The Personalist Project

A Crux News article today offers a preview of the Pope's post-Synod exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, on the Love of the Family, which will take some time to digest properly.

A few items from the article stood out to me immediately, though. For instance: the way the exhortation apparently underscores the reality of our faith as more incarnational than juridical. That is, the Pope is more concerned with discernment in the particular than with rigorist application of the law.

Francis calls for “a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases,’ the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”

It's not that the law can be changed or set aside; it's that it can't be properly applied without "personal and pastoral discernment" of particular cases. And good judgment requires not so much expertise in the law as wisdom, insight, and attention to the concrete situation. (This is something rigorists typically have little time or patience for.) Pastors must open themselves to the suffering and unique circumstances of the individuals confided to their care.

A second point to note: The Pope once again laments two attitudes or dynamics that interfere with the kind of reflection, discussion and discernment needed to arrive (under grace) at true pastoral solutions to new problems:

[1] an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, [2] an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

NB: With "new problems," we are speaking of things like the broad social acceptance and equation-in-law of natural marriage and homosexual pairings, the epidemic of narcissism, the predominance of virtual reality and life-altering technologies, the normalization of divorce, the proliferation of dysfunctional families and the deep psychic wounds and disorders they inflict, economic globalism, the new gender ideology, default relativism, secularism and Islamic terrorism.

These "new problems," which also involve various real "new goods" (like advances in medicine, psychology, and agriculture; easier modes of communication, etc.) call for a renewed probing of the mysteries and demands of our faith. It's a task that requires mutual trust, sincere dialogue, and attentive listening.


The divorced who have entered a new union, Francis says, shouldn’t be pigeonholed into “overly rigid classifications” leaving no room “for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.”

He lists several circumstances which might lead a person to enter a second union, such as being “unjustly abandoned,” doing so for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and those who are “subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid.”

That last line in particular is needs careful consideration and explication. It's the point I had meant to focus on when I began this post, both because I think it's vitally important and because I think it will be widely misunderstood.

It will be embraced by liberals as indicating that "subjective certainty" can over ride the objective findings of the Church. Conservatives will reject it on the same misunderstanding. The misunderstanding comes from a long-standing and hard-to-overcome confusion of the meaning of subjective and objective truth. 

Liberals tend to downplay the objectivity of truth; conservatives tend to downplay the truth of subjectivity.

I will try to expand on this point in the next few days. I'll also try to read fully and say more about Amoris Laetitia.

Comments (1)

Sam Roeble

#1, Apr 13, 2016 10:10am

Hi Katie,

Pope Francis has this complement & warning about Personalism in the document ( Ch. 2, Paragraph 33):

we rightly value a personalism that opts for authenticity as opposed to mere conformity. While this can favour spontaneity and a better use of people’s talents, if misdirected it can foster attitudes of constant suspicion, fear of commitment, self-centredness and arrogance.

*the difficult balance between Caritas & Veritas

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