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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Rome conference blames Amoris Laetitia for dividing Church, quietly undermining doctrine

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

ROME, May 2, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- Pope Francis’ Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is not only dividing the Church, but more alarmingly, it is quietly attempting to change Catholic doctrine by means of an “incremental change of praxis,” said two Catholic scholars at an international conference in Rome last week. 

The conference, taking place at the Hotel Columbus near the very foot of Saint Peter’s Square, was titled “Bringing Clarity One Year after Amoris Laetitia.”

Douglas Farrow, Professor of Christian Thought at McGill’s School of Religious Studies in Montreal, told participants that there should be no dispute that the Church is in crisis today. 

“It is not too much to speak of a crisis in the Church today, a crisis in several dimensions. There is a crisis of morality. There is a crisis of doctrine. There is a crisis of authority. There is a crisis of unity,” he said. 

Farrow said that part of the crisis involves “justifying sin” according to the false notion of a merciful God who is not concerned with justice or judgment. 

Key leaders in the Church speak of God as if he “lacked judgment or could be known only by way of his mercy,” he said.

“They say they are serving this one God when they accompany non-judgmentally all who desire their accompaniment. ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’ – here is a scripture, indeed a dominical saying, of which they are quite certain. Very good. But they forget to speak to those whom they accompany of the judgment of God, which is a very different matter than the judgment of mere men. They forget to speak to them of the holiness without which no one will see God. They think that to speak thus is intrusive, insensitive, rigid, or at all events unrealistic,” he added.

Farrow said that God’s mercy is now being misinterpreted as meaning “justification is possible without sanctification,” a position, he said, that outright contradicts the Council of Trent.

The heart of the problem is that the Church has subtly shifted her gaze from heaven to earth, from the perfections of God to the problems of men, he said. 

“Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Church today is to lift its eyes from earth to heaven; from ‘discernment of situations’ to discernment of God; to recover its sense of the unity of God, the God who is all holy, mercy, and all merciful holiness, the God who does not need to attenuate justice for the sake of mercy or mercy for the sake of justice,” he said. 

He said that in losing focus on God, the Word of God and the Church God founded is no longer the final arbiter of right or wrong, but that task has been mistakenly given to conscience. 

“The new voice of authority is that of the conscience, to which Revelation, as vouchsafed in scripture and tradition, is merely a guide and not a governor,” he said. 

But Farrow said that God gave humans a conscience not to be the “source” but only a “voice” of moral authority. 

“Its function is to point out to me that I am out of step with true moral authority, known to me through natural and divine law,” he said. 

“Our present problem – and a major component of the current crisis – is that conscience is being misconstrued as a source of moral authority alongside natural and divine law: a source capable of overriding, not merely the ‘ius canonicum’ (Canon Law) and sacramental discipline, but dominical teaching and the ‘lex credendi’ (rule of faith) on which such discipline is based,” he said. 

Sweeping sin aside, misrepresenting God’s mercy, and elevating conscience to be the final arbiter between good and evil reveals what Farrow called the “diabolical” dimension of the current crisis.

“The devil seeks to divide man from God, woman from man, the steward of creation from creation itself, even from his body. He seeks above all to divide the Church,” he said. 

“And division in the Church is what can be expected if we justify sin by insinuating opposition between the perfections of God; if we set scripture against scripture, and tradition against tradition, and conscience against both,” he added. 

Amoris Laetitia: A ‘revolution by stealth’

Dr. Anna M. Silvas, professor at the University of New England, told conference participants that Amoris Laetitia revealed clearly the nature of the crisis the Church is facing. 

“In the few short years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the stale and musty spirit of the seventies has resurged, bringing with it seven other demons, it seems. And if we were in any doubt about this before, Amoris Laetitia and its aftermath in the past year made it perfectly clear that this is our crisis,” she said. 

The Exhortation reveals what she called an “alien spirit” that “appears to have finally swallowed up the See of Peter, dragging ever widening cohorts of compliant higher Church leadership into its net.”

Silvas said that Amoris is so “alien” to previous Catholic teaching on marriage and the sacraments that it becomes impossible to take seriously anyone who still holds that the “turmoil” it caused resulted from “misinterpretations.”

She said that the document must be read as it stands, literally, logically, not forgetting all that surrounded the two Synods on the Family. She gave an example of reading the document plainly.

“In footnote 329, a passage in G&S 51 which discusses the question of temporary continence within marriage — as taught by St Paul — is outrageously transposed to those not in a Christian marriage, i.e. in ‘irregular situations,’ as an argument that they should not have to live as brother and sister. The intention, prefaced by a misrepresentation of St. John Paul and a bare-faced lie about the meaning of G&S 51 is clear. So where is the difficulty in understanding what the Pope intends?” she said. 

Silvas said it is not too difficult to understand what the Pope intends. She quoted other ambiguous passages from Amoris. She recalled how the Pope chose Cardinal Kasper, who openly dissents from Catholic teaching on marriage and the sacraments, to open the Synod on the Family. She mentioned the Pope’s “warm praise of Bernard Häring” who led the dissent against Humanae Vitae. She pointed to the Pope’s own endorsement of the Argentinian bishops’ opening the door to Communion for the divorced and “remarried.” 

“You know all these incidents, and many, many more, almost on a daily basis, in which it is not difficult to grasp Francis’ intent at all,” she said.

She said that behind the push for many of the big and small changes to pastoral practices happening in the Church today is an agenda to change doctrine. 

“We are in a world of dynamic fluidity here, of starting open-ended processes, of sowing seeds of desired change that will triumph over time. Other theorists — you have here in Italy, Gramsci and his manifesto of cultural Marxism — teach how to achieve revolution by stealth. So within the Church, Francis and his collaborators deal with the matter of doctrine, not by confronting theory head on — because if they did so they would be defeated — but by an incremental change of praxis, played to the siren song of plausible persuasions, until the praxis is sufficiently built up over time to a point of no return,” she said. 

“Make no mistake, the end game is a more or less indifferent permission for any who present for Holy Communion. And so we attain the longed-for haven of all-inclusiveness and ‘mercy’: the terminal trivialization of the Eucharist, of sin and repentance, of the sacrament of Matrimony, of any belief in objective and transcendent truth, the evisceration of language, and of any stance of compunction before the living God, the God of Holiness and Truth,” she added.

Silvas’ talk was ultimately a message of supernatural hope, because, as she told LifeSiteNews in an interview after the conference, even though the Church is being attacked from within “this false spirit shall not, cannot ultimately prevail,” because “Jesus Christ is the real Lord and Master” who is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Editor's Note: Pete Baklinski contributed to this report. 

Related: 

Lay Catholics warn of ‘great confusion’ in Church at Rome conference​

Pope Francis’ teaching on marriage is not ‘in the Spirit of Christ’: scholar​

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