Professor Josef Seifert Now Presents Detailed Critique of Amoris Laetitia – and Calls upon Pope Francis to Rescind Its Heretical Statements
On 3 August 2016, Guiseppe Nardi, the Vatican expert of the German Internet portal Katholisches.info, was gratefully able to present Professor Josef Seifert’s important 28-page-long critique (http://www.katholisches.info/2016/08/03/freuden-betruebnisse-und-ho%ef%ac%80nungen-josef-seiferts-umfassende-analyse-zu-amoris-laetitia/) of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL). In this text, Professor Seifert, the founding rector of the International Academy of Philosophy (http://www.iap.li/) and father of six children, has stated that his previously published critique (http://www.onepeterfive.com/tears-jesus-amoris-laetitia/) had not at all been authorized by him and that it was only an earlier draft of his now-published, longer article which was first published by AEMET (http://aemaet.de/index.php/aemaet/index), a journal for philosophy and theology.
In the following report, I shall present some of the major arguments of Professor Seifert in his incisive critique and additional call for correction, which he directly addresses to Pope Francis himself. (All emphases in this report are mine).
He insists that his critique is written in a humble and loyal manner, without any attempt to “attack the pope, to damage him or to deny his lawfulness.” Seifert’s stated intention, thus, is to “support him and to assist him in his fundamental task to teach the truth.” The Austrian professor says that “some passages of AL – and especially those which should have the greatest impact – are the cause of great concern and also deep sadness”; and he mentions that some of these passages
are at least seemingly in conflict with the Word of God and the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church on the moral order, on intrinsically evil and disordered acts, on God’s Commandments and our capacity to fulfill them with the help of Grace, on the danger of eternal damnation (hell), on the indissolubility of marriage and the sacredness of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Matrimony, as well as on the sacramental discipline and pastoral care of the Church which stems from the Word of God and the 2000-year-old tradition of the Church.
Professor Seifert speaks here as philosopher and as a Catholic and he urges all Catholics “to plea with the pope with the fire of love for God, and for immortal souls, to clarify some passages of AL and to correct others.” He insists that “papal statements which – at least in its formulations – are or only seem to be wrong and contrary to the Church’s teaching demand in the same urgent manner a correction.” He also reminds the reader of the “primacy of truth” which even urged Saint Paul to publicly rebuke and criticize the first pope, Saint Peter. Seifert concentrates in his critique mostly on passages in the eighth chapter of Amoris Laetitia. For example, he says:
Some formulations of AL which seem to be dangerously ambiguous cry for clarification; others – and here I go a step further than Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his noble open letter to the pope – I consider to be wrong and I believe that they should be rescinded by the Holy Father himself.
Seifert proceeds to analyze the major question that flows out of Amoris Laetitia, namely: who are these “couples in irregular situations” whom AL wishes to admit to the Sacraments, as is proposed by footnote 351? He then presents four different answers that are proposed to this question: 1. No couples in “irregular situations” (adulterers, promiscuous or homosexual couples); 2. All “irregular couples” (divorced, adulterers, lesbian and homosexual couples); 3. A few (or many) “irregular couples” who live in objectively sinful situations – but only after an examination of conscience (with the help of a priest or alone); 4. Only those who have entered a “Marriage of Conscience,” since they are not able to receive a declaration of nullity of their first marriage, but believe in their heart to have grounds for such a declaration.
Without now presenting Professor Seifert’s detailed discussion of each of these four possible answers, I shall in the following report present some statements he makes along the way of his discernment. To sum up his conclusion ahead of the details: Seifert himself declares that Pope Francis did intend “to change something of the sacramental order – which is a logical conclusion of the fact that footnote 351 admits some couples to the reception of the Sacraments who, up to now, had been absolutely excluded from the reception of the Sacraments.” With it, Seifert explicitly rejects statements from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Archbishop Charles Chaput on that matter. He does, however, agree with some of these authors in saying that, since the matter at stake pertains to the 2000-year-old traditional teaching of the Church, as well as it directly stems from the Word of God, it cannot be changed, even though the erroneous statements in AL still will have grave consequences. He says: “Indeed, for a couples of reasons, AL has not changed anything of the Church’s sacramental discipline.” It is about a “unchangeable truth rooted in Revelation” and established in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the Code of Canon Law.
As to the second possibility, namely that all couples in irregular situations are now admitted to the Sacraments, Professor Seifert quotes several sources who defend this thesis, namely: Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., the Philippine Bishop’s Conference, Archbishop Blaise Cupich, as well as, similarly, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, among others. Seifert calls this position “the radical, contrary and absolute opposite of the traditional teaching.” He says:
If instead of none, all adulterous, homosexual, lesbian and promiscuous couples are now invited to the Sacraments, there are truly no more limits – as Father Spadaro assures us. Why not give the Sacraments to couples – nurses and physicians – who, through abortion or through their assistance in it, have been automatically excommunicated?
In Seifert’s eyes, if one were to follow this path “one would desecrate the Holy Temple of God, yes, turn it into a satanic temple and turn it into a frightening place for any possible Eucharistic sacrilege and blasphemy.” While stating that such an interpretation “is a false interpretation and a total inversion of the sense of AL,” the professor says that – since such an interpretation has now been presented by bishops’ conferences and personalities such as Father Spadaro – “a very clear and quick papal declaration that such an interpretation of the words of AL is a radical misinterpretation, is urgently necessary and highly urgent – if one wants to avoid the total chaos.”
Professor Seifert, in quoting AL 297 shows that the text itself seems to indicate that ALL couples have to be “integrated” and that “no one may be condemned forever – that is not the logic of the Gospels!” He insists upon the call for clarification and claims that
This silence of Pope Francis strengthens the wrong and scandalous second interpretation […] especially if one considers that it is not at all Pope Francis’ general tendency to let things go without public corrections. For example, the pope recently corrected – immediately and publicly – the impression created in the minds of many that Cardinal [Robert] Sarah’s simple invitation, motivated by noble liturgical considerations, that priests […] may more often celebrate the Holy Mass toward the East (versus Deum), announced a change of Paul VI’s liturgical norms according to which the Holy Mass normally should be celebrated versus Populum.
Seifert concludes that this immediate critical and public reaction of Pope Francis – which Seifert himself regrets –
makes the world even more believe that the silence of the pope is a papal consent concerning the scandalous second interpretation of the “couples in irregular situations” (who objectively live in the state of grave sin) and who now shall all be admitted to the Sacraments without distinction.
The same applies, according to Seifert, to the pope’s silence concerning the recent Corriere della Sera interview (http://www.onepeterfive.com/cardinal-schonborn-says-amoris-laetitia-binding-doctrine/) with Cardinal Schönborn “whom the pope has declared to be the most competent interpreter of AL,” and who then also made “the unbelievable statement that AL has completely eliminated the distinction between regular and ‘irregular’ couples.” Additionally, the cardinal has also claimed that AL “put marriage on the same level as concubinage and adulterous and homosexual couples,” according to Seifert. Again, says Seifert: “Many have to believe that this papal silence concerning this interpretation signals a papal consent.” Another indication of this seeming papal approval can be seen in the fact that Pope Francis just recently appointed Archbishop Cupich to be member of the Papal Congregation for Bishops, a prelate “who publicly gives out the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist to politicians who have been automatically excommunicated due to their support of abortion,” and who also calls AL a radical “rule-changer.”
In the face of such grave developments, Seifert reiterates his call to all Catholics that they
urgently plead with the Holy Father, in the name of God and of those souls deceived by such scandalous interpretations of AL, that he may very soon make such a clear statement in order to avoid a spiritual catastrophe and sacrilege without limits in the Sanctuary of God and to possibly undo a total confusion among priests and faithful alike.
Seifert, in his sequential discussion of the two last possible answers to the question as to who are these couples which might now be admitted to the Sacraments, rejects both. He neither sees it fit that a single priest would become the judge as to whether a person is subjectively incapable of seeing the sin he is committing, nor does he see fit the idea that there are couples who might follow their own conscience in determining whether their first sacramental marriage was valid or not. Both cases would lead to subjectivism, public scandal and chaos. Seifert holds firmly to the Catholic teaching on the state of objective sin according to which one has to abstain from sexual relations with other persons – persons other than one’s own legitimate spouse – also for the sake of avoiding sacrilege and public scandal and confusion.
Professor Seifert is deeply concerned by the fact that AL “never, not even with one word, warns of the real danger to commit a sacrilege when adulterous, bigamous or homosexual couples receive Holy Communion.” He continues:
Why is there no mention, on 260 pages, of the words of Holy Scripture, according to which “no adulterer will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven”? In this context, why is there also no word to be found confirming what Saint Paul says, namely, that he who “eats and drinks the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily, eats and drinks his own judgment”?
The Austrian philosopher concludes with very strong words when he asks:
Would it not be merciful to remind these “irregular couples” of this truth, instead of telling them that they are “living members of the Church”? When a change of the Church’s sacramental discipline now allows that couples – who are living objectively in such a grave sin that they would have been excommunicated until recently – may receive the Sacraments, then the total silence concerning the real danger to “eat and drink one’s own judgment by an unworthy reception of the Eucharist” is not understandable. […] And when the words of Holy Scripture say that such a danger for souls exist – not to mention it with one syllable, or even to deny it straightforwardly, is to directly invite these couples which live in an objective contradiction to the Church to remain in that contradiction. And if one then additionally assures them that “nobody is condemned forever,” then this constitutes, in my eyes, not an act of mercy. What else could it be but an act of cruelty?
Professor Seifert reminds us of here also of the important truth that, if one lives in a state of mortal sin, one has cut oneself off from the Church and is, thus, not any more a living member of the Church. He adds: “If he [the sinner] does not convert, the same word of the father about the lost son applies to him: ‘Your brother was dead,’ even though the path to confession and penance will be always open for him. And for him who chooses that path, the word applies: ‘Your brother lives.’”
After the profound and important discussion of the question of the “irregular couples” with regard to the Sacraments, Professor Seifert goes on to discuss some other very troubling themes of AL. He says that he is convinced “that some statements of AL are wrong and even (in some cases) objectively heretical and that they have to be rescinded by the Holy Father himself, who is responsible before us all for the welfare of the Church and for the preservation and protection of the unmeasurable treasure of the irrevocable and infallible teaching of the Church.” Since Pope Francis has not consequently and continually, much less solemnly, presented these wrong (or even heretical) judgments, Professor Seifert himself does not consider him to be a “heretical pope” or even an illegitimate pope. He still trusts the pope when he says:
I am thus full of confidence that, as true pope and successor of Saint Peter, should Pope Francis find a contradiction between his statements and the teachings of the Church, he would immediately rescind his theses. And I hope he will do so with regard to the following cases.
In the following, Seifert specifically shows which claims of AL he considers to be problematic, or even objectively heretical. He says:
It is hard to deny that AL contains teachings or at least uses formulations which in their verbatim and obvious sense are in direct contradiction to the Gospels, to Veritatis Splendor and to the unchangeable tradition of the Church and thus do not merely need to be clarified, but, rather, to be revoked. Some passages, though in the tone similar to some of the words of the Gospels, give some of the most beautiful and merciful words of Jesus a completely different sense in detaching them from the strict admonitions of Jesus. Others seem – at least at a first glimpse – to reject some eternal and unchangeable parts of the doctrine and of the sacramental discipline of the Church. Therefore, there is in my opinion a great danger that an avalanche of very destructive consequences for the Church and for souls could be broken off because of these very sentences.
In this context, Seifert presents as an example the claim of AL, that it would be advisable for a couple of divorced and “remarried” partners to preserve sexual relations in order thus to avoid a possible infidelity on the part of one of the partners. Another example quoted is that AL indicates that a new relationship between divorced and “remarried” partners might even be willed by God “as if it ever could be the Will of God that divorced and remarried (without the Church’s declaration of nullity) continue to sin and to maintain their adulterous relationships.” Professor Seifert gives here as reference for this claim Paragraph 303 of AL. This claim – i.e., “that an adultery might be God’s Will” – “is clearly in contradiction with some Canones of the Council of Trent.”
With reference to the woman about to be stoned – to whom Jesus Christ says “I, too, do not wish to judge you” – the 71-year-old philosopher points out that Christ then added the words: “Go and sin no more!” “However,” adds Seifert, “Pope Francis as His Vicar on earth, says to the adulteress – with reference to the Synod [of Bishops on Marriage and the Family] – that she may in certain situations continue to sin and that she should not only not feel excommunicated, but, rather, regard herself as a ‘living member of the Church’ – yes, she could even perhaps recognize as God’s Will that she is sinning: [here follows quote AL 299].” It is important to note Professor Seifert’s explanation that only after the new Code of Canon Law (1983) were “remarried” divorcees not any longer excommunicated for the act of a new civil “remarriage.” In the context of this discussion – and with notable reference that even the new 1983 Code of Canon Law itself still insists that such “remarried” divorcees are “bigamous,” i.e., engaged in forms of bigamy – Seifert makes another strong comment:
If the quoted words from AL mean – as many interpreters assume – that remarried and divorced couples can know that their deed is adultery and a grave sin and yet at the same time can live in the state of Grace – then this would contradict Holy Scripture and the dogmatic teaching of the Church.
Another statement in AL which contradicts the traditional Church’s teaching is, according to Seifert, the claim that “the Divine Laws against adultery are mere ideals and aims which not everybody can fulfill.” However, the Austrian professor shows that “the Council of Trent had taught dogmatically that each Christian, with the help of Grace and of the Sacraments, receives the strength to fulfill God’s Commandments.” Thus Seifert a little bit later raises his firm objection:
By the way, it is truly impossible that the pope can teach heresies that had been condemned by the Council of Trent. However, it is nearly impossible to interpret his words in a different way; that is why I think that it is absolutely necessary to revoke these sentences of AL.
Seifert makes clear that one may never do evil that good come from it; that is to say, that a couple of divorced and “remarried” persons may not continue their sexual relation in order to avoid the danger of infidelity of one of the two partners. Thus, at the end of the discussion of this aspect, Seifert reiterates his plea to all Catholics:
I think that the whole Church should, in the name of Jesus Christ, call upon beloved Francis to revoke those false interpretations of AL and those formulations which violate the Holy Words of Christ – which will never go under – and the holy teachings and Dogmas of the Church.
In the following part of his own analysis, Professor Seifert discusses the claim of AL that “no one is condemned forever.” He points out that Jesus Christ Himself warns 24 times explicitly and personally (and that there are also to be found twice as many of these warnings altogether in the rest of the New Testament and in the Old Testament) “against the danger of eternal damnation if we remain in grave sin.” Seifert then shows the words of Pope Francis in AL 292 that “No one may be condemned forever because that is not the logic of the Gospels!” Here Seifert sees that it is “nearly unavoidable to understand this text in the sense that there is, according to him, neither hell nor the danger of eternal damnation.” In another set of strong words, Seifert concludes:
Therefore, if Pope Francis does not declare this to be a misunderstanding of AL, one can barely do otherwise than seeing in this above-quoted formulation a denial of the reality and danger of hell, as it has been proclaimed in the Gospels and in the dogmatic teaching of the Church.
Seifert repeats that there is only one interpretation of this passage of AL, namely “that this passage excludes [the possibility of] eternal damnation – which would stand in direct opposition to the Gospels and which has been rejected as heresy by different Dogmas and Canones of the Church.” After discussing the further damaging effects of this Francis claim – namely that even the Faith in God and Jesus Christ is not any more necessary for salvation – the Catholic philosopher concludes the discussion of this aspect of AL with these emphatic words:
The faithful expect that Pope Francis does not teach another Gospel than the one of Jesus Christ and that he says to us either in the clear words of Jesus Christ or in his own words that there exists the danger of eternal damnation and that it is not true that “no one is condemned forever”!
At the end of his very detailed, truthful, careful and unmistakably charitable critique, Professor Seifert discusses once more what now needs to be correctively done. He says:
In my view, it is not possible – as some excellent Cardinals and Bishops (for example Cardinals Burke and Müller) and laymen (such as Rodrigo Guerra and Rocco Buttiglione) propose – to interpret these few, but very clear words in Amoris Laetitia in harmony with the words of Christ or the teachings of the Church. But if Pope Francis does indeed give a very different meaning to the words as they seem to have and if the pope understands his Magisterium to be in accordance with tradition and the teaching of the Church – as the above-mentioned Cardinals and laymen think – then he may please say it clearly and unequivocally and reject the false formulations and the many false interpretations of AL and explain without ambiguity that these are indeed misinterpretations!
Seifert adds to these very succinct requests yet another even more stringent proposal, saying that if, however, the above-mentioned formulations and claims of AL are indeed what Pope Francis intended to write – something that Robert Spaemann saw as a breach with the Gospels, Familiaris Consortio, and Veritatis Splendor –
then we can only ask him imploringly to follow the glorious example of his predecessor, John XXII who, a day before his death, rejected and condemned with the bull Ne super his his own false teachings that the souls separated from the body (the animae separatae) in the beyond before the Last Judgment experience neither the heavenly beatitude, nor the pains of hell – a teaching that has been condemned as heresy by his successor Benedict XII in the bull Benedictus Deus […] May Pope Francis not leave it up to a successor or to a council to condemn these statements, but, rather, may he revoke them himself.
Professor Seifert additionally supports this insistent rebuke of Pope Francis at the end of his study with the question as to whether a layman may criticize a pope; and he then gives an historical overview over other examples of the Church’s history where laymen helped to fight heresies within the Church. He insists that
The pope is not infallible if he does not speak ex cathedra. Several popes (for example John XXII, Honorius I) have advocated heresies or made damaging pastoral decisions. And it is, as Saint Thomas say, our holy duty – out of love for God and neighbor and out of mercy for so many souls – to criticize our bishops and even our pope if we see them depart from the Truth or damaging the souls. This duty has been recognized by the Church since her early beginning.
Thus Seifert ends his 28-page critique of Amoris Laetitia – a critique which will have its place in future history books as one of the most powerful, differentiated and clear and stringent critiques of this papal text – with the wholehearted request that the Church of God may proclaim “joy, love and mercy in veritate.”