The attacks on Pope Francis are reminiscent of the Pharisees testing Jesus

SIR – The wolves are circling around Pope Francis. A quick search on the internet throws up a stream of sites questioning many of the assertions contained in Amoris Laetitia. As reported at, John Finnis and Germain Grisez recently sent a 34-page letter to the Pope asking for clarification, which follows in the wake of a dubia from four cardinals supported by 45 theologians. The issue is becoming divisive and threatens to throw the Church into disrepute.

The key concern is that Amoris Laetitia appears to contradict the Council of Trent’s assertion that “if anyone says that the commandments of God are impossible of observance even by a person justified and established in grace: let him be anathema”. This same idea is echoed by Pope John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, which defines transgression of the commandments as “intrinsically evil”.

Such transgressions impute guilt regardless of the transgressor’s difficulties to comply and even when the transgression is only intended as a means to a good end. Veritatis Splendor acknowledges, however, that difficulties or good intentions can reduce the severity of the guilt.

In apparent contradiction with these texts, Pope Francis contends that “concrete situations” may render it impossible for people to avoid sinning. Modern psychology offers examples of situations where the will is broken by trauma or severe stress, taking away people’s freedom. For example, prisoners of war after long solitary confinement seek emotional relief by empathising with their captors, opening themselves to brain-washing. It would be hard to burden them with guilt even on a strict reading of Trent or Veritatis Splendor, and it is perhaps these texts that need clarifying in view of such examples.

A situation that specifically concerns Pope Francis is that of “people living in sin” with a partner with whom they have children. Returning to full communion with the Church would require ceasing sexual intercourse, which may not be acceptable to the other partner.

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