What’s Inside “Amoris Lætitia.” Two Cardinals Say So
They are Baldisseri and Schönborn, whom Pope Francis has chosen to present his take on the post-synodal exhortation. They have already said what they think. The first in a letter, the second in an interview
by Sandro Magister
ROME, April 7, 2016 – “Doctrinal unity in pastoral plurality.” This is the “authentic spirit” of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Lætitia” that will be made public tomorrow, according to the preview from the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, “Avvenire.”
The formula is very elastic. And it will be curious to see how it will be embodied in the 325 paragraphs of the rambling document and above all in the multiform practice that will result from it in the whole of the Church worldwide.
To provide the official key of interpretation for the exhortation, Pope Francis has chosen two cardinals: the secretary general of the synod, Lorenzo Baldisseri, and the archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn (in the photo), both of them supporters of a new pastoral praxis on the most controversial points, in particular on communion for the divorced and remarried.
Baldisseri talked up this change of course in the letter that he sent in recent days to the bishops of the whole world, a two-page letter published almost in its entirety by ACI Stampa on April 2 in Rome, and then by National Catholic Reporter:
In it he writes among other things:
“The problem is not that of changing doctrine, but of inculturating the general principles so that they may be understood and practiced. Our language must encourage and strengthen every step of every real family.”
“It is necessary to recontextualize doctrine in service of the Church’s pastoral mission. Doctrine must be interpreted in relation to the heart of the Christian kerygma and in the light of the pastoral context in which it will be applied, always remembering that the ‘suprema lex’ must be the ‘salus animarum’.”
This is the renewal – Baldisseri explains in the letter – that Francis incessantly urges when he insists on on the need for “Ignatian discernment,” for a “dialogical mentality,” for a thinking left intentionally “incomplete” in order to make room for the other.
Cardinal Schönborn, however, has remained silent in the run-up to the publication of “Amoris Lætitia.” But his thinking is well-known, and he expressed it a number of times over the duration of the synod.
The most elaborate and “licensed” exposition is in the interview with the cardinal in “La Civiltà Cattolica” of September 26, 2015, conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the magazine and a close associate of Pope Francis.
The complete text of the interview is among the few articles that “La Civiltà Cattolica” has allowed to be read online even by non-subscribers, a sign of the leading role that it attributes to it:
Reproduced and translated below in multiple languages is the passage in which Schönborn addresses the question of communion for the divorced and remarried.
His argumentation in support of a change in pastoral practice is extensive and detailed. Schönborn, who belongs to the Dominican order, relies not only on his theological competence but also on his experience as the son of divorced and remarried parents.
He too insists on safeguarding doctrine. But without excluding pastoral decisions that would admit to communion those who have been prevented until now.
At a certain point he says, in fact:
“There are situations in which the priest, the guide, who knows the persons, can come to the point of saying: ‘Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my conscience as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church’.”
Further ahead in the interview Schönborn backs a new approach on the question of homosexuality as well, saying among other things with regard to cohabitation between persons of the same sex:
“The judgment on homosexual acts as such is necessary, but the Church must not look into the bedroom first, but into the dining room! What is needed is accompaniment.”
But let’s get back to the divorced and remarried. As of tomorrow everyone will be able to verify to what extent these positions of the cardinal are found in the exhortation of Pope Francis.
“There are situations in which the priest can come to the point of saying…”
by Christoph Schönborn
[…] Q: On the one hand it is necessary and just to have objective criteria, we need them, but on the other hand such criteria do not exhaust all of reality…
A: I will give a very simple example concerning a man and a woman. Their first marriage was civil, because he was already divorced, and so they married civilly. This marriage was a failure, and they separated. The woman is in a second marriage. In this case, the husband had not been married religiously and she had been married only civilly. They were therefore able to celebrate a sacramental marriage. Objectively this is justifiable, it is correct. But what would happen if the first husband of the woman had not been divorced? If the first marriage, which ended up in failure for various reasons and finally led to a second union, had been religious, this would be irregular.
This must make us docile to the objective order, but also attentive to the complexity of life. There are cases in which it is only in a second or even in a third union that persons truly discover the faith. I know a person who entered into a first religious marriage very young, apparently without faith. This was a failure, followed by a second and even a third civil marriage. Only then, for the first time, this person discovered the faith and became a believer. So it is not a matter of setting aside the objective criteria, but in accompaniment I must stand beside the person on his journey.
Q: So what is to be done in these circumstances?
A: The objective criteria clearly tell us that a certain person still bound by a sacramental marriage cannot fully participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Subjectively he lives this situation as a conversion, as a true discovery in his own life, to the point that it could be said, in a certain way – in a different way, but analogous to the “Pauline privilege” – that for the good of the faith one could go a step beyond what the rule would say objectively. I think that we find ourselves facing an element that will have a great deal of importance during the next synod. I do not conceal, in this regard, that I am shocked by how a purely formalistic way of arguing brandishes the ax of the “intrinsece malum,” the act that is considered morally evil always, independently of the intentions and circumstances.
Q: You are touching upon a very important point. Could you expound upon it? What is the problem connected to what is called the “intrinsece malum”?
A: In practice there is the exclusion of every reference to the argument of convenience that, for Saint Thomas, is always a way of expressing prudence. It is neither utilitarianism, nor a facile pragmatism, but a way of expressing a sense of rightness, of convenience, of harmony. On the question of divorce, this argumentative figure has been systematically excluded by our intransigent moralists. If understood poorly, the “intrinsece malum” suppresses the discussion of the circumstances and situations of life, which are complex by definition.
A human act is never simple, and the risk is of “jury-rigging” the articulation between object, circumstances, and finality, which should instead be read in the light of freedom and of the attraction to the good. The free act is reduced to the physical act in such a way that the limpidity of logic suppresses every moral discussion and every circumstance. The paradox is that in focusing on the “intrinsece malum” one loses all the richness, I would even say almost the beauty of a moral articulation, which inevitably ends up being annihilated by it. Not only is the moral analysis of situations made unequivocal, but one is also cut off from a comprehensive view of the dramatic consequences of divorce: the financial effects, educational, psychological, etc.
This is true of all that touches upon the issues of marriage and family. The obsession with the “intrinsece malum” has so impoverished the discussion that we are devoid of a wide range of argumentations in favor of unicity, of indissolubility, of openness to life, of the human foundation of Church doctrine. We have lost the taste for a discourse on these human realities. One of the key elements of the synod is the reality of the Christian family, not from an exclusive point of view, but from an inclusive one. The Christian family is a grace, a gift of God. It is a mission, and by its nature – if lived in a Christian way – it is something to be welcomed.
I remember a proposed pilgrimage for families in which the organizers wanted to invite exclusively those who practiced natural birth control. During a meeting with the episcopal conference we asked them how they would do it: “You select only those who practice it 100 percent, right down to the decimal point? How do you do that?” From these somewhat caricaturish expressions one realizes that, if the Christian family is lived from this perspective, it inevitably becomes sectarian. A world apart. If one seeks guarantees one is not Christian, one is centered only on oneself!
Q: Some want to have objective criteria in order to permit persons living in an irregular union to participate regularly in the sacramental life of the Church. Some synod fathers instead made reference to the need for pastoral discernment. There has also been talk of a penitential practice in relation to divorced and remarried couples who are asking for access to the sacraments…
A: If there has been a valid sacramental marriage, a second union remains an irregular union. However, there is the whole dimension of spiritual and pastoral accompaniment of persons making their way in a situation of irregularity, where it will be necessary to discern between all and nothing. An irregular situation cannot be turned into a regular one, but there are also paths of healing, of exploration, paths in which the law is lived step by step.
There are also situations in which the priest, the guide, who knows the persons, can come to the point of saying: ‘Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my conscience as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church’.”
Q: How can arbitrary situations be avoided?
A: The problem already exists, because various pastors make these decisions lightly. But laissez-faire has never been a criterion for rejecting a good pastoral accompaniment. It will always be the duty of the pastor to find a way that corresponds to the truth and life of the persons he accompanies, perhaps without being able to explain to all why they should make one decision rather than another. The Church is sacrament of salvation. There are many paths and many dimensions to be explored for the sake of the “salus animarum.”
Q: So this is a matter of welcoming and accompaniment. . .
A: Pope Francis has told us Austrian bishops what he has also said to many others: “Accompany, accompany.” I have proposed to our diocese a way of accompaniment for persons who are in irregular marital situations, in order to escape from this quandary spread by the mass media that has become a sort of test for the pontificate of Pope Francis: “Will he ultimately be merciful toward those who live in irregular situations?” General solutions are expected, while the attitude of the good shepherd is first of all that of accompanying persons who are living with a divorce and a new marriage in their personal situations.
The first point on which I would like to dwell is the wounds and suffering. First of all one must observe before judging. But above all, when one speaks of mercy, I always recall that the first mercy to be asked is not that of the Church, it is mercy from our own children. I always formulate these first questions: “Have you had a failed marriage? Have you laid the burden of this failure, the weight of your conflict on the shoulders of your children? Have your children been taken hostage by your conflict? Because if you say that the Church is without mercy for new unions, one must first ask what has become of your mercy for your own children. Very often it is the children who bear the burden of your conflict and of your failure for the rest of their lives.”
Q: And then there is the situation of the abandoned spouse, in addition to that of the children.
A: There is very little discussion of these persons who are so numerous, who remain alone after a divorce, are set aside and endure the loneliness of abandonment by their spouse. Is there special attention for these persons in the Church? Are there efforts to follow them, to accompany them? But there are other questions: have the divorced and remarried made a sufficient effort of reconciliation with the spouse they have left for a new union? Or have they entered into the new union with all the weight of their rancor, perhaps even of their hatred for the spouse they have abandoned? And finally, the most delicate question that no one can answer for them: how does your conscience stand before God? You promised mutual fidelity for life, you have experienced a failure. . . What does this say to your conscience? I do not say this to drive you toward a feeling of guilt, but the question remains. I have promised something that I have not been able to keep. Fidelity is a great value. I have not been able to keep my promise, or we have not been able to keep it together.
Q: These questions, however, open a path of penitence and reconciliation, otherwise they would not make sense. . .
A: All of this can and should prepare for a journey of humility and not for seeing the question of access to the sacramental life of the Church only from the perspective of a demand, but rather as an invitation to a journey of conversion that can open new dimensions of encounter with the Lord who is rich in mercy.
One must also always see what is positive, even in the most difficult situations, in situations of misery. Often in “patchwork” families there are examples of surprising generosity. I know that I am scandalizing some by saying this. . . But there is always something to be learned from persons who are objectively living in irregular situations. Pope Francis wants to educate us in this.
Q: Can you talk to me about some of your pastoral experiences? Are there particular situations that come to mind and seem significant to you?
A: I have an unforgettable memory of the time when I was a student at the Saulchoir, with the Dominicans in Paris. I was not yet a priest. Under the bridge of the Seine leading to the convent of Évry lived a homeless couple. She had been a prostitute, I don’t know what he had done in his life. They were certainly not married, nor did they go to church, but every time I passed by there, I said to myself: “My God, they help each other to keep going in a life that is so hard.” And when I saw gestures of tenderness between them, I sad to myself: “My God, it is beautiful that these two poor people help each other, what a great thing!” God is present in this poverty, in this tenderness.
There is a need to get out of such a limited perspective on access to the sacraments for irregular situations. The question is: “Where is God in their life? And in what way can I as a pastor discern the presence of God in their life? And they, how can they help me to discern better the work of God in a life?” We must be able to read the Word of God “in actu” between the lines of life and not only between the lines of incunables!
Q: For the mercy of God, are there situations so beyond repair that all the Church can do is definitively rule out access to the sacrament of reconciliation and to the Eucharist?
A: There can certainly be situations of self-exclusion. When Jesus says: “But you were not willing.” In the face of this, in a certain way, God is disarmed, because he has given us freedom. . . And the Church must recognize and accept the freedom to say no. It is difficult to want at all costs to reconcile complex situations of life with full participation in the life of the Church. This will never preclude either hope or prayer, and there will always be an invitation to entrust such a situation to the providence of God, who can continually offer instruments of salvation. The door is never closed. [. . .]