My Comments on the Amoris Laetitia controversy

No Pope can ever teach heresy. No Pope can ever commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. Those who accuse any current Roman Pontiff of teaching heresy, or of committing apostasy, heresy, or schism, are themselves guilty of schism. For “it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” [Fifth Lateran Council]

A Pope can err in his personal opinions. A faithful Catholic can respectfully disagree with the personal opinion of a Pope.

A Pope can err in his decisions on discipline. A faithful Catholic can respectfully disagree with a decision the Pope has made on discipline. But he is subject to that decision, nonetheless. And an error on discipline is not tantamount to heresy.

A Pope can also err, to a limited extent, in his non-infallible teachings. The faithful are generally required to give ordinary assent (religious submission of will and intellect) to the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium, including the Papal Magisterium. But some faithful dissent is permissible (licit theological dissent).

A Pope cannot err when he is exercising the infallible teaching authority of the Magisterium, in Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, or by his participation in the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

Cardinals have the role to assist the Pope, and to be taught and corrected by him. The Cardinals do not have any role or authority to teach or correct the Pope. They cannot issue a formal correction, if they think that a Pope has erred.

And no one, from the Cardinals to the least of the laity, is justified in assuming that the Pope must be wrong, merely because his words or deeds are contrary to their own personal understanding. Your understanding of infallible Sacred Scripture and infallible Sacred Tradition is fallible; you may have misunderstood those infallible sources. And the same is true for your understanding of past or present magisterial teachings.

A schism draws near. We will have to wait and see which Cardinals and Bishops depart in the schism, and which remain faithful. But several Cardinals have already risen up to publicly oppose Pope Francis. They speak as if their understanding of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium could not err. They speak as if they have the role to teach and correct the Pope, and as if he has no such role over them.

Their request for “clarification” of Amoris Laetitia is not spoken, as far as I can tell, with the attitude of students seeking to learn, but with the attitude of teachers seeking to correct. And if the Pope does not speak and act as they wish, it seems that they will continue to oppose him.

There may or may not be errors in the non-infallible teachings of Amoris Laetitia. But the Cardinals lack the authority to correct the Pope, and no Pope can teach or commit heresy.

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

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7 Responses to My Comments on the Amoris Laetitia controversy

  1. Jack Gallagher says:

    Asking for clarification is not a “correction.” The questions raised by a certain group of four prelates regarding Chapter VIII of Amoris are completely reasonable given what has already transpired with the Buenos Aires Bishops. That those questions remain unanswered by His Holiness provides us no clarity.

  2. Dan says:

    Regardless of the Cardinal’s intentions, does the Pope not have an obligation to respond the dubia with a formal response? Do the Cardinal’s not have a right, much less than an obligation to seek clarity when diverging opinions arise? Who else can address the confussion created by Amoris Laetitia other than the Pope?

    • Jack Gallagher says:

      Great question Dan, and one which I would also like to know the answer. It is important because of the actual decentralized practice of authority within the hierarchy of the Church (which amounts for practical purposes to the devolution of decision-making to the level of the “local ordinary” – the Bishop of a diocese). For example, the Buenos Aires Bishops – interpreting Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia in their own unique way – received a “green light” from His Holiness (though they didn’t even ask for one before publishing their “directive” to their “regional clergy”) to “accompany” a certain group of their parishioners, those in irregular unions (especially divorced and civilly remarried Catholics), in such a way that would allow for some subset of those particular parishioners (due to some particular facts and circumstances) to approach for the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to be granted Absolution, and thereby return to receiving Holy Communion at mass – with a completely cleared conscience – without having to commit to a life of complete continence while continuing to live in an irregular union.

      Meanwhile, my local Bishop, on reading the same document (Chapter VIII of Amoris) came to the opposite conclusion, and put it in writing to the members of my diocese that Chapter VIII of Amoris says no such thing. His Excellency, my Bishop, goes even farther and doubles down on the John Paul II concept contained in Familiaris Consortio (n. 84 – which was footnoted in Amoris itself) (and the similar exhortation from Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 29) that says no Absolution (and therefore no Holy Communion) can be granted to any couple in a post-divorce civil re-marriage-type union. Period. In that letter to parishioners, my Bishop doesn’t even refer to the exception that JP II makes for those couples that commit to a life of complete continence. Familiaris was, like Amoris, written as the result of a Synod (the Sixth Synod of Bishops – October 25, 1980). Note that this concept of an absolute requirement for a commitment to a life of complete continence, as a condition precedent for a divorced/civilly remarried person to even approach a priest for Confession, was included in the Homily given by JP II at the conclusion of that Sixth Synod.

      There can be no reasonable argument that both of these interpretations of Chapter VIII of Amoris are correct, for they are mutually exclusive by their nature. His Holiness wrote, in a letter to Monsignor Sergio Alfredo Fenoy, in Buenos Aires, that the former interpretation “…is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.” That letter was written on September 5, 2016; my Bishop’s letter to parishioners (which, to be clear, makes no reference to the letter from His Holiness to Monsignor Fenoy) was published in the Catholic Sun on September 18, 2016. The timing of my Bishop’s publication was not an accidental coincidence.

      The principle of the local ordinary being able to do as he chooses can be expected to be cited by defenders of the Church in this kind of situation, thus providing for an “out” as to how/why these two clearly mutually exclusive interpretations of Amoris’ Chapter VIII can co-exist, side-by-side, in practice. Regardless of the degree of confusion that this brings about, if we accept that both courses of ecclesiastical action are acceptable, then what are the practical implications for the divorced and civilly-remarried?

      For example, if a Catholic in my diocese, who is divorced and civilly remarried, reads both sets of material, and agrees with His Holiness and the Buenos Aires Bishops, is “forum shopping” or “diocese shopping” a legitimate pursuit for such a person? If not, why not?

  3. Ron Conte says:

    Most Catholics who receive Communion are in a state of unrepented objective mortal sin, just like divorced and remarried. These sins include: contraception, abortifacients, sex outside of marriage, masturbation, pornography, unnatural sexual acts in marriage, and heresies on the topics of same sex marriage, abortion, sexual sins, and on many other topics. Are they repentant? I see long lines for Communion, and short lines for Confession.

    My preference is for a strict discipline on reception of Communion: only believing and practicing Catholics, free from every objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin, who have been to Confession within the last 3 or 4 months, should be permitted to receive.

    A list of persons who should not receive holy Communion:

  4. Tom Mazanec says:

    A Pope can also err, to a limited extent, in his non-infallible teachings.

    Would the Galileo Affair be an example of such an error (as a BS in Astronomy, this one always embarrassed me)?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The action taken by the Church against Galileo was discipline, not doctrine. I suppose the assertion that the earth does not move, as a literal interpretation of Scripture, is an example of an error in a non-infallible teaching. That assertion in Scripture is figurative, not literal (1 Chronicles 16:30).

  5. Guest says:

    I came out of the heresy of sedevacantism. Almost all traditionalists subscribe to private interpretation of Church teaching. At the end of the day, they are their own magisterium, and anyone who disagrees with them is a heretic or lacks authority. It’s impossible for them to have erred; no, they are the true expounders of the faith! Like Luther they must disobey the Church to be faithful to Christ. It couldn’t possibly be that they interpreted wrongly, they believe. But the Church cannot fail–it cannot teach error. God promised. But they do not see it as trusting themselves instead of God. They believe they are on God’s side, despite rejecting the successors of the apostles, either theoretically or practically.

    If they cannot reconcile being Catholic with being faithful to God, they erred somewhere, because God is guiding the Church. If it is impossible to resist lawful authority and be in the Church, it is because lawful authority is guaranteed to be free from heresy. If the Church could teach error, it failed in its mission, which is impossible. They still don’t realize that they believe the Catholic Church failed.

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