It seems that the case for the Amoris laetitia critics’ self-proclaimed “Filial Correction” (1) of Pope Francis is weakening. Dr. Joseph Shaw, one of the signers of the Correctio filialis, recently wrote: “It is not that we’re saying that the text of Amoris cannot be bent into some kind of orthodoxy. What we are saying is that it has become clear that orthodoxy is not what Pope Francis wants us to find there.” (2)
Shaw’s claim that Pope Francis doesn’t want orthodoxy, however, is based on subjective impressions derived from mostly non-authoritative statements of the Pope. This does not seem to be a very strong foundation for accusing the Roman Pontiff of promoting false teachings and heresies.
The supporters of the Correctio and other critics of Amoris laetitia often try to contrast what Pope Francis says in this exhortation to teachings of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is interesting, therefore, to note that many of these same critics fail to follow the guidelines for theologians published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1990 when John Paul II was pope and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, was prefect of the CDF. These guidelines are contained in the instruction, Donum veritatis (Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian) (3) — a document that traditionalist opponents of Amoris laetitia, such as Dr. Peter Kwasniewski (4), ironically claim to hold in high esteem.
Donum veritatis was issued to explain the need for Catholic theologians to maintain communion with the Magisterium of the Church. Building upon Vatican II’s Lumen gentium §37 and Canon 212§3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Donum veritatis does recognize that theologians might have problems with certain magisterial teachings (5). If these problems persist, “the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented (6).” The theologian, however, “should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties (7).”
Critics of Amoris laetitia might argue that, in making their petitions to the Pope and signing the Correctio filialis, they are doing exactly what Donum veritatis charges them to do. In what follows, we hope to show that the critics of Amoris laetitia have not properly followed the guidelines set forth in that document.
Donum veritatis §24 instructs theologians “to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the [magisterial] interventions (8). The Correctio filialis fails to do this. Instead, it catalogues comments made by Pope Francis in press conferences, private letters, etc., without taking into account the authoritativeness of these statements and their context (9). It also cites statements by papal associates and appointees.
In loading down their petition with cherry-picked statements bearing little or no magisterial authority, the Correctio authors seem intent upon discrediting the Holy Father and his intentions. Can such an approach truly reflect “an evangelical spirit” and “a profound desire to resolve the difficulties” with Amoris laetitia (10)?
Moreover, the Correctio authors omit any evidence that would invalidate their claim that Francis is operating out of a heretical mindset. They therefore make no mention of numerous unambiguously orthodox papal statements that are of a far higher level of magisterium than those that they cite. For example, the Correctio ignores the Pope’s January 2016 address to the Roman Rota, in which he affirmed the indissolubility of marriage and ruled out Walter Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to readmit the divorced and civilly remarried to Communion without requiring continence: “The Church … with a renewed sense of responsibility continues to propound marriage in its essential elements — offspring, the good of the spouses, unity, indissolubility and sacramentality — not as an ideal meant only for the few, notwithstanding modern models fixated on the ephemeral and the passing, but rather as a reality that in Christ’s grace can be lived out by all baptized faithful (11).”
Donum veritatis §26 admonishes theologians to safeguard not only the “unity of truth” (unitas veritatis) but also the “unity of charity” (unitas caritatis). Many prominent critics of Amoris laetitia, however, are quite transparent in their intent to give the worst possible interpretations to statements and actions of Pope Francis (12). This tendency violates not only the unity of charity but also goes against the need to avoid rash judgment. Such commentators would do well to recall the teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it” (CCC 2478) (13).
In Donum veritatis §27, we find this instruction: “The theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions.” The authors of the Correctio filialis, however, seem to present their opinions as if they are non-arguable facts rather than personal opinions. They boldly declare that “the words, deeds and omissions” of Pope Francis, in conjunction with certain passages of Amoris laetitia “are serving to propagate heresies within the Church (14).”
Donum veritatis §27 also warns theologians against giving “untimely public expression” to their opinions. This admonition is concerned about the effect of such expressions on the Catholic faithful (15). This is why the theologians are warned against turning to the “mass media (16).” Instead, they should have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth (17).
But supporters of the Correctio filialis have set up internet sites seeking signatures in support of the “correction” of Pope Francis for “propagating heresies (18).” Donum veritatis §34 recognizes the danger of such a “parallel magisterium” of theologians, which “can cause great spiritual harm by opposing itself to the Magisterium of the Pastors. Indeed, when dissent succeeds in extending its influence to the point of shaping a common opinion, it tends to become the rule of conduct. This cannot but seriously trouble the People of God and lead to contempt for true authority.”
Indeed, Donum veritatis has strong words for those who promote “polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a ‘consensus’ among theologians, [or] maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a ‘base’ or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth” (§39). “All this,” it says, “indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church.”
Yet is this not precisely what the Correctio signatories are doing? They are presenting themselves as the spokesmen of an autonomous community that pits itself against an orthodox reading of Pope Francis’s words in a document of high magisterial level. Donum veritatis’s statement that such actions indicate “a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church,” should serve as an admonition to these signatories: they are operating outside the habitus of theology.
Some commentators say that they have a right to speak out against Amoris laetitia because the Pope has not made his opinion clear enough to them. Such an attitude, however, stands in opposition to Donum veritatis §28, which says that disagreement with the Magisterium “could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable. Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine.”
Critics of Amoris laetitia, however, often claim that they are only expressing their difficulties with reconciling certain statements of the exhortation with previous Church teaching. To help overcome such difficulties, Donum veritatis §29 provides this instruction: “The theologian will strive then to understand this teaching in its contents, arguments, and purposes. This will mean an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him.”
Sending petitions that accuse the Holy Father of directly or indirectly promoting heresies, however, does not seem to reflect such an attitude of “intense and patient reflection” which is open to correction from theological colleagues. The critics of Amoris laetitia don’t often seem to welcome constructive criticisms of their assertions. Instead, they appear resolved to discredit any effort to challenge their position.
In making these observations, we do not wish to impugn the sincerity of the critics of Amoris laetitia. Perhaps in their own way they believe they are acting for the good of the Church. However, if they are to voice their concerns about Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation in a manner that is truly Catholic, it is their responsibility to do so in conformity with the instructions of Donum veritatis, which even they agree form a vital part of the tradition they claim to value.
Robert L. Fastiggi PhD is Professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. Dawn Eden Goldstein STD is Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. This article has been republished from the Vatican Insider blog at La Stampa under a Creative Commons licence.
(1)See “Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis,” http://www.correctiofilialis.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Correctio-filialis_English_1.pdf.
(2) Shaw made this comment in his article for the Latin Mass Society posted on LifeSiteNews September 29, 2017: https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/correctio-filialis-a-response-to-some-critics. Shaw was responding to a fine article by Prof. Jacob Wood: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/some-basic-questions-and-answers-on-the-filial-correction-of-the-pope.
(3)AAS 82 (1990) 1550–1570; also available on the Vatican website: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19900524_theologian-vocation_en.html.
(4) See this 2015 article of his: https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2015/05/on-25th-anniversary-of-cdfs-instruction.html. Kwasniewski was one of the 45 signatories of a summer 2016 letter to Pope Francis critical of Amoris laetitia: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/07/25/names-of-signatories-to-amoris-laetitia-letter-revealed/.
(5) Donum veritatis §30.
(8) Ibid., 24.
(9) Cardinal Müller addressed the lack of magisterial authority of some of the very sources cited by the authors of the Correctio in his Sept. 28, 2017 interview with Edward Pentin: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/cardinal-mller-discusses-the-cdf-the-curia-and-amoris-laetitia.
(10) Cf. Donum veritatis §30.
(11) “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the Inauguration of the Judicial Year,” https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/january/documents/papa-francesco_20160122_anno-giudiziario-rota-romana.html.
(12) See the October 1, 2017 article in The Remnant by Christopher Ferrara, one of the signers of the Correctio: http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/3450-wait-wait-it-s-all-a-mistranslation . In this article, he states: “This Pope’s plan of promulgating a deliberately ambiguous document whose heterodox interpretation and application he would later approve with a series of sub-magisterial winks and nods, both oral and written, is the reason I signed onto the Correctio Filialis.”
(13) St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises §22.
(14) “Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis.”
(15) We only need to consider the effect on the faithful of the article by the philosopher, Josef Seifert, who claims that Amoris laetitia 303 “has the logical consequence of destroying the entire Catholic moral teaching.” See Josef Seifert, “Does Pure Logic Threaten to Destroy the Entire Moral Doctrine of the Catholic Church?,” Aemaet, http://www.aemaet.de/index.php/aemaet/article/view/. The excessive language of Seifert’s article prompted us to write our previous article, which was published on Sept. 26, 2017: http://www.lastampa.it/2017/09/26/vaticaninsider/eng/documents/doesamoris-laetitia-really-undermine-catholic-moral-teaching-yom5rmEIfGPzsMDlS7o6eP/pagina.html
(16) Donum veritatis §30.
(18) See LifeSiteNews, which has a link asking readers to sign the petition to “support the filial correction of Pope Francis for “propagating heresies.” https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/correctio-filialis-a-response-to-some-critics
(19) Donum veritatis §34.