You might have noticed that there is a controversy regarding Amoris Laetitia which has created a war of words in the press. When bishops are using the press to criticize each other and Church documents, the faithful take notice, and it makes us uneasy. If you are like me, you are a little (or a lot) confused on what the hoo-hah is all about. Why are the bishops fighting? Why are cardinals criticizing the Pope? WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!?!?!
I recently did some research in the hopes of making sense of the madness…
What is Amoris Laetitia?
Amoris Laetitia is an apostolic exhortation on the family which was released following synods that occurred in 2014 and 2015.
What Is an Apostolic Exhortation?
According to a handy guide to Church documents from EWTN, an apostolic exhortation is used “to communicate to the Church the conclusions [the Pope] has reached after consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. He has also used it in other circumstances, such as to exhort religious to a deeper evangelical life.”
Why Is This Important?
St. John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” The discussion over Amoris Laetitia is important because the family is important. The world needs the Church to be a strong voice for marriage.
My parents divorced when I was three years old, and I know how hard having divorced parents can be for children. Children of divorced parents need the Church to stand up for indissolubility of marriage. At the same time, however, if my parents were unable to get an annulment, it would pain me to know that they would be unable to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ. The availability of annulments is an incredible gift of mercy provided by the Church (see here for more details on that). Again, though, I do not want more children to have to grow up with their parents in different homes, so we need the Church to not grant annulments willy-nilly and become too permissive with regards to whom is admitted to Holy Communion.
Is the Entire Document Controversial?
No! There is only one portion (Chapter 8) that is controversial. Huzzah! It’s not as bad as it sounds!
For the most part, it appears as though everyone is on board with almost all of the document. Only Chapter 8 is being debated. Most of the debate stems from what is perceived to be a lack of clarity with regards to how the Church should approach those who find themselves in complex and irregular positions with regards to divorce and remarriage. The question is: Are those who are divorced and who remarried civilly without receiving an annulment allowed to be permitted to Holy Communion and under what circumstances?
There has been concern over the Pope’s apparent refusal to clarify what is meant is the 8th chapter of Amoris Laetitia. In September, a leaked letter Pope Francis sent to the bishops of Argentina praising their document on applying Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia. When some cardinals became concerned with this apparent endorsement of admitting to Holy Communion some divorced and remarried Catholics who are not abstaining from sexual relations, four of the concerned cardinals presented Pope Francis with a dubia containing five straight-up yes or no questions on the controversial eight chapter. When I first heard about this letter, it sounded like it would be a simple read, but oh, no. It was not a short and quick read; it is lengthy for something so allegedly straightforward. Read the full text of the letter here. The full text of this letter is available because the four cardinals who signed it went public with it after Pope Francis refused to answer the letter.
What the HECK Is a Dubia?
When I googled the above question, I received no answers. When I typed “dubia” into Google Translate it returned an English translation of this Latin word as “doubts.” Using my powers of reasoning, I reached the conclusion that a dubia is a document that expresses doubts……….I could be wrong, though.
Who Are These Four Cardinals, and Why Should I Care About What They Have to Say?
The four men in question are Cardinals Raymond Burke, Joachim Meisner, Walter Brandmüller, and Carlo Caffarra. They are important because they are cardinals, princes of the Church, successors to the Apostles (It should be noted that the Apostles behaved strangely from time to time––that whole Peter denying Christ thing comes to mind). It should also be pointed out that Cardinal Meisner was elevated to the college of cardinals by Pope John Paul II––you know, the guy who’s now a Saint.
Archbishop Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, the highest canonical court responsible for marriage, recently said that these four cardinals could “could lose their Cardinalate.” This is not to punish them for the dubia, but rather for making the dubia public. Although, it should be noted that Can. 212 §3 states:
According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
Do These Four Cardinals Have a Cool Group Nickname?
There is no nickname out there that I was able to find, but I am totally willing to create one…
“Gang of Four” is out because “Gang of #” is an over-used nicknaming method.
“The Four Horsecardinals of the Apocalypse” is a bit drastic.
“The Doubting Four” sounds a bit dreary and is reminiscent of a thrice-failed comic book film franchise.
I, therefore, suggest their nickname be “The Four Brown Cardinals.” According to some random website I found on the internet, the color brown is associated with doubt. This nickname alludes to the doubts expressed in the dubia without directly drawing attention to the negative connotations associated with being called a “doubter.”
Hopefully, this bizarre interlude has lightened your mood while reading about this troubling situation. It certainly helped my mood while writing about it.
Why Didn’t Pope Francis Respond to the Four Brown Cardinals?
No one can know the mind of Pope Francis (except God), so it is irresponsible to assume one knows what he is thinking (although that did not stop Cardinal Cupich from speculating). It may be hard for some of us to accept it when Pope Francis does something confusing or refuses to clarify something confusing, but we have to trust him. God chose him for a reason. Remember, like Cardinal Meisner, he was made a cardinal by a Saint. JPII chose him to be conclave-eligible for a reason.
Has Pope Francis screwed this up?
Maybe. I don’t know……A Saint did make him a cardinal, so probably not……
Are There Any Voices of Reason Out There?
Yes, there are clerics who are trying to unite the bishops as opposed to calling each other out in the press. One of the most no-nonsense, straightforward, and wise comments I have read on this whole debate came from a brand new cardinal, Jospeh Tobin of Indianapolis. He said the Bishops should “suck it up” and work together to figure out how best to implement the controversial Chapter 8. Another rookie cardinal, Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, has echoed this idea.
What’s a Faithful Catholic to Do When Bishops and Cardinals Are Bickering?
PRAY Pray for the Church and those who lead the Church. It is not an easy gig and your prayers are necessary.
READ. Here’s a thought: Read Amoris Laetitia for yourself before you judge it or anyone who comments on it. Also, read the multitude of documents the Magisterium has produced on marriage and family life and the many books Saints have written on the subject.
LOVE. Remember that everyone involved in this debate is a child of God, and, therefore, we should not viciously attack those with whom we disagree on this important issue.
TRUST. Pope Francis was chosen to be our Holy Father for a reason. He is our leader, and he has the final say. Saint Eugène de Mazenod once wrote:
“If you are a Catholic, you are not allowed to pick and choose or follow your own inclinations. You are obliged to adhere to the decisions of the divinely appointed teacher, and if there is a schism, the side that is not with Peter goes astray. Such is my invariable way of thinking, and I would still think that way even should a decision contrary to my views be handed down by the Roman Tribunal.”