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Criticism of Pope’s teaching not based on faulty translation: Filial Correction signer

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October 2, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Five Catholic heavyweights, one of them a signer of the Filial Correction to Pope Francis, are challenging an argument put forward by two Catholic academics who claim that a major criticism of the Pope’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) is based on a faulty Vatican-rendered translation from Latin to English.

Dr. Robert Fastiggi and Dr. Dawn Eden-Goldstein argue that critics of Pope Francis’ teaching on marriage and family “misread and distort what Pope Francis actually says.” They have used their translation to cast doubt on the recent Filial Correction that accused Pope Francis of propagating heresy.

Fastiggi is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and Eden-Goldstein is a Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

In their September 26 La Stampa article titled Does Amoris Laetitia 303 Really Undermine Catholic Moral Teaching?, the authors provide what they say is a more accurate translation of Amoris Laetitia (AL) paragraph 303. They argue that critics have raised alarm “precisely upon what the Latin text does not say.”

At issue is paragraph 303 where Pope Francis speaks about “irregular couples” living in a situation that does not “correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel.”

The official Vatican English translation reads: 

Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.

Catholic philosopher Dr. Josef Seifert logically deduced from this paragraph that if Pope Francis believes that adultery — to quote the exhortation — “is what God himself is asking” of couples in “irregular” situations, then there is nothing stopping any other intrinsically evil act, such as contraception and homosexuality, from eventually being justified.

It was for this reason that he called Amoris Laetitia a ticking “theological atomic bomb” that has the capacity to destroy all Catholic moral teaching.

But Fastiggi and Eden-Goldstein believe that critics “misread and distort” what Pope Francis is actually saying in AL 303. They say that the Vatican mistranslated the word “oblationem,” which means sacrificial offering, as well as the Latin word for "exemplar," which they say is poorly rendered as an "ideal." 

They suggest that their superior translation "shows that Pope Francis is clearly not saying that conscience may rightly discern that an objectively immoral act is not immoral."

Instead, he is noting that in some complex and irregular situations a person’s conscience will recognize that God is asking for a generous response, indeed an oblationem, or offering, that moves in the right direction even though it does not completely rectify the objective irregularity of the situation.

... It is very clear from the Latin text of Amoris laetitia 303 that Pope Francis is describing how conscience can discern that God himself is asking for a small step in the right direction in the midst of a mass of impediments and limitations. The Holy Father is not saying that God himself is asking certain people “to continue to commit intrinsically wrong acts such as adultery or active homosexuality.” This is a most unfortunate reading of the text by Seifert. Instead Pope Francis is saying that in certain difficult situations God is asking for a “generous response” (liberale responsum), an offering (oblationem)—that is, a step in the right direction.

Dr. Joseph Shaw, one of the organizers of the Filial Correction, said that looking for a more orthodox interpretation of the Pope’s teaching in no way casts doubt on the significance of the Correction.

“What’s at issue is no longer about squeezing out possible orthodox meanings from these passages,” he told LifeSiteNews. “It's about clearly unorthodox interpretations being favoured.”

“The Correctio makes very clear that Amoris Laetitia could be interpreted in different ways. The problem we are addressing derives from interpretations, which themselves do not have this ambiguity, which are contrary to the Faith, and which have been favoured by the Pope in non-magisterial ways,” he added. 

Shaw said the Filial Correction shows “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Pope desires his exhortation to be read and applied in “ways that are, in fact, heretical.”

“Whether the passages that are quoted from Amoris Laetitia could, by abstracting them from their context in this papacy and reading them in an alternative ecclesiastical universe, be read and applied in ways that involve no heresies is not a question that the Correction seeks to address. The authors of the Filial Correction are concerned only to respond to the ecclesial emergency caused by the Pope's actual propagation of positions which are, in fact, heretical,” he added. 

Professor of philosophy Dr. Peter Kwasniewski said that simply because a text can be translated in a more orthodox light does not solve the real problem of the text. 

“This proposed better translation simply moves the text from being indisputably heterodox to being disputably orthodox. That is, the new translation admits of an orthodox reading, but it does not preclude the heterodox reading that has been the operative principle of most implementations of Amoris Laetitia,” he told LifeSiteNews. 

“The two theologians are acting as if just because it now can be read in an orthodox way, therefore, it's OK. Whereas the truth is, a theological proposition should not admit of a heterodox reading, and this one does,” he added. 

Seifert told LifeSiteNews that he did not find Fastiggi and Eden-Goldstein’s argument convincing. 

“I do not see any essential difference between the Latin and official English text. Besides, I do not think that the Pope wrote the Latin (which seems to me to be pretty badly carried out). And it is unlikely that the Latin is the original text,” he said. 

While the Latin text has become the authoritative text of the exhortation, it is generally acknowledged that Latin was not the original language of composition. This could account for the fact that the Latin version was not officially released by the Vatican until after various vernacular had already been released. 

Dr. Christian Brugger, Senior Fellow of Ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation in Washington D.C., concluded after a detailed examination of the Latin text that Fastiggi and Eden-Goldstein’s proposed translation that would render AL 303 in a more orthodox light “is not justified by the text.”

In a small treatise on the matter sent to LifeSiteNews, Brugger said the Latin is clear that the “oblationem” or offering that “God himself is asking” of couples living in irregular situations refers back to the recognition that their state “is objectively at variance with the universal command of the Gospel.”

“So the text teaches that conscience not only can recognize the failure of my objectively adulterous second union to meet Jesus’ universal command; it also can recognize that this statum — this objectively adulterous state — is the best I can give here and now; and that with a 'firma conscientia' I can achieve 'a certain moral certitude' that God is asking me to make an 'oblatio' of this statum however far from the objective model of Gospel morality it may depart,” he said. 

Brugger said the overall meaning of the text is clear. 

“When the text refers to persons in civil unions not yet living up to the perfect objective demands of Gospel chastity, it is referring to civilly ‘remarried’ divorcees who are living in a sexually active marital-type relationships with someone other than their valid spouses,” he said. 

“It is these couples that the text is presently freeing to return to Holy Communion without requiring a radical emendation of life,” he added. 

Eduardo Echeverria,  Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, has also penned an article in which he argues that the proper interpretation of AL 303 comes from reading it in light of the entire exhortation. 

"In sum, this logic of pastoral reasoning (as found in AL), in respect of the divorce and civilly married, is such that it appears to lead to the conclusion that God’s very will for these persons is that they are free to have sexual intimacy for the good of a faithful and stable but 'invalid marriage' because that benefits the children. This couple, according to Francis’ logic, is not living in a state of adultery, of grave habitual sin, and hence in contradiction to God’s law (Mt 19: 3-9)," he wrote in an article appearing in Catholic World Report

"This conclusion has fostered confusion in the Church," he added. 

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