A married priest responds to ‘Amoris Laetitia’: an interview Father Dwight Longenecker

Father Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest, husband and father of four who serves as pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, S.C. Raised as an evangelical Christian in Pennsylvania, Father Longenecker converted to Anglicanism while attending Bob Jones University. He later studied theology at Oxford University and became ordained as an Anglican priest. After converting to Catholicism in 1995, he spent the next 10 years writing about Catholicism, eventually being ordained a Catholic priest in December 2006 under the pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy.

Father Longenecker is a popular Catholic writer, blogger, conference speaker and retreat leader. He has written 15 books on Catholic apologetics and spirituality, including “The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty” (Thomas Nelson, 2014). A regular contributor to the National Catholic Register, he has also published hundreds of articles in Catholic periodicals around the world.

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On April 9, Father Longenecker wrote a blog entry in defense of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” on marriage and the family, noting that “real life is fuzzy, ambiguous and messy.” On April 14, I interviewed him by email about his perspective on the pope’s work.

On April 8, Pope Francis published “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), his apostolic exhortation after the recent synods on the family. As a married priest with both personal and ministerial experience of family life, what did you appreciate about this document?

In Chapter Four, I found the Holy Father’s exposition of the famous chapter on love from 1 Corinthians 13 to be very moving. I was also touched by the grandfatherly advice on love that followed toward the end of Chapter Four.

I was impressed by his awareness of the many complex challenges to marriage and family life in the modern world. He obviously listened to feedback from around the world since he highlighted the many social, moral, theological, economic and cultural influences that have led to the current crisis in the human family.

I also appreciated the Holy Father’s incorporation of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and the continuity of his teaching with Pope Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” as well as the teaching of Benedict XVI. His support of traditional marriage and condemnation of abortion was a solid reminder. It was, as it should be, a teaching document in continuity with the full teaching of the Catholic Church.

Despite the pastoral exception for former Anglican clergymen like you, married priests are very rare in the Catholic Church, particularly in the Roman Rite where the Eastern Catholic practice of married clergy below the rank of bishop is not normative. What are some things you’ve learned about love from 10 years of experience as a married Catholic priest and father of four? 

Pope Francis mentioned some of the greatest benefits of married life, that it is a school of love and, to quote Pope John Paul II, “Chastity is the work of a lifetime.” To grow in love through the ordinary practicalities and realities of life is to learn that true love wears working clothes. However, I would add that I also appreciated the Holy Father’s passage on the gift of celibacy because I believe that both the celibate life and the married life are similar inasmuch as both must be the path for the individual to learn the way of self-sacrificial love.

As an institution, marriage has undergone many trials in the past five decades since the sexual revolution, with various social and other pressures fueling the rise of breakups and divorce. As a result, many Catholics now avoid church because they live in “irregular relationships” outside the sacrament of matrimony, leaving our pews empty. How would you characterize the pope’s response in “The Joy of Love” to this difficult situation?

The pope is very realistic about why some Catholics are alienated from the church, and I understand his point. The sexual revolution, like all revolutions, has been violent and many of our people are the walking wounded. This is why I like Pope Francis’ analogy of the church to a field hospital.

However, I would not be too hasty about blaming the Catholic Church alone for the problem. Many Catholics have known church teaching and deliberately departed from it, and have no wish to be reconciled to the church. Others have known very well the marriage discipline of the church and have disobeyed what they know to be good, beautiful and true out of their own willfulness. It is disingenuous of those who have separated themselves from the church to then blame the church for their own decision and expect the church to change the rules just for them.

In your April 9 blog entry “The Pope’s Exhortation—A Parish Priest’s Perspective,” you defend “Amoris Laetitia” from certain Catholic critics—specifically “armchair experts, Facebook moral theologians and Monday morning priests”—who feel the need to preemptively correct the Holy Father about church teaching on marriage before actually reading the document. What bothers you about this response from some Catholics?

I’m afraid I have been unable to read every comment and critique of the document, but from what I can gather there are those on the progressive side of the church and the mass media who have distorted the document’s message just as there are those on the conservative side of the church and mass media who have done so.

Some progressives will read the document as condoning every abuse of Catholic Church discipline possible while some conservatives will read it and conclude in horror that it is a carte blanche for moral anarchy. In the opening section Pope Francis specifically instructs us to read the document slowly, carefully and prayerfully.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, in an article at the National Catholic Register, adds to that instruction and advises all of us that “Amoris Laetitia” must be read through the filter of the whole magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Catholic teaching holds that civilly divorced and remarried spouses cannot receive Communion unless their first marriage is annulled (and the second union recognized canonically) or they live “as brother and sister” with their new partner. But in “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis invites all Catholics to engage in a careful pastoral discernment that in footnote 351 seems to leave room for exceptions in certain cases. As a parish priest and married father of four, how might you go about this kind of discernment in your own ministry?

There has been much debate about footnote 351. Some think it leaves room for the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. I am of the opinion that it does not. The footnote talks about those in irregular relationships needing the sacraments. Indeed they do, but there are seven sacraments, not one. In certain cases the priest offers them appropriate sacraments according to their particular pilgrimage of faith. The footnote goes on to mention that the Eucharist is a “strong medicine for the weak,” and I do not disagree, but the faithful who are in irregular unions are encouraged to participate in the Eucharist by attending Mass, making a spiritual communion, and attending Eucharistic adoration. All of these are ways in which those in irregular situations may still participate in the sacramental life of the church.

When working with the divorced and remarried who wish to be full members of the church, I would therefore follow the discipline of the church, advise them to refrain from receiving Communion and accompany them as they attempt to put things right by having their previous marriages assessed by the marriage tribunal.

When they receive their decree of nullity we would then move forward to bring them to what the pope calls “fullness of communion.” I see nothing in the document which encourages me to “make an exception to the rule.”

Indeed, in his press conference on the way back from his visit to Mexico in March the Holy Father specifically addressed this issue, saying:

Integrating in the church doesn’t mean receiving Communion…. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want Communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration; all doors are open. But we cannot say from here on they can have Communion. This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration.

In your April 9 blog post, you give three case studies of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics (a man who married a fellow flower child in the 1960s before finding God; a man who married an alcoholic fellow Methodist and got a divorce before converting to Catholicism; and a woman whose husband came out as gay), pointing to the reality that some Catholics deserve annulments but cannot get them because their former spouses cannot be found or will not cooperate with the process.

In such cases where an annulment is deserved but has no realistic chance of ever happening, we seem to face the painful reality that very good and faithful Catholics who have done nothing wrong feel punished by lifelong exclusion from the sacraments. Some of these Catholics spend years of time and resources seeking an annulment they deserve but will never get in time for them to remarry. Based on your own experience, do you think it might be possible to give a dispensation for Communion in some of these cases? Why or why not?

I would sympathize with their situation, but I would not consider that I had the authority to formally admit them to Communion. From what I have read so far there is nothing in “Amoris Laetitia” which gives ordinary priests the authority to “grant a dispensation.”

I would try to be with them in their difficulties, to advise them to trust the Lord and to be integrated into the church in the ways I have discussed above.

If they are not yet remarried, I would remind them that all of us are called, at one time or another in our lives, to heroic virtue. I would also counsel them in the virtues and possibilities of celibacy.

One of the most heroic Catholics I know is a man who was married validly, but his wife walked out on him. He was denied an annulment and accepted that his way in life was therefore to be a single Catholic man.

We should be reminded that there are many people who live fruitful, abundant, courageous and inspiring lives without being married. There are many ways to happiness and fulfillment. The breakdown of their marriage and their abandonment might be the very thing that God would use to further their growth in holiness and bring them to identify more closely with the passion of his Son. In my ministry to them and with them I would not deny them this possibility.

In recent articles, some of the pope’s Catholic critics have accused him of “cowardice” and lacking confidence in Catholic teaching on marriage for suggesting pastoral discernment of possible exceptions for Communion in irregular unions. But there seems to be more underlying insecurity about Catholic teaching in these articles criticizing the pope than in anything the pope has written. What is the spiritual force, good or evil, driving the near-hysterical criticism of Pope Francis that seems to appear preemptively from some Catholics whenever he speaks?

Again, it is impossible to read all the critics of Pope Francis, but it seems on the progressive side that some are angry that “Amoris Laetitia” is not the reform document they had hoped for and the pope has “caved to the old white guys who run the Vatican.” On the conservative side, some extremists see footnote 351 as the crack in the dam breast which will bring about the deluge.

The spiritual force that drives such blindness is that old pair of madmen—Ignorance and Arrogance. To be good Catholics (no matter what our bias) we need to listen humbly to the church’s teachings and struggle first to understand and then to obey with joyful hearts.

If you could say one thing to Pope Francis about Catholic marriage today, what would it be?

Thank you for “Amoris Laetitia.”

What’s your favorite Scripture passage and why?

It varies, but this week I really like John 3:17—reminding us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

I’m leading a Jubilee Year pilgrimage to Poland and that verse sums up our God who St. Paul teaches us is “Rich in Mercy” (Eph 2:4).

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

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William deHaas
1 year 6 months ago
Why give this priest a forum for his biased and skewed views? His interpretation of the exhortation has been significantly and dramatically rejected by Francis himself. Please post what Francis said on the flight back from Lesbos asking about communion for divorced and remarried. It puts the *lie* to what this guy claims. Catholic media need to begin to exert some type of self control on right wing groups and self-appointed messiahs (Longnecker is one of those). It saddens me how many folks will pay attention to this *dribble* and leave damanged because Longnecker doesn't even understand the Exhortation except through his own biased lense.
Colleen Rooney
1 year 5 months ago
I find Fr. Longenecker's understanding of participating in the Eucharist very helpful. For those Catholics who are divorced and remarried and have not had their first marriage submitted to the annulment process or who find their first marriage valid and can not receive Holy Communion, they may still participate in the Eucharist by worshiping at Sunday Mass, making a spiritual communion and going to Eucharistic Adoration. These are means for being in the Eucharistic Presence of Christ that should be encouraged and will bring much grace into the lives of those who seek Him. Thank you Fr. Longenecker for pointing out a fuller understanding of participating in the Eucharist that is open to the divorced and remarried.
William deHaas
1 year 5 months ago
Thanks for your legalistic opinion - but the title of this submission is about Amoris Laetitia and, in fact, Francis himself asked that the media not distill these 260 pages down to one issue. Your comment ignores AL and focuses on the footnote contrary to what Francis has clearly stated. But, heck, stay with the Longnecker's of this world but please - don't call it anything more than cafeteria catholicism.
Ryder Charles
1 year 6 months ago
Can America please remove blatantly uncharitable comments? Referring to Father Longenecker as "this neo-con, right wing nut" goes beyond the pale of civil discourse. Thank you.
J Cosgrove
1 year 6 months ago
The term "right wing" in reality has no meaning in political discourse in the Western world. "Left wing" does since it goes back to the original origin of term as some form of equality. The original right wing had to do with kings/royalty or transfer of power by hereditary. But that is irrelevant to most of the Western world today. It applies in such places as middle east countries. Oddly enough it applies to ultra left communist societies such as North Korea and Cuba where power has been transferred by hereditary. So is Cuba and North Korea both a left wing and right wing society? Many on the left assume the term "right" means evil but it was the left in the 20th century that was the cause of about 150 million killed in their quest for power. We could probably add another 100 million abortions which has its origin in left wing politics. So it seems anyone who uses the term "right wing" does not know what they are saying as they are in reality contradicting what they think they are saying. "Left wing" policies is the source of most world evil in the last 100 years, and "right wing" does not really exist.
Kevin Clarke
1 year 5 months ago
We ask that people post their full and actual names. No pseudonyms. Thank you.
J Cosgrove
1 year 6 months ago
Thank you for posting this. Maybe those who disagree with Fr. Longenecker's interpretation should be specific in their disagreements.
Sean Salai, S.J.
1 year 6 months ago

Thanks everyone for reading. Let's pray for one another and try to listen respectfully to different perspectives. Father Longenecker's opinions are his own, of course, and his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is a valid one that others are taking as well. In his defense, the penultimate question during the Lesbos in-flight press conference about "sacraments" did not specify communion (as opposed to the Mexico in-flight press conference quoted in this interview that did) and there does seem to be some lingering confusion on the point. When asked about the debated footnote in the final question of the Lesbos in-flight press conference, the pope said he did not even remember it, and expressed his irritation that the "media council" (as opposed to Vatican council) seems to think communion for the civilly remarried is the most significant family issue today. It's hard to say what all that means, and maybe it will become clearer over time, but here is the Vatican transcript of the in-flight conversation from Lesbos as requested.

Crystal Watson
1 year 6 months ago
Fr. Longenecker reminds me of the very conservative Anglican priests who have left their church for ours to escape from women priests (and bishops) and openly gay priests. What's specifically conservative in his remarks? One thing is his admiration for JPII's theology of the body, for Humanae Vitae, for 'traditional marriage' in the pope's exhortation. Also, he references Cardinal Burke, an extreme conservative, and then finally, he chooses to see Amoris Laetitia in the most conservative light possible, with no hope of priests allowing divorced/remarried people to have communion.
Lisa Weber
1 year 6 months ago
Maybe it would be helpful to look at what Jesus did. Jesus shared communion with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Perhaps divorce and remarriage is less a betrayal of Jesus than handing him over to persecution and death.
Luis Gutierrez
1 year 6 months ago
I have seen some articles by this author elsewhere. My impression is that he is a good man but has a beef with the Church of England, sincerely believes that the Church is intrinsically patriarchal (in addition to being "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic") and would find it very hard to accept a papal decision to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. It is noteworthy that he ignores papal hints that ecclesiastical patriarchy, together with the patriarchal family and the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Testament, is on the way out, albeit at a glacial pace. See, for example, AL 54, 56, 172, 215, and 286. Of course, Amoris Laetitia is carefully written in the "constructive ambivalence" style, so that each person can get what he or she can/want to see. So is the Theology of the Body, but it seems clear to me that Pope Francis clearly has moved one step further in the process of deconstructing the patriarchal sex/gender binary; at long last, sex and gender can be distinguished and the "p" word has been mentioned! Further clarifications will emerge in due time, surely after we are all safely dead.
Ryder Charles
1 year 6 months ago
"Pope Francis clearly has moved one step further in the process of deconstructing the patriarchal sex/gender binary..." I think AL 56 is clear that Francis is not fond of gender ideology.
Luis Gutierrez
1 year 6 months ago
Not sure which gender ideology you have in mind. There are many gender theories, or ideologies, patriarchy being one of them. In AL # 56, Pope Francis states: "It needs to be emphasized that biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated." This is certainly not patriarchal gender ideology, where sex and gender *cannot* be distinguished. In other words, the human body is sexually male or female (and, in some cases, intersex), but the gender of the personal subject (the total person) is a distinguishable social-cultural reality that, as we all know, is not binary. This is fully consistent with St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (see, for example, TOB 8:1, which explains that "bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical"). Am I missing something?
Ryder Charles
1 year 6 months ago
Luis, Here is the rest of paragraph 56 that you didn't quote: "Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”… It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created."
Luis Gutierrez
1 year 6 months ago
OK, so? I don't see any negation of the fact that all the differences in human sexuality (biological, psychological, socio-cultural) are not simply binary. I don't see any negation of the fact that bodily sex and personal gender *can* be distinguished. This is the text from TOB 8:1 that I suggested: "Bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical. Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact that man is a "body" belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female. For this reason, the meaning of "original solitude," which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity; the latter is based on masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two different "incarnations," that is, two ways in which the same human being, created "in the image of God" (Gen 1:27), "is a body."" The Meaning of Original Unity, Pope John Paul II, 7 November 1979 (Source: Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Pauline Books, 2006, page 157. See also note 12 in page 158. You are not saying that Pope Francis is upholding the patriarchal sex/gender binary, are you?
candace fisher
1 year 6 months ago
I actually had a physical reaction to this interview. I want to be able to open my mind to different viewpoints, but as a "cradle Catholic",I feel nauseated by this right wing, judgmental Catholicism. It is so hard to remain Catholic in this age of priest sexual abuse, that I wonder how he can be so self righteous about refusing communion to divorced Catholics?
Tim O'Leary
1 year 6 months ago
When raising the charge of judgmentalism, the lack of self-awareness by Candace & William (below) is breathtaking! Could there be anything more intolerant, judgmental or un-Christian than reacting with such hate (aka nausea, dribble) to a convert who is trying to stay faithful to the Catholic Church, as he follows his well-formed conscience? A quote from Pope Francis responding to a question re footnote 351: "One of the recent popes, speaking of the Council, said that there were two councils: the Second Vatican Council in the Basilica of St. Peter, and the other, the council of the media. When I convoked the first synod, the great concern of the majority of the media was communion for the divorced and remarried, and, since I am not a saint, this bothered me, and then made me sad. Because, thinking of those media who said, this, this and that, DO YOU NOT REALIZE THAT THAT IS NOT THE IMPORTANT PROBLEM? (my emphasis). Don’t you realize that instead the family throughout the world is in crisis? Don’t we realize that the falling birth rate in Europe is enough to make one cry? And the family is the basis of society. Do you not realize that the youth don’t want to marry? Don’t you realize that the fall of the birth rate in Europe is to cry about? Don’t you realize that the lack of work or the little work (available) means that a mother has to get two jobs and the children grow up alone? These are the big problems. I don’t remember the footnote, but for sure if it’s something general in a footnote it’s because I spoke about it, I think, in ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’" http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-pope-francis-in-flight-interview-from-lesbos-to-rome-97242/
William deHaas
1 year 6 months ago
You continue to confuse what Longnecker is doing via a publicly posted article and folks who are critical of either what he posted or his tone. This is not judgmental (in the way you are using it); it is a valid criticism. In the same way, am sure folks here respect Longnecker's conscience, his intentions, etc. but when he writes, submits, and posts an article - he is open to criticism. And let's face it - he is self-apponted in terms of his experience and yet, as a pastor, he holds a leadership position. Has he been fair in his opinion piece - is it balanced; does he even know all of the facts or is he assuming certain things; acting as if he knows the mind of Francis; and advocating for a position that only creates division and polarizations. Is this the role of a pastor? (note - his opinions are not backed up by research, documentation, etc. Rather, he is making opinionated remarks that fall into a very subjective realm) The editor posted the actual plane interview but what is missing in this formal piece are all aspects of the plane conversation. So, in this piece you have a reporter from NCR - this is what is missing in terms of a follow up question he asked Francis: Published 4/16/2016: In a press conference on his way back from a one-day visit to Lesbos, Greece, a reporter told the pontiff that some had interpreted the language in his exhortation to mean that there were no specific changes to the church's pastoral practice for remarried Catholics while others thought there were. "Are there new concrete possibilities that did not exist before the publication of the exhortation, or no?" asked the journalist. "I can say yes," responded Francis. "Period." The pontiff then suggested that people looking for more information consult the presentation given by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn at the Vatican April 8, the day the new exhortation, titled Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), was released. In his presentation that day, Schönborn said the document had made some "organic development" of the church's pastoral practice for divorced and remarried couples. "I recommend to all of you to read the presentation that Cardinal Schönborn made," the pope said Saturday. "He is a great theologian." "He knows well the doctrine of the church," said Francis. "In that presentation, your question will have its response.""It ... can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace," states the pontiff at one point in the document. "It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being," the pope writes later. Compare that to Longnecker (and even the editor's wishy washy we will see how this turns out reply): Longnecker says: "There has been much debate about footnote 351. Some think it leaves room for the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. I am of the opinion that it does not. The footnote talks about those in irregular relationships needing the sacraments. Indeed they do, but there are seven sacraments, not one. In certain cases the priest offers them appropriate sacraments according to their particular pilgrimage of faith. The footnote goes on to mention that the Eucharist is a “strong medicine for the weak,” and I do not disagree, but the faithful who are in irregular unions are encouraged to participate in the Eucharist by attending Mass, making a spiritual communion, and attending Eucharistic adoration. All of these are ways in which those in irregular situations may still participate in the sacramental life of the church." Face it - Longnecker is reacting; his statement makes up things about the sacraments, etc. He is basically twisting what Francis and AL says to meet his own ideology. The follow up question elicited this from Francis - new, concrete possibilities - not the dodge that Longnecker resorts to. Longnecker is manipulating and using logical fallacies to try to make a point. SAD The point of the footnote was to push back on reading AL as an answer to ONE question - communion for the divorced and remarried. That is the point - nothing more and surely not what Longnecker is saying.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 6 months ago
William - you still do not get it. You too have posted publicly. You are also a self-appointed commentator, and you make own biased interpretations, or claim to know better than Fr. Longnecker how to read the mind of the Holy Father. It is certainly reasonable to criticize the opinions of Fr. Longnecker or Pope Francis, but you (and Candace) are just as open to the charges of intolerance and judgmentalism, depending on your choice of words. That is where you both failed, in my opinion.
William deHaas
1 year 6 months ago
I provided documentation from an interview to a direct question to Francis and his answer and then compared to the opinionated remark of Longnecker. Longnecker's opinon contradicts exactly what Francis said and how Rancis answered the same direct question. Talk about *intolerance* - not only is Longnecker intolerant; he is just dead wrong. Judgmentalism - based upon your definition, we would never be allowed to point out errors made by writers, analysts, priests, etc. Longnecker is wrong in his opinon and, whether you agree or not, he creates division; not unity. SAD
Tim O'Leary
1 year 6 months ago
You think you have caught the priest (I notice you refuse to give him his Fr. title) is some lie. And your language in your comment at the bottom is extremely intolerant (you even want this journal to censor him - when he was approached by Fr. Salai for the interview!). I have re-read what Father says and what the Holy Father says and believe you are misinterpreting the Holy Father. Why can't it be equally true that "the document had made some some "organic development" of the church's pastoral practice for divorced and remarried couples" and that the teaching has not changed, which the Holy Father has been constantly stating? He even downplayed the footnote 351 in the same interview (as I quoted above). I've never seen such a non-endorsement of one's own footnote - "I don’t remember the footnote, but for sure if it’s something general in a footnote it’s because I spoke about it."
William deHaas
1 year 6 months ago
Well, appear to have touched a nerve. One difference between you and me - I don't give *reverence* to Longnecker; nor should he be given reference. Self-appointed folks who question Francis via misleading twists do not deserve a hearing. Obviously, he do not agree with AL and you are doing everything in your power to masage an explanation that fits your rigid black and white categories. Too bad!!! Here you go - it gets at the heart of folks such as Longnecker: The Loss of Community Wednesday, April 20, 2016 Unfortunately, for centuries the Christian vision of church was narrowed to what we have today—a preoccupation with very private salvation. Our “personal relationship with Christ” seems to be with a very small notion of Christ. We’ve modeled church after a service station where members attend weekly services to get their faith fix. We’ve commodified the very notion of salvation. No wonder church attendance and membership is down, while there’s a dramatic increase in the “Nones” and the “Spiritual-but-not-religious”—those who don’t identify with a particular religious tradition at all. People want something more from church; they long for a spirituality that connects with their whole life, not just on Sunday morning. The very nature of our lifestyle and our church teaching must point to the goal: the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, Trinitarian relationship, the “Reign of God.” Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their journey toward this goal. Much of formal church has been unable to create any practical community. Yet today we see the emergence of new faith communities—many para-church structures—that seek to return to this foundational definition of church. They may not look like obvious “church,” but they exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering in neighborhood associations, collective gardens, social services, and volunteer groups to share resources, support each other, and nurture connection. They’re coming together, seeking creative ways of healing and whole-making. The invisible church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible. The Holy Spirit is both humble and anonymous. In the 1970s and 80s I witnessed and participated in a similar movement of building community called the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati. Many communities that evolved during this time failed, I believe, because they talked, met, and worried themselves to death. After years of in-house and seemingly cyclical conversations, many movers and shakers decided to move on. Usually they later admitted that community was an excellent school of growth, character, and conversion. But it was too often not a permanent “home” for many reasons. It’s all too easy to project unrealistic expectations on our community. No group can meet all our needs as individuals—parenting, marriage, therapy, and emotional, mental, and physical well-being. The human psyche needs space and healthy boundaries. Even in marriage, you cannot meet most of your partner’s needs; in the end you still remain a profound mystery to one another. Expectations of false and impossible intimacy make practical community very difficult, and sometimes even counterproductive. The thousands of disillusioned and alienated former community members are a judgment not only on the limits of their communities but also on our own narcissistic expectations. But imperfect community can still be a good school! So what makes a good community? The remainder of this week we’ll look at a couple of factors that contribute to healthy, whole communities. Our very survival as a faith tradition and as a species might just depend upon this. Remember, the isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. Gateway to Silence:
We are one in the Spirit. Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 14-15; 50-51.
F. John
1 year 6 months ago
There are many positive things in the Exhortation, and of course, they should be recognized. At the same time, we must all be careful to be swept away by Papal infatuation and look clearly at those areas that are at best, very puzzling in contrast to Church interpretations of the Gospel. What we seem to have, is a new teaching that effectively allows the conscience to determine culpability of an act, that is considered objectively grave, on an ongoing and future basis, and if the conscience determines there is no or 'limited' culpability, the person can continue to commit said act and receive communion. Those who hold that this is now a departure from Church teaching, will be labeled as 'stone throwers', even though all they are stating is fact. If we are now at a point where anyone in any 'irregular' situation, whatever that really means, can 'discern' their way to getting comfortable with a particular sin, and let's be clear, we are talking about sexual acts, and in light of those, that person can disregard former, clear objective morality regarding that act, and feel that they have the backing of the 'Church' or their pastor, to remain in those acts, then we have placed 'conscience' as superior to the very clear and precise teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. And the question then becomes, where does 'license to discern' ever stop now? Is there really as of today, in light of this Exhortation, any type of sexual act that is really and truly objectively immoral and grave? It is pure logic that gets us to this grim and very realistic potentiality. How can this not be obvious to at least authentic theologians? This really is grade school philosophical reasoning to conclude what I am saying is incontrovertible, and highly dangerous, and faithful Catholics have every right to question this confusion. In fact, if they are brave, they are bound to do so.
William deHaas
1 year 6 months ago
Sorry - you say: "What we seem to have, is a new teaching that effectively allows the conscience to determine culpability of an act, that is considered objectively grave, on an ongoing and future basis, and if the conscience determines there is no or 'limited' culpability, the person can continue to commit said act and receive communion: In fact.....this is not a NEW teaching.......it was the appropriate stance for decades until a small segment skewed what was the standard approach and only saw pastoral practice through the lense of legalism. You show your hand by repeatedly using the phrase - sexual acts. Again, the Exhortation tries to move away from a focus on sexual acts or even individual acts - that is why it keys on the *internal forum*; the whole of a marriage; etc. And your final statement - grade school philosophical - is laughable and again indicates where you are coming from. Francis isn't making a philosophical pronouncement - he starts with scripture, church tradition, the two synods, and moves from there. Have no idea where you start from except you take a skewed understanding that has existed for a couple of decades and decided that it is the TRUTH - no one is saying that marriage is NOT indissoluble - but, Francis is asking that pastoral leaders use mercy, good judgment, and the total experience of a couple rather than using legalisms..
Tim O'Leary
1 year 6 months ago
There seems to be a confusion in some comments (and in prior America posts) on what conscience can and cannot do. It has no authority or ability to settle a teaching, and can never even contradict Church doctrine and discipline. The Catechism cannot be overruled by any individual, using some sort of conscience clause. The role of the conscience is in interpreting a doctrine to one's particular and subjective situation. This has always been the case, and no doubt it's application is frequently flawed. It is probable that some or many heretics in history were following their consciences. That is what it means to honestly depart from the faith. But the faith remains no less true and eternal. The frailty of conscience to guide doctrinal interpretation is obvious. Any denomination or faction that breaks away from the Church opens itself to myriad further fissures, as we see happening in nearly every Protestant denomination, all or many following their consciences. That is why the Lord left His Church a method for settling subtle doctrinal questions and why we can be sure the Holy Spirit will forever protect His Church from doctrinal error. Even popes and bishops can be attracted to bend or break a rule. It is the Church that is preserved, not the individual. It is awe-inspiring to me how this has worked for so many centuries. For example - Humanae Vitae - always ends up being reconfirmed in every formal teaching document, ever since its promulgation 5 popes ago, no matter how many times it is rejected in "good" conscience. The same with ideas about women priests or same-sex marriages. The teaching will never change in essence, even if the discipline surrounding them waxes and wanes, based on the force or fashion of the wider culture. The even older teaching on adultery and indissolubility of marriage was unanimously held by Christians at one time. Yet, it has only remained in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, despite countless attempts, blunt and subtle, to overcome it. When it comes to acceptability for Communion, I doubt many of us feel adequately faithful when we put ourselves forward to receive our Lord's flesh and blood ("Lord, I am not worthy..."). Conscience always plays a role in that walk to the alter, and no doubt many of us receive unworthily, at least sometimes. Thank God, He is merciful. As Pope Francis keeps repeating, no Church doctrine has or will change on Catholic marriage. Yet, we should earnestly desire to see others join us in this heavenly supper, and no doubt many individual Protestants (like good Samaritans) are better prepared to receive Him than some presuming Catholics, even if they should not until they make the commitment to fully embrace the true Church, the mystical body of their Lord & Savior. For divorced and remarried Catholics, we should yearn for them to join us, even if it means a commitment to a chaste life (maybe some individuals are committing to live chastely this week, if not able to sustain that commitment, or if they are in danger of death, etc.). The priest also has his duty and obligation to preserve the discipline and doctrine of the faith - it is not our responsibility to judge the priest's use of his conscience. May they be faithful and merciful at the same time.
William deHaas
1 year 6 months ago
Sorry - your views on conscience are completely wrong. Second, the catechism is not our God. Your legalistic views have little to do with the faith journey. SAD.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 6 months ago
William - not sure what you mean by "completely" but I suspect you do not have a clear idea of what one's conscience can and cannot do. I agree that the catechism is not a god, but neither is the conscience. Do you deny that two people can come to opposite conclusions on what some doctrine means or what to do in a certain situation, while both are faithfully following their consciences? Perhaps, you think there is no objective doctrinal knowledge, or that Christ's promise to preserve the true teaching in the Church has failed? When one concludes that all truth is subjective or relative (as in much of academia), disagreements are settled by censorship and intolerance of disagreement (as in your 1st comment).
William deHaas
1 year 5 months ago
You conflate two things - conscience and doctrine. Whether you believe it or not, conscience is supreme (per VII) - yes, over the decades the episcopacy has played games around this statement (e.g. properly formed; etc.) but these are just games. Doctrine - reality, the church has very few doctrines. Your meme about doctrines, truths, etc. wade into areas that actually are open to question; etc. Ah yes, you contiue to repeat the old *intolerance* - you are the intolerant one.....there must be some authority that has the truth; you want to appeal to this to settle any disagreements - that is also a form of censorship and intolerance of the worst kind.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 5 months ago
William - by "supreme" I hope you do not mean omniscient, as that would be idolatrous. If you mean that one is morally bound to follow one's well-formed conscience even if it is in error, then that would be consistent with Church teaching. Aquinas states that 1) consciences is not a power, but an act, and 2) that one must follow one's conscience, even when it is in error. (see” http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1079.htm#article13 & http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2019.htm#article5). To quote Aquinas (Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 79, a. 13): “Properly speaking, conscience is not a power, but an act. This is evident both from the very name and from those things which in the common way of speaking are attributed to conscience. For conscience, according to the very nature of the word, implies the relation of knowledge to something: for conscience may be resolved into "cum alio scientia," i.e. knowledge applied to an individual case. But the application of knowledge to something is done by some act. Wherefore from this explanation of the name it is clear that conscience is an act.” Notice that conscience is not knowledge - but a response to knowledge acquired somewhere else. The point I am making, and that you are missing every time is: a) one is to follow one's conscience, EVEN if it is in ERROR. This implies b) the conscience does in fact err. Therefore, c) it is not the authority on what is objectively true. Hence, a Luther can break from the Church following his conscience, but he is still doing what is objectively wrong according to the authority Jesus left us with. Your statement that the Church has very few doctrines is amusing. How much of the Catechism would you remove based on the authority of your conscience? I suspect it would be a very small book. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson, who removed all the dogma and miraculous parts of the bible, so as to better conform to his conscience (see the Jefferson Bible http://www.angelfire.com/co/JeffersonBible/) Finally, we all have to obey or appeal to some authority, and it is far more humble to accept an authority outside of yourself than yourself. If you do not accept Jesus as your authority, or the Church He founded and promised to protect from teaching error in regards to faith and morals, then you will need some other authority, such as the secular culture, some modern guru or your own individual conscience (the preferred authority today). But, since conscience is not a power (see Aquinas above) to persuade others, you can only use invective or intolerance against those who disagree with you.
William deHaas
1 year 5 months ago
Well, you actualy appear to understand conscience - and yes it can err....so what? Yep, the catechism would be very small if it just contained doctrines.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 5 months ago
Boy, you are slow! Since the conscience errs, even when well-formed, it must be even less reliable for the many who are ill-informed. What you miss is that the conscience concerns only the subject (it is necessarily subjective), whereas the Church needs to focus on the objective truth in its teachings and documents. So, how do you know there is very little doctrine in the catechism? That is a major error, and probably related to your misconception of conscience as a power to determine right and wrong, what's in and out of the teaching, rather than an act responding to knowledge obtained elsewhere. Perhaps, you are mixing up dogma and doctrine, and maybe even discipline. 1) Dogma consists of divinely revealed teachings, such as the Real Presence, the Immaculate Conception and all Church teaching not knowable without revelation. 2) Doctrine includes all Church teachings in matters of faith and morals that have been promulgated both ex cathedra (such as the declaration on impossibility of women Catholic priests) and by the ordinary Magisterium (Popes, Councils etc.). This is most of the Catechism. It includes the definition of the 7 sacraments (vs. Luther held there were only 2), the number of books in the bible (Luther rejected 7 books), calling Sundays the Sabbath, Holy Orders, and the consequences of certain dogmas (as in transubstantiation as the correct way to understand the Real Presence), moral teachings on homicide, war, abortion, marriage, homosexuality, sex-outside marriage etc. 3) Discipline is the Church law that we are bound to obey as Catholics. While much of discipline cannot be changed because we have it directly from the Lord (e.g. marriage, indissoluble and one man and one woman) or it is implied by doctrine, much of Church discipline can be changed (what specific days are holy, fasting on Fridays or before Communion, most Church laws, what sins can be forgiven at Confession, etc.), although prudence and wisdom would make changes very carefully. Discipline is not at all trivial, or else no one would care what the Church discipline was on who can receive communion. You obviously do, since you want to believe AL is changing discipline, which would be unimportant if no one needed to follow discipline. This is not legalism, just mere understanding of our faith, something so lacking in education in recent years. .
William deHaas
1 year 5 months ago
Your legalism grows tiresome as does your arrogant orthodoxy. Doctrines - sorry, these are human decisions that have changed over time. One does not have to *believe* every doctrine (even with your bipolar definition). At one time doctrines permitted slavery; condemned democracy; blessed misogyny; etc., etc. Your statement about seven sacraments sufaces exactly why your approach is fraught with its own errors. This is a tradition that came from church practice - it is not set in concrete nor did Jesus hand down the seven sacraments. Same goes for the specific sacrament of priestly ordination - VII broadened our understanding - it wasn't invented by Jesus at the Last Supper. Horrors - your limited historical knowledge is being questionned. Yep, discipline - that is the heart of the faith journey - you really don't understand theology, the journey of faith, etc. You have to seek your own private salvation following some list of key catechetical rules (you do know that catechisms change; that the current catechism does a poor job of reflecting all of VII because it was put together by a subjective group of humans who were heavily influenced by Opus Dei. Transubstatiation is mererly a Thomistic and Trentan explanation for the eucharist.....it is not dogma. VII changed the definition of *sacrament* - Jesus is the sacrament of the Trinity; the Church is the sacrament of Christ; and then we have various sacraments in our communal churches. Funny - you appear to really be alarmed by poor Luther - you might want to pay attention to what happens in August this year when Francis travels to Germany and the combined Catholic -Lutheran Group announces its findings - we agree a lot more than we disagree. Geez, one of the key goals of VII was to grow and increase ecumenism - since John XXIIII saw that as the greatest current scandal. Moral teachings and how we live and experience those change every generation. Women may some day be presbyters - it is not impossible and this was not declared ex cathedra (now you are making up things to fit your rigid viewpoint). You really do need help. That is the whole point of a faith journey - which is what the church is about (not a country club with your rules). Thus, whether we are comfortable with it or not, conscience is the personal decision maker and God judges (not you; not the catechism; not even *father*). And so, there is error.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 5 months ago
Sorry? - “And so, there is error.” Exactly! Some examples just here - never said transubstantiation was dogma, or that discipline was at the heart of faith, or that doctrine couldn't develop. Nor was I especially concerned about Luther – he is just a metaphor for any conscientious objector of major parts of the faith (I think he was far closer to Catholicism than most modern Lutherans or cafeteria Catholics), etc. etc.. A lot of ranting and name calling and negligent misunderstanding. You have a very small idea of Catholicism (just the dogma, ma'am). But, of course, I bet your conscience is clear. It is, after all, you who must keep it satisfied.
William deHaas
1 year 5 months ago
Talk about disingenuous or is it just flat out lying. Your statements above: ".....the consequences of certain dogmas (as in transubstantiation as the correct way to understand the Real Presence)". Of course, now you clarify and say - "never said transubstantiation was dogma" - guess you do not even understand the basic english language. Interesting, no response to your other blatant error - women priests - no dogma nor was this ever stated ex cathedra Yep, lots of ranting, name calling, and negligent misunderstanding - but all on your views as documented and proven. You condemn yourself using your own words. Please, save us all some time and go back to EWTN - a nice, judgmental cafeteria catholic TV show.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 5 months ago
The consequences of a dogma can be doctrine, meaning the doctrine is not a dogma, but a reasonable consequence. So, the Real Presence is a dogma (revelation from Jesus that we accept on His authority - I know, the authority word again, that you so hate/fear). Transubstantiation is a rational interpretation or doctrinal consequence. But, you were quick to label Fr. Longenecker a liar so I am not surprised you think you found me out in one, when it was just a failure of your deductive reasoning. Never said the male priesthood was dogma, I said it was doctrine, and was infallible, according to the CDF (not me). Here is the CDF wording (Oct 28, 1995). Try to let the format of the wording not close you off and think about your duty to accept it. https://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfrespo.htm Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith. Responsum: In the affirmative. This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, IT HAS BEEN SET FORTH INFALLIBLY (my emphasis) by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. VCII, Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith. Pope Francis has confirmed several times that this teaching is definitive & unchangeable. In a July-2013 interview: "With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed." And in Sept-2015, in response to a direct question: "Third, on women priests, that cannot be done. Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly. Not because women don’t have the capacity. Look, in the Church women are more important than men, because the Church is a woman." You have high praise for Pope Francis in this blog posting and claim others are not listening to him. But, are you listening to him? here are the references to those interviews: 2015 Interview: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/full-transcript-of-pope-francis-inflight-interview-from-philadelphia-to-rom/#ixzz46xVlLbJO 2013 Interview : https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130728_gmg-conferenza-stampa.html
L J
1 year 5 months ago
Cardinal Schonborn provides a better way: “My great joy as a result of this document resides in the fact that it coherently overcomes that artificial, superficial, clear division between “regular” and “irregular”, and subjects everyone to the common call of the Gospel,”. http://aleteia.org/2016/04/08/true-innovations-but-not-ruptures-cardinal-christoph-schonborn-presents-amoris-laetitia/ Regular versus irregular indeed! It is very instructive when Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Lay Apostolates, online Catholic sites and bloggers insist on using the tired tropes of "progressive / liberal" vs "traditional / conservative". We should be thankful to not belong to the flock of such "leaders" who habitually tear at the garments of Christ despite their claiming their bona fides (e.g. canon law judges, Catholic columnists, church "militants"). Christ is divided by these individuals just as early zealot Christians did 2000 years ago (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10). Nay, there is no progressive nor traditionalist in Christ. "We need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that the way we present our Christian faith and treat other people has contributed to today’s problematic situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism".—Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, par. 36 I applaud Fr Longenecker for converting to the Catholic Church. Yet, given his many past historical vacillations (e.g. evangelical, Bob Jones University in USA, Anglicanism, Oxford University, Anglican Priest for 10 years in the UK, Roman Catholic then Roman Catholic Priest in USA), and his many "vocations" as husband, parent, columnist, blogger, author of books, speaker, Pastor, and many other tasks it begs to ask him charitably: given his many vacilations, is his present journey the real deal? Which Dwight L. should we believe? And speaking of the "gift" of marriage and celibacy, how is it he exercises so many "gifts", i.e. serves so many masters, and which group within his audience / flock suffers from his varied lords? I ask sincerely from experience. My family and I belonged to the parish in Miami Beach once led by Father Alberto Cutie, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Miami (Florida). St Francis de Sales Catholic Church was a humble, small parish in the glitter of South Beach. We were a sore reminder to the partiers that Jesus Christ had a Word for us. Yet, Fr Cutie was a radio personality, writer, speaker, author of books, TV host and Pastor. However as his director of lay ministries at his parish, Fr Cutie was missing in action. We rarely saw him at the parish, he often traveled on speaking engagements, overbooked with commitments. As a parish we felt we were on auto-pilot, and as a leader of my family I was dismayed to see my pastor committed to so many "ministries". Those of us who were "fortunate" enough to have an audience with Fr Cutie during official parish business hours, saw a very different side of him. All that glitters is not gold! You can not serve two masters. We tried to counsel him as lay leaders and told him he was ignoring his sheep. Yet he said those who said as such were being "needy". I drew back and just ran the parish ministries as God moved me. It was a sad affair with wounded sheep looking for their pastor. Soon came the great fall and we in the parish could have predicted it. Fr Cutie was too distracted with serving too many masters and eventually betrayed his vows, his Spouse, his children of God, his parish. The blood bath was ugly and it drenched innocent sheep. The pain and anguish were devastating till this very day. Fr Longenecker: please reassess your many taskmasters. Your spouse, children, parishioners and those hurting sheep in your midst are probably wondering when you are going to be pleased with serving them as their pastor. There is no "us" versus "them" in the Body of Christ. It is just the entire sinful lot of us all called to the Gospel Oremus
J Cosgrove
1 year 5 months ago
You may want to retract your comment. It is an ad hominem attack on Fr. Longenecker. I suggest you specify what you disagree with as opposed to impugning him because of his many obligations as a priest, husband and father and then comparing him to another priest who has had problems. On the basis of your argument, you could point to any priest that has outside obligations from his flock as unable to have a relevant opinion so they should be ignored. Fr. Martin on the staff here writes articles, books takes people on trips of pilgrimage, appears on political TV shows as well as fulfilling his priestly duties. I doubt anyone here would make the argument that these other activities would prevent him from commenting on Papal documents.
William deHaas
1 year 5 months ago
Sorry, Mr. Cosgrove - he did specify his concerns and complaints. Do you know anything about Longnecker and his current parish - he is in the midst of a church building campaign (of course) and his dream church is a replica of a 15th century church in England - how fitting and how appropriate given his liturgical sensibilities - which lean towards Fr. Z more than VII. Your comparison to Fr. Martin limps so badly it almost explodes. Face it - the comparison to Cutie is appropriate and he isn't saying that Longnecker is Cutie - he is merely raising concerns, period. Longnecker's history is a vlid reason for concern - and why his need for a national stage? Methinks that where there is smoke, you will find fire.
L J
1 year 5 months ago
It is ironic someone who violates the America TOS as to commenters using their full name would take exception to my comments while you violate America's TOS. . Please show the courage of your convictions: Use your full name and kindly adhere to America TOS before having the hubris to comment on these boards while violating America TOS. Yes, they apply to "liberals and conservatives" alike just as the Gospels do
Tim O'Leary
1 year 5 months ago
Guillermo - J Cosgrove is right. It is really un-Christian for you (and deHass below - he seems to prefer last names) to go after the person rather than stick to the topics under discussion. And it is even more unjust to try a guilt-by-association (even when there is no real association) with Fr. Cutie, who "converted" out of the Church in 2009 (he is now an Episcopalian - following his erring conscience, I guess). Your comment would have been much fairer if you stayed with your argument from Cardinal Schönborn. I am glad you "applaud" Fr. Longenecker's conversion (even if it is a little condescending), but conversion is an ongoing thing, for you and me as well. Many Catholics are in great need of conversion to the fullness of the faith, and Fr. Longenecker's ministry is a great help for many Catholics and other Christians.

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