only in the early stages of writing; so this positive foreword by the Pope in no way indicates what the Pope might think about having intent to commit grave matter which might be only venial sin at the end of confession).

        But you are right, that some understand AL differently; i should have written “Francis exception is understood by quite a number of people, including as far as i can tell from endorsement of Walford’s book by WPI and 4 Cardinals, to mean …”

  3. Avatar Jude says:

    It will not be rare, it will not be extreme, and it will not be reserved to men of proven virtue.
    We have seen how these things work out, (think of ‘extraordinary ministers’) and there is no reason to think that Francis will be the one to hold the line, some people just happen to think that the pope already knows that.

    Also, you forgot to mention women’s ordination. (be prepared to do some interesting mental gymnastics on that one:
    deacons don’t count because…..)

    Why do people think of Francis as being so much more radical than other popes? First impressions would probably be part of the answer. The early days of his reign (from the first moments) were full of ‘those days are over’ and ‘new sheriff in town’ moments, most likely intentional.

    “Who am I to judge” established him in the minds of many (especially those already fearful of the liberal influence) as a liberal.

    • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

      Since you are unwilling to take the pope at his word, and you seem to be able to read his mind, I am certain that any attempts to convince you otherwise will be fruitless.

      The opening days of this papacy were a gift to the Church – it’s been years since we’ve had such public and widespread goodwill. Unfortunately, some in the Church were determined to undermine and destroy that. They finally scored a body blow with the Viganò letter, and greatly harmed the Church in the process. Congratulations.

      • Avatar jude says:

        ‘We had public and widespread goodwill’ – that the church’s enemies were happy in the early days of Francis is not an indication that those days were a gift, but it does under score my thoughts about first impressions. ‘The world’ was softening toward the church because they thought they had won, some of them still do, some in the church do, to the extent that they think the world can win.

        You asked why the pope is met with resistance from people who wouldn’t have done so before, I offered you my thoughts. They may be right, they may be wrong, they may be partly right, who knows…they are just my impression.

        As to reading the pope’s mind, I can’t. I simply think those things will happen, will grow beyond the stated parameters, given the history of the church in recent decades, that’s not an entirely unreasonable expectation. It is not a great leap of faith to imagine that those who think the pope is liberal, think that that’s what he wants. I only think that he will not intervene or be able to intervene to curtail them.

        As to Abp. Vigano, one might be given to think that covering up for the hierarchy has long ago stopped being prudent or desirable.
        and that getting the process started that will rid the church of abusive clerics and the empty miters who couldn’t be bothered to protect the flock from them, or from all of the other dangers that they faced, cannot be harmful.

    • Avatar jong says:

      Jude
      One simple question, if the Holy Spirit gave you the gift of Prudence to whom will you put your obedience & trust?
      To the Dubia Cardinals and Dissenting Bishops & Theologians who simply cannot follow the simple evangelical guidelines of Donum Veritatis plus some of them are Doctor of Canon Law like Cardinal Burke (please read Canon752) or to the Vicar of Christ of which the Church upheld His infallible gifts as the Supreme Interpreter,Legislator and Guarantor of Faith?
      If this Dogma still don’t satisfies your intelligence, how about the very words of Jesus Christ Himself, as he gave Peter His powerful promised of protection that his faith will not fail. (Luke22:32)
      So, a Church united to the Pope proclaiming a Dogma and a powerful promised of Jesus Christ to Peter, ponder this two teachings and tell me if prudence still tells you to believe the Dubia Cardinals.
      Remember, “Dubia belong to Satan and Faith belong to Christ”. (Ted Flynn)
      Read Unam Sanctam too. My Jesus mercy.

  4. Avatar Peter Aiello says:

    It’s always a step in the right direction when the Church reverts back to the priorities of Scripture; that bishops, presbyters, and deacons are to be the husbands of one wife. It should never have been changed.

    • Avatar jong says:

      Peter Aeillo
      To revert back to scripture understanding it using the lenses of our own personal interpretation is not a Catholic Tradition.
      Again, there is only two opposing spirit at war in this end times, the Spirit of Truth guiding the Church and the spirit of lies & error deceiving individuals esp. those souls openly rebelling and disobeying Christ established authority.
      The Church united to the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit it cannot err, it is biblical, apostolic and embraced by all the Church Fathers.
      How about you, can you err in your personal interpretation about scriptures? Yes! but why?
      Simply because Jesus Christ did not made a powerful promised of protection to you that your faith will not fail but only to Pope.(Luke22:32),. why? because you were not ordained to become the Chief Shepherd, you and I are simply are followers like a sheep, we all need a Shepherd and Jesus gave us one before He left, his name is Peter and Christ only gave him the Keys to His Kingdom. (Matthew16:19)
      Do not embraced your chosen confusions for so long Peter, remember the meaning of your own name. Do not deceived yourself. My Jesus mercy.

  5. Avatar Jorge says:

    On the issue of Communion for the divorce and remarried, this article is completely wrong.

    It’s not that JPII and BXVI went as far as they thought they could go and didn’t consider the “development” put forward in certain interpretation of AL.

    In reality, both of them specifically rejected the thesis of subjective culpability that Kasper, Lehman and Co defended (among other thesis to justify their position) and is now repeated in the interpretation of AL defended by some.

    And they rejected this on many many occasions in documents and interventions of varying degrees of magisterial authority and with very clear and concise theological explanations consistent with cannon law.

    On the other hand, no one knows what AL is actually saying or the justification it gives for the alleged permission to give Communion to these couples, as you can see from the completely different and contradictory interpretations given even by supporters of AL.

    • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

      I don’t deny that John Paul II rejected such arguments, or that Benedict, as Prefect of the CDF, backed his position.

      That said, Kasper’s proposal, at least as presented in 2014-5, is significantly different than what Amoris Laetitia allows.

      He proposed a period of penance, after which a couple could be “readmitted” to the Sacraments. AL sees the possibility of the help of the sacraments (for those not fully culpable) as being a part of the journey towards fully living out the teaching of the Church.

      Kasper’s vision was for the sacraments to be the endpoint. AL forbids such a view – it insists that the person must continue working towards a life fully in line with the Church.

      As for your final point, AL’s intended meaning is clear. The Buenos Aires directives lay it all out, step by step.

      Anyone, at this point, who claims that the meaning of AL footnote 351 is unclear is in denial, is lying, or has poor reading comprehension skills.

    • Avatar jong says:

      Jorge.
      AL is already an approved Magisterial Teaching and it was carefully studied & discerned thru the wisdom of the College of Bishops, the wisdom of CDF united to the inspired wisdom of the Supreme Legislator,Interpreter and Guarantor of Faith the Vicar of Christ. Therefore it is the Wisdom of God inspired by the Holy Spirit to the Church.
      Are you saying that the Church guided by the Holy Spirit committed an error?
      Be careful criticizing and judging a Magisterial Teaching publicly coz it will put the state of your soul in a similar situation like the divorced & civilly remarried, how?
      Read Lumen Gentium25 and tell me if you can receive Holy Communion worthily?
      Also Read Canon752 and ponder Matthew12:32 as all your uttered words against the authentic Magisterium of Pope Francis will be use against you by the devil come judgement day. Please read Matthew12:37. My Jesus mercy.

      • Avatar Jorge says:

        You should probably read about Pope Honorius and how he was condemned and anathemized by a later Council with very strong language for practically, not theologically, fostering the heresy promoted by Sergius by failing to teach the truth.

        When you read that then maybe you should stop condemning catholics that have legitimate concerns about the confusion created among Catholics during this Pontificate and the continuous ambiguity used in papal documents.

        I have great respect for Pope Francis and pray for him every day. It is a very difficult job he has. I pray God grants him the grace to confirm his flock in the faith, and I also pray that if he doesn’t, a later Pope or council will do.

      • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

        I have researched Honorius – and we should be publishing a piece about him soon. You are propagating the version that was pushed by the Gallicans in the lead up to Vatican I. Pope Leo didn’t ratify the Council’s charge of heresy, but his failure to teach.

        But Francis is not Honorius. He has promulgated Amoris Laetitia magisterially, and it is very clear what he intended to teach.

        The ongoing rejection of his magisterial teaching is of a different kind, and it is damaging the unity of the Church. Catholics who claim to to be the most devout and orthodox are the ones who are leading a rebellion against the papacy, and they will have to answer for their disobedience and dissent someday.

  6. Avatar Fwiffo says:

    The CDF under Ratzinger said that there was a possible opening for communion where someone had subjective certainty of a previous marriage’s nullity but for one reason or another could not obtain an annulment through the standard process (I’ve heard that Ratzinger himself said similarly in the book Salt of the Earth, though I have not read it). They did not modify the discipline, but viewed it as an open question.

    So even there the discipline was seen as absolutely irreformable, though whether AL is a good disciplinary change is another question.

  7. Avatar jong says:

    Dear Mike,
    The three three teachings that you’ve mentioned are all anchored on the Mercy of God that both St.JP2 and Pope Benedict XVI embraced wholeheartedly. But, the exceptional thing why it becomes a scandal now is, Pope Francis is “magnifying” the Mercy of God as he implore all the Pastors to seek the lost & wounded souls making the Church a field hospital. Why is Pope Francis doing this in our times and not in the time of his predecessors? Your great article is correct in saying the word “signs of times”, this is where the “orthodoxy” of the teachings will be tested. The Dissenters wanted to interpret it according to their chosen Tradition and doctrines while Pope Francis was inspired to teach this doctrines conforming it to the very heart of the Gospel which is Divine Mercy. The Mercy of God is infinite as the gospel that Jesus Christ taught is “No one is beyond Redemption” and Pope Francis certainly had attuned his heart to Mama Mary’s loving & merciful heart being the Mother of Mercy. A beautiful reflections At the Foot of the Cross is what Pope Francis uttered pointing us where he is getting his inspirations…”The Church is both a Teacher and a Mother, and the Church always gaze at Her Mother who always implore Her to seek the Mercy of God”.
    The bottomline of all this confusions & divisions is a dividing line between two factions, one claiming orthodoxy but opposes the approved Authentic Magisterial Teaching claiming it, as a “False Mercy”while ignoring the Church fundamental teaching on “the primacy of mercy over justice” as the gospel shown in the Prodigal Son. While all the faithfuls loyal to the Church united to Pope Francis is embracing it as the “Mercy of God”. Which side we belong speaks whether we are docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit or to the other opposing spirit of lies & error, why? Only two opposing spirit are at war in these end times, the Spirit of Truth guiding the Church and the spirit of lies & error which is destroying the Church.
    The 2000 years Church Tradition is very very clear the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church united to the Supreme Pontiff the Supreme Interpreter, Legislator,and Guarantor of Faith and Her “approved Magisterial Teaching” will not err.
    If we used the gift of prudence coming from the Holy Spirit, which side will we take on? The side of the Dissenters or the side of all the faithfuls who are loyal to Pope Francis?
    The Church is undergoing purification and the name of the game is “Humility & Obedience” as St.Paul already wrote a letter to all the Dubia Cardinals and Diseenting Bishops & Theologians, please read Romans13:1-2.
    Do not be deceive by the projected piousness of the opposition as St.Faustina reminded all of us “the devil can wear the cloak of piousness but the devil doesn’t know how to wear the cloak of obedience”.
    Fr.Stefano Gobbi’s blue book revealed that Satan in the Age of Darkness or Confusions in the Church will inspires Radical Traditionalists to masked their “evil infected hearts” by projecting devotion to the Blessed Mother in order to deceived their followers and justifies their attack on the dignity of the Pope.
    We have to remember that Our Lady promised that She will accompany the Holy Father until the end because he will be greatly persecuted. So, in spiritual realities when we attack Pope Francis we are attacking the “Blue Mantle of Our Lady” who is protecting Pope Francis papacy.
    Do not be deceive. Stay in the ark. My Jesus mercy. S&IHMMP4us.Amen

  8. Avatar Marthe Lépine says:

    I have a problem with the last sentence of paragraph 8: “But for Francis’s critics, much less important than these Catholics’ access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist is the “hidden agenda” of the synod’s organizers.”
    It seems to mean that for the critics, the “hidden agenda” is less important than the access to the Sacraments of the Catholics’ from the Amazon, while it seems to me that, on reading the article, it is the other way around. The critics rather seem to consider such access to the Sacraments as “less” important than the “hidden agenda”.

  9. Avatar Concerned Commenter says:

    Where the Church is, there is Peter. Mr. Lewis, have you considered that these topics you are discussing will be bound and loosed in Heaven via the power of the Keys? Seriously, things which have never and can never be bound in Heaven you are saying are bound in Heaven? That is not Jesus’ Church, therefore that is not Peter.

    Are you aware that in paragraph 8 of the August 4th Letter to Priests, one can see that Christ’s Bride has been caught in adultery. Yes, straight from the horse’s mouth our Holy Mother Church is unfaithful to Her Groom. I present for consideration that should this indeed be the reality (and it can NEVER be) then Jack Chick is totally right that the Church of Rome is an adulteress–the Whore of Babylon even.

    Perhaps the anti-bride is an adulteress, but that condition will never exist for the Bride of Christ otherwise that means that the Bride Groom lied. His promises to His Bride of Indefectibility, Immutability, and Infallibility are meaningless.

    • Avatar Mike Lewis says:

      What you are proposing is a situation where Christ’s promises to the Church have been broken. No, my Faith is in Christ, he established his Church, and gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter. Francis is his Vicar.

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