Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said that parts of Amoris Laetitia “contain a real spiritual danger” and has called on all Catholics to affirm doctrines which he says the document calls into doubt.
Responding to an open letter from The Remnant newspaper, Bishop Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of Astana in Kazakhstan, said some parts of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation may cause “doctrinal confusion”. He said its words about the sacraments could lead to practice which undermines the sacraments of Confession, marriage and the Eucharist.
The Remnant describes itself as “part of the ‘loyal opposition’” and says it “defends the Pope as the legitimate successor of St Peter”.
But the newspaper has been highly critical of Pope Francis, and in an open letter to Bishop Schneider, columnist Christopher Ferrara wrote that Amoris Laetitia was a “catastrophic text” containing “destructive novelties”.
He noted that the bishop had already warned of the possible effects of Amoris Laetitia. In April, Bishop Schneider raised several concerns about the document, saying that it could be used to justify admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion.
The bishop said in April that the document failed to quote the teaching of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, which reaffirmed the Church’s traditional practice of not admitting to Communion the divorced and civilly remarried, except when they lived in “complete continence”.
Bishop Schneider wrote that, because of the way Amoris Laetitia was being interpreted, it could lead to the conclusion that: “The sixth Divine Commandment, which prohibits any sexual act that does not take place within a valid marriage, would no longer be universally valid, but would admit exceptions”.
He added: “The uncompromising words of Christ commanding men to observe the commandments of God always and in all circumstances, and even to take upon themselves considerable suffering in order to do so, in other words, to accept the Cross, would no longer be valid as absolute truth: ‘And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be cast into hell’ (Matthew 5:30).”
In his reply to Ferrara last week, Bishop Schneider praised Ferrara’s open letter as “clear and beautiful” and said he agreed with its analysis of Chapter 8. The bishop said that Amoris Laetitia contained “ambiguous expressions” which had worrying implications.
“Indeed, they contain a real spiritual danger, which will cause doctrinal confusion, a fast and easy spreading of heterodox doctrines concerning marriage and moral law, and also the adoption and consolidation of the praxis of admitting divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, a praxis which will trivialise and profane, as to say, at one blow three sacraments: the sacrament of Marriage, of Penance, and of the Most Holy Eucharist,” the bishop wrote.
He said that “all Catholics”, clergy and lay people, “should with one voice (‘una voce’) make a profession of fidelity, enunciating concretely and clearly all those Catholic truths, which are in some expressions of Amoris Laetitia undermined or ambiguously disfigured. It would be a kind of a ‘Credo’ of the people of God.” He did not clarify how this public statement should be prepared.
The bishop stressed the duty of “filial deference to the vicar of Christ”, while pointing out that not every papal statement is infallible and that Amoris Laetitia does not claim to be definitive or to change canon law.
Bishop Schneider also suggested that moral and dogmatic theologians should issue “a solid analysis of all ambiguous and objectively erroneous expressions in Amoris Laetitia”.
Bishop Schneider is the most senior churchman to have expressed such major reservations about Amoris Laetitia. His intervention follows similar criticisms by the philosopher Robert Spaemann, an associate of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Spaemann said the document contradicted the Church’s teaching on Communion, and that it would lead to “confusion” and possibly an eventual schism “at the heart of the Church”. Spaemann added: “God forbid that.”