When I received the text of Maike Hickson’s excellent essay on the need for a complete retraction of Amoris Laetitia, I was already well on my way toward finishing this post.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who is such a constant crusader for the integrity of the Catholic Faith, is already under fire after the publication of his analysis/intervention regarding Amoris Laetitia. Some are attacking him for making any public criticism of the pope; others, because they say he does not go nearly far enough.
I have a personal fondness for Bishop Schneider. I’ve met him several times. He baptized my youngest daughter. I truly believe that he is the single most courageous bishop in the Church fighting against the relentless attacks against Our Lord and His teachings coming from within the hierarchy. He also has an ambiance of personal holiness and love of God that can only understood if you experience it. He’s the real deal.
That said, I agree with Dr. Hickson’s argument. While we appreciate Bishop Schneider’s response and honor his outspokenness, the clarification he is requesting seems insufficient with error of this magnitude. Personally, I’m exhausted by attempts to bend over backwards to try to interpret what can only be conceived as malicious ambiguity in a positive, orthodox light. We’ve been doing this for half a century as the Catholic faith erodes at a constant, seemingly unstoppable rate.
I do understand the diplomatic approach that Bishop Schneider has taken. He is cautious with good reason — there is little in Amoris Laetitia that can be concretely indicted. This has been the playbook since the Second Vatican Council, and even before. The neo-Modernists know how to create language that you can drive a truckload of heresy through without ever uttering a single technical error. In that vein, I think it would be fair to say that while Pope Francis has at times danced so closely with heresy that he left…no room for the Holy Spirit, one would be hard pressed to say that he has ever explicitly crossed the line into something that is material and actionable.
Still, there is nothing pastoral about a document that causes so much confusion and scandal.
So what is an auxiliary bishop, all on his own, to do? To an extent, he is forced to play the same game — to insinuate, to pack clear meaning into general terms, to accuse, all without being much more explicit than his adversary.
With this in mind, I took the time to go through Bishop Schneider’s 6,000+ word piece to distill down what I believe are his essential arguments, and bring those forward for your consideration. While he certainly stated them kindly, I found them to be nonetheless quite strong in what they expressed about the dangers represented by the exhortation.
I identified 28 distinct points/themes (there may be more) as I went through the text. The following are my notes. and any error in understanding is my own. Most of this is my own paraphrasing of what I’m reading. Only where I quote the text directly is the point in Bishop Schneider’s own words:
- The document has good in it, but it is causing a great deal of confusion and conflict.
- The bishops conference of the Philippines (not cited by name, but quoted directly) have issued a statement that shows the danger in the text as pertains to communion for the “remarried”. As do the words of Fr. Spadaro about the “foundations” and “opening a door” to communion for the divorced and remarried.
- Cardinal Schönborn , who was entrusted by the pope with the text’s presentation and interpretation, has paved the way for abuses in his own statements, ie., “My great joy as a result of this document resides in the fact that it coherently overcomes that artificial, superficial, clear division between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular'”
- Those who say that the text is non-magisterial and must be read in light of previous teaching are technically correct, but this fails to address how AL will be used to further abuses already in practice. (This is a direct reference to the insufficiency of the approach taken by Cardinal Burke.)
- Schneider’s own commentary comes in response to the pope’s own request in AL 2 for the “thinking of pastors and theologians”, which should forestall the kind of criticism that the bishop is out of line in publishing his thoughts.
- Intellectual honesty dictates that the document is difficult to reconcile with the Church’s traditional doctrine.
- The document fails to reaffirm Church teaching concretely. It fails to cite the proscriptions already laid out in Familiaris Consortio 84.
- Francis misquotes Gaudium et Spes, (the bishop does not question if this was intentional; I most certainly do) giving footnote 329 of paragraph 298 a very different meaning than the V2 constitution originally intended. (This paragraph appears to approve of continued adulterous liaisons in certain circumstances.)
- The vagueness of the document and its failure to concretely cite Catholic moral principles makes it insufficient to address the topics it speaks to.
- To accept, as some clergy and bishops already have, that AL admits the possibility of allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion without living in perfect continence would logically necessitate:
- admission that the 6th Commandment is no longer “universally valid”;
- that the words of Christ himself “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” would no longer apply to all spouses;
- that the sacraments of penance and Holy Communion could be received while a person continues direct violation of God’s commandments and without repentance or amendment of life;
- that to obey these commandments would be moved from a practical necessity to a theoretical ideal that need not be strictly observed;
- that Christ’s admonition “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” would now be seen as admitting exceptions;
- that direct violations of the 6th commandment could no longer be seen as objectively grave sin;
- that the Church’s permanent, infallible teaching on the necessity of perfect continence before the “remarried” could be re-admitted to communion would no longer be valid;
- that Christ’s command to observe the commandments “always and in all circumstances” — whatever suffering this might cause — would no longer be valid.
- Bishop Schneider states that all of the preceding would amount to the “usurpation of a power that does not belong to any human authority, because to do so would be a pretension to correct the Word of God himself.“
- He also says that to tell those living in invalid unions that they are potentially not living in objective grave sin is a lie.
- Infallible Magisterial teaching cannot be invalidated in the way that some would use this document to accomplish.
- The Church “has always rejected any contradiction between doctrine and practical life, referring to such contradictions as ‘gnostic’ or as the heretical Lutheran theory of ‘simul iustus and peccator’.” (At the same time justified and sinful.)
- The pope makes statements in AL which suggest that he believes that discernment and the demands of the Gospel do not exist in conflict, but then fails to provide concrete Gospel-based prescriptions on the obligation of the divorced and remarried to either separate or live in complete continence.
- In matters of life and death, the bishop asserts that no physician would leave the decision on what medicine to take or how much to the conscience of a patient, because this would be irresponsible. So why is this being done when it comes to prescriptions that concern the eternal life or death of the soul? (This is, though slightly oblique, a direct insinuation that the pope is himself being irresponsible in leaving so much to individual conscience.)
- To those who would tell individuals living in adulterous relationships that they are not in sin, the words of Jesus apply, “Get thee behind me, Satan! Thou art an offence unto me because your thoughts are not those of God, but of men!”
- The Divine truth about marriage is so important that a number of saints have died for it. +Schneider states, “One does not offer one’s life for a possible doctrinal or pastoral interpretation, but for an immutable and universally valid Divine truth. This truth has been demonstrated by a large number of saints who offered their lives, beginning with Saint John the Baptist to the simple faithful today whose name only God knows.”
- Schneider states that, “It is insufficient to say that AL should be interpreted according to the traditional doctrine and practice of the Church. If an ecclesiastical document – which, in our case, is neither definitive nor infallible – is found to contain elements likely to give rise to interpretations and applications that could have dangerous spiritual consequences, all members of the Church, and especially the bishops, as the fraternal collaborators of the Supreme Pontiff in effective collegiality, have a duty to report this and respectfully request an authentic interpretation.”
- There is no true, supernatural and eternal life without keeping the commandments of God: “I command you to observe his commandments. I have set before you life and death. Choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30, 16.19).
- Amoris Laetitia is energizing those who already permit abuses in various dioceses wherein those living in adultery are admitted to Holy Communion without repentance or amendment of life.
- +Schneider assesses that the present situation resembles the Arian heresy (the worst ever in Church history) inasmuch as there was during that time a “profound crisis of faith, accompanied by an almost universal confusion, was caused mainly by the refusal or avoidance strategies to use and profess the word ‘consubstantial’ (‘homoousios’). Instead, the clergy and mainly the episcopate began to propose alternative expressions that were ambiguous and imprecise…” He makes the connection here to the ambiguities being used to obfuscate the divine truths about marriage, which are spreading confusion today.
- In the Arian situation, Schneider asserts that Pope Liberius erred by signing an ambiguous theological formulation and excommunicating St. Athanasius, who opposed the heresy. (This isn’t just story time; he’s setting up a direct parallel to the present.) Only one bishop publicly rebuked the pope — St. Hilary of Poitiers. Almost all the rest were silent or complicit.
- It is “incomprehensible” that the prohibition in Familiaris Consortio 84 of reception of Holy Communion for those “remarried” who are not living in perfect continence is missing from AL. In addition, footnote 329 of p. 298 seems to directly contradict this by encouraging the continuation of an adulterous relationship without continence.
- It is URGENT that the Holy See “confirm and re-proclaim the cited formula of Familiaris Consortio 84, perhaps in the form of an authentic interpretation of AL. This formula may be seen, to some extent, the “homoousios” of our days.” (He’s signalling, in my opinion, that we are witnessing the beginning of a major, incredibly damaging heresy here.)
- “Confusion in sacramental discipline with regard to divorced and remarried couples, with its inevitable doctrinal implications, would contradict the nature of the Catholic Church…” (These are the stakes as +Schneider sees them.)
- “The See of Peter, that is, the sovereign Pontiff, is the guarantor of the unity of the faith and of apostolic sacramental discipline. Considering the confusion regarding sacramental practice in respect of the divorced and remarried, and the many differing interpretations of AL amongst priests and bishops, one may consider justified the call on our beloved Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, the “sweet Christ on earth “(St. Catherine of Siena), to order the publication of an authentic interpretation of AL, which must necessarily contain the explicit proclamation of the disciplinary principle of the universal and infallible Magisterium concerning the admission of divorced and remarried couples to the sacraments, according to the formulation in Familiaris Consortio 84.” (This is +Schneider’s call to action.)
- “In the great Arian confusion of the 4th century, St. Basil the Great made an urgent appeal to the pope of Rome, asking him to give though his word a clear direction, so as finally to ensure unity in the thought of faith and charity (cf.. Ep. 70).” (Here, the good bishop is citing precedent for what he is doing.)
Bishop Schneider also cites the now-famous quote by Melchior Cano, Dominican theologian of some renown and bishop, who played a pivotal role at the Council of Trent. Cano wrote:
“Peter does not need our lies or flattery. Those who close their eyes to the facts and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are those who contribute most to undermining the authority of the Holy See. They destroy its foundations instead of strengthening them.”
For those of us in the trenches, this quote has become something of a slogan. I first used it here in 2013 after it was sent to me by a friend. Since then, I have seen it appear on many other traditional Catholic websites and blogs as a rallying-cry for a common sense approach to the difficulties with this papacy. I think it is no accident that the good bishop cites it, not only for the centuries-old wisdom it contains, but perhaps also for the solidarity it expresses with those who have found comfort in its unique formulation in our present time. Bishop Schneider is, in essence, flashing us a signal that he is one of us. At least, I’d like to think so.
I hope that you find these notes of some benefit. If you have your own thoughts on things I missed, or some I may have gotten wrong, please leave them in the comments.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.