Is Amoris Laetitia Orthodox? (Guest: Dr. Eduardo Echeverria)

Since its publication six years ago, the papal encyclical Amoris Laetitia has been a source of controversy. The most disputed chapter is the infamous Chapter 8 which talks of “accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness.” Is this chapter consistent with Catholic teaching, or does is stray from orthodoxy?

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
Is Amoris Laetitia Orthodox? (Guest: Dr. Eduardo Echeverria)
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Episode Link

• “Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II” by Eduardo J. Echeverria

Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

Since this publication six years ago, the paper on encyclical, Amoris Laetitia has been a source of controversy. The most disputed chapter is the infamous chapter eight, which talks of accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness. Is this chapter consistent with Catholic teaching or does it stray from orthodoxy? That’s the topic we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host and the editor in chief of Crisis Magazine. Just want to encourage people to like and subscribe to this episode, to this channel. Let other people know about however you can. Our guest today is Dr. Eduardo Echeverria and he’s a professor of philosophy and systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. It’s a great seminary, by the way. I’ve heard many good things about it. Lots of great people there. He had his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his STL from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas Angelicum in Rome. And he’s the author of, I got it right here, Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II. Welcome to the program.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Thank you, Eric. Always a pleasure.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, it’s great having you here. It’s great to talk about this. So I am just going to… I know we’re going to get into details here, but I’m just going to jump, put you on the spot right to beginning.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Okay.

Eric Sammons:

Is Amoris Laetitia Orthodox?

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

I would say no.

Eric Sammons:

See that’s all I wanted, right there. Now of course, we got an hour to talk about your answer.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

I would say it is the moral reasoning, the framework in which Francis sets out his… The structure of moral reasoning, I would say no, despite what he says, he repeatedly says… Well, remember he gives us three criteria. He says, “You have to read the whole encyclical.” I agree. I think for instance, the Pope and I argue that in my book in chapter four, his view of marriage is Orthodox. His view of marriage is Orthodox. There’s nothing… I don’t think any fair reading of him on that matter can criticize him. I mean, I try to show how he’s consistent with Benedict and also with John Paul II, but so my issue is not over his view of marriage and not even for that matter his view of Humanae Vitae because in the eighth chapter, he in fact affirms the core doctrine of Humanae Vitae and that is that each and every single conjugal act has to be open to life. That it’s not the marriage as a whole that has to be open to life, but each and every single act has to be open to life.

But having said that, when we get into the question of how do we deal pastorally, his understanding of pastoral reasoning and his understanding of moral reasoning that informs his view of how to be pastoral to people. That’s where, in my view, it’s not Orthodox. Despite what that the book of Pedro Gabriel, The Orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia, it’s in fact entirely concerned with the eighth chapter, because of all the chapters in that book… I used to say to people, if there was no eighth chapter, nobody would care really about Amoris Laetitia.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Because there are some nice things. There are some… His discussion about marriage and his discussions about first Corinthians 13 and all, there’s all good stuff there that one can learn. Without the eighth chapter, it wouldn’t be anything to worry about, to be honest, it’s the eighth chapter.

Eric Sammons:

And I think the eighth… One of the things that struck me, I reread the eighth chapter to get ready for this and one thing that struck me, I don’t know if I noticed it the first time was just even the title of the chapters accompanying, discerning, integrating weakness. I thought that was interesting because he used the term weakness. Now of course I’m not quite sure what the original word to use, but the English term he’s using is weakness. And of course in moral theology, there’s a big, big difference between weakness and sin-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

They’re not the same thing.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

I always say that Dante in the third volume of the divine comedy, he does not put weak people in hell, he puts unrepentant people in hell.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Right. I mean, and that’s a great point because I mean, first of all, we’re all weak.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

That’s the fall. I mean, we’re all weak.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

So I wonder, what do you say about that like just the whole idea of what is… Because it sounds like the way it’s setting it up is that if you’re not following the church’s, what he calls ideal for marriage, it sounds like it’s just a weakness. And I think that… I’m not saying he’s saying that explicitly, but it does seem that he’s suggesting that that’s simply a weakness and of course a weakness, we can all go communion for a weakness. Nobody’s going to be denied communion because they’re weak.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right. That’s the… So there you have the distinction that Gabriel emphasizes between a mortal and a venial sin.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

And so, but if you don’t mind, if I could first start… If we could first start by my saying something about that about not just weakness, but about why the chapter eight, I think sort of creates a gap between mercy and truth-

Eric Sammons:

Sure, sure.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Mercy and truth. And part of that I think has to do with the fact that the Pope tends to emphasize what he sees at the good elements, the good elements in, I don’t like the term irregular relationships. No, I would prefer to use the phrase spiritually and morally problematic relationships. I mean, it’s more of a mouthful, but it’s more accurate it seems to me. That you’re talking about problematic relationships, not just irregular ones. So in several places, for instance, in paragraph 292, he’s making a distinction between different forms of unions. There’s a obviously a question there whether you can actually speak of a homosexual union.

Okay. But in any case putting that to some forms of union, he said, radically contradict this ideal. So the ideal of marriage while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way. And he says that several times, at the beginning, in the first chapter, and then even again in paragraph 2 97 and in paragraph 78. So here’s the distinction that I draw. We used to… When we think about non-Christian religions and we say that there… The church says that there are seeds of the word there that you can find elements of truth and goodness there. Now what the church never says is that those religions in and of themselves are salvific.

It’s one thing to say that you can find elements of goodness and truth there, it’s another thing to say that those religions, somehow approximate anticipate the Christian faith and hence are salvific. Well, if you go back and you look not only, the synod and what they said, they confused, it seems to me. It’s one thing to say that even cohabiting, that you can find elements, good things in cohabiting relationships, maybe they have children and they’re trying to take care of their children and they’re being… In whatever way is good to take care of a kid. It’s one thing to say that those relationships have elements of goodness in them. It’s another thing to say that the relationship as a relationship is good and as simply as the Pope says a realization in a partial and analogous way of these… Of marriage.

And so what happens there you see is that he thinks, I might view wrongly, but he thinks that you need to approach the relationship by looking at what’s good in those relationships and seeing those relationships as somehow an anticipation of what the marital state is, you see.

And so because of that, he says at one point also in pastoral… There’s a need to identify elements that can foster evangelization in human and spiritual growth. So he’s not going to speak of these relationships as relationships being sinful, being disordered in some way, he’ll begin by looking at the… At what’s good in them, seeing them as somehow a partial or analogous realization of the moral law or… And then what happens is it seems to me, he doesn’t want… It’s all about mercy then, and it’s never about, he rejects the idea of… In fact, he explicitly says it, that attaching certain conditions to the reception of mercy, he says, because… This is at the end of the chapter. He does say that we have to show concern for the integrity of the church’s moral teaching, but he says special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of the gospel, particularly the promise of charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of God’s love.

At times, he says, we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy, this in paragraph 311, we put so many conditions on mercy that we emptied of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the gospel. And then he knows that he’s getting himself in hot water, because then he says, it is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth but first and foremost, we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice in the most radical manifestation of God’s truth. To me, like word play because he doesn’t want to attach any conditions there to the administration of mercy. So when people come to church and they’re cohabiting, even homosexuals, never mind just heterosexuals.

If you follow his strategy, you’re going to look for elements of goodness in that relationship and you’re going to offer people mercy, but you’re not going to offer them because you find those elements of goodness, you’re not going to attach any kinds of conditions. You have to change your life-

You can’t be living together, et cetera, et cetera.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. And I think this idea… What you’re saying about mercy and truth. When I saw, when I look at this, it’s almost like it’s not truth. It’s what he calls an ideal, but an ideal isn’t what the church… It’s not like married life, a man and a woman living monogamously permanently-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Well, no, [inaudible 00:12:08] No, that’s why the relationship as a relationship, the relationship as a relationship is a sinful one, right? Even if there are positive elements in that relationship, you can’t switch over and say and think of the relationship as somehow being good in itself. No more than you can think that if you find elements of Nostra Aetate from Vatican II, that says the church rejects nothing that is true and good in these religions, but it doesn’t turn it over and then say, “And those religions are in and of themselves salvific,” you see-

That they’re somehow saving. And too many… so it seems to me, rather than… I talk about that in the chapter. John Paul II had emphasized the interdependency of mercy and truth. So you truth in that sense is merciful because it, the truth shall make you free. So when someone comes, you’re a pastor, someone comes to your parish, they’re cohabiting, whether they’re heterosexuals, homosexuals, whatever, you have to lay out the conditions and those are not my conditions-

Those are the conditions of the Lord. So you have to lay out the conditions. Remember in the letter of John, in the first chapter in the ninth verse, if you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. So if you’re serious about that, you have to change your life. You can’t be cohabiting. It seems to me that… And he can’t… Yes, he’ll say at one point, if you have somebody who… Where does he say that? He’ll say at one point, if someone rejects the teachings of the church and so on, that person… Which is amusing because in paragraph 297, he says, “Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal or wants to impose something other than what the church teaches, he, or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others. This is a case of something which separates from the community.”

But then he says, “Yet, even for that person, there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings, or another way that his or her initiative together with the discernment the parish priest may suggest.”

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I feel like though that he’s not… We’re not really recognizing here the destructive power of sin.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

No.

Eric Sammons:

So if, for example, a married couple, let’s say they’re contracepting-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

Let’s say lots of things about the relationship are good.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

Maybe they’re very patient with each other. They’re very caring. They care for their kids that they have, but they’re contracepting. That in and of itself, that sinful action that is inserted into the relationship, that itself is destructive to the relationship and that’s one of the reasons why they need… You need to go to confession and then receive communion to have the grace to heal and repair that destructiveness. And obviously if that’s true of a contracepting couple, it’s true of a couple that’s not really even in a state of marriage or just in a union-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Well, and he… And as you say, rightly, he rarely talks about… At that point, in this context, he doesn’t talk, he rarely talks about sin.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah. And I think that was clear from just the whole things. He calls it weakness, and he wants to emphasize the good and that’s… I mean, I thought this… I wrote that in a lot in my book, Deadly Indifference, the idea of, it’s not that we’re saying there isn’t truth in other religions or in relationships, unions that are not marital, but like you said, that doesn’t make them-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Salvific in and of themselves.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Exactly. And frankly-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. A marriage, that’s not… I’m sorry, a union that is not… Let’s say, a homosexual union or a union between two people who are not married, that is not in a sense… I mean, the words, I’m searching the word a little bit salvific because it is marriage that bring… Is my marriage is going to be part of my salvation or against my salvation-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

And so this union, this false union actually then directs somebody away from Christ, away from salvation and so that’s never even mentioned though, it’s all about, “Well, there’s good things in there.” And it’s this understanding that having those good things will somehow lead to a better-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Well, not even… That’s true. That’s also part of the suggestion but the fact is there’s also this idea that that relationship, which is spiritually and morally problematic, is at least he says a partial and analogous way, a realization of marriage. That seems to me to be… That’s wrongheaded that approach because of course… Then again, if you’re emphasizing the good, you’re not going to attach any conditions for receiving grace, the forgiveness, penance and so on. But this… Go ahead.

Eric Sammons:

I was going to say one of the things… Just to bring that up. I feel like though this chapter really puts a lot of pressure undue pressure on pastors, because over and over again, he says, your pastor will… Can talk with you and they can make the determination. Well, we also know outside of this, that Pope Francis himself has said he’s never denied communion to anybody.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

And so the… And in the context of a pro-abortion politician, so in the context of somebody who’s a public center. And so when he’s saying it’s up to the pastors to decide-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

What to do, but he’s also saying at the same time, but by the way, “Here’s what I always do.”

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

I feel like what happens is that the pastor’s put in this awful situation in which a couple comes to him in some type of wrong union, like you said, morally problematic union and, but they want to receive communion or whatever. Well, what’s that pastor supposed to do, because he’s almost… He’s been backed into a corner where his only option is to go ahead and let him have communion, because it doesn’t seem like he’s got any way to say, “Well, no, the problem is the union itself.”

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

And they would just say, “Well, the Pope said everybody can receive communion.”

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Well, exactly. So the Pope has… As one priest friend of mine from New Jersey once said, when the Pope began washing the feet of everybody, he said, “The Pope just threw me under the bus.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Because for years, for years, I was arguing that only men-

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Males can be… Have their feet washed and now the Pope is not only washing the feet of men and women, he’s washing the feet of Muslims and Hindus and blah, blah, blah.” So a lot of priests feel thrown under the bus because… Unsupported by the pope.

Let’s go on here if you don’t mind.

Eric Sammons:

Sure.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Okay. So another thing that of course is true and that Gabriel talks about, that’s at the core of his thesis of his book, and that is the distinction between objective and subjective morality.

Okay. So obviously there is objective morality. There are some things that are right and wrong. Subjective morality has to do with the question of responsibility. What is it? Invincible ignorance and mitigating circumstances.

That’s a big… That’s for him the whole thing.

Eric Sammons:

Right. That’s a big part of his argument. Exactly.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Yeah, that’s it. So you’re under mitigating circumstances. And if you’re under mitigating circumstances, your culpability is diminish such that you can even receive communion because mitigating circumstances, if you’re not fully responsible, you may know what’s right and wrong, but the circumstances are such that they mitigate your responsibility in doing the wrong thing. And so you haven’t fully consented and all of these things. So of course… And of course, this is big for him because he says, “This is why Amoris Laetitia chapter eight is not inconsistent with Veritatis Splendor because John Paul II also makes the distinction between objective morality and also questions regarding responsibility and ignorance, invincible, invincible, ignorance, and all that. So all of that is falling-

Eric Sammons:

Just to interrupt for one second. Just to be clear for audience, an example of mitigating circumstance might be somebody who is maybe has an addiction, some type of psychological, or like some physiological. And so therefore they might know an action is wrong, right? Because of their addiction. There’s certain mitigating circumstances to whether or not that… The gravity of that sin and so-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Well, no, the sin can be grave, but whether or not you’re responsible for having-

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah, better way to put this, exactly. That’s right. [inaudible 00:21:42]

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

We can quote what Francis quotes from the catechism, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Imputability, whether we impute guilt to a person for having done the wrong thing. The fact that you… The fact that we don’t impute guilt to you doesn’t mean that you didn’t do the wrong thing. It just means that you’re not responsible for having done the wrong thing. So imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors. So to form an equitable judgment about the subject’s moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the effective immaturity force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

So Gabriel that’s… His whole argument really hinges on that distinction between objective and subjective morality, and then under subjective morality, you have these mitigating circumstances such as the catechism describes there, which mitigate, lessen your responsibility for even if what you’re doing is wrong, you may be… Your guilt, maybe we don’t impute guilt because of certain circumstances that have lessened your responsibility. Now let’s assume that that’s hunky-dory. Let’s assume that you can argue for that. I have no… John Paul argues for that, in very [inaudible 00:23:36] he, of course, doesn’t say that mitigating circumstances, which have to do with responsibility and all that, doesn’t take away from the wrongness, the wrongness of the act or what you did can be wrong-

And yet we can say, “We’re not going to impute guilt to you because there are all these circumstances that lessened your knowledge,” et cetera, et cetera. Now, what I want to do is then just focus on the specific issue where… He ignores this, it seems to me Gabriel, where the Pope says that someone rejects the moral rules. He knows what the moral rules are. He knows what the moral standard is, but he does not accept it. He’s actually… A subject may know full well the rule yet have great difficulty in understanding its inherent value. Now it seems to me, you can’t assume that this person who doesn’t accept the moral rule is somehow not responsible for having rejected it. I think the Pope… I say at one point in my book, in my chapter [inaudible 00:25:17] there’s a certain optimism in Francis’ readiness to hold individuals blameless-

Without considering the reasons why they are unwilling to address the difficulty. You’re a priest, you’re a pastor, you’re having pastoral discussion with this couple and they say to you, “We don’t agree with the church’s teaching that we should be married before we live together, before we have sex. We don’t agree with it. We find it difficult to understand why the church says that.” Is that a mitigating circumstance? I don’t think so.

Did this… Remember Gabriel spends a lot of time talking about invincible ignorance and ignorance for which you’re not responsible, but he rarely talks about vincible ignorance. That is to say an ignorance for which you are culpable. Did you do the best that you could in trying to get at this? In trying to understand? I said I actually quote Karl Rahner at one point on this. Karl Rahner says, “Conscience can easily make mistakes,” Rahner says, and it is very difficult to distinguish its voice, the real voice of conscience from the voice of precipitation, passion, convenience, or self will, or of moral primitiveness, which cannot see the finer distinctions or the more remote consequences of the act. I say Francis overlooks, all that, Gabriel overlooks all that and hence softens the responsibility an individual has to conform his conscience to the objective moral law here and now.

So I don’t think he… I don’t… Just one last thing, I say at one point and then I’m discussing this other… The guy, Coccopalmerio, who used to be the prefect of dealing with legislative text. He was just as confused in my view as Francis. There’s also no mention made of the reasoning that led them to hold these false beliefs. For example, negligent reasoning-

You’re sitting there in your office, you’re a pastor, these people come in and they tell you, “We’re contracepting, we’re living together,” et cetera, et cetera. What constitutes the mitigating circumstances? Have you asked them, “Well, why do you believe that?” Why isn’t it… Why doesn’t their position, which is a false belief, why doesn’t it reflect negligent reasoning or ideological rationalization or wishful thinking?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. The whole context remember of chapter eight is that these people are meeting with their pastor. So the idea of invincible ignorance really struggle. It struggles to grasp at because if they’re meeting with their pastor who’s telling them what the objective moral law is and I think the mitigating circumstances. So to be clear, Catholic morality always says like the three parts of a moral act or it’s the act itself, whether or not it a grave matter-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

The circumstances and then also have your intention. Yeah. Whether or not… How much you’re accepting the action-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

What the act is oriented to the… In a sense, the purpose of the act.

Eric Sammons:

Right. You will in choosing it.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right. Right. But we don’t decide the rightness of the act. We decide the rightness of the act in terms of the act itself.

Eric Sammons:

Right. So it is possible. So in order for it to be a mortal sin, the act itself does need to be grave. So if I take some post-it notes from my office, that is a sin, I shouldn’t do it, but it’s not going to rise to a level of a mortal sin. If it’s a grave matter, it’s a mortal, it can be a mortal sin. And it is true that somebody could commit and act as a grave matter and not be in a state of mortal sin-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

Because of… Say a great example. I should say terrible example, a young girl who is… Her parents forced her basically get an abortion.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

Abortion’s obviously a grave act.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right. Right. She’s not… We can’t hold her culpable for that.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Her culpability, depending on how much she went along with whatever is not… Does not… Is not necessarily at the level of a mortal sin-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

No, it’s not.

Eric Sammons:

Because of the possibility to… Her parents-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Because she may in fact have tried to do… She may have even gone to a doctor. She may have… I remember there was a television series a million years ago about a priest and was a… He supported abortion rights, you see?

And so you may even go to your priest or you may go to your pastor or you may go to your doctor, your parents, your sister and they all support you getting an abortion. And she’s like… What is she? She’s 16, let’s say. So, yeah. I mean, so we’re not going to… Those are circumstances that mitigate. So we’re not going to hold her accountable for that.

Eric Sammons:

And so-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Of course. Yeah. And so theoretically, this young girl in many situations could in fact receive communion and it would not be a sacrilegious act, because in fact, she’s not in a [inaudible 00:30:44] sin for all these various reasons. However, and so that’s what I think Gabriel is trying to do. He’s trying to say, “Okay, a comparable situation is a couple living in a…” Let’s say they’re divorced and remarried.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Civilly remarried. Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Civilly remarried, exactly. And so he’s basically trying to argue that is a comparable situation, which they’re not necessarily in a state of mortal sin because he is mitigating circumstances-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

But it seems like, first of all, I think one of the big differences I see is one’s a continuing action whereas the other one is a one time action because it’s not like the couple, maybe they did decide, “We’re not going to live… We’re going to live as brother…” Whatever and then they fall and they have relations and then they come back and say, “Now we’ll go to confession for that.”

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right. Right.

Eric Sammons:

We’re not talking about that. We’re saying, they’re just simply saying, “Our relationship, which includes the physical dimension, we’re fine with it. I mean, we’re just going to keep on being fine with it.”

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right. But he thinks… He tries to provide a justification for the habitual penitent. So he has a section of course, where he distinguishes, he says, “It’s not just that you’re looking back on what you did, but you can apply these same criteria for future-

Eric Sammons:

It’s comparable to, like for example, somebody who maybe has developed a habit of pornography.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

I think… Yes, because he… This is a more complicated discussion because it also presumes that you can actually be… Receive absolution under those circumstances, you see. But so it has sacramental significance, if you think that you can be a habitual penitent for the same sin and continue to receive communion and so on. But before we… Let’s go to… So having talked a bit about this, the distinct between subjective objective morality, the fact that mitigating circumstances, the person who’s unable or says he’s unable to recognize or accept this particular moral standard.

As you said, I mean comes to the office of the pastor. You got to get into a conversation of, is this person vincibly ignorant there? Did this person actually reason this out? What are his reasons for this? You can’t just… Just because a person says, “I’m unable to accept this or I’m unable to recognize the validity of this moral norm,” et cetera, et cetera, in and of itself that doesn’t make it… That doesn’t lessen the responsibility. I don’t see that as a mitigating circumstance. That’s why I say you have to actually then get into the reasoning that led this couple or this individual to that belief, that contraception is fine, et cetera. And of course, I don’t see how it can be mitigating if he comes to a conclusion that’s actually inconsistent with the moral truth about the conjugal life, the moral truth about marriage, all of that.

It seems to me, Gabriel does not spend time discussing getting behind the reasoning and what informs that person’s reasoning is has this person been negligent in his reasoning, I said? Is it just a case of rationalization here? There are all kinds of things that you then would have to discuss to see whether that person is really negligent, whether it’s vincible, if it’s vincible ignorance, that means that person is responsible for his ignorance.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

As I said, in Francis and even in Gabriel, there seems to be a certain optimism that somehow you are ready to hold individuals blameless without considering the reasons why they are unwilling to address the difficulty in accepting this.

Eric Sammons:

Going back to our comparison with the girl, the young girl who gets the abortion, it’d be like going to her later after the abortion, a pastor goes up to her, explains to her the reality of what abortion is and all this. And then she just says… Let’s say she’s… It’s a couple years later and she says, “I don’t really accept the church’s teaching, I want to keep on having abortions now,” and acting like there’s been no… Now we still have that mitigating circumstance. Well, no, now all of a sudden we’re in a different situation.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

We’re in a different situation.

Eric Sammons:

Right. And so the couple who met with their pastor and being explained to them, and they just basically say, “Well, we just don’t accept that.” Like you said, that’s not-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That’s not a mitigating circumstance.

Eric Sammons:

We’ve left mitigating circumstances now.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

We’ve left. We’re now in the realm of whether or not these people are responsible for the position that they take.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

And you have to… How can you not… The Pope doesn’t really attend to that, let’s put it that way.

Eric Sammons:

Right, right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Here’s another thing, if we… Francis says, “You got to read my whole book.” Okay. I agree. And then he says, “There’s a…” He’s trying to fit himself into… “There’s a hermeneutic of continuity. My position is consistent with the teaching of the church.” And then thirdly, he says, “My ethics is Thomistic.”

Okay. Now there are two reasons why his ethics is not Thomistic and they both have to do with trying to find what seems to me to be exceptions, carving out an exception so that an individual can be justified in doing something that in fact is inconsistent with the demands of the objective moral law. Here’s one thing. And remember that the Pope says that his reasoning can be applied to a variety of relationships.

Just to give you an example. I mean, I’ve never heard him say to Cardinal Cupich, “You’re wrong here.” Cupich said in an article that he… When he was asked about communion, homosexuals, and he said, “It’s a lot easier,” says Cupich, “To tell people what they are doing in black and white. The important thing in all of this is, as we move forward is to recognize that people’s lives are very complicated. There are mitigating circumstances, psychological, their own personal history, maybe even biological. It’s not a matter of detracting from what the ideal is,” he says. “Homosexual couples may be led,” he says, “Through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at this point, at this point.” And I say we have a situation ethics at work here, because he’s saying basically, and I think that’s the way to read paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia despite what others have said that the Pope is saying, it seems to me, that’s the only way to read it.

I don’t understand people who read it differently, that he says, “With certainty, you can say that this is essentially the best that I can offer right now, the best that I can offer.” This is in paragraph 303. And so it seems to me, I don’t see how it can be read in any other way. The Pope is saying that, yes, it’s mitigating circumstances and under those circumstances, you’re doing the best that you can. You’re offering the most that you can offer, but you can have the certainty that what you’re doing is in fact, the will of God, even though what you’re doing is inconsistent with the full demands of the objective moral law.

Eric Sammons:

And why is that not Thomistic?

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Well in the first place for two reasons, one is… One reason is that the Pope does not distinguish between moral absolutes, the word moral absolute doesn’t occur, universal negative precepts, Thomas says, negative precepts are exceptionalist moral norms. There can be no exceptions. There are valid, always and everywhere, but Thomas distinguishes negative moral precepts from positive precepts that have presumptive validity but for which under certain circumstances, they may not be applicable. And he gives an example of, I update that you’re going to a bachelor party with your friend and he gives you his keys and of course they’re his keys, so you… By virtue of there being his keys, you’re supposed to return them to him since they’re his property. But it turns out at the end of the evening, he’s drunk-

And you say to him, “I’m not giving you these keys because you are drunk and I don’t want you to get in an accident, kill yourself or kill somebody else.” Okay. So you can carve out, let’s say an exception there where the presumptive validity of that moral principle, “This is my property, you have to give it back to me,” the Pope does not make… He ignores the distinction between moral absolutes, thou shall not commit adultery is a moral absolute.

It’s an exceptionalist moral norms. There are no… Thomas doesn’t think that thou shall not commit adultery has presumptive moral validity, but that there are certain circumstances where it’s not applicable. There have been people in the modern era, like I remember famously situation ethics, people arguing for situation ethics and we’re trying to provide justification for this kind of stuff. So it seems to me, Francis does not attend or even mention Aquinas’s distinction between negative moral norms, which are moral absolutes that hold always and everywhere and affirmative moral norms that have a presumptive validity. They’re prima facie obligations. He doesn’t make that distinction. And so it’s clear, if you look at that dissection where he gets into a discussion about Thomas, this is…

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I remember when he starts talking about that, I was like, “That does not work.”

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

No, it doesn’t work. And yeah, it’s in paragraph 304.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Where he says it is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual action correspond to a general law rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. And then he goes on to site Thomas, but he’s siting Thomas… It would get a little bit too much in the weeds as it were. But I think the simplest thing to understand is that he ignores Thomas’s distinction between moral absolutes that are exceptionalist moral norms and the presumptive validity of some moral norms. So you presume that they’re valid-

Until you have circumstances where they’re not applicable.

It’s like… To give you an example, there are going to be circumstances under which it’s not… It’s morally permissible to allow a person to die. That’s different than positive euthanasia, which is doing something that results in the death of a person-

Or euthanasia where you fail to do something and that results in the death of a person. There are circumstances under which when you consider is the treatments overly burdensome, what are the benefits, et cetera. The church has all kinds of criteria there-

And there’s a difference between positive euthanasia in whatever form and allowing a person to die. The person has entered into the dying stage as it were.

And so the church says it’s morally permissible, not morally obligatory. You’re not obliged. You can still… If you think you… If you think taking immunotherapy or whatever, if you think you want to do that, because maybe it’ll extend your life, I don’t know, a couple of months, whatever, but the church says it’s morally permissible for you to do X.

And that’s-

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. And I think this is an important point, because over and over in this chapter, he talks about a general rule. And the way it’s talked about, it’s like, yeah, there’s this general rule, but it’s almost like every single general rule in the church-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Has an exception.

Eric Sammons:

Has an exception.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Is not necessarily applicable.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

And the clearest that that’s his intention is when he says it’s reductive simply to consider whether or not individual actions correspond to a general law or rule. So, or it seems to me, so he’s trying to carve out a space there, it seems to me, where an individual is going to be justified in receiving communion even if he’s civilly… He’s divorced and civilly remarried.

And what’s the kind of reasoning that he uses there is what I call… What others have called the lesser of two evils calculus. There’s a lesser of two evils for him. Remember he says and he quotes [inaudible 00:45:35] and he thinks that two people divorce, civilly remarried, they even have children. They can’t, given the consequences of not having sexual relations in that marriage that may ruin the relationship, I mean, et cetera, et cetera. And so he thinks that those two people can then continue to have sex because of the kind of impact it might have on the marriage and hence on the family, if they have children. And so you have to then weigh the lesser of two evils here. And so that’s-

Eric Sammons:

That just seems insane to me.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

The morally permissible choice is made under a lesser of two evils calculus. Now see here too, it’s not Thomistic.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

John Paul II’s position is Thomistic from Familiaris Consortio and paragraph 84 and so on, I say in Aquinas’s view, by contrast, this is a situation, the kind of situation I’ve just described, where this civilly divorce and civilly remarried people, they have children and the question is, what if you stop having sex and what kind of consequences is that going to have for marriage and what kind of consequences is that going to have for the children in the marriage? Will it lead to a breakdown of the marriage and what are the implication of that for the children and so on? So you have to ask yourself, “What is the lesser of two evils here?”

For Aquinas, this is a situation of perplexity for Aquinas, indeed, a moral dilemma. And it’s not a case of ignorance. And then I quote this Dominican theologian Bonino, he says, “This is not a question of a factor that limits the voluntary or the subjective capacity to decide which we ordinarily understand as a mitigating circumstance, but of a situation that limits the objective choice and that forces the person to choose between two moral evils.” See, that’s what the Pope is asking us to choose that’s why it’s a lesser of two evil calculus. The evil that seems to him to be the lesser. A person is placed in conditions such that it seems no matter what he does or abstains from doing, that he cannot avoid sin.

Now on this point St. Thomas seems rather to judge that there cannot exist such a true moral dilemma that would oblige a person to do an objective evil act or as the saying goes to choose the lesser evil or rather the dilemma exists, but it is caused by an earlier framework of sin that the person can and ought to renounce. So you got yourself into this situation. Well, Thomas says, “You have to renounce that earlier framework that got you into this situation.” Thomas denies that this individual is perplexed or in a moral dilemma because he can lay aside this… His error, since his ignorance is vincible and voluntary. See here again, we come back to that, not all ignorance is a mitigating circumstance.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Not all ignorance is invincible. Not all ignorance is such that you’re not responsible for it.

Eric Sammons:

And also seems like on the one hand, these supposed two evils, one is an objective evil, and one is a speculative evil because objectively adultery is evil. Having relations with somebody, not your spouse is evil. However, this whole idea of it might harm the… Let’s say our marriage. It might hurt our relationship, might harm the kids. It’s so speculative, because we all know, I don’t know. [inaudible 00:49:40] We all know, but a lot of us know people who have been in this situation and have heroically decided to live as brother and sister, to do whatever it takes to live the right way and it’s actually been a great blessing and graces have been bestowed upon-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

That was the pastoral guidance of John Paul II in paragraph 84 Familiaris Consortio and Francis, the only thing that Francis accepts, I said this in an article I wrote way back in 2017 on Amoris Laetitia, the only thing that Francis actually refers to when he talks about paragraph 17, sorry, when he talks about Familiaris Consortio paragraph 84 is he likes the fact that the Pope says you have to consider the specific pastoral discernment of the situation and so on and so on.

But then he consciously of course… He could have cited Familiaris Consortio 84. He could have cited the Pope’s encyclical, Reconciliation and Penance in paragraph 34, [inaudible 00:50:54] he could have cited Benedict Sacramentum Caritas paragraph 29. All of which say you have to live as brothers and sisters. Now I have… I know people… I have colleagues who say that the Pope there is actually endorsing that the most generous response is that you then live as brother and sister as if that means that you’re headed in the right direction. But I see no justification for that from paragraph 303. I say in this earlier article I wrote in 2017, it was published in Catholic World Report. Francis does not explicitly endorse what John Paul II is arguing for pastoral guidance. In fact, he avoids citing it explicitly referring only to the statement that it is crucial to the logic of pastoral care to exercise careful discernment of situations. If Pope Francis meant what John Paul II meant, then why doesn’t he say so?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Even in… Because that’s… You have people who said paragraph 303 is really saying that the most generous response is to live as brother and sister, but there’s absolutely no justification for that. Furthermore, he doesn’t… Because I say… Because he denies the legitimacy, the legitimacy of that position, because he says in footnote 329, “In such situations where for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, many people knowing and accepting the possibility of living as brothers and sisters, which the church offers them point out that if certain expressions of intimacy or lacking,” and then he wrongly quotes but he quotes it any way, [inaudible 00:52:52] paragraph 51. “It often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffer.” So here we’re back again to this lesser of two evils calculus. And then I ask is Francis suggesting here that under those circumstances, sexual intimacy is morally permissible, a subjectively good choice for the sake of maintaining a faithful invalid marriage so that the children do not suffer?

Now all of the… A lot of the Pope’s supporters, Father Spadaro and the former president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, Francesco Coccopalmerio, the Archbishop, the Argentinian Archbishop Fernandez, who’s the director of the Catholic University there. I say if the Pope Francis rejects their interpretation of Al 303 as a distortion and misreading of it, then why doesn’t he say so?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

He doesn’t say so because he does not hold there to be a yes or no to the question in the logic of pastoral mercy. And if I may just… One last thing, and this is also a crucial point. The distinction that John Paul II drew between the law of gradualness and the gradualness of law.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. It was the last thing I wanted to make sure we brought up.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Yeah. Everybody believes in the law of gradualness. Who doesn’t believe in the law of gradualness? Why do we have confession? Everybody believes in the law of gradualness, everybody… Weakness. Remember I said, Dante put… He didn’t put weak people in hell. He put unrepentant people in hell, but the gradualness of the law is something entirely different. I don’t think that Pedro Gabriel understands the gradualness of the law because the gradualness of the law has to do with where moral precepts are situation in person specific, such that their situation and person specific moral norms, which provide a justification for you to do X, even if doing X is inconsistent, contradicts the objective demands of the moral law. I think the Pope, despite his disclaimer, to the contrary, I think he inserts in his pastoral reasoning, he inserts the gradualness of the law, which again is inconsistent… It’s inconsistent with Familiaris Consortio paragraph 34.

I say that because what’s his name, Gabriel kept telling us that Amoris Laetitia is consistent with… It’s not consistent with Veritatis Splendor because it fails to recognize the distinction between moral absolute… Moral absolute, that word never occurs in the Pope’s mind-

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

In his language. To say that you have to, as he does at one point, that you have to have regard for the good of the moral law or the general rule, doesn’t tell me… What does that tell me?

So now this doesn’t mean that Amoris Laetitia has nothing to say or nothing to teach us or, I mean, again, I think the Pope’s view of marriage is consistent. He affirms the permanency, the twoness even that male and female twoness. I mean, he affirms that sexual differentiation is a fundamental prerequisite for the two to become one flesh and he has a section there on the body and the moral and sacramental significance of the body and all of that is fine, I say. No chapter eight, nobody would be-

Eric Sammons:

Right. Right. Exactly.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

I’m sorry, but no chapter eight, nobody would be discussing Amoris Laetitia.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right. Okay. I think we’re going to wrap it up here. I think we hit to the heart of the matter. Obviously it’s something we could do… You could do a college level course on.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Right. Of course, of course. We could talk about the sacraments and all.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I want to encourage people though. Your book-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

Pope Francis: Legacy of Vatican II. I will put a link to it in the show notes.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Thank you.

Eric Sammons:

It’s from Lectio Publishing. And when was… I think this was not your… I think you had multiple editions.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

I had a first… This is the second edition.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Second edition.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Just quickly in the first edition, this sounds arrogant, I tried to save Francis by connecting him to John Paul and Benedict and all that but by the time I got to working on the second edition, I thought it was unsavable.

Eric Sammons:

Right, right. You just had to be honest.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Some of my colleagues would say… But no, to me, it was just… Not that there… There are good things. I mean, where I… My most… Not only the pastoral reasoning and all that, that’s problem, also his approach to interreligious dialogue is also problematic in my view and then even his understanding of ecumenism and the way he practices is also problematic.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Absolutely. I agree with that. Yeah. Okay. Well, again, just to encourage people, Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II and like I said, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. So people-

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Thank you so much. I appreciate that, Eric. I’m glad we had this time to talk about Pedro Gabriel.

Eric Sammons:

Yes.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

His book… I know he thinks it’s… He’s shown that chapter eight is Orthodox. For all the reasons that we’ve talked about today, I don’t think it is.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Agreed. Okay. Well, thank you. I appreciate you being on the program today.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

All right. My pleasure. Thanks a lot for the invitation. I appreciate it.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. God bless you.

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria:

Take care.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, everybody, God love you.

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