by Clyde Christofferson
There are those who are so troubled by what Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia that they have issued a Correctio Filialis, a document which identifies positions which they believe are heresies. The summary of Correctio Filialis states: "[Pope Francis] has not declared these heretical positions to be definitive teachings of the Church, or stated that Catholics must believe them with the assent of faith."
So, what's the problem, if these positions stated by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia are not “definitive teachings”? If they are not definitive, then they are open to discussion, right? Is it not, then, premature to call them heresies?
Then it occurred to me what Francis is doing.
These are positions which call for the reflection of the People of God, so as to bring to bear the sensus fidelium. As he has said so many times before, he is looking for vigorous discussion. Amoris Laetitia is an opportunity for Pope Francis to provide a different kind of leadership, calling forth the Spirit from the People of God.
Indeed, is this not what Jesus was doing? Jesus preached the reign of God. From where does this God reign? From on high, through the teaching authority of the Torah as interpreted by the temple priests? Or through the hearts of the people of God, if that capacity for discernment is cultivated?
This is not what many people expect from a pope. Many people are in the habit of expecting clear and definitive guidance, and the official Church has not taught otherwise. So hearts remain unpracticed, at least as to matters about which Rome has spoken. But since Rome speaks about so much, people can be forgiven for their reliance. The implicit assumption is that the Spirit will speak authoritatively through the pope, and lazy hearts will not have to trouble themselves.
Pope Francis is taking a different tack. The presence of the Spirit in the hearts of the people is a resource of enormous consequence. Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #12) recognized this in the sensus fidelium. There is a process of "reception" for the people to weigh in on Church teachings, which are being reformulated so that they speak in the language and idiom of the present time. As Saint John XXIII said in his opening speech to the bishops assembled at Vatican II:
"[There are those] who imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church's rightful liberty were concerned. ... [But] our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators ... There was no need to call a council merely to hold discussions of that nature. What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith ... What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else."
In this light, what Pope Francis is saying in Amoris Laetitia reflects his wise discernment that truth does not spring full blown, as Athena from the head of Zeus. We are a pilgrim people whose primary task on the journey of faith is to love one another, as Jesus taught.
So, the proper question for Amoris Laetitia is, "does it help us to better love one another?" And "does it help people to move from unpracticed hearts to practiced hearts?" The reign of God which Jesus preached contemplates hearts practiced in the art of being attuned to the presence of the Spirit within. Do the positions stated in Amoris Laetitia prompt this kind of practice?
To ask whether the positions stated in Amoris Laetitia are, or are not, heretical is to ask the wrong question.