Steering carefully between errors of extremes

Steering carefully between errors of extremes Cardinal Marc Ouellet

The squabbles about Amoris Laetitia continue to rumble on, with Dan Hitchens, deputy editor of England’s The Catholic Herald observing from his Twitter account @ddhitchens that “Rocco Buttiglione, one of the leading critics of traditional teaching on the sacraments, has collected his articles into a book”, and directing followers to his “critique” from August 2016 of what he calls “Buttiglione’s critique”.

In fairness, Dan’s piece is worth reading, if only to wonder at how much can be misunderstood, and at the oddness of Prof. Buttiglione – a leading Italian philosopher and close collaborator with St John Paul II – being referred to simply as “the politician Rocco Buttiglione”, or to wonder why Dan was “taken aback” to find Prof. Buttiglione arguing in for a change in the Church’s pastoral discipline around the sacraments.

There’s not a hint in the article of how the July 2016 article in the Vatican’s newspaper was by no means Prof. Buttiglione’s first intervention on this subject, with his May 2016 interview, in which he discussed how Amoris was following a path mapped out by St John Paul II, going wholly unmentioned in the piece.

An interview with the philosopher-politician this month on, entitled ‘Here is the deviation on which Amoris Laetitia’s critics fall’, certainly shouldn’t be missed, given how it condenses so effectively the arguments of Prof. Buttiglione, not merely on Amoris Laetitia and its place in the Catholic Tradition, but on the nature of faithful and unfaithful disagreement.

Particularly fascinating is how he felt compelled to speak up for Amoris Laetitia in opposition to those who would seek to hijack the memory of St John Paul II, who he describes as “my life’s great friend”.

He cautions that while some have accused Pope Francis and those who recognise the development in the Church’s pastoral approach of ‘ethical subjectivism’, they have themselves fallen into an error of ethical ‘objectivism’, focusing wholly on the gravity of a sin, without considering personal culpability.

“Catholic ethics is realistic,” he says. “Realism sees both the subjective and the objective side of the action, and therefore assesses both the grave matter and the full knowledge and deliberate consent. As Dante Alighieri teaches, the opposite of an error is not the truth, but the opposite error. Truth is the narrow path between two errors of the opposite sign.”


Another eminent defence of Amoris Laetitia in recent weeks has come from the pen of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who readers may recall as Pope Benedict XVI’s legate at the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin 2012 and as someone considered as a possible successor to Benedict during the 2013 conclave.

‘Accompanying, discerning, integrating weakness’ in opens by asking whether we should be worried that “a Jesuit Pope is offering, as a pastoral approach for the whole Church, the experience of the charism of accompaniment and discernment developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises”.


Claiming that this charism is effectively implemented in the controversial eighth chapter of Amoris, he says this offers bishops a vast open field for the “pastoral conversion” Pope Francis has called for since his 2013 programmatic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (‘The Joy of the Gospel’), with these being rooted in missionary principles laid out in that exhortation and the earlier encyclical Lumen Fidei (‘The Light of Faith’), itself inherited in large part from Pope Benedict XVI.

Even taking in subjects as diverse as media attention to the synods on the family, it’s a fascinating and important article, not to mention a solidly realistic one, not least when the cardinal observes that “it is no longer adequate to just go on restating doctrine and discipline for we run the risk of widening the gap between the community of the faithful and the many families in difficulty which no longer correspond to the usual norms of conjugal and family life”.

It’s not a short read, but it’s one well worth reflecting on at length.