Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
Archbishop Chaput has just come out with pastoral guidelines for the implementation of Amoris Laetitia (AL) in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The guidelines unswervingly maintain the Church’s bimillenial discipline precluding the admission to Confession and Holy Communion of public adulterers who divorce and civilly “remarry” and decline to cease their adulterous sexual relations:
With divorced and civilly-remarried persons, Church teaching requires them to refrain from sexual intimacy. This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist.
Good for Archbishop Chaput! But how does he anchor this reaffirmation of Church discipline in a document, AL, that clearly undermines that discipline with page after page of seditious ambiguity, hardly limited to footnote 351? He does it this way: “As with all magisterial documents, Amoris Laetitia is best understood when read within the tradition of the Church’s teaching and life.”
Best understood? Why not only understood? In fact, why is the phrase “best understood” in this sentence at all? Why does the sentence not read simply: “As with all magisterial documents, Amoris Laetitia is within the tradition of the Church’s teaching and life.”
Of course we know the answer: AL was written to allow precisely the opposite “best understanding” of its provisions. Thus Pope Francis’s designated definitive interpreter of his document, Cardinal Schonborn (who is not worth the effort of repeatedly inserting an umlaut), declares, contra Archbishop Chaput, that the “best understanding” of AL is that in “some cases” the divorced and “remarried” may be admitted to the Sacraments. When asked what is meant by “some cases,” Schonborn replied, in essence, “that’s for me to know and you to find out.” Or, as he put it with a politician’s ambiguity: “I believe that the Pope is obligating us here, for the love of the truth, to discern the individual cases both in the internal forum and in the external forum.”
Right. Schonborn further opines—again in a manner exactly opposite to what Archbishop Chaput affirms—that “now we must read the previous statements of the magisterium about the family in the light of the contribution made by AL.” That is, Chaput says we should read AL in light of the Magisterium, while Schonborn, the Definitive Interpreter, says we must read the Magisterium in light of AL.
Both Chaput and Schonborn agree, however, that the document is Magisterial. On the other hand, Cardinal Burke says that the document is not magisterial, but only a collection of the Pope’s “personal reflections.” Here too we have exactly the outcome intended by the compilers of AL: confusion, but all tending in the same direction, that is, the piecemeal dissolution of the Church’s sacramental discipline.
There is no need to take my word for it. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, one of the more staunchly conservative American bishops, clearly knows the score:
Upon reflection, it’s become pretty clear that Pope Francis’ document on marriage and the family, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is marked by ambiguity, and that’s intentional on the Holy Father’s part I think.
That explains why, in just the last couple of days, we’ve had very different interpretations of the document from two prominent leaders of the Church – Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna. And from many other commentators as well.
The good news is, that because of this ambiguity, people can do just about whatever they want. The bad news is, that because of this ambiguity, people can do just about whatever they want. Go figure!
And so it begins: the conservative readers of AL will maintain the Church’s sacramental discipline, while the liberal readers, following the lead of the Definitive Interpreter, whom Francis has repeatedly confused with the former Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will overthrow the discipline.
Then there will be the “conservative” interpreters who will assure us that AL can applied conservatively even if the bimillenial discipline is, quite revolutionarily, dispensed with in “some cases.” Just how this trick would work is helpfully explained for us by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli. The Cardinal expresses worry about the lack of guidelines for implementing AL without considering that this is precisely the point of AL: no guidelines means divergent practices and thus gradual abolition of the discipline. The Cardinal, however, citing pertinent paragraphs of AL, proposes the following “guidelines” for admitting to the Sacraments public adulterers who wish to continue their adulterous sexual relations:
For couples in irregular situations, the adequate change is the overcoming of their situation, at least with the serious commitment to continence, even if because of human frailty there should be relapses (footnote 364). If this commitment is lacking, it is rather difficult to identify other signs of good subjective dispositions and of the life of grace in God that are sufficiently certain. Nonetheless one can attain a reasonable probability, at least in some cases (298; 303).
In expectation of the desired more authoritative guidelines, I will try to hypothesize with great hesitation a way of proceeding in the internal forum in the difficult case in which there would be no clear resolution concerning sexual continence.
The priest confessor could encounter a divorced and remarried person who believes sincerely and intensely in Jesus Christ, leads a life that is earnest, generous, capable of sacrifice, who recognizes that his relationship does not correspond to the evangelical norm, who nonetheless maintains that he is not committing sin on account of the difficulties that prevent him from observing sexual continence.
For his part, the confessor welcomes him with cordiality and respect; he listens to him with benevolent attention, seeking to consider the multiple aspects of his personality. Moreover he helps him to improve his dispositions, in such a way that he may receive forgiveness: he respects his conscience, but reminds him of his responsibility before God, the only one who sees the hearts of persons; he admonishes him that his sexual relationship is in contrast with the gospel and the doctrine of the Church; he exhorts him to pray and to strive to arrive gradually [!], with the grace of the Holy Spirit, at sexual continence.
Finally, if the penitent, in spite of foreseeing new lapses, shows a certain willingness to take steps in the right direction, he gives him absolution and authorizes him to receive Eucharistic communion in such a way as not to give scandal (ordinarily in a place where he is not known, as is already done by the divorced and remarried who are committed to practicing continence). In any case, the priest must adhere to the guidelines given by his bishop.
So, under this “conservative” guideline, a “certain willingness” to refrain from adulterous sexual relations would suffice to admit to the Sacraments someone who claims he “believes sincerely and intensely in Jesus Christ” and “leads a life that is earnest, generous, capable of sacrifice”—which is supposed to be determined on the spot by a parish priest—but is not ready to commit to ceasing adultery, although he might “gradually” agree to do so. In essence, “OK Father, I’ll think about it but I can’t promise abstinence” would take the place of a firm purpose of amendment.
Who wouldn’t qualify for this nebulous “exception” to the “evangelical norm”? “Some cases” would quickly become all cases. Does anyone seriously believe that a parish priest would deny the sacraments to a particular public adulterer because in the priest’s view the adulterer does not “believe intensely” in Christ and does not lead a “life that is earnest, generous, capable of sacrifice.” Sorry, Joe, but your faith is weak and your life stinks, so you can’t receive absolution and go to Communion like Larry over there!
Irony of ironies, this “implementation” of AL would turn every parish priest into a Pharisee, rendering a subjective neo-Mosaic judgment on which divorces and “remarriages” can be excused under the “exception” and which must remain governed by the “old rule.” But this is hardly the first time Francis has promoted the very thing he condemns in others.
What a joke. And this is a proposed conservative implementation of AL. Welcome to the confused and divided ecclesial world of Francis the Merciful, the terminal stage of the postconciliar crisis. If the word apocalyptic does not apply here, then words have lost their meaning. But even here there is reason for hope: the end of this madness cannot be long in coming.