The best and worst columns on Amoris Laetitia

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 15, 2016

After a week of reading commentaries on Amoris Laetitia, I’m ready to name the columns that seem to me the best and the worst of this week’s offerings:

From London and the Catholic Herald comes this somewhat lengthy but very insightful column by Father Mark Drew. He recognizes problems with the Pope’s document, not least its length. He describes the Pontiff’s goal accurately, I think, as “a corrective swing of the pendulum away from a previous, excessively moralizing and directive approach.” And since the Pope is making prudential arguments about pastoral practice, Father Drew surmises that “he would probably not be surprised if subsequent popes push the pendulum deftly in the contrary direction.”

But the greatest strength of this analysis is a more elegant explanation of what I referred to when I cited Gresham’s Law: the likelihood that the Pope’s advance may have negative implications for pastoral practice “on the ground.” As Father Drew puts it:

But there is a risk that when the authority responsible for universal teaching talks about possible exceptions in particular cases, the particular exceptions will inevitably be taken to apply more universally…
Great space is devoted to the various circumstances in which people in irregular situations might be under pressures which excuse their conduct. Very little space is given to the possibility under grace, once forgiveness is received, to change one’s life and seek to tend towards the perfection which the Lord enjoins on us: “be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Indeed, the very possibility of seeking perfection seems almost discounted.

Father Drew’s might not be the best of all the columns written about the papal document; there are many other fine pieces available. But ”The End of Catholic Guilt,” which appears today in the New York Times, must surely be the dumbest column published on the topic. Writer Timothy Egan (whose specialties are listed as “the environment, the American West, and politics”—not theology or Vatican affairs, obviously) rolls out the stale complaints of the 1970s about the Bad Old Church, opening and closing his column with citations from the late comedian George Carlin. The reader will look in vain for references to any other authority. Nor is there evidence that Egan has paid attention to Catholic writers who have reflected on the Church’s approach to human sexuality more recently, and just maybe more profoundly, than Carlin—such as, just for example, St. John Paul II.

Egan’s own description of the Catholic approach to marital love, prior to Pope Francis, has the subtlety of a sledgehammer: “Sex had one purpose: procreation, the joyless act of breeding.” He apparently believes that Pope Francis invented the phrase “irregular unions,” unaware that it has been in common use among Catholic pastors for years. But then Egan sees a great deal of novelty in Amoris Laetitia. Thus: “The new message is: Welcome, for forgiveness is at the heart of this faith.” That message is about 2,000 years old, Timothy; did you only just notice?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: presbergc3900 - Apr. 16, 2016 1:37 PM ET USA

    The confusion of the pope's document--surrounded by sound doctrine--threatens the sacramental order of the Church at its core: the Eucharist. From there, it threatens marriage, emblematic of the union between Christ and his Church; and from there, Holy Orders, encouraging priests to equate laxity with pastoral evangelizing. The pope could have been clear about worthy reception of communion. By choice, by design, he was not. Pray for him and for us.

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Apr. 16, 2016 10:19 AM ET USA

    The Egan article reads like something from The Onion.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Apr. 15, 2016 4:39 PM ET USA

    And for really good explanations based on life experience, I nominate this from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse: http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/the-latest-pope-francis-controversy-and-why-non-catholics-should-care/