Fuss behind Amoris letter hints at Cardinals' deeper anxiety

Amoris Laetitia

"Why does making space for some married and divorced couples to receive communion arouse such anxiety? The fact that it already exists in much pastoral practice suggests the concern is symbolic of a more general anxiety," writes Andrew Hamilton SJ.

In the years after Vatican II many theologians gave public lectures to Melbourne audiences on renewal. Jesuit moral theologian Arnie Hogan encouraged the move from a command and control approach to Christian living, to an approach based on personal responsibility.

Many of his hearers thought he was not renewing but selling out faith. They flocked to his lectures to grill him. One evening someone asked him whether it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays. (Mortal sins were a ticket to hell, and in Church teaching to miss Mass on Sunday was a mortal sin.)

In response he began to explain the importance of free consent, grave matter, and mature decision etc. His questioner interrupted him, demanding a yes or no answer. Arnie again took the conversation to a broader level, only to be told, "You are evading the question, Father. Is it, or is it not, a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday?"

Arnie paused for a moment and said, "Well, for you, it would be!"

I was reminded of this story when reading that four Cardinals had sent a letter to the Pope demanding yes or no answers as to whether his reflection Amoris Laetitia was faithful to Catholic tradition in its treatment of the reception by divorced Catholics of communion. On not receiving a reply they published their letter, and one Cardinal followed it up with murmurs about impeachment.

The incident prompts reflection on the propriety of cardinals questioning a pope in this way and on the reasons why discussion of communion for the divorced should raise such passion.

I am in two minds about the Cardinals' action. Those who consider it inappropriate argue that cardinals are chosen to act as a pope's consultants. They cannot exercise this role effectively if they are involved in public disagreement with him.

They also argue that it is vital for any community organisation to focus on what matters: The cause it represents and the people it serves. The Cardinals' action switches the focus to politics as politics — the disagreements and power relationships between its leaders — to the detriment of the Church.

The four Cardinals argued that they were merely accepting the Pope's invitation to open discussion of the issues raised in Amoris Laetitia. Certainly, an open exchange of views can allow the truth to appear. It also allows people to assess which of the participants in the debate are trustworthy in their pursuit of truth. Demanding yes or no answers to complex questions may put lead in your saddlebags in that respect.


Larger fears fuel cardinals' divorce beef


Bishop says four Cardinals’ letter could provoke schism (The Catholic Herald)

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