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 work…but test everything; hold fast what is good,”
The key to understanding truth today requires a recognition of which laborers, labor “in the Lord”.