De Omnibus Dubitandum Est – A Dialogue

In my Apologia for the Orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia (“AL”), I noted AL has engendered a number of doubts as to its Catholic orthodoxy, including from lay Catholics on social media.

One such lay Catholic with whom I have interacted on Twitter, Mark Lambert, has taken the opportunity to critically (but respectfully) engage with my Apologia at his blog De Omnibus Dubitandum Est.

Therefore, to continue the dialogue in a similar respectful vein, I hope to offer a substantive response here to Mark’s concerns and queries.

Some Acknowledgements

I would first like to acknowledge Mark’s kind words about my contribution to the debate around AL, generously suggesting I am “the only person I have seen who has even attempted to justify the document’s [i.e. AL] direction in theological terms”.

The arguments surrounding AL, from all sides, have too often failed to recognise the good faith and serious engagement of those whom with they disagree. Therefore, while I have to date failed to persuade Mark, I appreciate his ability to transcend that temptation.

Secondly, I would like to acknowledge that I understand Mark is being absolutely genuine, when he states:

Both interlocutors failed to convince me on numerous basic points despite my genuine desire to be convinced of their premise. I want the Pope to be Catholic! I want to have confidence in that! I don’t want to be in the horrible mess I feel I am in at the moment!

I confess that, as a person who was received into the Church during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, I too have had similar feelings at times since the election of Pope Francis. Accordingly I have no doubt Mark truly shares the very Catholic desire to be able to accept the teaching of the Pope.

Important Areas of Agreement

The next important matter that needs to be acknowledged is the points Mark brings up with which I agree. And I agree not just with their truth, but also their relevance and importance to any judgement on the orthodoxy of AL. These propositions include:

  1. AL does seek to change the Church’s sacramental discipline in relation to the divorced and remarried.
  1. The proper criteria for mortal sin are set out in CCC 1857.
  1. Ignorance that adultery is a grave sin DOES NOT reduce culpability. As noted by St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologia I-II, q. 19, a. 6, “if erring reason tell a man that he should go to another man’s wife, the will that abides by that erring reason is evil; since this error arises from ignorance of the Divine Law, which he is bound to know”.
  1. It would have been preferable had AL made proper reference to Veritatis Splendor (to, for example, emphasis the relationship between intrinsic evil and reduced culpability noted by VS81).
  1. It is possible to commit mortal sin in a single act, provided that the matter is grave and there is sufficient knowledge and true consent.
  1. Venial sins can prepare the ground for mortal sins.
  1. It would be good and helpful if Pope Francis would answer to Dubia in a more formal way.

The key proposition here, which my agreement with might surprise, is I think 3) regarding ignorance and culpability.

However in orthodox Catholic moral theology, and indeed amongst defenders of AL, it is well understood and acknowledged the application of invincible ignorance to adultery is extremely limited. This is well demonstrated by a recent article in the Irish Catholic by Greg Daly, a prominent proponent of AL with whom I agree, who forcefully stated based on St Thomas Aquinas that:

We have a duty to know what God expects of us, after all, and since we should know that adultery is contrary to God’s law, and know that it’s utterly forbidden, this is an area where ignorance is no excuse”.

How then can culpability be reduced for the divorced and remarried, and Holy Communion be fruitfully received? This is the key omission in Mark’s analysis, which I will step through in more detail below.

The Crux of the Argument

But first, one small digression. The crux of this discussion about AL relates to culpability and mortal sin, and that is the area on which I will be focusing, to the exclusion of other matters such as the so called Fundamental Option.

However I do not in fact believe the novelty of AL relates to these questions, because the application of reduced culpability to the divorced and remarried was already conceded under Pope St. John Paul II. This can be seen in the 2000 PCLT Declaration where it states:

[T]o establish the presence of all the conditions required for the existence of mortal sin, including those which are subjective, necessitating a judgment of a type that a minister of Communion could not make ab externo 

[B]eing that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability”.

And in the 2004 CDF Memo on Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion which similarly confirms:

When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin”.  

My belief is rather that the change in sacramental discipline provided for in AL relates to Canon 915, which I have discussed in more detail here.

Deliberate Consent

However, returning to reduced culpability, it is necessary to revisit the proper criteria for mortal sin as set out in CCC 1857. This provides three conditions must together be met:

  1. Grave matter;
  2. Full knowledge; and
  3. Deliberate consent.

Despite this, only two of these three conditions are considered in Mark’s analysis. Mark notes adultery is grave matter, and I agree it is. Mark notes we are deemed to have full knowledge that adultery is evil, and I agree we are.

But then Mark goes on to conclude adultery will always be a mortal sin, and I cannot agree. A necessary condition has been omitted – Deliberate consent.

Nor can deliberate consent be conflated with full knowledge, such that its enumeration amongst the requirements for mortal sin is otiose. Rather it is a separate requirement, which the Church has taught well before Pope Francis may not be satisfied in relation to sins of a sexual nature, as noted by the 1975 CDF Document Persona Humana:

It is true that in sins of the sexual order, in view of their kind and their causes, it more easily happens that free consent is not fully given; this is a fact which calls for caution in all judgment as to the subject’s responsibility. In this matter it is particularly opportune to recall the following words of Scripture: “Man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart.” However, although prudence is recommended in judging the subjective seriousness of a particular sinful act, it in no way follows that one can hold the view that in the sexual field mortal sins are not committed”.

Further as I have outlined in my Apologia at Section 2.3 Consequences as Mitigating Circumstances, it is precisely impaired consent due to “necessity” (as understood by St Thomas Aquinas), which is the basis for AL being able to assert that the sin of the divorced and remarried may be less than mortal.

Nor does AL’s assertion that deliberate consent may be lacking constitute an example of the so called Fundamental Option condemned under Pope Blessed Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II. As noted by AL itself, at Footnote 344:

John Paul II, in his critique of the category of “fundamental option”, recognized that “doubtless there can occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which have an influence on the sinner’s subjective culpability” (Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia)”.

Accordingly, it is because of a lack of full consent that culpability for the divorced and remarried can reduced to venial, and because their sin may be venial that Holy Communion may be fruitfully received.

Heresy of Omitting Deliberate Consent

Based on the above, and in answer to the headline of Mark’s blog post, I therefore think it is clear it cannot be plausibly maintained that the Pope has a “heretical direction”.

On the contrary, while I am sure it is unintentional, the heretical direction is in fact in Mark’s writing. This is because denying that deliberate consent is a requirement for mortal sin, and indeed that necessity impairs deliberate consent, has been condemned as heretical by a number of Popes.

Pope St Pius V, in his Bull Ex Omnibus Afflictionibus of 1567 for example, condemned as heretical the error of Micheal du Bay that “What is voluntarily done, even though done by necessity, is nevertheless freely done”. Similarly Pope Innocent X and Pope Alexander VII, in Cum Occasione of 1658 and a Decree of the Holy Office of 1690 respectively, condemned as heretical the error of Cornelius Jansen that “In order to merit or demerit in the state of fallen nature, freedom from necessity is not required in man, but freedom from external compulsion is sufficient”.

This heretical direction in Mark’s blog post is only by omission, and while it would appear to be a material heresy, I am confident he himself is not a formal heretic. Similar to some who are divorced and remarried, reduced culpability equally applies to Mark’s error in this regard.

With further dialogue I can only hope such unintentional error on Mark’s behalf, and indeed my own behalf where it exists, can be cured in a way which help us both “sentire cum ecclesia”.

3 thoughts on “De Omnibus Dubitandum Est – A Dialogue

  1. [Mark] generously suggesting I am “the only person I have seen who has even attempted to justify the document’s [i.e. AL] direction in theological terms”.

    That’s not entirely accurate.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s