Canon Law

Did the Pope Change Doctrine with Amoris Laetitia?

by Steve Ray on February 24, 2017

I AM A LAWYER, NOT A MIND-READER
February 23, 2017
By Canon Lawyer Ed Peters,

Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ echoing of claims that Amoris laetitia changed no doctrines occasioned a question for me: Am I the only (or among the few) Amoris critics who agrees with Amoris defenders that Pope Francis made no doctrinal changes in Amoris?

I do not think that Francis changed any doctrines in Amoris (or even purported to change any doctrines—assuming a pope could have changed doctrines this way, which I would dispute) and thus I regard the kind of correctives routinely offered by Nichols, et al., as superfluous. But I’ll go a step further: I do not think that Francis changed any disciplines in Amoris (or even purported to change any disciplines—assuming a pope could have changed disciplines this way, which I would also dispute, though less vigorously than above). In short, I hold that the few who claim Francis changed doctrine via Amoris, and the many who claim that he changed disciplines therein, are wrong.

That said, though, I still regard Amoris (or at least its eighth chapter) as seriously flawed, not because of doctrinal changes it never attempted and not because of disciplinary changes it never effected, but because of the ambiguity and incompleteness with which it discusses certain key, doctrinal and/or disciplinary factors that go into making real world, concrete, Yes-you-can or No-you-can’t decisions regarding Penance and holy Communion. All of this I have discussed many, many times.

As for why the pope (assuming my characterization of his document is correct) chose to write ambiguously and/or incompletely about these factors, I do not know. I am a lawyer reading texts, not a mind-reader divining motives, and the lawyer in me has concluded that: (1) no doctrines are changed in Amoris; (2) no disciplinary norms are changed in Amoris; but (3) several factors vital to considering requests for and administration of sacraments are ambiguously and/or incompletely presented in Amoris.

Even this much, though, prompts some additional conclusions, including:

(1) all of the canons governing sacramental administration, notably Canon 915, remain in full force;

(2) the Maltese, the Germans, and Cdl. Coccopalmerio (but, I say again, not the Argentinians, not quite) go well beyond what the pope actually wrote in Amoris, though some of his phrasings in Amoris frustrates one’s appealing to it as a corrective; and,

(3) bishops such as Chaput and the Western Canadians can also invoke Amoris to justify their sacramental polices even though their policies are the polar opposite of those being pushed by the Maltese et al.

That is why I say that Amoris, a papal document so framed that it really can be plausibly invoked by diametrically opposed schools of sacramental practice, is itself what’s flawed and is itself what must be addressed.

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Canon Lawyer Ed Peters writes,

“Among the fault lines revealed by the ecclesiastical earthquakes erupting after Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, we can see, I suggest, how some high-ranking ecclesiastics seem inadequately to understand the differences between “sexual relations” and “conjugal relations”. Most any man and any woman can have sexual relations, of course, but only spouses can have conjugal relations. While […]

For the whole article, click here.

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E443D836-B72A-4509-B1CC-FDB59BC444ED-18180-0000189232277B2F_tmpCanon Lawyer Ed Peters writes (excerpts),

“[Regarding] some excerpts translated from Francesco Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s new, short book on Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia. If the excerpts I read are accurate, the President of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts (the body charged with issuing binding interpretations of ecclesiastical legal texts, notably the Code of Canon Law), comes down squarely on the side of the Maltese and Germans in holding that Catholics living in open contradiction to Church teaching on the permanence of marriage and in disregard of Church teaching that marriage is the only proper setting for sexual intercourse, may and should, after “an appropriate period of discernment”, be admitted to the sacraments of Reconciliation and holy Communion….

…. A few weeks ago, Cdl Muller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave an interview that upheld the traditional practice of withholding holy Communion from divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Now, Cdl Coccopalmeria has published a booklet in which he apparently says that, subject only to the toothless requirement of ‘discerning their situation’, such Catholics may and should be admitted to holy Communion. In other words, the Church’s arguably two highest-ranking cardinals in the areas of canonical interpretation and the protection of doctrine and morals are in public, plain, and diametric opposition with each other concerning a crucial canonico-sacramental practice.

This division cannot stand.”

for the whole article, visit In the Light of the Law.

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Denzinger Timeline of the Controversy over Communion for the Divorced and ‘Remarried’ in Adultery and Pope Francis

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This is an amazing resource compiled by Andrew Guernsey. It provides all the source material on the subject of Communion for Divorced and civilly “remarried.” It starts with the Old Testament and then the New Testament before moving historically through the Fathers, Popes, Councils and more. A thorough resource for all the source documents upon […]

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Catholic Journalist and writer for National Catholic Register summarized the situation in Rome as the Pope refuses to respond to a growing number of voices requesting an explanation of his document Amoris Laetitia. I found it worth reading, along with the two below. Msgr. Charles Pope has written  the clearest and simplest explanation I’ve read to […]

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UPDATED 6/18/16: Pope: “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” -Ed Peters Responds

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Interview with German Philosopher and Friend of St. JP II: Robert Spaemann on Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia”

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Stuttgart, Germany, Apr 29, 2016 / 10:49 am (CNA).- Greatly valued as an advisor by Saint John Paul II, a friend of Benedict XVI, and widely held to be the most important German Catholic philosopher of recent decades, Robert Spaemann, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Munich, expressed a distinctly critical interpretation of Amoris […]

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My Final Post on Pope’s Exhortation: A Catholic World Report Symposium with Links Galore

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From Catholic World Report: Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “On love in the family,” has been one of the most widely anticipated papal documents in recent years, following the closely watched and sometimes controversial Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 2014 and the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in 2015. It is also one of the […]

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On Cardinal Burke’s Comments on Pope’s Exhortation

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The Pope’s New Document “Amoris laetitia” on Marriage. Dr. Ed Peters’ (canon lawyer) first thoughts

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Traveling home from Israel with no time to read this yet. Here are the thoughts of Dave Armstrong  Below are the thoughts of my trusted friend and canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters. First thoughts on the English version of Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia. by Dr. Edward Peters There are as one might expect in a document […]

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Pope Francis, Donald Trump, Nuns Using Contractives, Zika Virus and more on the Pope’s Comments to the Press

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