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Friday, April 8, 2016

Francis opens door to Communion for ‘remarried’ Catholics in landmark exhortation

Francis opens door to Communion for ‘remarried’ Catholics in landmark exhortation

John Jalsevac and Patrick B. Craine   


ROME, April 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The most controversial moment of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation – Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) – might be confined to a humble footnote, but the implication is clear: the pope has opened the door to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal that in some circumstances divorced and remarried Catholics could be readmitted to the sacraments, including the Eucharist.

In so doing the pope appears to have taken up a position contrary to that of his predecessors, most notably Pope John Paul II, who had flatly rejected the idea of admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. Pope Benedict XVI, during his time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had also addressed the controversy, and come down definitively against liberalizing the Church’s practice.
It isn’t until Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’ historically lengthy apostolic exhortation that he deals directly with the question that has embroiled the Church in debate for the past two years - ever since Cardinal Kasper, at Pope Francis’ personal invitation, outlined his controversial proposal in a keynote address to a consistory of Cardinals at the Vatican.
The text of the final document (or relatio) of last year’s Synod on the Family had caused concern among some synod fathers by referencing the idea of the “internal forum” in relation to the debate over the divorced and remarried. This idea has been used by some theologians to argue that a penitent who persists in an objectively sinful state could discern, in private discussion with his confessor, that his subjective culpability is limited, and he could therefore return to the sacraments.
In the exhortation released today, Pope Francis has adopted and expanded that reasoning.
Though the entire thrust of Chapter 8 is making the case for a deeper “integration” of those in “irregular unions” into the life of the Church, in the main body of the text the pope leaves the meaning of the phrase more or less ambiguous. However, he provides a clear answer at the end of a footnote to paragraph 305, where he states that this “integration” can, “in certain cases,” involve admittance to the sacraments, including the Eucharist.
In paragraph 305, the pope warns that “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.” Quoting a well-known section of his own speech at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family last October, Francis says that such a pastor would be “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families.”
He adds:
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.
At the end of that sentence, he includes a footnote (351), which clarifies: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments,” and then refers to both Confession and the Eucharist. He writes: “I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’”
Speaking of the problem of integrating people in irregular unions, the pope says it would be impossible to establish “general rules,” such as through canon law. Rather, he encourages individuals to discern their individual circumstances in the “internal forum” - i.e. in private consultation with their priest - and following guidelines established by the bishop.
He writes: “What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or ef­fects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”
This applies even to “sacramental discipline,” he writes in a footnote to that text, because “discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists.”
Quoting the Synod on the Family’s final text, he says the discernment “can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church.” Still quoting the Synod text, he says the discernment must involve several conditions: “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more per­fect response to it.”
He then writes: “These attitudes are essen­tial for avoiding the grave danger of misunder­standings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions’, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours.”
The "pope" bases his argument on a radical interpretation of the role of conscience - which he suggests could, in some cases, actually reveal to a person that God may in fact be “asking” them to continue in a situation that does not achieve the “objective ideal” of the Gospel.
The pope writes that “individual conscience needs to be incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.” He continues:
Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also 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.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the exhortation’s treatment of irregular unions is the pope’s apparent dismissal of the idea that couples in such unions who find themselves unable to separate for legitimate reason should be required or even encouraged to live together as “brother and sister” - i.e. to forego engaging in sexual relations.
Pope John Paul II had, in Familiaris Consortio, proposed sexual continence as the only moral solution for couples who, repenting of their irregular union, find that “for serious reasons” - such as the need to raise their children - they “cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.” In such cases, wrote John Paul II, the couple must "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."
Pope Francis, however, while citing this sentence of Familiaris Consortio to show that the Church does acknowledge cases where separation may be impossible, leaves out the latter half of the sentence, which references the obligation to continence. In a footnote, Pope Francis then casts into doubt the wisdom of living in continence for such couples, suggesting that doing so could harm the couple’s relationship and children.  
“In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’” This footnote in turn cites the Second Vatican Council’s document, Gaudium et Spes - in particular a section that acknowledges the strain married couples face during periods of abstinence in the practice of natural family planning. However, Pope Francis’ usage of the quote applies it to those in irregular unions.
The pope’s decision today follows decades of pressure on the issue from progressives in the aftermath of Vatican II. In particular, it was a major point of discussion at the Synod on the Family that Pope John Paul II convened in 1980. It was in his exhortation following that Synod, Familiaris Consortio, that he firmly shut the door on the question, citing Scripture and the Church’s doctrine. His short paragraph on the issue still offers the most cogent and concise explanation for why the proposal is impossible. He wrote:
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

 

Francis Departs from Church Teaching in New Exhortation

By

Francis has just published his long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Amoris Laetitia. In it, he repeats many of the problematic and controversial statements of the previous 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family. Among these, one finds the law of gradualism with regard to sinful relationships, the claim that there are “seeds” of goodness in such relationships that are objectively contrary to God’s laws, and a general tone of not speaking of sin at all with regard to those ways of living that put the soul of the persistent sinner gravely at risk of not attaining to eternal salvation. Pope Francis quotes amply both the 2014 and 2015 Synod reports, which shows that he approves of how they were handled, as well as the way they deftly steered the Church toward a more lenient attitude as regards the sinner and his misconduct. He also makes clear at the very beginning of his document that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. ” Some “aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it” can be, according to the pope, interpreted  in different ways. He explicitly stresses that
Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.
The pope chooses, however, not to define what he means by “solutions better suited to its culture.” Is this, in fact, a form of cultural and moral relativism? The answer is not immediately clear.
Beside these themes, problematic in themselves, there are two grave and deeply serious claims in this new papal document which were not discussed during the previous two Synod sessions in the manner in which they appear in the exhortation. Each represents a deviation from the Catholic Church’s traditional moral teaching, thereby effectively departing from the Universal Magisterium of the Church.
In Chapter 8 (Paragraph 298), Pope Francis speaks about the “remarried” divorcees and claims that one has to look at each case individually – suggesting a form of Nominalism – since not every case has to be assessed the same way. As an example, he refers to a second “marriage” which has been “strengthened” (or “consolidated,” depending on the translation) and which also has “new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment” – but which is also aware of “its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins.” As an example, Pope Francis brings up the education of children that calls for the “remarried” couple to stay closely together as a couple. While this example has been brought up repeatedly during the last two years, Pope Francis adds a novelty in his footnote (329) to this paragraph:
many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” [Here, a reference is made to the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes.]
What this means concretely is that the pope is sending a deeply troubling message: those who are living in the objective state of adultery (since they are still sacramentally and validly married to their real spouse, not the person they are living with) and have children from this second “marriage” are essentially bound to stay in this relationship, living as husband and wife (which they are not) and continuing to engage in acts proper only to spouses, and thus, adulterous in nature. Otherwise, the pope reasons, their new relationship – and the welfare of the children involved – could be put at risk! In this, Pope Francis undermines Catholic moral teaching at its core, and puts supposed practical concerns over the higher concern of the salvation of souls.
In paragraph 299 of Chapter 8, which deals in general with “irregular” unions, Pope Francis also claims that “remarried” divorcees should be more “integrated” into the life of the Church, “not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it.” He proposes removing “forms of exclusion” with regard to “the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework”.
In this context, in Paragraph 300, Pope Francis brings up this idea of a “process of accompaniment and discernment” with the help of the “internal forum” in which the “remarried” divorcees may discern their own special situation with the help of a priest. “Discernment,” “pastoral accompaniment” and “integration” are key words here. In this context, the pope also calls for the humility, discretion, the love for the Church and her teaching and for the search for God’s will on the side of those taking counsel with a priest, and says that
These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours.
This question of access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried is taken up again in paragraph 305:
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.
At the end of that sentence, footnote 351 clarifies: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments,” and then refers to both Confession and the Eucharist. He writes: “I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’”
 These statements call to mind the substance of the so-called Kasper proposal. The language of the Eucharist as “not a prize” is something both Kasper and Francis have used in public statements on this topic since the Synod process began in 2014. There is no specific prescription on whether the divorced and “remarried” can have access to the sacraments in this, but one sees the opening of a door.
The second grave scandal comes in paragraph 301. In the context of the question of “discernment” for those “irregular” relationships, Pope Francis does away with the claim that those who do not live according to God’s law are living in the state of mortal sin! He says:
Hence it is [sic] can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” [to include homosexual relationships?]  situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. 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.
Among other mitigating factors in this regard, the pope mentions “affective immaturity” and “force of acquired habit” and “conditions of anxiety,” as well as other “psychological or social factors” that would alleviate a person’s culpability.
This statement of the pope seems to do away with any moral foundation on the question of marriage and divorce. It breaks apart the very basis of moral law, and opens the door to a lax and relativistic approach to the sanctity of marriage.
Taken together, we see that the pope is claiming that “remarried” couples who have children should continue to live as “husband” and “wife” and should not live “as brother and sister” and that all “irregular” relationships which are not in accordance with God’s laws do not, in his estimation, necessarily mean that persons in such situations are living in a state of sin. Thereby, the pope also indirectly opens the door to the admittance of all these persons to the sacraments, and, at the same time, undermines not just one, but three sacraments: the Sacrament of Marriage, the Sacrament of Penance, and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
There is much more in the document that still demands to be unpacked. But on the basis of these points alone, we see the potential for serious danger to the souls of the faithful who would follow the advice laid out herein.
This post was updated to include the reference to paragraph 305 and footnote 351.

 

 

Pope has good news for divorced, but not for gays

Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY 

ROME — Pope Francis released a document Friday that paves the way for new integration into the Roman Catholic Church for divorced Catholics, but does little to soften the church’s strict views on hot-button topics like gay marriage, abortion and contraception.

While the 256-page apostolic exhortation called “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love,” makes no change to church doctrine it establishes that the pope sees individual conscience as the most important principle for Catholics trying to navigate difficult issues surrounding sex, marriage and family life.
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” the pope said. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”
“We have been called to form consciences, not replace to them,” he said.
The document is the product of a wide-ranging two-year process that included two high-level church councils called synods, and discussions at tens of thousands of local churches where detailed questionnaires for Catholics were used to gauge their views on family issues.
The process is unusual for the pope, who has until now mostly relied on his own views before ushering in change.
“There are no big changes in doctrine here, but the document says change should not come from doctrine, that there is a need for decisions to be based on what the document calls ‘concrete situations,’ or 'real-life situations',” said Gian Guido Vecchi, a veteran Vatican expert with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The document could offer some hope for divorced Catholics, prohibited by the church from remarrying or taking communion unless their failed marriage receives an annulment.
The apostolic exhortation says that a “breach of the marriage bond” is “against the will of God.” But it also said that while the church “constantly holds up the call to perfection” it must also “care for the weakest of her children, who show signs of wounded and troubled love, restoring them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port.”

 On Antipope Francis, 

"Does it matter anymore"?