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FRATERNAL CORRECTION OF THE POPE FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 23rd Sunday of the Year, September 10, 2017
Ezekiel 33:7-9, Psalm 94, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 18:15-20


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted

 

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17).


Today's readings are clearly about fraternal correction of those in the Christian community who have seriously gone astray from the truth or from proper moral behavior. The New Testament tells us many times to forgive others their faults as God has forgiven us our faults. Jesus also tells us to forgive others their sins against us in order to be forgiven ourselves by God for our sins.


But there is still more to the picture than simply forgiveness. Jesus also tells us today to correct our Christian brothers and sisters when they go astray. In certain circumstances, especially concerning personal offenses, we should probably just turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) in order to win God's forgiveness for our own sins. But there are other kinds of errors that are of a more serious and public nature and are harmful to the whole local community or even to the entire universal Church, which Jesus tells us require fraternal correction for the good of the community or of the entire Church itself.


We think here of the obvious examples of major heresies in the history of the Church, such as Arianism (which denied the divinity of Christ) in the early Church. Such heresies required public written refutations that were published for the whole Church to read in order to keep the Church from going astray by following these heresies. St. Athanasius was one of the greatest heroes in the history of the Church for his writings refuting the deadly Arian heresy.


Unfortunately today we are also faced with serious doctrinal errors and errors in fundamental moral teaching within the Catholic Church that cry out for correction and clear and unambiguous open refutation lest the faithful be led astray by them. Fortunately many orthodox and faithful cardinals, bishops, theologians, philosophers, and pastors have already published warnings and refutations of these errors.


This whole problem, which I am now referring to, started on April 8, 2016 with the publication of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, on marriage. The problem is further complicated by the fact that the Pope deliberately wrote this document in an ambiguous way, relegating, as though hiding it away, his most problematic statement in a footnote (note 351) that is itself ambiguous and has been interpreted opposite ways.


The result over the past year and four months since its publication has been that people are interpreting this document in diametrically opposed ways as justifying opposite conclusions, and so the Church is presently in a massive state of confusion on fundamental moral issues concerning marriage, fornication, and adultery, with bishops, cardinals, theologians, philosophers, and pastors contradicting each other as to what this exhortation actually says and teaches.


There has been an outcry among those who are faithful to the teaching of Scripture and to the constant teaching and practice of the Catholic Church throughout her history on marriage, adultery, fornication, divorce, and remarriage that the Pope either rescind this document, correct it, or unambiguously clarify it. Pope Francis, however, refuses to do any of these things.


So pastors, bishops, cardinals, and theologians continue to do what I am doing in this sermon - they continue to write about the confusion caused by this papal document and try to explain the authentic biblical and Church teaching about marriage, adultery, and fornication in a faithful, clear, and unambiguous way for the good of the whole Church, since the Pope has refused to do so.


What exactly is the problem? The problem is that the Pope in an official but non-infallible papal document seems to be saying that adultery and fornication may sometimes be practiced and that in some cases God himself is calling these people to commit adultery and fornication and that while this is not the ideal, nonetheless in their case, due to the mitigating circumstances of their life, they are not in serious sin when they commit these acts and are even pleasing to God by behaving in this way, are doing his will, and are doing all that God is asking of them in their present circumstances, and so they should therefore be able to regularly receive the sacraments, namely sacramental absolution within the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.


Furthermore, according to Pope Francis, these people should not live in fear of going to hell when they die for dying in the state of mortal sin, because, as the Pope says, "No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the gospel!" (Amoris Laetitia #297)


The Pope writes: "Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one's limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal" (Amoris Laetitia #303).


What the Pope seems to be saying here is that these sinful unions (adultery or fornication) are "what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one's limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal" (Amoris Laetitia #303)


We note that the pope nowhere mentions that their actions are sinful. Rather, he seems to be saying that they are doing God's will by committing these actions (adultery and fornication). They are doing all that God is asking of them at this point in their life.


So the Pope concludes, two paragraphs later, that such people can receive the Church's help. Then occurs the famous footnote 351: "In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments."


If all this means that people living in openly proclaimed adultery and fornication, with no intention of repenting and reforming their life, without an annulment, and without living as brother and sister, may receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist, then this is contrary to Scripture (Mark 10:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) and the constant teaching and practice of the Catholic Church throughout her history.


If this is indeed what the Pope is saying and intends and wants to say, then fraternal correction for the good of the whole Church is in order, as so many cardinals and theologians have already pointed out.


In fact, we now know that this is indeed what the Pope believes and intends to say from a private letter that he wrote congratulating the bishops of Argentina for their guidelines for interpreting Amoris Laetitia. In their guidelines they said that in some cases couples living in adultery, without an annulment, and without living as brother and sister, may receive the sacraments. In his letter to them the Pope said that their guidelines are the correct interpretation and "there are no other interpretations." The Vatican, on September 12, 2016, acknowledged that this private letter of the Pope, which had been leaked to the Internet, was authentic.


In light of all this evidence, we simply need to state here as a fraternal correction of the Pope what Scripture teaches and what the Catholic Church has always taught on this topic throughout her history, namely that adultery and fornication are gravely sinful, that one does not please God or do his will by committing them, and that those who are unrepentant adulterers, without an annulment, and without living as brother and sister, cannot receive the sacraments.


One may want to ask how one can fraternally correct a Pope. Here we only need to point to the example of St. Paul publicly confronting, rebuking, and correcting St. Peter (Galatians 2:11-12) for refusing to eat with Christians of Gentile origin, thus giving them the false message that one could only be a full-fledged Christian, worthy of eating with Jewish Christians, if he observes the full ceremonial Mosaic law, as the Jewish Christians did.


We should also point out that Amoris Laetitia is a non-infallible papal document, which, as non-infallible, is by definition fallible, that is, capable of containing errors, even serious doctrinal and theological errors in matters of faith and morals, which would be in need of fraternal correction lest the faithful be led astray by following them.


While Amoris Laetitia is written in a deliberately ambiguous way, the Pope's intention and meaning is now quite clear, because of his letter to the bishops of Argentina, and it is clearly leading many astray, as we see from the guidelines published by the Maltese and German bishops among others, which interpret this document in a way contrary to Scripture and tradition. Fortunately many other bishops have completely rejected these novel teachings in their own guidelines for interpreting Amoris Laetitia, particularly the bishop of Philadelphia and all the Polish bishops. Many other faithful bishops have also released statements or guidelines rejecting and condemning these novel teachings.


One may also note that should there actually exist a case - this I think is just a hypothetical question, for I doubt that such a case actually exists - in which a Catholic couple does not know that adultery is mortally sinful, once they approach a priest to request the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of reconciliation, he would ask about their marital status and inform them of the clear and unambiguous teaching of Scripture on marriage and adultery (Mark 10:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29), so they would no longer have the excuse of ignorance to reduce their culpability.

 

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