I have already dealt with this topic for years, already at the time when in 1993 an attempt was made in Germany to change the previous path of the church in dealing with the so-called remarried divorced.
I welcome all efforts to help the people concerned and I think that not all pastoral possibilities may have been exhausted yet. But a real help cannot come in an objective contradiction with what the church teaches and practices. If this happens, then it is an erroneous path that must be corrected, and it is not a new and better knowledge.
What is the issue about Amoris Laetitia?
The present text tries to treat the controversial point of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of March 19, 2016 fairly briefly, so that there is enough information for those who perceive the problem of footnote 351 of the Pope’s Letter. Also, this text should serve to pass it on to those who are interested.
It is a question of this dispute that Pope Francis – in contrast to all his predecessors – in special cases wants to some who live in a new intimate connection including sexual acts, while the sacramental marriage still exists, to open the way to the sacraments what was never possible before.
While in the first period after the appearance of Amoris Laetitia it looked like the Pope was leaving the implementation of his proposals to the bishops, it is clear now that the Pope wants to push his line on many levels. It is increasingly clear that he wants to see his new direction as a magisterial decision. Therefore, it has become even more important to inform the faithful, who would like to clarify this point.
Prior to the Family Synod in February 2014, Pope Francis had invited Cardinal Kasper from Germany to speak to the Cardinals. Thus C. Kasper was able to present his theses on a changed communion reception of those couples who live in a second intimate union while their first sacramental marriage still exists. This gave a clear signal, because it was Cardinal Kasper, who together with two other bishops from Germany in 1993 tried to change the practice of the church in the same direction. This project was rejected in 1994 by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger – according to the teachings of the Church [1].
In the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the reception of Holy Communion
by the divorced and remarried members of the Faithful“, we read:
In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.
This norm is not at all a punishment or a discrimination against the divorced and remarried, but rather expresses an objective situation that of itself renders impossible the reception of Holy Communion: “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 his 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”.
The invitation of Cardinal Kasper made it perfectly logical that in the post-synodal letter of the Pope – even if only by a footnote – the way was opened to a practice that contradicted the previous way of the Church and its predecessors for theological and pastoral reasons got rejected.
Proponents of the new pastoral path taken by Fr. Francis – in practice, the great number of bishops and priests – present their view as if the possible donation of the sacraments to couples were in so-called irregular connections, a development of the teaching and an act of Divine Mercy, which is now made possible through the pastoral path of Pope Francis. On the other hand, it should be noted what the same letter of the Congregation of the Doctrine states.
The faithful who persist in such a situation may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution, which may be given only “to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples”. In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal.
Therefore, it is not surprising that others, albeit a few shepherds publicly, see a devastating break with the Church’s previous path on this issue, recognizing it as incompatible with the biblical message.
It is a question of truth
Thus, two views are opposite each other, which exclude each other, although it was always tried to interpret the new opening in the sense of the previous doctrine of the church. There can be no agreement either, because either the intended opening by Amoris Laetitia is a new opportunity inspired by the Holy Spirit, as the advocates want to see it, or it is a grave error that weakens the church and promotes sacrilege.
Unfortunately, it is often mistakenly portrayed as being an alternation between a more liberal and a more conservative tradition in the Church. However, this does not correspond to reality because the theological and pastoral objections are concerned with the truthfulness of this new path.
Criticizing Amoris Laetitia does not violate the office of the pope!
Since the Pope is now responsible for this change, the devout Catholics have no small problem to deal with.
There is an understandable shyness of Catholics questioning the Pope’s decisions. This is easily interpreted as an attitude directed against the Pope. As much as the shyness and the affection for the office-holder can protect one from falling into disrespectful criticism and even devalue the person of the Pope, it is not right for the dubious developments, which are within his authority, to close his eyes. The Pope bears ultimate responsibility for a changed pastoral practice. Therefore, it requires both the love and the truth to articulate the questionable things. Let us remember the St. Paul, who publicly rebuked Peter because, out of fear of man, he stepped back behind the knowledge he had already received from God. So it would be unfair to those who raise their voices and who would like to have clarity of doctrine and practice to accuse them even to sin and make them feel guilty in the most extreme case.