Friday, April 15, 2016

Three More Takes on Amoris Laetitia: Danger of Continuing "Toxic Patterns of Dissemblance at Every Level of Church Life" As Poison Enters the Church's Bloodstream

Like others, I was disappointed in some aspects of Amoris Laetitia. One was its treatment of contraception. Whatever one's view of the church's virtually absolute condemnation of contraception, its repeated reaffirmation at the highest levels of church authority alongside its massive rejection by Catholic couples, many of them at great personal sacrifice "open to life," has for decades seriously undermined the credibility of church teaching, especially in regard to sexuality and marriage. The non-reception of papal teaching on contraception has introduced toxic patterns of dissemblance at every level of church life. I was astonished at the 2014 synod's perfunctory glance at the question and hoped for better from the 2015 gathering and from Pope Francis. I did not expect some definitive resolution, merely an acknowledgment of the problem that was honest and not self-satisfied and favorably disposed to renewed discussion down the road. 
What I found instead was a single passage that seems to reaffirm the condemnation at what I consider its weakest point, namely that "no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning," i.e., being open to procreation [my emphasis]. Pope Francis is surely aware of the chasm that this teaching has opened between devout Catholics, including clergy and theologians, and church authority and of its cost to the church. I can only conclude that Francis has decided not to stir any further controversy but to let the matter take its own course, even if that course risks a festering wound or tolerating a poison in the bloodstream that eventually damages the church's nervous system and brain cells. 

Sections 80 and 81 are a weird pretzel in which the pope dances in circles around conjugal acts, procreation, how children don’t come from the outside of a (hetero-normative) family, and how even couples that are childless can still be open to the "meaning" of procreation. 
This is the kind of bad poetry that elderly celibates often produce. Skip this part or risk becoming infuriated by it.  . . . 
At the conclusion of the 261-page Amoris Laetitia,  Francis says "All family life is a 'shepherding' in mercy." I think he really believes that. Sadly, he cannot bring himself to practice what he preaches. By not extending the sacrament of matrimony to all Catholics, he denies us the very compassion he extols so highly. For a man whose papacy has focused on the value of mercy, he seems content to rest on his laurels in Amoris Laetitia, saying much but changing nothing.

In fact, I think it precisely because that belief [i.e., belief in love that is the "real thing," Gospel-grounded love] shines through the text that the bad parts of Amoris Laetitia--the utter dismissal of LGBT lives and loves, particularly--stand out so clearly.  We see them so clearly because they are not part and parcel of the rest of the text, either in tone or message.  A text that is all about the individual, pastoral approach to Christianity shifts abruptly into bloodless Vatican-speak the moment LGBT questions are raised [Edit:  After posting this, I saw an article from Fr. Francis Clooney that makes the same observation].  You read along as if you are on a smooth road, and then suddenly you are jerked up violently as you run over speed bumps at full throttle.  These sections are so discordant, so tonally disjunctive from the rest of the text that they are like black splotches on a white background. 

And of course, that's precisely why, I would argue, that excluding queer human beings from the human community, as Amoris Laetitia does in arguing that our loving and committed marital relationships are not even remotely analogous to "real" relationships of "real" people responsive to God's plan, is so deeply damaging to these human beings. 

It's precisely the discordance, the total disjunction — the total exclusion of a sector of the human community from the rest of the human community — that is so deeply damaging. Over and over again throughout human history from the time the Nazis seized power in Germany and began to argue that Jews are human in a different (and lesser) way to arguments that slavery is morally wonderful because only different (and lesser) human beings are enslaved, such arguments are preludes to heinous violence. That's what they lay the foundation for: violence.

As Tony Adams so cogently points out, one cannot credibly argue that "all family life is a 'shepherding' in mercy" and then yank the concept of family from a section of the human community who are also living family in obvious, clearly discernible ways. You cannot credibly preach compassion while denying it in a very blatant way to a targeted, demeaned section of the human community.

Nor (to reflect a moment on Peter Steinfels's statements) can you credibly argue that some marriages of people incapable of procreation are morally valid, as long as those people happen to be born heterosexual and heterosexually married albeit infertile, while no marriages of any people who happen to be born homosexual are morally valid — because they are not open to procreation and cannot be open to procreation. For that matter, nor can you credibly argue that "properly" married folks (i.e., heterosexual ones) should be allowed by the magisterium to make decisions about contraceptive use on a case-by-case basis within their own marital lives, while maintaining that no homosexual marital unions can ever be morally valid because they all thwart the procreative purpose of sexuality. This argument is simply an argument for heterosexual supremacy premised on the assertion that heterosexual human beings are superior.

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