Amoris Laetitia: Joy, Sadness and Hopes

Josef Seifert


The present essay begins, in its first section, with a mention of the wealth of beautiful thoughts that Amoris Laetitia (AL) enriches us with, and of the wonderful core of the message of AL, the merciful love of God for every human being expressed in the words of Christ cited above. It then concentrates on a small portion of the assertions of AL, but which are likely to have the strongest effect and give cause for concern and sadness.

The second part concerns the question who the couples in “irregular situations” are, to whom AL wants to grant access to the sacraments, and whether admitting them (without repentance and will to change their life) to sacramental absolution of sins and Eucharist is compatible with the Gospel, Church doctrine and human reason. Four fundamentally different answers that dominate the current discussion as to who these couples admitted to the sacraments are according to AL are discussed critically, to show that a clear statement about which of them is true and which are blatantly false, desperately is needed to avert chaos:

  1. No “irregular couples” at all?
  2. All “irregular couples”?
  3. Some, carefully examined, couples in irregular situations?
  4. “Irregular couples” who have not celebrated marriage in the Church but only entered a “marriage of conscience,” which AL for the first time in the history of the Church permits and recognizes?

Since the second reply authorizes any sacrilege and transforms the holy Temple of God into a temple of Satan, this reply cannot be the one the Pope intends to give. But as it is nonetheless proposed by high dignitaries in the Church and the Pope has remained silent about it, it seems necessary to break this silence and to reject this second blasphemous response in the sharpest possible terms.

The third answer is most likely the one meant by Francis. It asserts that the couples admitted to the sacraments must be subjected to a thorough discernment in order to see whether they are so ignorant or blind for their sin that they, subjectively speaking, are not committing grave sin. One first objection to this view is that it makes the silent assumption that the adulterer or a murderer blind to his sin is innocent. This fails to recognize that often ethical value-blindness is rooted in evil acts and attitudes and the subject is responsible for his blindness such that he is even a worse sinner than the one who clearly knows his sin and recognizes his guilt. Another main objection to this solution is that any sorting out of “good people in irregular situations” of adultery, homosexual acts, etc., who are subjectively in the state of grace (despite of the fact that they live “objectively in serious sin”), is unachievable and wholly exceeds the capacity of the individual priest and of the affected couples. Distinguishing such pure soul-sinners who would not need repentance nor conversion to receive the sacraments, from “evil adulterers” and homosexuals, who can be admitted to the sacraments only after a repentance and conversion, leads to countless new problems that make this solution cause of chaos in the Church.

While the fourth answer and the proposal of “marriages of conscience”, in which the judgment of the individual could replace the Church tribunals in certain situations, is presented with great sympathy as a potentially truly charitable innovation and recognition of the dignity of the personal subject and of the legitimate rights of conscience by Pope Francis, the essay shows that also this humane and merciful-looking admission of couples in extraordinary situations to the sacraments and the recognition of their marriages as sacraments infringes against the teaching and tradition of the Church, as well as against rationally evident principles of Justice and the Good. Hence ultimately only the first reply that is that of the Polish bishops’ Conference and was approved for them by the Pope on August 28-29, 2016, is left, which means Pope Francis effectively didn’t change anything about the discipline of the sacraments for various reasons, one of them being absolutely cogent: that any other response deviates from the Gospels and Church teaching and tradition.

The third part of the essay discusses a number of statements which would seem wrong, at least in their immediate sense, even heretical. It is chiefly on this doctrinal level that the radical break purported by Spaemann of AL with Church teaching and tradition occurs: a break with the teachings of the Gospel and the Church on the moral order, on intrinsically wrong and disorderly actions, on the divine commandments and our ability, with the help of grace, to comply with them; on the indissolubility of marriage and the sanctity of sacraments of the Eucharist and marriage, on the sacramental discipline and pastoral care of the Church, which derives from the word of God and the Church’s 2000th tradition, on the threat of eternal damnation (hell) and the necessity of faith in Christ for eternal salvation.

Since the relevant statements are contrary to most basic elements of the Church’s doctrine, their abdication, and at least a revocation of their false senses, in which they will be understood by most readers, is directly requested from the Pope.

The fourth part, using many examples from the history of the Church, shows the full compatibility with the Catholic tradition and teaching of appropriately and reverently proposed criticisms of utterances of bishops and the Pope, also when they come from lay people. The great gift of infallibility does not extend to all magisterial or public statements of the Pope, many of which are fallible. From St. Paul, Emperor Constantine, Athanasius, Saint Catherine of Siena up to the present, we find many cases in which such critical scrutiny of Church pronouncements, including those of non-infallible statements of the Pope, by laypersons or lesser magisterial authorities was of immense significance for the good of the Church. The essay addresses a dramatic appeal to the Pope for clarification and correction in theory and practice.


Amoris Laetitia; Pope Francis; sacraments; marriage;

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ISSN: 2195-173X