Corrupt Pastoral Practice Means Corrupt Doctrine

Amoris Laetitia’s Dirty Little Secret

When Amoris Laetitia (hereafter AL) was first published in March 2016, Pope Francis’s episcopal cheerleaders insisted that the document has introduced no changes to Church doctrine: it merely explores how we are to understand the “pastoral application” of God’s mercy to “human weakness.” After all, God’s mercy somehow transcends the legalism of mere doctrine (as AL, 311 seems to suggest)–never mind that Church doctrine expresses those truths about what we are to believe and how we are to live that God has mercifully revealed to us for the safe of both our authentic human flourishing and our eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

It has now become fashionable, therefore, for some prelates to “pastorally” accommodate grave sinners in ways that effectively deny what the Church has always taught faithfully and practiced pastorally. Following AL, they tell us that a pastor should be guided in his “discernment” of sinful situations by the testimony of the sinners themselves regarding the “truth” of their own experience: they don’t necessarily “feel” in conscience that their sins are really sins in their case, given their personal limitations and the particulars of their “concrete situation.” Enlightened by this information, and having come to appreciate all the “constructive elements” arising out of their otherwise damnable sins (AL, 292), the pastor is then supposedly in a position to conclude that the subjective culpability of these sinners is mitigated to the point where he can welcome them to receive the sacraments (See AL, 300, n. 336; 305, n. 351). One has to wonder why it has taken the Church more than two thousand years to arrive at this luminous new concept of mercy.

The Inseparability of Church Doctrine and Pastoral Practice
Ironically, this recent, seemingly official foray into moral and theological subjectivism under Pope Francis only goes to prove that there is no such thing as a radical dichotomy between the Church’s doctrine and her pastoral practice. Revolutionary changes in pastoral practice–such as permitting grave, sexual sinners to receive the sacraments–presuppose, and eventually demand outright, revolutionary changes in doctrine. That is why AL’s notorious chapter 8 had necessarily to reconceive subjectivistically the Church’s teaching on conscience and “discernment” (the process of assessing the morality of human acts). The chapter’s bias toward the subjective has provided the “pastoral” rationale for admitting certain grave sinners to the sacraments. We should not be surprised, then, to find the pope urging us to reverse the priority that the Church has taught us to give to the objective over the subjective aspects of the human act in the process of moral discernment (e.g., AL, 302-304).1

According to Francis, pastors need no longer to preoccupy themselves with the objectively grave sin that a person is actually committing (at least in sinful situations with which this pope is particularly empathetic). They ought rather to focus on “discerning” the subjective and circumstantial conditions that might allegedly excuse, at least partially, the person’s persistence in the sin. Thus excused, pastors could then invite the person to receive sacramental absolution and Holy Communion, despite his having presently neither the intention to amend his life nor the sincere contrition necessary to ground that intention.

One could not arrive at such a radically flawed “pastoral” conclusion without having first trivialized, as Francis does, the objective dimension of human action in the process of discerning its morality. For the object of the act—that which the sinner wills necessarily to realize by deliberately choosing to act in a certain way—is what primarily and decisively defines, or specifies, the act as morally good or evil. In deliberately choosing it, the will itself becomes, accordingly, either morally good or morally evil.2 In the case of adultery, for example, one chooses to take the lawful spouse of another as one’s own (to cite one of the sin’s variants). The content of that act is unavoidably the will’s direct and deliberate goal, which it regards as something good, desirable, and worth pursuing.

But that goal, or object, is morally evil, reflecting a radical disorder of the will. In deliberately choosing the act defined by that goal, the person becomes, inescapably, what he has willed himself to be: an adulterer (see Mt 5:27-28). Such an act could never conduce to the true good of the person, nor could it ever order him to God. For that reason, the Church’s traditional sacramental discipline would never allow anyone who persisted in an objective state of adultery to receive the sacraments. The inherent contradiction—and the hypocrisy—of violating God’s law, on the one hand, and of expressing intimate union with Him through sacramental reception, on the other, would only increase the gravity of the person’s moral and spiritual condition—something that the Church has hitherto wanted, mercifully, to spare him (see 1 Cor 11:27-30).

Pope Francis, however, seems intent on diverting our attention away from the object of the deliberate will in assessing the morality of an act. He wants us to attend mainly to the subjective factors behind a person’s concrete actions. In other words, he is unduly disinterested in the deliberate end of the act (in what the person wills directly to do), while unduly occupied with the intentional end (with why the person wills to do it). Discernment would, therefore, ask questions such as: What are the sinner’s motives (or intentions) for deciding on an objectively evil course of action, such as committing adultery? In view of those motives, are the “fruits” of the adulterous relationship praiseworthy, considering that the sinner is, as far as we can “discern,” trying to do the best he can within the “concrete complexity” of his limits (e.g., AL, 37, 296, 298, 303)?

Having pushed the deliberately willed act itself into the background, and having effectively denied its intrinsically evil, nature and the unconditionality of one’s moral obligation to renounce it immediately, the pope seems virtually to excuse certain “situations” of adultery, or at least to exercise undue patience with them, as when a parent enters an adulterous union “for the sake of the children’s upbringing” (AL, 298), or when the union exhibits “constructive elements” such as new children, generous, self-giving, and Christian commitment (see AL, 292, 298). But the end never justifies the means.

We should not be surprised, however, that Francis seems only too happy to disregard that unconditional principle of Christian morality (see Rm 3:8). For he himself violates it, using the unlawful means of giving the subjective sources of morality priority over the objective, so as to establish a pretext for the unlawful end of admitting, at least, some grave sinners to the sacraments.

Papal Overreach
The preceding analysis shows that just as true, spiritually salutary pastoral practices derive from true doctrine, so, too, do false, spiritually detrimental pastoral practices–which effectively abrogate the true–derive from false doctrine as their underlying rationale. For that reason, Pope Francis’s subtly reversing the priority of objective over subjective factors in the moral evaluation of human acts cannot but yield grave practical consequences in the life of the Church and her members.

Some might argue that the Pope has the authority to institute a change in Church discipline if he sees fit. After all, he is the Church’s supreme pastor, and it would seem that we are fundamentally dealing here with a pastoral matter. Let’s explore that briefly.

In one of AL’s many tendentious textual misrepresentations, Pope Francis refers, in note 345, to paragraph two of a declaration by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried (June 24, 2000). As AL’s  302 indicates, paragraph two distinguishes between objectively grave sin, and the perpetrator’s subjective culpability, which might be diminished relative to the sin’s actual gravity. Taken out of its own context, and placed into that of AL’s chapter 8, that distinction might seem to lend support to AL’s subjectivistic argumentation. Yet, the pontifical declaration comes to a decisive, negative judgment about the possibility of admitting adulterers to Holy Communion, regardless of what their subjective state might be. Nevertheless, AL strategically places the document’s title in note 345 to suggest that the text confirms Francis’s own conclusion to the contrary.

The declaration states that Canon 915 (CIC/83), which denies Holy Communion to those in grave sin, must be understood as follows:

1) the gravity of the sin involved is determined by the sin’s objective nature;

2) the person is persisting in the objective state of grave sin;

3) the sin is publicly manifest, causing objective harm—scandal—to the ecclesial communion.

We see, then, that the declaration upholds the traditional sacramental discipline by maintaining the priority of the objective over the subjective sources of morality, in accordance with the Church’s teaching. In addition, paragraph one of the declaration mentions the relation between the traditional discipline and the Church’s teaching on both the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. The pastoral purpose of the traditional discipline, then, is to confirm the teaching from which it derives and to protect the reality that the teaching proclaims.

But that is not all. The Church’s teachings on the Eucharist, and on the indissolubility of marriage, are based on divine law (e.g., see Mt 19:3-6; 1 Cor 11:27-29).3 Accordingly, the declaration states that the prohibition found in Canon 915 “is derived from divine law, and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church.” It follows, then, that “no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation [to exclude duly advised adulterers from receiving the sacrament] in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.”

As we know, Pope Francis has been steadily defying that prohibition, most recently by his seemingly raising to magisterial status the private letter in which he praised the Argentine bishops for adopting his scandalous recommendation to allow some persistent adulterers (and, in principle, other grave sinners) to receive the sacraments.4 No pope has authority whatsoever to change an ecclesiastical discipline grounded in divine law. It would seem that this is why AL contains a false doctrinal basis for effectively doing so, opening a door to bifurcating orthodox doctrine from right practice. Whatever the case, the upshot is that AL has inflicted a deep, pernicious wound on the Body of Christ by providing an ostensibly pastoral basis for circumventing divine law for “pastoral” accommodations.

The Self-Refuting Nature of AL’s Subjectivism
As noted earlier, AL reconceives conscience and discernment subjectivistically so as to justify its pastoral recommendation. In that respect, it demonstrates implicitly and necessarily, if perversely, that doctrine and pastoral practice are inextricably related. By encouraging an individualistic and arbitrary exercise of discernment, however, that same reconceptualization could just as well justify one’s ignoring completely the very recommendation for whose justification it was contrived to begin with. The internal incoherence of AL’s subjectivistic position, along with the moral relativism to which it leads, is thereby exposed.

Taking AL’s chapter 8 at face value, then, a priest or a bishop would not be bound, in conscience, to assent to and implement Francis’s pastoral recommendation just because he has ostensibly elevated it to the magisterial (and hence the doctrinal) level by having published, in the Acta: (1) the pastoral guidelines of the Argentine bishops on implementing AL’s chapter 8; (2) his letter applauding them for adopting his recommendation; and (3) the papal rescript related by Cardinal Parolin, identifying the two documents as “authentic magisterium.”5 Nor would any Catholic be required to give religious assent of intellect and will to the pope’s “magisterially” instituted pastoral approach as a teaching to be given the benefit of the doubt. How might one appeal to AL’s radical moral relativism, which so offends right conscience, to defend right conscience instead? Consider three of its main principles:

1. If any Catholic does not personally understand the “inherent values” of a “rule” that is ordinarily binding on conscience—AL is clearly alluding here (and in the other two principles below) to the Sixth Commandment—then he does not sin seriously, if at all, in disobeying it (see AL, 301).6 It follows, moreover, that he need not obey the rule until he does understand those values. How much more, then, would that be true regarding Francis’s directive, a “rule” that contains no intelligible (and hence no redeeming) values at all?

2. If any Catholic believes, in conscience, that he is in a concrete situation wherein following a moral “rule” would lead him into further sin, he does not sin seriously, if at all, in disobeying it (see AL, 301).7 Indeed, he ought not to obey it. We know from the previous section that following Francis’s newly “elevated” directive would necessarily entail the violation of Canon 915, which derives from divine law. Obeying it would, therefore, lead one into sin. In consequence, his directive is one rule that every pastor, and every Catholic, is morally obliged to disregard absolutely—permanently. For the pope has no authority to abrogate, or otherwise bypass, the divine law on which Canon 915 is based.

3. If any Catholic arrives at “a certain moral security,” in conscience, that God concurs with his decision to disobey an otherwise binding moral “rule” because of his personal limitations and present circumstances (AL, 303),8  we can only conclude that he does not sin in disobeying it, and that he need not obey it. Right-thinking priests and bishops should not agonize, therefore, over the present circumstance of mounting papal pressure to administer the sacraments to adulterers, fornicators, or any other transgressors of God’s moral laws. Their natural revulsion at the prospect of being compelled to do something so flagrantly opposed to right conscience, limits their ability to comply. It also reflects the voice of God telling them in conscience not to profane His sacraments at the behest of a recalcitrant pope. Their “moral security” that God concurs with their judgment dispenses them, therefore, from the “obligation” to follow the pope’s pastoral—and now ostensibly magisterial (hence “doctrinal”)—rule.

The Agenda Behind AL
Of course, the conveniently arbitrary way in which one could apply AL’s radical subjectivism to suit one’s own ends could be multiplied indefinitely; however, that would not be so convenient to chapter 8’s papal and episcopal architects, since a consistent ecclesiastical approbation of moral relativism would undermine: (1) their own authority; (2) the whole raison d’être for the papal and episcopal offices themselves; and (3) their own agenda. But the pope and like-minded bishops are certainly not aiming to lose their claim to authority, their lofty status, or their pernicious influence. They want only to redefine their offices, and thereby the Church herself, by arrogating to themselves an authority with which Our Lord has never endowed them: the authority to foist on the Church a doctrinal makeover more in keeping with the radically individualistic, self-serving, and godless spirit of secular humanism, with which they seem to enjoy such a cozy relationship.

We can be confident that the real agenda behind AL is to effect changes in the Church’s moral and theological doctrine better suited to the spirit of the age. For that has long been the inexorable trajectory of Catholic moral revisionism, as well as the inexorable demand of some its principal exponents. Revisionism’s inherently subjectivistic, proportionalist principles, together with its morally relativistic concept of “discernment” (based on those principles), undergird chapter 8’s whole “pastoral” approach, not to mention the rhetoric of some of its most ardent defenders.9

The most expeditious means of effecting a doctrinal makeover is, first, to provide grave sinners–especially sexual sinners–with a handy, revisionist rationale for justifying their sinfulness, and exculpating them from it. They are merely hapless victims of circumstance who are doing their best to cope with their situation amid the concrete complexity of their limitations; hence, they are not fully responsible for their actions. On the basis of that spineless, subjectivistic cop out, they can then discern, perhaps with “pastoral” assistance, that they are eligible to receive the sacraments.

In turn, this novel change in pastoral and sacramental practice newly incentivizes Catholics to reject whatever moral doctrines they’re flouting with the positive reinforcement that some pastors are giving them, especially by admitting them to the sacraments. Since AL’s chapter 8 pertains mainly to sexual sinners, the moral doctrines that its policy of pastoral accommodation attacks, indirectly, thus pertain to marriage, especially its sanctity, its sacramentality, and its indissolubility. AL has launched this attack by virtually gutting the Sixth Commandment, an exceptionless moral norm that Pope Francis regards as merely a general rule that cannot be fittingly applied immediately to every “concrete situation” of sexual sin (see AL, 304-305).

In consequence, as the gap widens between traditional moral doctrine and the Catholic “lifestyle” choices that AL’s pastoral policy has insidiously encouraged, AL’s architects, and their supporters, will undoubtedly start calling more overtly for changes in the Church’s moral teaching, which, according to them, the “faithful” have not “received.” They can then join their voices to the chorus of Catholic moral revisionists and secularists who have already been unabashedly vocal about demanding such changes.

Again, AL’s “pastoral” change is undergirded by an implicit doctrinal change in our understanding of conscience, and its way of evaluating an act’s morality, even as some prelates are quick to reassure us—disingenuously, to be sure—that no such change has taken place. In turn, that one change in doctrine demands other such changes—AL’s vacuous concept of mercy being one of them.10 That is why these prelates take care to tell us initially that only pastoral practice has changed—or, even better, that it has merely developed organically out of the direction it has taken since the papacy of Saint John Paul II. In that way, they can describe as “continuity” the brazen discontinuity that they have inflicted on the Church’s life, pastoral practice, and belief.

The Selective Application of AL’s Subjectivism
As we saw earlier, good Catholics who object to AL’s destructive agenda could refuse to take part in it, paradoxically, by appeal to the same subjectivistic principles that the document uses to promote it. In consequence, Pope Francis and the bishops who interpret chapter 8 as he does, cannot very well deal with them by playing according to the rules of “pastoral” engagement they have established therein. For those rules indirectly undermine their own authority by promoting a false view of conscience and discernment that logically results in everyone’s designing the morality that suits him, thus rendering their apostolic teaching office superfluous.

So the pope, the bishops promoting AL’s agenda, and even bishops who want simply to avoid papal disapproval, have reasserted their authority in a perverse way by denouncing and discrediting faithful Catholics who, in good conscience, have questioned AL’s problematic content, however respectfully. In reasserting themselves thus, they have jettisoned completely their self-professed convictions about respecting the individual conscience in its discernment while accompanying it with boundless patience and mercy. The calumnies and punitive actions that have issued from on high against eminent, honorable, and erudite Catholics such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, Professor Josef Seifert, and Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy provide stark proof of that.

The way in which Pope Francis handled the situation in the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria last June is particularly illuminating. The priests of the diocese had been steadfastly refusing to accept the bishop that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed four and a half years earlier. He was an ethnic outsider from another state, and so they deemed him unsuited to serve the needs of their diocese. On the one hand, Pope Francis expressed his belief that the priests within the diocese were being manipulated by their brother priests living abroad or by others from outside the diocese, and that they might not have had “full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.”11 On the other hand, he did not seem to think that there were any subjective, circumstantial, cultural, or other mitigating factors involved that required suitable discernment. Rather, he judged that the priests were trying to take over “the vineyard of the Lord,” declaring, “Whoever was opposed” to the bishop “taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the Church.” He also judged that “whoever offends her commits a mortal sin, it’s very serious.” The priests have “scandalized” the people of God and must therefore “suffer the consequences.” What were they?

Francis commanded each of the priests to send him, within 30 days, a personal letter asking for forgiveness and expressing both his “total obedience to the pope” and his willingness “to accept the bishop whom the pope sends and has appointed.” Otherwise, the priest would be automatically suspended a divinis; that is, he would be forbidden to exercise his priesthood and would “lose his current office.”

The situation in the Ahiara diocese was unquestionably serious. The pope surely possesses the authority to act as he did, and he seems in this case to have acted quite prudently–especially after less drastic measures had failed to resolve the situation. The point here is that he did not act in a manner consistent with AL’s subjectivistic principles, which he has ostensibly elevated, at least implicitly, to the doctrinal and magisterial level by the publication, in the Acta, of the three documents mentioned earlier. He seems never to have considered that the Ahiara priests might have been having “great difficulty” understanding the values of the “rule” they were disobeying, or that limiting factors did not “allow [them] to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin” (AL, 301). Nor did he seem to consider the possibility that these priests might have arrived at a “certain moral security” in conscience that God Himself has concurred with their decision to rebel against the papally appointed bishop—this being the most generous response they could muster amid the concrete complexity of their limits (see AL, 303).

On the contrary, in order to reassert his authority over that of the individual conscience of the Ahiara priests, Pope Francis had to acknowledge implicitly, in his words and actions, the priority of the objective over the subjective sources of morality in the moral evaluation of the priests’ actions. Only in that way could he properly assess the morality of the situation in the Ahiara diocese, so as to act prudently and decisively. He based his judgment, rightly, on the objectively evil nature of the sin being committed: the priests were offending against Mother Church and, thereby, causing scandal to the faithful. The object of their deliberate will was evil in itself, and no degree of subjective inculpability on their part could have justified the pope’s allowing the individual conscience of each rebellious priest to prevail so that the situation would continue indefinitely. There was no need for an extended period of discernment about this grave matter.

In consequence, the pope demanded—without qualification—that the Ahiara priests be totally obedient to him. One must, therefore, ask why the pope did not demand, in AL, that sinners exercise the same total obedience to God and His moral law, whose precepts forbid, absolutely and unconditionally, the commission of intrinsically evil acts such as adultery. One must also ask how Pope Francis can expect bishops and priests to adopt his pastoral approach, and the subjectivistic principles underlying it, when they are so inherently destructive and self-contradictory that he cannot possibly apply them consistently himself. In order to achieve the result he desired in the Nigerian diocese of Ahiara, he reverted to the Church’s traditional understanding of conscience and acts, and to applying a reasonable pastoral discipline consistent with that understanding.

Concluding Remarks
We have seen that AL’s subjectivistic position on conscience and discernment is self-refuting, for it can be used just as well to justify, as to reject, the sacrilegious, spiritually detrimental, pastoral conclusion that the document derives from it. Even the pope, and the ardent episcopal champions of that position, must abandon it when it does not serve their own ends. Its intrinsic incoherence exposes chapter 8’s pernicious falsity.

True Church doctrine, on the other hand, gives rise to salutary pastoral practices, and it is always internally self-consistent, luminous, universally applicable, and salvific. So, the real reason why no Catholic is bound in good conscience to assent to, or implement, Pope Francis’s newly “magisterial” pastoral prescription is that it radically subverts the perennial doctrine and pastoral practices of the Church, to which the truly discerning Catholic has already given the assent of faith, or the religious assent of intellect and will, as the case may be. On the basis of the evidential truth of Catholic doctrine, and the reflection of that truth in the pastoral practices that flow from it, one knows with certainty that Pope Francis’s prescription is grossly misguided, and detrimental to the true good of souls. It is based, in large part: (1) on a false understanding of the human person, and of his true moral good; (2) on a rather explicit and unqualified denial of the existence of moral absolutes, in favor of moral subjectivism; and (3) on the false understanding of God and His mercy that all of this presupposes and requires.

Refusing to implement or assent to Francis’s pastoral prescription might prove costly to bishops, priests, and laity alike. After all, acting on right conscience will make the purveyors of falsehood look bad by exposing their errors, prompting them to react by discrediting or punishing the truly faithful. Regardless, it is incumbent on all of Christ’s faithful to obey God rather than men (see Acts 5:29). For, once a clean conscience gets dirty by compromising itself, it must then justify itself in order to live with itself. And that leads to further compromise. So conscience just keeps getting dirtier and dirtier. That’s what the subversives are counting on: “Misery loves company.”

One can summarize the problems with AL’s chapter 8 as follows: it empties Christ’s cross of its power by trivializing the sinner’s need to bear his proper share in it here and now, in this situation and under these limiting conditions, by the grace of God. False mercy does not require someone’s taking up his cross so as to cleave to the true moral good. Not with due haste, anyway. Though today is the day of salvation because we are guaranteed no tomorrow, those convinced of AL’s radical moral subjectivism—at least as it furthers their designs—seem content to encourage grave sinners to persist in their damnable sins for as long as personal and pastoral “discernment” urges them to do so. The Christ that this presupposes—one for whom “mercy” means making no urgent, concrete moral demands on objectively grave sinners, and one who is indifferent to the gross injustice that they are inflicting on those against whom they are sinning—does not exist. But the fact that so many prelates, and unrepentant sinners, are keen to embrace this imaginary anti-Christ is quite telling: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18).

Even when sustained by God’s grace, we can express genuine love for God and neighbor in our present, fallen condition in no other way than by sacrifice. And that is precisely what renouncing our self-will is for us: the sacrifice of self. The most fundamental objective criterion we have of determining whether we are making that sacrifice is our fidelity to God’s Commandments. If we don’t meet that minimum standard, then we have failed in love, regardless of whether our subjective take on our actions tells us otherwise.

The Ten Commandments, as the Church has always taught and understood them, express the indispensable, concrete content of love, and so they demand our absolute obedience. AL has somehow missed that point, preferring instead to side with false, subjectivistic rationalizations for sin, such as, “I can do more good by committing adultery for the children’s sake, than by obeying the Sixth Commandment, which would consequently become a source of sin for me in my circumstances” (e.g., AL, 298, n. 329). There is simply no love, nor any “constructive element,” in using one’s own children as an excuse for disobeying God’s Commandment in order to satisfy immorally one’s sexual desire. That being so, any policy of granting “pastoral” accommodations to grave sinners so that they can receive the sacraments, is not of the “authentic magisterium” but rather an underhanded attack on God’s moral law, especially as it pertains to the family. It really is that black and white.

The claim of certain bishops is manifestly untrue, then, that admitting persistently grave sinners to the sacraments is merely a “pastoral application” of the “balm of God’s mercy” (AL, 296), and that it has no bearing whatsoever on Church doctrine. All true pastoral practice is rooted in and reflects what the Church always and truly believes. When her pastors prefer to believe what is false, their pastoral application of their beliefs will be anything but truly pastoral. Conversely, perverse pastoral practices invariably signal perverse beliefs. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with AL, chapter 8, and with those who are hell-bent on implementing it.

  1. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1749-1756.
  2. See Veritatis Splendor, 78-79.
  3. One might also argue that the Church’s teaching on the priority of the objective over the subjective sources of morality derives from the absolute character of the divine moral precepts, and hence from divine law.
  4. His action would seem to contradict the problematic approach he purportedly favors in AL, 3.
  5. See, for example, “Here’s How Pope Francis Elevated Communion for Adulterers to ‘Authentic Magisterium,’” LifeSite News (December 4, 2017). Available at
  6. This principle lacks all credibility. The values that the Commandments (particularly as interpreted by Christ) were established to uphold–reverence toward the Creator and toward one’s parents, the inviolability of human life, of marriage, and of a person’s good name, and so on–are so fundamental, so intuitively grasped, and so consonant with human flourishing that only a deliberate idiot could have “great difficulty” understanding them. They all fall within the scope of the Silver and the Golden Rule (see Tobit 4:15 and Mt 7:12 respectively), which express principles of moral judgment that even young children have no problem assimilating. Their import cannot but resonate in a sincere conscience.
  7. Here, AL could be read as implying, blasphemously, that the Sixth Commandment (and, by extension, any of the others) could become the source of sin if one were to obey it, given the moral “complexities” of one’s “concrete situation” of adultery. That would then bespeak unbelief in the one, true God, who, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge, has already determined providentially that there is no human contingency that could ever justify disobedience to what He has commanded absolutely.
  8. Here, we are confronted with another of AL’s flagrant blasphemies, namely, that God can direct the individual conscience to violate, with impunity, the very precepts that He has objectively commanded us to obey unconditionally. AL’s self-defeating subjectivism requires a self-defeating god, who can’t seem to make up his mind about what constitutes the true moral good necessary for human flourishing. Our salvation would be on very shaky ground, indeed, if the self-contradictory god proposed by AL were not itself a contradiction of who God really is, must be, and has revealed Himself to be, rather than just a fictitious requirement of AL’s moral subjectivism. AL’s congenial new god of moral flexibility is, in the end, really just the idol of self, animated by the prince of darkness—the archetype and ultimate object of self-worship. Note that the more favorable English translation of AL, 303 proposed recently by Drs. Fastiggi and Eden-Goldstein, based on the official Latin text, is rather strained, and it does not reflect the tenor of chapter 8 as a whole. In addition, it does not explain away all the other objectionable passages that we find in AL. On the other hand, the original English translation of AL, 303, even if somewhat imprecise in certain particulars, is thoroughly consistent with those other passages, bringing them to a fitting climax, as it were.
  9. I have substantiated this claim in the following articles, available at “Catholic Moral Revisionism: The Decadent Underbelly of Amoris Laetitia”; and “Amoris Laetitia: From Pastoral Absurdity to Doctrinal Destruction.”
  10. See also note 8 above.
  11. Hannah Brockhaus, “Pope Francis Demands Obedience from Priests of Nigerian Diocese,” CNA/EWTN News (June 12, 2017). Available at The subsequent quotations about this matter are taken from the same article.
Jeffrey Tranzillo About Jeffrey Tranzillo

Jeffrey Tranzillo earned his doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of America. Several of his essays have appeared in HPR and Crisis Magazine, and he posts others on his own website, He is the author of John Paul II on the Vulnerable, published by CUA Press.


  1. Avatar John Damico says:

    So who sinned this man or his parents?

    Pastoral care does follow Doctrine and it follows it in a way that will lead people closer to Christ. A personal opinion on an approach to pastoral care does not mean Doctrine is being ignored or violated except interview of certain extremist

  2. Avatar Mary Layne Simpson says:

    Sounds like spiritual enabling which only extends purgatorial suffering. The bishops are not helping us to make it to heaven to see God’s face. What is it we are working for?? To feel good about ourselves or to have our eternal reward. No one believes in efficacious suffering. The spiritual works of mercy have been shelved and replaced by the safe and easy corporal works of mercy which are easier to measure and be seen.

  3. Avatar Marie Rose says:

    Why are games with our faith taking place
    It’s very easy & necessay for Francis to be removed from Vatican already filled with evil. Either those in position want Christ or satan! Just think of damage to those who were faithful? Francis gave ticket>”who am I to judge?” We don’t judge, we must be able to discern right from wrong. Now no hell. Francis continues with ill, damaging statements. For sake of love for Jesus, remove Francis who is no Pope of Catholic Church.

  4. Avatar Glenna Bradshaw says:

    When asked in a letter to explain how there can be such a thing as objective truth, St Maximilian Kolbe simply responded, “If the whole world says that I did not write this sentence, the whole world is wrong.”
    It’s not any more “pastoral” for a spiritual leader to deny the objective truth of someone’s sin than it is for a medical doctor to misdiagnose a disease process. THAT is malpractice, whether it be physical or spiritual.

    In fact, the spiritual leader who hides behind the fig leaf of “pasrtoral” concern for the sinner is more concerned with feeling good about himself than with helping the person who has a right to expect he will be led along the path to healing & heaven. Like Flannery said about the Eucharist, “If it’s just a symbol, the hell with it,” I can say, “If this is the pastoral approach to spiritual direction, the hell with it.”

  5. I am not a Catholic but am a Christian and greatly admire the Catholic Church. The article confuses me in that it seems to suggest that the Pope and some Vatican officials knowingly and deliberately are defying the teachings of Christ to move the Church into a more liberal position with respect to sin. If this is so, then surely the Pope is corrupt and should be excomunicated. But, I do not believe this. Does the Pope not care for his own soul? Therefore perhaps he is incorrect in his judgement – he might still be wrong, but he does not believe that he is. Therefore more loving correction is needed. I find the tone of the article “dirty little secret” and some of the comments “remove Francis who is no Pope of the Catholic church” to be incredibly lacking in kindness, mercy, and plain old politeness. Remove the rhetoric and you might have a less read article, but it might display more of the mercy demanded by Christ for which I for one believe that Francis is not guilty of living.

    • Correction: “…more of the mercy demanded by Christ for which I for one believe that Francis is an heroic example of living.”

  6. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    Unfortunately, Francis is trying to redefine the meaning of ‘Mercy’ in the Catholic tradition. This was the purpose of his initial ‘Year of Mercy’ with the opening of the ‘Doors of Mercy’ etc. As with everyone who wishes to distort the meaning of something they first get you used to joining in it’s use in its original meaning, Then gradually change it’s meaning over time by using it in ways never intended and against the original meaning. He has been very clever at doing this. For example:
    o …..who am I to judge? — morphs from ‘condemn the sin but not the sinner (that’s God’s job) to let’s show ‘mercy’ by not noticing the sin or sinner but just treat the situation as a form of ‘normal’ and go on your way.
    o divorced and remarried — ‘Mercy’ was shown by granting of an annulment allowing a person to move on from what was not a ‘marriage’ in the first place — likewise morphs to let the person’s ill formed conscience guide them to a more beneficial relationship, forget that the initial marriage ever was, and engage in fornication until a death occurs. One can then forget about the old marriage and the period of fornication and get on with life (an ‘I’m happy – your happy’ solution).
    I don’t know if he is doing this intentionally or just exercising the liberal/progressive tendency to forgive all transgressions against ‘tradition’ and shower the person with gifts (in these cases spiritual) in hope that a change in activities will occur.
    In any case he is introducing Schism in the Church whether intentionally or not.