Friday, January 20, 2017

The Creepiest Defense Yet of Amoris Laetitia

Fr. Rogers of the College of Holy Cross

A certain Fr. Michael J. Rogers S.J. just published the creepiest defense yet of Amoris Laetitia. It was posted on Crux, which in fairness has published a diversity of views recently, some of them useful.

The basic idea of the article is that Catholic documents should read like the prose equivalents of 1970's era struggle sessions. Amoris is "murky," which is just how it should be. Teachers shouldn't teach by force unless you ask the wrong question, in which case you're expelled from the room and the rest of the class moves on.

The argument (such as it is) deserves mockery. Fr. Rogers deserves a class monitor. Not for his sake but for that of the kids. 

The actual text of the article is in black. My annotations are in red.
Pope Francis knew what he was doing in writing a document that provides few clear answers, while inviting the faithful to be concerned with the movements of the Spirit. He knows full well that life in the Spirit leads to the living of the law in its fullest, richest sense. Well, he didn't really write it, but fair enough. However, is this Catholicism or something else?
For three glorious years, I was a high school teacher. During those years I taught Religious Education to Freshmen and Sophomores at Boston College High School, and I have to admit that, while I genuinely loved my students and am still in touch with a good number of them, there was one type of question that came from them that I couldn’t stand. Glorious...genuinely loved my still in touch. This creeps me out.
Inevitably, I would get it before each test and usually, it had the same foundational reality foundational reality?. It would go something like this: “Mr. (I wasn’t a priest yet) Rogers, how do we answer the essay question?”
But there was no right or wrong way to answer the questions I posed them. There were certain guidelines that showed me that a student had engaged the material, had thought about it, and generally understood what it was about. Writing good essays (whatever the answers are supposed to be, or not supposed to be or whatever) is not merely about "engagement" with the material, etc. It's about giving logical arguments, expressing the arguments in good English, writing with effectiveness and style, and so on. And I should add, from someone who graded hundreds of philosophy papers, imprecision and ambiguity in defense of one's thesis, is usually a bad thing. Why was "Mr. Rogers" getting paid to not teach these things to his students? 
Some essays were, of course, better than others, but much more often than not they were good, honest attempts at answering the question such that the students received passing, and usually very good, grades. I'm sure being able to give "good, honest attempts" served his students well in college. 
The problem with the aforementioned question, though, was that underneath it was also the implicit question: “Could you please just give us the answer, or tell us what you want to hear so that we’ll get an A?” My students wanted answers. What idiots. But we still stay in touch. 
It’s not that easy. Actually, on certain issues, it is.
As any teacher will tell you, most of what you do when you try to teach is not merely delivering content nor is it pouring facts and figures into the brains of the youth so that they can spit them back. The educational project is rather about helping young people learn how to think and giving them the practical tools that they need to think critically. That's true to an extent, again depending on the subject or topic. But only to an extent. If you're teaching students the Catechism, you're teaching students the Catechism, not primarily teaching them to think critically about the Catechism.
It is never ultimately about passing a class, but rather, as most educators worth their salt will tell you, it is about passing at life. Puke. 
The image of those students, asking for the answers and not willing to struggle with the material Mao more than ever is, however, an image that came to mind several weeks ago when I deigned deigned? to post on twitter that the debate over Amoris Laetitia had gotten out of hand, and that it is time to accept the document and move on. What ever happened to thinking critically? 
The responses that I received pointed to a need for clarity, they demanded that I remove my tweet, and hounded me, many over the course of days, implying that such a lack of clarity was putting souls at risk. Full disclosure: I only made a few "demands" and they were written in pasted newsprint. And I only left ten messages on his cell phone, which I wouldn't call "hounding." 
The truth is that Amoris Laetitia is a murky document, it doesn’t give us quick and easy answers to our questions, and even famous footnote 351, which many take to be the place where the Holy Father allows divorced and remarried people to receive communion, is not obviously clear. This unfortunately reminds me of my kids' bathtub. But let's move on. 
Amoris Laetitia is a murky document second occurrence of "murky" - stop!, and how could it be anything but? It talks about some of the most wonderful and messy experiences of human life, places where things aren’t always immediately apparent, and where most of us are forced to simply do our best, hoping against hope that it is enough. Puke, again. Plus, divorce isn't wonderful, you stupid Jesuit. 
Pope Francis, having been both a pastor and a teacher before his role as universal teacher and pastor, knew full well what he was doing in writing a document which provides few clear answers while leaving the door open for the faithful to be concerned not so much with the letter of the law, but with the movements of the Spirit, knowing full well that life in the Spirit leads to the living of the law in its fullest, richest sense. That's deja-vu all over again (see the first paragraph, above). He taught writing? 
Of course, the problem with such an approach, in the classroom as much as in regular life, is that the obsession with having the correct answer, the need to be right, can often leave one missing the forest for the trees. People who seek the truth are irrationally obsessed. 
The need to be right, or more clever than the teacher my students tried to win, but I showed them means that those who worry about the famous footnote neglect that the document as a whole attempts to give families the tools that they need to never have to worry about that particular situation. Is he really arguing that people who truly "engage" with Amoris Laetitia will never get divorced?  
To paraphrase Cardinal Kevin Farrell in a recent Crux interview, the whole point of the document is to never have to concern oneself with being right about what footnote 351 does or doesn’t provide. Do you understand, Grasshopper?
If we spend time focused on one tree, or one footnote, we lose sight of the forest, or the document, which surrounds it. Yes master. I grock it. 
The goal of education, of teaching, whether it is in the classroom, the pulpit, or in a document like Amoris Laetitia, is not the memorization of rote facts, nor is it hoped that students will merely always be somehow justified because they are “right.”
Rather, the pedagogical enterprise is about imparting the skills and values that allow people to flourish as human beings. 
In short, the goal that is missed by so many critics of Amoris Laetitia is to help people be better rather than to be right.
The claim here, (such as it is) is insane. As if the Ten Commandments themselves should be criticized for literally inscribing rules into stone.
"Mr. Jesuit: Is it okay if I bludgeon my grandmother to death in order to steal her money and go on a date with Suzy?"
"I think it's better if you learn that for yourself."
"Mr. Jesuit: Is it okay if I sleep with Suzy tonight?"
"There are no right or wrong answers."
"Mr. Jesuit: Is it okay if I sleep with Johnny tonight?"
"That's a good question. Let's discuss it privately in my office."


  1. The whole interview was rich with horribly quotable remarks. One of my favorites was:
    '...I deigned to post on Twitter...'

    I wonder if he even knows what 'deigned' means. (Paragraph 9 or 10 of your quoted content.)Sounds a bit arrogant if you ask me. But also hilarious!
    Truly, it was hard to not find an embarrassing remark in the whole horrid post.

  2. Odd choice of the word 'murky' to commend AL as the mental laxative necessary to free morally constipated minds.

    The word 'murky' (per the Oxford Dictionary) is defined as "1.Dark and gloomy, especially due to thick mist; and, 2. Obscure or morally questionable", neither of which seems to suggest AL is anything more than a miracle elixir or snake oil linament hawked by a travelling medicine showman purporting to cure all those bound-up by the miseries of life.

    Here is something clearer:

    "And with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse generation." Acts 2:40

    1. Yes. And he used it twice. The "wonderful and messy experiences" thing was also weird.

  3. "So likewise you, except you utter by the tongue plain speech, how shall it be known what is said? For you shall be speaking into the air." -
    1 Corinthians 14:9 -

  4. Hilarious commentary. What a loon.

  5. New theme song of Pope Francis and the Jesuwits: ANYTHING GOES

  6. Yes, what's up with this "messy" stuff all the time. If we obey the Commandments and the teachings of the Church to the letter, we get clear, clean, orderly, happy lives - what a concept! Or is that just me?

  7. I’m an art teacher. This reminds me of art Ed programs based exclusively on “creativity”. The ideas is to shun all examples, tricks of the trade, guidelines, and/or expectations, then throw materials at kids…and watch the magic happen. In practice it’s cruel, and a waste of everyone’s time. Kids are born creative but that dies without formation and skill, because really, kids know what is good (and yes, there is such a thing as good and bad art and you can grade it, easily) and without formation they suck, and they know it. So they give up and hate art. Wow, just like Vat II faith formation.

    God’s a good teacher. He gave us a rubric--Ten Commandments. Jesus shows us how it’s done.

    Hippy priest is a cruelty artist.

    1. Agree. Restraint and limitation hopefully results in focus which inspires creativity.