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Going with the flow: Amoris Laetitia and the secular temptation

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 10, 2017

Imagine three Catholic priests, each with his own parish:

  • Father X has lost his faith. He continues serving as a pastor, going through the motions, because he’s accustomed to the work and he thinks he helps people. That is, he thinks he helps people, with his counsel and encouragement. He is diligent and conscientious, in his own peculiar way; he celebrates the sacraments because he sees that they make people feel better. His thinking is thoroughly secularized, and so is his preaching. He offers sound common-sense advice.
  • Father Y is reasonably orthodox but terribly lazy. If pressed he will affirm the faith, but he is rarely pressed. As a practical matter his understanding of the priesthood is that there will be no heavy lifting. He celebrates Mass only when required to do so, and then as quickly as possible. Confessions are rare in his parish, and counseling sessions are brief. Sometimes he feels guilty about shirking his pastoral work, but he gets over it with the help of a friend, Jack Daniels.
  • Father Z is young, energetic, and idealistic. He loves his work as a priest. He is inspired by the leadership of Pope Francis and determined to follow the Pope’s lead. He is particularly excited by Amoris Laetitia, seeing it as a wonderful opportunity to bring lapsed Catholics back to active participation in the life of the Church.

Now imagine a Catholic layman, John Doe, who was married in his youth, at a time when he wasn’t at all serious about his faith. The marriage fell apart, ending in an uncontested divorce. Eventually he met another woman, and—still being AWOL from the Church—married her in a civil ceremony. They have children, who attend the local Catholic school. Now he is rediscovering his faith. He has read about Amoris Laetitia, and wonders whether he might someday be allowed to receive Communion once again. One Saturday afternoon he decides to consult with his pastor.

Imagine how the scenario would play out, if Mr. Doe’s pastor is one of the three hypothetical priests sketched above.

  • Father X would encourage him to receive Communion. It would make him feel better, and that, to Father X, is what’s important. Remember, Father X does not believe what the Church teaches about marriage or about the Eucharist. So for him this is the only reasonable answer to Mr. Doe’s question.
  • Father Y would probably also encourage him to receive—not because he thinks that is the right answer, but because any other answer would take so long to explain. That big ballgame starts in just 20 minutes, and Father Y wants to be out of the confessional and into his easy chair before the kickoff.
  • Father Z would engage in a series of long, probing discussions with Mr. Doe, as recommended by Pope Francis. He would explore the failure of the first marriage, help John to acknowledge his failures in that union, speak about the need for commitment to his new relationship and to the children, and ultimately—am I wrong?—Father Z would encourage John Doe to receive Communion.

Is it a coincidence that the idealistic priest, inspired by Amoris Laetitia, eventually does what the faithless priest and the feckless priest would have done? There’s no question that the final result—whether it’s reached by Father X, Y, or Z, will meet with broad public approval. But should it tell us something that the lengthy, demanding, soul-searching process recommended by Amoris Laetitia seems to lead ineluctably toward the same destination that the secularized priest would have reached instinctively, and the lazy priest by default?

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.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: lak321 - Jan. 11, 2017 9:19 AM ET USA

    Why do you assume Fr Z would come to that conclusion? Many bishops have stated 'no change, so I assume many Fr Z's will do the same. They may encourage Mr. Doe to attend Mass, to make spiritual communions, to pray for his wife amd that perhaps they may be able to accept livimg together as brother and sister. This is a beautiful path with many graces. That is what I would like done unto me, rather than the easy way.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 10, 2017 12:38 PM ET USA

    Nice analysis. We need more thought experiments like these. If we can't extract any concrete examples from the Vatican, then we'll have to make up hypotheticals ourselves.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Jan. 10, 2017 12:37 PM ET USA

    I know the one and only Father Z, he lives in my town, and you have got him all wrong! I think he must have created confusion about his thinking on Amoris Laetitia by the "Cardinal Kasper Will Accompany Me" parody song he posted recently.