This excellent article from the National Catholic Register should be the end of the argument about this, but of course it won’t; but it sure was for me.
Another very important and related point are the comments by the last three popes that they would like to see capital punishment abolished—for those comments also are of no relevance to the accepted teaching of the Church that there are certain crimes for which the life of the criminal is demanded, about which I wrote a book.
The key sentence, as it relates to Amoris Laetitia and capital punishment, is highlighted in the final paragraph of the excerpt.
An excerpt from the Register article.
REGISTER EXCLUSIVE: Cardinal Burke says a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, ‘by its very nature, does not propose new doctrine and discipline, but applies the perennial doctrine and discipline to the situation of the world at the time.’
The secular media and even some Catholic media are describing the recently issued post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “Love in the Family,” as a revolution in the Church, as a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church, up to now, regarding marriage and the family.
Such a view of the document is both a source of wonder and confusion to the faithful and potentially a source of scandal, not only for the faithful but for others of goodwill who look to Christ and his Church to teach and reflect in practice the truth regarding marriage and its fruit, family life, the first cell of the life of the Church and of every society.
It is also a disservice to the nature of the document as the fruit of the Synod of Bishops, a meeting of bishops representing the universal Church “to assist the Roman pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world” (Canon 342). In other words, it would be a contradiction of the work of the Synod of Bishops to set in motion confusion regarding what the Church teaches, safeguards and fosters by her discipline.
The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching. Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium (3). The very form of the document confirms the same. It is written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops. For instance, in Chapter Eight, which some wish to interpret as the proposal of a new discipline with obvious implications for the
Church’s doctrine, Pope Francis, citing his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, declares:
I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (308).
In other words, the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for his Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls “a more rigorous pastoral care.” The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself. There is no consistent effort to relate the text, in general, or these citations to the magisterium, the Fathers of the Church and other proven authors.
What is more, as noted above, a document which is the fruit of the Synod of Bishops must always be read in the light of the purpose of the synod itself, namely, to safeguard and foster what the Church has always taught and practiced in accord with her teaching.
In other words, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, by its very nature, does not propose new doctrine and discipline, but applies the perennial doctrine and discipline to the situation of the world at the time.
How, then, is the document to be received? First of all, it should be received with the profound respect owed to the Roman pontiff as the Vicar of Christ, in the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of both the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Lumen Gentium, 23). Certain commentators confuse such respect with a supposed obligation to “believe with divine and Catholic faith” (Canon 750, § 1) everything contained in the document. But the Catholic Church, while insisting on the respect owed to the Petrine office as instituted by Our Lord himself, has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium.