Recently, Larry Chapp published an article entitled “The undermining of John Paul II in the name of Veritatis Splendor continues” at Catholic World Report, replying to my recent article on Amoris Laetitia and Veritatis Splendor. This response is intended to clarify the purpose of my article and to address the charges he makes.
Dr. Chapp’s article raises numerous criticisms regarding points that he thinks my article failed to address. Most of these comments were on issues outside the scope of my article, however. The purpose of this article was to demonstrate that Amoris Laetitia isn’t proportionalist. Nothing more, nothing less.
My central aims were to:
- Show that Veritatis Splendor called for a renewal in moral theology,
- Explain the parameters that Veritatis Splendor sets for this renewal (e.g. its rejection of proportionalism), and
- Prove that Amoris Laetitia stays within the limits set by Veritatis Splendor.
Dr. Chapp’s main criticisms are not so much about what I said, but about what I left unsaid. He claims that I “never answer the fundamental questions raised by critics, instead resorting to deflections, ad hominem caricatures, and straw men.”
I would like to address this claim, because he seems to think that my article was meant to be all-encompassing. It was not. In fact, I have already tackled most of these omissions elsewhere.
Dr. Chapp is apparently unaware that I have written a book that thoroughly examines the most well-known objections and arguments put forth by Amoris Laetitia’s critics. For those who wish to check it out, here’s a link:
As I hope Dr. Chapp understands, it’s not feasible to tackle every single criticism of Amoris Laetitia every time I write about it.
Additionally, most of the criticisms he raises are not new, and the vast majority of them are addressed at length in my book. For example, in his article, Dr. Chapp points out that I didn’t mention Francis’s alleged misrepresentation of Aquinas. He charges that Amoris Laetitia “misrepresents a distinction Aquinas is making in the Summa (I-II, q. 94, a. 4) between negative and affirmative moral norms, making it sound as if Aquinas is embracing the idea that even with intrinsically evil actions there can be exceptions created by unique circumstances (AL 304).”
I did address this argument a few times in my book, however. For example:
“An intrinsically evil sin can have diminished culpability and still remain intrinsically evil. (It is one thing to say that a sin is not justified in any circumstance and another thing to say that there are circumstances where the sinner is not fully culpable.)”
“Veritatis Splendor deals with the objectively evil nature of sin, and especially of intrinsically evil acts. Amoris Laetitia deals with the subjective culpability of the sinner. The latter does not change the former. The fact that a sinner is more or less culpable does not change the object of the sin: it remains wrong. Therefore, we are talking about different planes, which do not generally intersect in those two documents, so that they cannot contradict each other. As I said in previous chapters, it is a matter of emphasis.”
Dr. Chapp says that I don’t address another criticism of Amoris Laetitia 303, where Pope Francis supposedly supports the idea that “God will bless your status quo and the modus vivendi you have reached with the moral law and that your compromised state of life is now magically transformed into God’s will for you.”
I address this at length in my book. An excerpt:
Those who advance this misinterpretation 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.
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 that can be given to God” “for now.”
Dr. Chapp also claims that I don’t address Pope Francis’s alleged purge of the John Paul II Institute. It is true that I don’t go into this issue at length, because it was not within the scope of my book. I do, however, note the distortions of Amoris Laetitia made by the Institute’s former president, Msgr. Livio Melina.
I cite Msgr. Melina three times, including one footnote (no. 136) in which I provide an original English translation (from Italian) of one of his critiques of Amoris Laetitia. There is no question that, given his position at the Institute, his writings lent credence to incorrect interpretations of Amoris Laetitia and tried to pit the teaching of Pope Francis against that of John Paul II. I do not know many of the specifics regarding the situation at the Institute, but if Msgr. Melina’s opinions on Pope Francis’s teachings are representative of the views of the rest of the faculty, then corrective action from the Holy Father may very well have been necessary.
In his conclusion, Dr. Chapp writes, “Because now this Pope’s critics and his closest supporters all agree: Pope Francis is revolutionizing moral theology in ways that do indeed involve a rupture with the moral theology of Pope John Paul II.”
I disagree vehemently with this claim and I say so in my book:
I find it interesting that this “creative conscience” interpretation usually does not seem to sprout from liberal sectors, but rather from conservative ones. This is the interpretation conservatives fear the most, and so they use it to show how Amoris Laetitia is a dangerous document.
Nevertheless, this interpretation also blatantly contradicts Amoris Laetitia (as I will explain in chapter 6). It is, therefore, extremely paradoxical and counterproductive that papal critics will not (as they would have done in their apologetics in previous pontificates) simply refute this interpretation, so that Amoris Laetitia cannot be hijacked to advance heterodoxy. This is a faux-pas in every way equivalent to their undermining of the authoritativeness of the pope’s magisterium (see chapter 2): a strategy that, in the long run, will probably be more beneficial to the liberal side than to theirs.
In summary, I have addressed most of the concerns Dr. Chapp says I left unaddressed. They were simply not germane my most recent article. I do thank Larry Chapp for his critique, but I wish he would make a good-faith effort to understand my position. Perhaps doing so will even lead him to reconsider his opinions on Amoris Laetitia and our Holy Father.
I extend the same invitation to everyone who reads this article, so that we may once again gather ourselves together under the unity of the Vicar of Christ. This is, of course, the Catholic thing to do.
 Gabriel, Pedro. The Orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia. Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition, pp. 166-167.
 Gabriel, p. 255.
 Gabriel, p. 135.
 Gabriel, pp. 85-86.
Photo by Ágatha Depiné on Unsplash
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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.