The Four Cardinals and the Encyclical in the Room | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report
The essential questions remain what they have always been: "what is freedom and what is its relationship to the truth contained in God's law? what is the role of conscience in man's moral development?"
How to make sense of the current situation? There is no single answer, for the ongoing saga—encompassing Synods and stratagems, debates and dubia, Exhortations and excoriations, posturings and pontifications—is about a wide range of questions. Some of them are obvious and capture the headlines, especially: does Pope Francis want to allow those Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried access to Holy Communion, even while they continue to live as though married?
But beneath that question are other, very fundamental questions often not voiced or discussed. In the words of one pastor:
What is good and what is sin? What origin and purpose do sufferings have? What is the way to attaining true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? Lastly, what is that final, unutterable mystery which embraces our lives and from which we take our origin and towards which we tend? ... These and other questions, such as: what is freedom and what is its relationship to the truth contained in God's law? what is the role of conscience in man's moral development? how do we determine, in accordance with the truth about the good, the specific rights and duties of the human person?
That pastor was St. John Paul II, and he posed those questions in Veritatis Splendor (par 30), his great encyclical on the Church's moral theology, released in 1993. While mindful, again, of the many issues involved, I am increasingly convinced that Veritatis Splendor, nearly a quarter century old now, is the elepha—er, encyclical in the living room. Of course, it does not stand alone, since John Paul II spoke often and wrote in detail about mercy, marriage, freedom, conscience, and a host of related matters over the course of his lengthy pontificate. In fact, every single issue relating to family, marriage, divorce, Holy Communion, culpability, subjective experience, and objective truth that Pope Francis has sought to address, analyze, explore, and grapple with since he announced the Extraordinary Synod of 2014 had already been addressed, analyzed, explored, and grappled with by John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s.
Which is not to say that these pressing and often complicated matters should not be raised again or discussed further. Of course not. Rather, it is to wonder at how little attention has been paid in recent years to what John Paul II said and wrote over the course of his long and brilliant pontificate about family, marriage, divorce, Holy Communion, and all the rest.
The 2014 Extraordinary Synod and the 2015 Ordinary Synod were held in order to address, as the USCCB site states, "topics related to the family and evangelization." This was followed by the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which is (at nearly 60,000 words) the longest official papal text in history. What has been the result of all of this time, labor, discussion, and ink? Judging by events of recent weeks and months, it has been much discord, confusion, and frustration, quite a bit of it revolving around that one question: "Are divorced and civilly remarried Catholics now able to receive Holy Communion?" Prior to the current pontificate the answer was "No", as it was understood—if not always accepted or practiced—that those Catholics who had entered into a second "marriage" without addressing the validity or nullity of their first marriage were, in fact, committing adultery.
Now, in short, that clear answer has been called into question, since Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, entitled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness”) allows, as moral theologian Dr. E. Christian Brugger observed on this site earlier this year, "and seems intentionally [to allow]—for interpretations that pose serious problems for Catholic faith and practice."
Proof of the contention over the now famous chapter is easy to find.