Sunday, April 10, 2016

James Carroll (Yes THAT James Carroll) Pens the Best Analysis Yet of Amoris Laetitia and It's Relation to Post Vatican II Catholicism

Finally, a pope he likes

James Carroll has made a career out of attacking the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. And like many of the most prominent anti-Catholic authors he is also an ex-religious--in this case an ex-priest. I'm not sure whether even he would still call himself a Catholic, but others have called him a Catholic "liberal" or "reformer." I think the fairest term would be "dissident."

Perhaps his most famous book was Constantine's Sword (later turned into a movie) in which he claimed that the Church has been antisemitic since its founding and that this laid the groundwork for the Holocaust. And of course he added his voice to the chorus of slanderous claims about Pope Pius XII being a Nazi collaborator.

His religious prejudices or biases aside, I don't think he's a very good historian. He's really more of a propagandist than anything else. Obviously, I'm not a fan.

However, James Carroll just wrote the most accurate analysis of the Pope's recent 60,000 word exhortation Amoris Laetitia that I have yet seen. I particularly liked (if that is the word) his quasi-"insider" sketch of the heterodox pastoral practices of a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of American priests since Vatican II. For example, his comments on the response to Humanae Vitae are spot on.

I agree with most of what he says in this article with one major exception:

He thinks it's all a good thing.

I think it's a tragedy.

The article was published in The New Yorker on the same day as the release of Amoris Laetitia. Here's the historical part:
I could have used Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), when I served as a Catholic priest, almost half a century ago. I was ordained in early 1969, a few months after the promulgation of “Humanae Vitae,” the Vatican’s resounding condemnation of “artificial birth control,” which would define my future. I was a chaplain at a university where, true to the era, the norms of sexual morality had been upended. I certainly saw the need, in those wild days, for a humane and ethical analysis of the state of sexual intimacy, personal commitment, erotic longing, and gender rights. But, believe me, the triumphalist salvo from Rome made the moral condition worse, not better. Like many priests of my generation, I declined to affirm the birth-control teaching. On the contrary, I encouraged the young people who sought my advice to be sexually responsible, especially since the mature use of contraceptives could avoid a later choice about abortion. 
Oddly, perhaps, this approach did not make me an outlaw renegade. Priests like me, in counselling our fellow-Catholics, operated under the rubric of the so-called pastoral solution, which allowed us to quietly defy Vatican dogma when the situation seemed to call for it. In the confessional booth or the rectory parlor, we could encourage our parishioners to decide for themselves, by examining their own consciences, whether the doctrine of the Church applied to them in their particular circumstance. (We cited the lessons of the Second Vatican Council, which, taking up the theme of responsible parenthood, only three years before, had said, “The parents themselves, and no one else, should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God.”) 
The fact that, a generation later, the vast majority of Catholics disregard “Humanae Vitae” shows how effective the pastoral solution has been. But this solution has always been offered as an option in the shadowy private forum—in those off-the-record consultations between confessor and penitent. Preachers never addressed the subject from the pulpit. Everybody in the Church knew that “Humanae Vitae” was a moral teaching with no center, but that, too, was treated like a secret. Popes did not speak of the encyclical’s being ignored, nor did bishops or priests. Catholic lay people have made their declaration mainly by having about two children, like everybody else, and going regularly to Communion, with no questions asked. There has been a tacit understanding, as if the seal of the confessional itself applied, that this nearly universal choice to disobey the Church not be spoken of. Why? To protect the myth of the immutability of doctrine.
So there you have it. Pope Francis isn't blazing a completely new trail per se. Rather, he's simply officially confirming what has been the de facto practice of many in the Church for almost the last fifty years.

This gets it pretty much right. My only quibble would be with the last sentence that makes it sound almost like there is a conspiracy to protect the authority of the Church. But the liberals or dissidents have never cared about protecting the authority of the Church per se. The "tacit understanding" that Carroll mentions was the joint product of the liberal strategy of indirectly attacking the Church coupled with the fear (some would say cowardice) of the orthodox that responding to or confronting that attack would either fail or cause schism.

Carroll then addresses Amoris Laetitia:
Pope Francis has now brought the pastoral solution out of the Catholic shadows...this new statement is, in effect, the Pope’s summary and conclusion about the questions raised at the Synod, which found itself focussed on whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion. Francis takes that up. He says, all but explicitly, yes they can... 
...The Pope—to the disappointment of many liberals, no doubt—is not replacing an old set of harsh and restrictive rules with a new set of flexible and merciful rules. Rules, actually, are not the point...When human experience, with all of what the Pope calls its “immense variety of concrete situations,” is elevated over “general principles,” a revolution is implicit. Francis explains: “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.”
There are rules. The rules haven't changed. But the rules are not the point.


Carroll wouldn't put it this way, of course, but in essence he agrees that what has been called the heresy of Kasperism--the view that dogma is to be left intact in theory, but may be contradicted in practice--is now in the ascendent, with the Pope as its champion.

Orthodox Catholics are already saying that the "wolves" (including people like Carroll) are spinning the document. Well, let me for once defend the honor of the wolves. They're not spinning it. They're interpreting it accurately and fairly as it was meant to be interpreted.

That's the problem.

Read the rest of the article here.


  1. Excellent. The good thing is the law remains even though it is only honored in the breach as hypocrisy pays tribute to virtue. And thus is preserved the right of some future Pope to declare the present Pope heretical. This has to be the Holy Spirit at work. Thanks be to God.

  2. K, wait a second here. He published this glowing review on Friday? The same day the thing was released? It's 260 pages. How did he know?

    1. I'm sure he got an embargoed copy earlier in the week; certain press outlets were given it in advance, to hold publication until Friday (which is when his essay was published). Carroll has the connections.

  3. Carroll's analysis fits perfectly with the essay of Ed Peters. Here's Carroll:

    Pope Francis isn't blazing a completely new trail per se. Rather, he's simply officially confirming what has been the de facto practice of many in the Church for almost the last fifty years.

    See Peters:

    Canon 915 has been ignored in this country (and others) for decades.

    1. Peters essay was helpful not only for incisive observations like this, but because he plainly tries hard to bend over backwards to give the thing the benefit of the doubt, but still concludes that he can't get from here to there.

      Also in a similar vein, see Ross Douthat's column on it this weekend.

  4. People like to have rules in football, soccer, baseball, and politics. If they are skirted and not corrected or addressed then it ruins the whole shtick. Yet when it comes to morality--anything goes!

  5. "there is a conspiracy to protect the authority of the Church."

    Yes; the Church has been very helpful in enlarging the Welfare State lo these many years, and forwarding most of the purposes of the Left.

    It has had useful political clout, then as now. The USCCB opposition to abortion and contraception is ritualistic and perfunctory, when the greater good of "universal healthcare" is at stake.