He tries to have it both ways…

Amoris Laetitia and Concrete Cases:
A Reply to Austen Ivereigh

One of Francis’ biggest cheerleaders on and off the internet is the British writer Dr. Austen Ivereigh. He is the author of a comprehensive biography of Jorge Bergoglio entitled, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (2014).

As a contributor to various Novus Ordo publications, the left-leaning Ivereigh occasionally writes pieces defending Francis’ more controversial moves. One such attempt was recently published at Crux:

In this piece, which is essentially a high-level critique of the dubia submitted by “Cardinal” Raymond Burke & Co., Ivereigh argues that those who criticize Francis over Amoris Laetitia are moral legalists who need to realize that there are “concrete cases” in which adultery is not really adultery. That’s right: The British Francis defender maintains that although adultery is always wrong in theory, it isn’t necessarily in practice.

We shall now proceed to dismantle Ivereigh’s sophisms to show that behind the smooth-sounding argumentation are lurking most dangerous errors that do indeed threaten to overturn the universal applicability of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14), and in fact undermine the entire moral order. We shall do this by copiously quoting snippets from his article and then adding our comments in between:

…throughout the synod church doctrine on marriage was never in question, and Amoris Laetitia is a long hymn to the beauty and necessity of a covenant of life-long fidelity.

(Austen Ivereigh, “Critics of ‘Amoris’ need to look at concrete cases”, Crux, Dec. 30, 2016)

Yes, this is called paying lipservice to the truth, as in, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Of course no Modernist “bishop” who wants to still have any sort of influence or credibility is going to say, “I question the Catholic doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage.” That’s not how Modernists operate, anyway. They are much shrewder than that, looking instead to undermine in practice what they may affirm in words. Ivereigh himself is the perfect example, who says that marriage is indissoluble but then argues that in “concrete cases” a second union may not be adulterous, which is effectively a denial of the indissolubility of marriage.

…not all divorced and remarried people can simply be regarded as adulterers, and … Amoris never issues any kind of sweeping invitation to them to receive the sacraments.

A man and a woman who engage in conjugal acts with each other despite being married to someone else, are adulterers, quite frankly. That is simply what the term “adultery” means. Whether Amoris Laetitia issues a “sweeping invitation” to public adulterers to receive the Novus Ordo sacraments is beside the point, as long as it provides even a tiny opening to do so, because that is all it takes to overturn the absolute prohibition. Besides, we know that “rare exceptions” for the few quickly turn into blanket practices for the masses.

Time and again we have seen that it does not take long for the exception to become the rule (altar girls, “Communion” in the hand, divorce, annulments, abortion, etc.). Just the fact alone that Novus Ordo annulments are handed out like candy — with the difference that candy isn’t usually free — is a perfect example of this. Everyone knows that an annulment from the Vatican II Sect is essentially a divorce Novus-Ordo-style. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the books say — what matters is what is done in practice, for that is what ultimately determines most people’s beliefs.

Let’s continue with Dr. Ivereigh:

To take an obvious example, a woman abandoned by her abusive husband who remarries to provide for her children might be in the same legal category as the philandering playboy who ditches his wife for a younger model, but no one could claim that both are in the same moral category.

Notice that Ivereigh has shrewdly muddied the issue here. He contrasts the philandering playboy — who engages in conjugal acts by definition — with the abandoned woman who “remarries” to provide for her children. But the laudable motive, “providing for one’s children”, does not in any way necessitate a conjugal act. Obviously, Ivereigh assumes that this act is practiced without mentioning it — but it is precisely this failure to mention it on which the initial (prima facie) persuasiveness of his entire illustration rests: It simply sounds better to speak of a woman who “remarries” to provide for her children than to speak of a woman who engages in habitual adultery to provide for her children. If put in such blunt terms, it is easier to see that Ivereigh’s claim that the two examples are not in the same moral category, is false.

In any case, Ivereigh here points to a difference in motive — one frivolous, the other wholesome — as the factor that supposedly makes an essential difference. But does it? No, it does not. For, while one may say that a frivolous motive certainly increases the moral evil of the act, this is only an accidental difference (difference in degree), not an essential one (difference in kind): Either way it is the sin of adultery.

Since Ivereigh conveniently fails to draw the necessary distinctions here, he can confidently assert that “no one could claim that both are in the same moral category.” However, the truth is that they are in the same essential moral category (same kind of sin: adultery), but not in the same accidental moral category (difference in circumstance or motive).

Another point must briefly be made: While it is currently fashionable to laud adulterers for their “fidelity” to each other (Francis recently did this not for adulterers but for fornicators), the truth is that it is a lot easier for a promiscuous playboy to give up his vice than it is for a “remarried” spouse to do so, because the latter has emotional and other ties that present a permanent occasion of sin. The laudable motive — providing for one’s children, rather than simply “having fun” like the playboy — does not make it easier for one to abandon adulterous relations. (We repeat here: Someone who finds himself in an adulterous union and has children from that union to care for, obviously cannot separate but must cease cojugal activity and live as brother and sister. This is a heavy cross to carry, but God’s grace is there to assist. Cf. Mt 11:30; 2 Cor 12:9.)

At no point does Amoris say – as Burke puts it – “that’s all right, go ahead, and you can live that way and still receive the Sacraments.” It says that many such cases require an individual discernment because they cannot simply be lumped together as ‘adultery.’

But what is that mystifying “individual discernment” supposed to accomplish in the end? What is there to discern, other than not being able to receive the sacraments until one has ceased and repented of all adulterous conjugal activity? As we just saw, yes, all those cases can and in fact must be lumped together as adultery because that is what they essentially are. “Discernment” can, at best, discover a difference in particular circumstances, but any such circumstances can ultimately only make an accidental difference and in no way convert adultery into marital fidelity or into “adultery lite”.

What Amoris says is that a pastor approved by his bishop should arrange for, in effect, a long retreat involving an examination of conscience, a facing-up to truth, a light-and-shadows discernment, applying the truths of Catholic doctrine on indissolubility and the Eucharist to this particular, unique, concrete situation.

And this discernment can only arrive at one particular, concrete conclusion: If the two people are not validly married to each other but at least one of them is validly married to someone else, then their conjugal acts are adulterous. No amount of smoke and mirrors on Dr. Ivereigh’s part can change that.

As Chapter 8 of Amoris constantly reiterates, this is not about admitting exceptions to absolute moral norms, nor weakening in any way the commitment to the ideal of indissolubility, but recognizing that people can grow out of their situation towards God and the Gospel, and at the same time be better integrated into the life of the Church.

Indissolubility is not a mere “ideal” for which we must strive. It is a fact that is given with any valid marriage. Perhaps Ivereigh means that marital fidelity is an ideal, but it is more than that: It is a divine commandment, not a suggestion (see Ex 20:14). Because of actual and sanctifying grace in the New Covenant, it is possible to keep this commandment perfectly:

CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

CANON XIX.-If any one saith, that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel; that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free; or, that the ten commandments nowise appertain to Christians; let him be anathema.

CANON XX.-If any one saith, that the man who is justified and how perfect soever, is not bound to observe the commandments of God and of the Church, but only to believe; as if indeed the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the commandments; let him be anathema.

CANON XXI.-If any one saith, that Christ Jesus was given of God to men, as a redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey; let him be anathema.

(Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, cc. 18-21)

God Himself is the Source of the Ten Commandments and all morality. There can never be any exceptions to the moral law, not even in “particular circumstances”, for the simple reason that God, being all-knowing, had already foreseen every possible circumstance from all eternity when He promulgated it.

Ivereigh continues:

While safeguarding the moral teachings of the Church, pastors also need to look for opportunities for them to grow in faith.

This is irrelevant and misleading, for tolerating adultery is not the way to get someone to grow in faith.

At the heart of Chapter 8 is a very old-fashioned, and Thomist, idea of conscience as a dialogue between the moral norm and the person before God.

Without checking the entire Summa Theologica now, one may be permitted to doubt that St. Thomas Aquinas taught “dialogue” had anything to do with conscience. In the words of a simple Catholic high school textbook:

Conscience … is the connecting link between law and particular acts. — It is the application of the natural [=moral] law to our thoughts, words, and deeds. It is the judgment passed by our reason on the moral worth of our actions already done, being done, or to be done in the future.

(Rev. John Laux, Catholic Morality [New York, NY: Benziger Brothers, 1934], p. 17; bold and italics removed.)

Here, too, “dialogue” does not feature very prominently.

Amoris quotes Aquinas to the effect that the more we descend into the details of situations, the more general principles will be found to be defective; the law is necessary, in other words, but not sufficient.

This is a shameless attempt, already included in Amoris Laetitia n. 304, to enlist the Angelic Doctor in the service of overthrowing and undermining Catholic morality. We need not trouble ourselves too much about the context in which St. Thomas was speaking, because he was very clear that when it comes to the precepts of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), these admit of no exceptions whatsoever:

Now the precepts of the decalogue contain the very intention of the lawgiver, who is God. For the precepts of the first table, which direct us to God, contain the very order to the common and final good, which is God; while the precepts of the second table contain the order of justice to be observed among men, that nothing undue be done to anyone, and that each one be given his due; for it is in this sense that we are to take the precepts of the decalogue. Consequently the precepts of the decalogue admit of no dispensation whatever.

(St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa TheologicaI-II, q. 100, a. 8)

In case this isn’t specific enough for some, Aquinas in another place is even more direct: “…a man ought not to commit adultery for any expediency…” (On Evil, q. 15, a. 1, ad 5), for the simple reason that the Sixth Commandment is a negative precept (“Thou shalt not…”), and “negative precepts bind always and for all times” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 33, a. 2). This, in turn, means that sins against the Sixth Commandment (or any other negative precept) “cannot become good, no matter how, or when, or where, they are done, because of their very nature they are connected with an evil end” (ibid.). In short: We are not allowed to do evil so that good may come, something St. Paul the Apostle already pointed out 2,000 years ago (cf. Rom 3:8).

Ivereigh continues with more nebulous talk:

The accompaniment that Amoris envisages is, essentially, a formation of conscience in which a person grows in prayer and faith, and the truth about their lives comes to the fore, naked before God’s judgement.

But since this truth must necessarily include the fact that this person is living in adultery, all the mumbo jumbo about “discernment”, “accompaniment”, and pastoral this or that is nothing but a red herring meant to distract from the real issue.

The law remains the law; doctrine is intact. Marriage is for life; divorce is a terrible scourge, a great wrong. But together priest and divorcé take into account attenuating factors or particular circumstances, recognizing that even in an objective situation of sin it’s possible to grow in grace and charity, with the help of the Church.

No, Dr. Ivereigh, sorry: If you’re living in adultery and have no intention to cease doing so, you cannot grow in sanctifying grace or charity because mortal sin is inherently incompatible with both. By definition, a soul which is in the state of sanctifying grace is not in mortal or original sin; a soul which is not in original or mortal sin is necessarily in the state of grace.

Pope St. Pius V condemned the following error of Baius: “Perfect and sincere charity, which is from a ‘pure heart and good conscience and a faith not feigned’ [1 Tim. 1:5], can be in catechumens as well as in penitents without the remission of sins” (condemned in Bull Ex Omnibus Afflictionibus; Denz. 1031; italics added). Moreover, the Council of Trent taught:

That, by every mortal sin, grace is lost, but not faith.

In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.

(Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, Chapter 15)

Ivereigh now gets to the pinnacle of his argument and finally lets the cat out of the bag: He explicitly claims that the abandoned woman in his example is not actually guilty of adultery:

In some cases this could include, as Amoris makes clear in the famous footnote 351, the assistance of the sacraments, which given that the law remains the law, could only ever happen if – to put it simply – the person involved is not, morally speaking, an adulterer, and there has been evidence of the grace of conversion.

The case of the abandoned woman came up frequently in the synod as an example of where the law identifying all divorced and remarried as adulterers was simply too crude to capture particular human realities, and where discernment was necessary. This was the approach agreed to by the synod, developed in Amoris, and explicitly rejected by the cardinal’s [Burke’s] supporters.

Now this is just rich: Ivereigh attempts to get around the prohibition of reception of the sacraments by public adulterers by claiming, based on his faulty argumentation above, that those who are in adulterous unions because they want their children to be supported, aren’t “really” adulterers. If we want to condense this into a handy principle, it would be this: Adultery is not adultery — or at least “guilt-free” — if you have “a really good reason” for it. At the end of the day, that is what Ivereigh is saying.

However, as we’ve seen above, adultery is an intrinsically evil act, and no circumstance can justify or excuse it: “A good motive or intention cannot make a bad action good” (Laux, Catholic Morality, p. 26). Imagine if it could — we would see evil deeds rise astronomically because all who perpetrate them would think they are doing so “for a good intention”; and, of course, when it comes to adultery through divorce and “remarriage”, virtually everyone will have a “really good reason” to present to the pastor.

The idea Ivereigh is putting forth here — that objectively sinful acts are not sinful if they are done for a laudable motive — is nothing new. It is dangerously close to “the end justifies the means” and very much resembles the thesis advanced by the twelfth-century philosopher Peter Abelard:

In ethics Abelard laid such great stress on the morality of the intention as apparently to do away with the objective distinction between good and evil acts. It is not the physical action itself, he said, nor any imaginary injury to God, that constitutes sin, but rather the psychological element in the action, the intention of sinning, which is formal contempt of God.

(The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Abelard, Peter”)

Abelardism is clearly making a comeback these days. We need but recall “Cardinal” Reinhard Marx’s ridiculous and heretical claim that God cannot be offended, only man can be.

Having made his case using all this specious argumentation, Ivereigh concludes:

Yet none of [the critics of Amoris Laetitia] have explained why this hypothetical woman should be treated as an adulterer. No one has convincingly shown how the simple application of the law is adequate and necessary in her case.

We are glad, then, to have done just that, in the lines above.

You’re welcome, Dr. Ivereigh.