the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world


 Vom 15. bis 19. November 1980 besuchte Seine Heiligkeit Papst Johannes Paul II. die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Auf Einladung von Bundespräsident Karl Carstens hat der Papst seinen pastoralen Besuch mit einem offiziellen in Bonn verbunden. Am 15. November gab der Bundespräsident einen Empfang zu Ehren Seiner Heiligkeit auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl bei Bonn. Dort führte Papst Johannes Paul II. auch ein Gespräch mit Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt. Gleichzeitig traf Bundesaußenminister Hans-Dietrich Genscher mit Kardinal-Staatssekretär Casaroli zusammen. Im Anschluß an den offiziellen Teil begab sich der Papst auf den Bonner Münsterplatz, um dort eine Ansprache zu halten. Ferner bestand der pastorale Teil aus Besuchen in Köln, Osnabrück, Mainz, Fulda, Altötting und München. In allen diesen Städten hielt Papst Johannes Paul II. die Heilige Messe. Eigentlicher Anlaß seines Aufenthaltes in der Bundesrepublik war der 700. Todestag von Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), dessen Grab der Papst in Köln besuchte. Bundespräsident Karl Carstens und Papst Johannes Paul II. auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl.

“Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit….” (2 Timothy 1:14)

“The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 84)

Amoris Laetitia may be likened to a train that went off its tracks and therefore crashed. The Amoris Laetitia train wreck easily could have been avoided if Pope Francis had simply chosen to guard the truth handed down to him by the great Saint John Paul II, the very Pope who was canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014. Here are the three quotes from Pope John Paul II that should have prevented Pope Francis (most especially in the controversial Chapter 8) from trying to refashion Catholic moral theology in a profoundly subjective and presumptive manner (if you are not familiar with this controversy, please refer to my previous post at the following link:

Quote # 1

In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio ( no. 84) Pope John Paul II wrote that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics positively could not receive Holy Communion, for two very profound reasons:

“However, the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the church which is signified and effected by the eucharist. Besides this there is another special pastoral reason: If these people were admitted to the eucharist the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

Quote # 2

In the encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, Pope John Paul II warned about the inherent danger of making one’s own weakness the criterion of truth and the tremendous confusion this type of “mercy” would cause in the church:

“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. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.” (Veritatis Splendor, 104).

Quote # 3

Finally, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliation and Penance (a document highly relevant to the proper reception of Holy Communion), Pope John Paul II warned the Church against trying to create a theological category out of psychological considerations and mitigating circumstances, stating:

“But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to the construction of a theological category, which is what the ‘fundamental option’ precisely is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin.

While every sincere and prudent attempt to clarify the psychological and theological mystery of sin is to be valued, the Church nevertheless has a duty to remind all scholars in this field of the need to be faithful to the word of God that teaches us also about sin. She likewise has to remind them of the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world (no.17).”

Conclusion: Pope Francis’ misstep was trusting too much in his own presumptive-leaning attitude towards God’s mercy (which casts doubt upon the clear and unchangeable teaching of the Church concerning mortal sin) rather than in the Sacred Tradition of the Church (based on Holy Scripture) which would have safeguarded the truth and avoided the scandal and confusion caused by Amoris Laetitia. There is still time to bring Amoris Laetitia (most especially the highly controversial Chapter 8) in line with the authentic teachings of the Church. Let us pray for a good ending to this difficult chapter in the Church’s history. Moreover, when a Pope goes off course it is clearly an obligation of faithful Catholics to respectfully and lovingly point it out for the greater good of the Church.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Photo Attribution: The photograph of Pope John Paul II by Lothar Schaack, Nov. 15, 1980, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F059404-0019 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA (at Wikipedia).

P.S. We see, then, that the direction of Amoris Laetitia is fundamentally at odds with Saint Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor, wherein he states: Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuials but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts” (n. 115). Amoris Laetitia and Veritatis Splendor are not in harmony with each other. It is going to be very difficult for Catholics to preach about sin if the Church creates a mitigating exception to every ongoing immoral situation; and this is the profound difficulty with Amoris Laetitia that Pope John Paul II warned about (which empties the Gospel of its saving power).

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