Around the world, from the local parish to the highest levels of the Vatican, the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) has been interpreted by some to justify, even to elevate to the level of virtue, actions of some of the faithful previously taught to be sinful. Examples include ongoing public adultery and public homosexual relationships. Also, some interpretations of AL, particularly Paragraphs 297, 299, 310 and 312, have been read not only to condone and accept, but to require, that such sinners – who in some cases according to the principles of AL are no longer sinning – be “integrated” with “joyful and fruitful experience” into the public life of the ecclesial community.
Adultery, Yes. Racism, No?
Recently an anomaly has arisen – anomalous if the new moral principles of Amoris Laetitia are to inspire and govern the Church’s actions and, as AL states clearly, apply to “everyone” in every “situation.” On the one hand, there are those who preach welcoming forgiveness, merciful acceptance, and open inclusion of certain sinners; but on the other hand, racist sinners are to be, and some now have been, condemned, segregated, and shunned.
Amoris Laetitia demands that sinners, and this must include racists, be welcomed always (AL, 299). Racists, especially unrepentant racists, have not been welcomed with the unconditional mercy of AL. Following recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the U.S. bishops established a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, chairman of the committee, said racism was America’s “original sin.” There have been many vehement, instant, and absolute condemnations, for example:
Bishop Daniel Flores, Brownsville, Texas: “Racism is a grave sin rooted in pride, envy and hatred. It suffocates the soul by means of expelling from it the charity of Christ.”
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln: “Pray for an end to the evil of racism. And pray, especially today, for its victims. Pray for justice and mercy in our nation.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and domestic justice chairman Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., issued a statement condemning “the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism.”
Father Trail, priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago: “All clergy have a duty and obligation to stand up for equality, to stand up for the downtrodden…We have to reclaim the moral authority to not be afraid to be in the public square and say we’re not going to stand for this. We’re not going to stand for bigotry and hatred and violence, that those go against God’s law.”
He also said that he welcomes voices in the church who condemn these actions.
Such condemnations are condemned by Amoris Laetitia: “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.” (AL, 305).
Every Situation? Everyone?
By its own terms, Amoris Laetitia covers everyone and every action, including some previously taught to always be sin, and some actions that in the past have been described as “intrinsic evils” for which circumstances and intentions cannot nullify or justify the evil.
But the Church . . . is a place for everyone. (AL, 310).
No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone in whatever situation they find themselves. (AL, 297).
I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church. (AL, 312).
This author has yet to find anyone at any level – papal, college of cardinals, Vatican congregation, bishops, priests, theologians, professors – who has publicly stated that it must be done, and it is morally correct, that the principles of Amoris Laetitia are applicable to and must be applied to active, unrepentant racists in the same way that these principles have been used to justify ongoing adultery and accept ongoing homosexual activity .
The recent condemnatory treatment of racists, by some – no matter how explained – undercuts the declared absolute scope of the new morality of Amoris Laetitia.
(a). AL is mistaken in its statements that the new moral principles apply to everyone in all situations and that no one is condemned forever; or
(b). There are exceptions to AL moral rules, rules stated as absolutes, for which no exceptions are ever mentioned in AL; and there are criteria or standards for exceptions not explicitly presented.
Unstated Exceptions to AL’s New Absolute Rules
Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine a further and more detailed future papal document explaining the how and the why of exceptions to AL’s absolute declarations that does not negate their status as rules, destroy their role as moral principles, and undermine their use as the foundation of a new ecclesiology.
Regarding racism, there are no statements in AL, including no ambiguous statement, like these:
The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone forever, except unrepentant racists.
I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone in whatever situation they find themselves, except prejudiced bigots who never repent of their sins.
AL Mandated Integration – Supremacist EMs, Racist Ushers, Lector Bigots?
Amoris Laetitia explicitly requires that continuing adulterers be welcomed in the Church community and be allowed to take part in – be “integrated” into – the life of the Church (AL, 299, 310, 312); this despite the fact that, in day-to-day ecclesial life, the ongoing adultery of these people will be public knowledge in the parish or diocesan community. Racists, according to the clear implied requirements of AL, must not be excluded. To paraphrase the application of AL, Paragraph 299 to racists:
The participation of active racists can be expressed in different ecclesial services; which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practiced in liturgical, pastoral, educational, and institutional framework, can be surmounted.
Paragraph 299 goes on to say that Holy Mother Church “welcomes them always.” As this ecclesial welcome is mandated now for public adulterers and some who publicly make it known that they voluntarily engage in homosexual activities, it is also true for baptized public racists – as it must be if the stated principles of AL are indeed principles that are to be accepted and followed. AL makes no exception for public racists and their actions, nor does it exclude them from God’s infinite mercy – ALL (with no asserted exception) are to be “integrated” into full participation in Church life. AL requires this not only with respect to adulterers, but if AL’s new moral principles are correct, with respect to everyone; e.g., public racists, abortionists, pederasts, torturers, pedophiles, serial rapists, and even schismatics and heretics – and to some of these who in their “internal forum,” after discernment by their pastor, believe they are not sinning and who will continue their actions.
Go And Sin On More
Amoris Laetitia proclaims that actions previously taught to be sinful can, depending on the circumstances and intentions of the actor, be non-sinful:
Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace . . . A subject may know full well the rule . . . be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. (AL, 301).
It is possible that in an objective situation of sin . . . a person may be living in God’s grace. (AL, 305).
Discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. (AL,300; Footnote 336).
As it does for some adulterers, AL must – unless it is changed, explained, or supplemented – be heard to proclaim that some racists do not sin. For AL there is no longer anything that is “intrinsically evil”. This is despite the fact that in the lead up to recent elections, the catholic bishops told us, in no uncertain terms, that racism and abortion were intrinsic evils – i.e., that there are no circumstances or intentions that could render these actions neutral or virtuous.
In some situations AL accepts and provides justification for the ongoing adultery of some adulterers; thus, it must also must be heard to assert that some racists continue on in sanctifying grace and that these racists may persist in their racist actions while continuing to receive the sacraments.
The conclusions here follow from the meaning, intent, point, purpose and a correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. If it is alleged that these conclusions are in error, this cannot be the result of misunderstanding of the words of the text, or of faulty logic, or of errors in reasoning; but can only be the result of the ambiguity, for some the studied purposeful ambiguity, of Amoris Laetitia itself.