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Are You Confused?

October 16, AD2017

Ever since the public release of Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Latitia last year, the Catholic media has been full of stories about the errors that are perceived within it’s writing. These errors have been widely written about by scholars, priests, bishops, and laypersons. I have written about them many times since immediately after the exhortation’s release.

Confusion in the Church?

These stories almost always include the charge that the Church is “confused” about the teachings offered by our Pope. Cardinal Raymond Burke has been the logical designated leader of this questioning of the teachings since he became the spokesperson for the Dubia authored by himself and three other cardinals.

The online Oxford Dictionary of U.S. English defines confusion as a “Lack of understanding; uncertainty” or “The state of being bewildered or unclear in one’s mind about something.” Other definitions include “A situation of panic; a breakdown of order.” and “A disorderly jumble.” Confusion can mean anything from a state of mind, the state of an institution, or the usual condition of a child’s room.

When reading these stories I get the sense that besides the charge of error, within Amoris Latitia, there is a parroted accepted opinion that the bulk of the Church of Christ is now uncertain as to the teachings of Christ.

I dispute this casual understanding of my fellow Catholics. While some may claim to not know what to think, I believe most instinctively understand when unclear writing passes for reasoned thinking, but reserve final judgment out of respect for those that hold high office in the church.

The danger of blind acceptance of any possible error is not immediate but exists in the future when widespread acceptance of forgotten contradictions becomes the norm as people settle into a routine existence that does not include questioning teaching. Then, the blurring of reason leads the way to a rejection of the Church. This cannot happen without the ultimate denial of the existence of God, or the acceptance of the idea that man is given by God the charge to blunder through life without consequence.

What Kind of Confusion?

There are two views to this charge of confusion:

One is that the people of God themselves are confused over the teachings in Amoris Latitia. This is possible only if the faith that they have been given up to the time of writing of this exhortation is questioned by these people. A faith that has been accepted and practiced for centuries. A faith that is well understood because it has been received and presented as an integrated whole. An action you might take in your life, such as adultery, is forbidden by God. Unless a determination is made that other actions were invalid, such as in a marriage annulment, your present action cannot be condoned.

Confusion of the mind exists when those same people are asked to not consider actions alone, but the inner forum, or some individualized understanding of the formerly considered sinful action. Some may accept this reasoning out of self-interest or want to accept it as valid because it is presented by very high authority. The parishioner is left with “a breakdown of order”, unable to fully accept this new explanation. This desire for orderly thoughts has been attacked as “rigidity”, a supposed undesirable position to be taken except in any other case of sin that is well explained and not challenged.

That is a confusing position for the mind to be, and requires a new understanding of scripture that includes perhaps the explanation that Jesus just left out this new reasoning as an exception when he said: “sin no more”. Perhaps He really meant that admonition only for those He felt were capable of not sinning, and we should have picked that up from His displays of compassion.

The other view of confusion, the kind that I think dominates within the Church, is that the Pope and his supporters exhibit confusion. Part of growing to adulthood from childhood is learning how we interact with each other. We accept authority as necessary to an orderly and safe life but have learned through experience or education, or both, that the human person, no matter how convincing he may be in his writing or speech or personal authority, can deceive – perhaps from the innocence of excessive compassion.

When Christ told Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:17), we understand that He was charging Peter with the task of presenting life-giving teaching to all people. He also said to “strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). Christ’s sheep are to get teaching that will endure; that they must follow in order to protect them from eternal damnation. This pastoral charge given by the highest authority possible, demands more than issuing orders to the sheep that cause the flock to wander this way and that without an understood purpose or a direction. That may be necessary with sheep, but we know that this is just a metaphor. People are not really sheep except when they reject God’s gift of reason. This charge to “strengthen your brethren” demands the same kind of teaching that came from Christ’s mouth –  Parables, stories, guidance, understandable direction.

When people are not given this kind of direction, a metaphor is rejected and His words are enacted literally.

On What Guidance Can We Rely?

The words of Saint Pope John Paul II help to describe the charge of a pope:

For my part, in the Catholic Church, I bear the responsibility of the successor of Peter, the Apostle chosen by Jesus to strengthen his brothers in the faith. Following the Popes who succeeded one another uninterruptedly in the passage of history, I am today the Bishop of Rome, called to be, among his brethren in the world, the witness of the Christian faith and the guarantee of the unity of all the members of the Church. (Morocco, August 19, 1985)

So far after two years of asking, perhaps better described as begging, for answers to the contradictions in Amoris Latitia by myself and those who actually have the Popes ear, I am left with the impression that I am not a “brother in the faith” to Rome. To Rome, I am a tally mark at a parish. To Rome, a source of income for expenses. To Rome, a minor entity in God’s plan, where the only important ones wear a bishop’s mitre or are poor enough to be the object of attention. To Rome, the “unity of all” appears to mean a very select few.

So, I am left with an understanding that we all must hold fast to the teachings of Christ that have been proven to be the result of legitimate revelation, faith, and reason. Reasoning that took place in the light of open interaction. Teaching that is hopefully still passed on in our local parish and defended.

We are told (1 Thessalonians 5:12-21), “But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their workbut test everything; hold fast what is good,

The key to understanding truth today requires a recognition of which laborers, labor “in the Lord”.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

H.L. Duncan is a senior citizen widower in his 8th decade of life (70s) who was married for 36 years to his only wife Jill. He lives on 40 acres of the Great Basin Desert in an owner built solar powered home. He has three children who have left the nest and are now too far away. After an Episcopalian childhood, his teen years brought on the disease of agnosticism with occasional bouts of atheism. He entered the Church in 2010 and says he has felt at home ever since. His working life included Forest Fire Truck Driver, Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa building schools, Motion Picture Cameraman in industrial films and while in the U.S. Army, production assistant to a Producer in Hollywood, Professional Still Photographer, Photo Lab Technician, Postal Service Letter Carrier, Computer Systems Analyst in business and government, Computer Consulting, Owner of an Internet business, Web site creation. His educational background is mostly self directed reading and experiential but does include; A graduate of the London School of Film Technique, London, England, AA degree in Business Data Processing with an additional course in accounting, Seminars and technical classes. He now spends his days in local parish church work and Right to Life groups, Internet conversations with new friends and old enemies of the Church.

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  • Larry Bud

    No, I’m not confused. Because whatever the disagreement is about the content of this document, I know that

    a) it doesn’t apply to me
    b) nothing in my local diocese or parish has changed
    c) the document was not written for people like me to read and parse and get all riled up about
    d) I’m sure it will eventually be discussed and resolved.

    • “c) the document was not written for people like me to read and parse and get all riled up about”

      Larry,

      If you consider yourself part of the Lay Faithful, then this document is meant for you to read and understand and follow and spread it’s teaching to others. The very first page reads:

      “POST-SYNODAL  APOSTOLIC  EXHORTATION AMORIS
       LÆTITIA OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS TO BISHOPS, PRIESTS AND DEACONS CONSECRATED PERSONS CHRISTIAN MARRIED COUPLES AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL ON LOVE IN THE FAMILY”

      I provide this link so you can actually read the thing you are commenting on. Always a good idea to prepare yourself before commenting.

      https://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf

    • Larry Bud

      I know exactly what I’m commenting about. Until my local bishop and pastor comment on this in a way that would directly affect me, then it DOESN’T affect me. And it doesn’t affect you either. There’s just no value in getting so worked up over something that doesn’t affect you. Find a more productive use of your time.

    • Guy McClung

      Dear Larry Bud-I see the Church here, the Church Militant on earth, as being here so that 1. I can get to heaven and 2. I can possibly help some others get there and/or be God’s instrument to helping some others. That’s what parishes, and priests, and bishops do – and you say nothing in your local diocese or parish has changed [since AL came out, I assume and since all the brouhaha over its interpretation]. Can I take this to mean that you see your parish etc as doing an excellent job in getting you and others to heaven? and therefore, no change is needed? I think the “content of this document” applies to you and me and everyone and can have very bad effects on me and some others getting to heaven. If – just e.g. – Jesus is going to stick to what he said and continuing nonrepentant adulterers will be in hell forever, and – some interpret Amoris Laetitia to be saying to folks you can continue in your adultery AND go to heaven, then I see this as “applying” to them, that the document was “written” for such people, and even the loss of one sheep is enough to get “riled up” about.

      I also think that you have been the catalyst for this discussion along these lines and that it has been and will be very profitable. So, thank you.

      Guy McClung, Texas

    • Larry Bud

      I’m saying that my parish and diocese have not announced any policy changes about whether divorced people can receive communion. What if they did? Well I’m not divorced so the pope’s document doesn’t affect me. In any way. The author of this article is not divorced so it doesn’t affect him. Honestly, it really doesn’t affect anyone yet because the hierarchy is still quibbling about exactly what it means. That’s their job. It’s simply not the job of people at our level to fuss and whimper about it. I’m suggesting that the author should shift his focus toward issues that are applicable to his role in the Church.

    • Larry,

      You are a very offensive man. You have no idea of my situation or the life situation of those I am responsible for. Your insistence that we all just wait for orders from some human hierarchical authority is ludicrous, and is closer to bondage than reason. There is no higher authority than Jesus Christ.

      We don’t have “jobs” in the Church, the Church doesn’t have “policies”, and we are not on its payroll.

      I know you read these articles at CS, but I don’t see you learning anything.

    • Larry Bud

      Duncan, are you this incapable of civil discussion in real life too? Would you make
      such a hostile and nasty personal attack to someone’s face?

      My conscience is clear. I have obviously made my point. And you can’t intimidate me.

    • I tell you what I did not because of your sake alone, but for the sake of those around you. You have a propensity for unyielding rejection of what you are told, even by the Pope himself. I sense a very dangerous attitude in you that threatens forced compliance to a narrow select authority, including your own.

      This is not the first comment I have read of yours, there is a pattern.

    • Larry Bud

      Again Duncan, would you make such baseless accusations out loud to someone’s face? Please reflect on that.

      And as for “compliance with authority”, how about cracking down on the commenter above who referred to the Pope in derogatory manner using his given name? And yes, if I overheard someone saying that in person, I would confront them on that.

    • I think you are proving my point…again.

    • Guy McClung

      Larry-Whether or not a policy is announced has nothing to do with the duty of the laity-that’s you and me-and most folks commenting here – to let their voices be known-and that’s according to canon law. [Lumen Gentium is a Vatican II document]. this is not limited to what might or does directly affect me in my own personal life:

      from Voice of the Faithful:

      “Canon 212 states that the faithful are bound to follow what the sacred pastors (the bishops) declare as teachers of the faith. This statement is balanced off, however, by an annunciation of the right and obligation of all the faithful to provide intellectual input to the governance and indeed the very life of the Church.

      ‘”Can. 212 §3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, . . . .”

      The source of this canon is Lumen Gentium n. 37. This canon reflects the fact that the institutional Church and its leadership recognize the fact that the Church is a community and that all faithful have a right to provide input into that is good for this community. The right to share information and opinions is extended between the faithful (lay and cleric) and the bishops as well as among the faithful themselves.

      Can. 215 Christ’s faithful may freely establish and direct associations which serve charitable or pious purposes or which foster the Christian vocation in the world, and they may hold meetings to pursue these purposes by common effort.”

      Guy McClung, Texas

    • MaryB435

      It is part of the Universal Call to Holiness that we are supposed to continue to learn. “Getting all riled up, fussing and whimpering” isn’t the point; it’s that we do have a duty to understand our faith.

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  • Guy McClung

    H.L.-Spot on! There is another alternative to “the Pope and his supporters exhibit confusion,” and it has been stated in many discussions, articles and forums. It is that Jorge Bergoglio, his writers, and his supporters are NOT confused, and Al says exactly what he wanted to say. Until and unless there is some clarification, all three alternatives remain possible. Guy McClung, Texas

    • I used the word “exhibit” intentionally to not dwell on deducing intent or state of mind. That time may come, but it is up to others to prosecute.

  • Thank you Howard for a fine and clarifying article.