Dr. Robert Fastiggi Defends “Amoris Laetitia” Against Critics

Fastiggi

Dr. Robert Fastiggi and Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein wrote an article for La Stampa, entitled “Does Amoris laetitia 303 Really Undermine Catholic Moral Teaching?” (9-26-17). Here I am documenting his replies (in comboxes), to critiques from Dr. Christian BruggerDr. Eduardo Echeverria, Dr. Joseph Shaw, and others.

Dr. Fastiggi and Dr. Goldstein — predictably — are being mocked, insulted, and scorned with regard to their article by two of the usual reactionary suspects: Chris Ferrara (The Remnant) and Louie Verrecchio (aka Catholic). Louie calls Pope Francis “Jorge” in his article.

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Replies to Dr. Brugger and others in the combox:

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein and I are grateful to Prof. Brugger for his reply and his tone of civility. We are glad that he finds our translation “superior.” The flaw in his analysis is his claim that the quod is clearly referring back to statum quendam. This does not seem to follow from the Latin. The “quod” refers to to the liberale responsum (generous response) and not to the statum quendam (given situation). This is made clear from the copulative verb, sit, which links quod to responsum. Furthermore, a “response” involves an act of the will, but a “given situation” is a condition and not a personal act. We believe Professors Brugger and Seifert are reading into the text what they think Pope Francis is saying, but their reading does not seem to follow from the text itself.

We should also note that even the English translation posted on the Vatican website (which preceded the Latin posting) can be read in a more benign way than Professors Brugger and Seifert claim. The Latin text, which is now in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, should be considered normative, and it makes more clear the Holy Father’s meaning, a meaning which we explained in our article. (9-29-17)

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Cardinal Müller recently said that the statement of the Argentine bishops can be interpreted in an orthodox way. I agree with him. See his interview in the National Catholic Register. (9-29-17)

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The Holy Father need not answer the Dubia directly. It might, though, be helpful for him to clarify certain matters in his own way under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Oremus. (9-29-17)

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You’re assuming that the “given situation” is one of active adultery. In AL 303, however, the Holy Father is only speaking in general terms about the dynamics of conscience so he does not provide any concrete examples about what the quod or the “generous response” might be. In our article, Dr. Goldstein and I provided an example in which the generous response involves the couple choosing to live in continence. We believe the Holy Father is saying “that in some complex and irregular situations a person’s conscience will recognize that God is asking for a generous response, indeed an oblationem, or offering, that moves in the right direction even though it doesn’t completely rectify the objective irregularity of the situation.” (9-30-17)

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Reply to Dr. Eduardo Echeverria (10-1-17):

The article that Dr. Goldstein and I wrote was narrowly focused on the text of Amoris laetitia [AL] 303. We tried to make it clear that we need to understand the meaning from the text itself as contained in the normative Latin. Prof. Echeverria seems to argue that we can understand the meaning of AL 303 via inferences from other parts of the exhortation. These inferences, though, are open to question, but that would take a long time to explain. In addition to Prof. Echeverria, Dr. Goldstein and I also received replies to our article from Prof. E. Christian Brugger and Prof. Joseph Shaw. I give credit to Prof. Brugger for actually trying to argue for his interpretation from the normative Latin text.

I am glad Prof. Brugger raised the points that he did because it made me realize that his reading of the text is really untenable based on the text itself. Prof. Shaw in his article posted on Lifesite News tried to argue that there is no substantive difference between the meaning of the text in the normative Latin and that contained in the posted vernacular texts.

Here is the essence of my argument:

Perhaps there is no substantive change in meaning between the normative Latin text of AL, 303 and the other vernacular languages we mentioned. This, though, does not resolve the question of what the text actually means. Dr. Goldstein and I wrote our article to question the way Professors Seifert, Brugger and others understand the text. All of these interpreters seem to assume that “the generous response” owed to God in AL 303 necessarily involves objective sin. Dr. Goldstein and I do not believe the normative Latin text supports such a reading. There is no reason to believe that the “generous response” (liberale responsum) owed to God is the same as the “given situation” (statum quendam) “objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel.” Furthermore, a “response” involves an act of the will, but a “given situation” is a condition and not a personal act. How does one respond with a situation or condition? You can’t respond to a situation with the situation itself. This would be like someone being diagnosed with diabetes and responding to this condition with the diagnosis of diabetes. This makes no sense at all.

Even in the other vernacular translations, there seems to be no reason to assume that “the generous response” (la risposta generosa; la respuesta generosa; la réponse généreuse; die grossherzige Antwort) is the same as “a situation” (una situazione; una situación; une situation; eine Situation). This is made even clearer by the Latin non modo (not only). Pope Francis is saying that conscience “can not only recognize a given situation to be objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel,” but “it can also (etiam) recognize sincerely and honestly what may be (quod sit) the generous response owed to God in the present circumstances.” The language of “not only … but also” suggests that something else is discerned by conscience beyond a simple recognition that one’s present situation is “objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel.” It would be absurd to think one could offer an objective sin to God. Dr. Goldstein and I, however, do not believe there is anything in the text that suggests that this is what Pope Francis meant. As we said in our article, we believe that the Holy Father is saying “that in some complex and irregular situations a person’s conscience will recognize that God is asking for a generous response, indeed an oblationem, or offering, that moves in the right direction even though it doesn’t completely rectify the objective irregularity of the situation.”

Prof. Echeverria ends his article with a very valuable quote from Cardinal Müller about the need for more clarification, which can only be provided by the Pope. He fails, though, to mention that Cardinal Müller also says that “in Amoris Laetitia there’s no new doctrine or explication of some juridical points of the doctrine, but an acceptance of the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments.” Does Prof. Echeverria agree or disagree with Cardinal Müller in this regard? It would seem that he disagrees because in his April 2016 CWR article he claims that Pope Francis opens the door to situation ethics and implies support for the gradualness of the law. It’s difficult to see how AL could contain “an acceptance of the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments” and yet open the door to situation ethics and the gradualness of the law. It would also seem that Prof. Echeverria disagrees with Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishops Chaput, Sample, and Prendergast, as well as the Bishops of Poland and the Canadian Provinces of Alberta and the Northwest Territory along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Thomas Olmsted, James Conley, Steven Lopes, Philip Egan, and Vitus Huonder who all understand AL in line with Catholic tradition. Did they miss something or are they being dishonest? To be consistent Prof. Echeverria should be willing to correct them publicly for their endorsement of a papal exhortation that opens the door to situation ethics, the gradualness of the law, and undermines the need ‘for the grace of the sacrament of confession” (as he suggests in his April 2016 article).

Prof. Echeverria is my colleague and my friend. I wish I could say he responded well to the article that Dr. Goldstein and I published. Unfortunately, he did not. Instead he repeated his problems with Amoris laetitia and failed to address the core of our article, which was narrowly focused on the text of AL 303 itself.

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Reply to Lifesite News Oct. 2, 2017

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein and I are grateful for these comments, which show an interest in the article we published in La Stampa. I should note that I twice tried to post a response to Dr. Joseph Shaw’s Sept. 29, 2017 article, “Critics of Filial Correction are wrong. Here’s why.” Both posts were up briefly, but then they disappeared. I hope this present post won’t be deleted.

I think the case made for the “Correctio” is weakening. In his Sept. 29 article, Dr. Joseph Shaw replies to Dr. Jacob Wood and states: “It is not that we’re saying that the text of Amoris cannot be bent into some kind of orthodoxy. What we are saying is that it has become clear that orthodoxy is not what Pope Francis wants us to find there.” Dr. Shaw’s claim that Pope Francis doesn’t want orthodoxy, however, is based on subjective impressions derived from mostly non-authoritative statements of the Pope. This does not seem to be a very strong foundation for accusing the Roman Pontiff of promoting false teachings and heresies.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski says that the article I co-authored with Dr. Goldstein shows that AL 303 “admits of an orthodox reading but it does not preclude the heterodox reading.”  Many passages of the Bible, though, can be given both an orthodox reading and a heterodox reading. Why should we assume the heterodox reading is more plausible than the orthodox reading? Once again, it seems that the critics of AL must rely on subjective impressions rather than evidence that cannot be challenged.

Dr. Josef Seifert might be correct that the Latin text was not the original text of AL. Dr. Goldstein and I probably would have done better to speak of the “official” Latin text rather than the “original” Latin text. This, though, is really a minor point because the Latin text in the AAS is now the normative text. Even if Dr. Seifert thinks there’s not much difference between the Latin text and the posted English text, he still has not responded to the substance of the article I co-authored with Dr. Goldstein. In that article Dr. Goldstein and I argued that there is nothing in AL 303 that indicates that the “generous response” owed to God is an objective sin. Such a claim is based upon an assumption of Dr. Seifert that is not evident in the Latin text. In his Lifesite News response, Dr. Brugger tried to argue that what was owed and then offered to God was the “given situation” (statum quendam). This, though, makes no sense. A response involves a personal act of the will, but a situation is a condition not a personal act. A person cannot respond with a condition. This would be like a person diagnosed with diabetes responding to the disease with the condition of the disease.  Contrary to Dr. Seifert AL 303 does not “destroy the entire moral teaching of the Church.” And contrary to Dr. Shaw, the Correctio is not based on solid evidence. Instead, it is based on a collection of subjective impressions that are open to question. (reply to “Criticism of Pope’s teaching not based on faulty translation: Filial Correction signer”, Pete Baklinski, LSN, 10-2-17)

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Photo credit: Photo from Dr. Fastiggi’s faculty information page / curriculum vitae, for Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, Michigan).

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