Catholic World News

Full text: Interview with Robert Spaemann on Amoris Laetitia

Stuttgart, Germany, Apr 29, 2016 / 10:49 am (CNA).- Greatly valued as an advisor by Saint John Paul II, a friend of Benedict XVI, and widely held to be the most important German Catholic philosopher of recent decades, Robert Spaemann, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Munich, expressed a distinctly critical interpretation of Amoris laetitia in this interview with Anian Christoph Wimmer, editor of CNA’s German-language edition. Please find below the full text of the interview.


Professor Spaemann, you have accompanied the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI with your philosophy. Many believers are now asking, whether and how Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia should be read in continuity with the teachings of the Church and these previous Popes. How do you see this?  

For the most part, it is possible, although the direction allows for consequences which cannot be made compatible with the teaching of the Church. Article 305 together with footnote 351 – in which it is stated that believers can be allowed to the sacraments “in an objective situation of sin” “because of mitigating factors” – directly contradicts article 84 of Pope John Paul II’s exhortation Familiaris consortio.

What then is Pope John Paul II’s exhortation about?    

John Paul II explains human sexuality as a “real symbol for the giving of the whole person,” and namely, “without every temporal or other limitation.”  He thus formulates very clearly in article 84 that remarried divorcés must refrain from sex if they want to go to communion. A change in the practice of the administration of the sacraments would therefore be no “further development of Familiaris consortio,” as Cardinal Kasper said, but rather a breach in her essential anthropological and theological teaching on marriage and human sexuality. The Church has no authority, without prior conversion, to approve disordered sexual relationships through the administration of the sacraments, thereby anticipating God’s mercy – regardless of how these situations are to be judged on a human and moral level. The door here – as with the ordination of women to the priesthood – is closed.
Couldn’t someone object that the anthropological and theological reflections you mentioned are indeed correct – that God’s mercy is not, however, bound to such limits, but it is linked to the concrete situation of the individual person?       

God’s mercy concerns the heart of the Christian faith in the Incarnation and Redemption. Of course, God has each individual person in his or her own situation in view. He knows each person better than they know themselves. The Christian life, however, is not a pedagogical event in which marriage is aimed for as an ideal, as Amoris laetitia appears to suggest in many places. The whole realm of relationships, especially sexual relationships, concerns the dignity of the human person, his or her personhood and freedom. It has to do with the body as a “Temple of God” (1 Cor 6:19). Every violation to this realm, even if it were to occur often, is, therefore, also a violation of one’s relationship to God – to which Christians know they are called – a sin against God’s holiness, and always in need purification and conversion.     

God’s mercy consists in always allowing this conversion anew. Of course, it is not bound to definite limits, but the Church on her part requires a proclamation of conversion and does not have the authority to overstep established boundaries by administering the sacraments, and to abuse God’s mercy. That would be imprudent. Therefore clergy, who comply with the existing order, judge no-one; rather, they take into consideration and announce these boundaries of God’s holiness – a salvific promulgation. I don’t want to comment any further to insinuate that they would “hide behind the Church’s teachings” and “sit on the chair of Moses” so as to throw “stones … at people’s lives” (AL, 305). It may be noted that the respective verses in the Gospel are alluded to mistakenly. Jesus indeed says that the Pharisees and scribes sit on the chair of Moses, but he expressly emphasizes that the disciples should adhere to what they say. They should not, however, live like them (Matt 23:2).         
Pope Francis has stressed that we should not focus on only single sentences of his teachings; rather the whole should be kept in mind.    

Concentrating on the stated passages is fully justified in my eyes. It cannot be expected in a papal exhortation that people will rejoice in a pleasant text and ignore decisive sentences, which change the teachings of the Church. There is actually only a clear yes or no decision:  to give Communion or not. There is no intermediary between them.     

The Holy Father emphasizes in his exhortation that nobody may be allowed to be condemned forever.     

I find it difficult to understand, what he means there. That the Church is not allowed to condemn anyone personally – of course not forever, what she cannot do, thank God – is clear. When it concerns sexual relationships which objectively contradict the Christian way of life, I would like to know from the Pope, after what time and under which circumstances is objectively sinful conduct changed into conduct pleasing to God.    
Is it, in your perspective, actually an issue of a breach with the teaching tradition of the Church?
That it is an issue of a breach emerges doubtlessly for every thinking person, who knows the respective texts.     

Regardless whether or not one agrees with this assessment: the question arises as to how it came to this.    

It was already apparent that Francis views his predecessor Pope John Paul II from a critical distance when he canonized him together with John XXIII, even though a second required miracle was not attributed to the latter. Many felt this to be manipulative. It seemed as if the Pope wanted to relativize the importance of John Paul II.

The actual problem is an influential movement in moral theology, which holds a purely situational ethics, and which can be found as early as the 17th century among the Jesuits. The quotes from Thomas Aquinas, which the Pope cited in Amoris laetitia, appear to support this direction. Here it will be overlooked, however, that Thomas knows objectively sinful actions for which there are no exceptions. Among them is all sexually disordered conduct. John Paul II rejected situational ethics and condemned it in his encyclical Veritatis splendor – as did Karl Rahner before him, in an essay in the 1950s that contained all of these essential and presently valid arguments. Amoris laetitia also challenges Veritatis splendor. With all of this, we cannot forget that it was John Paul II who centered his pontificate on the subject of divine mercy – his second encyclical was devoted to it, the diary of Sister Faustina was discovered in Krakow, and he later named her a saint. He is her authentic interpreter.     
What consequences do you see for the Church?

The consequences are already foreseeable: uncertainty and confusion, from the bishops’ conferences to the small parishes in the middle of nowhere. A few days ago, a priest from the Congo expressed to me his perplexity in light of this new papal document and the lack of clear precedents. According to the respective passages from Amoris laetitia, not only remarried divorcés but also everyone living in some certain “irregular situation” could, by further nondescript “mitigating circumstances”, be allowed to confess other sins and receive Communion even without trying to abandon their sexual conduct – that means without confession and conversion. Each priest who adheres to the until-now valid discipline of the sacraments, could be mobbed by the faithful and be put under pressure from his bishop. Rome can now make the stipulation that only “merciful” bishops will be named, who are ready to soften the existing discipline. Chaos was raised to a principle by the stroke of a pen. The Pope must have known that he would split the Church with such a step and lead toward a schism – a schism that would not be settled on the peripheries, but rather in the heart of the Church. May God forbid that from happening.    
One thing, however, seems clear to me: the concern of this Pope – that the Church should overcome her own self-referencing in order to be able to free-heartedly approach persons – has been destroyed by this papal document for an unforeseeable amount of time. A secularizing push and the further decrease in the number of priests in many parts of the world are also to be expected. It has been able to be observed for quite some time that bishops and diocese with a clear stance on faith and morality have the greatest increase in priests. We must remember the words of St. Paul in the Letter to the Corinthians:  “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8).
In your opinion, where do we go from here?    

Every single cardinal, but also every bishop and priest, is called upon to preserve uprightly the Catholic discipline of the sacraments within his realm of responsibility and to confess it publicly. In case the Pope is not ready to make corrections, it remains reserved for a later Pope to officially make things right.    

Translation by Richard Andrew Krema.

Catholic World News

Poland’s Christian heritage a ‘strong foundation for the future’

Poznan, Poland, Apr 19, 2016 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The power of Poland’s “invincible national spirit” and resilience to countless foreign invaders lies not with her government or military, but rather in the nation’s Christian identity, its president said on Friday.

“The Baptism of Duke Mieszko I is the most important event in the entire history of the Polish state and nation. I do not say it was, I say it is, for the decision taken by our first historical ruler had predetermined the whole future to come for our country,” Andrzej Duda, president of Poland, said April 15.

This was the core of his message to the National Assembly’s session commemorating the 1050th anniversary of “Poland’s conversion”: the baptism of Mieszko I on Holy Saturday in 966. Mieszko is regarded as the de facto founder of the nation.

Duda noted that “Our Christian legacy continues to shape the destinies of Poland and of each and every one of us, Polish people, until this very day.”

The Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrated the anniversary of Poland’s conversion by saying Mass in Gniezno, the nation’s ancient Christian capital, on April 14.

He met with the Polish bishops April 15, telling them that the Poles’ “faithfulness to God, to the Gospel and to the Holy See has garnered the respect and esteem of other nations, and made the Church in Poland a bulwark of Christian faith and charity and a light in the darkness that has enshrouded Europe so many times.”

Even after countless invasions, most recently by Nazi Germany and by the Soviet Union, Poland’s national identity has not only survived, but grown even stronger.

Duda explained that “Equally the former and the latter worked to weaken and break the bond between our nation and the Church. They realized that this way they would shake the very foundations of our community, that a nation deprived of its spiritual anchorage would be easily remodelled into enslaved masses.”

He lauded the nation’s Christian heritage “as the principal and final shield of freedom and solidarity.”

The Nazis, he said, imposed their regime through the works of “bloody terror,” while the communists “promoted an atheistic ideology” in the hopes of making the Polish give up their Christian faith.

It was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of Warsaw who protected “the Polish and Christian identity of the nation against indoctrination and repression” with a “National Retreat” and nine year novena to prepare the Polish people to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of their baptism in 1966, Duda recalled.

The celebrations lasted an entire year and were observed not only by those in Poland, but expatriate Poles around the world in spite of the communists’ efforts to block access to the celebrations, even going so far as “arresting” a copy of the icon of The Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa.

“The 1966 millennial celebrations … revealed the timeless significance of the Baptism of Mieszko I and the uniting power of Christianity for our community.”

“A tree may be felled,” Duda said. “One may poison its roots and watch it wither. This does not take a lot of effort or too much time. However, to plant a new tree and wait for it to grow and bring fruit is a long process.”

It is for this reason that “the price for destroying the foundations of our civilization and attempts to replace them with other concepts, incoherent and loosely sketched, has always been and will always be enormous suffering and devastation,” he said.

“We have always taken and we will always take pride in this invincible national spirit,” he stated. “We can and are willing to draw on this great treasure of ours. It is also a lesson for the future for us: that we, the Polish people, can accomplish great, momentous things, if only we work together in accordance with the values that unite us. The values that have their source in the unbreakable bond between the Polish spirit and its Christian roots.

Today, Poland faces new challenges as “natural rivalry between different civilization models” have reached “an unprecedented intensity.”

To be sure, debates are going on throughout all of Europe about how to best address these “new challenges.”

For their part, Duda said, Poland should “trust the strength of our identity” and draw on the “rich treasury of ideas, experiences and solutions” developed by both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions.

Concern and care for the “dignity, rights and aspirations of all citizens” should take precedence “over rivalry and a play of interests,” he said. Equally important is that Poland draws upon her “heritage of tolerance and openness” to ensure that “our freedom and our material as well as spiritual strength are preserved and allowed to grow further.”

Drawing on the words of St. John Paul II, who said on the eve of the nation’s admittance into the European Union that Poland had an opportunity to “enrich the West spiritually, the same West that brought the Christian faith to us,” Duda said that Poland “will stay true to her Christian heritage.”

“For it is in this heritage that we have a well-tested, strong foundation for the future.”

Catholic World News

Founder of Neocatechumenal Way thanks Pope for Amoris Laetitia

Madrid, Spain, Apr 15, 2016 / 07:44 pm (CNA).- Kiko Argüello, the founder and global head of the Neocatechumenal Way, expressed his support for Pope Francis for his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, with a short analysis of its contents.

Amoris Laetitia is the result of the Holy Father’s reflections after the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which took place at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015. The exhortation is composed of 9 chapters and has 325 numbered paragraphs. The following is the statement on Amoris Laetitia by the Neocatechmenal Way’s international team, composed of Kiko Argüello, Carmen Hernández and Father Mario Pezzi:

“-The Holy Father’s concern to reach out to the thousands and thousands of Christians, who beset by their social and familial environment have suffered the trauma of a new marriage, is noted.

-The Holy Father wants them to not feel like they are excommunicated, he regrets this suffering and wants them to feel loved and prays for them and welcomes them, trying to help them.

-In this sense, this Apostolic Exhortation has great value to call out to and welcome those feeling alienated from the Church. To his honor, the pope is showing an immense liberality in doing so, suggesting special assistance from the Holy Spirit at this time in the Church.  

-The problem of discernment by pastors, priests and bishops, on a case by case basis, in an act of enormous charity towards the weakest, should not alarm us, and the Lord will provide because he always cares for his Church.

-We thank the Holy Father and we encourage him to continue on ahead. We recall what Don Quijote said: ‘Let the dogs bark, Sancho. It’s a sign we are on track.’ Take courage Father, the NeoCatechumenal Way is praying for You.”

The NeoCatechumenal Way is a Christian initiation of adults approved by the Holy See in 2008. It has more than 1 million members throughout the world and is present on five continents.


Catholic World News

Could Pope Francis’ visit to Greece be a game-changer for refugees?

Lesbos, Greece, Apr 15, 2016 / 03:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ visit with refugees and migrants in Greece this Saturday could be a moment of leadership at a time when political concerns overshadow the world’s attention, said a relief agency leader in the country.

“The Pope’s trip to the frontlines of the European refugee crisis comes at a critical time. The continent of Europe is currently experiencing a vacuum of leadership with the politics of the crisis oftentimes overshadowing the plight of those on the move,” Josh Kyller of Catholic Relief Services told CNA.

Kyller is the U.S.-based relief agency’s emergency coordinator for the refugee and migrant response in the region. He said the Pope is “making the ultimate statement by avoiding the politics.”

“Instead, he draws our attention to the tens of thousands of those who are suffering.”

Kyller spoke to CNA from Athens on April 13, shortly before Pope Francis’ one-day visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, a major transit point for refugees and migrants seeking entry to Europe. He will be accompanied by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, and Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Ieronymos II.

The Pope said April 13 he would go with them “to express my closeness and solidarity to the refugees and citizens of Lesbos and to all the Greek people (who are) so generous in their welcoming.”

Most of the refugees arriving in Greece are from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. More than 80 percent of the new Syrian arrivals are Muslim.

Kyller said the Pope has shown that he welcomes everyone regardless of religious difference.

Upon arriving in Lesbos, Kyller said, Pope Francis will find a detention camp for migrants. But he will also find much more than that.

“He’ll find a community of vacationers and retirees, and a lot of incredible volunteers. There are police and fences – and a lot of boats still coming and leaving. He’ll encounter people with hopes, fears, anxiety, and confusion right next to people filled with good will, compassion and mercy.”

“He’ll see the best and the worst sides of people and politics. He will be welcomed, of course, and he will find a lot of despair that he will want to find a way to offer hope through grace.”

Most of the refugees have traveled for weeks to arrive in Greece. They would rather have stayed in their homelands, but feared the violence there.

Since March 2011, over 250,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. Millions more have been displaced.

“Refugees arriving in Europe have recounted in horrific detail the atrocities they witnessed within their homeland,” Kyller said. “As one mother told a CRS staffer, ‘You wouldn’t put a child on this boat unless it’s safer than your home’.”

“Many risk their lives for this new start,” he added. Many are targeted by traffickers and suffer exploitation and abuse. Some have spent all their savings or go into major debt to reach Europe.

Most of the refugees seek to reunite with their relatives in countries like Germany or Sweden.

Kyller said that Catholic Relief Services’ guiding principles includes solidarity. This is the idea that “loving (and helping) our neighbor has global dimensions.”

“The Pope is the very embodiment of that principle,” he said.

Before other European countries closed their borders to migrants, Greece had been struggling to keep up due to its fragile economy.

Over 150,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece by sea so far in 2016. At the village of Idomeni, over 10,000 people who aim to move deeper into Europe are stranded near the Macedonian border.

“Following the closures, the situation has gotten even more severe,” Kyller said. Conditions there “deteriorate by the day.”

While the migrant crisis has caused security fears in parts of Europe, Kyller said that Greece is more focused on concerns related to the economy and the employment crisis.

Catholic Relief Services and its local partners like Caritas have helped over 300,000 people in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania and Bulgaria.

“We continue to adapt our priorities to the evolving situation. The Caritas network is vast and well-integrated into each of the countries where we work. This fact helps us reach the least-served groups as well as the countries that support them,” Kyller said.

Support for migrants and refugees includes food, winter clothing, sanitation, temporary shelter, legal aid and assistance in language translation.

There have been immigrant protests and clashes with police in Idomeni in recent days. On Sunday about 300 migrants, including women and children, were injured when they tried to break through the border fence on the Macedonian border. Police fired tear gas and bullets at them.

Police have arrested 14 pro-refugee activists from Britain, Germany and other European countries. They accused them of encouraging hundreds of migrants to storm the fence, the New York Times reports. The activists allegedly thought the action would generate sympathy and help re-open borders.



Catholic World News

Will Pope Francis mend ties with the SSPX?

Paris, France, Apr 14, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, has reportedly discussed several positive aspects of his meeting with Pope Francis at the beginning of the month.

Bishop Fellay had visited the Vatican April 1-2, meeting with the Pope and with Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei – the Vatican office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsible for doctrinal discussions with the estranged group.

The French-language blog Le Salon Beige reported April 10 that Bishop Fellay had spoken that day to some 4,000 pilgrims and “revealed some good news” from his encounter at the Vatican.

The blog post reported that Bishop Fellay indicated that: the Pope confirmed that the SSPX is Catholic in his eyes; the Pope said he would never condemn the SSPX; and that the Pope wants to extend the faculties of the priest of the SSPX, beginning with Confession.

Le Salon Beige also said that “in the course of his meetings in Rome, Bishop Fellay was encouraged to found a seminary in Italy.”

The website of the U.S. district of the SSPX also reported on Bishop Fellay’s comments April 10, linking to Le Salon Beige.

The SSPX had earlier stated that Bishop Fellay’s meeting with Pope Francis had been cordial and lasted 40 minutes.

“After the meeting, it was decided that the current exchanges would continue. The canonical status of the Society was not directly addressed, Pope Francis and Bishop Fellay having determined that these exchanges ought to continue without haste,” the statement added.

Pope Francis has already declared that during the current Jubilee Year of Mercy, the faithful can validly and licitly receive absolution of their sins from priests of the SSPX.

The Society currently operates six seminaries, and its Italian district includes four priories, 16 chapels, and a retreat center.

The SSPX was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 to form priests, as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Its relations with the Holy See became strained in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the permission of Pope John Paul II.

The illicit consecration resulted in the excommunication of the five bishops; the excommunications were lifted in 2009 by Benedict XVI, and since then, negotiations between the Society and the Vatican have continued, “to rediscover full communion with the Church.”

In remitting the excommunications, Benedict also noted that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”

The biggest obstacle for the society’s reconciliation has been the statements on religious liberty in Vatican II’s declaration Dignitatis humanae, which it claims contradicts previous Catholic teaching.

Doctrinal discussions between the SSPX and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith broke down in the summer of 2012, when the society’s superior general, Bishop Bernard Fellay, would not sign a doctrinal preamble presented by Rome. Talks between the CDF and the society resumed, however, in 2014.

Since then several moves have suggested a warming in relations between the Vatican and the SSPX.

In 2015 the Holy See delegated a cardinal and three bishops to visit the seminaries of the SSPX. They were sent to become better acquainted with the society, and to discuss doctrinal and theological topics in a less formal context.

And Pope Francis announced in a September 2015 letter on the Jubilee Year of Mercy that during the jubilee year the faithful can validly and licitly receive absolution of their sins from priests of the SSPX.

“I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity,” he wrote.

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