[Will the Fraternity soon have a special visitator and/or commissioner from the Holy See?]
July 11, 2016
On the official website of the German section of the Fraternity of St. Peter, the head of the German District, Father Bernhard Gerstle has published a polite critique ( petrusbruderschaft.de/pages/archiv/distriktsoberer/mai-2016—amoris-laetitia.php ) of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In his short 19 May commentary of one page, there are to be found some strong objections against the message of Amoris Laetitia which very well now could, in Gerstle’s eyes, give a doubtful opening toward the already wide-spread practice (praxis) of allowing “remarried” divorcees to receive Holy Communion. In the aftermath of this official statement, the Fraternity also has received permission to print and sell a more detailed critical commentary ( petrusbruderschaft.de/pages/bakery/stellungnahme-zu-amoris-laetitia-63.php ) written by Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan. With both of these publications the Fraternity of St. Peter makes it clear that it too has a gravely concerned view of this papal document because it might well endanger, at least in its effects, the salvation of souls.
In the following, I shall present some of Father Gerstle’s own words about Amoris Laetitia. After first benevolently saying that the papal text, “without doubt, contains many beautiful and precious thoughts about human love, marriage and the family,” Gerstle then addresses the grave issue of the “remarried” divorcees and their possible access to the Sacraments.
Father Gerstle continues:
“The Church has up to now always had a clear attitude [Haltung] in this question [of the “remarried” divorcees], even if there has developed, already for quite a while now, a practice of receiving Holy Communion that is in opposition to the objective norms of the Church.”
Thus, says Gerstle, this current discussion is finally about receiving a “retrospective blessing” for a practice of disobedience about something that has heretofore been gravely forbidden by the Church. With regard to Amoris Laetitia, the German priest says: “In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis now gives permission to the individual priests and pastors to examine each individual case with regard to the possibility of receiving the Sacraments (Penance and Holy Communion).” Thus, Pope Francis does not anymore, “in a general way, exclude those couples who live in an irregular situation (to include cohabiting couples) from the reception of the Sacraments.” Gerstle stresses that Pope Francis does not anymore demand from these couples the binding requirement to live in continence. He adds: “This is indeed a novelty and is thus being celebrated by the representatives of the liberal direction as being revolutionary and as constituting a landmark decision.” However, in Gerstle’s eyes, those who “feel bound to the valid teaching of the Church, and who fear the watering down of the indissolubility of marriage,” see a “justified reason for the great concern that now there will follow a complete breech of the levée.”
With this new approach, Gerstle says, “the Church’s teaching – according to which the validity of the Sacrament of Confession is dependent upon a penitent’s true contrition and his firm purpose to avoid the near occasion of sin if possible – would be taken off the hinges.” [emphasis added] This would mean “a serious breech with the elementary principles of the Church’s moral teaching, as it had last been confirmed to be the irreformable teaching of the Church by St. John Paul II himself in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, as well as in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.”
“Thus we have a great problem with the pope’s post-synodal text which provokes splits within the Church and which threatens the [visible] unity. The dilemma becomes even more clear – and in a sharp way – when we consider the words of Cardinal Gerhard Müller – the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – who now tries to limit the damage by saying that, if Pope Francis had had the intention to change the teaching of the Church, he would have had to say so in a clearer manner.”
This representative of the Fraternity of St. Peter in Germany – where there is situated one of the two seminaries of the Fraternity – also points out that even a weakening of the Church’s discipline with regard to the “remarried” divorcees would also mean that those divorced Catholics who have led their lives according to the Church’s teaching – involving many personal sacrifices, such as abstaining from having a new partner and such as faithfully practicing sexual abstinence – might well now rightly feel betrayed for having loyally lived according to God’s laws.
Father Gerstle concludes his comments with these piercing words: “We can only hope and pray that Pope Francis will respond with some subsequent clarifications, given the currently created confusion.” It is to be hoped that more and more informed Catholic voices will fittingly call upon Pope Francis to stop the spreading moral confusion. Such initiatives will thereby give additional signs of a faithful Catholic resistance and courageous witness.