On July 11, 2016, a prominent international group of Catholics, academics, theologians and pastors announced that they have formally petitioned Rome to address serious theological problems with the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. “We request that the Cardinals and Patriarchs petition the Holy Father to condemn 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,” the signatories wrote.
Among the 45 signatories of the petition are leading Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world. The group submitted an appeal to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome, requesting that the Cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition His Holiness, Pope Francis, to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from a reading of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia. A copy of the letter to Cardinal Sodano, together with the thirteen-page theological critique, was sent to all of the 218 Cardinals and Patriarchs around the world.
Describing the exhortation as containing “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals,” 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 signers announced the existence of the letter so 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,” said Dr. Joseph Shaw, an Oxford academic and the group’s spokesman.
Shaw also said: “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.”
The thirteen-page document quotes nineteen passages in the exhortation which seem to conflict with Catholic doctrines. These doctrines include the real possibility with the grace of God of obeying all the commandments, the fact that certain kinds of act are wrong in all circumstances, the headship of the husband, the superiority of consecrated virginity over the married life, and the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The document also argues that the exhortation undermines the Church’s teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who have made no commitment to continence cannot be admitted to the sacraments while they remain in that state.
Amoris Laetitia ‘can mislead Catholics into believing what is false and doing what is forbidden by divine law’
“The apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, issued by Pope Francis on March 19th, 2016 and addressed to bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, Christian married couples, and all the lay faithful, has caused grief and confusion to many Catholics on account of its apparent disagreement with a number of teachings of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. This situation poses a grave danger to souls,” the letter begins. It cited the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that “inferiors are bound to correct their superiors publicly when there is an imminent danger to the faith” and the Latin Code of Canon Law’s affirmation that “the Catholic faithful have the right and at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence, and position, to make known their views on matters which concern the good of the Church.”
The theologians contend. “The problem with the document is that it can mislead Catholics into believing what is false and doing what is forbidden by divine law. … What is important about the document is the damaging effect it can have on the belief and moral life of Catholics.”
Using Sacred Scripture and a number of authoritative Church teachings, particularly from the Council of Trent, the document also condemned suggestions from Amoris Laetitia that:
- Living according to the teachings of the Gospel may be impossible for some people
- No one is condemned to hell
- “The divorced and civilly remarried who choose their situation with full knowledge and full consent of the will are not in a state of serious sin, and that they can receive sanctifying grace and grow in charity,”
- “A Catholic believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action”
- “A person with full knowledge of a divine law can sin by choosing to obey that law”
- One’s conscience can “truly judge” that sexual sins explicitly condemned by the Gospel “can sometimes be morally right or requested or commanded by God”
- “Our Lord Jesus Christ wills that the Church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried and of refusing absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it”
- “Absence of grave fault due to diminished responsibility can permit admission to the Eucharist in the cases of divorced and civilly remarried persons who do not separate, nor undertake to live in perfect continence, but remain in an objective state of adultery and bigamy”
“Catholic theologians have a strict duty to speak out against the apparent errors in the document,” the signatories wrote. “This statement on Amoris Laetitia is intended to fulfil that duty, and to assist the hierarchy of the Church in addressing this situation.”
The spokesman said, “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. For that confusion can be dispelled effectively only by an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching by the Successor of Peter.”
Dr Joseph Shaw, an Oxford academic and a signatory to the appeal, is acting as spokesman for this group of Catholic scholars and pastors. The group has set up the email address firstname.lastname@example.org to answer press enquiries about the appeal.