New statement from the German bishops raises questions yet again about the meaning of Amoris Laetitia.
Doctrinal Change in Amoris Laetitia?
Pardon the use of an apocalyptic mixed metaphor, but Amoris Laetitia has been at the epicenter of a giant firestorm of controversy since its publication in 2016, the fundamental question being this:
Does Amoris Laetitia promote heretical doctrinal change?
The Catholic News Agency was first out of the gate to defend AL. On the very day that Amoris was published, CNA ran with this reassuring headline:
No doctrine change from Pope Francis – but a call for better pastoral careCNA
Faulty Textual Analysis from CNA
Their defense included an important piece of textual analysis from the controversial chapter eight:
Considering the “immense variety of concrete situations” that the divorced-and-remarried have put themselves in, he said, “it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules … applicable to all cases.”No doctrine change from Pope Francis – but a call for better pastoral care
The quotation from Amoris Laetitia comes from paragraph 300 of the document. The part that I highlighted in bold, you will notice, is not part of the Amoris text. That is the CNA writer’s annotation. Here is the original Amoris text without the CNA annotation:
300. If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases . . . .
The part in bold is what CNA clipped out of their version, which they replaced with their own annotation. The problem is that CNA’s additions and deletions misrepresent the meaning of the original text. Paragraph 300 is not just about divorce and remarriage. It is the concluding paragraph of a sub-section of chapter 8, and it summarizes the content of that section. (Anyone who read my book would know this.) The sub-section is titled, “The Discernment of Irregular Situations,” which means that the section is covering more ground than simply the divorced and remarried. When the pope refers to “the concrete situations such as those I have mentioned,” he is referring to the situations mentioned in that sub-section. What are those situations? Paragraph 297 is the key. There, in addition to the divorced and remarried, he explicitly mentions those in a civil, but not sacramental, marriage. He also mentions those who are unmarried and living together. But earlier in par. 297 he writes this:
“No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.“Amoris Laetitia, par. 297
Thus, the concluding par. 300 is incendiary. It is saying there are no general rules governing any irregular sexual situation. When he mentions those who are living together without marriage, that certainly could be interpreted to include same sex couples or even polyamorous situations. Paragraph 300 could even be used to justify, rationalize, or excuse pedophilia, as some theologians did in the seventies, and as I documented in my book and in this article.
Is this such a far-fetched reading of Amoris? Apparently the German bishops don’t think so—at least as far as homosexuality is concerned. The Catholic News Agency confirmed this piece of catastrophic news in their extremely tardy article, “German bishops commit to ‘newly assessing’ Catholic doctrine on homosexuality and sexual morality” And CNA confirmed, as well, that the Germans are claiming that Amoris allows for such a reevaluation of homosexuality:
Calling for a “solid discussion supported by human sciences and theology” [Bishops] Koch and Bode said that Amoris Laetitia already provides for noticeable “developments” of both Church doctrine and practice . . . .Source: Catholic News Agency
Certainly, if there are no moral absolutes governing sexuality, as par.300 and a slew of other AL passages claimed or implied, then the traditional absolute prohibitions against homosexuality were erroneous, and the German bishops were correct to identify Amoris as opening the door to a reevaluation. While the German bishops demonstrate a complete lack of comprehension about what it means to be a Catholic and Apostolic Church, their understanding of Amoris Laetitia nevertheless surpassed that of the CNA pundits.
CNA’s distortion of the text was a clear and egregious transgression of journalistic ethics. (Perhaps it was done unintentionally. Perhaps their expert analysts didn’t understand the text . . . .) But that was the story they were going with. Only a few days after the publication of AL, CNA doubled down with its second article on Amoris:
Chapter Eight deals with “accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness”, or pastoral care for those in irregular family situations. Contrary to assumptions that it demonstrates a change in Church teaching on reception of Holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried persons, the document upholds existing Church teaching, both Martens and Fr. Petri affirmed.
The exhortation must be interpreted “obviously within the context of the texts that have gone before it,” Fr. Petri stated. It “builds strongly” on Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world following the 1980 Synod on the Family.
In Familiaris consortio, John Paul II had written that the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the reception of the Eucharist is possible for the divorced-and-remarried only when they ‘live in complete continence’.
Martens agreed that Amoris laetitia builds upon the foundation of Familiaris consortio. “I don’t see a fundamental change in here,” he said.
Source: No, Pope Francis isn’t saying your ‘conscience’ trumps doctrine
The most innocent spin that could be put on Amoris was on display in this article: It speaks of chapter eight as though it were only about divorce and remarriage. Thus, the document’s numerous passages about exceptions to moral rules (pars. 2, 296, 298, 300, 304, 305) could be construed as pertaining only to the divorced and remarried. And since, for such cases, Pope John Paul had already identified an exception to the Eucharistic exclusion in Familiaris Consortio, one could make the stretch that Amoris was just a logical and reasonable development of orthodox doctrine. Thus could the “hermeneutic of continuity” be preserved and everyone breathe easily once again. That’s what’s going on in the excerpt above. The trouble with this approach (besides the fact that it is blatantly false, as it is contradicted by the Amoris text itself) is that no one but a handful of eastern seaboard academics and pundits was buying it. (But were they really?)
Which brings us to my favorite people in the whole wide world.
The Dubia Cardinals
The four so called “dubia” Cardinals are the caped crusaders of this story. They include American canon lawyer and theologian Cardinal Raymond Burke, as well as the late Carlo Caffarra, a world renowned theologian handpicked by John Paul II to be the founding president of the pope’s institute on marriage and the family. Together with Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and the late Joachim Meisner, they posed five dubia, or questions, to Pope Francis about Amoris’s meaning.
And their questions were revelatory. Four of the five questions demonstrated that they didn’t buy CNA’s bizarre misreading of paragraph 300. Amoris Laetitia was attacking the absolute and immutable sexual morality of the Bible. The dubia Cardinals knew it, and they were calling Pope Francis out on it. Here is their second dubium:
Dubium Two: After the publication of the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 79, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?
Veritatis Splendor defended the Church’s perennial teaching that the Bible established precisely what Amoris Laetitia declared in par. 300 to be impossible, namely, the existence of a timeless, exceptionless, and universal moral law that governed sexual behavior. As John Paul reminded us in VS 81, St. Paul summed up this eternal law in 1Corinthians:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.1Cor. 6: 9–10, NRSV
Thus, what John Paul II affirmed in Veritatis Splendor, to the vexation of many progressives, was that, because the Church’s sexual morality came from the Apostles, it belonged to the deposit of divinely revealed truth and was, consequently, absolute and not subject to revision or reevaluation of any kind. Not from scientists. Not from the pope. Not from anyone. Not even “an angel from heaven”:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.Gal. 1: 8, RSV
It is difficult to believe that any pope would reject a bedrock principle of Christian sexual morality as Francis has done in Amoris Laetitia. But some historical perspective can help to make the unthinkable a little easier to understand. As I showed in my book, Confronting the Pope of Suspicion, it was a common heresy among progressive theologians in the seventies to argue that modern science, psychology in particular, had refuted the sexual morality of the Bible and exposed the Bible’s “ignorance” of human nature. These errors were widespread in the Jesuit order that educated and formed Pope Francis when he was a seminarian. Thus, in Amoris Laetitia, Francis was merely repeating what he was taught in seminary.
Some unnamed German insider was quoted as saying about the Amazon synod that it was about “dusting off old folders from the seventies.” The same could be said of Amoris Laetitia and the whole of the Francis regime.
Consider, for instance, that the Pontifical Biblical Commission, an official arm of the Vatican, has just published a new book that agrees with the German bishops in calling for a reassessment of the Biblical laws concerning homosexuality. What is their reasoning? The same as the German bishops: “Because the Bible is culturally biased and unscientific.” This same old heresy from the seventies was recycled by Pope Francis and inserted stealthily into Amoris Laetitia, as I described in my book and in this article. And now, the German bishops, acting in evident coordination with the Vatican, are busy implementing the heretical, anti-magisterial Francis “magisterium” originally laid out for us in Amoris Laetitia.
The Dubia Answered
If any good has come from this, it is the blessing of clearer vision, appropriately dawning in the year 2020. And with this clearer vision, what we can now see is Francis’ answer to the dubium quoted above. If his Vatican is going to agree with the Germans in calling for a reevaluation of homosexuality, then the Francis “magisterium” rejects the teaching of “Scripture and Sacred Tradition” upheld by Pope John Paul in Veritatis Splendor concerning the existence of absolute moral standards that govern sexual behavior and that include an absolute prohibition against homosexual acts.
As I have stated many times, Amoris Laetitia rejects the absolute sexual morality of the Bible. In multiple places, the text casts doubt on the reliability of general moral principles, but in not one single place can you find the remotest affirmation of the Bible’s absolute sexual morality that John Paul defended in Veritatis Splendor. Have a look for yourself at some of the key incriminating passages:
Amoris Rejects Bible:
- AL 304: “304. It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.”
- AL 305: “305. For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.”
- AL 296: “Consequently, there is a need ‘to avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ . . . .”
- AL 298: “The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment of pastors must always take place . . . with an approach which ‘carefully discerns situations.’ We know that no ‘easy recipes’ exist.”
- AL 2 “The debates carried on . . . among the Church’s ministers range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules . . . .”
- AL 300: “300. If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases . . . .”
- AL 2: “The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.
No doctrinal change, CNA? Would you and your go-to pundits, Kurt Martens and Fr. Petri, like a minute to reconsider your answer? And to help you out, I include below a listing of the many dissenting statements of renowned scholars and theologians who could see in Amoris Laetitia what you apparently cannot: the doctrinal anarchy that is now being openly promoted by the Vatican and the German bishops.
Chronology of Major Dissents
- June 29, 2016. Letter to Cardinals and Patriarchs from 45 scholars identifies 19 errors in Amoris Laetitia. They do not hesitate to use the word heresy to describe these errors.
- September 19, 2016. Four Cardinals send a letter to the pope containing five dubia, or questions, concerning the doctrinal fidelity of Amoris.
- July 16, 2017. Sixty-two scholars send a letter of “filial correction” to the pope. They identified 7 errors in Amoris.
- April 30, 2019. Nineteen theologians accuse the pope of heresy in 7 areas of doctrine.
I conclude that there never has been, nor could there ever be, a valid defense of Amoris Laetitia. From the beginning, those defenses were founded on grave distortions of the Amoris text which can no longer be defended while keeping a straight face. The pope has forced Catholics to make a choice, for he has made it quite clear: It’s either the pope or the Apostles. The Church is just not big enough for the both of them.
9 thoughts on “The Catholic News Agency Misrepresented Key Amoris Text”
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I’m not going to post your last comment because it’s just too long and rambling. If you want to post a comment, do so. Don’t post a dissertation. Learn to make a point simply and clearly.
I will post this brief portion:
“How theologians presented sexual morality is not a straw man if Francis praised those theologians…´
Who precisely were these theologians, what exactly did the Pope say about them which constitute ¨praise¨, in what
context, whether it was alleged heresy which was praised or some other orthodox stuff…rabbit hole.
Rather than going down another rabbit hole trying to find out all the possible meanings of the word ´ideal´ as used by
some theologians, the simpler thing is to merely stick to the text of AL which constitutes the authentic Magisterium.”
I think a reasonable person can see what’s wrong with your statement. You barrage with me with a load of questions all pertaining to the contents of my book. What am I supposed to do? Reproduce the book for you in the comments section of my website? I could do that, but I’d send you a bill for the book.
I wrote the book for a reason, which, by the way, has gotten GREAT reviews and was featured on the Patrick Coffin Show as well as the Eric Metaxas Show. If you’re really interested in the answers to those questions, READ THE BOOK. THAT’S WHAT IT’S THERE FOR!
´…there never has been, nor could there ever be, a valid defense of Amoris Laetitia…´
While a defense of the entire document is beyond the scope of this post, – (due to the length and time that it would entail) – with regard to the dubia, consider…
Amoris Laetitia 298: ‘The divorced who have entered a new union can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be *pigeonholed* or fit into *overly* rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.’
First, a loose analogy:
As an inmate of a concentration camp, your rights are being severely violated. You could attempt an escape and no longer have to endure this. But you fear that an escape would jeopardize the rights of the other prisoners who may be subjected to greater rights violations or even be shot in batches in reprisal for every prisoner that dares to escape. If you ‘decide’ not to attempt an escape out of anxiety and concern for your fellow inmates, does that equate to your deliberately and wilfully choosing the evil that continues to come upon you? Is your ‘choice’ to stay really ‘free’ such as to make you morally culpable? Would it be fair to accuse you wanting to be violated?
With the above analogy in mind, here is a summary of a case study: Divorced, civilly remarried Sarah has a conversion experience. Wants to live only as sister & brother, but her partner Mohammed disagrees, threatens divorce; forces himself on her from time to time. Among the reasons for Sarah reluctantly putting up with and silently bearing this is fear and anxiety that her children by Mohammed will: (a) be psychologically affected by divorce, (b) grow up without one parent at home, (c) lose out on a Catholic upbringing through their mother if a civil court grants custody of the children to Mohammed in a contested divorce. Her ‘decision’ to stay, among other things, is out of fear, anxiety and concern for the children’s welfare. But that does not equate to her choosing to be violated. Wouldn’t footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia apply here? (‘In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.’) Is there an obex that hinders absolution followed by admittance to Communion (*privately*, so as to avoid scandal to those who may not be privy to the situation she finds herself in?)
Check out more nuances and arguments in this three-part series:
1 of 3) The Sarah case: http://bit.ly/2Hc54gc
2 of 3) The case for absolution: http://bit.ly/2WGhO5k
3 of 3) A possible reply to the dubia: http://bit.ly/2Vzo4iQ
Thank you for your comment. Your hypothetical example speaks to the first, and possibly the third, dubium on divorce and remarriage. As I pointed out in the article, four of the dubia concern the existence of an absolute moral code. It belongs to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition that such a code exists. It’s the one in the Bible, and it retains its force to this day and beyond. This is what Veritatis Splendor affirmed and Amoris L. denied: the existence of an absolute moral code that is exceptionless and that governs sexual behavior.
With regard to par. 298 of AL, which you reference above, there should be an ellipsis where you clipped out an important phrase—”for example.” In pars. 298–299, Francis discusses various circumstances of divorce and remarriage as an EXAMPLE to illustrate his LARGER POINT, namely, that NO absolute prohibitions are possible for any sexual behavior.
Thus, pars. 298 and 299 are not about divorce per se. They are about the possibility of an absolute moral prohibition of ANY sexual behavior. The paragraphs are meant to demonstrate that such absolute prohibitions that we find in the Bible against adultery and homosexuality are invalid because “life is too complicated, blah blah blah.”
Your thought piece illustrates my point that CNA succeeded in putting one over on the Catholic community by leading people to believe, incorrectly, that Amoris L. was mainly about divorce. It was not. The dubia cardinals understood this.
Thank you for your reply.
That Amoris L. ¨denied the existence of an absolute moral code…¨ seems to be a misunderstanding. Unsure what led you to that conclusion when there are clear indications that the moral law is being affirmed.
AL 297: ´…Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to
others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion…´
If the moral law is being denied, what sense does it make to speak of ´what the Church teaches´, ´separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17)´, ´listen…to the Gospel message and its call to conversion´?
Or ´….“In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are
divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them”, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit…´
If the moral law is being denied, what sense does it make to speak of reaching the fullness of God’s plan (by the law of gradualism)?
AL 298 speaks of ´the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family.´
Why even refer to the Gospel if the moral law is being denied?
¨…In pars. 298–299, Francis discusses various circumstances of divorce and remarriage as an EXAMPLE to illustrate his LARGER POINT, namely, that NO absolute prohibitions are possible for any sexual behavior…¨
That you see ´NO absolute prohibitions are possible for any sexual behavior´ as being the Pope´s larger point is another misreading. That simply makes no sense in the light of what I pointed out above with regard to the moral law not being denied.
¨Thus, pars. 298 and 299 are not about divorce per se. They are about the possibility of an absolute moral prohibition of ANY sexual behavior. The paragraphs are meant to demonstrate that such absolute prohibitions that we find in the Bible against adultery and homosexuality are invalid because “life is too complicated, blah blah blah.”…¨
Yet another misreading.
AL 298 says: ´The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.´
If, as you read it, ´absolute prohibitions / moral laws…are invalid´, anything and everything goes / is justified or permissible – but then, what is there to discern personally or pastorally?
And later AL 298 says: ´The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing”, with an approach which “carefully discerns situations”. We know that no “easy recipes” exist…´
Again, if moral laws are invalid, what exactly do pastors have to discern? What is there to ´adequately distinguish´? What sense does it make to cite Benedict XVI in footnote 333?
¨Your thought piece illustrates my point that CNA succeeded in putting one over on the Catholic community by leading people to believe, incorrectly, that Amoris L. was mainly about divorce. It was not. The dubia cardinals understood this.¨
AL obviously is about a lot more than footnote 351 or divorce. But since the debate started on the divorce issue, for brevity, that serves as an illustrative purpose.
Attention was drawn to the Sarah case along with the other two posts because the nuances and arguments therein serve as a useful ´launchpad´ when addressing the larger issues raised through the dubia.
It helps to be anchored in a concrete situation so that one has a reference point rather than debating ¨in the air¨ at an abstract level.
Your reply is rather lengthy. I will try to be brief. My general response to your points is to say that you can find some of the answers to your questions in the article itself. But also in the book that I researched and wrote. A very big point of that book was that the heretical theology of the seventies did actually praise the morality of the Bible. BUT ONLY AS AN IDEAL. AND NOT IN THE MANNER THAT IT WAS PRESENTED BY THE APOSTLES. THIS IS WHY POPE JOHN PAUL CONDEMNED THEIR IDEAS IN VERITATIS SPLENDOR. The apostles insisted that the sexual morality they presented was absolute, meaning that there were no special situations or circumstances that could justify the intrinsically evil act of sex outside of marriage. But when theologians of the seventies presented the Bible’s sexual morality as an IDEAL, they meant that the rules didn’t always apply in every situation. That is a heretical contradiction of Apostolic doctrine, as John Paul taught in Veritatis.
Now, take a look at the passages you quote to me. Notice that Francis describes the Gospel as an IDEAL. That’s the very term used in the seventies meaning that the rules could be disregarded in certain situations. So John Paul wrote Veritatis to remind people that St. Paul told us that ANYONE who commits these sins forfeits salvation, meaning that such acts are INTRINSICALLY EVIL, and thus, are never morally justified.
Amoris Laetitia promotes these heresies from the seventies. Thus, to praise the gospel as an IDEAL is not to praise it at all, but to in fact CONTRADICT the gospel.
The dubia cardinals caught the error right away.
Read my book. It explains the whole situation very clearly.
¨The apostles insisted that the sexual morality they presented was absolute, meaning that there were no special situations or circumstances that could justify the intrinsically evil act of sex outside of marriage.¨
There is no question that adultery is a sin. In the Sarah case, the question is whether there is adultery involved at all in respect of what happens after her conversion experience. When the penitent clearly indicates in the confessional that she does not consent to being violated, how can you disregard that, attribute or ´manufacture´ consent on her part, and claim that she is choosing to do an adulterous act?
How some theologians may have presented the Bible’s sexual morality is a straw-man.
As for usage of the term ´ideal´ – when I read what you said, it reminded me in a roundabout way of different meanings ascribed to the same word by different people – as illustrated at https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/blakemontgomery/kavanaugh-devils-triangle
Simply because that is the same word which was used earlier by some theologians doesn´t mean that the Pope also uses that term with the same meaning and intention. This is clear because when we read AL chapter VIII as a whole, we see a number of examples – (some already noted in my previous post) – whose tenor certainly doesn´t mean ´the rules can be disregarded in certain situations.´ Instead, the Pope is pointing to the law of gradualness as a factor to be considered when accompanying some weak people in their journey to the ideal. It certainly doesn´t mean a green signal to ´disregard the rules´.
¨John Paul wrote Veritatis to remind people that St. Paul told us that ANYONE who commits these sins forfeits salvation, meaning that such acts are INTRINSICALLY EVIL, and thus, are never morally justified.¨
The Pope is certainly not denying that there are intrinsically evil acts. And he certainly isn´t saying they can be morally justified in some situations. Those who misread may of course come to such a conclusion – but then, that is really their personal (mis)understanding and has nothing to do with what AL actually says.
And as I said earlier, having a concrete situation at the forefront is helpful. In the Sarah case, the question is not whether an intrinsically evil act can be morally justified. Rather, the question is whether an intrinsically evil act is chosen or done by Sarah in the first place!
Saying yes would be like saying you choose or want to be violated in the concentration camp!
As I have already said, your hypothetical doesn’t apply. The Church has always taught that subjective conditions or difficult situations can reduce moral culpability. That’s not controversial.
How theologians presented sexual morality is not a straw man if Francis praised those theologians and then promoted their errors in Amoris L. as was the case. My book shows this. The dubia Cardinals show this.
The word “ideal” is used the same by both the heretical theologians and Pope Francis. I show this in my book. You are merely speculating when you doubt my claim. I support my claim in my book with evidence. You have not supported your claim with any evidence. To support your claim: produce examples of 70s theology and their use of the term “ideal” and show how their use is different from Francis’ use of the term.
Then you say, “The Pope is certainly not denying that there are intrinsically evil acts.” Congratulations! You know more than the dubia Cardinals. (See dubium #2 in the article above, which Pope Francis never answered.)
Thought I would share some of John Zmirak’s comments on this article from Twitter:
“BRILLIANT, carefully reasoned piece here: ‘The pope has forced Catholics to make a choice. For he has made it quite clear. It’s either the pope or the Apostles. The Church is just not big enough for the both of them.'”