If nothing else, the authors of the “filial correction” are guilty of bad etiquette. They’ve breached 21st-century Catholicism’s trinity of taboos: authority, heresy, and sin. Their reverence for the Holy Father is matched only by an apparent belief that doctrinal error has real implications for the fate of our immortal souls. It’s all rather unpleasantly medieval.
Yet these themes also play a major part in 20th-century English literature. Lady Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited spoke so movingly to her lover Charles Ryder about the gravity of adultery, in one of literature’s greatest break-up scenes:
Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful. Always the same, like an idiot child carefully nursed, guarded from the world. “Poor Julia,” they say, “she can’t go out. She’s got to take care of her little sin. A pity it ever lived,” they say, “but it’s so strong. Children like that always are. Julia’s so good to her little, mad sin.”
Our ancestors knew what we’ve long forgotten: sin isn’t an intellectual shuttlecock – something to bat around in the pages of magazines and university debate clubs. It can’t be rationalised or explained away.
Why? Because we don’t have to wait till Judgement Day to face the consequences of our sins. They infect our souls like a virus, and eat away at our moral courage like termites. The more we sin, the more likely we are to keep sinning.
That’s why Jesus Christ – the great physician, the carpenter’s son – gave us Holy Mother Church. She heals our souls through Reconciliation, and braces our resolve with the Eucharist. Sin is fast-acting, but so is grace. And the sacraments are its vehicles.
But to misuse the sacraments is worse than to not use them at all. St. Paul warns us that “he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself.” It’s the Church’s job to form our conscience, to teach us right from wrong.
And that’s the danger inherent in Amoris Laetitia. If the Church tells the laity that adultery might not always be that serious a sin, they won’t confess it. They certainly won’t amend their lives. If the Church then welcomes them to the altar-rail, she’s inviting them to eat and drink their own damnation.
God may forgive the faithful if they’re misled by their priests and prelates. But that stain on their souls won’t go away, as Julia Flyte reminds us. Adultery doesn’t stop being a sin just because we “draw the curtains on it.” Our conscience won’t grow stronger if we “put it to sleep with a tablet of Dial when it’s fretful.”
Sin has consequences. Waugh knew that. So do the authors of the filial correction. The question is, does the Pope?