Monday, October 30, 2017

Will the real Rome please stand up?

Around the beginning of September, the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops issued a new set of guidelines regarding divorced and invalidly remarried couples. In it the claim is made that there may be moral “excuses” for living in adulterous circumstances and having adulterous sexual relations in such circumstances.  Of course, the source cited is Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

“There are extreme cases in which the existence of excuses for not interrupting conjugal interactions, for example, the existence of children and of certain moral circumstances, can reduce or even eliminate the moral responsibility and imputability of illicit acts,” say the bishops.  Furthermore, “this involves extenuating circumstances and conditions. These concepts are technically precise in the field of moral theology and must be well understood to offer efficacious help in discernment.”

It all rests upon a footnote.  The now infamous footnote 329 of Amoris Laetitia, which quotes (out of context) the Second Vatican Council that “if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’”  But the bishops also imply that Francis’ doctrine in Amoris Laetitia is nothing more or less than that which John Paul II put forth in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, writing, “Beginning with the exhortation Familiaris Consortio, the Church, faithful to the Gospel, has made a more attentive effort to approach couples that find themselves in these situations [of divorce and invalid remarriage], including by way of the sacraments.”  What is most interesting is the suggestion that: “Amoris Laetitia bases itself on the same principles, reinforcing the necessity of a truly particular pastoral treatment, while avoiding a pronouncement regarding norms.” 

The bishops believe that allowing such “persons who in an irregular situation” (adulterous unions) to serve as “role of godparents in baptisms, to act as lectors or catechists, to help in some work of family apostolate, contributing with their life experience” is a good thing.  Finally they suggest that the Church, what they call the "community of disciples-missionaries," "show themselves to be such by the welcoming, accompaniment, discernment, and integration of every human person, without any kind of exclusion.”

Hmmmm.  Unless I am wrong, this is one of the first practical applications of Amoris Laetitia in which the most progressive or liberal interpretation of the document is put into operation but it is not the last.  Eventually, the practice will change.  And then, surprise, surprise, the doctrine will change.

In other words, as we Lutherans approach the big Reformation Anniversary, we would be wise to remember that this is not Grandpa Luther's Roman Catholic Church.  It may not be where we think it should be but it has definitely moved away from what Luther encountered.

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