It’s fairly evident that the debate over Amoris Laetitia has mostly stayed within the domain of a very small subset of Catholics: those who follow Vatican affairs closely, those who consume EWTN and other Catholic media, and those who enjoy reading papal encyclicals and theological writing.

The typical practicing Catholic, thankfully, is quite unaware of the civil war that’s raging in academia, within the walls of the Vatican, and (perhaps most intensely) on social media. In many ways, these Catholics are the lifeblood of the Church: they are prayerful, receptive, generous, humble, and joyful. Their experience of the faith is personal and communal, and they trust the Holy Spirit and the hierarchy to work out the finer points of Church doctrine and discipline.

These are the Catholics who Pope Francis is clearly most concerned with, especially the poor and those on the margins, the hungry and hurting, the questioning but open, the good-hearted and sincere disciples who paradoxically extend to the margins of our society but are closest to the heart of Christ.

The Church is made up of many different types, however. Diversity is a good thing, and it’s how the Church has always been. For every hundred Catholics who follow the “little way” of St. Therese, there might be one who dives deeply and seriously into the vast theological and intellectual tradition of the Church, studying the intricacies of moral theology or scripture or canon law.

From these intellectual (for lack of a better word) Catholics come our clergy, our theologians, our writers, and many of the leaders in our parishes and other Catholic organizations. Without such Christians we would not have the body of teaching that has nourished and sustained the Church for centuries, beginning with St. Paul and the Early Church Fathers and continuing through the Scholastic tradition, all the way up to the theologians of today. Their work is vital.

Few will argue, however, that the most effective of the intellectually-inclined Catholics are those whose virtues and holiness exceed the quality of their writing. St. Thomas Aquinas wasn’t called the “Angelic Doctor” because he was a great theologian, but because of his great holiness and spiritual life. When a follower of Christ is close to those in the peripheries, he or she can see truth more clearly because the Light of Christ is illuminated in the poor, suffering, and wounded. Mercy and Truth must always grow together.

Pope Francis spoke to this, and I wrote about it, when he laid out his vision of the priesthood at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday of this year:

“Closeness, dear brothers, is crucial for an evangelizer because it is a key attitude in the Gospel (the Lord uses it to describe his Kingdom). We can be certain that closeness is the key to mercy, for mercy would not be mercy unless, like a Good Samaritan, it finds ways to shorten distances. But I also think we need to realize even more that closeness is also the key to truth; not just the key to mercy, but the key to truth.”

Also remember, Aquinas wasn’t always right. The most famous example was his denial of the Immaculate Conception, which wasn’t defined dogmatically until 1854. For centuries, his order, the Dominicans held to his teaching that Mary was not free of original sin from the moment of her conception. Nevertheless, at the news of the promulgation of the dogma that Mary was conceived without sin, the Dominicans rang their church bells in thanksgiving and immediately accepted the newly defined doctrine.

Indeed, it takes a great deal of humility to accept that at times our reasoning is wrong, or that the Church actually knows better than we do. All of our minds have been corrupted by sin, and the most intelligent and rational among us can come to faulty conclusions. It’s not a matter of intelligence or research or good will. Sometimes we make bad calls.


This brings us to today’s debate over Amoris Laetitia. It appears that most of those who have an opinion on the matter have staked out what they believe is the most well-reasoned conclusion.

For some of those skeptical of Pope Francis’s position, this is a great doctrinal crisis on par with the Reformation or the Arian heresy, and the Church is on the verge of collapse over what they perceive as a violation of foundational moral principles by Pope Francis.

This brings me back to the typical devout Catholic. Let’s call him Joe. “Joe Catholic.” Joe Catholic is a dedicated, prayerful, orthodox, faithful follower of Christ. He goes to Mass several times a week, prays a daily rosary, teaches his children their faith, is a good husband and father, gives back to his community, and has a strong prayer life.  He doesn’t watch EWTN or read the Catholic blogs.

One day, the debate over communion for the divorced and remarried in Amoris Laetitia comes to his attention. He does some research, and is bombarded with the talking points from both sides. Both sides have strong arguments, both claim to be orthodox. Where should he turn?

Papal critics say he should turn to the “unchanging tradition of the Church.” The problem is, which part of the Tradition should he turn to? The part that says, “religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will” (Lumen Gentium 25), or the part that says, “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” (Familiaris Consortio 84)?

Is Joe Catholic to believe those who say that Amoris Laetitia is a rupture in tradition, or a development in continuity with it? Prominent prelates and theologians have become cemented in their opinions. There are people he admires and respects on both sides of the divide.

Fortunately, Joe knows where to turn when there is a division in the Church. He knows his Catechism:

“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’ ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 882)

He also knows that, “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head” (CCC, 883). Therefore, a bishop in opposition to the pope has no authority in the matter. If a bishop has no authority, then certainly a lay writer or theologian doesn’t either.

How is Joe to receive a teaching such as that contained in Amoris, even if it’s not an infallible act of the Magisterium? Well, the Catechism has this to say:

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a ‘definitive manner,’ they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful ‘are to adhere to it with religious assent’ which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.” (CCC, 892)

Joe Catholic is assured, in essence, that he can turn to the officially promulgated teachings of the Church and be assured he will not find error. He’s not obliged to obtain a doctorate in theology and come to his own conclusions about the question. Even if he did, there’s no guarantee that he’d come to the correct conclusion. When left to our own devices, we humans can come up with some pretty unusual beliefs.

In short, Joe Catholic can be assured that the ordinary magisterium is orthodox. He doesn’t have to worry about whether Church teachings are, in fact, Church teaching.

The doctrine of Papal Primacy liberates the faithful. The Vicar of Christ offers us assurance that the Church will never defect from the truth, and that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. Christ did not found a Church so that we can worry and argue over whether it’s deviated from the Truth. Christ founded a Church to bring us all to eternal salvation, and fidelity to His Church, in communion with His Vicar, is what will lead us there.

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 a founding editor for Where Peter Is.

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27 Responses

  1. carn says:

    “Fortunately, Joe knows where to turn when there is a division in the Church. …”

    Wonderful.

    That means that if i am somehow confused about what is actually taught in some papal documents, i would just have to turn toward the legitimate Church authority and ask – hopefully in humbleness and not in pride – some questions targeted at the confusing issue and then wait for the answer.

    And wait.

    And wait.

    And what is “Joe Catholic” supposed to do in case he/she simply cannot understand some part of some papal teaching and there are two opposing camps both clearly interpreting the teaching according to their own agenda (making their interpretation unrealiable), when the Pope is guaranteed to not answer any questions?

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I think the confusion in the case of Amoris Laetitia is overblown in many ways. One side is negatively disposed towards the Holy Father, the other is receptive. One side wants to force his hand, wants everything to conform to a pre-ordained solution, the other is open to allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in ways that might surprise, but are still doctrinally sound.

      • carn says:

        That does not answer the question, how average catholic can resolve the issue, which camp to “trust”.

        “doctrinally sound”

        One would have to check in detail whether that camp open to allowing the holy spirit guide the Church does not promote doctrinally unsound approaches.

        For that one would need to actually in detail what their position is; for which one would have to ask them questions.

        So lets try:

        If someone still has the end of a confession the intent to commit a in principle intrinsical evil act (e.g. being intimate with someone only married before civil law, while presumably still married to someone else before God), claims that this is what his conscious guides him to although he is aware about the Church teaching, that in principle intrinsical evil acts are always to be avoided,

        would then the confessor HAVE to withhold absolution unless there is clear indication of some invincible ignorance?

        And if such a person publicly known to live in a “second marriage” would then present himself to just this priest for communion, would then the priest have to withhold communion according to Canon 915?

        • Marthe Lépine says:

          Well, the question about “Which camp to trust” is not that difficult to answer: It is Church doctrine that the Pope and successor to Peter is protected against error by the Holy Spirit, and that Christ promised to be with His Church (e.g. to guide His Church) until the end of times – in the past, the present and until the end of time. Therefore, the “camp” to trust is, quite simply, the Church under the authority of the Pope. No need to “check in detail whether that camp does promote a doctrinally sound approach”, although it would still be a good idea to study this approach in order to better understand it.

          • carn says:

            I specifically asked about the situation when the Pope’s teaching is not understood, the Pope is unavailable for clarification and there are two camps offering competing interpretation how the teaching is to be understood.

            Then there isn’t the option to simply follow Peter, cause one does not understand what Peter says.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            I don’t think it is particularly unclear; especially with the clarification in his response to the Buenos Aires guidelines, as well as the writings of Cardinal Schonborn and Coccopalmerio.

            If you truly and honestly believe that the teachings are vague and that Francis’s will is unclear, I don’t know what to tell you.

            I am sure more clarity will be forthcoming.

    • Johnny Incognito says:

      Good article, but this is a good point. Leaving aside Amoris, there is also what the Pope said about condoms and the Zika virus. What’s Joe Catholic meant to make of that as his brothers and sisters are led into error? These are not teachings above the pay grade of the laity. Far from it, they are the spiritual life or death situations that we face.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        I think on the Zika/contraception issue, since the pope did not put it forward in any official way, nor has he repeated it, it should not be taken as a serious magisterial judgement. The Magisterium should be interpreted according to the manifest mind and will of the pope. But if something appears in an official document and is published in the AAS, we should be able to trust its orthodoxy.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      FWIW, I personally have no agenda in this matter other than the will of the Church.

      • carn says:

        The “other side” does claim the same.

        “agenda” might be the wrong word; “settled view” might be more apt.

        And sorry if i might sound a bit agitated for several reasons; one is that there is the constant sometimes more and sometimes less visible slur, that those irritated about AL and so on, are supposedly too rigid and do not understand mercy, the complexities of life, guilt, law and so on; here again present in “When a follower of Christ is close to those in the peripheries, he or she can see truth more clearly because the Light of Christ is illuminated in the poor, suffering, and wounded.”

        • Mike Lewis says:

          I laid out, very simply, what the Catholic Church teaches about our response to the ordinary magisterium.

          There is, for lack of a better word, a process for the faithful to follow when the pope promulgates something magisterially to the whole Church.

          A teaching might be hard to accept for some Catholics, it might go against what they previously thought or believed, but that is the whole point, honestly. If the Church teaches that if the pope does X, we must do Y, we can’t chuck the system out the window if we don’t like a particular X.

          I am not labeling anyone unmerciful or obtuse about people in certain situations. I am pointing out their ignorance or rejection of certain aspects of the doctrine of Petrine Primacy.

          • carn says:

            “A teaching might be hard to accept for some Catholics,”

            Its not about hard or not hard to accept. Its that i read AL and arrive at the conclusion that according to AL for example torturing someone brutally and then directly go to receiving communion could not only be fine; the only one capable of deciding whether it is fine, is the torturer himself and the priest has no right to deny communion to the torturer even if his hands are literally still bloody and the screams from the victim still ring in the victims ears.

            I know now what you probably think:
            That this is not taught or implied by the words in AL.

            Congrats; we now have evidence, that we have differences in understanding AL.

            How could we resolve them?

            Nail down the points where our understanding forks off into different directions, formulate it into a question to differentiate which direction at that point is the correct one, and ask the author the question.

            Only the author decided not to answer such questions.

            Hence, i am stuck.

            I am told to accept AL; i look at it and think “Ok, i am to accept that a torturer with still bloody hands can receive if he personally thinks its ok” and then think “No, that is a bit too much; something is amiss here, i need to ask someone some questions and think carefully.”

            The answers i get: “Stop rejecting the teaching of AL”

            Wonderful mess.

          • Mike Lewis says:

            If you really think that the correct interpretation of AL is as difficult to assent to as forcing a priest to give communion to a known torturer, then it appears to me that you have a conflict with the doctrines of the Church, not simply AL.

            If you truly find it impossible to assent to the pope’s teaching here, then you have two conflicting doctrines.

            I have a lot more respect for someone who says they can’t accept a teaching of the Church than someone who dissents from Church teaching but insists that they are the truly orthodox Catholic.

          • carn says:

            @Mike Lewis

            Sorry, there is a misunderstanding:

            “If you really think that the correct interpretation of AL is as difficult to assent to as forcing a priest to give communion to a known torturer, then it appears to me that you have a conflict with the doctrines of the Church, not simply AL.”

            That was not a comparison of how difficult it is to assent to.

            It was a description of what in my reading and understanding is taught in AL.

            That no one who claims that in his conscience everything is fine, can be denied communion.

            Hence, also not a torturer with still bloody hands, if for some reason his conscience tells him recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God – e.g. just torturing diligently in the morning, then go to communion and then not torturing for the evening – , 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 – e.g. that he should just torture diligently in the morning and not also in the evening.

            Thats what i read there.

            I would have no problem to assent to that teaching, that even a torturer with hands still bloody could not necessarily denied communion; since its not my business; i have the problem, that i suspect that this is not the teaching intended.

          • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

            It is not the first time you have made this claim that Amoris Laetitia mandates that a priest give communion to anyone whose conscience doesn’t accuse him. You even were very surprised (said it was an “interesting answer” in another post) when I told you that the priest should somehow be involved in the accompaniment process (this in the context of an Apostolic exhortation that tries to guide priests into how to accompany sinners).

            Why you think this is an accurate reading of AL is something I can’t comprehend.

            AL #297: “Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which sepa- rates from the community”

            (Separates from the community is also lingo for not having communion)

            AL #300: “For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must neces- sarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more per- fect response to it”

            (This is the discernment process which may eventually lead to receiving the Sacraments. It is not that anyone can just receive the Sacraments if they demand it. It’s that they may receive the Sacraments after a process of due discernment where these preconditions must take place)

            And also in the Buenos Aires guidelines, which Pope Francis has specifically said are the “correct interpretation”:

            “Firstly, we should remember that it is not right to speak of giving “permission” for access to the sacraments, but rather of a discernment process under the guidance of a pastor. This is a “personal and pastoral discernment” (300).
            (…)
            This path does not necessarily end with receiving the sacraments, but may lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church
            (…)
            But we have to avoid understanding this possibility as an unlimited access to the sacraments, as if all situations warrant it. The idea is to properly discern each case.”

            Your interpretation clearly contradicts Amoris Laetitia and the Buenos Aires guidelines. Why do you think your interpretation is correct?

          • carn says:

            “Your interpretation clearly contradicts Amoris Laetitia and the Buenos Aires guidelines. Why do you think your interpretation is correct?”

            Not “correct”, but what i read there.

            In the end one or the other has the last word – either the rule trumps the conscience of the one intending to receive communion or the other way round, if a contradiction between rule and conscience remains.

            In AL i find no indication that the rule trumps conscience in the end; but several ambigious sentences that indicate that in the end conscience trumps the rule.

            E.g. what you cited:
            “Firstly, we should remember that it is not right to speak of giving “permission” for access to the sacraments, but rather of a discernment process under the guidance of a pastor. This is a “personal and pastoral discernment”

            “permission” would clearly imply that the rule is supreme in the end; “guidance of a pastor” more points towards conscience in the end being supreme over the rule.

            And i fully understand that a lot of chapter 8 of AL is meant to find a way that simply avoids such a clash of rule vs conscience; which is a good idea.

            But if that clash cannot be avioded much in AL hints at the conscience being supreme in such a clash.

            Buenes aires btw is silent about that issue. The relevant paragraphs 6 and 7 talk about discernment taking place to determine mitigating factors, etc.; but leave it open with whom the final decision e.g. about mitigating factors rests.

            And there are quite a number of documents by other bishops which clearly indicate, that in rule vs conscience the conscience has the upper hand in the end.

            For example washington, p. 52:

            http://adw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/PastoralPlan-AmorisLaetitia.pdf

            “Priests are called to respect the decisions made in conscience by individuals who act in good faith since no one can enter the soul of another and make that judgment for them.”

            How is this to be understood in case Priest says: “No, you should not receive, cause there aren’t mitigating factors …” and person wanting to receive says “There are enough mitigating factors, …”?

            Except that the preist has to give in in the end.

            And hence my extreme example with the torturer still with blood on the hands but a supposedly fine conscience; what could bring a priest in washington brind forth, as he his bishop literally advised him not to treat his descision out of conscience with respect and not make that judgement for him?

            What can a priest in buenes aires bring forth, if the guidelines do not clarify who is to decide and if AL explicitely forbids to think in terms of “permission”? He can try once more to guide him to the idea, that receiving with still the blood of the victims on his hands is a bad idea; but if the torturer claims this is what his conscience found the best response he can give, the priest has nothing left to say, as this is about “guidance” and not “permission” according to AL.

            And therefore i was suprised for you to explicitely say, that under some circumstances absolution cannot be given, even if the penitent has a supposedly clear conscience; because that would mean that also communion could be withheld even if someone decided in his conscience that he would be fine to receive.

          • carn says:

            Sorry, clearly bungled one sentence:

            “what could bring a priset in washington bring forth, as his bishop literally advised him to treat a descision out of conscience with respect and not make that judgement for person in question?”

          • carn says:

            And to clarify: i prefer to discuss completely unrealistic scnarios, because then i can avoid casuistry and/or being judgemental about actual individuals facing the issue of having a partner to whom they are not married but still trying to be in communion with the Church.

            The latter i wish only the best; but that does not change that in the very end either rule trumps conscience or the other way round and AL – at least as interpreted by many bishops – seem to opt for the latter.

  2. Yaya says:

    “Joe Catholic” is the backbone of the Church, in my humble, hope-to-be-thought-of as a “Joe Catholic.”
    That “moniker” makes me smile for some reason.

    Thanks for the solid article.

  3. Marthe Lépine says:

    Thank you for this very informative article. I particularly liked the various quotes, which present a good summary of the problem at hand when some people disagree loudly about the way to understand some teaching of the Pope. Personally, I did have a problem when I saw that some of the opinions expressed in opposition to AM came from some bishops and even cardinals. Your quote of the CCC that said “teaching in communion with the successor of Peter”. directly answers my question. Thus some bishops or cardinals may want to express their personal opinions, but they cannot decide on their own that some teaching emanating from the Magisterium may be in error. This reassures me.

  4. chris says:

    Thank you for addressing this…I have talked to priests who hate this entire ‘Francis is heretic’ moment in history.

  5. chris dorf says:

    Thank you for addressing this…I have talked to priests who hate this entire ‘Francis is heretic’ moment in history.

  6. Chris says:

    I wonder if this is in reply to the latest troubling episode, of the German bishops wanting to allow communion for non-Catholics. The same tired tactic is repeated: isolating, then demonizing those posing questions of this troubled pontificate, in an effort to silence any questioning: these people are only some very small subset. Says who? Mike Lewis? The fact that episcopal conferences and dioceses in different places are even doctrinally at odds and embroiled in debates over certain issues, is just some small, isolated thing? And the range of critics is far and wide, from cardinals on down, and from people one can’t simply dismiss as being on some fringe, e.g. traditionalist, right wing. There is also a straw man here, filled with bad theology: what tradition would “Joe” go to? Well, when the entire magisterium up this point says one thing, and Francis says another, e.g, let’s say on communion for adulterers, it’s not hard to tell there is a legitimate question, and especially when Francis refuses to provide a direct, clear-cut reply. The magisterium does not work by temporal precedence, which is what you are suggesting. And if “Joe” turns to the Catechism, he will find the perennial teaching. So, if Joe finds a conflict between the catechism and ambiguous, uncertain claims of Francis, with what should he go? And if you claim the matter is clear, can you tell us exactly what the teaching is that Francis is expounding, and exactly what the nature of the Argentinian guidelines is, e.g., do they possess universal doctrinal and disciplinary force, abrogating all teaching, discipline, or law, contrary to it? If so, are bishops and conferences which are not implementing this novelty, and have even explicitly refused to do so, in error or schism? If they are, why has not some authority sought to correct them? And if there is no universal teaching because one argues there is now a permitted difference at local levels, then you can’t tell “joe” there is something definite to believe, while you now having opposing doctrines being taught. And please don’t use the cop-out that this is only a disciplinary matter. And if you can’t answer such questions, there is legitimate confusion and doubt.

    Another easy test would be, what if Francis were to say abortion is morally licit? Are we bound to accept this? Why not? How does one determine whether any teaching is sound but by comparison to prior teaching. Granted, we are perhaps in uncharted territory here, because we have not been faced with such a situation as this papacy has presented, at least in a long time. Let us also note that people, including those directly around Francis and officials of the Holy See, are using Amoris Laetitia to promote many things: acceptance of homosexual conduct and “unions,” reception of communion by non-catholics, contraception, a re-introduction of bad moral theology rejected by the magisterium; and with no repudiation whatsoever by the powers that be. How could it be that others- not the “fringe right wing” types- are finding justification in A.L. and other statements of Francis for such things? Are these people also fabricating things and creating confusion when there is allegedly is none? If so, why doesn’t someone of note correct them?

    Our ultimate object should be defense of truth, revelation, Jesus Christ, which is not synonymous with papal utterances, as for one, it is possible for a pope to err, even in the ordinary magisterium. It is not mere papal will that makes something valid and true. What if, as is already starting to happen, a push to legitimize contraception is done; will you folks start to post pieces rationalizing how this is now possible? I will wager a large sum you will come out with pieces telling us how communion for non-catholics a la the german proposal is fine, given the recent developments with that.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Chris, to respond to your speculation, no. This was not written in response to anything regarding the German bishops.

      I am not sure if this is something you wrote before and simply copied and pasted, because you have quotations that do not refer to what I wrote. I never mentioned the “fringe” or “right wing.” I said “small subset” and “those skeptical.” I was not labeling anyone by ideology.

      Even Ross Douthat concedes that the average Catholic in the pew, even the most devout and faithful, is not concerned with this debate, if they are aware of it at all.

      In general, regarding your points:

      How many times did Christ say, “Be not afraid”? Yet papal critics persists in stoking fear against their shepherd. That alone is a sign that the resistance to the pope is not from God. The pope is our visible source of unity, yet some insist that he is the source of division. That is neither doctrinal nor scriptural.

      Your blanket assertions and “what ifs” about the papacy do not have any doctrinal foundation. They are merely your speculation. I quote directly from the Catechism regarding primacy, assent, and obedience. If you have a problem with these teachings about the papacy, take them up with the Church. Don’t shoot the messenger.

      The rest of your talking points have been addressed on this blog and will continue to be addressed here. You do provide a nice litany of the usual talking points in opposition to Pope Francis, so I might use them as the framework for a future post.

      Thanks for reading.

  7. Chris says:

    You seem to avoid addressing the content. Can you attempt to address the substance: you claim the criticisms against Francis are manufactured, yet we have factual events unfolding, e.g., the situation of opposing teaching about communion for divorced and remarried, a division not invented by anyone. And, if one does not know what the “teaching” is or it is contrary to what the Church has always taught before, including to what is in the Catechism, to what does one give assent and obedience?; and especially if there is a failure to bring unity because the pope is the one who refuses to clarify what the teaching is? And again, if you claim it is clear, why not tell us what the teaching is. You can’t have it both ways.

    I provided some very real examples in “Joe” and what’s in the catechism about divorced and remarried, or the status of bishops or conferences that teach what is found therein vs. what Francis seems to be saying. You can’t just answer in general terms- assent and be obedient!- but you must concretely resolve this. Therein you also throw in somewhat of a straw man about the theoretical versus concrete: of course, we are called to give assent and obedience and the pope is a source of unity, but only to authentic teaching, and it is not the mere fact the pope says something that makes it authentic and true. We are not called to give blind assent and obedience to anything a pope could possibly say in the concrete. If you want to provide answers to the practical examples raised , then we have something. If you won’t or can’t then your piece falls flat, for there is no solution for “Joe;” and in fact Joe would rightly think there is an objective problem created by this papacy, as before it, he had no doubt what the teaching was, but now he is not sure; and is confused when he sees his bishop teaching one thing and the neighboring bishop, something contrary, and they may even both appeal to Francis for the their teaching- as is factually the case!- and there being no resolution provided by the holy father to bring unity.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Chris, if you have been following this blog, we have been addressing the content of your concerns in other posts. You can’t answer every question in one post.

      This post was specifically about the response expected of the faithful to the magisterial teachings of the pope. Not about moral theology.

      It does not matter what the controversy is. It is cognitive dissonance to say on one hand that the Church is true, but is not trustworthy on the other.

  8. Marthe Lépine says:

    It seems to me that a lot of these discussions miss the point, since AT was written as a directive to priests concerning the spiritual accompaniment, by their confessors, of people who are trying to reconcile their marital situation with the teaching of the Church. Joe Catholic does not need to worry about which camp such confessor is deemed to belong to concerning the acceptation or the critique of AT. All he needs to do is to try to follow the advice received in the best way he can.
    In addition, Joe Catholic has better things to do when waiting in line to receive Communion than to look around him to see who is worthy… St Paul says somewhere that those who come to the Eucharist without the proper dispositions are bringing their own condemnation upon themselves.

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