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Professor Josef Seifert… Amoris Laetitia’s “Immense Threat” To The Moral Teaching Of The Church

September 13, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


(Editor’s Note: In light of Professor Josef Seifert’s recent essay examining some of the dangerous logical consequences of Amoris Laetitia — an essay for which he was dismissed from his teaching position by the archbishop of Granada — Dr. Maike Hickson of reached out to the Austrian philosopher to ask him some additional questions about not just the post-synodal exhortation that has generated so much controversy, but the state of moral teaching and praxis in the Church in its wake.
(This interview was first published by on September 5 and it is reprinted here with their gracious permission. All rights reserved.
(The Wanderer is publishing this interview in two parts, in place of our usual Shepherds of the Flock, because of its importance.)

Part 1

Maike Hickson (MH): A year ago, in August of 2016 — after the publication of Amoris Laetitia — you published an essay in which you politely criticized this papal document and asked the Pope to make corrections of some wrong or even sometimes “objectively heretical statements.” What is the reason why you now once more raise your voice with a new essay on this topic of Amoris Laetitia?
Josef Seifert (JS): After publishing my article, a large number of events happened: my good friend Rocco Buttiglione and my former student Rodrigo Guerra defended Amoris Laetitia (AL) fiercely against all my objections and I wrote many e-mails and an unpublished response to them. A group of theologians and philosophers charged Pope Francis twice for a large series of heresies and other errors they attributed to AL, and they went into detail to prove the grounds for their asking Pope Francis to retract these errors. I was asked to sign their letter but did not for a variety of reasons.
The archbishop of Granada suspended me from teaching in his seminarians because of my first article. The archbishop of Vaduz, Principality Liechtenstein, congratulated me on this article and thanked me for the tremendous service to the Church he saw in it.
The four Cardinals expressed their (still unanswered) dubia. Thus, I had plenty of new reasons to think about AL and about my previous article that I had sent first as a personal (never answered or even recognized) letter to Pope Francis.
However, the immediate cause of my second article was my reading about a commission convened by Pope Francis, allegedly to revise Humanae Vitae (HV) and to adapt it to AL. Moreover, I wrote to Professor Buttiglione, a dear friend who took an extremely different view of AL from mine, that I feared that also HV and Evangelium Vitae would fall prey to the same line of thought expressed in AL.
He increased my fear and sense of alarm over this, by answering that of course to Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae the same discernment and the same principles would have to be applied that are stated in AL about marriage matters. This shook me up profoundly. (I had written many articles to defend also philosophically Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor, and the thought that all these true doctrines would be revoked, relativized, or undermined by simply applying the logic to the quoted remark of AL, troubled me deeply.)
For all these reasons, I meditated anew the same questions and thought to have found a much bigger cause of concern than the ones I had expressed in my previous article.
Thus, I decided to write a new and incomparably shorter article that was restricted just to one single affirmation in AL that I had not sufficiently considered in my first article. This single statement shocked me deeply because it seemed to prove that the changes of moral teaching in AL potentially went much, much further than anyone in the current debate (including the Pope and myself) had ever considered, all being fixated, so to speak, on the admission of unrepentant adulterers and homosexuals to the sacraments.
I had, so to speak, a vision of an immense threat hidden in this text, for the entire moral teaching of the Church. Thus, it seemed to me my strict obligation, in order to serve the Pope and the Church well, to put forward the weighty question my new article poses, without answering it, but to put it in such a clear way that the Pope and any other reader could answer it correctly themselves. I felt obliged to write this, in order to avert a moral-theological destructive atomic bomb that could make the whole moral teaching of the Church crumble. Thus, I had the intention, by posing this question with the greatest possible clarity, to provide an aid to the Magisterium of Pope Francis to prevent such a damage.
Because the logical and potential consequences of this one affirmation that I saw in my inner vision were so terrible, and because I felt it at the same time improper to charge the Pope with a grave error (which was one of my reasons to abstain from giving my signature to the formal charge of heresies of the Pope two groups of theologians had asked me to sign), and because only the Pope himself, and possibly the College of Cardinals, or a Council, could correct this statement, and avoid drawing in praxis its logical consequences, I formulated my article as one major question, and as a series of questions that follow from pure logic applied to the mentioned affirmation and question.
MH: Would you present here for our readers your main concern with Amoris Laetitia?
JS: My main concern is expounded in my second article. If our conscience can know (not only falsely opine) that God wants us to commit in a certain situation intrinsically bad, adulterous, or homosexual acts, then pure logic must draw the consequences that the same applies to contraception (HV), to abortion, and to all other acts which the Church and the divine Commandments excluded “absolutely.”
This is exactly the position and these are exactly the consequences of the so-called “purely teleological ethics” which the Jesuit theologian Josef Fuchs and many others defended years ago, before and after Humanae Vitae, and which I investigated and sought to refute in a large quantity of articles and a big unpublished German book.
Pope John Paul II condemned clearly and definitively this error of Fuchs and Co. and did so solemnly in Veritatis Splendor and in Evangelium Vitae, thus bringing clarity to the perennial moral teaching of the Gospels and of the Church. In the latter encyclical, Pope John Paul II invokes the authority of St. Peter (EV, n. 68) and declares (I believe, dogmatically) that from the first moment of conception, each child deserves the full respect of a person and hence abortion is always and intrinsically a gravely immoral act.
Thus, I felt a profound personal suffering. For my impression was that now the whole edifice of the absolute ethics (already taught before Christ by Socrates and Cicero) of the Old and New Testament and of the Church could start crumbling down by merely applying logic to this statement.
Before, in my first article, I also expressed many other concerns:
That the whole distinction by discernment between good and bad adulterers, where the former, even if unrepentant, could be admitted to the sacraments, whereas only the latter would have to be excluded, presents a wholly impossible task of discernment to a priest between good and bad grave sinners (as the Polish Bishops Conference very well stated);
The long text of AL proposes admitting couples to the sacraments, who objectively speaking live in grave sin, but does not mention with a single word the danger of blasphemy and sacrilege, against which the Apostle Paul warns us in the strongest terms, saying that we risk “eating and drinking the divine judgment upon us” if we receive Holy Communion in a state of grave sin.
AL declares that “no one (including no adulterer) will be condemned forever” which seems to deny hell and directly stands in conflict to the words of St. Paul that no unrepentant adulterer will go to heaven and thus all will be condemned forever if they do not convert.
That some Christians do not have the strength to fulfill the divine commandments (with the help of the sacraments and God’s grace), which was one of Luther’s main heresies condemned by the Council of Trent.
I still hold all of these and other concerns about AL, but I wanted a) to formulate in the second article just one point that seems to me the real “crux” of AL, and b) to put some logical questions to the Pope and other readers, of which I do not see how they could be answered in the negative. However, if they are answered affirmatively, this one assertion of AL would lead, by pure logic, to the destruction of the whole moral teaching of the Church and thus should be revoked, which I implore (conditionally) the Pope to do.
I thus conditionally pleaded with the Pope in all charity and love, if he, too, must answer the logical questions I pose with a resounding “Yes,” to revoke at least this one sentence of AL and not to make it the grounds of a moral-theological reform of the Church. For certainly, the Pope will not maintain an affirmation, if it gives rise, by his own affirmative answer to the question of my article, to the destruction of the rock of Catholic moral teaching, and of natural ethics as well (as taught by Socrates and Cicero).
MH: Do you yourself think that there is still any doubt left as to whether Pope Francis intends to allow some “remarried” divorcées access to the Sacraments? What are for you the strongest arguments for your position?
JS: No doubts about that! Also highly praised defenders of AL, such as Rocco Buttiglione, Blase Cardinal Cupich and Christoph Cardinal Schönborn see this clearly and praise AL for it. Unlike me, and many others, however, they take this admission to the sacraments of unrepentant sinners to be a fruit of mercy and of a legitimate pastoral consideration of Pope Francis.
Moreover, they believe that AL, admitting unrepentant adulterers, homosexuals, and other couples in “irregular situations” to the sacraments, does not contradict Veritatis Splendor, nor Familiaris Consortio n. 84 that excludes this by referring to the Gospel.
Their reasoning runs like this: If these couples were able to understand that what they are doing is gravely wrong, and had the strength of free will Pope John Paul II assumes, they could not be admitted to the sacraments, as the holy Pope taught. But if these sinners do not fulfill these two necessary subjective conditions of a mortal sin (and Buttiglione, with the Pope, thinks that possibly most contemporary men and women lack one or both of these conditions of mortal sin), they should be admitted to the sacraments, as Pope Francis teaches in AL.
Thus, according to this interpretation, both Popes are right and do not contradict themselves. From this you see that also these defenders of AL agree that AL in fact proposes to admit unrepentant adulterers and other sinners, after due discernment, to the sacraments. (The Philippine bishops, in their first response to AL, issued an invitation to the sacraments addressed to all such couples, without discernment and immediately. In addition, Cardinal Schönborn and Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, went as far as to say that AL eliminated any distinction between regular and irregular couples.)
Besides, the Pope’s own praise of the Buenos Aires Bishops, to the effect that their interpretation of AL, to admit unrepentant adulterers and other couples, after discernment, to the sacraments, was “the only correct reading of AL,” confirms this. The same applies to his praise of the far more liberal interpretation of AL by the bishops of Malta that is based on presuppositions of radical situation ethics.
These and many other words and acts of Pope Francis prove that your question has to be responded to affirmatively, even though Gerhard Cardinal Mueller or Msgr. Livio Melina adopted the interpretation that AL had not changed the sacramental discipline.
Yet at the same time, the Pope accepted the position of the Polish Bishops Conference and of the Alberta Bishops Conference in Canada who continue following Familiaris Consortio and refuse any change of sacramental discipline. Pope Francis accepted the Polish bishops’ unanimous rejection of changing the rules FC had expounded, by claiming (as AL itself states) that the Magisterium must not have one single teaching on such matters and could tolerate cultural and national diversity of “moral traditions.”
There is a widespread concern in the Church that this adds a historical and cultural relativism to the other problems of AL. For it certainly seems unacceptable that what in Poland constitutes a grave sin, and excludes the unrepentant sinner from Holy Communion and Confession, has neither one of these effects, when the adulterer crosses the German border and goes to Communion and Confession in Germany, one mile west of the former Polish priest, who refuses to grant him absolution and admit him to Holy Communion.

Grave Harm To Souls

MH: In your 2016 essay, you said that Amoris Laetitia could cause “an avalanche of very destructive consequences for the Church and for souls.” One year later, do you see such destructive consequences already now developing?
JS: If only one or some, let alone most, of the many couples in “irregular situations,” who now receive the sacraments commit a sacrilege and a serious sin, obviously destructive spiritual consequences of AL happen, and the words of Christ to a “vidente” (a seer) in Granada are true, according to which these “gravely erroneous teachings” (“falsisimas doctrinas”) lead many souls the way to hell.
Moreover, grave harm to souls is caused, if now some seminarians do not want to become priests, because they see themselves forced, against their conscience, to give the sacraments to remarried Catholics whose marriage has not been declared null by the Church. They are told the doors of the seminary stand wide open. If they do not want to accept this, they should leave. Thus many of the best future priests leave and will not do their wholesome work for souls.
Priests are encouraged or even commanded by their bishops to act against their own conscience, some are threatened to be dismissed from their parishes, if they follow their conscience.
Bishops oppress priests who abide by the tradition of the Church and by the teaching expressed in Familiaris Consortio by Pope John Paul II. Some priests, who live against the Church’s teachings feel encouraged to receive the sacraments and celebrate Mass, professing a lack of free will to abstain from homosexual acts or sexual relations with women. A huge confusion reigns: Many lose their faith in the Church that they experienced as the rock of truth, and now see it as a Babel of confusion, etc.
MH: In your new 2017 essay, you wonder whether Amoris Laetitia “affirm[s] clearly that these intrinsically disordered and objectively gravely sinful acts […] can be permitted, or can even objectively be commanded, by God” and you say that, if this is the case, we are facing a “moral theological atomic bomb.” Could you explain this expression?
JS: If this is truly so, what AL says in the text I analyze, that is, if God in some cases, or only one case, can want us, in our concrete situation, to commit an intrinsically wrong act, such as homosexual acts or adultery, there is no logically sound reason not to apply this to contraception, abortion, blood-revenge, lies, deceits, etc.
For you can certainly not fail to apply the same principles that hold true for one kind of intrinsically bad acts, to any intrinsically wrong acts. You may also simply deny that this act, or any human act, is intrinsically disordered and bad.
However, the whole law and the prophets, the complete moral teaching of the Church, hinges on the recognition of many such acts that must not be committed ever and nowhere. Therefore, if one draws a purely logical consequence of this affirmation of AL, this statement draws an avalanche of consequences and is a spiritual atomic bomb that destroys the marvelous edifice of the Catholic Moral Teaching (and of natural ethics).

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