The Filial Correction Corrected. Part 5 of a Response to The Correctors.

The Filial Correction Corrected. Part 5 of a Response to The Correctors. October 2, 2017

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Given its unbroken record, thus far, for inaccuracy, I suggest we refer to it, henceforth, as Not Correctio. Or perhaps we can punch a hole in the top corner and call it the Farmer’s Almanac. If you are new to this refutatio of the not correctio, you may start with Part 1 here. But let us, by all means, continue. Here is the fifth heresy The Correctors claim to find in Amoris Laetitia:

Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right or requested or even commanded by God.

So let’s parse this. According to The Correctors, the text says that sometimes, God can ask people in an irregular union to keep on having sex. Is that really so?

The Correctors are referring to §303:

[C]onscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It 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.

So The Correctors read “not yet fully the objective ideal” and “what is for now”; and they say: Aha! Oho! So! The pope is saying that continued sexual activity is the will of God in some cases!

Really?

Dr. Robert Fastiggi and Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein, writing at Vatican Insider, suggest a different interpretation. (Dr. Fastiggi teaches systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Dr. Goldstein teaches dogmatic theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.) Their article argues that the English translation of §303 is flawed. They propose an alternate translation from the Latin. (It is worth noting that even Dr. E. Christian Brugger, a critic of Amoris Laetitia, concedes that this translation is “much more precise.”)

This conscience, however, can not only recognize a given situation to be objectively at variance with the general mandate of the Gospel; it can also recognize sincerely and honestly what may be the generous response owed to God in the present circumstances; and this same firm conscience can come to understand with a certain moral certitude that this is the offering that God himself is asking amid the mass of impediments, although it may not yet be the perfect objective model.

The word Drs. Fastiggi & Goldstein translate “offering” is “oblationem,” literally oblation. They explain:

We believe the key to understanding what Pope Francis is saying in Amoris Laetitia 303 [two paragraphs later in] 305, where he quotes section 44 of his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “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.’ [The Correctors, to my lack of surprise, do not mention §305 apart from its appearance in a long quotation from Cardinal Schönborn.]

It is very clear from the Latin text of Amoris Laetitia 303 that Pope Francis is describing how conscience can discern that God himself is asking for a small step in the right direction in the midst of a mass of impediments and limitations. The Holy Father is not saying that God himself is asking certain people “to continue to commit intrinsically wrong acts such as adultery or active homosexuality.” This is a most unfortunate reading of the text by [Dr. Josef] Seifert. Instead Pope Francis is saying that in certain difficult situations God is asking for a “generous response” (liberale responsum), an offering (oblationem)—that is, a step in the right direction.

This seems right to me. If I am an alcoholic, it is not likely that I am going to be able to renounce drink overnight. I may require a lot of visits to the Confessional. But surely it is not wrong to say that God wants me to make a step in the direction of an alcohol-free life, even if it may be a while before I can achieve that. It is not that God is asking me to go on drinking; he is asking me to begin the process of giving it up. Things like this are normally a process. They take time.

The same is true with any addiction. It takes time. And it is true in many cases for a couple in an irregular marriage, who can’t separate for the sake of the children, who are committed to continence, but find it a trial and, for one reason or another, an impossibility all at once, overnight.

God is not telling them it’s okay if they keep having sex. He is asking them to move toward a life of continence; even if they have to do so in small steps; even if they stumble from time to time.

That’s the sense of §303.


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