Two leading Catholic philosophers have asked Pope Francis to condemn errors which may result from “the misuse of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia”.
In a 37-page letter to the Pope, John Finnis and Germain Grisez say that as a papal document Amoris Laetitia should be presumed to be “consistent” with previous Church teaching. But they argue that some passages in the document will be used to promote errors about marriage, Confession, conscience and the moral law.
Finnis and Grisez have previously collaborated on works of moral theology. Finnis is a professor of law at the universities of Oxford and Notre Dame and a fellow of the British Academy, while Grisez is emeritus professor of philosophy at Mount St Mary’s University.
Finnis and Grisez describe eight positions which are “contrary to Catholic faith”. The first, which pertains especially to the debate over Communion for the remarried, is: “A priest administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation may sometimes absolve a penitent who lacks a purpose of amendment with respect to a sin in grave matter that either pertains to his or her ongoing form of life or is habitually repetitive.”
The authors say that some people will use footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia to argue for this conclusion. They argue that “there stands a pastoral practice of the Catholic Church that has the clear marks of Tradition: a purpose of amendment has been regarded as essential for the valid reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation both throughout the Church and for a very long time.”
Finnis and Grisez add that this requirement ”is very strongly grounded in Scripture”. Moreover, since sin harms us, “Nothing and no one – not even God – can put an end to that harm unless one undoes the sinful choice by making an opposing good free choice. That is why a purpose of amendment is required for receiving forgiveness.”
Several of the propositions which Finnis and Grisez ask to be condemned relate to the human ability to follow God’s commandments. They say that some will abuse Amoris Laetitia to frame Christian ethics as an “ideal” which cannot be immediately attained, or to argue that some people are too weak to avoid grave sins. Other propositions include: that “No general moral rule is exceptionless” and that sometimes breaking a divine commandment “will be doing one’s best to respond to God.”
In asking the Pope to condemn these propositions, they refer to magisterial teaching, in particular Pope St John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor and the Council of Trent. Trent teaches: “If anyone says that the commandments of God are impossible of observance even by a person justified and established in grace: let him be anathema.” Trent opposes “that rash statement, forbidden by the fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. For God does not command the impossible, but by commanding he instructs you both to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and he gives you his aid to enable you.”
Grisez and Finnis also ask the Pope to reaffirm the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics, the indissolubility of marriage, and the reality that “many human beings will end in hell”.
They sent the letter last month. They cited the Code of Canon Law to justify making it public: “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”