Dialogue: Amoris Laetitia: Confusing or No?

Dialogue: Amoris Laetitia: Confusing or No? May 3, 2016


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Catholic Tom Trinko‘s words will be in blue. This occurred on my (public) Facebook page.


Perception is reality. While I have no problem believing that Pope Francis is not a heretic the reality is that liberals in the Church are going to take footnote 351 and run with it.

We also know that lots of good Catholics will be concerned that the only way they can figure out that the Pope is not teaching error is by listening to a talk by some Cardinal. Is it too much to ask that on an issue this contentious which has received so much coverage and so many claims that the Pope will change doctrine that the Pope’s own writing could be more explicit?

That one has to listen to the cardinal’s talk to understand what the Pope wrote is bordering on scandal itself. Catholics are under attack from every direction these days. That they have to do deep research to find out that the Pope isn’t teaching error is an unconscionable burden to levy on them.

How many people leaning toward the SSPX or other “traditional” groups will take a step out of the Church because of this?

I write articles defending the misinterpretation of this Pope but the time has come to condemn him not for heresy but for apparently not understanding the impact of his less than clear writing.

Pope Francis has lead an amazingly holy life for which we can give thanks to God. However releasing this document with footnote 351 without a clear statement that the sacraments are only for those not living sinfully was a huge error given that the media, and liberal Catholics, had been saying for years that the Pope would allow Communion for people living in objective sin.

I sadly suspect that years from now it will be possible to find liberal priests and bishops who will allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion and cite the Pope’s document as support.

As I confidently predicted just three hours before writing this (“Will it shut up the reactionaries and their fellow travelers? No. Sadly, nothing will.”), the clarification even from a Cardinal won’t do any good for people who keep wanting to criticize and insist that everything is so muddy and unclear and confused.

Traditionalists and reactionaries used to love Cardinal Ratzinger, didn’t they? His “banal” quote regarding the Novus Ordo Mass is still grossly quoted out of context to this day. They used to love Cardinal Burke until he disagreed with them about Amoris Laetitia.

So we get precisely what was being requested over and over and you dismiss it with the wave of a hand. It was not strictly necessary, but some people are slow learners and lack faith and trust, so it was necessary for them.

Well I’m not entirely alone. Read what this Bishop [Schneider] wrote. [link]

Also note I didn’t communicate well. I specifically said that I didn’t think that the Pope intended anything heretical so I’m not clear why you’re grouping me with reactionaries.

My complaint,and Bishop Schneider’s, is that the Pope’s unclear language will create problems for the Church even though the Pope’s intentions are good.

And by the way I do think one needed to listen to the Cardinal to figure out what the Pope intended. It’s not clear from the context that the Pope was talking about couples who were not living in objective sin because they were being chaste.

I’m not an idiot but I would not have thought of that on reading what the Pope wrote even though I’d assume that there was some legitimate way to reconcile what the Pope wrote with Church teaching.

That’s why your comment about slow learners is not germane. In my case the issue wasn’t was the Pope a heretic but rather how in the world can we reconcile what he wrote with Truth.

I’ve written a number of articles defending the Pope’s earlier comments [links: one / two / three / four / five] . . . [you have an inability] to understand why good people who trust the Pope are concerned when Bishops and priests are claiming the Pope is teaching that it’s okay for sexually active remarried people can get Communion and the Pope does not simply say “No that’s not what I said”.

I dealt with your objections, I believe, in my recent paper: Satan Loves Divisions Re Amoris Laetitia.

Your article on the pope and immigration is included in my resources in defense of the Holy Father.

You are totally wrong and I say that in a very charitable way.

Here’s why:

1) There are many public voices in the Church, including prelates, who are saying that divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive communion under some conditions.

Of course there are. The liberals / modernists (like the poor) are always with us.

2) The media has been widely relaying the statements of those clerics.

Of course they do, because it furthers their anti-traditional / secularizing agenda. What’s new today is that so many Catholics read that slop and think that the Holy Father is part of it.

3) The average Catholic knows that clerics, including Bishops, have been saying that the divorced and remarried should be able to get Communion.

Probably, since the average Catholic is woefully ignorant of so many things in theology and practice.

4) Hence an unclear statement will leave confusion in the Church.

I don’t agree with you that Amoris Laetitia is unclear. I deny your assumed premise.

5) Confusion in the Church is unacceptable and should be avoided.

I agree. Public infighting and questioning of the competence of the pope is also unacceptable and should be avoided.

6) The only way to avoid those clerics claiming the Pope said X, even though he didn’t, is for the Pope to clearly say he didn’t say X.

The pope did do that by directing the confused to Cdl. Schonborn’s clarifications. There is nothing wrong or improper in that at all. The pope doesn’t have to do everything. What are we, a bunch of children?

Your response would be valid if no one of any stature in the Church was speaking about giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics.

However in the world as it is we know that the folks who are now speaking for Communion for divorced and remarried have often in the past asked “forgiveness”, actually approval, after the fact on issues like Communion in the hand, altar girls, and most recently women having their feet washed at Easter.

A reasonable person has every reason to assume that some Catholics will not bother to listen to what the Cardinal said and simply run with their interpretation of what the Pope wrote.

Not responding to and correcting that will create severe problems in the Church.

And of course the obvious question is why would it be hard for the Pope to simply say “I meant cases where the couple is living a life of heroic virtue by being chaste.”?

The job of the Church is to teach the Truth. Whenever any of the faithful are confused, for whatever reason, the job of the Church is to be clear even if that requires restating things that “should be obvious”.

I provide 34 articles clarifying Amoris Laetitia. How many have you read of those, if you’re so confused? Wouldn’t you have the highest motivation to read them, so as to become un-confused? [he didn’t answer]

You can’t deny that AL is unclear to some people unless you’re going to say I’m dumb or disingenuous and the same is true of the Bishop I cited.

You might find it clear but the reality is that unless one is steeped in knowledge of the Church, which most Catholics in America at least aren’t these days, it is clearly incorrect to simply declare that writing that has confused so many people is in fact clear.

The Bible has confused tons of people, and whole sects and heresies have been built upon false interpretations of it. Is it sufficiently clear to understand? I say it is, for the most part, though there are clearly complexities in systematic theology and exegesis, to learn with study.

I gave my own opinion. I do not think it is unclear. I didn’t deny that others did not find it to be so. The reasons why they do would be a whole ‘nother discussion. I think a lot of it is because they bring false assumptions and premises as to what was or “must have been” in the pope’s mind when he wrote it, and his overall outlook.

Yes we are children, or more precisely sheep. Referring people to a long talk rather than simply saying he meant chaste couples is an extraordinarily poor communication technique.

The very fact that 30+ articles have been written clarifying AL proves that your assumption that AL is obvious is incorrect. An obvious text does not need to be explained over and over again by third parties.

It does not at all. They are written because, for various reasons, some people find Pope Francis to be so unclear and supposedly heterodox in some fashion or against tradition. So a lot of effort has to be expended to show that he is not those things.

Likewise, much ink has been spilt in trying to persuade reactionaries (and many traditionalists) — mostly in vain — that the Vatican II documents are perfectly orthodox and wonderful, while they continue the canard that they are supposedly unclear and ambiguous.

It’s the same with the Bible. As an apologist, I’ve been explaining the Bible to people who don’t understand it or distort it, for 35 years. The fault lies in them, not in Scripture. I think that is the case here, too, whether they are well-intentioned (most are) or not.

My first major apologetics projects in the early 1980s were collecting evidences for the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Trinity in the Bible, and to refute Jehovah’s Witnesses. They and many others do not see these clear proofs, which number in the hundreds. If the Bible (God’s Word) is massively misunderstood, why wouldn’t a human papal document also be? Of course it will be. All we can do is explain it for the slow learners or those laboring under misconceptions and false presuppositions.

And while I would be motivated to read such articles the person who is at risk because of the lack of clarity in AL, the divorced and remarried Catholic looking for a way out, is unlikely to look a gift horse in the mouth when his priest and his bishop say that the Pope was endorsing communion for the divorced and remarried.

I think a big part of our disagreement is that I believe the Pope should strive to be a better communicator and you think the burden should rest on the people in the pews to figure out what the Pope is really saying.

Yes, I think people should get off their butts and learn much more than they do. They are willing to do so in college or at work. But when it comes to theology and spirituality, they don’t have time, and want to be spoon-fed. Hence, they are easy pickings for the secular media, and its allies and bedmates among reactionaries and liberals.

You agree that many Catholics are woefully ignorant of their faith but then you say that the Pope doesn’t need to be clear that it’s the faithful’s responsibility to figure out what the Pope is really saying even when it requires a lot of knowledge. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Again, I didn’t say that the pope doesn’t need to be clear. I think he is, for the most part (though everyone can improve). He simply has a different style. He’s a pastor, not primarily a theologian or philosopher like the previous two popes. People misunderstand him (generalizing, of course) largely because of what they bring to the table in interpreting him. If they bring false premises, they will misinterpret what he writes and says.

I don’t expect the Pope to write things that can’t be misinterpreted, after all people misinterpret the Bible all the time. But when something of this magnitude comes up a simple direct clarification is necessary.

Once again, he has clarified. He said, in effect, “go read Cdl. Schonborn’s clarifications if you are confused about what I meant.”

I didn’t say I was confused. I said the Pope was unclear and that was a big problem. The Patheos article was clear.

I still disagree. The Popes comments on this in AL were not remotely clear enough given the environment he was writing in–Bishops saying that Communion for divorced and remarried is okay.

It’s one thing if a text is unclear because it’s complex. It’s quite another when it’s unclear because the author eschews clarity.

Given the length of this document the Pope could have added a sentence clarifying the living chastely constraint without exceeding his page limit.

Similarly when directly asked about this he should have been clear and not just point to some Cardinal’s talk.

The Pope is to be our teacher but you act as though it’s the responsibility of the faithful to overcome papal obtuseness.

Christ’s Truth is both simple and clear. He didn’t require them to “get off their butts and learn much more than they do”. Willful misunderstanding, like the SSPX, is far from the situation with AL where detailed research is needed to figure out what the Pope intended.

The writer of Hebrews would appear to disagree:

Hebrews 5:11-14 About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; [13] for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Actually that supports my point:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; “

I’m saying we need a clear teacher, the Pope, who provides simple to understand truth, milk. You’re saying we should be able to eat meat, obscure teaching, before we are fed milk. The reality is that the majority of American Catholics need milk not meat.

You were trying to deny that God (and the Church) requires people to “get off their butts and learn much more than they do”. So I gave a scriptural example where they had to do just that. It was a rebuke: they should have known more than they did. The parable of the talents is very much along the same lines (Matthew 25:14-30). They have to do something with what they have been given.

This isn’t just a Protestant notion. It’s also a Catholic one. Hence, a renewed emphasis on Scripture-reading in the Church, especially over the last 70 years or so. It’s presupposed that people can learn things on their own, without being led like a child at every turn.

But today people choose to remain ignorant in various ways and not study on their own. They’d much rather whine about how ignorant and confused they are, and moan about how supposedly unclear the pope is, and how he must lead them by the hand in everything.

Also, in the questions under consideration (who can and cannot receive Holy Communion), the answers for the average Catholic will be sought out by consulting a priest or at least a DRI or other Catholic teacher, or apologist.

Thus, the responsibility is on them, not just on the pope. Whether they fail in their task, and why they fail if in fact they do, is a completely different discussion, and there are numerous causes for that failure when it occurs (sadly, far too often), and very few — if any — of them have directly to do with how clear Pope Francis writes or expresses ideas and doctrines.

No. You gave me a verse that said that before they are ready for meat people need teachers who will prepare them.

I pointed out that most American Catholics haven’t had those teachers and hence are unready for meat.

You are apparently comfortable with people going astray due to unclear Church teaching because you blame the people. Yet Christ clearly instituted the Church precisely to educate the people. If the Church fails in that, and it clearly has in the US, then it’s unfair to blame the people only.

It’s one thing to defend the intentions of the Pope, something I agree with, but quite another for you to defend his failings and lay the blame for them on the people.

All that matters is that because of the lack of clarity in AL, clarity that could have been added with minimal effort, many will be seduced into believing the lies of those clerics who will tell them that they can go to Communion when they can’t.

The reason we want to convert everyone to the Church even though those outside the Church can be saved is because the odds of people doing the right thing is much better when they know what Christ actually taught. That’s also why we need a Pope who speaks clearly on critical matters not just a Pope who is fully orthodox in his teaching.

Jesus said to be saved we had to be like little children not like scholars. That doesn’t mean that studying the faith is not something we should do but it does mean that it’s a stretch to condemn poorly catechized Catholics for the Pope’s lack of clarity.

I’ve never denied (ever, in 25 years) that the Church is failing at large in her teaching duties. I just referred above to “failure [of priests and teachers in the Church] when it occurs (sadly, far too often) . . .”

We continue to differ on whether the pope was unclear or not. You say that you understand him but that nevertheless he remains too unclear in Amoris Laetitia. I replied with three arguments:

1) The Bible and Vatican II are misinterpreted and thought to be unclear, too. The Bible’s perfect and inspired. Obviously we can’t go and change that. We can only teach people the correct doctrines in it.

2) People need to learn on their own, too (I gave two scriptural arguments).

3) It’s mainly a function of priests and DRIs and apologists and Catholic teachers (in Catholic schools) and catechists to teach these things. Most lay Catholics will never read AL, assuming they have even heard of it.

But, bottom line: you say the pope is fundamentally unclear and I deny that.

You’re blaming him; arguing that he is lax in his duty and incompetent. You think you could do a better job than he did. So it is the same old saw: y’all think you are more Catholic than the pope, and would make better popes than he is. You know better. You are lecturing him on how to be the Holy Father. You would speak more clearly than Pope Francis. He’s a fool in over his head, who doesn’t understand even basic concepts of teaching and pedagogy. That’s what the griping amounts to. You can try to deny it all you want.

One quickly tires of this, no matter how well-intentioned it is.

They said all the same bullcrap about Pope St. John Paul II. How short people’s memories are! The incessant moaning and whining stopped during Benedict’s reign because he was the traditionalists’ and reactionaries’ darling. But as soon as he was gone, it immediately started up again.

Rorate Caeli literally trashed Pope Francis on his first day in office, and their main source was a Holocaust denier, as I have documented. They didn’t know if he’d be “clear” or not on his first day!

You say, “we need a Pope who speaks clearly on critical matters not just a Pope who is fully orthodox in his teaching.”

And of course traditionalists and reactionaries say the same exact thing about the Vatican II documents: they are orthodox, but they ain’t clear enough; they’re “ambiguous”, and so they alone have brought about the almost complete (alleged) collapse of the Church (forget secularism, the sexual revolution, theological liberalism, the massive clerical and academic dissent against Humanae Vitae, etc.). Nope, it must be Vatican II and the New Mass which are the cause of all ills. Couldn’t possibly be anything else.

Now Pope Francis is the third boogeyman. Classic reactionaryism features the “big three”: bashing of the pope, the New Mass, and Vatican II. 


Meta Description: Dialogue with a fellow Catholic who insists that Amoris Laetitia is terribly unclear, while I take the polar opposite view. 

Meta Keywords: Amoris Laetitia, annulments, apostolic exhortation, Catholics & marriage, Catholics & the family, Divorce, Holy communion, Pope Francis, pope-bashing, Radical Catholic Reactionaries, remarried Catholics, synod on the family, useful idiots, public squabbling, fellow travelers, well-intentioned folks

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