Vatican newspaper: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is authoritative Church teaching

| Cindy Wooden | August 23, 2016 | 2 Comments
Copies of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), are seen during the document's release at the Vatican April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Copies of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), are seen during the document’s release at the Vatican April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the “ordinary magisterium” — papal teaching — to which Catholics are obliged to give “religious submission of will and intellect,” said an article in the Vatican newspaper.

Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching authority in a “definitive way” in the document, it meets all the criteria for being an example of the “ordinary magisterium” to which all members of the church should respond with “the basic attitude of sincere acceptance and practical implementation.”

The Spanish priest’s article in L’Osservatore Romano Aug. 23 came in response to questions raised about the formal weight of the pope’s document, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”). For instance, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke has said on several occasions that the document is “a mixture of opinion and doctrine.”

Father Pie-Ninot said he examined the document in light of the 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the vocation of the theologian.

The instruction — issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now-retired Pope Benedict XVI — explained three levels of church teaching with the corresponding levels of assent they require. The top levels are: “Infallible pronouncements,” which require an assent of faith as being divinely revealed; and teaching proposed “in a definitive way,” which is “strictly and intimately connected with revelation” and “must be firmly accepted and held.”

A teaching is an example of “ordinary magisterium,” according to the instruction, “when the magisterium, not intending to act ‘definitively,’ teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.”

“Amoris Laetitia” falls into the third category, Father Pie-Ninot said, adding the 1990 instruction’s statement that examples of ordinary magisterium can occur when the pope intervenes “in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements.”

The instruction notes that “it often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent,” although, as the Spanish priest said, the instruction insists that even then one must assume that “divine assistance” was given to the pope.

Accepting “Amoris Laetitia” as authoritative church teaching, Father Pie-Ninot said, applies also to the document’s “most significant words” about the possibility of people divorced and remarried without an annulment receiving Communion in limited circumstances.

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  • Mary Lemmons

    There is nothing new in Amoris Laetitia about the reception of communion by the divorced and remarried-without-an-annulment. In fact, this document cites the position of John Paul II that is found in Familiaris Consortio #84.

    The thing to remember about Amoris Laetitia is that it is primarily a pastoral document that was written to deepen Catholic spirituality and to increase the effectiveness of the Church’s outreach. As such, it is unlike many of the apostolic exhortations given by previous popes focused on explaining and defending key elements of Catholic doctrine.

    The pastoral character of Amoris Laetitia means that it is written in a way that seeks to strengthen families by providing helpful reflections on Scripture and by giving insightful guidelines for formation in the family apostolate, the rearing of children, and the handling of life’s key difficulties. Amoris Laetitia also provides a family-centered ecclesiology that reminds all that the Church—like every family—must find ways to help all grow in the faith. These ways do not include shunning or rejecting Church doctrines.

    Take time to work through this document and prayerfully apply its many insights to your own family and parish: you will not be disappointed.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Mary Lemmons,

      Thank you for your reminder of the good to be found in Amoris Laetitia. There are many useful and traditional ideas in Pope Francis’ exhortation. Indeed, it would be surprising if there were not. As Wikipedia notes:

      “The English text runs about 250 small-format pages with nearly 400
      footnotes. Its introduction and 9 chapters comprise 325 numbered
      paragraphs.”

      You mention that it cites Pope John Paul’s position in section #84 of his exhortation. Citing only means referring to, not necessarily with approval. Does Amoris Laetitia approve of and support this from Faimilaris Consortio #84?

      “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.

      “Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

      “Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.”

      Had Pope Francis clearly restated this position, much confusion might have been avoided. However, as we have seen, Cardinals, Bishops, theologians, and Catholic commentators have been left in confusion and have written several letters to the Pope asking for a clarification which has not yet been issued.

      Now on top of the confusion over the meaning of the text, Fr. Pie-Ninot adds to the confusion by opposing the view of many, and by claiming that this exhortation is an authoritative teaching calling for religious submission of the will and intellect.

      Unfortunately (and perhaps unintentionally), the good father only adds to the confusion surrounding the document and brings Pope Francis’ exhortation into further murkiness.

      Whether I agree with Pope Francis’ analysis is not the question. The question is what, precisely, is he saying and with what degree of authority? I hope he will take steps to clarify that question which currently confounds many.