Amoris Laetitia

A good way to cultivate popularity, in politics or religion, is to preach constantly against the sins to which we are not tempted. There may have been a time when people were tempted to be censorious of flagrantly public homosexuals, for instance, or remarried divorcées. This is not that time. To bring down the wrath of the Almighty on those who are censorious is, in our situation, playing to the gallery.

There may have been instances when priests got rough on sinners in the Confessional. But to say that The Box should not be “a torture chamber” is rather odd, at the present day. Unless, or course, one is feeding upon the Hollywood fantasia, that the Church is synonymous with the Spanish Inquisition. In which case, such remarks get a round of cheers.

It is no wonder to me that Pope Francis is at least mildly popular, apparently among every group except “traditional Catholics.” He says what everyone else wants to hear. We, for our part, are a small minority, even among the minority who care what the pope says.

Consider, for instance, the release of the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, yesterday. (A title I would have avoided, in Latin, for fear it might be translated, “The Joy of Sex.”) By the secular media, it was almost ignored. I did not notice any item about it “trending” on any news aggregator site. If, as our friends at Rorate Caeli suggest, the document is “a catastrophe,” then it is a catastrophe that no one will notice, like a massacre in southern Sudan. For the victims it might be a big issue, and for the perpetrators a big win, but for the world outside our sudanized Church, it is no great bother.

So the popularity of the pope should be taken as no grave threat, even among those who are often (and the some who are always) appalled by him. If he can’t make the “top ten” of the BBC, even on a Vatican red-letter day, it will all wash over. Two thousand years of excitement has breezed through our ecclesiastical quarters, leaving dust that the invisible janitor later sweeps away.

The document is 264 pages. Muffins will be served to those who reach the end. Few popes have been windier (I can think of none), and most of the document is, joy to tell, perfectly orthodox. It has been celebrated already in the Catholic Herald as a theological “kitchen sink.” Beauty has been spotted in some passages, by several papal apologists, though I note they are those in which His Holiness is wordily echoing scripture and past teachings.

I find no crisp point, no particular reason for the document, except that it was expected after the recent synods. I’d have been happier with a one-page exhortation, saying now we have learnt why, in the past, the Church was not governed by episcopal synods.

The worst fears of “traditionalists” (i.e. faithful Catholics) — that the pope would open the gate to Communion for persons in various “irregular unions” — has not been realized. He has merely tupped the latch so others may let them in. Twice the question seems to be approached, in the eighth chapter, but in both cases it is funked, or rather, deferred to footnotes which hint that the matter was avoided by Evangelium Gaudium in another way.

We should rejoice in this: there has been no explicit breach of the immortal doctrine. After three years we can be fairly sure this pope does not do that sort of thing. (Some tried, and their memories are not happy ones.)

On the other hand, we should weep at the sentence, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the Sacraments,” inserted into one of those footnotes with no further explanation.

My question would be, “What the devil did you mean by that?” (To which my answer would be, he tupped the latch.)

An Apostolic Exhortation ranks below an Encyclical. And a footnote in an Apostolic Exhortation ranks below the text, in type size. But that sentence is just what every liberal progressive wanted, and they have it now to whistle in the winds.

Many in these “irregular unions” do not now hesitate to take Communion, and priests do not hesitate to avoid confronting them. On both sides, this shows how little “the cracker” (Donald Trump’s expression) means to them, except as a form of talisman, with magic powers to bring good luck, good health, and improved self-regard. (Chinese fortune cookies promise as much.) Or as the pope puts it, “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

There is a serious confusion here between the weak in power, and the weak in morals.

It was the difference between such a talisman, and the Body and Blood of Christ, that needed some explaining to our contemporaries. Once grasped, it will be understood why one does not approach the rail (if indeed your church still has one) in a state of mortal sin — at any time, or in any culture.

There are vague indications that vexed questions of “pastoral practice” will or should be devolved to local churches, sensitive as they are to local sensitivities. Some cultures, such as ours, are much more accommodating to adultery and perversion than other cultures, elsewhere. That is why the mission of the Church has always been to change some cultures.

It is why, if I may contradict the pope directly, Christian virtue has not been upheld as some unattainable ideal, but actually recommended in practice, with graduated penalties for Catholic non-observers. Of course we fail to become perfect. But the idea is not to make excuses; the idea is to make a stand. (Indeed, that is what “apostolic exhortations” are supposed to be for.)

“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.”

While the distinction between objective mortal sin and subjective intention is admitted, this is petrol he is sprinkling in current circumstances. Even low-information Catholics know darn well that Matrimony is a Sacrament; and Protestants, too, have the general idea. We are not Gauguin maids in antediluvian Polynesia.

It can indeed simply be said, and has always been said by Holy Church, with innocent simplicity, that mortal sin is mortally sinful, so once again I think the pope must be corrected. Men, including my heroes Thomas More and John Fisher, went to the block for such simple assertions as the indissolubility of marriage. Does the Holy Father now propose to decanonize half our saints and all our martyrs?

I quoted that passage, however, not because I sniff rather twisted theology (and logic), but as an example of the “progressivism” I have categorically condemned, even on this website, passim. The notion that something once true is now dated, is a false notion. If it was true then, it is true now. If it is true now, it was true then. The truth does not “evolve” in this way.

If the age is corrupt, we fight the corruption; we do not try to assimilate it.