Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Interview: Josef Seifert on the Amoris Laetitia Debate with Rocco Buttiglione

As Professor Claudio Pierantoni recently stated, there is an ongoing debate between himself and Professor Josef Seifert on one side and Professor Rocco Buttiglione on the other as pertains to the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Buttiglione, who is known as an early defender of the exhortation, has also publicly criticized the recent Filial Correction of Pope Francis. All three philosophers — each a man of standing in his own right — have known each other for years. Seifert and Buttiglione worked together for two decades at the International Academy of Philosophy (IAP) in Liechtenstein. For his part, Professor Pierantoni was a student at the IAP’s Chile campus (IAP-IFES, 2004-2012) and was a student of Professor Seifert. The following interview is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the theological and philosophical discourse between these three men. This time, it is Professor Seifert who explains his position.

Maike Hickson: How would you generally describe the line of disagreement concerning Amoris Laetitia between you and Prof. Pierantoni on the one hand and Prof. Buttiglione on the other?

Josef Seifert: I do not think there exists any disagreement between Prof. Pierantoni and me. And I believe that, until he should protest, in what I am going to state as my position, I will also speak for him, but I do not dare to attribute my answers explicitly to Pierantoni, since I do not know whether he will agree with all of them. Instead, I will speak of the disagreement that arose between myself and Prof. Buttiglione, my very close friend. (Buttiglione translated and introduced, most generously, my largest philosophical book, which soon will be published in English and Spanish, Essere e Persona, Being and Person, into Italian and worked for almost two decades with me as Professor and Prorector of the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein, of which I am the Founding Rector. I have also worked with Buttiglione for years on the defense of Humanae Vitae and the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II on the family and human life and we have agreed for two and a half decades on almost everything, except on Machiavelli, whom I consider, with Jacques Maritain, the “Doctor of the Damned,” while he defends him in a book we want to publish jointly but of which he has lost the original of his part. But since the publication of AL, a deep rift between our views has risen).

From many writings and a personal letter Buttiglione has recently written me, I conclude that our disagreement on Amoris Laetitia is to a large extent dependent on two contradictory basic assumptions that underlie our disagreement.

(1) Buttiglione holds that as Catholics, we have to believe to be true whatever the Pope says in the exercise of his Ordinary Magisterium, while I agree that, yes, we have an obligation to look first for the truth contained in a magisterial document and to try to interpret it in the light of the truth expressed in the tradition, but do not have any absolute obligation whatsoever to believe that every part of a pronouncement of the ordinary papal magisterium is true or compatible with the perennial teaching of the Church.

Moreover, we have an obligation NOT to believe it to be true if we see that it clearly contradicts a) perennial Church teaching or b) evident moral truth accessible to human reason, or c) both. (Incidentally, Buttiglione and I also disagree as to whether what the Pope says in Amoris Laetitia is an exercise of his Ordinary Magisterium, which Buttiglione holds to be unquestionable, while I will explain four reasons why I do not believe so). But even if we were to agree that AL is an exercise of the Ordinary Papal Magisterium, I think it is clear that statements made in it (let alone only in a footnote) are not infallible, and therefore are not subject to an obligation to consent to them. Pope Francis himself confirmed this in even allowing the SSPX to dissent from significant documents of the Second Vatican Council, and, unlike the two preceding Popes, not making their consent to them a condition for their reintegration in the Catholic Church. On this I agree entirely with Pope Francis, who said (very well, I believe) that one cannot oblige any Catholic to consent to non-dogmatic documents of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, even when the magisterium is exercised in Council documents approved by the Pope, which certainly have a much higher magisterial rank and authority than mere footnotes in a post-synodal exhortation. The mere fact that AL would be founded on a majority consensus of bishops (which is disputed by a Cardinal who was present at the synods and remarked that a consensus with the novelties of AL did not actually exist in the two synods on the family), this is not enough to make its acceptance obligatory. Even if a clear exercise of the Papal Magisterium is present in given documents, their content, as long as it is not pronounced as a dogma, can be false. This was clearly the case with Pope John XXII who himself revoked his own heresy in a bull he wrote on the day before his death (and his teaching was also declared heretical by his successor), and with Pope Honorius I, all of whose works were condemned posthumously by a Council as heretical and have been burnt. Thus I am certain that on this first “disagreement of principle” I am right, and Buttiglione is wrong: We do NOT have to believe whatever a Pope writes in the exercise of his “ordinary Magisterium.”

(2) The second fundamental disagreement of principle between us concerns the respective role of “unity with the Pope” and of truth, in the hierarchy of values we have to respect. Buttiglione insisted repeatedly that for him the most important goal is “unity with the Pope,” while I think that the question of truth has an absolute priority. Therefore if, as I propose as a question to the Pope in my latest article on AL[1], pure logic shows that from one affirmation of AL, cited below, one can deduce the negation of intrinsically evil acts and this affirmation contradicts natural law and the entire Catholic Moral Teaching, especially Veritatis Splendor, then this affirmation is evidently false and this must be stated clearly and the affirmation ought to be retracted. To agree with the Pope, have unity with the Pope, on an error is of no value whatsoever. On the contrary: as Saint Thomas and the Acts of the Apostles stated clearly, in such a case the subordinate has an obligation to criticize his superior, even publicly, as St. Paul criticized St. Peter. Against my insistence on the absolute priority of truth over unity, Buttiglione wrote me that I am wrong in my short second article on AL even if I were right — meaning by this puzzling assertion either that “unity with the Pope” is more important than truth, or that we must not say the truth if truth endangers our unity with the Pope — a position with which I absolutely disagree, or that the statement from which devastating consequences logically follow could be truly false, as I suggest, while the main content of AL would not be touched by this error, because this error would refer only to a reason for the teaching of Al, not to that teaching itself (I will return to this second point).

Hickson: More specifically, what is the disagreement with Prof. Buttiglione with regard to the question of the magisterial weight of Amoris Laetitia?

Seifert: Buttiglione and I disagree as to whether what the Pope says in Amoris Laetitia is an exercise of his Ordinary Magisterium, which Buttiglione holds to be unquestionable, while I doubt it seriously for four (in my opinion decisive) reasons:

  1. Because the decisive new points of AL are chiefly found in mere footnotes that cannot reverse the sacramental discipline of the Church of 2000 years, solemnly reconfirmed by the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Saint Pope John Paul II. Such footnotes cannot be considered an Exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium, as also Cardinals Brandmüller and Burke as well as the other dubia Cardinals and many others noted.
  2. Moreover, the Pope explicitly says in Ch. III of Amoris Laetitia that he does not want to settle the decisive novelty in AL through his magisterium, but leaves it open to decide by the various national and culturally different and decentralized bishops’ conferences.
  3. He confirmed this position by approving both the decision of the Polish Episcopate to follow FC entirely and not to admit any divorced and civilly remarried or active homosexuals who do not want to change their lives, to the sacraments, and by confirming and praising at the same time also the opposite position: the pronouncement of the Argentinian Bishops of the Buenos Aires area, which coincides with that of many other bishops, including the archbishop of Granada. These bishops adopted the exactly opposite interpretation. The Pope even praised the far more radical pronouncement of the Bishops of Malta on AL, who proposed a completely situation-ethical interpretation of AL. Thus, Pope Francis follows the idea he proposes of a “decentralized magisterium” or different “magisteria” in the Church — all of which he approved — an idea which I heard Karl Rahner express in Munich half a century ago. Now, pure logic tells us that the position of the Bishops of Buenos Aires or Malta and that of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, which is diametrically and contradictorily opposed to that of the bishops of Buenos Aires (defended by Buttiglione), and both of which are admitted and approved by the Pope in his new “magisterial pluralism”, cannot both correspond to the “ordinary Magisterium of the Pope”. Hence the novel teachings of AL (, i.e., the Buenos Aires reading) cannot be the “Magisterium of the Pope”.
  4. The novelties of AL are not primarily doctrinal but pastoral and thus more subject to categories of prudence or imprudence than of truth and falsity; for example, if Popes in the past have asked in the Exercise of their ordinary Magisterium in papal bulls or encyclicals that heretics, magicians, and witches should be burnt at the stake, or when they excommunicated in bulls entire cities because their prince led a war against the Vatican, I am certainly not obliged to believe that this was a prudent pastoral decision. Buttiglione himself, somewhat contradictorily, says that the new teaching of AL is a purely pastoral one and he also stated, at least in letters to me, that we are not bound to agree with the wisdom of a pastoral decision of a Pope that is not per se true or false, but can be prudent or imprudent. But in that case I am not at all obliged to agree with AL (according to logic being applied to Buttiglione’s admission), nor to agree that its new Pastoral guideline is wise.

(I differ regarding this in another respect with Buttiglione: in that I hold that the novel teaching of AL is not only pastoral but also doctrinal.)

Inasmuch as it is pastoral, however (and therefore not true or false, but prudent or imprudent), Buttiglione and I differ, at least so it seems, in that Buttiglione does not criticize the new Pastoral Guideline of AL and tries to explain its compatibility with the opposite Pastoral Guideline of FC, stated to be rooted in the Gospel itself by Pope John Paul II. I, however, even prescinding from any doctrinal question, find the new pastoral guideline of AL not only imprudent, but entirely inapplicable. In my first article on AL,[2] I gave, I believe, cogent arguments for the practical impossibility of “discerning” between adulterers who may and others who may not receive the sacraments without changing their lives. My argument coincides wholly with an argument given by the Polish Episcopate for their decision to abide by FC: it is impossible for a priest in 5 minutes’ conversation in the confessional to determine that an unrepentant sinner is invincibly ignorant and in the state of grace, even though he intends to keep committing what are, objectively speaking, grave sins. From this practical impossibility of applying discernment which can hardly fail to end in a general opening of Confession and the Eucharist to unrepentant adulterous and homosexual couples, the imprudence of the decision of admitting the “irregular couples” to the sacraments immediately follows.

Hickson: Could you explain to us here the question of the infallible extraordinary magisterium and the infallible universal ordinary magisterium?

Seifert: I think that the infallible Extraordinary Magisterium only applies to such central matters of doctrine and faith that either the Pope defines “ex cathedra” (which happened only two or three times in the history of the Church) or which a Council, in union with the Pope, defined as being a dogma and de fide in such a way that anyone who contradicted it was declared “anathema”. The infallible Ordinary Magisterium of the Church is present only in teachings of the ordinary magisterium that coincide with what the Church has taught always and everywhere, not with entirely novel teachings. Neither one of these criteria of infallibility applies to the novelties of AL.

Hickson: Is Amoris Laetitia of such magisterial weight that one may not disagree with its teaching without falling into the category of being disobedient, heretical, or schismatic, at least in spirit?

Absolutely not, for the reasons given. Therefore, to treat Catholics who dissent from AL as heretics, schismatics in fact or in spirit, or disobedient to the Pope, is a grave injustice.

Hickson: In this context, is it more important that we follow the pope and his new teaching for the sake of obedience (which is in itself a great good) or that we preserve the traditional teaching of the Church?

Seifert: I think that as soon as we find that a new teaching is false, we are obliged, not to obey it. And as soon as we find a new pastoral decision of the Pope inapplicable in good conscience, such as giving the sacraments to unrepentant sinners on the basis of an (impossible for us) “discernment” of whether their sin is compatible with their being in the state of grace for subjective reasons, we are likewise morally obliged NOT to obey it under the principle St. Peter formulated and Robert Spaemann recently called to mind, that we have to obey God more than men. This applies even more when we are convinced that giving absolution and the holy Eucharist to public sinners (even if they were in the state of grace) is, notwithstanding their personal innocence, wrong, as is implied in Familiaris Consortio 84. FC speaks of an objective disharmony of adulterous relations with the law of Christ and with the meaning of matrimony — and of the deep analogous and symbolic signification of marriage in relation to the relationship between Christ and the Church as a reason why a couple who lives in discord with the divine commandments should not receive the sacraments. This objective discrepancy is enough for the judgment of the Church that they must not be given access to the sacraments. (On this point, I made some incorrect concessions to Buttiglione in letters and my previous writings on AL). FC and Church tradition do not require that sinners who gravely deviate from divine law have to live “subjectively in mortal sin” (which God alone knows) for being denied access to the sacraments. If this were otherwise, we would also have to admit abortionists, first degree murderers, etc. to the sacraments because we can never know with certainty that they have lost sanctifying grace.

Hickson: You yourself, in your own polite criticism of Amoris Laetitia, pointed especially to Paragraph 303* of this papal document, highlighting the potential danger of making irrelevant any absolute moral norms. How did you and Prof. Buttiglione discuss this aspect of the debate?

Seifert: Prof. Buttiglione said about my second article, Does Pure Logic Threaten to Destroy the Entire Moral Doctrine of the Catholic Church?, that “I am wrong even if I am right” for the reasons of (1) having an obligation of consenting to anything the Ordinary Papal Magisterium is telling us (to which I have responded), (2) that a reason offered by the Pope for a teaching may be erroneous while the teaching itself is correct. In other words, Buttiglione believes that the assertion “that we can know in our conscience that God himself wants us to consider continuing to live in adultery the best and most generous response we can give him in our situation” is not the teaching of Pope Francis that we have to believe (according to Buttiglione). Rather, we would only have to believe the real teaching of AL, namely, that after proper discernment, unrepentant adulterous and homosexual couples may be admitted to the sacraments. I think, on the contrary, that what No. 303* says (and many other parts of AL imply) is the most significant doctrinal content and the main reason for the pastoral teaching of AL, which (for the reasons explained in my answer No. 1, 2 and 3, to your second Question), cannot be regarded as a “magisterial teaching” at all.

Hickson: In this context of some sinner who might be pleasing to God even though he still remains in his sin: is it Catholic to maintain a position that God might be pleased with us, perhaps because we mended some sin in our lives, while however still remaining in another grave sin? That is to say, could it be sufficient in God’s eyes to return to the state of Sanctifying Grace by making a sign of good will while yet still maintaining, for example, a sinful relationship?

Seifert: I think that God could of course be pleased by us, after a divorce from our sacramental wife, for stopping to beat up and to calumniate our only civilly married second wife or our children, even if we continue in a sinful relationship. But he cannot ever will or be pleased with the fact that we continue to live in adultery, for example. It is certainly possible that invincible ignorance or weakness of will does not make a person lose the state of sanctifying grace, even if that person lives objectively in grave sin. But I think that a) this is very rare, especially if the priest in confession discharges himself his obligation to tell the sinner the truth, and 2) that nobody can be sure of that, and 3) that to live in the state of grace is not enough to receive worthily the sacraments while living objectively in grave sin, as I have explained.

Hickson: Would God ask of any sinner at some point in his life to remain in his sin? How would you comment on this claim in light of the Council of Trent?

I think that this clearly impossible and declared dogmatically as a heresy by the Council of Trent.

Hickson: Where does Prof. Buttiglione, in your eyes, leave the solid foundation of the Catholic moral teaching, perhaps in order to maintain loyalty toward Pope Francis?

I think (1) with respect to his “two principles” that separate us, they do not correspond to sound Catholic teaching because it is Catholic teaching (and the basis for all condemnation of heresies in the history of the Church) that a) truth has priority over unity and b) that no Catholic has an absolute duty to accept everything a Pope or Council are saying if it is not dogmatic and de fide, and if he has good reason to believe that it is contrary to natural or revealed truth or to both (to claim otherwise would be papolatry). Besides, (2) I  believe that Professor Buttiglione’ s concrete and brilliant but unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the novelties of Amoris Laetitia with Familiaris Consortio, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, Humanae Vitae, and the Tradition of the Church all fail and put him at the risk of using overcomplicated and sophistical reasons and of contradicting dogmas of the Church such as (a) that God never commands things which we cannot obey, with the help of grace (a Lutheran heresy denied this and was condemned in the Council of Trent), or (b) that extramoral evils (such that the partner of a second “marriage” will leave me) can never be greater evils than a sin and the intention to prevent them can never justify committing a sin (VS and Trent affirmed this and condemned its negation as heretical), or (c) that weighing good versus bad effects of any action can never justify committing one of the many intrinsically evil acts (Veritatis Splendor made this very solemnly clear).

Hickson: Could you comment on the following words as expressed by Buttiglione himself? “The Pope does not say that God is happy with the fact that divorced-and-remarried continue to have sexual intercourse with each other. The conscience recognizes that it is not in conformity with the law. However, the conscience also knows that it has begun a journey of conversion. One still sleeps with a woman who is not his wife but has stopped taking drugs and going with prostitutes, has found a job and takes care of his children. He has the right to think that God is happy with him, at least in part.” [Emphasis added].

Seifert: Certainly God can be happy that a man “stopped taking drugs and going with prostitutes, has found a job and takes care of his children,” but He can never be happy with him doing this, “still sleeping with a woman who is not his wife” or agree that continuing committing what Christ himself calls adultery is the “most generous response” an adulterer can give to God in his situation. To claim this this would a) either deny the dogma that God does not command anything impossible to fulfill, or b) deny the dogma that God never wants us to sin, or both.

Hickson: Did not Martin Luther, too, teach that man sometimes has to sin? Would you discuss this matter in light of Buttiglione’s own words?

Seifert: Yes, I believe that in Buttiglione’s defense of AL there is a great danger of falling into the Lutheran heresy of the simul iustus et peccator in the sense that grace alone justifies us and that we can remain in sanctifying grace while committing mortal sins. And the recent celebration of the Luther-fest in the Vatican, the statement of high-ranking prelates that “Luther was right” and was a “gift of the Holy Spirit” to the Catholic Church, the rumor that a Catholic-Lutheran joint “mass” is being discussed, the placing of Luther’s statue in the Vatican, etc. are alarming signs that it is not only Buttiglione who starts flirting with some of Luther’s errors. This heresy is closely related to Luther’s teaching that grace is not a principle that truly transforms us morally, and allows us to “become perfect like our father in heaven is perfect” which Christ and Holy Scripture tell us is God’s will. This error is linked also to Luther’s rejection of the veneration, canonization, and invocation of Saints to intercede for us in prayers and in the liturgy, masses in their honor, etc. I do not claim of course that my friend Rocco holds these errors, but some of his remarks, for example, interpreting the story of Nero’s Christian prostitute as having been in a situation in which she was not free to refuse to have sex with Nero, and that her consent to have sexual relations with Nero allowed her to save many Christians (Buttiglione even called her a Saint for his reason), give at least the impression that Buttiglione flirts with some of Luther’s views on freedom and grace. Or that he even accepts them. The same holds true for his description of situations in which nobody can expect that adulterers can decide either to live together in abstinence, or to separate, and thus “have to sin”.

Hickson: Could you also present to us that part of the debate with Buttiglione where you deal with the question as to whether divorced and “remarried” couples, in light of the prescribed process of discernment, would still be less culpable because they might have a defectively formed subjective conscience?

Seifert: A person who suffers from invincible ignorance or an innocently deformed conscience, believing or “feeling” that his adultery is OK, of course may be less guilty than one who acts directly against the voice of his conscience. But we must never forget that the wrongness of adultery is part of the natural law written into every man`s heart, as the Apostle Paul says, such that it is extremely improbable that somebody has no knowledge whatsoever of the sin of adultery or homosexual activity. The pagan Cicero calls the person who denies that adultery is always and everywhere a grave sin “a madman”. But above all, we must understand that ethical value blindness is, more often than not, itself sinful or the consequence of sin, because we have become dull to the voice of conscience because of repeated sin, or because we make a foul compromise between our pride and concupiscence, on the one hand, and our limited will to do the good on the other hand, such that we do not see clearly the sinfulness of actions as soon as the moral law does not allow us to live out our passions or inclinations. (Dietrich von Hildebrand has analyzed these and many other forms of “guilty forms of moral value blindness” and deformation of conscience in an admirable book unfortunately not yet published in English but announced for immediate publication by the newly founded Dietrich von Hildebrand Press as Morality and Ethical Value Knowledge). A general attitude of being prone to give into the attractions of what satisfies us subjectively, while still not wanting to sin consciously and openly, will easily obscure our moral judgment, either in partial moral value blindness or in blindness of subsumption, i.e., of not subsuming our behavior under the category of “adultery”. In these and many other cases of moral value blindness we are fully responsible for the deformation of our conscience and thus the absence of consciousness that we commit a mortal sin does not make us innocent because we are guilty for our blindness itself.

Hickson: How, thus, could there be any “mitigating factors” that would render a relationship of a divorced and “remarried” couple sinless?

Seifert: Even if there could be mitigating factors that would make a relationship of divorced and remarried couples completely sinless, we must note:

(1) As soon as an adulterous couple speaks with a priest who should “discern”, this priest has a duty of telling them that their relation is objectively sinful; in that moment, however, they cease to commit adultery “completely innocently”;

(2) As long as they continue to do what is objectively gravely sinful, it does not seem possible for them or for any priest to judge that their relation is “sinless”, which would presuppose an ability to look into the depth of a soul, which we never have with respect to ourselves and even less with other persons;

(3) It is unreasonable to expect that a priest is able to judge this after a few minutes talking in the confessional;

(4) It is intolerable and would create private and public scandal if priests started to create two groups of sinners: those adulterers and homosexuals who are innocent and can receive the sacraments and those who know better and must be excluded;

(5) In praxis, the failing attempt to separate these “good” and “bad” grave sinners will inevitably lead to admitting every adulterer and homosexual to the sacraments, and many sacrileges will be committed;

(6) As Familiaris Consortio teaches, receiving worthily the sacrament of Confession or the Eucharist has objective and not merely subjective conditions. It requires that a couple does not live objectively in adulterous relations, and not only that the sinner “does not feel that this is sinful” or even not only that the sinner is not personally “losing sanctifying grace” (because God, who sees his heart, knows that he is not sinning mortally).

Hickson: Should this whole debate be led only among experts and not in public?

Seifert: Since the question of the worthy reception and dispensation of the sacraments is of crucial importance for each priest and faithful – their eternal salvation may depend on this – the claim that this matter should not be discussed publicly is absurd. Moreover, Amoris Laetitia is published and its very different and contradictory interpretations have been published. Thus the debate should be conducted publicly.

Hickson: Should we all be silent in this situation for the sake of keeping peace and unity in the Catholic Church?

I think I have answered this question already, but I wish to re-emphasize that truth has not only priority over unity and peace, but is the condition of authentic unity and peace. I might here quote Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher whom Pope Francis apparently wants to beatify, and who expressed this in his marvelous French language that translates a bit less beautifully into English thus:

“It is as much a crime to disturb the peace when truth prevails as it is to keep the peace when truth is violated. There is therefore a time in which peace is justified and another time when it is not justifiable. For it is written that there is a time for peace and a time for war and it is the law of truth that distinguishes the two. But at no time is there a time for truth and a time for error, for it is written that God’s truth shall abide forever. That is why Christ has said that He has come to bring peace and at the same time that He has come to bring the sword. But He does not say that He has come to bring both the truth and falsehood.”  — (Blaise Pascal, June 19, 1623 – August 19, 1662)

Hickson: What would you say to people who now claim that those who oppose Pope Francis with regard to some of his public statements (even if they are not explicitly magisterial, but still have an influence on Catholic faithful) have the intention to break up the Catholic Church?

Seifert: It is of course possible that some critics of the Church have such an intention, but it is certainly absolutely false and would be calumny if it were said of the four dubia Cardinals, of Father Weinandy, of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, of Prof. Claudio Pierantoni, Prof. Carlos Casanova, and of many other persons who raised their critical voices or signed the correctio filialis. (It would also, even if my archbishop of Granada thought, said, or wrote so, be untrue of myself, I might add, who would be willing to die for “the unity of the Church in the truth” and has absolutely no intention to break up the unity of the Church). John-Henry Westen (editor of LifeSiteNews) recently pointed out in an excellent speech in Rome, on Oct. 28, in a Conference on Humanae Vitae sponsored by the “Voice for the Family,” that (1) the pope himself exhorted us to criticize him freely and not to be concerned with what the “pope would think” and (2) that the true friends of the pope and of the Church are those who are vigilant and do not praise the pope by flatteries and adulation, of which the successor of St. Peter, destined to be The Rock, has no need whatsoever.

To hold the contrary, that anyone who criticizes a word spoken by the Pope “has an intention to break up the Catholic Church” or just does break up the unity of the Church, would be to judge that the Apostle Paul had the intention to disrupt the unity of the Catholic Church when he criticized the first Pope, instituted by Christ Himself, openly and sharply during the first Council of the Apostles.

Hickson: What do you think about Cardinal Müller’s Foreword to Rocco Buttiglione’s new book, Friendly Replies to the Critics of Amoris Laetitia?

I cannot answer this question thoroughly before having seen the full text of the new book and of Cardinal Müller’s Foreword, of which I have only read a few fragments that left me pretty much perplexed. His praise of Buttiglione’s new book on Amoris Laetitia has astonished me very much: (1) first of all, because Cardinal Müller published recently a book in Spanish, in which he affirmed that no Pope or Council could change the sacramental discipline of the Church, which is, as FC 84 says, founded on Sacred Scripture itself. For writing this, the archbishop of Madrid called Cardinal Müller’s book anti-Pope and forbade him to present it in the Catholic University and Seminary San Dámaso in Madrid. The Cardinal presented it at another Catholic University in Madrid, saying that AL did not change or intend to change anything of the teaching and sacramental discipline expressed in FC 84, which is, Müller said, inseparable from perennial Church teaching. Don Livio Melina, a former student of mine in the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family and until recently President of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome, gave the same interpretation. Our archbishop of Granada, Don Francisco Javier Martínez, sent the statement of Melina to all the clergy of Granada, obviously in agreement with it (but he later changed and espoused the Buenos Aires Interpretation of AL and first suspended me from teaching his seminarians, and then fired – forcefully retired – me from my chair of the IAP-IFES, when I published my second article on AL). I thought from the beginning that Cardinal Müller’s judgment was quite correct as far as perennial Church Teaching is concerned, but incorrect as an interpretation of AL. On this merely hermeneutical question I agreed with Buttiglione who saw from the beginning that AL says something very different than FC, but tried to explain this as purely pastoral and “complementary”: Pope John Paul II would have just spoken on the “objective side” of adultery being gravely disordered, while AL Laetitia takes into account the classical subjective conditions of mortal sin and imputability. Thus both Popes are right although they propose opposite pastoral decisions of the Church. Saint John Paul II forbids divorced and remarried Catholics (outside the Church) access to the sacraments except if they live in complete abstinence, because he just speaks of the objective sinfulness of adultery; Pope Francis allows their receiving sacramental absolution and Eucharist even if they have no intention to change their life, because he asks to discern and recognize the possible state of grace in such “good adulterers and homosexuals”.

Now, I gather from the published fragments of his Preface accessible to me that Cardinal Müller:

(1) completely switched to the Buttiglione-Buenos Aires interpretation of the text of AL being “hermeneutically correct” (on this I agree now with both; they interpret AL textually correctly).

(2) That he now also thanks Buttiglione and defends AL wholesale like Buttiglione, by not only accepting access to the sacraments of couples of whom he said a few months back that no council or pope can authorize them to receive the sacraments because the prohibition taught by FC belongs to, or is the logical consequence of, perennial Church teaching. Thus, Cardinal Müller seems now to contradict likewise his previous strong doctrinal assertion that the sacramental discipline affirmed by Pope John Paul II — namely, that nobody who lives in objective contradiction to the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage can be admitted to the sacraments is a part and perpetual logical consequence of the teachings on Christ and of the Church.

(3) Thirdly, Cardinal Müller seems to deny now as well that in AL there is (a) any trace of teleological ethics and situation ethics. Thus he answers my question: “Does pure Logic threaten to destroy the entire moral Doctrine of the Catholic Church?[3] in the negative. Hence Cardinal Müller seems to deny that the affirmation, “conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal” [namely to continue to live in adultery or homosexual relations] logically implies that God can approve of us committing an intrinsically evil act such as adultery in some situations, and consequently there are no more any intrinsically wrong acts in any situation. In contrast to Cardinal Müller’s view that AL does not deny intrinsically evil acts nor claim that continuing an objectively gravely sinful act can correspond to God’s will for us, Father Spadaro, friend and authorized interpreter of AL, recently attributed to Pope Francis and AL the view that Francis negates “any general rule that would make a class of human actions morally wrong” (which means denying that any human action, as a class, is intrinsically wrong, regardless of circumstances and consequences).  Thus at this point, in view of this switch of Cardinal Müller’s position, the second and third points of which I consider false, I can only confess my complete perplexity about Cardinal Müller’s statements and keep hoping that reading the full text will shed some light on the puzzle of his joining his authority to Buttiglione.


*Paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia reads, as follows: “Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

[1]Does pure Logic threaten to destroy the entire moral Doctrine of the Catholic Church?“ Aemaet, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, Bd. 6 (2017), 2-9.

[2] “Amoris Laetitia. Joy, Sadness and Hopes”. Aemaet Bd. 5, Nr. 2 (2016) 160-249, urn:nbn:de:0288-2015080654.

[3] Aemaet, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, Bd. 6 (2017), 2-9.

49 thoughts on “Interview: Josef Seifert on the Amoris Laetitia Debate with Rocco Buttiglione”

  1. Buttiglione is right. Pope Francis is right. We have to approach each other in an attitude of forgiveness, not condemnation. What would Jesus do? He condemned no one except the money changers.

    • I suggest you actually read the New Testament.

      “20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 5:20

    • It is impossible to dispense absolving mercy upon the unrepentant sinner for mercy requires the recognition and submission to the right justice of God, which itself demands repentance. The only mercy that can be given to the unrepentant is the proclamation of the truth in love with much prayer and penance for them and the affording them the time for repent with a constant calling out to them to do so.

      To pretend that the unrepentant are not in a serious and damnable situation is to deny them any possibility of mercy for it denies them the Truth of their situation without which the likelihood of their ceasing their sin is almost entirely negated.

      • “To pretend that unrepentant sinners are not in a serious and damnable situation is to deny them any possibility of mercy”….

        That has applied to me, and likely to every sinner out there.

        That is why we must fight to Defend the Faith which includes calling the sinners to account and only THAT is TRUE MERCY. Because in the absence of this, ALL are doomed.

        True mercy involves, well,…….truth.

        Ezechiel 33:8.

        • “If I say to the wicked man, “You shall surely die.” and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”
          Ezekiel 3:18

          • I see your Ezechiel 3:18 and raise you an Ezechiel 33:8. It’s so important he had to say it again!

            “When I say to the wicked: O wicked man, thou shalt surely die: if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from his way: that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand.”

          • I’ve never noticed it. No doubt it’s uber important. I use it in a book I wrote to excuse my harsh condemnation of Protestants and other assorted heretics.

    • John 8:

      And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst. [10] Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?

      [11] Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.

    • Refusing someone Holy Communion when they are living in an objective state of mortal sin publicly is NOT condemning them. It is preventing sacrilegious Communion (the gravest of sins) and avoiding public scandal.

  2. Thank you for publishing this interview. Buttiglione and others like him (apparently including Mueller now) are, in a certain way, the most dangerous people in this whole foul business, because they seek to do what the ringleaders of the New Regime don’t even bother with, which is trying to reconcile FC and VS (and thus, Tradition) with AL.

    At least Marx, Cupich, Farrell, etc. aren’t really trying to make an argument for continuity with FC and VS. People like Buttiglione and Mueller will win over those who aren’t paying attention and therefore don’t grasp what is at stake, and who just want the whole “controversy” to be over so they can go back to a normal status quo of feeling good about the Pope.

  3. Great thanks to you Maike for interviewing this wonderful man and great thanks also Steve for publishing it.

    Professor Seifert has succinctly hammered home the case in quite incontrovertible terms.

    As I ponder the “ways and means” of this historical pontificate I more and more see one more historically significant element as gaining potentiality: It’s future, complete condemnation.

    • His shabby boast that he’ll go down in history as the man who changed the Catholic Church is a little off. He’ll be the man who goes down in history as a foolish heretic who thought he could defeat God.

    • I think we can see why Professor Siefert was recently stripped of his theology
      chair by his Archbishop: he all-too-accurately puts his finger on the failings of
      this pontificate’s dubious ‘accomplishments’. It looks like the Resident of
      Casa Santa Marta is a little afraid of him.

        • It is a great shame that a “Christian” should be afraid of a truth speaker, thus afraid of allowing the truth to flourish — in other words, afraid of God flourishing.

        • Yes indeed! If there’s one man in the world Bergoglio should be afraid of it’s Professor Siefert. He’s Bergoglio’s worst dream come true.

          Obviously the bishop who fired him was on the Bergoglio hot seat.

  4. How I love Wisdom. Behind every great Theologian is a great Philosopher. God Bless Professor Seifert and our dear Maike for giving us this precious gift of wisdom.
    God Be Praised. Amen.

  5. If Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation was in fact invalid then all this effort to fit Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s square pegs into round holes is unnecessary. Keep the Faith

  6. The Thomas More’s of our generation are emerging, happily, for our edification and encouragement. Would that there were many more like them!

  7. So very enlightening. Maike asks all the right questions. May I now ask a question. What does Prof. Seifert mean when he called Maritain “Doctor of the damned.”? Pardon my lack of knowledge on this. I hope someone can answer this for me.

  8. I love Truth (God) period. Faith and Reason, a brilliant Thomist tradition should not be removed by any pope who speaks with a forked tongue and creates only confusion. Very troubling to have even lay people, like me, be totally baffled with words which come from the Chair of St. Peter. Law of non-contradiction is so embedded into Natural Law and the Catholic Canon, one man should never be able to eject it on a silly whim or feelings–nor should VII have been allowed to throw out 2000 years of beautiful Tradition and the Latin mass, the language had beauty and meaning, truly Catholic and recognizable in any corner of the world. Hierarchy is crucial for order but continuity has been severely lacking—esp. right after VII, and coincidently the fish always rots from the head downward. The mention of “Sin” and “Birth Control Pills” is anathema to most who preach from pulpits today as it was in the 70s. Sad. Seems like infiltration of Freemasonry/Marxism and moral relativism (Modernism) as the Pascendi warned about and which has shaped the mushy minds of too many inside the Vatican. God Bless Professor Seifert!!!! It always takes courage to state the truth and we have too many cowards in places of power today. Machiavelli may be the “Doctor of the Damned” but he sure spelled out the truth about how power would corrupt many. We should judge by their fruits, as commanded –but then “who am I to judge”?

  9. Invincible ignorance is still a sin, because every faithful has the duty to instruct himself about eternal truths. Therefore, before committing any act, I must ask myself if what I’m going to do is moral or not, and if the Church teaches me anything about that. If I omit to verify the morality of my act, and I do it anyway, I’m responsible of the consequences.

    It is obvious and absolutely evident, not only for adultery or sodomy, but for every kind of sins. And for every kind of human acts: I cannot use a gun to shoot at a person and consider myself innocent, just because I didn’t verify if the gun is loaded or not. And if I think that the gun is not loaded, but in reality it is, when I will shoot I will kill someone, no matter what I think.

    What’s absolutely unprecedented, is that the knowledge of what is sin is now falsified by an official act of the new church, who is not helping me to avoid the sin, but instead is teaching me a trick to persuade my conscience that this is not a sin. And the responsibility of Shepherds in this matter is clear and must be denounced.

    Now I ask myself: if Bergoglio can fire anyone who is criticizing his (heretic) teaching, what the Master of the Vineyard should do towards him, who is destroying His doctrine, His moral and the life of Grace in so many souls?

  10. I don’t want to be too dramatic, but the more I ponder it, the way this thing reads, it sounds like a book of the Bible. Like St Paul had a hand in it.

    May God bless and protect Professor Seifert.

    • He seems to be one of the few theologians, lay or clerical, who understands objectively the issues and their inferences. What a brilliant mind he has, to keep all the twists and turns at his fingertips, so to speak and keep his ducks all rowed up.

      • I agree.

        The way he presents the situation is clear, and he GETS IT. He grasps what is at stake and also {which I find so lacking in Müller and others} he directly addresses the obvious common sense goal of all of this malarkey. See how he adds homosexuality in the mix with adultery?

        I mean, we all know that’s the goal but who among the prelates wants to admit it?

        • Precisely. They are pervasive and so powerful no one with turf to defend will say a thing against them. Politicians are the worst. I live in a very liberal state and just one word against the homosexual agenda will get a pol canned in the next election. They have the entire country in a strangle hold.

          • “Everybody hates homosexuality…until their son comes out of the closet, and then it’s “Different Strokes For Different Folks”.

  11. “FC speaks of an objective disharmony of adulterous relations with the law of Christ and with the meaning of matrimony — and of the deep analogous and symbolic signification of marriage in relation to the relationship between Christ and the Church as a reason why a couple who lives in discord with the divine commandments should not receive the sacraments.”

    Exactly – a point I have emphasized in other posts. It is the application of Canon 915 – those who “obstinately persevere in MANIFEST grave sin” cannot be admitted to the sacraments. Just as Marriage is a public Sacrament and state of life, so the adultery which is “divorce and remarriage” is a public or MANIFEST state of life. The sinful state of the soul is not the point in question here (Canon 916 deals with sinners who must abstain from Holy Communion when they are aware of not being in a state of grace). This entirely rests on the fact that public permanent adultery is in “objective disharmony with the law of Christ.” and this is the point which AL completely evades, avoids, neglects to deal with and contradicts.

  12. Thank you, Prof. Seifert and 1P5 for this brilliant analysis and refutation of the defenses of AL. We need to pray for Card. Müller, Prof. Buttiglione, Pope Francis, and all who are interpreting AL to allow unrepentant adulterers and others in manifest grave sin to receive Holy Communion. This wound is cutting through the heart the Church. Only those who choose truth over unity will survive as Catholics.

    We are getting closer to the situation described by St. Athanasius during the Arian heresy: “They have the buildings but you have the Faith.” Get ready to be the outcasts, labeled as heretics and schismatics. May God and Our Lady guide and protect our faithful bishops and priests and keep us all in His Truth.

    Our Lord said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He did not say, “I am the Discernment leading wherever.”

      • Dear Mrs. Hickson,

        Thank you for your kind words and for your excellent work on 1P5. Just to be clear, my doctorate is a J.D., which does not usually draw the honorific. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I have a Ph.D. or an S.T.D.

  13. Given that certain texts from Sacred Scripture can have multiple meanings, I might propose another scripture based objection to AL based on Matthew 16:23. I haven’t seen Matthew 16:23 mentioned though I’m sure it has been by others and certainly I don’t ascribe any brilliance to myself in recognizing it. However, could there be a more simple and direct way of Christ confirming that mercy never means that we can take the easy way out? That truth and fidelity to God must always prevail in our hearts, even if it means death?

    Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

    Peter, in attempting to be merciful, trying to assert that morality is based on pain/pleasure and that Christ needn’t suffer pain, is firmly rebuked. Are we different? Should we not suffer all costs to avoid sinning so as not to mock Christ’s death? Are we not called to take up our crosses and follow Christ? How can defenders of AL look at Matthew 16:23 and think that it’s defensible to continue committing grave moral sin to avoid hurting the kids? Were not Mary and the disciples devastated when Christ suffered and died? Was not incredibly painful for Christ? Yet, did Christ not suffer and die anyway?

    If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, and they must be, then there can be no further equivocations or “development” regarding this concept of sin to avoid sin. AL is wrong. It’s defenders are wrong. And those who remain silent when they should speak (OLOGS) are dangerously wrong.

  14. Prof. Seifert’s remarks on conscience are particularly important because they are so rarely heard: “But above all, we must understand that ethical value blindness is, more often than not, itself sinful or the consequence of sin, because we have become dull to the voice of conscience because of repeated sin, &c”. These words explode the modern myth that “As long as I’m following my conscience, my act is without fault.” True: it’s always sinful not to follow one’s conscience, even if it turns out to be faulty.* Nevertheless, your act, even if conscientious, will be culpable if you’re following a defective conscience and you yourself created that defect in your conscience by prior sins.

    I believe this derived culpability applies to acts committed through weakness of will as well. Just as prior sins might darken our conscience, so they also weaken our will, by creating in us habitual inclinations away from the good and towards evil. So another false line is destroyed: “I felt compelled to do it, so I’m not culpable.” Granted if you were truly compelled, then precisely in that respect (which is known only to God) you are not culpable. But if you committed sins in the past which led to the weakening of your resolve to shun evil and do good in this act, then you are culpable and perhaps seriously so, in this evil act, because you are responsible for the compulsion/weakness itself.

    On another note, Buttiglione’s picture of a soul which knows it has “begun a journey of conversion” is equally mythical. You can’t *know* you’ve “begun a journey of conversion” except in restrospect – ie, when you have converted. You may be aware here and now that you have given up this or that vice, but, like the Rich Young Man, it is still possible that you may refuse at the last to give up all things to follow Christ – which total renunciation alone is true conversion. Forget about what you have given up – no matter what it is, if you don’t repent of all your sins, and renounce all vices with a firm purpose of amendment, those good works will not avail you. As St Thomas syas: good works are not enough to save us without the life of charity in our soul, which comes from repentance of all our sins (and faith).

    Depending on the final outcome, you might have begun a journey of conversion, or you might have begun a stop start journey to perdition.

    And of course, none of us knows whether or not our conversion is final until we die. “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” … not idle words.

    Amoris Laetitia and its defenders keep coming up with these weird distortions of human existence. Thank you, Prof Seifert, for alerting us to them.

    *Of course…we don’t *know* our conscience is faulty *in the moment of the act*. I can’t say “I know here and now my conscience is telling me to do the wrong thing” because that would amount to saying “my conscience is telling me that my conscience is wrong”, which is absurd.

  15. Josef Seifert pinpoints the issue in Amoris Laetitia as the focus on conscience instead of objective sin. And he gives the correct response, “We must never forget that the wrongness of adultery is part of the natural law written into every man`s heart, as the Apostle Paul says, such that it is extremely improbable that somebody has no knowledge whatsoever of the sin of adultery or homosexual activity” (Seifert). This is well known. What is not is that the First Principles of the Natural Law are inherent in Man. Man has the inherent capacity to know grave sin such as adultery, false witness, homosexual behavior. Reason operates discursively, but it is the intellect that finally apprehends it intuitively (Aquinas). By intuition Aquinas means apprehension of a truth or principle that is not the product of reason but rather independent of it. Reason then is the measure of truth, not the rule. That is why Seifert believes it’s “extremely improbable” that we can be free of such knowledge. There is then false conscience. When someone willfully subverts this initial apprehension of an evil act even convincing oneself they are correct.

  16. If a choice is given by Francis to the local bishops conferences between Familiaris consortio which was truly an infallible papal teaching issued by a Pope who is now a saint (thus adding weight to this teaching), and Amoris Laetitia to rule the fundamental issue of the Communion to the divorced remarried people to the point of contraditicting his holy predecessor and reversing 2 millenaries of Catholic teachings and Tradition, then truly AL in no way can be considered an infallible teaching.
    If the polish bishop conference was approved by Francis when it clearly rejected AL regarding the Communion to divorced remarried means that ALL catholics should cling to the bimillenary tradition and teachings of the Church.
    It is impossible to say that the Communion given to divorced remarried people is a sacrilege on a side of the polish-German border an isn’t a sin on the other side!
    That is a pure bergoglian nonsense, an aberration.

  17. I am glad to read interviews like this one, it makes my day. Really cool to see a real old timer like Prof. Seifert remind AL supporters that one of the major reasons they teach philosophy in the seminary is LIE DETECTION. Pope St. John Paul II made this clear in VS years ago and let us not forget the words of Jesus Christ Himself when He said “The gates of hell would not prevail over His Church”.God Bless Prof. Seifert.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...