By now everyone and their sister, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, has had a chance to weigh-in on Amoris Laetitia (AL), Pope Francis the Merciful’s ponderous exhortation which may, or may not, have altered Church teaching on marriage forever; reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine with beauty and profundity; or accomplished nothing at all. Where one comes down on those options (or a plethora of others which lie somewhere between them) probably says a lot more about their religious orientation than anything else. For what it’s worth, I’m leaning toward “accomplished nothing at all,” not because I believe everything is hunky-dory in the Church (no, no, no, not that) but because Catholic doctrine on marriage, the family, and sexuality has been a mess for more than half-a-century already; AL doesn’t add to it in any significant way. What it does do, however, is bring out into the open what all of those with eyes to see already knew, namely that “individual conscience” rather than the Gospel shapes the decisions of millions of Catholics regarding remarriage, contraception, and the moral status of any number of sexual practices and proclivities. Those who already cut conservative-to-traditional, for the most part, still affirm traditional doctrine in these areas; nothing in AL will now prompt them to start divorcing en masse or approaching the sacraments unworthily. Catholics on the other end of the ideological spectrum will keep doing what they’ve always been doing, though perhaps they’ll be a tad bit bolder about it. No one, however, should even attempt to claim that AL did a single thing to relieve the great moral and doctrinal crisis afflicting the Corpus Mysticum. That’s just a bridge too far.
I see no reason to comment in-depth on AL or, for that matter, much of anything else the Holy Father in Rome has to say. When it comes specifically to the issue of marriage, his credibility was shot the second he imprudently reformed the annulment process last year. At that moment “Catholic divorce” became a sure-fire reality and all claims that the Catholic Church’s approach to broken marriages differed substantially from the Orthodox approach were rendered implausible. In fact, given the nature of Francis’s annulment reforms and the easy-going manner in which many annulments can now be attained, there is a powerful argument to be made that the Orthodox (at least in the Russian tradition) have a much more demanding process in place for marriage dissolutions. Does that make the Orthodox approach “right”? Probably not, though they deserve credit for being honest about what they are doing even if it emerged as something of a late-Byzantine historical accident. And while nobody wants to mutter this too loudly, let’s not forget that until the late 19th/early 20th Century, a number of Greek Catholic churches followed Ortho-praxis regarding second and third marriages. If Rome is serious about the Eastern Catholics reclaiming their authentic traditions, shouldn’t that be back on the table, too?
But I digress. It’s well above my paygrade to pontificate on how the Greek Catholic churches ought to handle marriages and divorces. Besides, Rome has been telling them what to do (in contradictory fashion) for decades now. Imagine, though, if the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) were to adopt contemporary Russian Orthodox practice regarding marriage dissolutions. What that would mean is that the UGCC would be more thorough about the dissolution issue than the Latins are about annulments. Would that be such a bad thing? Yes, I know many conservative and traditional Latins would scoff at that possibility just as they scoff about the idea of married Eastern clergy, but so what? If the Latin Catholic Church wishes to play coy about how they handle marriage and divorce with nary a mention of the myriad of contradictions which attend to that handling, why not let the Greek Catholics join their separated Orthodox brethren in being perfectly frank about what is going on? Just think of the ecumenical implications! (Ok, maybe there aren’t any; Greek Catholics are still “accursed Uniates” and “bandits” according to some luminaries in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches.)
With all that said, let me close by promising that I will never speak of AL on Opus Publicum ever again. I do reserve the right to make mention of it in other forums, however, should the need arise. I will leave it to those far more invested in apologizing for/damning Francis, the post-Vatican II magisterium, and the deplorable leadership in the Latin Church to unpack this-or-that murky passage in AL or project what some footnote could mean for the future of Holy Mother Church. I have popcorn to make.