This week featured a spat between the newly named Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, a former bishop of Dallas, and now prefect of the newly established Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia.
Not one word has come from the mouth of Pope Francis after four cardinals publicly asked him to resolve five major “doubts” raised by the most controversial passages of “Amoris Laetitia":
Or better, the pope has given a non-answer, when in the interview with Stefania Falasca for the November 18 edition of "Avvenire" he said at a certain point, using the familiar “tu” form of address with the interviewer, a longstanding friend of his:
“Some - think of certain replies to ‘Amoris Laetitia’ - still fail to understand, it’s either black or white, even though it is in the flux of life that one must discern.”
To make up for this, not a few churchmen of the pope’s circle have come forward to speak for him, falling over themselves to say that the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” is already perfectly clear in itself and cannot give rise to doubts, and therefore those who are raising them are in reality attacking the pope and disobeying his magisterium.
The standout of these garrulous sorties is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, already repeatedly indicated by Pope Francis as his authorized interpreter and chief custodian of Church doctrine, with all due respect to Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, whose role as prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith has by now been reduced to a mere honorary title.
But the most unrestrained has been another cardinal and a newbie to the scarlet, Kevin J. Farrell of the United States, who said in an interview with the “National Catholic Reporter”:
"'Amoris Laetitia' is the Holy Spirit speaking. I believe we should take it as it is. That will be the guiding document without a doubt for the years to come. I honestly don't see what and why some bishops seem to think that they have to interpret this document."
So they are in the wrong who want Francis to weigh in again. “I believe that the pope has spoken” enough, Farrell added, when on September 5 he gave his approval to the exegesis of “Amoris Laetitia’ made by the Argentine bishops of the region of Buenos Aires, according to whom it just so happens that there are civilly divorced and remarried persons who may receive communion even while continuing to live “more uxorio.”
Farrell was made a cardinal by Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the consistory of last November 19. And since last August he has been prefect of the new Vatican dicastery for laity, family and life.
He is therefore one of the new faces of Pope Francis’s new curia. A curia that - as is continually repeated - should no longer suppress but rather foster the multiform “creativity” of each bishop in his respective diocese.
In reality the opposite has happened here. In another interview - this time with “Catholic News Service,” the agency of the episcopal conference of the United States - Farrell took it into his head to attack “ad personam” an illustrious bishop and fellow countryman, whose “offense” would be precisely that of having offered his diocese guidelines for the implementation of “Amoris Laetitia” that were evidently not to Farrell’s liking.
The target of the attack is not a nobody. He is Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia, the city that in 2015 hosted the world meeting of families that Pope Francis went to visit.
Chaput is a Franciscan and the first bishop of the United States born in a tribe of Native Americans. Pastoral care of the family is one of his recognized areas of expertise. He participated in the synod on the family and at the end of its second and final session he was elected by a landslide as one of the twelve members of the council of cardinals and bishops that acts as a bridge between one synod and another.
In Farrell’s judgment, however, he has the defect of having dictated to his priests and faithful guidelines that are “closed,” instead of “open” as Pope Francis wants.
“I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no,” said the new Vatican prefect of pastoral care of the family. “The Church cannot react by closing the doors before we even listen to the circumstances and the people. That’s not the way to go.”
Chaput reacted to the incredible attack with a concise counter-interview with “Catholic News Service,” presented in its entirety in Italian and English … But what is more interesting to inspect up close is the matter of contention, meaning the guidelines offered by Chaput to his archdiocese of Philadelphia.
They are reproduced in their entirety below. These are indeed clear, without the shadow of a doubt.
I’ve reproduced portions of that response below:
The Holy Father’s statements build on the classic Catholic understanding, key to moral theology, of the relationship between objective truth about right and wrong – for example, the truth about marriage revealed by Jesus himself – and how the individual person grasps and applies that truth to particular situations in his or her judgment of conscience. Catholic teaching makes clear that the subjective conscience of the individual can never be set against objective moral truth, as if conscience and truth were two competing principles for moral decision-making.
As St. John Paul II wrote, such a view would “pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God's law… Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil” (Veritatis Splendor 56, 60). Rather, “conscience is the application of the law to a particular case” (Veritatis Splendor 59). Conscience stands under the objective moral law and should be formed by it, so that “the truth about moral good, as that truth is declared in the law of reason, is practically and concretely recognized by the judgment of conscience” (Veritatis Splendor 61).
But since well-meaning people can err in matters of conscience, especially in a culture that is already deeply confused about complex matters of marriage and sexuality, a person may not be fully culpable for acting against the truth. Church ministers, moved by mercy, should adopt a sensitive pastoral approach in all such situations – an approach both patient but also faithfully confident in the saving truth of the Gospel and the transforming power of God’s grace, trusting in the words of Jesus Christ, who promises that “yo u will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32). Pastors should strive to avoid both a subjectivism that ignores the truth or a rigorism that lacks mercy.
As with all magisterial documents, "Amoris Laetitia" is best understood when read within the tradition of the Church’s teaching and life. In fact, the Holy Father himself states clearly that neither Church teaching nor the canonical discipline concerning marriage has changed: “It is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (Amoris Laetitia 300) – a point reiterated by Cardinal Schönborn at the Vatican’s presentation of the document. The Holy Father’s Exhortation should therefore be read in continuity with the great treasury of wisdom handed on by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the witness of the lives of the Saints, the teachings of Church Councils, and previous magisterial documents. …
For Catholics and Christians who are divorced and civilly-remarried ...
"Amoris Laetitia" manifests a special concern for divorced and civilly-remarried Catholics. In some cases, a valid first marriage bond may never have existed. A canonical investigation of the first marriage by a Church tribunal may be appropriate. In other cases, the first marriage bond of one or both of the civilly-remarried persons may bevalid. This would impede any attempt at a subsequent marriage. If they have children from the original marriage, they have an important duty to raise and care for them.
The divorced and remarried should be welcomed by the Catholic community. Pastors should ensure that such persons do not consider themselves as “outside” the Church. On the contrary, as baptized persons, they can (and should) share in her life. They are invited to attend Mass, to pray, and to take part in the activities of the parish. Their children – whether from an original marriage or from their current relationship – are integral to the life of the Catholic community, and they should be brought up in the faith. Couples should sense from their pastors, and from the whole community, the love they deserve as persons made in the image of God and as fellow Christians.
At the same time, as "Amoris Laetitia" notes, priests should “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and penance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how they have acted toward their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; if they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences does the new relationship have on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage” (Amoris Laetitia 300). "Amoris Laetitia" continues: “What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which ‘guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God… This discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity as proposed by the Church’” (Amoris Laetitia 300).
In light of this, priests must help the divorced and civilly-remarried to form their consciences according to the truth. This is a true work of mercy. It should be undertaken with patience, compassion and a genuine desire for the good of all concerned, sensitive to the wounds of each person, and gently leading each toward the Lord. Its purpose is not condemnation, but the opposite: a full reconciliation of the person with God and neighbor, and restoration to the fullness of visible communion with Jesus Christ and the Church.
In fact, pastors must always convey Catholic teaching faithfully to all persons – including the divorced and remarried – both in the confessional as well as publicly. They should do this with great confidence in the power of God’s grace, knowing that, when spoken with love, the truth heals, builds up, and sets free (cf. Jn 8:32).
Can the divorced and civilly-remarried receive the sacraments? …
With divorced and civilly-remarried persons, Church teaching requires them to refrain from sexual intimacy. This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist. Such individuals are encouraged to approach the Sacrament of Penance regularly, having recourse to God’s great mercy in that sacrament if they fail in chastity.
Chaput says basically that, if a divorced-and-remarried couple has sex, it is a sin, and they must go to confession. They still cannot go to communion (“receive the Eucharist”) – because their situation as divorced-and-remarried counts as an ongoing situation of adultery.
The article concludes with an note that since “Pope Francis responded only with silence”, there is “growing concern over the confusion that the whole Church is going through”. Stay tuned to this channel.