There's been a recent exchange of rather-tense articles between Larry Chapp and Pedro Gabriel on the subject of the Magisterial document Amoris Laetitia, which was controversial at the time and which has seen the controversy reignited by a recent conference in Rome. Dr. Chapp has maintained that Amoris Laetitia (AL) was written in a way that it could be used to defend proportionalism contrary to the teaching of Veritatis Splendor (VS), even though it in principle only dealt with issues of culpability for sin, because of a dangerous (and perhaps even deliberate) ambiguity. Because of that ambiguity, as a practical and pastoral matter, the teaching of the Church is being disregarded. This is the "rupture" that Dr. Chapp points out, and it seems to me both that the criticism is entirely legitimate and that supporters of Pope Francis, including Gabriel, aren't actually answering that criticism.
There are historical examples of Popes being judged harshly for exactly this sort of "technically correct but practically dangerous" teaching, including the notorious cases of Liberius, Honorius, and Vigilius. In each case, while there is a legitimate defense that what was written did not dogmatically contradict the deposit of faith, it had the practical effect of making it more difficult to fight error. The case of Liberius and Hosius was probably the most innocuous, as Liberius's friend Athanasius the Great pointed out, because the faithful knew full well what the faith was and that any ambiguous statements by Liberius were going to be taken in a manner compatible with the faith. Mental reservations in a case like that are going to be much more apparent. Honorius seems to have been relatively oblivious to the theological controversy into which he was weighing, but that practical context made his decision to weigh in dangerous for the faith. Lastly, Vigilius's vacillation on the disciplinary side made it difficult to the point of being nearly impossible to clearly condemn the Nestorian heresy of the time. In each case, one could say that the Pope had not taught contrary to the faith, but that he had exercised his Magisterial office in a way that sowed confusion and made the correction of error more difficult as a practical matter.
That is where I think we are with Pope Francis: he is depriving the Church of pastoral and disciplinary tools that prevent heresy. Where that puts him on the scale of these notorious Popes of history is a matter that can be debated, and I am inclined to think that the Christological errors of the early Church were more serious than the matters of moral theology that are being debated, simply because there is already going to be a great deal of pastoral judgment in this area. But in terms of being on the side of Popes who have done very bad things from the practical perspective that make it more difficult to prevail against heresy, that conclusion seems inescapable. As history has shown, that doesn't violate the indefectibility of the Church, but it does make those stretches of time relatively more miserable, both for the Church and for the world to which the Gospel is presented.
I. Problems with Amoris Laetitia
When AL was published, there were predictions that this was going to be the result. First, there was a question as to whether it was even compatible with the prior teaching concerning intrinsic evil in VS. Then, there were questions as to whether the Pope even had the right to alter sacramental discipline concerning these matters, particularly regarding the sacramental discipline of couples in objectively deficient civil marriages. Those questions resulted in a dubia written to the Pope by some rather prominent figures in the Church, who later also sought to offer "fraternal correction" to the Pope. The reason that I raise these questions is that I considered (and still consider) those criticisms to be unfounded based on AL itself, but they do point to an opportunity for abuse.
In the first place, as Gabriel correctly points out, AL deals not with intrinsic evil but with culpability for evil conduct:
Father Martinez characterized this move as “a hypertrophy [an excessive development] of the magisterium in the field of moral theology, that took place during the long pontificate of John Paul II,” he said. “As a result, the magisterium speaks on every single issue of personal or social morals—but especially on personal morals, sexual morality and violence.” With this hypertrophy of the magisterium, he said, “conscience has, in equal proportion, been diminished; even though ‘Veritatis Splendor’ affirms conscience is the main instance of morals.”
John Paul II realized that the traditional notion of family was changing, but his way of facing it was different to that of Francis, Father Yáñez said. In “Amoris Laetitia,” Francis “offers a sense of humanity regarding the new realities of the family—single-parent families, ensembled families, mixed-race families and, ultimately, even ‘rainbow’ families—and went beyond what ‘Familiaris Consortio’ stated.”
Indeed, “the whole problem regarding family life and marriage was reduced to sexual relations. There was a failure to see the complexity of marital life,” he said. “Familiaris Consortio,” he recalled, “stated that a person who is divorced and remarried could not receive Communion, unless the couple [were to] abstain from sexual relations.
“But if marriage is reduced to sexual relations, there is a difficulty to see the complexities and richness of marital and family life. In my view, the problem was due to the fact that sexuality and marriage was not studied in a scientific way,” Father Yáñez concluded. “The bishops and clergy didn’t know the findings of science.”
“I believe that one of the strongest calls we receive today is to make moral theological reflection on good scientific data, for which we need a good formation in all pastoral agents. This is crucially important for clergy,” he said. For Pope Francis, sexuality is a gift, he said, and we need an integral and realistic sexual education.