Ever since Amoris laetitia was published in April last year, I have been wondering what, if anything, it means. Not what it intends: that, unfortunately, was clear from the beginning. But rather, what mental propositions, if any, are expressed by sequences of words such as the following:

No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!”; “A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding its inherent values, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin”;Conscience can recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal” [etc.].

There seem to be four possibilities:


(1) These words have no meaning. An Argentinian priest said to me even before the publication of Amoris, that Pope Bergoglio does not see words as units of meaning which serve to express thoughts, but as tools to achieve ends. So one might hold that passages such as those quoted express no mental propositions, but are simpl tools used to achieve communion for the invalidly married, as another man might use a hammer to drive in a nail.

This is attractive, but I wonder if it is humanly possible not to intend to express some mental proposition when uttering well-formed sentences. Nonsense poetry is a sophisticated genre, which is no doubt why it didn’t emerge until the mid-19th century in England, which take it all in all was the richest period of English letters. Presumably the same is true of nonsense prose.

(2) These words are deliberately ambiguous, i.e. they are intended to express more than one mental proposition existing in the mind of the pope, at least one of which would be orthodox; and he intends that the reader be free to choose among them (though only as a means to the ultimate goal of communion for the remarried).

The trouble with this is that we normally say that an author is entitled to say what his words mean, if they lack clarity. Now the pope, by his subsequent statements, e.g. recommending the archbishop of Vienna as a guide to understanding Amoris, has indicated that he wants the words of the document to be interpreted as allowing communion for the remarried. So it seems that we would have to say this is the meaning of these words in the document, and hence that the text, though cloudy, is not ambiguous in the sense defined above.

(3) These words have only a heretical meaning. They express mental propositions in the mind of Pope Bergoglio which are contrary to revealed truths. This is easy to defend. But it is an unfortunate thing to have to say of what seems to be at least indirectly a magisterial document addressed to the whole Church (even though the pope has not declared these passages to be binding on the faith of Catholics).

(4) These words have 2 meanings because they express thoughts in two different minds. Literally speaking, the only mind in question is the mind of the pope. But it is a principle of the interpretation, and therefore of the meaning of magisterial documents, that they are to be read in the light of clearer and more authoritative documents, where possible. In that sense, we can speak of their expressing ‘the mind of the Church’. Now, as mentioned in (2), the pope has unfortunately shown that he interprets, and therefore presumably meant, these statements in way that is not orthodox. But it may still be possible that any of these statements, taken in the abstract, can be read, with a good deal of bending and stretching, in a way that is orthodox.

In other words, we could say that these statements in Amoris have two literal meanings: a Bergoglian meaning and a magisterial meaning. This is not quite the same as the hypothesis of deliberate ambiguity, since the pope has made sufficiently clear what he had in mind, in various non-magisterial ways. But precisely because he expressed himself in AL in such a cloudy way, we are entitled to interpret AL in a Catholic way. Yet that should not prevent us from resisting the heresies which, unfortunately, the pope has used it to vehicle.