Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Uninformed Rebellion Against the Holy Father

The Holy Father confirmed that his words—on bishops and confessors needing to evaluate each case of the divorced and remarried person to determine whether all elements of mortal sin are present instead of assuming they exist—are not an opinion but teaching of the ordinary magisterium. According to Canon Law 752 [∞], we are bound to follow that teaching, and not act against it.

While the secular media has ignored this story so far, it is stirring up dissent among a certain set of Catholics who argue that this contradicts previous teaching and, therefore must be ignored. Some have gone so far as to argue that Catholics are bound to not follow the Pope on this matter because it is a “heresy.” These critics are under a delusion that the Pope can be corrected by the bishops—some even going so far as to think he can be removed from office.

The fact of the matter is there is no such provision in Church teaching. Canon Law #1404 tells us that the Pope is judged by no one [†]. Canons 1372 and 1373 [§] tell us that the person who is tries to appeal to a council of bishops or try to stir up opposition to the Pope are to face the proper sanctions. In other words, the Church teaching doesn’t support them—it indicts them.

These critics falsely assume that grave matter is mortal sin, instead of being one part of it. Nobody denies that remarriage after divorce is grave matter—that is, no circumstances can make it a good act. But we need to remember that the Church has always taught that a mortal sin involves grave matter, full knowledge that it is evil and sufficient consent to that act. As Pope Francis points out in Amoris Lætitia:

302. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”  In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.” For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved. On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases.”

This is not about letting people come to Communion if they feel called. Nor is it about accepting remarriage. This is about determining cases of reduced culpability. The person who has been properly taught and freely chooses to perform that act anyway does commit a mortal sin. But if the conditions interfere with knowledge or consent, the sin is not mortal even though it is still serious.

That doesn’t mean we let the person continue in their sin. For example, the alcoholic or the sexual compulsive may have reduced culpability, but the confessor works with them to get them in right relationship with God and His Church. Such people might be encouraged to receive the Eucharist, but no confessor would tell him his actions are morally acceptable. This is the situation for some of the divorced and remarried. In some cases that may mean helping the person get an annulment. In others it may involve helping them accept living as brother and sister instead of as husband and wife. If some of them have diminished culpability (that is, so the sin is not mortal in their case), they might be able to receive the Eucharist. 

If the person is unrepentant, and has no intention to change, and somehow deceives their confessor, they will face judgment—God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7).

The problem is, the critics assume that any abuse that might arise from a negligent confessor or a lying penitent is willed by the Pope. No doubt there are priests out there who say, “that doesn’t matter.” But that is incompatible with the Pope’s call for repentance. The whole point of his Year of Mercy was to get people reconciled. If he just wanted moral laxity, he wouldn’t be telling priests to be available in confession and urging people to go.

This rebellion is born out of the assumption that the Pope must be a heretic. Under this begging the question, whatever he does is interpreted through that assumption and used as evidence—even though the interpretation itself needs to be proven.

But these critics show they are mistaken about what the Pope is doing and what the Church teaches on culpability. Since they are wrong, their conclusions cannot be accepted as true.


[∞] can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

[†] can. 1404† The First See is judged by no one.

[§] can. 1372† A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

can. 1373† A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.


  1. While you make good points. Christ told the woman at the well "Go and Sin no more." Period!!!! Also, are you saying all the theologians who have voiced concern are wrong? If we should submit to Pope Francis are we saying that all the Popes before him were wrong? Is anything that Popes have put forth before just thrown on the ash heap because the new Pontiff says so? Obviously this advisors are modernists. We were warned about modernists by Popes in the past, but that was then and this is now. I guess that's how you see it.

  2. I'm saying they are wrong in thinking the Holy Father intends to open up Communion to the divorced and remarried. I'm saying that they are wrong in assuming he is opening it up to people in a state of mortal sin.

    Nobody disputes this is grave matter. What the Holy Father points out (See Amoris Lætitia #302) is that to be a mortal sin, you need grave matter, full knowledge and sufficient consent. If one of those is missing, the sin is not mortal. That's Moral Theology 101.