Amoris Laetitia Criticism, Chapter & Verse

In a recent exchange about Amoris Laetitia on Twitter, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, OFM, of Durban, South Africa, leveled the charge that critics “misrepresent” and “vilify” Pope Francis by “ascribing errors to” AL “without actually identifying them.” He went on:

And while those who continued the conversation brought up the dubia, the really hard-hitting, chapter and verse analysis of AL happened in July of last year, when a list of theological censures against the exhortation was sent to the college of cardinals by a group of 45 theologians, pastors, and Catholic scholars from around the world. And so I responded to the cardinal, along with those in the discussion:

At the time of this writing, Cardinal Napier has not replied to my inquiry.

But this particular dodge isn’t the reason for my post. Something curious happened after this exchange. Frank Walker of picked up my original article on the censures document from July of 2016 and ran a headline linking to it as though it were a new story. I was subsequently contacted by some people who had never seen or read about this document before.

All of which got me wondering: was July of 2016 too soon? Had people missed the most in-depth analysis of AL to date because awareness of the exhortation as a “problem document” had not yet reached critical mass?

With this in mind, I wanted to bring this document again to the attention of our readers, for those interested in a much more robust look at the challenges AL presents to our faith than has been seen before or since. The original document, along with its explanatory cover letter, was intended to be kept secret, and only to be read by the intended recipients in the curia. Unsurprisingly, both were leaked and began to appear online shortly after they were distributed, exposing not just the analysis, but the list of signatories who bravely put their name to them. Both, having been made public, can be read in full at the links below:

Download the full cover letter here. Download the full theological analysis with censures here. Both links are to PDF files.

Please also see (below the line break) a lengthy excerpt of my original article which gives more context and a fuller explanation of why the censures were written — and a word of warning for those who intend to read them:

[T]he authors do not shy away from a strong statement about the effect of the exhortation, intentional or not:

When it comes to the document itself, however, there is no doubt that it constitutes a grave danger to Catholic faith and morals. It contains many statements whose vagueness or ambiguity permit interpretations that are contrary to faith or morals, or that suggest a claim that is contrary to faith and morals without actually stating it. It also contains statements whose natural meaning would seem to be contrary to faith or morals.


The problem with Amoris laetitia is not that it has imposed legally binding rules that are intrinsically unjust or authoritatively taught binding teachings that are false. The document does not have the authority to promulgate unjust laws or to require assent to false teachings, because the Pope does not have the power to do these things. The problem with the document is that it can mislead Catholics into believing what is false and doing what is forbidden by divine law.

In expressing their intent, the authors make clear what they are attempting to establish with this document, and it is here that we begin to see the technical nature of their work as theologians, and why it is critical that their analysis be understood properly, to avoid misinterpretation:

For the sake of theological clarity and justice, this criticism of the harmful parts of Amoris laetitia will take the form of a theological censure of the individual passages that are deficient. These censures are to be understood in the sense traditionally held by the Church,2 and are applied to the passages prout iacent, as they lie. The propositions censured are so damaging that a complete listing of the censures that apply to them is not attempted. Most if not all of them fall under the censures of aequivoca, ambigua, obscura, praesumptuosa, anxia, dubia, captiosa, male sonans, piarum aurium offensiva, as well as the ones listed. The censures list i) the censures that bear upon the content of the statements censured, and ii) those that bear upon the damaging effects of the statements. The censures are not intended to be an exhaustive list of the errors that Amoris laetitia on a plausible reading contains; they seek to identify the worst threats to Catholic faith and morals in the document. The propositions censured are divided into those that are heretical and those that fall under a lesser censure.

This is, in other words, a serious and scholarly undertaking. As Dr. Shaw has commented, “The censures are a detailed and technical theological document whose contents are not readily accessible to a non-specialist audience, and are easily misrepresented or misunderstood.” We must be careful then, now that the contents have been made public, to defer to those specialists in theology (including the signatories themselves) in the proper interpretation of the appeal.

There is no reasonable way to summarize here the list of ostensibly heretical propositions in AL and their applicable theological censures without leaving out language vital to a proper understanding of the analysis. The propositions include statements contained in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation about the death penalty, sexual submission, the nature of consecrated virginity, the supposed inability of the faithful to meet the demands of the divine law, the implied denial of the reality eternal damnation, certain questions of culpability for grave sin (and the possibility of obtaining sanctifying grace while in such sin), the notion that one can sin by obeying the divine law, and more. A total of 19 propositions are analyzed, interpreted, and, given the context of an obvious reading that would be contrary to divine teaching, assigned appropriate theological censures.

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