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Amoris Laetitia footnote contradicts Church’s tradition, says leading German philosopher

Robert Spaemann said Communion was a ‘yes or no’ question and that the Pope’s document could lead to a schism

Robert Spaemann, one of the foremost living Catholic philosophers, has said Amoris Laetitia contradicts the traditional teaching of the Church.

In an interview with the German Catholic News Agency, Spaemann says that most of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation is in line with the Church’s teaching – although some sections are capable of being read otherwise. However, Spaemann says that paragraph 305, when read with its accompanying footnote 351, “directly contradicts [widerspricht direkt] paragraph 84 of John Paul II’s letter Familiaris Consortio.”

Spaemann, described as one of Europe’s leading philosophers, has written almost 20 books and has an international reputation for his work in ethics and other areas. He belonged to Pope Benedict XVI’s circle of thinkers and went to meetings organised by the Pope Emeritus.

Paragraph 305 refers to those in “irregular” situations – a term often used to refer to the divorced and remarried – and says: “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”

A footnote (f351) adds: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy’ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’”

Pope St John Paul II’s 1984 exhortation Familiaris Consortio said that remarried people should not receive communion unless they live “in complete continence”. It says that this is based on tradition going back to Scripture: “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried”.

Spaemann said: “One cannot expect that people enjoy a beautiful text and ignore crucial sentences that shift the teaching of the Church [die Lehre der Kirche verändern] in a papal document. There is actually only a clear yes-or-no decision. To give communion or not to give it, there is no middle position in between.”

Spaemann is perhaps the most high-profile Catholic thinker to say that Amoris Laetitia is inconsistent with Church teaching. Cardinals Christoph Schönborn and Vincent Nichols have said the document is in continuity with Familiaris Consortio, while Cardinal Raymond Burke, seen as a leading “conservative” voice at the first family synod, said: “A post-synodal apostolic exhortation, by its very nature, does not propose new doctrine and discipline.”

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said last week: “Does the Pope say the divorced and civilly remarried may now be readmitted to Holy Communion? No.”

Two weeks ago Pope Francis said he could not remember footnote 351, when asked about it by a journalist.

Writing in this week’s Catholic Herald, Fr Raymond de Souza suggests that the footnotes are the result of intervention by the document’s editors. “I don’t expect the Holy Father himself waded through all 391 footnotes and followed them up. He already indicated on the plane that he could not remember the most important one. So the mischief here must be attributed to those who edited Amoris Laetitia,” Fr de Souza writes.

Spaemann said that the door was closed to reception of the sacraments by those in ongoing sexual relationships “which objectively contradict the Christian order of life”.

Spaemann said Amoris Laetitia was influenced by a “situation ethics” condemned by John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

He predicted that there would be “uncertainty and confusion” at all levels of the Church, “from the bishops’ conferences to the little priest in the jungle”, and said it could lead to a schism “at the heart of the Church”, adding: “God forbid that.” He added that the Pope’s objective of reaching people’s hearts had been “scuppered” by the document for “an unforeseeable time” (durch dieses Lehrschreiben auf unabsehbare Zeit zunichte gemacht worden).


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