|Abp. Socrates B. Villegas, president of the CBCP.|
(Image source: CBCP News.)
I’d really hoped to move beyond the right-wing blowback from Amoris Laetitia. Fifty-one weeks out of the fifty-two God sends, I’m able to ignore blogs like One Peter Five, Rorate Caeli, and What’s Up With Francis-Church?, content to let their writers whine and pout. However, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement today which hath caused Steve Skojec to rend his garment:
There are a number of people who seem to keep missing this key point, the super decoder ring to the entire synod and exhortation process. Gather round, everyone, and I’ll share the secret:
To the average person — or the willing priest or bishop — it doesn’t matter that the exhortation didn’t change doctrine. If they’re given permission to ignore doctrine through “pastoral” justifications, they will.
Comments Hilary White drily, “… [For] some reason, Steve seems to be losing his s**t.” Her own contribution is a sarcastic pretense of “everything is just peachy”. Sigh; it must be difficult to avoid looking like Skojec’s mini-me.
Who’s Waiting for “Permission”?
Got news for you, Steve-o: There are plenty of Catholics out there who haven’t waited for “permission” to ignore doctrine. I would even say that they’re in the overwhelming majority. Sure, there are a few progressive Catholics, like Kate Childs Graham, who can and do quote out-of-context passages from Church documents to justify their positions. However, I’d bet my old Ad Altari Dei medal that they’re in the minority, that more are like Carol Meyer — willing to ditch doctrine with or without “permission”. And in cases like Graham’s, it’s damn near certain they’d ignore doctrine even if they couldn’t find a passage to serve as their “permission”.
To the average person — or the willing priest or bishop — it doesn’t matter what Pope Francis wrote or didn’t write. If they want to go against the teachings of the Church — if they want to commit a particular sin — they will.
Many if not most Catholics just don’t need to hide behind a subterfuge like a footnote in an absurdly long papal exhortation. Do you think 98% of American Catholic women have used contraceptives at some time in their lives because Humanae Vitae was so difficult to comprehend, because it was “tantalizingly vague”? And Humanae Vitae, although an encyclical, is a much shorter document than Amoris Laetitia; by comparison, it’s almost an inter-office memo. (Boy, I just dated myself there!) Many priests, deacons, and laypersons will never read Amoris, let alone latch onto any particular footnote, just as they’ve never actually read any of the Vatican II documents.
After collective discernment, your bishops will come up with more concrete guidelines on the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation. But mercy cannot wait. Mercy should not wait. Even now, bishops and priests must open welcoming arms to those who have kept themselves out of the Church because of a sense of guilt and of shame. The laity must do no less. … O wonderful reality that . This is a disposition of mercy, an openness of heart and of spirit that
Can’t get much clearer permission to give the irregulars communion than that, can you? Except that, to get to this paragraph, Skojec has to skip over a couple of others:
What will be striking to many — and most certainly beguiling especially to secular media — is the treatment that the Exhortation gives to difficult situations: divorce and irregular unions among them. It should be made clear that the Holy Father does not in any way depart from the teaching of the Church as contained in the Creeds, the conciliar documents and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is certainly wrong to maintain the position that Catholic teaching in this respect has changed. Not that we fear change, but that there are some areas of Catholic doctrine where stability is of utmost importance.
It is in the treatment of persons that the Pope wishes to see significant change. Above all, he wants the Church to be the universal sign of mercy: mercy that does not overlook sin, but that looks lovingly on the sinner, and prays for him, aids him and embraces him that he may abandon sin and receive wholeheartedly the grace that is constantly offered him.
When the Pope therefore asks for more hospitality, welcome, friendship, even communion [see below] and solidarity with divorced and separated couples, with persons in irregular unions, he is by no means condoning whatever may be wrong or worse, sinful. He is asking us to be like the Merciful Redeemer who tells all sinners: “Neither do I condemn you.” [Emphasis mine.—ASL]
“You Can’t Join Us at the Table”
Metaphor is not Skojec’s strong suit. The word communion doesn’t only refer to the Sacrament of the Eucharist; it also refers to a joining together of minds or spirits. It’s this spiritual communion which is sought as a precondition for participating in the “closed table” of the Sacrament — the reason why non-Catholics may not participate with us. Moreover, the passage in question doesn’t refer to those in “irregular situations”, but to “those who have kept themselves out of the Church because of a sense of guilt and of shame;” those “who, because of broken relations, broken families and broken lives, stand timidly at the doors of our churches — and of our lives — unsure whether they are welcome or not”. Amoris Laetitia, after all, is about more relationships than just the civilly divorced and remarried.
The main point Pope Francis strives to make in Amoris Laetitia is that Church members can’t and shouldn’t content themselves with merely saying to those in “irregular situations”, “You can’t join us at the table because you’re not in a state of grace.” Rather, the Church must actively reach out to these people and work to bring them into a state of grace so they can join us at the table … no matter how long that takes, no matter whether the effort will be successful or not. That, not coincidentally, is why the Pope has also issued rules intended to shorten the annulment process — there may be those among the “irregulars” whose prior marriages were invalid, or could be annulled, removing a barrier to participation in the Sacraments. That is also why the Pope is permitting people to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation among the priests of the Society of St. Pius X — an ultra-traditionalist faction admired by many Catholics on the right — during the jubilee Year of Mercy, and has reportedly discussed with Bp. Bernard Fellay extending that permission.
As the old saying goes, however, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink it.” At the end of the day, each person is answerable for his own sins. There may be judgment for those who actively mislead others (cf. Matthew 18:6; Luke 17:2); perhaps misinstruction, whether deliberate or inadvertent, may be a mitigating circumstance, a kind of “invincible ignorance” — we can’t put chains on God’s mercy. Nevertheless, priests and bishops do not commit our sins for us; nor will they suffer damnation in our stead. So, for those of us who don’t possess the simple goodness and trust of a child, there’s nothing for it but to learn and live the Church’s perennial doctrine as best we can
Ever Heard of “Concupiscence”?
Does that mean I completely exculpate Pope Francis? No. I do wish he’d written a shorter, clearer document that left no ambiguities or “tantalizingly vague” statements. It would be dandy if all our shepherds were brilliant, disciplined thinkers and speakers, if they all were wise, good, unimpeachably orthodox, and zealous for the Faith. Unfortunately, the oils of Ordination don’t strip the men of their human tendency towards sin and error.
But I also wish that Skojec, White, Barnhardt, and all the other Francis-haters would disabuse themselves of the notion that would-be Catholic reprobates are simply waiting for some magisterial slip-up to get their sin on. Do they find such oopsies convenient? I’m sure they do. But they’d go ahead and sin without them. It’s a little thing called concupiscence, a consequence of the loss of integrity caused by Original Sin. Perhaps Skojec et al. have heard of it?