The National Catholic Review

At a Vatican press conference to present Pope Francis’ new exhortation on the family, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said there is “an organic development of doctrine” in “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) when compared to a similar text, “Familiaris Consortio,” written by St. John Paul II after the 1980 Synod on the Family.

The archbishop of Vienna’s words are highly significant, since he is considered an authority in such matters. He is one of the theological heavyweights in the College of Cardinals, was chief editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is very close to Benedict XVI and played an important role in the 2014 and 2015 synod of bishops. For all these reasons, Francis chose him, and not Cardinal Ludwig Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to present his post-synodal exhortation on the family to the international media.

His statement on the development of doctrine came in response to a question as to whether paragraph No. 84 of “Familiaris Consortio” is still valid given that in footnote No. 351 of “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis opened the possibility that divorced and remarried Catholics could, in certain circumstances, receive the sacraments of reconciliation and Communion. St. John Paul II had ruled out such a possibility, unless the couple—who for serious reasons cannot separate—“take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”

The Austrian cardinal describes Francis’ opening as “a classic case” of “the organic development of doctrine.” He explained that here “there is not a change [of doctrine],” but there is “the organic development of doctrine,” along the lines that John Henry Newman had envisaged. He recalled that just as John Paul II had “developed doctrine” in “Familiaris Consortio,” so, too, Francis has done the same in “Amoris Laetitia.” He suggested that one might even say that this new development was in some way “implicit” in No. 84 of “Familiaris Consortio,” which looked at three different situations. In any case, the cardinal said, “There is continuity in teaching here, but there is also something really new. There’s a real development [of doctrine], not a rupture.”

Asked why Francis had inserted this significant change into a footnote (No. 351) and not into the main body of the text, the cardinal responded, “I don’t know!” He suggested, however, that the reason may have been because Francis—as he said on several occasions—thinks “it’s a trap to focus on this single issue” because one risks losing the wider vision of marriage that is being presented here. Cardinal Schönborn then expressed his own view that perhaps the time has come, 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, to look anew at “how we understand the sacramental life.”

In his presentation, the Austrian prelate expressed “personal joy” at “the language and style” used by Francis which, he said, contrasts with the usual “ecclesial discourse on marriage and the family” where there is often a tendency “to discuss these realities of life on the basis of two separate tracks, the ‘regular’ where everything is according to the rules, and ‘irregular’ situations that represent a problem.” He confessed that he found such discourse particularly difficult since he came from “a patchwork family,” and felt such talk “may cause harm and can give the sensation of exclusion.” He noted that Francis, on the other hand, reaches out to everyone, and speaks about all situations “without cataloguing them,” and “with the eyes of Jesus that exclude no one.”   

In his presentation at the press conference chaired by Federico Lombardi, S.J., the cardinal reminded reporters that Francis has described Chapters 4 and 5 “as central, not only in terms of their position but also their content,” because “we cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love.” Caridnal Schönborn recommended that everyone meditate on the fourth chapter, where Francis “speaks, with rare clarity, of the role of the passions, emotion, eros and sexuality in married and family life.” As a member of the Order of Preachers, the cardinal observed that “it is not by chance that Pope Francis reconnects here with St. Thomas Aquinas, who attributes an important role to the passions, while modern society, often puritanical, has discredited or neglected them.”  

Earlier, the Dominican cardinal said he took personal joy in the fact that “Amoris Laetitia,” written by a Jesuit pope, “is profoundly Thomistic.” In actual fact St. Thomas Aquinas is cited 19 times in the text, according to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the synod of bishops, who was also on the panel presenting the text, together with an Italian married couple, Professors Francesco Miano and Giuseppina De Simone.

At another point in his presentation, the archbishop of Vienna highlighted the fact that Francis often returns to the issue of trust in the conscience of the faithful, and said: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (No. 37). But, the cardinal said,

The great question, obviously, is this: How do we form consciences? How do we arrive at what is the key concept of this great document, the key to correctly understanding Pope Francis’ intentions: ‘personal discernment,’ especially in difficult and complex situations?

He recalled that “discernment is a central concept in Ignatian exercises” which “must help to discern the will of God in the concrete situations of life.”

He emphasized that discernment should be of help to individuals “in reaching personal maturity: not forming automatons, externally conditioned and remote-controlled, but people who have matured in their friendship with Christ.” He added that “only when this personal discernment is “mature is it also possible to arrive at ‘pastoral discernment’; which is important especially in those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us” (No. 6). He noted that “pastoral discernment” is at the heart of the eighth chapter of “Amoris Laetitia.”

Asked by a reporter what happens if a bishop is unable to make a discernment, Cardinal Schönbornexplained that “discernment by its nature involves some uncertainty; the principles are clear but, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, the deeper we go the more difficult it is to discern.” He predicted that bishops and priests will have a lot of work to do as a result of this papal exhortation.

Take a deeper look at “Amoris Laetitia.”

Show Comments (12)

Comments (hide)

Thomas Piatak | 4/9/2016 - 11:19am

Cardinal Newman made clear that the development of doctrine could never involve its negation. The Church's perennial teaching on communion for those who divorce and remarry, grounded in the clear and unambiguous words of Jesus Christ, cannot be changed by an ambiguous footnote.

Thomas Piatak | 4/9/2016 - 9:24am

I would like Cardinal Schonborn to explain why any Catholic should give any more deference to Amoris Laetitia than Cardinal Kasper gave to Familiaris Consortio.

Carlos Orozco | 4/10/2016 - 10:59am

How does one write "Ouch!" in German?

Bill Mazzella | 4/8/2016 - 6:24pm

Great document which gets to the Spirit of the Gospel. So important is the reference to the Samaritan Woman at the Well. This is a story that dogmatists shun like the plague. They cannot handle it. Yet Jesus not only engages it He asks her for a drink. Jews weren't supposed to speak to Samaritans. Men weren't permitted to address women without their husbands present. And rabbis had no business speaking to women such as this one. Jesus was willing to toss out the rules, but our woman at the well wasn't. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman," she reminded him. "How can you ask me for a drink?" (John 4:9).

So Jesus asks her for a drink. What an inversion! Mercy reaching out to the oppressed. The fountain of life offering life to one who is seeking life.

It is a profound story and lesson. Its day has come.

William Rydberg | 4/8/2016 - 2:00pm

Look, I'm no Cardinal, and I'm only a working class man... But,

It's all fine and good to quote that great Catholic Saint St Thomas Aquinas O.P., but wasn't he against the Immaculate Conception? He was indubitably blessed by the Blessed Trinity, but right on everything?

Just sayin...

Blessed John Duns Scotus O.F.M., Doctor Subtilis, pray for us!

Pax et Bonum...

Allen 2Saint | 4/9/2016 - 9:22am

Aquinas was a doctor of the church. There is no orthodoxy test when we look at the contributions of doctors of the church. We take the good they gave us and we do not dwell on the disagreements. That's what building a tradition is.

William Rydberg | 4/9/2016 - 1:28pm

Catholics are not automatons and just because a particular Saint may be declared a Doctor of the Church because of a particular important contribution on a particular area of the Faith, this does not mean that any non dogmatic comment they may have made over the course of their Lifetime is "Tradition", the equivalent of holy writ. Things don't work that way in yhe Catholic Church. All Innovations must be discerned, Scripture insists, nay demands Discernment. Furthermore, keep in mind that What is being discussed today, was not contemplated in non dogmatic statements made by St Thomas Aquinas (7 Centuries ago) about Conscience. Discernment is the authentic Tradition. Be careful when people try to use non-dogmatic quotes from Saints. Issues like these demand subtle reasoning undertaken away from the pressue cooker of a snap Synod with commentary largely sourced from the New York Times.

Let us be prudent and lets take all the time needed to ensure that important subject such as Conscience is studied and discerned.

Just in my opinion..

in Christ,.

Allen 2Saint | 4/9/2016 - 6:45pm

Please stop. YOUR original objection was about how orthodox or not Aquinas is, not about all this other stuff. And are you "warning" me about something in a Papal Exhortation? Who are you to warn anyone about that? The Pope's speaking, which he has all the authority to do, and I am listening, as all loyal Catholics should be. if that ain't you, then you need to stake stock.

William Rydberg | 4/10/2016 - 6:31am

You may not be a coreligionist, so I apologize in advance if this statement might appear forthright... But I strongly suggest that you re-read because the conclusions you make are not what I said. Furthermore, A Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation was not in the same category as an ex-Cathedra dogmatic "infallible" Statement last time I checked. The Conscience issue is not closed by any stretch in my opinion. Prayerful Discernment and discussion It's the Catholic Tradition and a responsibility of each and every Catholic. We owe this Religious duty to the Pope as Vicar of Christ and to the Blessed Trinity. We are not automatons, such is the gracious dignity of being created in God's image with a rational soul...

Just the opinion of a working-class Catholic, Nuff said,

in Christ,

Peace and all good things...

Sandi Sinor | 4/11/2016 - 1:07pm

You know, William, your habit of saying that someone with whom you don't agree "may not be a co-religionist" is getting old, very very old. It's a passive agressive ploy to cover the fact that you have trouble with Catholics who don't make all of the same judgments as you do.

The Catholics with whom you disagree are, in fact,."real",honest to goodness Catholics, often very well educated in Catholic teachings, perhaps more well educated than you are (such as the Jesuits and theologians with whom you disagree as well as many of the laity who comment here), who are also every bit as "faithful" Catholics as you are. From the very beginning, Jesus' followers have disagreed about some things and that continue to this day and will continue during the rest of human history, assuming the Catholic church survives until the end.

It's well past time to drop that particular ploy, along with the false humility of being just a simple, working class man. You apologize for being "forthright" so I will be equally forthright with you The "co-religionist" ploy is not only past it's sell-by date, it's borderline offensive, which has been pointed out before.

It's fascinating that you are justifying closing your mind to Francis, though, and even to Aquinas, the man responsible for a number of questionable teachings. I'm with you there, but I suspect we would not agree on whcih ideas of Aquinas were wrong, or questionable.

But I admit it's fun to see the "obedience is all" crowd join the rest of us in the cafeteria, claiming that "it's not infallible" teaching. Well, maybe not. Very little of Catholic teaching is "infallbile", including the teachings that are among the "hot-button" issues of today. Falling back on the concepts of development of doctrine and hierarchy of truths usually help the men in charge save face when they change a teaching that they had once claimed could not be changed.

The cafeteria is the only place intelligent, educated Catholics belong, really, , so welcome to the cafeteria. At least we finally agree on something - we are not automatons. Exactly - which is the reason the church has always upheld primacy of individual conscience, even when it goes against whatever Rome might be teaching at any given moment of history.

William Rydberg | 4/11/2016 - 6:01pm