Featured Image
 Mike Maguire / Flickr

May 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — It is often said that Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia speaks too ambiguously to be guilty of anything more than emitting a haze of confusion. But Pope Francis has weaponized not ambiguity, but indirectness to achieve subversion and trap conservatives, according to essays and interviews from various signers of the open letter accusing him of heresy. These razor-sharp interventions articulate some painful truths about the fierceness of Pope Francis’s allegiance to “revolution by stealth” — and the weakness of much conservative reaction to it.  

“Many good theologians still argue that Francis’s texts, although very problematic, cannot be convicted of heresy because they are too ambiguous,” says Claudio Pierantoni, a drafter of the open letter. “I challenge this claim: in fact, I maintain that Francis’s texts, in particular those contained in Amoris Laetitia chapter VIII, are tortuous and meandering, but their aim is clear.”

For instance, his fellow signatory Anna Silvas explains that Amoris Laetitia’s footnote 329 hijacks Gaudium et Spes 51’s treatment of temporary marital continence — and then “outrageously transposes” it to adulterers, “as an argument that they should not have to live as brother and sister.” Silvas says the pope’s intent is crystal clear: his text willfully misrepresents the passage from John Paul II preceding the footnote and engages in “a bare-faced lie about the meaning of G&S 51.”  

According to the signatories, then, Amoris Laetitia circuitously but clearly professes heresy upon a natural, untwisted reading. Shortly after the text’s release, some of them signed a critique from 45 theologians documenting those reported heresies — a copy of which was sent to every member of the Sacred College of Cardinals.  

“The main heresy resides precisely in the doctrine — today called ‘situation ethics’ — which denies that there are acts that by their very nature are intrinsically evil, and therefore cannot in any case be considered lawful,” says Pierantoni. Borrowing a metaphor from Josef Seifert, Pierantoni says Amoris Laetitia smuggles in an “atomic bomb” set to explode our whole moral edifice, making not just adultery, but abortion, murder, and homosexual activity lawful in some cases. 

At the same time, according to signatory John Lamont, Pope Francis strategically initially allowed Amoris Laetitia’s defenders to try to force an orthodox meaning via some strong contorting. According to Lamont:

By initially permitting this latitude of understanding, Pope Francis ensured that Catholics who rejected the heresy in question would nonetheless rally to the defense of the document, out of blind loyalty to the papacy, timidity, careerism, or a simple feeling of obligation to give the Roman Pontiff every benefit of the doubt.  These defenders of Amoris Laetitia were very effective in confusing the issue and leading Catholics to think that the document was acceptable and was being unjustly attacked.

Then Pope Francis shut down hermeneutical debate by endorsing Buenos Aires guidelines spelling out that adulterers could receive Communion under Amoris Laetitia — and he directly ruled out “other interpretations.” The pope elevated this endorsement into an act of his “authentic magisterium” via a statement in the Acta Apostolica Sedis (AAS). 

That AAS statement could be a smoking gun: as the open letter explains, it “states with magisterial authority that the Buenos Aires bishops’ understanding of what Pope Francis meant to say in Amoris Laetitia is correct.” Endorsing Communion for adulterers, however, entails belief in three different heresies — or else denies the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage, according to the open letter.     

Here again, though, Pope Francis brilliantly deployed circuitousness, writing a letter referring to guidelines that then refer to Amoris Laetitia. Lamont says that such obliquity “avoids embarrassing” Amoris Laetitia’s defenders, and “indeed enables many of them to continue their defense.” The AAS statement’s meaning “does not have to be confronted unless one follows a chain of reasoning about it.” To this day, it’s still claimed that Amoris Laetitia can be read in “continuity” with Church teaching — as if a kind of polite amnesia about the AAS statement can just will it away.

Lamont says Pope Francis’s artful indirection blunts the opposition of even those conservatives who recognize Amoris Laetitia’s heresies. The pope knows that many of them are too disinclined or afraid to oppose his program — and a brasher statement of heresy “might back such persons against the wall and embarrass them into contradicting it.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis proceeds with his cultural Marxist–inspired “revolution by stealth,” according to Silvas. It is a sly, slow, region-by-region revolution, whereby more and more bishops use the text to admit adulterers to the Eucharist — “until the praxis is sufficiently built up over time to a point of no return.” 

The endgame, Silvas says, is all-out sacrilege and sin: 

Make no mistake, the endgame 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.

As Silvas points out, then-Archbishop Bergoglio already had a “known practice in his archdiocese of tacitly admitting to Holy Communion all comers, the cohabiting, as well as the divorced and civilly remarried.” It is a “tragedy,” she says, that today’s “naïve papalism” cannot perceive when the faith is “under most dangerous attack, even from that most lofty quarter” of the papacy.

According to the open letter, “Catholics will hardly believe that the pope is attacking the faith unless this be said expressly; and hence, merely abstract denunciations risk providing a cover for Pope Francis to advance and to achieve his goal.” Its plea to investigate grave, meticulously documented allegations of heresy is thus a plea to cut through the smokescreen that allows Pope Francis to creep forward with his revolution.

Yet, given Francis’s skill in weaponizing indirection, it’s unsurprising that many conservative attacks on the open letter still sincerely believe the old bromide that Amoris Laetitia can be read in an orthodox way. It’s unsurprising that others still hope for “clarity” even when the AAS statement clearly tries to bully the faithful into professing heresy.

“It is not a rational refutation of our position (which has not been given) but only a psychological fear of the terrible consequences of admitting papal heresy that prevents many good theologians from facing the hard truth,” argues Pierantoni.    

Ultimately, no magic wand of wishful thinking can make the AAS statement on Amoris Laetitia’s heretical meaning just disappear; it is a juggernaut that will raze every last barrier to blithe sacrilege and sin.  The grave issues raised by the open letter must be confronted head on, however uncomfortable, disorienting, and frightening that process may be.