cart icon

Pope Francis, The Legacy of Vatican II

Chapter 4

The Controverted Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia

The good of the person lies in being in the Truth and doing the Truth.—John Paul II1
The pastoral policy of truth can hurt and be uncomfortable. But it is the way to healing, peace, and interior freedom. A pastoral policy that truly seeks to help people must always be based on the truth; only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).—Benedict XVI2
Truth has such a clear and calm power. My aim in pastoral work is this: to help by the power of the truth.
—Romano Guardini3

The whole notion of marriage is so confused in our time, not just among the laity and ecclesial culture at large, but also even among Catholic bishops, that there is a desperate need to recover some basic and foundational truths. For example, there is a confusion regarding the ontological basis of marriage. Is marriage a two-in-one-flesh union between a man and a woman because the Church says so, positing or postulating its existence and nature according to its own judgment, that is, Church law? If so then, one accepts ecclesial or doctrinal “positivism,” the view that these are mere conventions, official Church teaching. For example, two Belgians, Johan Bonny, the Bishop of Antwerp,4 and Josef Cardinal de Kesel, Archbishop of Brussels-Malines,5 are ecclesial positivists because they give as the only reason for rejecting same-sex marriage the fact that “Church law” says so. This positivism is similar to one thinking that human beings have rights because the state or society says so. Alternatively, does the Church judge that marriage is a two-in-one-flesh union between a man and woman because that judgment is true to an objective reality, according to the order of creation? If so, then one is a Christian realist: marriage is grounded in the order of creation, of an independently existing reality, and therefore has an objective structure judged by the Church to be the case—the way things really are. Ecclesial positivism vs. Christian realism is one of the points of confusion.

Pope Francis is helpful, in this connection, by upholding the objectivity of God’s “primordial divine plan” (see Gen 1:27, 2:24) of the deepest reality of marriage, grounded in the order of creation.6 In a recent book of interviews, he insists on marriage’s ontological nature. “‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Forever, throughout humanity, and not only in the Church, it is between a man and a woman. You can’t change it just like that. It’s the nature of things.”7 Indeed, his reflections in Amoris Laetitia §§8-30, which draw on the Church’s living tradition, on marriage and family life are beautiful, insightful, and, yes, deeply biblical (AL §§9-10).8 Furthermore, his reflections on the tradition of magisterial teaching regarding marriage and family life in light of creation, fall into sin, and redemption, (see AL §§61-75, 80-88) provide a catechesis that is foundational to our thinking as Christians. On these matters, he is in continuity with the Church’s tradition on marriage and family life.

In fact, in this theological and anthropological context, Francis also affirms the core doctrine of Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, “The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (§11, and also §12). Similarly, Francis says, “From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life” (AL §80). He says writing with appreciation of Humanae Vitae §10, Paul VI “brought out the intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life.” This bond was broken by contraception and hence changed the sex act itself by separating sex and babies. Furthermore, we live in a culture, argues Francis, where “marriage, with its [essential] characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility, and openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option. Many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family [and its basis in conjugal marriage], tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will” (AL §53). Francis counters the “autonomous will, particularly in respect of “an ideology of gender ‘that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family’, by stressing that “We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift” (AL §56). He adds, “Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.... It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it’” (LS §155). Francis and his predecessors, John Paul II9 and Benedict XVI,10 affirm the importance of an integral human ecology, meaning thereby an ecology protecting marriage and family and the divinely given orientation of human sexuality towards unity and procreation.11

In response to gender ideology, Francis rightly encourages us: “As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities, or out of a desire to be fashionable or a sense of helplessness in the face of human and moral failings. We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer” (AL §35). Therefore, according to Francis, “What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them” (AL §35).

Accordingly, this chapter begins with an account of conjugal marriage, drawing not only on Amoris Laetitia, but also Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes §§47-52, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body12 as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§§1601-1617). This account is followed by considering in depth the logic of pastoral reasoning and discernment in Amoris Laetitia, particularly about individuals in morally problematic relationships, such as the divorced and civilly remarried, and cohabitation, whether hetero- or homosexuals.13 I pay special attention to the distinction between objective morality and subjective morality, the law of gradualness, and whether this logic inserts gradualness into the law. Also treated by me is the hermeneutical value of sin in the moral evaluation of actions, invincible and vincible ignorance, and the nature of conscience. I conclude with addressing Francis’s claim regarding the Thomistic roots of that logic, and his insistence that Amoris Laetitia is Thomistic.

In a recent letter, Francis stipulates the hermeneutical principles for properly reading Amoris Laetitia.14 First, we should treat Amoris Laetitia as a unity such that “in order to understand its message, it must be read in its entirety and from the beginning.... If the Exhortation is not read in its entirety and in the order it is written, it will either not be understood or it will be distorted.”15 Yes, a necessary condition for understanding fairly the claims Francis makes in Amoris Laetitia is to read the whole work. However, it is not a sufficient condition for agreeing with Francis’s claims. I may read the book in its entirety, understand Francis’s claims, but still disagree with them. Understanding him does not entail agreement because I find some of his claims troubling, not to say wrong. It is sheer arrogance to suggest otherwise.16

The second hermeneutical principle is that Amoris Laetitia should be “treated with a hermeneutic of the Church, always in continuity (without ruptures), yet always maturing.”17 Yes, absolutely, this hermeneutic requires presenting a convincing case that the moral logic of pastoral reasoning and its concomitant “presentation of the faith is in itself coherent and in continuity with the rest of Tradition.”18 However, this criterion also means that it is also possible to show that Amoris Laetitia “would validate pastoral applications that are inconsistent with the Church’s constant and universal practice, founded on the Word of God, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion—a practice that the Church has long held to be binding and not subject to modifications because of diverse circumstances or situations.”19 To show his rootedness in the Church’s tradition, Francis cites his favorite statement of St. Vincent of Lérins in his Commonitorium Primum 23: “ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate [solidified over the years, expanded with time, and refined with age].”20 Francis says most recently in a book of interviews. “Pope Benedict said something very clear: the changes in the Church must be carried out with the hermeneutic of continuity. A lovely phrase. Hermeneutic means growth21: some things change, but there is always continuity. It doesn’t betray its roots, it clarifies them, making them easier to understand.”22 I have already argued in Chapter 1, that overall, Francis falls short of properly understanding Vincent of Lérins, and so I will not repeat my arguments in this chapter. Third, Francis concludes, “With respect to the problems that involve ethical situations, the Exhortation follows the classical doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas.”23 We shall need to consider whether Amoris Laetitia correctly appeals to Aquinas in attempting to justify its positions. Be that as it may, Francis has helpfully stated three hermeneutical principles by which Amoris Laetitia must be measured.

Marriage in the Light of Creation, Fall, and Redemption

The Catechism states that marriage belongs to the sacramental order of redemption, is under the regime of sin, but is first and foremost grounded in the order of creation.24 Regarding the creation, it states:

“The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage” [Gaudium et Spes §48]. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. (CCC §1603, see also GS §48).

This creational perspective is fundamental to a Catholic understanding of marriage. As I argued in Chapter 3, and identified at the start of this chapter as one of the current confusions about marriage even in the Church, the Church judges that marriage is a two-in-one-flesh union between a man and woman because that judgment is true to an objective reality, according to the order of creation. On this view, the fact that the Church teaches that marriage is a two-in-one-flesh union between a man and a woman adds nothing to the truth-status of this dogma. Says Francis, “The result of this union is that the two ‘become one flesh,” both physically and in the union of their hearts and lives, and, eventually, in a child, who will share not only genetically but also spiritually in the ‘flesh’ of both parents” (AL §13). This realism about the truth-status of dogmatic propositions is similar to one holding that human beings have rights by virtue of their nature as human beings, and the state simply secures, rather than confers, those rights by writing them down in a constitution. I contend that the Church holds to theological realism.

For one, John Paul II, a theological realist, wrote regarding marriage: “Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their ‘beginning’ [back to creation], that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God’s plan” (FC §3). This major claim regarding Jesus’ restoring and fulfilling God’s plan for marriage, along with its undergirding theology of nature and grace, is adumbrated in Amoris Laetitia §§61-63, but developed throughout John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them. John Paul states that Genesis 1-2 and 3 theologically gives us an “account that is a description of events” that makes clear “the essential difference between the state of man’s sinfulness and that of his original innocence.” That is, there are “two different states of human nature, ‘status naturae integrae’ (state of integral nature) and ‘status naturae lapse’ (state of fallen nature).25 Yet John Paul argues that the order of creation is the essential continuity between creation, fall into sin, and grace in Christ. He writes, “Christ’s words [in Matt 19:3-8], which appeal to the ‘beginning,’ allow us to find an essential continuity in man and a link between these two different states or dimensions of the human being [‘status naturae integrae’ and ‘status naturae lapsae,’ that is, the state of integral nature and the state of fallen nature].”26 Redemption, then, is about the restoration of the fallen creation. In short, grace restores or renews nature, meaning thereby that God’s grace in Christ restores all life to its fullness, penetrating and perfecting and transforming the fallen creation from within its own order, bringing creation into conformity with His will and purpose. This holds also for marriage, as Francis clearly sees.

Furthermore, the Word of God teaches that the redemptive work of Christ reaffirms and simultaneously renews the goodness of creation—and hence of marriage, of the human body sharing in the dignity of the image of God, of the complementary sexual differentiation of man and woman, and of a faithful, reciprocal, and fruitful love. Yes, in light of the redemptive work of Christ, the Catholic sacramental tradition teaches that the sacrament of marriage renews and restores the reality of marriage—given that it is savagely wounded by the fall and our own personal sin—from within its order (see AL §61). As Francis explains, “The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since ‘their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church’” (AL §72).

Marriage is under the fall into sin and hence marital “union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation.” This brokenness “does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin.... Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed” (CCC §1606-1607). The redemptive work of Christ is, however, continuous with the order of creation, with God’s original intent for marriage, because he came “to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin.” Furthermore, Christ himself “gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to ‘receive’ the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.” (CCC §1615). In short, redemption restores the creation to its true identity, illuminating and fulfilling that creation (see AL §77).

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins” (CCC §2336). Elsewhere in the Catechism we read: “In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning.... By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” (CCC §§1614-15, emphasis added). This question is raised against the background of a fallen creation. Given the fallen creation, does new life in Christ oppose creation? Put differently: does grace replace fallen nature? “Nature” here has the chief meaning of ontological rather than merely physical or biological. So when we ask about the relation between nature, sin and grace, we are asking in what manner and to what extent sin and grace affect the essence or structure of reality. On the one hand, are the structures of creation so corrupted that grace, no longer able to transform them, merely replaces them altogether by adding the spiritual realm over and above creation, a donum superadditum? On the other hand, does grace leave nature untouched, merely completing or supplementing it, with nature taken to be unaffected by the Fall or, in turn, by Redemption internally, which effectively limits the scope of sin and redemption to the supernatural realm and results in naturalism on the level of nature.27

Nature and Grace

In the early twentieth century, the great French Catholic thinker, Jacques Maritain, wisely noted that it is erroneous to ignore that there is a distinction between nature and grace as well as a union.28 How then should we understand the union-in-distinctness of nature and grace? In particular, how do we understand the Thomistic dictum that grace does not abolish nature but presupposes it? The brief answer to this question must be that grace restores or renews nature, meaning thereby that God’s grace in Christ restores all life to its fullness, penetrating and perfecting and transforming the fallen creation from within its own order, bringing creation into conformity with His will and purpose.29 In the words of Henri de Lubac, “The supernatural does not merely elevate (this traditional term is correct, but it is inadequate by itself)... [Rather] it transforms it... ‘Behold, I make all things new!’ (Rev 21:5). Christianity is ‘a doctrine of transformation’ because the Spirit of Christ comes to permeate the first creation and make of it a ‘new creature’. What is true of the final great transformation, on the occasion of the ‘Parousia’ at which there will arise ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (Rev 21:1), is already true now, according to St. Paul, of each one of us.”30 Thus, the key idea here is that grace restores nature. “Faith in redemption cannot be separated from faith in the Creator.” Redemption, adds Joseph Ratzinger, “is an act of new creation, the restoration of creation to its true identity.”31

Now, as I understand John Paul II’s theology of nature and grace, the redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ’s saving work—His life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, in short, the Christ event—does not (a) stand opposed to, and hence replace altogether, created reality, as if to say that the structures of reality need to be by-passed or suppressed because they are hopelessly corrupt as a consequence of the fall into sin, meaning thereby the replacement of one nature by another. But nor does his redemptive work merely (b) supplement or (c) parallel that reality, which would leave nature untouched by grace, and thus nature and grace would have only an extrinsic relation to each other. Furthermore, nor does his redemptive work merely involve (d) acceptance of created reality, of humanity, as it is, for that would deny created reality’s structures’ fallen state, which would, as Thomas Guarino puts it, “overlook God’s judgment on the world rendered dramatically in the cross of Christ.”32 Rather, the structures of reality—in short, nature—stand in need of being reconsecrated to its Maker, and hence Christ’s redemption (e) seeks to penetrate, restore, and renew from within the fallen order of creation.33 These various possibilities of conceiving the relation of nature, sin and grace require some explanation. There are five types of ways in which that relation has been understood.34

The first type understands grace and nature to be opposed to each other. Nature has been rendered a corrupt vessel by the fall into sin, needing to be replaced altogether with something new by grace. One influential account of this relation sees human nature to be completely closed to God and hence as capable of nothing but sin, with the accompanying loss or destruction of the natural power of the will. The will itself, as a consequence of the fall and man’s fallen state, is “capable of nothing except... malicious, empty self-seeking... possessing an insuperable bent toward evil.”35 The fall eliminates all natural inclination to goodness in man’s will, on this view, and also tempts us to disparage natural virtue as well as our natural capacity for contrary moral choice between good and evil—that is, the will’s power to choose good over evil, or vice-versa. In short, on this view of the relation between nature and grace, the very nature of the will as God created it is disparaged in order to magnify grace. In this sense, nature would be the very opposite of grace, and hence cannot be united with grace; rather nature has to struggle against grace and be replaced altogether with something new by grace, meaning thereby a supernatural life of faith and a consequent supernaturalized freedom. Thus, supernatural freedom is to be construed as a “superstructure” added to natural freedom, rather than as determining and elevating our whole being, including our natural, but fallen, will. In short, on this view the Christian withdraws from the corrupt vessel that is human nature and seeks a salvation that is separate from it because human nature in its fallen condition is, essentially, irreclaimable. Against this view, John Henry Newman put it just right. He writes,

[The Church] does not teach that human nature is irreclaimable, else wherefore should she be sent? [N]ot that it [human nature] is to be shattered and reversed, but to be extricated, purified, and restored; not that it is a mere mass of evil, but that it has the promise of great things, and even now has a virtue and a praise proper to itself. But in the next place she knows and she preaches that such a restoration, as she aims at effecting in it, must be brought about, not simply through any outward provision of preaching and teaching, even though it be her own, but from a certain inward spiritual power or grace imparted directly from above, and which is in her keeping.36

The second and third types understand the relation between nature and grace to be such that grace is a “plus factor,” a mere “add on” to the natural level. Consider, say, the relationship between the natural virtues and the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity in light of these types. The Catechism teaches that “The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues” (CCC §1813). Now, I want to show that neither of these types can make sense of what the Catechism claims here, namely, that the grace of the supernatural virtues directs and orders nature from within rather than alongside of or above nature as if those virtues merely add on to the excellencies of virtuous man.37 The Anglican neo-Thomist Eric L. Mascall critically remarks on what it means to think that grace is simply alongside of or above nature—a mere superstructure erected on top of nature. “The Thomist maxim ‘Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it’ has been interpreted as if it means simply that it is better for man to enjoy grace in addition to nature, although nature would be perfectly complete without it.”38 Mascall correctly rejects this interpretation of the Thomist maxim, giving us a right reading of two complementary principles in Aquinas’ thought. He adds, “‘Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,’ because nature always lies open to God,” and “‘Grace presupposes nature,’ not in the sense that grace is a mere superstructure erected on top of nature and needing nature only to prevent it from falling through the floor, but that nature is the very material in which grace works and for whole ultimate perfection grace itself exists.”39 Therefore, the reason why neither type can make sense of the Thomist maxim, and hence of the Catechism’s teaching regarding the relation between the natural and supernatural virtues is because they view the relationship between the natural and supernatural virtues in a dualistic and hence extrinsic fashion. In short, thinking in terms of “two-tiers,” we can say that, on these types, the upper-level of grace was lost because of original sin, leaving the lower-level relatively intact and integrally unaffected by sin. Thus, both types view the redemption accomplished through the saving work of Christ as something that merely supplements or parallels our created nature. On this “two-tier” relationship between nature and grace, the latter is merely added (donum superadditum) to a nature that has not been integrally affected by sin, and hence human nature requires little or no internal healing and restoration.

The chief problem with these types is that by limiting the scope of man’s fallen condition, they in turn limit the scope of Christ’s redemptive work. The dualism between faith and life is, for example, one of the practical implications of this limitation and it is well expressed by Vatican II. “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” In critical response to this bifurcation, the council Fathers teach, “Since they have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, laymen are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society” (GS §43). The Fathers add to this, “The good news of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man” (GS §58). Years later the newly established Pontifical Council for Culture states in the same vein, “[This view] gives Christ, the redeemer of man, center of the universe and of history, the scope of completely renewing the lives of men ‘by opening the vast fields of culture to His saving power.’”40 Rather than those vast fields which make up the whole human cultural enterprise—the sciences, arts, such as music, literature, the work of civilization, as in pursuing a culture of life—being bypassed or suppressed by grace as in the first type; and rather than that grace being just a “plus factor,” or mere “add on” to that enterprise; the Pontifical Council has correctly understood the two complementary principles of “grace does not destroy nature but perfects it” and “grace presupposes nature.”41 In sum, (to quote Mascall again) the whole human cultural enterprise—nature, as it were—“is the very material in which grace works and for whose ultimate perfection grace itself exists.”42

The fourth type I mentioned above understands the relation between nature and grace in such a way that it conflates human nature and divine grace, threatening, as Romanus Cessario puts it, “to confuse God’s creative presence to the human creature with the realization of the same person’s call to beatitude.”43 This statement requires explanation. God’s creative presence refers to man having been created by God and for God. Man is a creature of God such that he is “totally dependent for his existence on the incessant creative activity of the self-existent God.”44 And the importance of this is that, having been created for God, the meaning of man’s existence is such that his relation to God is constitutive of his existence. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church expresses well this first principle of Christian anthropology. “This is a relationship that exists in itself, it is therefore not something that comes afterwards and is not added from the outside.... The human being is a personal being created by God to be in relationship with him; man finds life and self-expression only in [that] relationship, and tends naturally to God.”45 The Compendium’s formulation here avoids the dualistic and hence extrinsic construal of the relation of nature and grace (in which grace is a “plus factor” or an “add-on”) discussed above.

We come now to the fifth way of thinking of the relation between nature, sin, and grace. By “nature” here this type understands the deepest foundations of human nature that remain in place after the fall, a nature that has been savagely wounded by the fall, but still remains what God originally made them to be. These foundations are not totally corrupted, destroyed. Rather, sin corrupts God’s good creation yet the order of creation persists. The good news is that God’s salvation in Christ restores the whole fallen creation from within. Consider, for example, the Catechism’s teaching on marriage in light of creation, fall into sin, and redemption. Marriage is grounded in the order of creation: “‘The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage.’” Yet marriage as it actually functions in its fallen state is under the regime of sin and hence no longer properly functioning. Significantly, the Catechism applies an Augustinian principle, namely, “the natures in which evil exists, in so far as they are natures, are good. And evil is removed, not by removing any nature, or part of a nature... but by healing and correcting that which had been vitiated and depraved.”46

In this light, we can easily understand the teaching of the Catechism on the relation between sin and nature: “According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin.... Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed.... In his mercy God has not forsaken sinful man.... After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving.” Furthermore, “In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original [i.e., creational] meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning.... By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God.”47

On this view, then, of the relation between nature and grace, the relation is such that grace penetrates and transforms and perfects fallen nature from within, and thus nature is redeemed in its own domain. In this connection, let me cite several key passages on the relation between nature and grace from a remarkable book by Etienne Gilson, Christianity and Philosophy, written in 1931. “The true Catholic position consists in maintaining that nature was created good, that it has been wounded, but that it can be at least partially healed by grace [here and now] if God so wishes. This instauratio, that is to say, this renewal, this re-establishment, this restoration of nature to its primitive goodness, is on this point the program of authentic Catholicism.” As Gilson also rightly says elsewhere, “To say that grace is necessary to restore nature is quite other than to suppress that nature to the profit of grace: it is to confirm it by grace. Grace presupposes nature, whether to restore or to enrich it. When grace restores nature, it does not substitute itself for it, but re-establishes it; when nature, thus re-established by grace, accomplishes its proper operations, they are indeed natural operations [now transformed] which it performs.” Finally, as Gilson also says later in this book, “Catholicism teaches that before everything the restoration of wounded nature by the grace of Jesus Christ. The restoration of nature: so there must be a nature, and of what value, since it is the work of God, Who created it and re-created it by repurchasing it at the price of His own Blood! Thus grace presupposes nature, and the excellence of nature which it comes to heal and transfigure.”48 Thus, grace restores and transforms nature from within its own domain. Indeed, this is how the late philosopher-pope John Paul II describes the Church’s mission of evangelization and, in fact, “the purpose of the Gospel,” namely, “‘to transform humanity from within and to make it new’. Like the yeast which leavens the whole measure of dough (cf. Matt 13:33), the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from within, so that they may express the full truth about the human person and about human life” (EV §95).49 In sum, grace restores or renews nature, meaning thereby that God’s grace in Christ restores all life to its fullness, penetrating and perfecting and transforming the fallen creation from within its own order, bringing creation into conformity with His will and purpose.

As John Paul II himself states, “Redemption means, in fact, a ‘new creation’, as it were, it means taking up all that is created to express in creation the fullness of righteousness, equity, and holiness planned for it by God and to express the fullness above all in man, created male and female ‘in the image of God.’”50 “New creation” does not, however, mean that grace is a plus-factor, a superadded gift, to the order of creation. Rather, nature and grace, creation and re-creation, the sacrament of creation and redemption are united such that God’s grace affirms and simultaneously renews the fallen creation from within its own internal order. As the Catechism puts it, “Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins” (CCC §2336). Elsewhere, the Catechism explains, “In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning.... By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” (CCC §§1614-15). Grace penetrating fallen nature and renewing it from within (“gratia intra naturam”) means there is an essential continuity in man and a link between creation and redemption. “Endowment with grace is in some sense a ‘new creation,’” says John Paul.

God, who created all things in and through Christ (Col 1:16), has restored his fallen creation, which was savagely wounded by sin, by re-creating it in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). How does the pope understand the “living forms of the ‘new man’” to which Christ calls man? He replies: “In the ethos of the redemption of the body, the original ethos of creation was to be taken up anew.... In this way a connection is formed, even a continuity, between the ‘beginning’ and the perspective of redemption.”51 What is the import of this latter understanding of nature and grace for understanding the sacrament of marriage in the order of redemption?

Sin and Grace

Thus, the grace of marriage communicated by the sacrament has two main ends: first, that of healing, i.e., of repairing the consequences of sin in the individual and in society; and second—and above all—that of perfecting and raising persons and the conjugal institution. “According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman” (CCC §§1607). This sacrament not only recovers the order of creation but also, while reaffirming this ordinance of creation, it simultaneously deepens, indeed, fulfills the reality of marriage in a reciprocal self-giving, a joining of two in a one-flesh union that is a visible sign of the mystery of the union of Christ with the Church (Eph 5:31-32). Vatican II summarizes all of this: “This [marital] love God has judged worthy of special gifts, healing, perfecting and exalting gifts of grace and of charity” (GS §49).

This two-fold effect means that the grace of the “marital sacrament is not a ‘thing’ added to the reality of the couple from the outside; rather, the couple itself is and must become the living sign of an invisible reality of grace,” as Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet puts it. There is an intrinsic relationship between the natural order and the order of Christ’s grace such that grace renews the fallen order of marriage from within, orienting it to its proper ends.

The unity attained in becoming “two-in-one-flesh” (Gen 2:24) in marriage is grounded in the order of creation, and it is affirmed and simultaneously renewed and restored in redemption. Since continuity exists between creation and redemption, we can understand why John Paul II sees marriage as “the primordial sacrament.”

When we look at the visible sign of marriage (“the two shall be one flesh”) in the order of creation from the perspective of the visible sign of Christ and the Church, which is defined in Ephesians as the fulfillment and realization of God’s eternal plan of salvation, we can see John Paul’s point. He says, “In this way, the sacrament of redemption clothes itself, so to speak, in the figure and form of the primordial sacrament.... Man’s new supernatural endowment with the gift of grace in the ‘sacrament of redemption’ is also a new realization of the Mystery hidden from eternity in God, new in comparison with the sacrament of creation. At this moment, endowment with grace is in some sense a ‘new creation.’”

Let’s be clear that he calls it a “new creation” in the specific sense that “Redemption means... taking up all that is created [in order] to express in creation the fullness of justice, equity, and holiness planned for it by God and to express that fullness above all in man, created male and female ‘in the image of God.’” Thus, nature and grace, creation and re-creation, the sacrament of creation and redemption are united such that God’s grace affirms and simultaneously renews the fallen creation from within its own internal order. For JPII and the main Catholic tradition: “Marriage is organically inscribed in this new sacrament of redemption, just as it was inscribed in the original sacrament of creation.”

The Two-in-One-Flesh Bodily Unity

St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and, most recently Pope Francis—every one of these popes—affirms the moral and sacramental significance of the two-in-one-flesh bodily unity as foundational to the marital form of love.52 Francis says, “In the Church’s Latin tradition, the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the man and the woman who marry; by manifesting their consent and expressing it physically, they receive a great gift. Their consent and their bodily union are the divinely appointed means whereby they become ‘one flesh’” (AL §75). However, it is precisely the embodiment of human persons, as man and woman, which has been lost in our culture, even among Catholics, for a proper understanding of marriage.

The starting point of John Paul II’s theology of the body, too, is that sexual difference is grounded in an ontology of creation. In other words, the sexual difference between male and female is a creational given such that all mankind is bound to the structures of creation. It is also a creational given that, at one and the same time, mankind is one and a bi-unity: male and female. John Paul explains:

Let us enter into the setting of the biblical “beginning.” In it the revealed truth concerning man as “the image and likeness” of God constitutes the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). This concise passage contains the fundamental anthropological truths: man is the high point of the whole order of creation in the visible world; the human race, which takes its origin from the calling into existence of man and woman, crowns the whole work of creation; both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God’s image.

Indeed, the pope imitates Christ (see Matt 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-10) by appealing to the “beginning,” to the creational structure for marriage, drawing on Genesis 1 and 2 for his understanding of the normative intent of a biblical ontology of creation, the objective structures of creation, as they pertain to a bi-unity of husband and wife, united as complementary, bodily persons, in a two-in-one-flesh communion.

John Paul’s treatment of these foundational texts is ultimately theological, because it is grounded in an historical-redemptive dialectic of creation, fall (sin), redemption, and fulfillment. But it is also philosophical—it articulates a philosophical anthropology of the body-person, which in its broadest sense is man himself in the temporal form of existence of human life. Most significantly, the pope is arguing that, in the totality of the personal structure of man, his body is a basis, a substructure forming part of the unity of man and thus of the person. Indeed, the meaning of the human body is an integral part of the structure of the personal subject, rather than being “extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act.”

The pope does not deny that the inner structures and regularities of the human organism, per se, require scientific analysis and explanation. But he distinguishes the body as a “physiological unit” and the “bodiliness” of the human person. John Paul then argues, “the human body is not only the field of reactions of a sexual character, but [rather] it is at the same time the means of the expression of man as an integral whole, of the person, which reveals itself through the ‘language of the body.’”

“This ‘language’ has an important interpersonal meaning,” he adds, “especially in the area of the reciprocal relations between man and woman.” As I have argued here, this shows that the “‘language of the body’ should express, at a determinate level, the truth of the sacrament,” namely, a one-flesh union. “So then they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:8).

The unity attained in becoming “two-in-one-flesh” in marriage is grounded in the order of creation (Gen 1:27; 2:24), persists through the regime of sin, and it is affirmed and simultaneously renewed through the redemptive sacrament of marriage. Let me underscore that real bodily oneness, a one-flesh union between a man and a woman, actualizes marital unity. Francis explains: “In the Church’s Latin tradition, the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the man and the woman who marry; by manifesting their consent and expressing it physically, they receive a great gift. Their consent and their bodily union are the divinely appointed means whereby they become “one flesh’”(AL §75, and §74).

Now, a key to understanding Catholic sexual ethics is the truth that the human person is bodily.53 This view rejects a dualistic view of the human person—“dualistic in the sense of viewing the self as something which has or inhabits a body, rather than being a living, bodily entity.”54 But if the “human person is essentially a bodily being, a unity of body and soul, and that therefore the masculinity or femininity of the human being is internal to his or her personhood (rather than just interesting external ‘equipment’),” as John Paul II has argued, then it seems likely that this view does not do justice to the embodiment of human persons as man and woman and hence to sexual differences between them. By assuming the insignificance of sexual difference for making a sexual act morally right, this view fails to grasp the unified totality that is the body-person and hence the human meaning of the body, especially but not only for sexual acts (VS §50). Says John Paul, “The body can never be reduced to mere matter: it is a spiritualized body, just as man’s spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit.”55

Underscoring the anthropological unity of body and soul, Karol Wojtyla explains, “The human person is not just a consciousness prolific in experiences of various content, but is basically a highly organized being, an individual of a spiritual nature composed into a single whole with the body (hence, a suppositum humanum [that is a person].”56 Indeed, “The human body shares in the dignity of the image of God” (CCC §364). John Paul’s theology of the body is central to understanding the basic issues in sexual ethics, in my judgment, because that theology emphasizes the bodily nature of the human person, meaning thereby that the body is intrinsic to human beings as bodily persons. Given that my body is intrinsic to myself, there is a unitary activity such that, as the pope says, “[t]he person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts(VS §48). In short, since the human person is bodily, then sexual moral choices are exercised in and through an act in which my bodily “activity is as much the constitutive subject of what one does as one’s act of choice is.”57 In short, our bodies can be the subject of virtues, in particular, love of the person in the ethical sense, and therefore as a virtue, that is, “as a concretization (and also, of course, a realization) of the personalistic norm... in light of the commandment of love.”58

Wojtyla’s anthropology regarding the structural whole that is the body-person is really a contemporary expression of Aquinas’ anthropology, namely, the soul is the form of the body (anima forma corporis), and of the Church’s teaching on the unity of the human person as body and soul.59 The then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger explains, “the material elements from out of which human physiology is constructed receive their character of being ‘body’ only in virtue of being organized and formed by the expressive power of soul. Distinguishing between ‘physiological unit’ and ‘bodiliness’ now becomes possible.... The individual atoms and molecules do not as such add up to the human being.... The physiology becomes truly ‘body’ through the heart of the personality. Bodiliness is something other than a summation of corpuscles.”60 That is, in light of considering the human person as a unity of body and soul, we can understand why the body is personal. Rather than bodily existence being a mere instrument or extrinsic tool of man’s personal self-realization, the body is the indispensable medium, argues Wojtyla, in and through which I reveal myself. In other words, Wojtyla’s basic point is that the body and bodily action is in some sense communicative activity that reveals the person as a whole. As John Paul II says in The Acting Person, “For us action reveals the person, and we look at the person through his action.”61 Later he says, “man manifests himself... through his body.... It is generally recognized that the human body is in its visible dynamism the territory where, or in a way even the medium whereby, the person expresses himself.”62 And in the theology of the body, we find a sample of statements expressing the same point. “The body reveals man,” “the body is an expression of man’s personhood,” and “the body manifests man and, in manifesting him, acts as an intermediary that allows man and woman, from the beginning, to ‘communicate’ with each other according to that communio personarum willed for them in particular by the Creator.”63 In sum, “In this sense, the body is the territory and in a way the means for the performance of action and consequently for the fulfillment of the person.”64

Dutch neo-Calvinist philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd succinctly puts this point, “The human body is man himself in the structural whole of his temporal appearance.”65 Budziszewski explains Dooyeweerd’s seminal anthropological insight and its importance for sexual ethics. This means, Budziszewski argues, that “we say things to each other by what our bodies do. Indeed, the body is the visible sign by which the invisible self is actually made present and communicates. But if this is true, then the union of the spouses has more-than-a-bodily significance: the body emblematizes the person, and the joining of bodies emblematizes the joining of persons. It is a symbol which participates in, and duplicates the pattern of, the very thing that it symbolizes; one-flesh-unity is the body’s language for one-life unity.”66

Furthermore, human bodily existence has the character of a subject. In other words, given man’s anthropological unity of body and soul, he exercises the capacity for ethical self-determination as a whole man, meaning thereby in and through his body.67 John Paul II writes, “The structure of this body is such that it permits him to be the author of genuinely human activity. In this activity, the body expresses the person.”68 Elsewhere the pope develops the moral significance that the human person is bodily, namely, that his body is not extrinsic to who he really is, and hence to his moral acts. “The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own actions” (VS §48). This implies, as Schockenhoff rightly argues, that “the body is freedom’s boundary.” That is, he explains, “We can respect each other as subjects capable of moral action only when we respect each other in the expressive form of our bodily existence. Only so do we make it possible for each other to unfold a personal existence which is a goal in itself.”69 Respecting another person’s bodily life unconditionally is to respect that person himself because the “representation of his person... is accessible to us... only in the medium of its unity as body and soul.”70

A human person’s body is not a mere extrinsic tool, an instrument, to be used for providing him with subjective states of consciousness, such as giving and obtaining pleasure. Rather, the body is intrinsic to one’s self as a unified bodily person; in other words, as a unified whole the one and ontically unique person. This implies that the subject of one’s own moral actions is the unified bodily person so that “bodily activity... is,” as John Finnis says, “as much the constitutive subject of what one does as one’s act of choice is.”71 This emphasis on the body being intrinsic to one’s own self is rooted in the Church’s teaching on the unity of the human person. As John Paul says, “In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the willing agent and in the deliberate act they stand or fall together(VS §49). Therefore, he adds, we can easily understand why separating “the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition” (VS §49).

Such a separation occurs when the biological dimension of the human person is reduced to a “raw datum, devoid of any [intrinsic] meaning and moral values until freedom has shaped it in accordance with its design” (VS §48). That freely chosen design confers on sexual union the personal meaning of causal fun, of spousal commitment, or of procreative openness, and so forth. Significantly, any one of these meanings may be conferred by persons, as well as revoked by them. For sexual union as such does not by its very nature have any definite personal meaning.72 “Consequently,” John Paul adds, “human nature and the body appear as [mere] presuppositions or preambles, materially necessary, for freedom to make its choice, yet extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act” (VS §48). On this view, given that sexual union is devoid of any intrinsic meaning, not having by its very nature any definite personal meaning, and because we can in freedom confer on it an instrumental meaning that is more than merely physiological, sexual union is, therefore, an extrinsic sign or symbol of personal communion, fostering marital love and friendship by signifying it. But on John Paul’s view, the sexual act is much more than a natural bodily symbol; indeed, it embodies marital union, becoming bodily, or organically complete, and thus one, expresses total self-giving and makes it bodily present in the sense that, as Lee says, “this expression is not extrinsic to what it expresses, but is the visible and tangible embodiment of it.”73

In other words, given man’s anthropological unity of body and soul, he exercises the capacity for ethical self-determination as a whole man, meaning thereby in and through his body.74 This implies, as Schockenhoff rightly argues, that “the body can be called the concrete limit of freedom.” That is, he explains, “the body and physical life are not ‘goods’ external to human personal realization, standing in a purely instrumental relation to the person’s authentic determination as a subject. The body is rather the irreducible means of expression in which human persons in all their acts... are represented.”75 Respecting another person’s bodily life unconditionally is to respect that person himself because a person shows himself only in and through his own body. So, “respect for the personal worth of persons relates not only to their inner convictions or moral values but must also include the inviolability of their bodily existence.”76 If the body is, then, freedom’s boundary, such that respecting one’s own body as well as others’ bodies is both to respect our own person and other persons, this raises the question regarding the conditions under which a sexual act is the morally right way that my body embodies me.”77

Wojtyla, in an effort to explain the “special way” in which man has his body, cites Dutch phenomenologist Wilhelmus Luijpen.78 He says that Luijpen “criticizes views that treat the body as an object of having (he is of course speaking of ‘having’ in the literal sense of the word).” Says Luijpen, “My Body is not the Object of ‘Having’.... I ‘have’ a car, a pen, a book. In this ‘having’ the object of the ‘having’ reveals itself as an exteriority. There is a distance between me and what I ‘have’. What I ‘have’ is to a certain extent independent of me.” Thus, if my body is not the object of having, then I may not conceive of either sperm or eggs, either penis or vagina, in impersonal terms. For thinking of my body in impersonal terms is to think of it as a mere instrument or extrinsic tool of man’s personal reality. Therefore, Luijpen continues, “My body is not something external to me [because] I cannot dispose of my body or give it away as I dispose of money.... All this stems from the fact that my body is not ‘a’ body, but my body... in such a way that my body embodies me.”79 In short, the lived body is myself (“I”) in my many activities; my subjectivity. Any concrete act of man, the pope seems to be arguing, is a bodily expression of the person given the unity of the person as body and soul. Thus, the body grounds human subjectivity, so that all knowledge and thought has bodily roots. It is impossible to pause here to give an account of the sense in which all knowledge and thought has bodily roots.

Furthermore, the body is then as such an expression or disclosure of the person, particularly in conscious human acts such as the sincere gift of self, which is the fullest unfolding of the “spousal meaning of the body.”80 Says John Paul, “Here we mean freedom above all as self-mastery (self-dominion). Under this aspect, self-mastery is indispensable in order for man to be able to ‘give himself,’ in order for him to become a gift, in order for him (referring to the words of the Council) to be able to ‘find himself fully’ through ‘a sincere gift of self’ [GS, 24:3].”81

Agreeing with Pope Francis’s critique of “gender ideology,” Gerhard Cardinal Müller, former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, recently stated that gender ideology claims, “that man’s identity does not depend on nature, with a body that is limited to a masculine or feminine sexuality.” He adds, “There is an evident dualism behind all this: the body loses its significance vis-à-vis its own identity.”82

Contrary to this anthropological dualism, the Catholic tradition affirms that the body is intrinsic to selfhood, the human person is, bodily. This affirmation is rooted in the Church’s teaching on the soul/body unity of the human person (CCC §§362-68). As John Paul says, “In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the willing agent and in the deliberate act they stand or fall together(VS §49). Therefore, we can easily understand why separating “the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition” (VS §49).83

Elsewhere, John Paul explains that the body is intrinsic to self-identity: “Man is a subject not only by his self-consciousness and by self-determination, but also based on his own body. The structure of this body is such that it permits him to be the author of genuinely human activity. In this activity, the body expresses the person.”84 The body is intrinsic to one’s own self. Not surprisingly, since the “human body shares in the dignity of the image of God” (CCC §364).

Sacramental Union Presupposes Sexual Differentiation

Anthropological dualism has also led to the denial that the foundation of the form of love that is marriage is a bodily sexual union of man and woman as one flesh. But since the body is intrinsic to personhood, the nature of marriage is such that it requires sexual difference, the bodily-sexual act, as a foundational prerequisite, indeed, as also intrinsic to a one-flesh sacramental union.

In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II develops the sacramental importance of the bodily-sexual act as intrinsic to a one-flesh union. The sacramental sign of marriage is constituted by the couple, by the “word” they exchange—“I take you as my wife/as my husband, and I promise to be faithful to you always, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to love you and honor you all the days of my life.” And in their reciprocal “fidelity,” they commit themselves to “living” a reality of grace. John Paul comments, “This reality (the copula conjugale), moreover, has been defined from the very beginning by institution of the Creator. ‘A man will leave his father and his mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh’” (Gen 2:24).

Why the sacrament of marriage presupposes sexual differentiation is made clear in the realization of what is meant by the “sacramental sign”: “The words [form] spoken by them would not of themselves constitute the sacramental sign if the human subjectivity of the engaged man and woman and at the same time the consciousness of the body linked with the masculinity and the femininity of the bride and the bridegroom did not correspond to them [matter].”

John Paul explains: “What determines it [the sacramental sign of marriage] is in some sense ‘the language of the body,’ inasmuch as the man and the woman, who are to become one flesh by marriage, express in this sign the reciprocal gift of masculinity and femininity as the [creational] foundation of the conjugal union of the persons. The sign of the sacrament of Marriage is constituted by the fact that the words spoken by the new spouses take up again the same ‘language of the body’ as at the ‘beginning’ [from creation] and, at any rate, give it a concrete and unrepeatable expression.... In this way the perennial and ever new ‘language of the body’ is not only the ‘substratum’, but in some sense also the constitutive content of the communion of persons.85

The reality that corresponds to these words and which the sacramental sign signifies and produces specifies the content of this sacramental grace: “The spouses participate in it as spouses, together, as a couple, so that the first and immediate effect of marriage (res et sacramentum) is not supernatural grace itself, but the Christian conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons because it represents the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and the mystery of His covenant” (FC §13).

Hence, this one-flesh union is not just posited by ecclesiastical law. Rather, Jesus calls us back to the law of creation (Mark 10:6-7) that grounds an inextricable nexus of permanence, twoness, and sexual differentiation for marriage. In particular, marriage is such that it requires sexual difference, the bodily-sexual act, as a foundational prerequisite, indeed, as intrinsic to a one flesh union of man and woman: “So then they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:8).

In this context, a rehabilitation of the “culture of the person” is necessary because the objective good of the person constitutes the essential core of all human culture. To promote that culture requires a whole nexus of fundamental goods that together determine marriage and family life. Marriage is grounded in God’s purpose for creation. It is the two-in-one-flesh union of a man and a woman, with conjugal love being the integrating principle of the whole communion of marriage and family life. Vatican II stated it this way: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage” (GS §50). Given the proper ends of our sexual powers and their relationship to the nature of marriage, giving oneself in sexual intercourse to the other is fully justified only in marriage. “[Marriage corresponds to the truth of love and mutually safeguards the dignity of person, only if both a man and a woman perform it [sexual intercourse] as spouses, as husband and wife.”86

Various Proposals Swirling Around about Amoris Laetitia

I turn now to examine the controverted Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia. The single most troubling aspect of this chapter is that it raises questions regarding the normativity of doctrine and its anchor for life in an objective state of affairs, for example, pastoral practice of the civilly remarried divorcees, and the impact that changing that practice might have on the doctrine. Some have insisted that such a change will not mean a change in doctrine; others have argued that one cannot compartmentalize doctrine and pastoral life, and hence allowing the divorce and civilly remarried to receive the Eucharist would undermine the Church’s teaching—indeed, the teaching of Jesus Christ!—on the permanence of marriage.87 Still others insist that there is no change in doctrine when pastoral practice is changed, but rather a development of doctrine.

In this connection, consider the claim by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn who suggests that there is true innovation in pastoral directives in Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia but “there is no change [in doctrine].” To make his point, the Cardinal draws a comparison between John Paul II referring “explicitly to a married couple, man and woman together, as an ‘image of God.’”88 One might add here the reference in the Catechism where it states: “The human body shares in the dignity of the image of God” (CCC §364). Both these examples, arguably, reflect an organic development of doctrine, yes, innovation and continuity, regarding Christian anthropology. However, critics of the Cardinal’s claim insist that allowing the divorced and civilly remarried, or a cohabiting couple, to receive the sacrament of communion is not an organic development. Rather, it is an innovation, but there is a rupture with dogma about marriage. As one astute observer noted, “admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to Communion was the first step in accommodating Catholic teaching to the sexual revolution. If sex could be separated from marriage without sin, then the unraveling of the teaching on contraception, any sexual activity outside of marriage and homosexual acts could follow.”89

By contrast, still others propose that a pastorally-oriented approach to doctrine gives an account of exactly how doctrine changes. Richard Gaillardetz describes this approach.

Vatican II offered a new way of thinking about doctrine; it presented doctrine as something that always needed to be interpreted and appropriated in a pastoral key.... This is why he [Francis] doesn’t think he is compromising on doctrine when he suggests we may need a more compassionate pastoral response to the divorced and [civilly] remarried. Being pastoral, in short, is not a matter of overlooking doctrine; it is how pastoral “style” makes doctrinal “substance” meaningful and transformative.... Doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particular doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God’s transforming love. Doctrine changes when the church has leaders and teachers who are not afraid to take note of new contexts and emerging insights.90

I won’t repeat my objections to this pastoral approach to doctrine. I have already critically examined it in Chapter 1 and found it wanting, not only because it is inconsistent with the Lérinian hermeneutics of Vatican II, but also because it is both a historicist and instrumentalist view of doctrine. In sum, this approach denies that doctrines are absolute truths, or objectively true affirmations, because what they assert is in fact the case about objective reality. (FR §82)

With all the different proposals swirling around out there, one can understand why one’s head is spinning and hence many faithful are crying out for clarity in order to regain one’s balance. It is precisely that cry that I attempt to answer in the next section.

The Logic of Pastoral Reasoning and Discernment

Pope Francis underwrites, in Amoris Laetitia, the normativity of this ontology of conjugal marriage grounded in the order of creation, namely, the inextricable nexus of permanence, twoness, and sexual differentiation in a two-in-one-flesh unity of man and woman. Anyone who denies this is irresponsible and unfair to him.91 Nonetheless, as I will argue in the remainder of this chapter, Francis’s logic of pastoral reasoning and discernment is theologically problematic. This problematic is not about a footnote in Amoris Laetitia (§351).92 Rather, it is about the logic and implications of his model of pastoral reasoning and discernment. Nothing more and nothing less. This is precisely because it implies, as Ross Douthat incisively states, “that the ontological reality of a marriage didn’t matter under specific extenuating circumstances (like a stable second marriage with kids) and teaches that what the church and Jesus Christ considered adultery was also, somehow and in some cases, not.”93 Furthermore, the troubling character of Francis’s pastoral strategy also shows itself in its potential application to other morally problematic relationships, so-called “irregular situations” (AL §297). What exacerbates the concern I have here regarding the extension of this strategy to a whole range of morally problematic relationships is this strategy’s presupposition that fails to see the interdependency, co-existence, and mutual influence of mercy and truth. More about all these points below.

Still, this normative view of conjugal marriage is nevertheless explicitly inherent to the logic of pastoral reasoning and discerning in morally problematic situations. “Accompanying” individuals in those morally problematic situations, discerning and helping to bring about an integration of them into the life of the Church requires transformation, namely, “those [individuals in] situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us” must heed the “call to perfection... a fuller response to God” (AL §7, §291). Says Francis, “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” (FC §34). In other words, Francis affirms that “the [moral] 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(AL §295, emphasis added). However, this statement only means to support Francis’s claim that “discernment is dynamic” and that “it must ever remain open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (VS §303). Later in this chapter, I will show that this dynamic, according to Francis, et al., doesn’t exclude a circumstance in which a person is said to be incapable of keeping the moral law, and, moreover, is allegedly justified in doing less than what the moral law objectively demands, that is, doing something less good than adherence to the moral law, but also that doing something less is right for that person in that circumstance. Following this line of thought, Cardinal Cupich claims,

It’s a lot easier to tell people what they are doing in black and white. The important thing in all of this as we move forward is to recognize that people’s lives are very complicated. There are mitigating circumstances, psychological, their own personal history, maybe even biological. It’s not a matter of detracting from what the ideal is.94

Therefore, he adds, homosexual couples may be led “through a period of discernment, to understand what God is calling them to at that point.”95 We have a situation-ethic at work here. Under certain circumstances, acting contrary to the moral law, is good, but not the highest good of attaining the ideal. Given this line of thought, I will need to ask whether gradualness is inserted in the law itself—despite Francis’s denial to the contrary (AL §§295, 300).96 For now, I simply mean to show that, in light of this law of gradualness, which Francis embraces, we should understand the following passages from Amoris Laetitia expressing that calling to give a fuller response to God.

For the Church’s pastors are not only responsible for promoting Christian marriage, but also the “pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness.” In this pastoral discernment, there is a need “to identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth” (AL §293).
It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel![97] Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves. 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 separates from the community (cf. Matt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion.... As for the way of dealing with different “irregular” situations, the Synod Fathers reached a general consensus, which I support: “In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them,” something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. (AL §297)
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.... 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.... In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. (AL §§303, 306)
In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.... A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. (AL §307)

Several aspects are in play in this process of dynamic discernment. First, discernment is situation- and person-specific, and hence “the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing,” with an approach which “carefully discerns situations” that are morally problematic, typically described infelicitously, in my judgment, as “irregular situations” (AL §298).98 This discernment was also called for by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio §84, and Francis is following his lead here. “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations.”99 As I noted in Chapter 3, pastoral discernment begins, according to Francis, however, not with presenting the moral law—the truth—straightway, which to Francis runs the risk of the individual experiencing this presentation as synonymous with judgment and condemnation, burdening them with laws and precepts, alienating them.100 In fact, Francis is so intensely concerned about the priority of mercy over against truth that he warns of “making idols of certain abstract truths.”101 This “truth idolatry,” he claims, “distances ordinary people from the healing closeness of the word and of the sacraments of Jesus.”102 The then Cardinal Bergoglio sets up an opposition between Hebrew and Greek ways of thinking about truth, the latter regarding truth as abstract truth and the former as “‘émeth’, which means to be solid, reliable, trustworthy, and worthy of faith.”103 Francis continues in this fashion by stating, “Truth is also fidelity (émeth).” Truth is something that can be relied upon, faithful, trustworthy, and constant. He then jumps to the conclusion: “It [émeth] makes you name people with their real name, as the Lord names them, before categorizing them or defining ‘their situation.’ There is a distasteful habit, is there not, of following a ‘culture of the adjective’: this is so, this is such and such, this is like… No! This is a child of God.[104] Then come the virtues or defects, but [first] the faithful truth of the person and not the adjective regarded as the substance.”105

It is unclear why truth in this sense (émeth) leads to Francis’s conclusion. In Lumen Fidei §28, co-authored with Benedict XVI, we read, not that truth itself is fidelity, such as Francis claims, but rather “[I]n the Bible, truth and fidelity go together: the true God is the God of fidelity who keeps his promises and makes possible, in time, a deeper understanding of his plan.” In other words, truth in the Bible overwhelmingly means constancy, certainty, and trustworthiness, or reliability. Therefore, truth matters because it pertains to the trustworthiness or fidelity of God himself. The biblical view of things frees us from the lack of confidence in the truth-attaining powers of man because we know that our cognitive power, indeed, the very fact that we are truth-seekers is underwritten by the truthfulness or trustworthiness (émeth) of God. Our truth-seeking desire fits the world and life is not fundamentally deaf to its aspiration all because, as Os Guinness admirably puts it, “truth is that which is ultimately, finally, and absolutely real, or the ‘way it is’, and therefore is utterly trustworthy and dependable, [and is] grounded and anchored in God’s own reality and truthfulness.”106

Nevertheless, surely Francis’s substantive conclusion is lopsided. It is only a half-truth to affirm the dignity of an individual in a sinful condition. It misses the whole truth about human nature: the tension in human existence itself between being created good and our actual fallen state, between our human greatness and wretchedness, as Pascal said. In sum, it is precisely the humanity of man in his relation to God that makes the seriousness of his sin fully evident.

Put differently, using traditional theological distinctions, Francis distinguishes here the order of creation and the order of fall into sin—except he does not say anything about the order of the fall into sin and the impact of sin upon human nature. St. John Paul II, in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, wrote that “man, who was created for freedom, bears within himself the wound of original sin, which constantly draws him towards evil and puts him in need of redemption. Not only is this doctrine an integral part of Christian revelation; it also has great hermeneutical value insofar as it helps one to understand human reality. Man tends towards good, but he is also capable of evil” (CA §25). It is precisely this integral part of Christian revelation that is central to Christian anthropology, and that has hermeneutical value in understanding human reality, which is missing in Francis’s account. Rather than the order of the fall and the truth of moral norms, Francis’s pastoral strategy begins positively with the acceptance of good elements in a particularly complex situation, morally problematic relationships, so-called “irregular situations,” such as cohabiting (hetero- or homosexual), those married only civilly, or divorced and civilly remarried.107

In Chapter 3, I criticized not only the theological justification of this approach but also its assumption. Let us suppose that a cohabiting couple with children possesses a certain stability for the raising of children (AL §78). This is evidence that there is a good aspect to this relationship, and let us say that it is even a sign of God’s common grace. However, that does not mean, as some have concluded, that a cohabiting relationship qua relationship is itself good, and that it is an imperfect form and incomplete realization of marriage, and hence ordered to the good of marriage.108

Mercy and Truth

There is another problem with Francis’s starting point. It runs the risk of separating mercy and truth because he claims that the former comes before the latter and hence fails to see that the truth itself is merciful. Says Francis, “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes, it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.... The message of the gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”109 However, surely the moral norms expressing the normative truth, say, of conjugal marriage grounded in the order of creation is constitutive of the saving love of God for those cohabiting individuals. We read in the Catechism: “In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning.... By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” (CCC §§1614-15). This truth about marriage is liberating, is itself merciful, and hence is integral to the message of Jesus Christ about marriage; but Francis sees moral norms as merciless laws, imposed from without on those living in “irregular” situations, “as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives” (AL §305).

Furthermore, emphasizing the indivisible unity of mercy and truth, their coexistence and mutual influence, suggests to Francis “that we put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance” (AL §311). But only truth is the light that sets us free from the blindness of sin. Francis fails in Amoris Laetitia110 to appreciate the hermeneutical value of sin in explaining human reality.111 The individual’s “natural mind” is none other than what the Sacred Scriptures call the vanity of the “carnal mind” (Col 2:18), the “futility of one’s thinking,” a “darkened understanding” (Eph 4:17-18), indeed, a “gnoseological concupiscence,”112 in which the intellect is apostate from Christ by declaring itself sovereign “due to the hardening of one’s heart.” In his approach, Francis deviates —it’s a rupture and not a development—from John Paul II’s pastoral strategy113 found in the 1993 Encyclical Letter, Veritatis Splendor §§95-105, but even earlier in his 1984 post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia §34 where there is an emphasis on the “coexistence and mutual influence of two equally important [complementary] principles.” Coexistence and mutual influence: these are the two key terms crucial to grasping the relationship between mercy and truth, and what is distinctive about John Paul’s pastoral strategy in contrast with Francis’s approach. John Paul explains:

The first principle is that of compassion and mercy, whereby the church, as the continuer in history of Christ’s presence and work, not wishing the death of the sinner but that the sinner should be converted and live [Ezek 18:23], and careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick [Cf. Is 42:3; Matt 12:20], ever seeks to offer, as far as possible, the path of return to God and of reconciliation with him. The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions. On this matter, which also deeply torments our pastoral hearts, it seemed my precise duty to say clear words in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, as regards the case of the divorced and remarried [§84], and likewise the case of Christians living together in an irregular union.

Of course, Francis insists that ongoing pastoral discernment of morally problematic relationships must show “concern for the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching” (AL §311).114 For instance, concern for the teaching of the Church is shown in limiting those who can teach or preach to others who do not “flaunt an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches.” Here, says Francis, there “is a case of something which separates from the community [cf. Matt 18:17]. Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion” (AL §297). But no sooner does Francis say this about the individual who is living in a state of objective sin,115 that he continues to welcome that very person in the life of the Church who is flaunting being in that state: “Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings, or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest” (AL §297).116 Would the Church be a caring community without explaining the harm of sin to the sinner, reinforcing that explanation without sanctions, understanding that genuine care must be based on truth not on making people welcomed?

However, as I have been arguing, Francis’s expressed concern for the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching is undermined because his pastoral approach runs the risk of separating, according to John Paul II, “genuine understanding and compassion... for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom... [from] a clear and forceful presentation of moral truth.” He adds, “The Church can never renounce ‘the principle of truth and consistency, whereby she does not agree to call good evil and evil good’; she must always be careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick [cf. Is 42:3](VS §95).117 Furthermore, John Paul II was not unfamiliar with claims, like those of Francis’ and others, that the Church runs the risk of demeaning people in morally problematic relationships by its firmness in defending the universal and unchanging moral norms. He rejects this claim as baseless. “[The Church’s] only purpose is to serve man’s true freedom. Because there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical—unyielding and uncompromising—defense of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom” (VS §96). Francis does not recognize the merciful nature of moral truth.

Objective and Subjective Morality

Second, in light of the distinction between objective morality and subjective morality, between objective truth and subjective evaluation of mitigating factors and situations, Francis’s emphasis is on the latter—rather than on an individual’s awareness of the gap between his morally problematic situation and the objective moral norm—to discern the matter of responsibility, blameworthiness, or guilt for believing and behaving as an individual does. In order to avoid thinking that “the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised,” says Francis, he draws on a solid body of reflection of the Church’s teaching on mitigating factors regarding imputability and responsibility. For example: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.” Again, “To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability” (CCC §1735, §2352). These mitigating factors help to discern a person’s responsibility and blameworthiness such that an individual might be blameless, subjectively speaking, even though he is doing something that involves objective wrongdoing and hence a sin. Furthermore, there are other factors enlisted in such subjective evaluations of an individual’s act, namely, whether certain acts are committed freely with “full knowledge and deliberate consent” (CCC §1857).

Third, Francis claims that “mitigating factors” are sufficient in certain cases to conclude that the individuals in those cases are not in a state of mortal sin or deprived of sanctifying grace, because they are blameless, lacking culpability, for doing the wrong thing, objectively speaking (AL §301). Unlike John Paul II, Francis is not here speaking of couples who have decided to live “as brother and sister.”118 Francis rules out this interpretation. He does not explicitly endorse John Paul’s position, although he could have. In fact, he avoids citing it, although he refers to the very paragraph §84 of Familiaris Consortio where John Paul’s position is found. He explicitly refers only to the statement in that paragraph that it is crucial to the logic of pastoral care “‘to exercise careful discernment of situation.’” Furthermore, in Amoris Laetitia footnote 329 he contradicts John Paul’s position. He says, “In such situations [‘where for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate’ (§298)], 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’ [GS §51].”119 This is the concrete situation in which a couple, knowing full well the rule prohibiting fornication or adultery, cannot, as Francis says, “act differently and decide otherwise without further sin” (AL §301). Does he, then, hold that a cohabiting couple or a divorced and civilly remarried couple may be free from sin, not committing adultery, subjectively speaking, although they do not live as brother and sister—and hence, objectively speaking do fornicate or commit adultery—because of mitigating factors that render them inculpable?

Yes, he does. Hence, according to Francis the changes in the Church must be carried out with the hermeneutic of continuity, but then how can his position be considered a homogeneous development of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio §84—which teaches that the divorced and civilly remarried must resolve to live as brother and sister in Christ, or else refrain from approaching the sacraments? As Cardinal Müller incisively states, “There are only two options. One could explicitly deny the validity of Familiaris Consortio §84.... Or one could attempt to show that Familiaris Consortio §84 implicitly anticipated the reversal of the discipline that it explicitly set out to teach. On any honest reading of John Paul II’s text, however, such a procedure would have to violate the basic rules of logic, such as the principle of non-contradiction.”120

Recall that Francis says, “Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever [irregular] situation they find themselves” (AL §297). Douthat suggests, for example, “If the obligations involved in a second marriage need to be accommodated by the church, why not the obligations of a polygamous marriage—where promises are made, similar entanglements are present, and children are just as (if not more) likely to be involved?”121 Thus, there is no reason why Francis’s logic of pastoral reasoning cannot be applied to a variety of morally problematic relationships. I think that is the implication of his logic of pastoral reasoning, namely, the morally permissible choice is made under a lesser-of-two-evils calculus.122 That is certainly what several of Francis’s interpreters closest to him have suggested, such as Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the Editor of La Civilità Cattolica;123 Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, late President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts;124 Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernàndez, Rector of the Catholic University, Buenos Aires;125 Walter Cardinal Kasper,126 and last but not least, Blaise Cardinal Cupich.127 If Pope Francis rejects their interpretation of Amoris Laetitia §303 as a distortion and misreading of it, then why doesn’t he say so? Let me suggest that the pope does not say so because he does not hold there to be a “yes” or “no” answer to that question in the logic of pastoral mercy (AL §305).

By contrast, in Aquinas’s view, this is a situation of “perplexity,” indeed, a moral dilemma, and not a case of ignorance. Hence, Dominican theologian, Bonino, correctly sees that this is not a question “of a factor that limits the voluntary or the subjective capacity to decide (which we ordinarily understand as a mitigating circumstance) but of a situation that limits the ‘objective’ choice and that forces the person to choose, between two (moral evils), the evil that seems to him to be the lesser.” He elaborates:

A person is placed in conditions such that it seems—no matter what he does or abstains from doing—that he cannot avoid sin. Now, on this point, St. Thomas seems rather to judge that there cannot exist such a “true” (simpliciter) moral dilemma that would oblige a person to do an objective evil act or, as the saying goes, to choose the lesser evil. Or rather, the dilemma exists, but it is caused by an earlier framework of sin that the person can and ought to renounce.128

In other words, Thomas denies that this individual is perplexed or in a moral dilemma “because he can lay aside his error, since his ignorance is vincible and voluntary.”129 This, too, is the approach of John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, but not Francis. Therefore, Francis differs with Thomas not only in his analysis of the morally problematic situation but also in his solution.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio has grappled with what I have called a perplexity, or moral dilemma, but he does not describe it as a situation where a person is forced to choose between two moral evils.130 He says, “There is another element... here... and it is crucial for understanding this delicate problem correctly.” Coccopalmerio claims that this divorced and remarried couple are conscious of this union’s “irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins.”131 Given their Christian commitment, he claims that the people in question are conscious of the sinful condition of their irregular situation. Significantly, in an effort to avoid the moral dilemma, as I described it above, Coccopalmerio claims that these “persons intend to change their irregular status.” Of course, he readily acknowledges, that this intention is implicit but not stated explicitly. But he insists that they “have considered the problem of changing and thus they intend to, or at least desire to, change their situation... but cannot act on their desire.”132

Is Coccopalmerio suggesting that their intention or desire to change, even if they cannot now change, renders morally justified their choice to stay in this union for the time being for the sake of the family such that they are acting with moral rectitude?133 He implies this conclusion. However, he is mistaken—in light of the sources of morality in the Catholic tradition (CCC §§1749-61, see also VS §§79-83). “The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the ‘sources’ or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts” (CCC §1750). Consider, first, the circumstances, which also includes the consequences, as described above. These “are secondary elements of a moral act” which might increase or diminish the moral goodness or evil of certain moral acts, such as, choosing to stay in a union for the sake of the children. “Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil” (CCC §1754). Intending or desiring to change does not alter the moral evil of adultery. Of course, their intention to preserve the well-being of their family is good. However, the end does not justify the means. Thus, neither the circumstances nor the intentions are in themselves sufficient to make an action morally good. Since this circumstance involves committing adultery, and this act is the moral object, the latter act is a mortal sin, and hence the individuals involved cannot be acting with moral rectitude.

Culpability for Rejecting Moral Rules

Fourth, Francis considers another situation where the issue is not merely about the ignorance of a rule, such as, the rule prohibiting fornication or adultery as a sin (CCC §2353), but rather of someone who does not accept the moral rule. “A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values’ [FC §33](AL §301).134 Francis’s emphasis in pastoral ministry is on the mitigating factors that may render an individual blameless. He sees this as a matter of mercy. Here, clearly, Francis leaves behind John Paul II, because Francis creates a moral space in which an individual is blameless, and hence without sin, for doing something not in harmony with the relevant objective moral norm.135 John Paul’s emphasis is other, I argued earlier, because he insists on the interdependency and mutual influence of truth and mercy such that, in pastoral ministry, there can be no mercy without truth.136 “Pues es la verdad la que libera; la verdad es la que pone orden y la verdad es la que abre el camino a la santidad y a la justicia” [It is the truth that liberates; the truth that restores order and the truth that opens the path to holiness and justice].137 He adds, “And so the Church never ceases to exhort and encourage all to resolve whatever conjugal difficulties may arise without ever falsifying or compromising the truth.” Indeed, John Paul praises men and women in so-called “irregular unions” who nonetheless “testify to the indissolubility of marriage” by promising to live fully continently [continencia total], that is, abstaining from acts that are proper only to married couples.”138

Furthermore, we may ask whether the individual actually knows the moral rule regarding the reception of communion by the divorced and civilly remarried. Since he “does not accept it, he does not believe that the norm is good and true, and a person who does not believe a moral truth can be said not to know that truth. He is, at least in that sense, ignorant of the corresponding norm.” The question is whether he is culpable for his ignorance. Similarly, Coccopalmerio says, “that this inability to recognize that the rule is good, is in fact equivalent to lack of knowledge of the rule.139 And, therefore, lack of culpability in the case of the infringement of that rule.” Now, although both sources attribute ignorance to the individual, Flannery & Berg probe more deeply than Coccopalmerio because they go on to consider whether the alleged ignorance is voluntary or not, invincible or vincible.

Well, since the case here is about an individual’s difficulty in understanding a moral rule rather than ignorance of it, according to Francis, it is not a question of invincible ignorance but of vincible ignorance, which, as such, does not excuse from culpability. John Paul II explains the difference:

[Saint] Paul’s admonition [1 Tim 1:5; Rom 12:2] urges us to be watchful, warning us that in the judgments of our conscience the possibility of error is always present. Conscience is not an infallible judge; it can make mistakes. However, error of conscience can be the result of an invincible ignorance, an ignorance of which the subject is not aware and which he is unable to overcome by himself. The [Second Vatican] Council reminds us that in cases where such invincible ignorance is not culpable, conscience does not lose its dignity, because even when it directs us to act in a way not in conformity with the objective moral order, it continues to speak in the name of that truth about the good which the subject is called to seek sincerely.... Conscience, as the ultimate concrete judgment, compromises its dignity when it is culpably erroneous, that is to say, “when man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin [GS §16](VS §§62-63).

Looking to Thomas for assistance here, he distinguishes two situations: one in which an individual voluntarily commits an objectively evil act itself, but does so without knowing, say, that adultery or fornication is a sin; the other in which his ignorance is voluntary, occurs before the action, and the latter is a sin. In the former case, a person “voluntarily performs an act of fornication but does not voluntarily commit a sin.” In the latter case, says Thomas, “When therefore a person directly wills to be ignorant so as not to be pulled back from sin by the knowledge, such ignorance does not excuse sin either wholly or in part but rather increases it, for it appears that, out of great love of sinning, the person wills to suffer the loss of knowledge so that he might freely cling to the sin.”140 Now, is a couple’s difficulty in understanding the inherent values of a moral rule sufficient in specific cases to claim that individuals are not culpable for living in a state of mortal sin or deprived of sanctifying grace, as Francis, Coccopalmerio, and others claim?

Regarding the claim of diminished culpability that allegedly follows from having great difficulty in understanding the inherent truth or good regarding the morality of fornication or adultery, it is clear that rejecting these precepts does not as such diminish culpability. Why? Well, an individual may “‘take little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when [his] conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin’ [GS §16]. In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits’” (CCC §1791). There is a certain optimism in Francis’s readiness to hold individuals blameless without considering the reasons why they are unwilling to address the difficulty. Karl Rahner rightly explains, “[Conscience] can easily make mistakes and it is very difficult to distinguish its voice—the real voice of conscience—from the voice of precipitation, passion, convenience or self-will, or of moral primitiveness which cannot see the finer distinctions or the more remote consequences of the act.” Francis overlooks all this and hence softens the responsibility an individual has “to conform his conscience to the objective moral law [here and now], to inform himself and let himself be taught and make himself prepared to accept (how difficult this often is!) instruction from the Word of God, the magisterium of the Church and every just authority in its own sphere.”141

In light of Rahner’s remarks, we must consider the possibility that perhaps these individuals are deliberately avoiding being informed on the issue, which would increase the likelihood that they are “living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” The Catechism insightfully teaches, “An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done; for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws” (CCC §1736). In this case, ignorance is voluntary, as Aquinas explains, “either directly, as when a man wishes of set purpose to be ignorant of certain things that he may sin the more freely; or indirectly, as when a man, through stress of work or other occupations, neglects to acquire the knowledge which would restrain him from sin. For such like negligence renders the ignorance itself voluntary and sinful, provided it be about matters one is bound and able to know. Consequently, this ignorance does not altogether excuse him from sin.” In addition, the Catechism adds, “No one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man” (CCC §1860).

As the Catechism puts it, “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin” (CCC §1859). In addition, “ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertions of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct” (CCC §1792). This, too, is Aquinas’s view when he speaks about how the failure to understand a moral precept may be caused “by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition” (ST I-II, q. 94, a. 4). Indeed, Aquinas identifies five ways in which that may be the case: passion, evil habit, and evil disposition of nature, vicious custom, and evil persuasion. J. Budziszewski succinctly explains Aquinas’s view:

Corruption of reason by passion: Momentarily blinded by grief and rage, I unjustly strike the bearer of the news that my wife is deep in adultery with another man. Corruption of reason by evil habit: little by little I get into the habit of using pornography or cutting corners on my taxes. At first my conscience bothers me, but eventually I can see nothing wrong with my behavior.... Although I am still capable of restraint, it is more difficult for me than it might be for someone else. Corruption of reason by evil disposition of nature: a defect in one of my chromosomes predisposes me to violence, abuse of alcohol or homosexual acts. Although I am still capable of restraint, it is more difficult for me than it might be for someone else. Corruption of reason by vicious custom: I have grown up among people who do not regard bribery as wrong, and so I take it for granted. Corruption of reason by evil persuasion: I use electronic tricks to make free long-distance telephone calls, justifying my behavior by the theory that I am merely exploiting the exploiters.142

None of these factors figures in Francis’s account in Amoris Laetitia, nor in the account of Coccopalmerio, et al., regarding civil marriage, divorced and civilly remarried, or cohabitation. There is also no mention made of the reasoning that led them to hold these false beliefs, for example, reflecting negligent reasoning, ideological rationalization, or wishful thinking.143 Although he draws on the Church’s solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations, he overlooks the corresponding body of reflections concerning whether the ignorance is voluntary or not, invincible or vincible, and hence a result of ethical value-blindness. As Josef Seifert describes the latter, “Often ethical value-blindness is rooted in evil acts and attitudes and the subject is responsible for his blindness such that he even a worse sinner than the one who clearly knows his sin and recognizes his guilt.”144

The Law of Gradualness vs the Gradualness of the Law

Fifth, appealing to the purport of the distinction between objective morality and subjective morality, Francis holds that “For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.” (AL §302). In other words, it is conceivable that an individual could be in “irregular situations” of adultery, homosexual acts, and so forth, living objectively in serious sin, but subjectively in the state of grace, and hence without sin. In this context, I would like now to consider the role of conscience in morally problematic situations. These are “consciences of the faithful,” says Francis, “who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL §37). These are acts of individual conscience—which Francis says are under the influence of mitigating factors—that “do not objectively embody our [the Church’s] understanding of marriage” (AL §303). Of course, in this connection, we must appeal to the law of gradualness, which, according to Francis, gradualness is not in the law itself, but rather in “the prudential exercise of free acts on the parts of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law” (AL §295). The following diagram may help us to understand the difference between the “law of gradualness” and the “gradualness of the law.”145

Gradualness GraphI have already examined above with some skepticism Francis’s claim that having trouble understanding and appreciating a moral precept in itself is sufficient to render a person blameless, but also the circumstances under which he is unable to carry out fully the objective demands of the law because whatever he does he cannot avoid sin.

Rather than return to those matters, let’s assume for the sake of following Francis’s argument where it logically leads, that an individual is acting with judgments of conscience, by virtue of being subjectively blameless for doing the wrong thing, objectively speaking. Says Francis, “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 culpable—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” (AL §305). He struggles to make judgments of conscience given the limits of his situation, finding “possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits.” He recognizes that the “given situation [he is in] does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel.”

However, conscience is about more than rule following and, accordingly, the acknowledgement that an individual’s judgment of conscience itself is in tension with the objective exemplar, or moral norm, objectively speaking. He “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.” What is the nature of the limiting conditions an individual apprehends? Are they such that they are good elements open in principle to the overall demands of the Gospel?

The limits of the concrete situation are a mixed bag of good and bad elements. For example, the good elements146 of a cohabiting couple147 are that they, says Francis, “lovingly care for each other, serve the community in which they live and work, have attained a noteworthy stability through a public bond—and is characterized by deep affection, responsibility toward the children, and the ability to overcome trials.” Yet this couple is purportedly subjectively blameless although engaged in fornication, which objectively speaking is contrary to the moral teachings of the Church and hence to the overall demands of the Gospel.148

Still, according to Francis in Amoris Laetitia §303—which is perhaps the most contentious passage in this document—one’s conscience sometimes “can also recognize with sincerity and honesty” that acting contrary to an objective moral norm, the objective ideal of marriage, is “what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits,”149 because one’s judgment of conscience “discerns” that an act which one is, here and now, choosing—though knowing that it violates a moral rule prohibiting fornication—“for now is the most generous response which can be given to God.”150

Also, appealing again to the law of gradualness, conscience’s discernment of what “God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits” is said to be dynamic: it “must remain ever open to new stages of growth and new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (AL §303). Yet, one must also ask whether Francis implies that judgments of conscience are such that “there can be degrees of disorder that an individual knowingly, deliberately, and indeed, with moral rectitude, allows into his life, since this is the ‘most generous response’ he can make in pursuit of the ideal,” as Flannery & Berg decidedly put it.151 Is Francis suggesting here that under those circumstances sexual intimacy is morally permissible, a subjectively good choice, for the sake of maintaining a faithful “invalid marriage” so that the children do not suffer? I think his moral logic of pastoral reasoning implies an affirmative response to that question.

If so, then gradualness—contra Francis—has been inserted into the law itself “as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations,” as John Paul II puts it (FC §34). Looking back now to the situation of moral perplexity, or moral dilemma, we can now appreciate why Josef Seifert asked in view of this situation: “If only one case of an intrinsically immoral act can be permitted and even willed by God, must this not apply to all acts considered ‘intrinsically wrong.’ If it is true that God can want an adulterous couple to live in adultery, should then not also the commandment ‘Do not commit adultery” be reformulated: ‘If in your situation adultery is not the lesser evil, do not commit it! If it is, continue living in it’?152

In Veritatis Splendor, John Paul is concerned with conscience and truth, with the aim of clarifying why the proposal of some kind of double status of moral truth is mistaken.153

Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law. A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept. (VS §56).154

In the next section, I examine Blase Cardinal Cupich’s claim that following Francis’s line of thought means urging that room has to be made “for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations,” which means that in some situations their conscientious judgments are justifiably made in opposition to the demands of the objective moral law. “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL §37). This means that we should not impose rules on peoples’ consciences without considering their struggles.

Judgments of Conscience in Conflict with Moral Law

Consider now one example of the role of conscience rejected by John Paul II, but apparently embraced by Francis. In his 9 February 2018 address at the Von Hügel Institute, St. Edmund Campion College, Cambridge University, Cardinal Blase Cupich claimed that at the heart of the so-called “new hermeneutic” of Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia is the role of conscience for discerning what God is asking of me here and now.155

In one sense, of course, there is nothing disturbing about focusing on the situation of the person-specific role of conscience. John Henry Newman also observed that “conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done.” Newman adds, citing Thomas Aquinas, “‘Conscience’, says St. Thomas, ‘is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.’”

For Thomas and Newman, then, the particular judgment of conscience about the morality of given acts is about doing good and avoiding evil.

Unlike Thomas and Newman, however, Cardinal Cupich distinguishes conscience’s role in this sense from conscience’s ability to grasp objective moral truths. He interprets conscience as an oracle in which the situation and person-specific judgments of conscience are equated with the voice of God:156 “Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience—the voice of God—or... what Newman called ‘the aboriginal Vicar of Christ’, could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance [here and now] from the Church’s understanding of the [moral] ideal” (emphasis added).

Therefore, the individual’s subjective conscience hears God telling him that he is justified in doing that which is inconsistent with what is objectively right and avoiding what is objectively wrong. According to Cupich, then, conscience justifiably retains the final word in opposition to the objective truth. Despite his protest, Cupich’s “new hermeneutic” regarding pastoral reasoning is a version of situation ethics, or of the gradualness of the law.

The Cardinal is, furthermore, wrong about Newman’s account of conscience. For Newman, although he refers to conscience as the voice of God, conscience is an organ, not an oracle. Like perception, memory, reasoning, and human testimony, conscience involves a way of forming beliefs and evaluating them. Conscience, explains Newman, is “a principle planted within us, before we have had any training, though such training and experience is necessary for its strength, growth, and due formation.”

Newman adds, likening conscience to other ways of forming beliefs and evaluating them, conscience is “a constituent element of the mind, as our perception of other ideas may be, as our powers of reasoning, as our sense of order and the beautiful, and our other intellectual endowments.” Significantly, he concludes, “as Catholics consider it,” conscience is “the internal witness of both the existence and the law of God.”

In this light, we can see why Newman rejects conscience as “the right of self-will.” “Conscience has rights because it has duties.” In other words, conscience cannot “ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, [as if it were] independent of... obligations.”

This conclusion brings us to Cardinal Cupich’s claim that this “new hermeneutic” has fully embraced the “understanding of conscience found in Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes §16.” “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” Here, too, Cupich wrongly interprets conscience not only as an oracle rather than an organ, but he also wrongly asserts that an individual is justified in doing that which is inconsistent with what is objectively right and avoiding what is objectively wrong.

But Cupich couldn’t be more wrong not only about Gaudium et spes §16, in particular, but also the role of universally binding moral norms—the natural law—in Vatican Council II.

Like Newman, Gaudium et spes §16 understands conscience to be “the internal witness of both the existence and the law of God.” It states: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.”

Similarly, we read in Dignitatis Humanae §3 that “the highest norm of human life is God’s divine law—eternal, objective, and universal.” In addition, “Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth... in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience.”

Gaudium et spes §79 focuses on “the permanent binding force of universal natural law and its all-embracing principles [see GS §27]Man’s conscience itself gives ever more emphatic voice to these principles. Therefore, actions which deliberately conflict with these same principles... cannot excuse those who yield to them(emphasis added). Vatican II is emphatically contrary to Cardinal Cupich’s account of conscience.

Moreover, subordinate to God’s divine, eternal, objective, and universal law that summons man to “love and to do what is good and avoid evil,” is Vatican II’s true norm for guiding human choices and actions.” In Gaudium et spes §35 we read that this norm “is that in accord with the divine plan and will, human activity should harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it” (emphasis added).

Pace Cardinal Cupich, by any fair reading, there is no justification in Newman or in Vatican II for removing the universally binding validity of particular norms in specific judgments of conscience.

Aquinas, Natural Law, and Concrete Action

One final claim of Francis remains to be considered. “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” (AL §304). It is precisely here that Francis issues a plea to incorporate Aquinas into the practice of pastoral discernment. Why? Well, pastoral discernment is no longer merely about recognizing that mitigating factors may sometimes diminish subjective culpability for disobeying the moral law against adultery. However, in appealing to Aquinas, Francis seems to be saying that the general law itself may not apply in every particular situation.157 So, based on Aquinas’s teaching, is Francis suggesting that there may be particular cases where the moral law prohibiting adultery is inapplicable?

I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail” [ST I-II, q. 94, a.4].

Francis proceeds by way of conclusion:

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.

For clarity’s sake, as well as for our assessment of Francis’s appeal to the argument of Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 94, a. 4, it is important to note that Francis does not attend to or even mention Aquinas’s distinction between negative moral norms that hold semper et ad semper and affirmative moral norms—prima facie obligations—that hold semper sed non ad semper.158 Whereas the latter norms oblige always but not for every occasion, and hence they have presumptive validity, the former exclude actions that are evil in themselves and cannot under any circumstance become good; they are exceptionless moral norms, or moral absolutes.159 The language employed by Aquinas here corresponding to this distinction is that between “common principles” [general principles] and “proper conclusions.” As Flannery & Berg explain, “[Aquinas] considers the lower principles as conclusions (or sometimes ‘quasi conclusions’ [ST I-II, q. 94, a. 4; q. 97, a. 4, ad 3] of the common principles. In any cases, it is clear that the proper conclusions are not ‘matters of detail’. They are propositions, sometimes spoken of by Thomas as principles and sometimes as conclusions, sometimes as precepts.”160 The import of this reading of Aquinas is that the contrast in Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 94, a. 4, “is not between ‘general principles’ and concrete moral situations to which the ‘general principles’ supposedly cannot be applied, but between common principles and proper principles.” In other words, the contrast is between negative precepts and positive precepts, moral absolutes and prima facie obligations, between those that apply in all cases and those that apply in most cases, with exceptions. Flannery & Berg explain:

What sometimes happens is that a proper principle “is found not to hit the mark” (invenitur deficere). This never happens with a common principle (such as “do not steal”). A proper principle, however, such as “return deposits to their owner” can fail to hit the mark—but only in the sense that, when it was originally formulated, the lawmaker wisely did not mention explicitly the many situations that would make it not applicable. But they are there implicitly in the law, since it is presupposed in law that all the exceptions cannot be mentioned and, indeed, ought not to be mentioned—although they are there “in the intention of the lawmaker.” When the man who owns the weapon given to another in trust returns and... asks for his weapon back, the other person is not obliged to give it to him—because not returning that deposit is already in the law (because it was in the intention of the lawmaker). In such a case, the proper principle as formulated misses the mark.161

Therefore, according to Aquinas, on the one hand, the negative moral norm regarding adultery is such that there are no exceptions to the moral precept that adultery is wrong, always and everywhere, in every circumstance. So, since marriage involves an unconditional promise to be faithful until death do us part, such that it is permanent, there are no conditions under which it would be right to leave one’s spouse, marry someone else, and have sexual intercourse. In that case, one would commit adultery. On the other hand, a moral precept that has prima facie, or presumptive, validity is such that there may be good reason to permit an exception rendering it inapplicable in this particular case. To take an example from Aquinas: I have a presumptive obligation to return someone’s property to him, say, his car keys, that he has put in my safe keeping. “Goods entrusted to another must be restored to their owner.” However, suppose this individual gets drunk. Under that circumstance, it would be morally permissible not to return his keys to him because of the danger he poses to himself and others if he drives his car. In short, there may be certain exceptions regarding the affirmative norm that one should return what one has borrowed, entrusted with for safekeeping. This makes it clear that what Aquinas has in mind here are affirmative norms that oblige always but not on every occasion, and not negative norms (moral absolutes) that hold semper et ad semper, excluding acts that are evil in themselves and cannot become good.162

Francis misses this understanding in his appeal to Aquinas.163 He overlooks the distinction between common principles and proper principles, and hence he thinks that the application of general principles is indeterminate depending upon “pastoral” or “practical discernment” because “in their formulation they [general principles] cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations” (AL §304). However, this is not Aquinas’s position. “Thomas’s position is rather that, also below the level of common principles, there are principles that, given the appropriate circumstances, are quite determinate but that, in other (inappropriate) circumstances, must be applied (or not applied) according to the mind of the legislator. When the legislator decrees that deposits must be returned, he, even by so doing, knows that there will be situations in which it would be irrational—and so contrary to his intention—to apply the precept. A prudent interpreter of the precept will immediately recognize such circumstances for what they are.”164

Francis’s appeal to Aquinas to justify the inapplicability of moral norms can be squared neither with Aquinas’ understanding in ST I-II, q. 94, a. 4, nor with the Church’s teaching that some moral norms are absolute by virtue of being exceptionless.165 Notwithstanding Francis’s insistence that general principles “can never be disregarded,” his appeal to Aquinas encourages us in particular situations to do just that. Francis never uses the term “moral absolute” or “intrinsically evil act”166 because the concept of a moral absolute, in his moral logic, is replaced by ideals or goals to be achieved. In addition, since Francis overlooks the distinction between moral absolutes and prima facie obligations, common principles and proper principles, negative precepts and positive precepts, his reasoning implies that a specific and exceptionless moral norm may be inapplicable in particular cases.

No wonder the second dubia of the “dubia” Cardinals167 raised a doubt as to whether one still needs to regard as valid the teaching of Veritatis Splendor §79, where the reality of moral absolutes, or exceptionless moral norms, is reaffirmed.

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.” (VS §79)

In conclusion, Francis urged us that Amoris Laetitia should be “treated with a hermeneutic of the Church, always in continuity (without ruptures), yet always maturing.” I agree with this principle of interpretation. I have now shown that Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia represents a rupture with the Church’s tradition in its logic of pastoral reasoning and discernment; it is because Francis’s reasoning leads to the conclusion that a person’s mitigating circumstances are such that he is not bound in his situation by a specific moral precept excluding an intrinsically evil act, such as the moral absolute excluding adultery. He is simply doing the best that he can in light of his limits, rendering him incapable of keeping the commandments.168 This conclusion is inconsistent not only with Aquinas, such that, as Flannery & Berg rightly state, “Aquinas ought never to have been cited in support of the ideas put forward in that part of AL §304,” but also with the pastoral strategy of Veritatis Splendor §§102-104. In the latter case, it is inconsistent in two ways. First, John Paul II orders man’s possibilities not to the limits of the situation but to the mystery of Christ’s redemption.

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man.... But what are the “concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.” (VS §103)

John Paul II is articulating in this above passage Trent’s Decree on Justification §1836: “No one should say that the observance of God’s commandments is impossible for the man justified and constituted in grace” (see also canon 18, Denzinger §1568). He adds, “Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent.”

In short, the Church’s teaching at the Council of Trent, reiterated by John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, definitively excludes the very claim that Pope Francis makes in Amoris Laetitia, namely, that it is not always possible in certain situations to keep the commandments by God’s grace (2 Cor 12:9). John Paul rejects such a claim. He says, “Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom. But, as universal and daily experience demonstrates, man is tempted to break that harmony: ‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want’ (Rom 7:15, 19).” Of course, adds John Paul, “In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God’s mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy.” And when we fail to do so we have the Lord’s promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Finally, Flannery & Berg are correct: “Sound pastoral discernment will embrace such true, exceptionless moral principles and endeavor to find a way, consistent with God’s mercy and justice, of explaining their application even to particular situations that call for personal asceticism and sacrifice.”169 This pastoral strategy is consistent with 2 Cor 12:9, “Jesus said [in response to St. Paul’s prayer], ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” However, not with the claim of those who say that the Church’s teaching on marriage is, according to Kasper, “too hard for the ‘ordinary Christian’ to follow,” and hence that the moral law may be adapted to a person’s situational possibilities.170 This position inserts gradualness into the moral law itself—“as if there were in divine law various levels or forms of precept for various persons and conditions.”171 Pace Kasper, Francis’s position cannot be justified by reference to Aquinas who allegedly thought, “‘someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well’” (AL §301).172 Francis refers to two works of Aquinas to explain his position that an individual may find himself in a concrete situation where he is forced to choose between two moral evils; he cannot act differently and choose otherwise without further sin: ST I-II, q. 65, art. 3 ad 2; De Malo, q. 2, art. 2.

Regarding the second reference, Flannery & Berg state, “It is difficult to find anything in this article having to do with people who have infused virtues but cannot exercise them well.”173 As to the first reference, it is one thing to claim—legitimately—that people acting in accordance with the virtues can experience difficulty; another to claim that they are less obliged to act in accordance with them.174 Yes, regarding the experience of difficulty, it is important to understand that being in a “state of grace... can coexist with a difficulty in actively exercising a virtue.”175 Being justified in Christ does not exempt believers from the lifelong struggle against sinful tendencies. Francis rightly holds that “The Christian life is a constant battle” (GE §158). This is different from claiming—as Francis seems to be suggesting about Aquinas—“the state of grace can coexist with an act that is gravely contrary to a virtue (a mortal sin).”176 Bonino explains why Francis may not appeal to Aquinas to justify his view. “Whatever otherwise may be the case concerning the question of a possible coexistence between, on the one hand, the life of grace, and, on the other hand, voluntary acts that objectively are of a gravely sinful nature (such as adulterous sexual relations) but that may not be mortal sins due to subjective conditioning, this is not directly what the thesis of St. Thomas intends.”177 Pace Francis, here, too, he cannot say that he “follows the classical doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas.”


Throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has consistently taught—even if his teaching has not been in the limelight compared to his teaching on environmental issues—the conjugal view of marriage—marriage as the two-in-one-flesh union between a man and a woman. Suffice it here to give a sample of statements that confirm his unequivocal support for this view. For example, in his trip to the Philippines in early 2015 Pope Francis said: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life. Our world needs good and strong families to overcome these threats! The Philippines needs holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be a support and example for other families. Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself. The future of humanity, as Saint John Paul II often said, passes through the family [cf. FC §85]…. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death. What a gift this would be to society, if every Christian family lived fully its noble vocation!”178 Also, in his homily at the Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Manila, 16 January 2015, he urged the faithful, “Proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family.” The pope continues: “As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”179 Here are some other examples.

In Francis’s “Opening Speech to the Humanum Conference,” an International Ecumenical and Interreligious Conference on Traditional Marriage, 17-19 November 2014, he defends the complementarity of man and woman in marriage and family life. “It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.... Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”180

In this connection, it is important to emphasize that Pope Francis’s anthropology underscores sexual complementarity of man and woman. In his address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, 7 February 2015, he said: “The first theme [of this assembly] is: Between equality and difference: seeking a balance. This aspect should not be approached ideologically, because the ‘lens’ of ideology impedes one from seeing reality well. The equality and difference of women—like men—are perceived better from the perspective of ‘with’, of relationship, than ‘against.’  For some time, we have left behind us, at least in Western societies, the model of the social subordination of women to men, a secular model which, however, has never been spent of all its negative effects,’ Francis noted. ‘We have also overcome a second model, that of mere equality, applied mechanically, and of absolute equality. A new paradigm was configured, that of reciprocity and in equivalence and in difference. The man-woman relationship, therefore, should recognize that both are necessary in that they possess, yes, an identical nature, but with their own modality.’”181 In another example, Francis asks, “What is marriage? It is a true and authentic vocation, as are the priesthood and the religious life. Two Christians who marry have recognized the call of the Lord in their own love story, the vocation to form one flesh and one life from two, male and female.”182 Another example is found in Francis’s General Audience of 2 April 2014: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.… That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh”. “The image of God is a married couple, man and woman, not only man, not only woman, but rather both. This is the image of God: love, God’s alliance with us is represented in the alliance between man and woman.”183 Still another: “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh [cf. Gen 2:24] and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan” (LF, §52). Again, Evangelii Gaudium:

The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’ [Conférence Des Évêques De France, Conseil Famille et Société, Élargir le mariage aux personnes de même sexe? Ouvrons le débat! (28 September 2012)]. (EG §66)

In this passage, Francis is criticizing the conception of marriage that S. Girgis, R. Anderson, and R. George call the “revisionist view” and which they critically examine and contrast with the conjugal view (Francis’s own teaching).184 A more philosophical defense of conjugal marriage is given by Robert George and Patrick Lee.185 Furthermore, Pope Francis, in a question and answer time with Schoenstatt Movement, the international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world. “The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the audience on 25 October 2014. He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?” “What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed and lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”186

Given Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s integral involvement in the writing of the Aparecida document, we may cite it as support for his views. “Among the premises that weaken and undermine family life, we find the ideology of gender, according to which each everyone can choose his or her sexual orientation, without taking into account the differences set to them by human nature. This has led to legislative changes that gravely injure the dignity of marriage, respect for the right to life, and the identity of the family” (§40). “We bless God for having created the human being man and woman, although today some would seek to confuse this truth: ‘God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them’ [Gen 1:27]. It is part of human nature that man and woman seek their reciprocity and complementarity in one another” (§116). Finally, his support for the view that family life is grounded in the conjugal view of marriage goes back to 27 July 2010. He affirmed in a letter to the Argentinean Bishops’ Conference “the need to ensure the right of children to have a father and a mother for their upbringing and education.... This is not merely a question of terminology or formal conventions of a private relationship. Rather, it is a natural anthropological bond.... Marriage precedes the state: it is the foundation for the family and for a cell within society, predating any legislation, and even predating the Church itself. Therefore, the approval of a law in favor of same-sex marriage would mean a very real and grave step backward from an anthropological point of view.”187


  1. John Paul II, “Discorso Di Giovanni Paolo II Ai Partecipanti Al Congresso Internazionale Di Teologia Morale,” §1.
  2. Benedict XVI, “La pastorale del matrimonio deve fondarsi sulla verità.”
  3. Romano Guardini, Wahrheit des Denkens und Wahrheit des Tuns, ed. J. Messerschmid, 3d ed. (Paderborn, 1980), 85; as cited by Joseph Ratzinger in “Pluralism as a Problem for Church and Theology,” 92n20.
  4. Bishop Johan Bonny, Roger Burggraeve, Mag ik? Sorry, Dank je, Vrijmoedige dialoog over relaties, huwelijk en gezin (Lannoo, 2016). See my article review, “Belgium bishop co-authors book in support of pre-marital sex, same-sex relations.”
  5. David Schoenmaekers, “Kardinal De Kesel vindt seksualiteitsbeleving bij holebi’s aanvaardbaar.”
  6. So, too, GS §48. See the Appendix to this chapter for a sampling of statements from Pope Francis showing his unequivocal support for conjugal marriage as the two-in-one-flesh union of a man and a woman.
  7. Pope Francis, with Dominique Wolton, A Future of Faith, The Path of Change in Politics and Society, 225.
  8. Josef Seifert correctly states, “Throughout the entire world, many voices have responded to the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia with joy and praise for the latest document by Pope Francis. And its text contains no doubt many beautiful thoughts and deep truths that lift up the reader’s mind to the beauty and happiness of true love, glorify God and delight the reader. In particular, the text exudes the merciful love of God and of the Pope for all persons in all situations of economic or moral poverty and of material and spiritual wealth, of sin and of virtue. The text contains treasures of wisdom.” (“Amoris Laetitia: Joy, Sadness and Hopes,” 168-69).
  9. John Paul II already called for a human ecology in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, §38.
  10. Benedict XVI, too, calls for a moral and human ecology in his address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011. He had earlier made this point in an Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2008. Furthermore, Benedict stated regarding so-called “gender theory” in a 2012 “Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI on the Occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia.”
  11. The recent Evangelical Protestant declaration, the Nashville Statement, may best be seen as a contribution—whatever its limitations—to the promotion of an integral human ecology. A context for discussing the Nashville Statement is the Salzburg Declaration (SD). In Salzburg, Austria, 6 September 2015, a historic ecumenical Congress organized by the (Protestant) International Christian Network (Internationale Konferenz Bekennender Gemeinschaften) met to consider current cultural threats to the human person and his created nature, and a plan for responding to them. This document is called the Salzburg Declaration: “Current Threats to Human Creatureliness and Their Overcoming: Life According to the Creator’s Will.” The participants expressed concern that while the ecology of the environment is well developed the same cannot be said for the “ecology of man.” It is in the light of the call for an integral ecology of man that we should understand and appreciate the Nashville Statement. See my article, “The Nashville Statement is part of an ecumenical ‘ecology of man.’”
  12. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.
  13. See Francis, Amoris Laetitia §297, “Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever [irregular] situation they find themselves.” For example, Blase Cardinal Cupich has drawn out the implications of the logic of pastoral reasoning and discernment to homosexual relations (DeBernardo, “Cupich: Synod Would Have Gained from Hearing from Lesbian and Gay Couples”). This logic was already evident in the extraordinary and ordinary synods on the family, 2014-2015, and it is reflected in Amoris Laetitia.
  14. Pope Francis, “Preface to Stephen Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce,” xi-xii.
  15. Similarly, in a recent book of interviews, Francis says, “To understand Amoris Laetitia you need to read it all the way from the beginning to the end. Start with the first chapter, and then go on to the second and so on... and reflect. And read what was said in the Synod” (Open to God, Open to the World, Pope Francis with Antonio Spadaro, 142).
  16. Stephen Walford does not consider any of the critics of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, such as the late Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Josef Seifert, Robert Spaemann or the so-called “dubia” cardinals, such as the late Cardinal Carlo Caffara, to have raised one single legitimate point of criticism, or even a question of clarification. It seems that is because they do not understand Francis’s work, or are blinded by their own presuppositions. Furthermore, he regards them all as “dissenters of the papal magisterium” who have “manufactured confusion” (Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce, xviii, xx). Representative of defenders of Chapter 8 of Francis’s Amoris Laetitia is the claim that his critics do not understand him and hence not a legitimate question is raised of this chapter. See Massimo Borghesi, who falls into this camp, The Mind of Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Intellectual Journey, 259-66.
  17. This second hermeneutical principle obviously involves a reference to the significant address of Pope Benedict XVI, in his now famous 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, where he called the hermeneutics of Vatican II “the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.”
  18. Gerhard Cardinal Müller, “Development, or Corruption?”
  19. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 87.
  20. As I made clear in Chapter 1, it is not clear in Francis’s hermeneutics of renewal exactly what is consolidated, expanded upon, and developed because he pays no attention to the intrinsic bond between mediating dogmas and the cognitive/propositional content of divine revelation. Given the historically conditioned formulations of dogma, with their possible correction, modification, and complementation, how is the historicity of dogma reconciled with the permanence of its meaning and truth. The original context makes clear that Vincent is referring to dogmas of the Christian religion to which this law of development applies. But Francis is referring to the Gospel message, the revealed truth, the substance of the deposit of the faith, to which this law applies. Now, although this passage of Vincent is cited several times by Francis, this question is never really answered. Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, Encyclical Letter, 2015, §121. Endnote 98 explicitly refers to the Commonitorium Primum, 23.3, §29, of Vincent of Lérins. “Address of Pope Francis to the Community of the Pontifical Gregorian University, together with Members of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Pontifical Oriental Institute.” Again, “Address of the Holy Father, Incontro Con I Rappresentanti del V Convegno Nazionale Della Chiesa Italiana,” 10 November 2015. Most recently, he refers to it again in a book of interviews, Open to God, Open to the World, Pope Francis with Antonio Spadaro, SJ, 51.
  21. Actually, hermeneutics means the theory and practice of interpretation. As Jens Zimmermann puts it, “The word ‘hermeneutics’ comes from the ancient Greek language (hermeneuein = to utter, to explain, to translate), and was first used by thinkers who discussed how divine messages or mental ideas are expressed in human language. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BCE), for example, used the word hermeneutics in dealing with poets as ‘hermeneutics of the divine’, and his student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) wrote the first extant treatise on hermeneutics, in which he showed how spoken and written words were expressions of inner thoughts. Thus, from its very first appearance, the term hermeneuein, along with its later Latin equivalent ‘interpretari’, was associated with the task of understanding some kind of spoken or written communication” (Hermeneutics, A Very Short Introduction [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). So, hermeneutics doesn’t mean growth, but it may involve development by way of a clarifying interpretation, not mutability; progress, not change.
  22. Pope Francis, with Dominique Wolton, A Future of Faith, The Path of Change in Politics and Society, 224.
  23. See Francis, “Preface for Stephen Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce.” Similarly, in Open to God, Open to the World, Francis says, “I want to repeat clearly that the morality of Amoris Laetitia is Thomist, the morality of the great Thomas” (142).
  24. In the following sections, I am drawing on my book, “In the Beginning”: A Theology of the Body, Chapter 5.
  25. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 3.3.
  26. Ibid., 4.1.
  27. On this point, see De Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, 313-14.
  28. Jacques Maritain, Clairvoyance de Rome, 222 (italics added), “There is one error that consists in ignoring the distinction between nature and grace. There is another that consists in ignoring their union,” as cited in De Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” Theological Fragments, 91-104, and this citation at 103, note 28.
  29. This theological understanding of the relation between nature, sin and grace is fundamental to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
  30. De Lubac, A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace, 81-82.
  31. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 24, 34.
  32. The Rev. Thomas G. Guarino, Foundations of Systematic Theology, 20.
  33. I owe this succinct way of formulating the various possibilities of relating nature, sin and grace to Albert Wolters, “What is to be done? Toward a neo-Calvinist Agenda.” For an introduction to his thinking, see Creation Regained. For my own analysis of these various possibilities with respect to a Catholic theology of culture, see Slitting the Sycamore: Christ and Culture in the New Evangelization. Especially influential not only in my own thinking but also that of Wolter’s on the relation between nature and grace are the writings of Dutch neo-Calvinist philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977). For a brief introduction to his thinking, see In the Twilight of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Philosophical Thought.
  34. I am drawing here on Chapter 5 of my book, “In the Beginning” A Theology of the Body, 206-13.
  35. See Matthias Joseph Scheeben, Nature and Grace, 308.
  36. John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 222.
  37. Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith & Reason, Foundations of Christian Theology, 72.
  38. E.L. Mascall, The Openness of Being, Natural Theology Today, 151, italics added.
  39. Ibid., 153. These two maxims are derived from St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 1, art. 8 ad 2, and I, q.2. art. 2 ad 1, respectively.
  40. Pontifical Council for Culture, Towards Pastoral Approach to Culture, §6. The quotation inside this quotation is from John Paul II, “Homily of the Enthronement Mass.”
  41. Mascall, The Openness of Being, 153.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Cessario, Christian Faith & The Theological Life, 28.
  44. Mascall, The Openness of Being, 150.
  45. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, §109.
  46. St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XIV, Chapter XI,
  47. All the quotations in this paragraph, except the quotation from St. Augustine’s The City of God, are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church §§1603, 1606-1609, 1614-1615.
  48. Gilson, Christianity and Philosophy, 21, 24, and 111, respectively.
  49. The quote within this quote is from Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi §18. Paul VI then adds, “The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.”
  50. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 99.7.
  51. Ibid., 49.4.
  52. This teaching is explicitly embraced by Benedict XVI, e.g., “Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI on the Occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia”; and by Pope Francis, particularly in Amoris Laetitia §56, §§74-75, and Laudato Si’ §155.
  53. Patrick Lee and Robert George, “Sex and the Body,” in Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, 176-217. See also, William E. May, Catholic Sexual Ethics.
  54. Lee and George, “Sex and the Body,” 107.
  55. John Paul II, Letter to Families, §19.
  56. Wojtyla, “The Problem of Catholic Sexual Ethics,” 287.
  57. John Finnis, “Personal Integrity, Sexual Morality and Responsible Parenthood,” at 177.
  58. Wojtyla, “The Problem of Catholic Sexual Ethics,” 289.
  59. John Paul II develops the moral and anthropological significance of the unity of the human person as body and soul in Veritatis Splendor, §§46-50.
  60. Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, Death and Eternal Life, 179-81. Ratzinger is persuaded that Aquinas’ philosophical understanding of the “formula anima forma corporis: the soul is the form of the body” embodies a “complete transformation of Aristotelianism.” He writes, “Thomas’ twofold affirmation that the spirit is at once something personal and also the ‘form’ of matter would simply have been unthinkable for Aristotle.... And so we come at last to a really tremendous idea: the human spirit is so utterly one with the body that the term ‘form’ can be used of the body and retain its proper meaning. Conversely, the form of the body is spirit, and this is what makes the human being a person.... What seemed philosophically impossible has thus been achieved.... The soul belongs to the body as ‘form’, but that which is the form of the body is still spirit. It makes man a person and opens him to immortality. Compared with all the conceptions of the soul available in antiquity, this notion of the soul is quite novel. It is a product of Christian faith, and of the exigencies of faith for human thought” (Ibid., 148-49).
  61. Wojtyla, The Acting Person, 11.
  62. Ibid., 203-204.
  63. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 9.4; also note 18, and 12.5.
  64. Wojtyla, The Acting Person, 205.
  65. Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol. III, 89. This, too, is the view of Reformed philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophical anthropology, Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy, Volume Three, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophical Anthropology, Part II, chapters 1-3: “[T]he human spirit cannot carry out any real acts outside its temporal corporal individuality-structure. For that reason, we said: it is the individual human being in the integral unity of ‘body’ and ‘soul’ who accomplishes the acts. The full person as a totality is the subject of the act.... In the acts, the ‘soul’ is actually operative in the entire enkaptic structure of the body, and only in the body does the soul have the capacity to do so, insofar as the acts are included in the temporal order of the body. In other words, we can take the ‘acts’ neither to be purely ‘corporal’ nor purely ‘spiritual.’ They are both inseparably connected and precisely for that reason they bear a typically human character. Only the act-structure in its fundamental dependence upon the spirit stamps the body as human” (162-63).
  66. J. Budziszewski, On The Meaning of Sex, 28.
  67. Eberhard Schockenhoff, Natural Law & Human Dignity, Universal Ethics in an Historical World, 208.
  68. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 7.2.
  69. Schockenhoff, Natural Law & Human Dignity, 208.
  70. Ibid., 208.
  71. John Finnis, “Personal Integrity, Sexual Morality and Responsible Parenthood,” 177.
  72. John F. Crosby, “The Estrangement of Persons from their Bodies,” 130-31.
  73. Patrick Lee, “The Human Body and Sexuality in the Teaching of Pope John Paul II,” 114.
  74. Eberhard Schockenhoff, “A Consistent Ethic of Life (with a Few Blemishes)” 249.
  75. Ibid.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Luijpen, Existential Phenomenology, 187-88.
  78. Ibid., 313-14, note 64.
  79. Ibid., 187-88.
  80. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 15.5. Cf. Francis, Amoris Laetitia §150.
  81. Ibid., 15.2.
  82. Müller, The Cardinal Müller Report, 147.
  83. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 15.2. “Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a ‘spiritual’ and purely formal freedom. This reduction misunderstands the moral meaning of the body and of kinds of behavior involving it [cf. 1 Cor 6:19]. Saint Paul declares that ‘the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers’ are excluded from the Kingdom of God [cf. 1 Cor 6:9]. This condemnation—repeated by the Council of Trent—lists as ‘mortal sins’ or ‘immoral practices’ certain specific kinds of behavior the willful acceptance of which prevents believers from sharing in the inheritance promised to them.”
  84. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 7.2.
  85. Ibid.,
  86. Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 293.
  87. For example, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, Edited by Robert Dodaro, O.S.A.; Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family, Edited by Winfried Aymans; The Gospel of the Family, Juan José Pérez-Soba and Stephan Kampowski; and Christ’s New Homeland—Africa, Contribution to the Synod on the Family by African Pastors, Translated by Michael J. Miller.
  88. Inés San Martín, “Cardinal calls pope’s family text ‘development’ in Church doctrine.”
  89. Fr. Raymond J. De Souza, “‘Amoris Laetitia,’ The Holy Spirit and the Synod of Surprises.”
  90. Richard Gaillardetz, “Francis wishes to release Vatican II’s bold vision from Captivity”; emphasis added. Gaillardetz develops this notion of pastoral-oriented doctrinal development in his book, An Unfinished Council, Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the Renewal of Catholicism. I already critically discussed Gaillardetz’s pastoral-oriented notion of doctrinal development in Chapter 1. It is not faithful to Vatican II’s own Lérinian hermeneutics of renewal; rather, he holds an instrumentalist view of doctrine, in which doctrines are neither absolute truths nor objectively true affirmations; in fact, doctrines do not make assertions about objective reality at all.
  91. Recent critics of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) have used either a “scatter gun” approach that hits everything in sight or a sniper’s rifle aiming with accuracy at a specific target. The former leads to a hysterical approach to Amoris Laetitia, assuming that Pope Francis has given up everything; the latter approach is more tempered, raising serious questions, especially regarding the moral logic evident in certain paragraphs in Chapter 8. The former approach is irresponsible, but the latter is not.
  92. Pace Borghesi, The Mind of Pope Francis, 260. In some cases, it is obvious that the writer has not read Amoris Laetitia. For example, Andrew Brown, “The War Against Pope Francis,” The Guardian, 27 October 2017, “The document [Amoris Laetitia], written by Francis, is a summary of the current debate over divorce, and it is in this footnote that he makes an apparently mild assertion that divorced and remarried couples may sometimes receive communion.”
  93. Ross Douthat, To Change the Church, 82-93.
  94. Cardinal Cupich, “‘Not our Policy’ to deny Communion to People in Same-Sex Marriages.”
  95. Ibid.
  96. It is not surprising that Francis holds this view since he holds, “There is no white or black; there is white, black, gray, and then all the many shades of gray.... Life itself is gray; it is a journey in search of something toward which we cannot be rigid but, as society, proudly multicolored” (God is Young, 58).
  97. Kevin L. Flannery, S.J. & Thomas V. Berg write, “The words “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” are taken from Francis’s homily on 15 February 2015, to the then newly created Cardinals (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 107 [2015]: 258). A note makes reference to 1 Cor 13. The words are said in reference to charity, not mercy, although the immediately preceding paragraph speaks of mercy, mentioning “the repentant prodigal son.” The sentence in AL is followed by an exclamatory affirmation that “no one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” [This claim occurs earlier in this paragraph as well: ‘The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone forever.’] One can only speculate about the Pope’s meaning here. A charitable interpretation would say that he is referring to some kind of perpetual ‘condemnation’ during one’s life (the possibility of eternal condemnation after death being a matter of revealed truth; the Church cannot withdraw Christ’s offer of forgiveness to the repentant sinner” (“Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 85n5). This, too, is Gerhard Cardinal Müller’s interpretation: “Even when it is said ‘that no one can be condemned forever’ this must be understood from the point of view of care, that never surrenders, for the eternal salvation of a sinner rather than as a categorical denial of the possibility of an eternal condemnation which, however, presupposes voluntary obstinacy in sin” (“Communion to the remarried, Müller, ‘There can be mitigating factors in guilt.”) It is also the reading of Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce, 64n6. Not unreasonably, the late Germain Grisez and John Finnis asked for clarification on this very point because it implies universalism, namely, that all men are saved. In their Letter to Pope Francis, “The Misuse of Amoris Laetitia to Support Errors Against the Catholic Faith,” they cite the following references to Amoris Laetitia: “since by virtue of Christ’s redemptive act and God’s “indulgent love” (AL 62), every human person will inherit eternal life and none will end in hell (see AL 117, 297, 310, 325; also see Encyclical Laudato Sí, 83 and 243). For a refutation of that implication from these assertions of Pope Francis, see 23-30 of the Letter. To the best of my knowledge, there are only two times in his six-year pontificate where Francis states that there is a limit to God’s mercy, such that he says that Jesus rejects man. “Jesus ‘is good and merciful’, but he is also ‘just’. So beware of rejecting him: ‘If you close the door of your heart from within, He cannot open it, because He is very respectful of our heart’. And to ‘those who reject Jesus, Jesus waits, he will give a second chance, perhaps a third, a fourth, a fifth... But in the end, he will be the one to reject you’. For Pope Francis the idea that ‘in the end, Jesus forgives everything’ works only to a certain point.” (Salvatore Cernuzio, “The Pope, ‘Beware of rejecting Jesus: He is good, merciful, he waits, but in the end, it is He who rejects.”) See also, Glatz, “God’s wrath is just as great as his mercy, Pope warns.”
  98. For a meticulous analysis of the concept and examples of possible “irregular situations,” see Josef Seifert, “Amoris Laetitia, Joy, Sadness and Hopes.”
  99. This, too, is the position of Benedict XVI, “[P]astoral care must not be understood as if it were somehow in conflict with the law. Rather, one should begin by assuming that the fundamental point of encounter between the law and pastoral care is love for the truth: truth is never something purely abstract, but ‘a real part of the human and Christian journey of every member of the faithful’ [Propositio 40],” Sacramentum Caritas.
  100. Francis, “God makes us His Children and His Brothers and Sisters, not Members of an Agency,” in Only Love Can Save, 91-95, and at 93. In a statement that I have always found extremely baffling “Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person” (A Big Heart Open to God, 33). It is not at all clear what this means here. Elsewhere, in On Heaven and Earth, Francis gives us some perspective on what he might mean. “The religious minister... does not have the right to force anything on anyone’s private life. If God, in creation, runs the risk of making us free, who am I to get involved? We condemn spiritual harassment that takes place when a minister imposes directive, conduct, and demands in such a way that it takes away the freedom of the other person. God left the freedom to sin in our hands. One has to speak very clearly about values, limits, commandments, but spiritual and pastoral harassment is not allowed” (114).
  101. In Chapter 1, I considered Francis’s problematic dismissal of the notion of abstract truth, his reluctance to speak of “absolute” truth, which I suggest has something to do with the absence of the notion of moral absolutes in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, and his theologico-pastoral epistemology and its attending principle prioritizing realities over ideas.
  102. Francis, “Homily of his Holiness Pope Francis, Holy Chrism Mass.” See Fr. Gerald Murray, “Of Truth and Idols.”
  103. Bergoglio, “The Importance of Academic Formation,” 143.
  104. I understand that it is a common practice to refer to all human beings as “children of God,” but this is theologically erroneous. Yes, all men are created in the image of God (see Gen 1:27). God is the “father” of all because he is the Creator of the human family (Eph 3:14-15). Man—male and female—was fashioned in his very image (Gen 1:26-27), and he exercises sovereignty over all. But being a son or daughter of God is an adopted status (Gal 4:4-7) by virtue of Christian Baptism. In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, he tells him “you must be born again” (John 3:7), and St. Paul wrote, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The reborn child of God is called to “be renewed in the spirit of [his] mind, and that [he] put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:23-24). As Cessario astutely notes (Christian Faith & The Theological Life, 28-29), overlooking this distinction “threatens to confuse God’s creative presence to the human creature with the realization of the same person’s call to beatitude. The danger here is the risk of emphasizing the pervasive and inclusive character of divine grace in a way that practically eliminates the need for a real grace of justification—one that effectively transforms an impious person into a holy one. But the New Testament makes it exceedingly difficult to glide over the fact that the justification won by the blood of Christ really involves a movement from our being ‘by nature children of wrath, like everyone else’ to our being ‘alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved’” (Eph. 2:3, 5).
  105. Francis, “Homily of his Holiness Pope Francis, Holy Chrism Mass.”
  106. Os Guiness, Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, & Spin.
  107. Inspired by Pope Francis, Johannes zu Eltz, Catholic Dean of the city of Frankfurt am Main, in the preface of the German edition of James Martin, SJ, Building a Bridge, Zu Eltz says, “The steps which James Martin mentions in his book are important for the church in Germany, as well. To me, the next step for the church is to accept and appreciate the relationships of homosexual couples and to give them the opportunity to be blessed in a liturgical service. Put simply, the question is whether the church is able to learn that good things happen in those relationships; that homosexual couples who cannot celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony (civil same sex marriage was established by law in Germany in 2017) by their companionship give birth to moral goods for themselves and for others: love, loyalty, commitment, fecundity, chastity. If this is true, then there is the possibility to confirm these goods and to ask for God’s providence and guidance for this couple. That is what we call a blessing.” For my refutation of the proposal to bless same-sex couples, see the Conclusion.
  108. Similarly, Gerhard Cardinal Müller correctly writes, “Even when some constitutive elements of marriage are found in cohabitations that resemble marriage, however, the sinful transgression against other constitutive elements of marriage and against marriage as a whole, is not good. Contradiction with goodness can never become part of it, or the beginning of a journey towards the fulfillment of God’s holy and sanctifying will” (“Communion to the remarried, ‘There can be mitigating factors in guilt.’”) Stephen Walford completely overlooks this problem with Francis’s pastoral strategy, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce, 131. Elsewhere Müller says, “This principle [“seeds of the Word”] does not legitimize immoral relationships, however, because the seeds of the Word do not abide in sinful situations such as cohabitation without marriage and other types of sexual unions. In these situations, despite the fact that it might seem otherwise, there can be no authentic dynamic of love but, rather, only a serious obstacle to the ability to grow in humanity” (The Cardinal Müller Report, 53). Inexplicably, Müller overlooks that this point is precisely what Francis affirms, see “Communion to the remarried.”
  109. Francis, A Big Heart Open to God, 35. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of John Paul II takes a completely different approach to Jesus’ pastoral strategy in the 1989 commentary, “The moral norm of Humanae Vitae and pastoral duty.” “The Gospels bear witness to the fact that truth and mercy unite to form the single and undivided attitude of the Lord Jesus. His pastoral attitude is revealed in an outstandingly clear and typical example in the word which Jesus addresses to the woman who was a sinner: “Has no one condemned you?... Neither do I condemn you, go, and do not sin again” (John 8:10-11). Calling good and evil by their right names, Jesus does not falsify moral truth, but bears witness to it in an unmistakable way, and in offering his merciful love to the woman who had sinned and repented, he leads her back to the truth and to salvation. Thus love and pastoral concern towards couples in difficulty can never (if one means to offer them real help) be separated from the truth, and can never evade or dilute the duty of calling good and evil by their right names. As was well said by Paul VI in his Encyclical, ‘it is an outstanding manifestation of charity towards souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ’ (HV §29).”
  110. But not in The Name of God is Mercy. See Chapter 3 of this book.
  111. Francis does not always overlook the hermeneutical value of sin in explaining human reality. “Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs 21) and culminating in Jesus’ own words against injustice [cf. Luke 12:13; 16:1-31]” (AL §26).
  112. Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations, XIII, 90.
  113. Stephen Walford presents a straw man when he says that those who reject the moral logic in the pastoral reasoning and discernment of Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8, are “guided simply by a manual of prohibitions [rather than] the centrality of our relationship to the merciful Christ” (“The Magisterium of Pope Francis: His Predecessors Come to His Defense.” Similarly, he claims to enlist Ratzinger on his side by citing his statement, “As judge, Christ is not a cold legalist” (“Amoris Laetitia: The Questions that Really Need Answers”).
  114. Indeed, Francis insists now and again in response to the charge that his view of mercy is sentimental and distorts the Gospel, as we saw in Chapter 2, that “mercy does not exclude justice and truth” (ibid.). But he is more concerned that “we [not] put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel.” Francis’s approach is inclusion in the ecclesial community first; conversion second. For example, he welcomes cohabiting couples into the Church without any conditions, such as repentance. See on cohabitation, Francis, “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants in the Course on the Marriage Process.” This approach has come to be known as the Zacchaeus paradigm. It is prominent in the work of James Martin, SJ, and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy. For the former, see his “How parishes can welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics.” For the latter, see his “Speech at the 2018 Assembly of the Association of US Catholic Priests.” For a critique of their approach, see Leroy Huizenga, “Abusing Zacchaeus.”
  115. On cohabitation, see Francis, “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants in the Course on the Marriage Process”: “At the same time, reach out in the Gospel way by meeting and welcoming young people who prefer to live together without being married. On the spiritual and moral level, they are among the poor and the little ones, towards whom the Church, following in the footsteps of her Master and Lord, seeks to be a mother who does not abandon but draws near and takes care of them.”
  116. This approach is contrary to St. Paul in 1 Cor 5:6-11, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore, purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”
  117. See note 109. Most recently, we find that caricature, not to say distortion, of John Paul II’s view of the relationship of doctrine and pastoral approach, between mercy and truth, the Church as Teacher and as Mother (see RP §34; VS §§95-105), or in Thomas Knieps-Port Le Roi’s own words, “church as a fortress of truth” and as a “field hospital,” to be such that it stems from overlooking John Paul’s emphasis on the “coexistence and mutual influence of two equally important [complementary] principles [of mercy and truth] (“Preserving and Perpetuating the Heritage of Pope John Paul II,” at 514).
  118. Contra Fastiggi & Goldstein, “Does Amoris Laetitia 303 Really Undermine Catholic Moral Teaching?” John Paul II “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted 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, such as for example 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’” (FC §84). This is also his position in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia §34, and Benedict XVI’s position in Sacramentum Caritatis §29.
  119. For accuracy’s sake, the Second Vatican Council’s text, GS §51, is not addressing the case of the divorced and civilly remarried abstaining from sexual intimacy; rather this text is addressing married couples: “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.” Hence, Francis’ claim is not supported by Gaudium et Spes.
  120. Gerhard Cardinal Müller, “Development, or Corruption?” For a critique of Walford’s defense of the moral justification of ongoing sexual relations in the union of civilly remarried divorcees, see Dan Hitchens, “Against Inevitable Adultery.”
  121. Douthat, To Change the Church, 96.
  122. Ibid., 98. Since Stephen Walford does not think that a legitimate question can be raised here, he blindly and insouciantly defends a morally permissible choice that is made under a lesser-of-two-evils calculus. See Walford, “Amoris Laetitia: The Questions That Really Needs Answers.”
  123. On Spadaro’s approval of cohabitation, following the lead of Pope Francis as well as the 2015 Synod on the Family, see Spadaro, “The welcoming of those young people who prefer to live together without getting married.” For a critique of this approach, see Maureen Mullarkey, “Cohabitation & Mother Church.”
  124. Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, A Commentary on Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia.
  125. Víctor Manuel Fernández, “El capítulo VIII de Amoris Laetitia: lo que queda después de la tormenta,” 449-68. For an English-language summary of this article, see Austin Ivereigh,”Papal confidante says ‘Amoris’ critics locked in ‘death-trap’ logic.” For a critique of Archbishop Fernandez’s claims, see Raymond J. de Souza, “Papal Adviser Undermines Magisterium ‘in a Discreet Way.’”
  126. Kasper, in particular, was asked, in an interview with the Catholic magazine Commonweal, “So, just to be clear, when you talk about a divorced and remarried Catholic not being able to fulfill the rigorist’s requirements without incurring a new guilt, what would he or she be guilty of? The breakup of the second family. If there are children, you cannot do it. If you’re engaged to a new partner, you’ve given your word, and so it’s not possible” (Boudway et al, “An Interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper.”)
  127. Cardinal Cupich, “‘Not our Policy’ to deny Communion to People in Same-Sex Marriages.”
  128. Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P., “Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,” 510.
  129. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 19, a. 6, ad 3. See also, Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 92-93. Thomas’s solution—but not Francis’s—is the solution of the Pontifical Council for the Family, “Vademecum for Confessors Concerning some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life,” §9: “The pastoral ‘law of gradualness’, not to be confused with the ‘gradualness of the law’ which would tend to diminish the demands it places on us, consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together with a progressive path towards total union with the will of God and with his loving demands” [Cf. FC §34].”
  130. Coccopalmerio, A Commentary on Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia, 15-29.
  131. Ibid., 19.
  132. Ibid., 20 and 25.71-83.
  133. Coccopalmerio would even give “absolution” to such an individual in the confessional. In a 1 March 2017, interview, he said, “To the one who says, ‘I’m in grave sin, but I don’t want to change’ [absolution is not possible]. When someone comes to confess and says to you, ‘I committed this sin. I want to change, but I know that I am not capable of changing, but I want to change’, what do you do? Do you send him away? No, you absolve him.” (Edward Pentin, “Cardinal Coccopalmerio Explains His Positions on Catholics in Irregular Unions.”)
  134. For the sake of accuracy, furthermore, John Paul II is not speaking in Familaris Consortio §34 about the inherent values of marital permanence and indissolubility but rather about the Church’s teaching on the responsible transmission of life. Furthermore, the Council states: “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.” (GS §51)
  135. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 93.
  136. John Paul II, “Homily at the Close of the Fifth Synod of Bishops” §11. The problem is in the way that Francis conceives the unity of teaching and practice. He there affirms unity as “certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing consequences from it” (AL §3).
  137. John Paul II, “Homily at the Close of the Fifth Synod of Bishops,” which is not available in English on the Vatican website.
  138. Ibid., §7.
  139. Coccopalmerio, A Commentary on Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia, 16.
  140. Aquinas, De malo, q. 3, a. 8, as quoted in Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 90.
  141. Karl Rahner, SJ, “The Appeal to Conscience,” at 50.
  142. J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, 63-64.
  143. In addition to a “rejection of values concerning the family and marriage,” Francis mentions, chiefly, economic causes, such as “being opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more security in life (a steady job and steady income).... [Thus] celebrating a marriage is considered too expensive in the social circumstances. As a result, material poverty drives people into de facto unions” (Amoris Laetitia §294).
  144. Josef Seifert, “Amoris Laetitia, Joy, Sadness and Hopes,” Aemaet Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, Bd. 5, Nr. 2 (2016): 160-249.
  145. I owe this diagram to Branislav Kuljovsky, “The Law of Gradualness or the Gradualness of Law? A Critical Analysis of Amoris Laetitia,” at 57.
  146. Writes Francis, “Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness. In this pastoral discernment, there is a need to ‘identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth” (AL §293). He adds, “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth” (AL §305).
  147. Coccopalmerio said in a 2014 interview that the Church must “emphasize” the “positive realities” that he said are present in homosexual relationships. “If I meet a homosexual couple, I notice immediately that their relationship is illicit: the doctrine says this, which I reaffirm with absolute certainty. However, if I stop at the doctrine, I do not look anymore at the persons. But if I see that the two persons truly love each other, do acts of charity to those in need, for example... then I can also say that, although the relationship remains illicit, positive elements also emerge in the two persons. Instead of closing our eyes to such positive realities, I emphasize them. It is to be objective and objectively recognize the positive of a certain relationship, of itself illicit,” he said in a 2014 interview with Rossoporpora” (Pete Baklinski, “Cardinal linked to Vatican gay orgy emphasized ‘positive elements’ in gay lifestyle.”). This is a fundamentally flawed pastoral strategy. See my objections in note 109, and in Chapter 3.
  148. On cohabitation, see the “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants in the Course on the Marriage Process”: “At the same time, reach out in the Gospel way by meeting and welcoming young people who prefer to live together without being married. On the spiritual and moral level, they are among the poor and the little ones, towards whom the Church, following in the footsteps of her Master and Lord, seeks to be a mother who does not abandon but draws near and takes care of them.” This approach runs the serious risk of separating the Church as Mother from the Church as Teacher, of separating the pastoral from the doctrinal. Where is the illuminating truth expressed in the moral norm prohibiting fornication (CCC §2353), and all its consequences that offend the dignity of marriage, family, and weakening the sense of fidelity (CCC §2390)? Why don’t we hear: “The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion?” Francis pastoral strategy is expressed in the following passage from Amoris Laetitia §78: “The light of Christ enlightens every person [cf. John 1:9; GS, 22]. Seeing things with the eyes of Christ inspires the Church’s pastoral care for the faithful who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried. Following this divine pedagogy, the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner: she seeks the grace of conversion for them; she encourages them to do good, to take loving care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work… When a couple in an irregular union attains a noteworthy stability through a public bond—and is characterized by deep affection, responsibility towards the children and the ability to overcome trials—this can be seen as an opportunity, where possible, to lead them to celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony.” As I argued in Chapter 3, Francis theologically justifies the good or constructive elements in these situations by employing the concept of the “semina Verbi,” or “seeds of the Word,” in order to find goodness or positive elements in these relationships, suggesting that these relationships qua relationships are imperfect forms, partial and analogous, and hence incomplete realizations of conjugal marriage, ordered to the good of an exclusive and permanent relationship. However, this approach—and the one in this passage where the Light of Christ is central—cannot do justice to the teaching of the Catechism because it does not take seriously the reality of sin and man’s resistance to the light of Christ. Francis ignores that the human reception of that light is open to resistance and hence to distortion, misinterpretation, and rejection. John 1:9 describes light in its fullness and universality, but not every individual is in fact enlightened by the light. Pace Francis, therefore, the Word does not illuminate all human beings because they resist the light. Consider John 1:5, 10. “And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.” “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” Both of these verses speak of the negative reaction of the world to the coming of the light. Where is this resistance to the Light in Francis’s pedagogy?
  149. Reminiscent of Pope Pius XII’s description of “situation ethics: “Such judgments of conscience, however contrary they may seem at first sight to divine precepts, would be valid before God, because, they say, in the eyes of God a seriously formed conscience takes precedence over ‘precept’ and ‘law’” (“Soyez les Bienvenues,” Address to the Participants in the Congress of the World Federation of Catholic Young Women, §6).
  150. Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia §305, “Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties’ [EG §44]. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.”
  151. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 95.
  152. Josef Seifert, “Does Pure Logic Threaten to Destroy the Entire Moral Doctrine of the Church.” Similarly, Douthat, To Change the Church, 97.
  153. I am aware that Francis denies that his reflection on “a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard” (AL §300). Notwithstanding his denial, that is precisely what his reflections imply.
  154. John Paul then proceeds in VS §§57–61 to show how these views are at odds with Scripture and Tradition.
  155. Blase Cardinal Cupich, “Pope Francis’ Revolution of Mercy: Amoris Laetitia as a New Paradigm of Catholicity.”
  156. One may grant Fastiggi’s claim that “Pope Francis does not consider conscience ‘a faculty for autonomously deciding about good and evil’ [fifth dubium of the five Cardinals]. Instead, he sees conscience as rooted in ‘the living God’ who helps to free us from the imprisonment of ourselves.” Agreed. However, this clarification does not free us from understanding conscience as an oracle rather than an organ; plus, it is not clear in Francis—even when he sees conscience as rooted in the living God—that conscience is “the internal witness of both the existence and the law of God” (Newman). On this last point, Grisez & Finnis have rightly written regarding Gaudium et Spes §16, “But the Latin (for which alone the Fathers [of Vatican II] voted) unambiguously means ‘the voice of this law’ (In imo conscientiae legem homo detegit, quam ipse sibi non dat, sed cui obedire debet, et cuius vox, semper ad bonum amandum et faciendum ac malum vitandum eum advocans, ubi oportet auribus cordis sonat: fac hoc, illud devita.); the usual Italian and French translations (and even more closely and clearly the Spanish and German) sufficiently confirm this, and include nothing meaning or suggesting “voice of conscience.”
  157. Contra Archbishop Fernandez, “El capítulo VIII de Amoris Laetitia: lo que queda después de la tormenta,” 454: “It is the formulation of the norm that cannot cover everything, not the norm in itself.”
  158. Contra Archbishop Fernandez, “El capítulo VIII de Amoris Laetitia: lo que queda después de la tormenta,” 454-56. Also, contra Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce, 60, 92-93.
  159. ST, IIa-IIae, q. 33, a.2. See also Super Sent. lib. 1 d. 48 q. 1 a. 2 ad 5; lib. 2 d. 40 q. 1 a. 2 co.; Super Sent., lib. 2 d. 36 q. 1 a. 5 ad 2. Numerous texts by Aquinas apply, moreover, these negative moral norms that hold semper et ad semper to the case of adultery: Quodlibet IX, q. 7 a. 2 co.; Sententia Ethic., lib. 2 l. 7 n. 11; De malo, q. 15 a. 2 ad 6; Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 33 q. 1 a. 3 qc. 3 co., ST, Suppl. q. 65, a. 5 co. but also to the case of rape, murder of innocents, lying, giving false testimony, etc.: ST, IIª-IIae q. 64 a. 6 co.; ST, IIª-IIae q. 64 a. 5 co.; ST, IIª-IIae q. 66 a. 5 co.; ST, IIª-IIae q. 70 a. 4 co.; ST, IIª-IIae q. 110 a. 3 co. I am grateful to my colleague, the Belgian Thomist, Jörgen Vijgen for these references to Aquinas’s many works. See also, Bonino, “Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,” 513-19.
  160. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 98-99.
  161. Ibid., 99-100. See also, Flannery’s article on the International Theological Commission, In Search of a Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law (2009), which Francis appeals to in order to justify the indeterminacy of general principles when applied to particular actions: “Determinacy in Natural Law,” Nova et Vetera, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2011) 763-73.
  162. The distinction between negative norms and positive norms, moral absolutes and prima facie obligations, plays a fundamental role in John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited — to everyone and in every case — to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all” (VS §52). See also: “In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids” (VS §67).
  163. Pace Borghesi, The Mind of Pope Francis, 263-65.
  164. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 100-101.
  165. Given the limits of this chapter, I cannot examine Flannery’s thesis, namely, “Around the time of the Second Vatican Council, one begins to encounter in the writings of certain Catholic scholars the idea that the general precepts of the natural law are all well and good, but they cannot speak in a determinate way to particular situations and to particular acts that a person might perform” (“Determinacy in Natural Law,” 763-64). Francis is under the influence of these scholars, as is evident from his view of the natural law and concrete action.
  166. Pace Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce, 96.
  167. Edward Pentin, “Full Text and Explanatory Notes of Cardinals’ Questions on ‘Amoris Laetitia.’” Emeritus Pope Benedict has recently written that the abandonment of moral absolutes—exceptionless moral norms—is one of the chief causes of the collapse of Catholic moral theology that rendered the Church defenseless against the sexual revolution and its impact on the culture and the Church. He states, “In the end, it was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. While the old phrase ‘the end justifies the means’ was not confirmed in this crude form, its way of thinking had become definitive. Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgments. There no longer was the (absolute) good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.” Benedict adds, “Pope John Paul II, who knew very well the situation of moral theology and followed it closely, commissioned work on an encyclical that would set these things right again. It was published under the title Veritatis splendor on August 6, 1993, and it triggered vehement backlashes on the part of moral theologians. Before it, the Catechism of the Catholic Church already had persuasively presented, in a systematic fashion, morality as proclaimed by the Church.”
  168. See Walford, Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce, 131, “Pope Francis has nevertheless taught that ‘moral security’ can be had when certain circumstances don’t allow for the full objective ideal to be realized. In essence, this means that even if the sinfulness of an act remains, God will take into account our intentions, and the other factors that affect a decision made in good conscience.”
  169. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 110.
  170. I have in mind here Walter Cardinal Kasper. In an interview with the Catholic magazine Commonweal, he said regarding the divorce and civilly remarried and the reception of communion: “But I would say that people must do what is possible in their situation. We cannot as human beings always do the ideal, the best. We must do the best possible in a given situation” ( This, too, is the position of Stephen Walford, “In relation to St. John Paul II’s requirement to live as brother and sister, that is an ideal that realism tells us is not always possible” (“Open Letter to the Four Dubia Cardinals”).
  171. Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, 687.
  172. Aquinas is also cited in EG §171 to make the same point.
  173. Flannery and Berg, “Amoris Laetitia, Pastoral Discernment, and Thomas Aquinas,” 91n13.
  174. Ibid.
  175. Bonino, “Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,” 513.
  176. Ibid.
  177. Ibid.
  178. Francis, “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis in Meeting with Families in Manila.”
  179. Francis X. Rocca, “Pope, in Philippines, says same-sex marriage threatens family.”
  180. Francis, “Pope Francis’s Opening Address to Humanum Conference.”
  181. Idem, “Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture.”
  182. Idem, “Meeting with the Young People of Umbria.”
  183. Idem, “General Audience.” St. Peter’s Square, 2 April 2014.
  184. Girgis, Sherif et al. What is Marriage? Man and Woman, A Defense.
  185. Robert George and Patrick Lee, Conjugal Union, What Marriage is and Why it Matters.
  186. Elise Harris, “‘What is being proposed is not marriage’—Pope calls for defense of family.”
  187. Pope Francis, Only Love Can Save Us, Marriage, 127-29, and 127-28.