Interview of Roberto de Mattei with Fr. Claude Barthe: Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia cannot be interpreted in a traditional sense


Don-Claude-Barthe( Father Claude Barthe, theologian, author of works such as La messe, une forêt de symboles, Les romanciers et le catholicisme, and Penser l’œcuménisme autrement was one of the first in France, on April 8, to express on the blog L’Homme nouveau. We took advantage of a trip to France, to ask him some questions.

Question: Reverend Father, I address you with great interest, because in your reaction to Amoris Lætitia, you did not try, as some have initially, to read the Apostolic Exhortation in a traditional sense, and I share your interpretation.

Answer: I honestly do not see how one could interpret Chapter 8 of the Exhortation in the sense of traditional doctrine. It would do violence to the text and wouldn’t respect the intention of the compilers, who hearing well, set in place something: “It is no longer possible to say…” [see below]

Question: What is said, however, in the Exhortation isn’t so new.

Answer: Not so new, as far as a theological debate goes, you’re right .After the Council, under Paul VI and under John Paul II, the great business of antiestablishment theologians was mainly that of attacking Humanae Vitae, with books, “statements” of theologians, congresses. At the same time, Communion for the divorced and “remarried” (and also for homosexual couples and the unwed) played an advocate role; I would say it was symbolic. One should know in fact that the practice of many priests in France, Germany, Switzerland and many other places, has been to admit without problem, for a long time, the divorced and “remarried” to Communion, and to absolve them, upon request. The most famous support for this claim was given in a letter of July 1, 1993 from the bishops of the Upper Rhine, NNSS Saler, Lehmann and Kasper, entitled “Divorced and Remarried, Respect the decision of conscience.” It also contained exactly the provisions of the present Exhortation in theory – no general admission to Communion, but an exercise of discernment with a priest, as to whether the new partners “shall be authorized by their conscience to approach the Lord’s Table.” In France, the bishops (Cambrai, Nancy) published acts of Diocesan Synods in the same direction. And Cardinal Martini, Archbishop of Milan, in a speech which was a real syllabus for the pontificate, delivered October 7, 1999 before a meeting of the Synod for Europe, had mentioned the same changes in sacramental discipline.e.

In fact, in France, Belgium, Canada, and the United States, it goes even further: priests, relatively numerous, celebrate for the second union a small ceremony, not impeded by the bishops in doing so. Some bishops even positively encourage this practice, as did Bishop Armand Le Bourgeois, former Bishop of Autun, in a book: Chrétiens divorcés remarries (Desclée de Brouwer, 1990). Diocesan ordos, like that of the diocese of Auch, “frame” the ceremony: to be discreet, without the ringing of bells, no blessing of rings…

Question: Are you still of the opinion that Cardinal Kasper was a driving force?

Answer: At the beginning, yes. Described by Pope Francis, shortly after his election, as a “great theologian”, he (Kasper) laid the groundwork through an exposé which he gave during the Consistory, on February 20, 2014, which made a huge noise. But after, this affair was conducted with great skill, in three stages. Two synodal assemblies in October 2014 and October 2015, whose final reports incorporated the Kasperian “message.” Between the two (assemblies), a legislative text was published, Mitis Iudex Dominus Jesus, on September 8, 2015, the architect of which was Archbishop Pinto, dean of the Rota, simplifying the procedure for the declaration of nullity of marriage, due especially to a rapid procedure done before the bishop, (on the diocesan level) when both spouses agree to request an annulment. Some canonists even spoke, in this case, of annulment by mutual consent.

In fact, a kind of leadership core, the “Cupola of the Synod,” was formed around the influential Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod; with Archbishop Bruno Forte, archbishop of Chieti, Special Secretary, that is to say, the Number 2 of the Synod; Bishop Fabio Fabene of the Congregation for Bishops, Assistant Secretary of the Synod; Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Council for Culture, in charge of the message of the meeting; assisted notably by Bishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina; the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, director of La Civiltà Cattolica; and other people of influence, all very close to the Pope, like the Bishop of Albano, Marcello Semeraro; and Bishop Paglia, President of the Council for the Family. These were joined by Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, who had been the “project manager” for the Catechism of the Catholic Church and who played here the role of the gurantor of the text’s orthodoxy, when Cardinal Müller wouldn’t. This whole team provided considerable work to achieve the aim…

Question: Which ended up producing, after the second assembly, a text of more than 250 pages…

Answer: And even before… The key features of the text of the post-synodal exhortation were already set in September 2015 before the opening of the Second Assembly of the Synod on marriage.

Question: You speak of an achieved aim. Which exactly?

Answer: It is quite possible that, in the spirit of Pope Francis, nothing had been agreed on at the beginning, but to grant a “pastoral” and “merciful” pass. But theology being a rigorous science, it was very necessary to establish principles for the decision in conscience of persons living in public adultery to approach the Sacraments. Many passages of the Exhortation, from the beginning, lay the groundwork for the doctrinal statement which is in Chapter 8. It discusses various “situations of fragility and imperfection” and especially the divorced involved in a new union “consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self-giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins.” In this “imperfect” situation, concerning the “full ideal of marriage”, the Exhortation sets down rules for a “special discernment”. It is normally accompanied with the assistance of a priest “in the internal forum” (for the two partners in the union?) which would allow the interested parties, the establishment of a judgement of correct conscience (No. 300).

This judgment (by the priest? by the partners enlightened by the priest?), due to different conditioning, could end up in reduced or zero accountability, enabling access to the Sacraments (No. 305). By the way, it doesn’t say that this judgement is binding on other priests who would have to give the Sacraments to the interested parties. Anyway, it must be understood that the text doesn’t focus on access to the Sacraments, which is treated as a footnote, in a bit-embarrassed way, (Note 351). However, it clearly raises the theological principle, summarized in Number 301, which must be cited: “Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here, than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.”

Which can be analyzed as follows:

1) Due to concrete circumstances, persons in a state of “active” public adultery, although knowing the moral law that forbids it, are faced with a situation, in that if they leave the situation, they would commit a sin (concerning especially the children born to this union); and

2) that these persons living in “active” public adultery do not commit grave sin, in remaining there.

In fact, the negative consequences that would result from the cessation of this state of adultery (children born of the illegitimate union would suffer from the separation of their parents) are not new sins, but the indirect effects of the virtuous action, namely the cessation of the state of sin. Of course, justice must be respected: the upbringing of children from the second union would continue, but outside the state of sin.

So there is a head-on opposition to the earlier doctrine reiterated by Familiaris Consortio No. 84, by John Paul II, who stated that if serious reasons prevented the “remarried” from no longer living under the same roof, it would have to be as brother and sister. The new doctrinal proposition can be summed up as follows: in some circumstances, adultery is not a sin.

Question: Would you say that the sensus fidei is not found in it?

Answer: It does not agree with natural and Christian morality: people who know a moral law which binds sub gravi (the Divine commandment against fornication and adultery), cannot be excused from sin, and therefore cannot be said to be in a state of grace. Saint Thomas, in a question of the Summa Theologica, familiar to all moral theologians, Question 19 of Ia IIae, explains: it is the goodness of an end that our reason proposes, that makes an act of the will good, not the circumstances of the act (Article 2); and if it is true that human reason can err, and to make good an evil act (Article 5), some errors are never excusable, especially that of ignoring the fact that one cannot approach the wife of his neighbor, because this is directly taught by God’s law (Article 6). In another passage also known to moral theologians, Quodlibet IX, Question 7, Article 2, St. Thomas explains that circumstances cannot change the value of an act, but change its nature, for example, the killing or striking of an evil-doer, turned over by justice or through legitimate defense: it is not unjust violence, but a virtuous act. However, as the common Doctor said, certain actions “have a deformity which is inseparably linked to them, such as fornication, adultery, and other things like that: they can in no way become good.”

Pius XII said in a speech on April 18, 1952 that a child studying Catechism would understand these things. He condemned situation ethics [which is] not based on the universal moral laws, such as the Ten Commandments, but on “real and concrete conditions or circumstances in which one must act, and according to which the individual conscience has to judge and choose.” He reiterated that a good end can never justify evil means (Romans 3:8) and that there are situations in which man, and especially the Christian, must sacrifice everything, even his life, in order to save his soul. In the same sense, John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor affirms that circumstances or intentions, by their end, can never change an intrinsically-dishonest act into a subjectively-honest one, quoting Saint Augustine (Contra mendacium): fornication, blasphemy, etc. which even if accompanied by good intentions, are always sins.

Question: What to do then?

Answer: We cannot renege the words of Christ: “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” (Mark 10: 11-12). Professor Spæmann, a German philosopher and friend of Benedict XVI, remarked that anyone capable of thinking can see that there is a rupture. I do not think we can simply offer an interpretation of Chapter 8 of the Exhortation that would act as if nothing has changed. We should also take seriously the Pope’s speech on the plane bringing him back from Lesbos, endorsing the presentation of the text by Cardinal Schönborn. But by itself, the theological proposition made is clear. Duty to the truth requires us to say that it is not acceptable. Not any more so than tacked-on proposals such as those which maintain that the ideal of marriage is realized in de facto unions of the divorced and “remarried”, “at least in part, and by analogy.” (No. 292).
It is hoped then, in the strict sense of theological hope, that numerous pastors, bishops and cardinals, will speak clearly, for the salvation of souls.

On the other hand, one could wish, ask for, call for an authentic interpretation – in the sense of an interpretation of the deposit of (Divine) Revelation, and understood according to the natural law attached to it – by the infallible Magisterium of the Pope or the Pope and the Bishops united to him, the Magisterium which discerns and affirms that which is true, and in rejecting that which is not in the name of the Faith. It seems to me, that we enter today, 50 years after Vatican II, a new phase of the post-conciliar era. We had seen with certain passages of texts on ecumenism and religious liberty, a dam give way, which we had believed to be extremely set in place; that of ecclesial and theological Roman, Magisterial teaching. Another dam was created, to resist the tide of modernity; that of natural and Christian morality, with Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and all the documents of John Paul II on these topics. All of this has been called the “restoration” according to the words in Joseph Ratzinger’s interview on the Faith, largely constituted on those foundations laid for the defense of marriage and of the family. Everything is flowing now, as if this second dam was in the midst of giving way

Question: Some may accuse you of being overly pessimistic…

Answer: On the contrary. We are living, I think, a decisive moment in the history of the post-conciliar era. The long-term consequences of what is happening now are difficult to predict, but they will be significant. But I am certain that they will be positive, in the end. First, of course, I am sure of the Faith, because the Church has the words of eternal life. But also, speaking very-practically, because the need for a return to the Magisterium, to the Magisterium as such, will emerge more and more, in the outlooks of those who necessarily want to plan for the future. .

Translated from the French for Catholic Family News by Nelson Hertel.