Philip Lawler, the highly respected editor of Catholic World News and the author of 10 books and hundreds of essays on Catholicism, said Pope Francis has deliberately created confusion in the Catholic Church, particularly around the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried couples, which has created moral and doctrinal ambiguity, to the point that it allows clerics and lay people to do an "end run around Church moral teachings."
"This is a deliberate effort to confuse" the faithful, said Lawler in an interview on EWTN about his new book, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock.
"Why would you not want clarity unless your intent was to provide that fuzzy space in which people can maneuver around church teaching?” stressed Lawler.
“Pope Francis has created enough confusion so that there is a huge space for maneuver, for people who want to, one way or another, take an end run around Church moral teachings," said Lawler during his March 1 interview on The World Over, hosted by Raymond Arroyo, a news program that reaches an estimated 350 million households worldwide.
Arroyo replied, “Using this idea of accompaniment and this idea of mercy? And Amoris Laetitia ends up being the centerpiece around which all of this [confusion] is built.”
Amoris Laetitia is a letter, an apostolic exhortation, issued by Pope Francis in 2016 after two extensive meetings with Catholic bishops in 2014-15. The most controversial section of the letter deals with Communion for couples who have divorced and then remarried.
In such cases, the Church has always taught that the people in such illicit "remarriages" are living in adultery, a serious sin, and thus cannot receive Communion at Mass.
Couples in such cases -- perhaps remarried for the sake of children -- must live chastely, like brother and sister. If they are chaste and obey the Church's teachings, then they can receive Communion. But if they are living together like husband and wife, they must cease and each person must repent, go to Confession, and truly strive to not live in adultery again.
Amoris Laetitia changes that moral teaching in practice because it permits couples living in adultery to receive Communion, as Lawler and countless other Catholic scholars (and some bishops and priests) have explained.
Lawler agreed with Arroyo and continued, "Yes, yes it is. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me – if I’m a camel – in that I was originally very enthusiastic about Pope Francis. But over time I became more and more concerned, and dismayed, and disoriented."
"But when I saw what happened with that synod [bishops' meeting at Vatican], with the manipulation of the synod, and then with Amoris Laetitia coming after it – I said, this is more than simply imprudence in expression," said Lawler. "This is a deliberate effort to confuse.”
“The problem is that Amoris Laetitia is intentionally unclear on the one question that everybody had top most in their mind going into the synod, going into both meetings of the synod, which is, ‘will the church change her perennial teaching that Catholics who are divorced and remarried illicitly, cannot receive Communion?’" said Lawler.
"The general impression created by the apostolic exhortation [Amoris Laetitia] is that the Church has changed her teaching," he said. "That, as you know, is a controversial matter. Some bishops in some places will say, yes, the teaching has changed, practice has changed. Others say, no, it hasn’t. And the masses in the middle are confused.”
Arroyo then said, “Well, clearly, the pastoral approach has changed. If you change practice, you change doctrine. The doctrine ends up not mattering anymore because the lived doctrine [in practice] is transformed into something unrecognizable.”
Lawler replied, “And that’s precisely the point. Why else would Pope Francis have declined to answer the dubia [questions] – perfectly legitimate questions from four cardinals – asking him for clarity? Why would you not want clarity unless your intent was to provide that fuzzy space in which people can maneuver around church teaching?”
Four cardinals of the Church have repeatedly asked Pope Francis to clarify the controversial points in Amoris Laetitia. The Pope has never responded.
Changing subjects slightly, Arroyo asked, Archbishop Victor Fernandez said in 2015, “Pope Francis is aiming at irreversible reform. Why? Why?”
Lawler said, “Good question. I don’t have the answer. I don’t have the ability to look inside his head. But there is something inherently wrong with the idea of irreversible reform, unless what you mean by reform is getting back to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. Because the role of the Pope is to inherently conserve, to protect the deposit of the faith.”