Saturday, March 18, 2017

Opposing Amoris Laetitia: Not Envious Bitterness, But Love and True Mercy

In “Moral Theology: Embittered Moralizing," in The Valley Catholic, the San Jose diocesan newspaper, on February 21, 2017, columnist Fr. Ron Rohlheiser engaged in ad hominem attacks against his opponents' motives without considering the merits of their arguments. Even though Fr. Rolheiser wrote in the first person plural, implying that he was not pointing fingers, he clearly is implying that anyone who objects to unrepentant sinners receiving Communion is an “embittered moralizer,” like the older brother of the prodigal son, “angry and jealous.”

The article begins:

One of the dangers inherent in trying to live out a life of Christian fidelity is that we are prone to become embittered moralizers, older brothers of the prodigal son, angry and jealous at God’s over-generous mercy, bitter because persons who wander and stray can so easily access the heavenly banquet table.

According to Fr, Rohlheiser's reasoning, St. Paul must have been an embittered moralizer when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:27: "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord."

Ad hominem is a logical fallacy used to distract from the merits of the opponent’s arguments.

In this article, Fr. Rolheiser takes a typical ad hominem approach; the opponent’s words or actions are not taken at face value but are pseudo-psychoanalyzed. It’s a cheap and unfortunately effective trick to smear your opponent when you don’t have a good defense against an objection raised in an argument.
Rev. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
Like others who psychoanalyze opponents instead of addressing the validity of their arguments, Fr. Rolheiser claims to know things his opponents do not know about their deepest motivations. He posits that those who believe what the Church has consistently taught on this matter are mean and judgmental, not merciful as God the Father is merciful.

Fr. Rohlheiser does not seem to understand an important point: the Church exercises real mercy when it gently reminds sinners not to bring great spiritual harm upon themselves.

Although Fr. Rolheiser did not reference Pope Francis' post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia or its much-disputed footnote 351, when Fr. Rolheiser refers to "persons who wander and stray" being allowed "to so easily access the heavenly banquet table," he clearly refers to the controversy around whether pastors should grant access to communion for some of those who are divorced and remarried in an illicit marriage and who are not committed to living together as brother and sister.

It is not being an embittered moralizer or angry or jealous to ask in shocked amazement, how can a document released by a pope contradict previous clear teachings of the church?

The meaning of the controversial passages in Amoris Laetita is contradictorially explained by sources at the Vatican, so it seems there is intentional murkiness about how it is to be interpreted. Cardinal Coccopalmanio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, recently wrote a 30-page booklet, published by LEV, the Vatican publishing house, which states that Amoris Laetita means that there is a change in practice to allow some people who are cohabiting after a divorce from a valid marriage to receive Communion even if they are sleeping together. Even though Amoris Laetitia quotes what Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his own post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World in 1981, Amoris Laetitia's use of terminology such as the "law of gradualness" and its conclusions contradict what John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio.

Following are some excerpts from Familiaris Consortio, which contradict Amoris Laetitia (italics added):

"Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. "And so what is known as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with gradualness of the law,' as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for different individuals and situations. ...

"[T]he Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. 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. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the

"Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."

These are troubling contradictions indeed. Not a cause for bitterness, anger, or jealousy, but for bewilderment and sadness and concern for souls, on the part of those who believe, as I do: morality is not something mutable that can change from one papacy to the next, and St. Paul's warning about the harm that comes to those who receive the Eucharist unworthily should still be heeded.
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