Since people have asked, here are my complete thoughts on Amoris Laetitia.
I don’t care about it. At all.
Okay. That’s probably not enough to satisfy so permit me to elaborate a little.
Personally, I care not a whit. Nothing in it concerns me since I’m in a happy, stable marriage that is in no need of the pastoral care this manual (aimed at shepherds) is trying to instruct.
Nor am I a shepherd, canonist, counselor, or marriage healing type guy doing stuff for other people in troubled marriages and families. I studiously avoid handing out free pastoral advice to people for the very good reason that it’s none of my damn business and I’ll probably screw you up royally, so go talk to someday with letters behind their name.
So my interest has been low, personally speaking.
Professionally and ecclesially, my brief interest in the document revolved around the Great Dubia Panic that has been ginned up and maintained for what? a year now? In terms of the document itself, it is obvious to me that Francis is trying to do what he is always trying to do: proclaim good news to the poor (understood here not merely as financially poor, but as broken by the chaos in the family across the globe). His instinct is always to draw people toward grace and find ways for those seeking love and healing to find it, rather than to face judgment and condemnation. It’s his first and last instinct–because it’s the first and last instinct of the Church.
But that is the opposite of his enemies, who detest him and whose first and last instinct toward sinners in the Church is to see the sacraments, not as sure encounters with grace, but as reducing valves designed to keep the maximum number of people away from God. So their deep and abiding suspicion, amounting to an assumption, is that Francis (not to put too fine a point on it) means to pervert and destroy the teaching of Jesus that a valid sacramental marriage cannot be destroyed. In a word, the working assumption of his enemies is that Francis is a perverter of the Tradition.
The proof of this is everywhere: “Lost Shepherd”, “Dictator Pope”, “Heretic Pope”, “threat to the Church”, “Communist”, “The Church’s Obama”, “Gaia worshipper”, “ignore him”, “bully”, “trying to destroy the Church’s teaching on the family”, “worst pope in the history of the Church. Period”, “gay queer”, “Stalin”s Pope”, “The Horror” (said of him within an hour of his election by his passionate enemies at Rorate Coeli, relying on the word of a Holocaust-denying kook).
This is the ambient noise coming from the subculture behind the AL hysteria. And it has penetrated the discernment-free conservative Catholic mind to the degree that a friend of mine made the mistake of referring to Francis as the Vicar of Christ in a Register combox and was denounced as a Satanist there.
In short, it is the norm among those freaking out about AL to assume that Francis is a bad pope and equally the norm to assume that the nature of his badness is wilful and perverse hostility to the Tradition against which he is an active enemy.
That is the actual situation of the Francis-hating subculture I have seen metastasizing since the day he was elected and the face it constantly presents the world. It is centered in the US and radiates into the Reactionarysphere throughout the world. But the backbone is exactly the same Christianist demographic that adores Trump and feeds off FOX, CRISIS!!!!!!, Church Militant, EWTN, Liesite and sundry other Right Wing poison vendors.
Now there are genuine theological and pastoral issues to iron out. Pete Vere*, a Canadian canonist has been very useful to me in sketching them. But exactly not the way to work through them is by assuming–as this subculture habitually does–that Francis is the enemy of the Tradition and is seeking to pervert the Church’s core teaching on marriage and to destroy the family.
That’s the problem in a nutshell. This is not a conversation sought by a subculture presuming the good faith of the Holy Father as the shepherd of a flock and seeking his trusty guidance. It is a subculture which regards him as an enemy and seeks his destruction, certain that God Almighty has called them to defeat him.
Are there people asking questions with the conviction Francis acts in good faith? Of course. But nothing like the majority in the Great AL Panic. That’s why they publish books like Lost Shepherd and market them secure in the knowledge that the demographic for which they write agrees that Francis is the “heretic pope” and “the worst pope in the history of the Church. Period”.
Outfits like 1 Peter 5 and Church Militant are kept afloat to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a huge mob of people convinced that their mission is not to learn from the pope or assume his good will, but to defeat him as a foe.
That’s why I quickly lost interest once I grasped the basic fact that Francis a) upholds Church dogma on the nature of marriage (because he’s, duh, the pope) and b) he is leaving shepherds the customary flexibility and mercy to be very gentle to sinners trying to navigate the fantastic complexity of their individual lives. This is exactly what we see in any decent confessor: Here is the high and hard upward call in Christ Jesus to perfection. Shoot for that. At the same time, take baby steps, don’t kill yourself trying the impossible and avoid vows to perform Seven Herculean Feats. It quickly became obvious that all the dubia crowd, getting that reply from Francis, did not have trouble understanding it. They just had trouble accepting it. Because their instinct is to punish sinners, not redeem them. So they redoubled their assault on the “lost shepherd”. Because the goal was not to get information, but ammunition against him.
Conservatives wanted a strong pope. They got their wish. It’s time for them to consider the possibility that this is a moment where Chesterton’s remarks about wanting a Church that is right where we are wrong may apply even to us.
Beyond this is one more reason I don’t take seriously the subculture of conservative Catholics pretending to care about the integrity of the Church’s witness on marriage and family as they use AL as a club to beat Francis: their transparent disinterest in real concrete assaults on the family when the Sex Predator-in-Chief they support to the tune of 60% of white conservative Catholics commits them. They care nothing about his adulteries. They care nothing about (and lie about) his confessions as a sex predator. They join in the re-victimization of his victims with the standard “sluts and nuts” smears.
So, for instance, CRISIS!!!!!! magazine ladles out the garbage about the perils of AL by the truckload (somehow repeatedly linking it with the polestar of their journalism, the Transgender Menace). Because, gosh darn it, the integrity of the Church’e sexual ethos is just so dad blamed important.
But when the need is to defend a racist child molester’s lust for power, you know that CRISIS!!!!!!!! will be on the spot to tell you that a thirty something perv horndogging after a 14 year old is peachy because Culture and the Seventies. (Rebecca Bratten Weiss has this miserable act of prostitution posing as a Catholic article for breakfast here.) Worst of all, this craven lickspittle apologetic for a child-molester is written by a Franciscan University of Steubenville faculty member. Corruptio optimi pessima.
Likewise, the people pretending to care about “Francis’ attack on the family” are orgasmic with joy about the destruction of immigrant families and look with benign indifference on the impending deportation of 200,000 Salvadorans guilty of the crime of being hard workers and brown. Ripping apart those families is met with passionate approval by the same demographic that pretends some footnote in a pastoral care manual is the repeal of the Creed.
Because of all this, I regard the ongoing Panic du Jour over AL to be nothing but a desperate attempt to use a twig as a club to beat Francis with by hypocrites who care nothing about the family. The actual issues in AL requiring ironing out will be dealt with among shepherds and ironed out with mutual respect.
But until the conservatives angry at and suspicious of Francis can begin with the unshakable presumption that he teaches and acts in good will and not with murmurs of “Lost Shepherd” and “Dictator Pope” I see not one reason in the world for him to pause and listen to them for a moment.
*If you burn for still more, Pete Vere writes:
For faithful Catholics scandalized by ongoing criticism of Pope Francis from far right dissenters, I highly recommend Stephen Walford’s new essay:
“The most poisonous aspect of this dissent– causing us to question where exactly it originates from– is that it chooses to ignore what the Pope has clearly taught and seeks to create confusion by making claims that are without any foundation. It also appears to be moving the goalposts on what constitutes the ordinary magisterium, Tradition and the dogma of the indefectible nature of the Church. What is more, there is an arrogance and condescending clericalism from certain priests, theologians and canon lawyers toward ordinary Catholics who dare to defend the Holy Father.
“If we look at various examples of this dissent, a clear picture emerges that does not seem interested in the entire Truth of what the Church teaches. “Take for instance the correctio filialis. The signatories claimed the Pope (through words deeds or omissions) denied Trent’s teaching that God always offers sufficient grace to keep the Commandments. Of course the Pope never said any such thing; in fact Francis actually teaches ‘For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace’ (Al 295).”
Remember Christ knew the vast majority of His sheep would not be priests or theologians. This is why He gave us the ministry of St Peter and His successors. So that when times are confusing, the average Catholic can easily identify the voice of the Shepherd. The important thing is to trust Christ’s promise to maintain the unity of the Church through St Peter and his successors, and to not lose faith because of those teachers in our midst who dissent from his authority.