From Rome, for the Denzinger-Bergoglio
One of the more important aspects of Francis’ Amoris laetitiae that has not attracted much attention yet in the ‘catholic’ media is his reference to the so-called ‘law of gradualness’, which he attributes to Pope John Paul II. But anyone who takes the trouble to analyze what Francis states comes up with a poorly veiled attempt to abolish the Law of God in relation the sixth and ninth Commandments of the Decalogue, as well as the teachings of Jesus regarding the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Matrimony. Let us have a better look at this, and let each one draw his own conclusions.
Francis speaks of a law of gradualness that he attributes to John Paul II (cited in the notes 323 and 324 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, published in the year 1981, numbers 34 and 9 (we will analyze these original texts further on). Let us examine Francis’ words first:
[Francis in Amoris Laetitia] 295. Along these lines, Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called ‘law of gradualness’ in the knowledge that the human being ‘knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth’. This is not a ‘gradualness of law’ but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law. For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being ‘advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life’.
After this excerpt, the following title is:
The discernment of ‘irregular’ situations
296. The Synod addressed various situations of weakness or imperfection.
He continues, mentioning a specific case, after a lengthy divergence already examined in another of our studies [see here]:
- The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations ‘where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate’.
Putting aside the absurdity of what he calls ‘proven fidelity’ in relation to a ‘second spouse’ or to any other person on the part of one who is not in the state of grace, and, therefore, deprived of the divine assistance to maintain their fidelity – we must remember that Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly explains that no one may practice virtue stably without the help of divine grace stating: “Hence, Augustine (De Corrupt. et Grat. II) having stated that ‘without grace men can do no good whatever,’ adds: ‘Not only do they know by its light what to do, but by its help they do lovingly what they know;’ thus, in both states they need the help of God’s motion in order to fulfill the commandments, as stated above” (Summa Theologica I-II, q. 109, a. 4) — and also the possibility of ‘Christian compromise’ of the person that gives objective scandal in living in a state which is contrary to the perfect fidelity of Christ to his Church, let us examine how Bergoglio deals with the case.
First of all, in number 298, he recognizes that:
It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family.
But soon after he proposes a mysterious way out: ‘discernment’.
The discernment of pastors must always take place ‘by adequately distinguishing’, with an approach which ‘carefully discerns situations’. We know that no ‘easy recipes’ exist.
After another digression (perhaps to mislead the reader), he once again uses the term (in number 300), after the surprising declaration that one should not hope for a ‘new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.’ The reason for this declaration becomes clearer further on.
- If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.
The truth is that general norms already exist for the application of the principles of Catholic morals in particular cases. They are well researched documents reflecting great discernment, written by the most authorized sectors of the Catholic Church: the Dicasteries of the Vatican Curia. Francis doesn’t ignore them, for he even cites them as we shall observe. But he uses only parts of these documents, taking advantage of certain texts, so that in the name of ‘particular cases’ and ‘discernment’, to end up denying moral law!
After the protests that ‘in the same law there is no gradualness’ and that ‘this discernment may never overtake the requirements of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church’ he goes on to ‘attenuating circumstances in pastoral discernment’. Francis then begins to cite diverse sources (such as the Catechism and Saint Thomas) that point toward the diminishment of the subjective culpability of the concrete acts. These citations are so interesting that they deserve another study. Then, it clearly states (in number 301):
A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding its inherent values’, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, ‘factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision’.
This citation is the same no. 33 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio that we shall examine further on. The question of moral dilemma also deserves a special examination, where one could ‘be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.’ But for the moment we continue grope in search of the famous ‘discernment’.
- For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved .
This citation is from a Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts regarding ‘The admission to Holy Communion of the faithful who are divorced and remarried’! But, unfortunately…once again it is cited very selectively as we shall see later on.
And now comes the cherry on top:
- Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.
Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. 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.
For those who thought that the ‘responsible personal and pastoral discernment’ would help to ‘enlighten, form and guide the conscience’ to want to practice the Law of God, it now becomes clear… It really means to ‘recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel’ but also to ‘recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God’ and to ‘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.’
Soon after, we come upon one of the statements spread throughout the document that practically contradict what came immediately before, but not blatantly of course, in an attempt to not entirely unmask Francis’ intent: ‘In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.’ It is not clear whether these ‘new stages of growth’ that ‘enable the ideal to be more fully realized’ refer to all morality in itself. Or even, if this were the case, within what timeframe. Or still if it is possible to halt at a so to say intermediary stage of growth…
What is certain is that:
- It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.
Once again, discernment implies that the ‘concrete existence’ departs from the ‘general norm or law’. As we see in the same number 304:
It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.
The conclusion of this whole pseudo-reasoning is that: it is necessary to maintain the law in theory, while admitting that there are an enormous number of concrete situations – and it is worthwhile asking at this point which human situation is not ‘concrete’! – that serve as states that are intermediate (better put: sinful) wherein one may live very well, with a tranquil conscience that one is in some point along the line whose last end is the Law of God….AND ONE MAY RECEIVE THE SACRAMENTS IN THIS STATE. In a word, the law exists for an ideal abstract world, but no one needs to apply it to real life.
Does anyone dare to draw a conclusion different from ours? It is sufficient to read that which comes directly after, in number 305 (after a citation of Francis himself and another restricted citation from a document about the Natural Law):
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.
To make things absolutely clear, in the (in)famous note 351, Francis exemplifies what is the ‘help of the Church’: ‘IN CERTAIN CASES, THIS CAN INCLUDE THE HELP OF THE SACRAMENTS.’
Regarding this, Francis’ belief that the Precious Body and Blood of Christ should be administered to adulterers for their greater perdition, had already become evident to anyone who had ‘eyes to see’, when examining number 298, in which he speaks of the imaginary second unions of Christian commitment and ‘proven fidelity’. Once again, he adds an (incomplete) citation of Familiaris consortio:
One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations ‘where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate’.
But in this note 329, he cuts off the phrase pronounced by John Paul II. Let us examine what the selection really says, in its entirety:
- The faithful who persist in such a situation may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution, which may be given only ‘to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples’ (John Paul II, Homily on the Occasion of the Closure of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, no. 7).
Isn’t that interesting? Francis omits precisely what John Paul II says before and after the citation.
And then Francis completes the ill-fated note 329 with a reference to a conciliar document Gaudium et spes. Is it necessary to mention that here as well he does the same?
[Note 329] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’ (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51).
So then, these people in a ‘second union’ should not live as the Church (and God) orders, as ‘brothers and sisters’ that is ‘not more uxorio’ with the pretext that: ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’ insinuating that this is what Gaudium et spes determined. But what did Gaudium et spes really say in number 51?
- This council realizes that certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and that they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased. As a result, the faithful exercise of love and the full intimacy of their lives is hard to maintain. But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered. To these problems there are those who presume to offer dishonorable solutions indeed; they do not recoil even from the taking of life. But the Church issues the reminder that a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to authentic conjugal love. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 51, December 7, 1965)
The Council is speaking, once again, of a family that is well constituted by the Sacraments (and not of a situation of concubinage). And it is to these properly denoted ‘families’ that the Law of God is imposed upon by the Council. How far truth is from Francis’ ‘citation’!!
It is also noteworthy that Francis carefully and euphemistically avoids explaining what exactly are these ‘expressions of intimacy’ that he wishes to authorize indicating to the text of Gaudium et spes. But Gaudium et spes is a clear document: it clearly uses the word ‘procreation’ in the phrase immediately preceeding the citation above.
Therefore, once again, Francis shows his intention to abolish the holy Law of God.
We shall continue our analysis on this wonderful topic in another study. And shall also have a look at what John Paul II spoke of on ‘gradualness’. Don’t miss our next publications.