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45 Catholic academics urge cardinals to ask Pope Francis to fix exhortation’s errors

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire

July 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Forty-five Catholic prelates, academics, and clergy have submitted an appeal to the Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome requesting that the cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition Pope Francis to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from Amoris Laetitia.

The appeal will be sent in various languages to the 218 living Catholic Cardinals and Patriarchs over the coming weeks.

The unnamed signatories contend that the exhortation contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.” According to the group’s press release, the signatories submitted along with their appeal a documented list of applicable theological censures specifying “the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris laetitia.”

The group’s appeal asks the cardinals, in their capacities as the Pope's official advisers, to approach Pope Francis with a request that he reject “the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.”

“We are not accusing the pope of heresy,” said Dr. Joseph Shaw, a signatory and a spokesman for the group of scholars and pastors, “but we consider that numerous propositions in Amoris laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.”

“It is our hope that by seeking from our Holy Father a definitive repudiation of these errors we can help to allay the confusion already brought about by Amoris laetitia among pastors and the lay faithful,” continued Shaw. “For that confusion can be dispelled effectively only by an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching by the Successor of Peter.”

The group takes issue with nineteen passages in Amoris Laetitia that seem to contradict Catholic doctrine and maintains that the exhortation undermines the Church’s teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who are not living abstinently may not receive the Sacraments.  

Some of the portions of the exhortation that seemingly contradict the Church’s teaching are related to the seeming suggestion that some would be incapable of obeying the Commandments, the objective sinfulness of certain acts, the headship of the husband, the superiority of consecrated virginity over the married life, and the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances.

According to the group’s press release, Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world are among the signatories.

“The signatories come from all over the world and include pastors, academics in philosophy, and some bishops, as well as theologians,” Shaw told LifeSiteNews.  He said the group has received no responses yet.

In a statement, Shaw explained why the letter has not yet been made public.

“The appeal and cover letter are directed to the cardinals for action in the first place, and we have taken the view that the Sacred College should be allowed to consider the substance of the document and the action to be taken in response to it before its contents are made public,” he said. “The censures are a detailed and technical theological document whose contents are not readily accessible to a non-specialist audience, and are easily misrepresented or misunderstood. Making the document public would impede the cardinals in their task by the media coverage and frequently uninformed debate and polemics it would raise.”

Shaw continued, “At the same time it is important that Catholics who are troubled by some of the statements in Amoris Laetitia be aware that steps are being taken to address the problems it raises; hence the announcement of the document's existence.”

“By the same token we aren't releasing the names of the signatories, though some have agreed to be named,” such as Shaw himself and Father Brian Harrison, Shaw told LifeSiteNews.

The signatories join numerous other Catholic theologians and philosophers in expressing concern that the exhortation endorses practices that are contrary to Church teaching.

Pope Francis’s ambiguity means “what was certain before has become problematic,” Dr. Jude P. Dougherty, the dean emeritus of the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America, wrote after the exhortation’s release.

Dr. Anna M. Silvas, a professor at the University of New England and one of the world’s experts on the Church Fathers, delivered a particularly blunt criticism of Amoris Laetitia in which she noted the document failed to mention the term “adultery” and even “the most pious reading of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ cannot say that it has avoided ambiguity.”

The document seems to embrace situation ethics and the Kasper proposal to admit to the Sacraments those living unrepentantly in objectively sinful situations, Silvas said.

“I feel that we have lost all foothold, and fallen like Alice into a parallel universe, where nothing is quite what it seems to be,” she wrote.

Professor Robert Spaemann, a prominent Catholic philosopher and close personal friend of Pope Benedict XVI, said that Amoris Laetitia presents a “breach” with Catholic Tradition and contradicts Pope St. John Paul II’s exhortation Familiaris Consortio.

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