Monday, January 30, 2017

But, But, But...

Here is the second part of the interview I mentioned in my previous post. In this segment, Bishop Barron argues that "the Church is radical in its demands and radical in its mercy", citing Pope Francis as an example of this outlook. He also says that the Church should not dial back its demands because people find them excessive, giving just war theory as an example.

Bishop Barron has spoken admiringly of Amoris Laetitia, pretty much using the same formulation-- that you can't just "drop the truth on people".

The trouble is...the problematic interpretations of Amoris Laetitia do seem to be a case of the Church dialling back its demands, not of the Church extending its mercy. It's not a case of priests telling those in immoral situations: "You've failed to live up to the Church's demands. God understands and forgives. Go and try again." It really does seem to be a case of priests saying (or being encouraged to say): "Don't even try to live up to these demands if you find them too difficult."

I really wish figures like Bishop Barron would come out and explicitly support the teaching of St. John Paul II in this regard. I do feel a sense of disappointment that they don't. And a deep sense of admiration for those prelates who have had the courage to do so.

There seems to be such a mismatch between the importance of this controversy (which Edward Feser describes as a doctrinal crisis) and the lack of interest in it in the media, or even amongst many Catholics. This is way more important than Donald Trump or Brexit. 


  1. Speaking admittedly with some ignorance about the Amoris controversy, but also fierce loyalty to the Church's teaching on marriage, isn't an important element of this question an awareness of the Church's own failure to catechise in the years after the Second Vatican Council?

    If it were as simple as a relaxation of rules that everyone knew, even if they didn't obey, then I agree that it would be mistaken. But the Church is dealing with her failure to make her own teaching radiantly clear. So I can believe there are people who 'sleep-walked' through their marriage preparation without being warned or woken by their catechists. Is it altogether their fault that, the Church having failed them, they drifted off towards marital relativism, and is it possible for the Church to avoid failing them when they return (without failing others)? If the bolted horse suddenly returns, should the stable door be open or closed?

    I don't know. Perhaps I am being naive. After all, annulment is already supposed to cover an apparent marriage that turns out to have been made without proper knowledge. And Pope Francis's generous spirit is certainly open to abuse in the spoilt West.

    1. But what's the situation you're envisaging? If their previous marriage was valid, they are living in adultery if they are having sexual relations. If it wasn't valid, they should pursue an annulment and live as brother and sister until then. I don't see how lowering that bar can ever accord with the principle Bishop Barron enunciates here. It seems not to be ex post facto mercy, but abolishing the standard entirely. It's not a case of someone living in adultery saying: "I tried to live a chaste life but I failed again. Forgive me, Father, I will try again." It's a case of a priest telling him or her he doesn't even need to try. I am incapable of seeing how this can be anything except a clear contradiction of St. John Paul II's teaching: " 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." Even if it was a post-synodal exhortation itself, that seems ringingly clear. I know I'm not directly addressing your point about catechesis, which is a good one, but I don't think the Church is failing couples who have drifted into marital relativism by insisting on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage.

    2. Well, rather convoluted situations, I admit, involving a serious return to the Church after a lifetime of nominal Catholicism, including a token (but valid) baptism and a token (but valid) Catholic marriage. Or a sudden recognition of the seriousness of adultery. This sort of pickle is far easier to get into nowadays than before, when first divorce and then remarriage required persistent disobedience of known and widely-observed principles.

      I think this is what Bishop Barron means by not 'dropping the truth on people'... if the Church is also partly guilty of failing to build it as a roof over their heads in the first place.

      One of Pope Francis' unspoken mottoes, I think, is "Come in for now and we'll get you sorted out later", as one might say to someone seeking refuge from a storm or bursting into a field hospital. I would bet that one of his great fears is of people in difficulties poking their heads tentatively into the Church for help and meeting the tone of doctrine only as a cold, hard fist instead of a firm banister to Heaven. And he knows the Church has an image problem. So perhaps he wishes to make it easier for people to step over the Church's threshold.

      But I know (and am also worried about) the many ways in which this idea could be taken advantage of. There is the temptation to let the imagination run wild, concocting hard cases to justify a bad law. And here, too, the exception might become the rule. A priest will be less willing to stand his ground in those pastoral situations where discretion is NOT required: say a belligerent couple insisting on receiving Communion since "Pope Francis says it is OK now". Even if Pope Francis isn't saying any such thing, this is how it will sound to those who want to hear it.

    3. I do see what you're saying, and I take your point, but this is a case where the proposed medicine seems like more of the disease itself! And, to me, the point isn't even whether the exception will become the rule. There are some rules that don't admit of exceptions in any coherent system, I think, and this seems like one. Once you have granted the exception you have invalidated the rule. I honestly can't see any way of squaring this cicle.

    4. But I wouldn't be emboldened to say it unless so many better qualified Catholics agree with me. I think this is a case of the sensus fidelium in action.

    5. The intellectual rigour of the Church's doctrine has to be taken into account too. This has been part of its credenda for so long. If this moral absolute is made a subject to situational ethics and individual conscience, I don't see how any other cannot become vulnerable to the same erosion. Not as part of a slippery slope, but purely in logical terms.

    6. (I see I have misused the term 'credenda'. I thought it meant 'evidences', but it means 'things to be believed'. Teach me to be pretentious!)

    7. Hmmm - I've been thinking about this again and realise that, as you know better than me, anybody making a serious return to the Church is going to be prepared to hear unpalatable truths. Indeed, how can what is valid ever be invalid? And the belief that validity is valid and that truth is true, whether we like it or not, must have saved many a marriage, and much else.

      If this is a doctrinal crisis, though, it's not simply of Pope Francis's own making. It is, in fact, the result of the 60s and 70s watering-down. And who pays the price for that?... I suppose those born around then, who now find they have to grow up several decades too late, in a sudden, unpleasant and complicated way. (But the Church is still home).

      I have to admit I'm reluctant to believe this is a doctrinal crisis... simply because I'm not in the mood for a doctrinal crisis!

    8. Well, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just said even the Pope can't change doctrine on this communion for the remarried, while several diocese have said it is now allowable. I think that's pretty serious! But I believe the barque of Peter can never founder.

      I agree with what you say about the Holy Father.

    9. Well, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just said even the Pope can't change doctrine on this communion for the remarried, while several diocese have said it is now allowable. I think that's pretty serious! But I believe the barque of Peter can never founder.

      I agree with what you say about the Holy Father.