Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When the Levee Breaks Amoris Laetita version

When the levee breaks, got no place to stay...

Yes, it's important to remember the classics.

When reading R. R. Reno's reservations about Amoris Laetita, the image of resisting an apparently impending flood kept recurring.  Given my previous post about the AL tidal wave--an apt image for all the reactions it has generated--I wondered if Reno trying to stop the leaks by sticking thumbs in dyke walls or whether he, having seen the first floor of home flooded, decamped to the second or third or higher floors.

Reno recognizes the face value of the new document;  nothing has changed.

Francis doesn’t actually say that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion. Amoris Laetitia explicitly affirms the church’s teaching on marriage. But in long digressions into the complexities of moral and pastoral discernment, Francis provides plenty of justifications for others to say that, yes, in particular situations, divorced and married Catholics can receive communion. All the while, Francis insists that the Catholic teaching on marriage must be affirmed. The ambiguity seems intentional, designed to increase scope for pastoral discretion.
The Catholic teaching on marriage is clear: It is permanent and cannot be dissolved. This is not a merely canonical matter, as though church officials at some point resolved to make indissolubility a feature of Catholic marriage. Christ warns us not to put asunder what God has put together. St. Paul associates the covenant of marriage with the unbreakable bond of God’s love for us in Christ. Then, in a move characteristic of Catholicism, the Church teaches that in our wedding rites, the sacramental promise of permanence becomes real, just as Christ’s promise to be with us until the end of the age becomes real in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine on the altar.
Marriage's reality--beyond the mere psychological or emotional apprecation--is where the trouble starts.  


By my reading, in key paragraphs in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis argues that a second marriage need not be an objective impediment to the reception of communion. He does so by shifting the emphasis away from the objective to the subjective.
We see this in the emphasis Francis puts on conscience, discernment, and pastoral guidance. It’s also evident in concerns that those in “irregular” situations not “feel as excommunicated members of the Church.”
But the turn to the subject is clearest in his unacknowledged but very important shift to marriage as an “ideal.” By this way of thinking, permanence becomes an ideal to be sought, not something intrinsic to marriage itself.
Reno summarizes his criticism thusly:  Pope Francis encourages an individualism that he elsewhere decries.  Furthermore, this subjectivity stems not from moral relativism or personal choice but rather Pope Francis' formation within the Society of Jesus.  In other words, the Jesuit tradition--not just "Jesuits"--made him do it.  Reno:
Having translated the goods of marriage into an ideal, Francis is able to assert the ideal unequivocally, while muddying the specific question is whether any particular divorced and remarried person can receive communion.
I am not at all surprised by this. For twenty years I taught with Jesuits at Creighton University, many of whom I admired, even though I had reservations about their methods. Francis follows their pattern.
The first dimension is a persistent clericalism. On the matter of the divorced and remarried, Francis turns the pastor into the arbiter of who can and cannot receive communion—a decision based on a priest’s judgment of the interior spiritual condition of an individual Catholic. Francis sets aside the objective clarity of canon law, something that gives the lay Catholic a place to stand and leverage against limitless clerical discretion.
Moreover, the approach Francis outlines encourages a bourgeois outlook, as is often the case for the Society of Jesus. Why is it that some divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion, but not others? The problem becomes all the greater because Francis has set up a process of discernment that is intensely subjective and private. The required conversation with the priest concerns questions of individual conscience. It’s a conversation no responsible priest would make public in order to justify his decision to allow a divorced and remarried person to receive communion.

It must be said:  Reno's criticisms do not rank him with the likes of Steven Skojec and One Peter Five.  While bloggers like Scott Eric Alt rightfully take Skojec and 1P5 to task for their anti-Francis hyperbole, I do think traditionalist bloggers like Skojec play important roles.  So does Reno, but just because both he and Skojec criticism Pope Francis' latest writing does not mean they share the same theological perspectives (foundations?  yes, there they, and others like me, do share...).  Reno concludes:

Francis seems to have the same view of the Church that Bacon had of nature. It’s raw material for pastoral virtuosos to deploy in order to move people closer to God. He’s impatient with the limitations imposed by “objective situations.” He speaks of a church “in permanent mission,” giving the impression that divine things are sacred only insofar as they’re useful in moving people toward missionary goals. In his ministry, everything must be available—in every situation. The sacred begins to merge with the useful.
Amoris Laetitia has many wise and beautiful things to say about marriage and family. Francis makes extensive use of Humane Vitae, and he strongly affirms the male-female difference. He clearly wants to resist the sexual revolution.
Yet, when it comes to a pastoral response to those of us wounded, damaged, and deformed by the sexual revolution, I fear Francis represents a spiritualized technological mentality. In this Apostolic Exhortation, when faced with the theological limitations to his vision of mercy-inspired evangelization, he employs the hyper-subjective logic of modernity. This will not end well, for it tempts us to imagine that we must master our Christian inheritance and re-engineer it into more useful, more missionary forms.
So, to return to the opening image, Reno seems to have headed for higher ground, significantly higher.  Since he's in the Catholic tradition, Reno has several floors above him, so to speak;  he's not trapped in a two-story bungalow facing the tidal wave.  One wonders, though, if the foundations will hold. Rod Dreher has written and blogged extensively about "the Benedict option"--the desire/need to withdraw in order to preserve Christian culture--and Chad Pecknold has responded with "the Dominican option":  a bracing, and embracing, engagement with the surrounding culture, hostile and foreign though it may be.  For Reno, obviously, the "Ignatian" or "Jesuit" option does not offer a worthwhile alternative.  Perhaps Reno, once an Episcopalian, might accept an "Augustine option," one which withdraws and views the (apparent) catastrophe from afar, much like St. Augustine did when he wrote The City of God.  Even that might be too much;  Amoris Laetitia is less than a week old.  The document's full meaning will come only with the fullness of time and that, obviously, will take a while.  Meanwhile, maybe the flood waters will recede.

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