One sound principle – practically a truism for Catholics – is that no Catholic whatsoever has any grounds whatsoever for holding X when X has already been proscribed infallibly. Further, no Catholic has any grounds whatsoever for not holding Q when Q has already been taught infallibly. All are under this obedience of faith, including members of the hierarchy. These principles cannot be brooked by anyone.
Now, some are concerned about whether or not doctrine has been overturned, directly or indirectly, by the recent papal document Amoris laetitia.
In addressing questions such as this, I call the above unquestionable principles to mind. No one will disagree with that principle, however they choose to address this question concretely But, in order to retain this non-negotiable principle, different people facing an apparent difficulty are drawing up different strategies.
One strategy is that of Cardinal Burke. Burke suggests the following in the National Catholic Register:
The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching.
His counsel is wisely ordered to the clear retention of the actual teaching of Holy Mother Church. Thus, he is wisely shepherding souls. Confusion is harmful to souls. It takes the wind out of the spirit’s sails, and thus hinders our pursuit of God. It alienates and frustrates. It obscures the truth from those who might be good willed and are trying to seek it, but are tempted by near comforts and habits of sin. The weak – those weak sheep who most need our love – can be tempted to remain astray if the path of return is not clearly announced and laid out.
And so, we come back to Burke’s advice. We must read the Tradition to know what it states and what it forbids. What does Holy Mother Church teach?
The Church teaches that the Laws of God are not suggestions, not “ideals” that cannot be lived. Rather, they are true laws, universal commandments. Further, the Church teaches that grace is actually offered so that God does not command the impossible but indeed gives what he commands, as that Glorious St. Augustine said long ago.
“It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man” ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: thereality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit”. Veritatis splendor, art. 103, by John Paul II
Indeed, as John Paul II reiterates, it is heresy to suggest that the laws of God cannot be obeyed. Obedience can be agonizing at times, truly trying, life-taking. But God gives what he commands:
Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, ought to consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, nor should he employ that rash statement, forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. For God does not command the impossible, but in commanding he admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and he gives his aid to enable you. His commandments are not burdensome (cf. 1 Jn 5:3); his yoke is easy and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30)”, art. 102
Cardinal Brandmüller reminds us of a particular law of God, the indissolubility of marriage:
It is the Catholic Church’s teaching (Dogma) that a validly contracted and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any power on earth – also not by the Church. Jesus says: ‘What God has bound, man may not separate.
No one on earth can dissolve a valid and consummated sacramental marriage. This is the law of God. This brings solace. This is a boon, not merely a burden. This indissolubility is a firm rock on which to rely. It anchors society. It is stability. It is life-giving. Thank God for his wisdom and goodness in shepherding us in so many ways with wise laws and abundant grace. Help us, Lord, in our weakness.