I love Bishop Robert Barron. I just listened to his talk from the World Meeting of Families last month in Ireland where he spoke on chapters seven, eight, and nine of Amoris Laetitia and I noticed two things.
First of all, in an hour long talk he spends all of five minutes on chapter eight because he sees it as obviously non-controversial. Bishop Barron explains the most contentious teaching in Amoris in his book, “To Light a Fire on the Earth.” There he says:
“I read [what Pope Francis said about the divorced and remarried receiving Communion] in terms of what I learned in the seminary years ago, which is that there’s a difference between the objective assessment of a situation and the subjective assessment of guilt and responsibility. Those are two different moves, epistemologically. One is relatively easy, in that you can look [at a situation] and say, ‘Yes, that state of affairs is objectively wrong.’ The other move is much more complicated. It’s the sort of thing a confessor has to do. The question is, To what degree are you responsible for this situation? The pope says, quite rightly it seems to me, you can’t simply look out and say any such situation is necessarily a mortal sin. I can say it’s less than the moral ideal the Church calls for, but I can’t say ipso facto that the person involved is in a state of mortal sin. I’ve got to do a much more thorough assessment of knowledge, engagement of both mind and will, and mitigating factors. I think that’s what he’s saying, and to me that’s classical Catholic moral theology” (Pages 228-229).
Second, in his talk he made this comment about the John Paul II generation that I thought was insightful:
“I taught in seminary for many years….I love the John Paul II generation. A lot of the kids that I taught for many years were inspired by John Paul II. They came to the seminary because of his heroic ideal. And he’s my hero, I’ve got a picture of John Paul in my chapel in California.
But if I can say this, the shadow side of the John Paul II generation of seminarians was they often got deeply frustrated when they fell short of the ideal. You know because he was such a heroic figure (indeed he was) and held out such a heroic ideal (indeed he did), and they properly were called to follow it. But then what do you do when you fail? I think they struggled with that. And I read Francis as being sensitive to that fact, that part of our pastoral experience. What do we do when people fail? And he prefers the path of mercy and reinstatement to the path of exclusion. And I think that strikes me as right.”
Now, I am not a part of the John Paul II generation. He died when I was 15 years old and I didn’t really start caring about my faith until I was 18. However, this commentary resonates with my experience of people from that generation who struggle with Pope Francis’ teaching because Francis, while not diminishing the moral law, is concerned about weakness and drawing those who are weak into the Community where they will find strength.