Amoris Laetitia, Fr. Z., and Footnote 351

Fr. Z. is calling footnote 351 in Amoris Laetitia: “Infamous Footnote 351”. This type of expression, used about any content in any magisterial document, is sinful. He is speaking as if he were the judge over the Magisterium and the Pope. And he has been speaking this way, repeatedly, since Pope Francis was elected. Pride goeth before a fall.

Since Fr. Z. does not accept teaching or correction from Pope Francis, I will quote Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger:

When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.

Even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth as well as for the People of God requires this discretion

In any case there should never be a diminishment of that fundamental openness loyally to accept the teaching of the Magisterium as is fitting for every believer by reason of the obedience of faith. The theologian will strive then to understand this teaching in its contents, arguments, and purposes. This will mean an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him. [Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian]

Fr. Z. consistently expresses a refusal to accept Pope Francis as having any teaching authority over him and over the traditionalist subculture. He speaks as if the majority opinion of traditionalists on what is and is not doctrine and discipline — its extent, limits, and proper interpretation — is infallibly understood by traditionalists, and as if any Pope or Council who disagrees must have erred.

Now, let’s consider footnote 351 and whether or not it is “infamous”, or at least erroneous.

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.[351]

[351] In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039). [Amoris Laetitia]

First point: objective mortal sin is not always actual mortal sin. That is basic Catholic moral theology. Every priest who hears confessions, including Fr. Z., knows that some objective mortal sins lack the full knowledge or full deliberation needed to be actual mortal sins, and that only actual mortal sin deprives the baptized Christian of the state of grace. So it is certainly true for Pope Francis to say that an objective sin might not be culpable, or might not be fully culpable. In other words, some objective mortal sins have no culpability, and others have only venial culpability. Therefore, some persons who have committed objective mortal sin may still be in the state of grace. True.

Second point: if they are still in the state of grace, they can grow in love, grace, and charity, with the Church’s help. Obviously, this is true.

{5:30} But the Pharisees and scribes were murmuring, saying to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
{5:31} And responding, Jesus said to them: “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who have maladies.
{5:32} I have not come to call the just, but sinners to repentance.”

Now let’s consider the footnote text: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” Pope Francis is saying that only in certain cases can a person who commits objective mortal sin receive the help of the Sacraments. Fine. Is anyone proposing that once you sin gravely, you cannot return to the Church at all? Of course the help of the Sacraments is for sinners. In fact, only when a Catholic sins gravely and does not repent are the Sacraments out of reach — until he repents. And which Sacrament does the footnote mention first? Confession.

So the Pope considers cases in which objective mortal sin is not also actual mortal sin, such that the person is still in the state of grace. And he then proposes that such persons, if repentant, go to Confession, and receive the forgiveness of God. Only then does he speak about reception of Communion by weak and fallen sinners — and which of us is excluded from that category!

How severe a bias against the Pope must one have, in order to read these words and call them “infamous”? It is the grave sin of scandal to speak with such bias, negativity, and unjust condemnation of any Pope’s words, especially his words in a magisterial document. Fr. Z.’s repeated expressions of contempt, ridicule, and denigration toward Pope Francis, and his scandalous attitude toward the Pope are objectively grave sins. If Fr. Z. would deny Communion to anyone unrepentant from objective mortal sin, then he should deny himself Communion, until he repents and goes to Confession, just as Pope Francis has suggested.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to Amoris Laetitia, Fr. Z., and Footnote 351

  1. Camilo says:

    Everything you say is very good but is not the same objective ‘situation’ of sin than objective mortal sin. Situation of sin appears which means a sin committed frequently or usual state of sin.

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