In California the bishop of San Diego, a favorite of Bergoglio, admits de facto divorces and remarriages, as in any Protestant church. From the news arises the question: Can “Amoris Laetitia” be interpreted this way, too?
by Sandro Magister
ROME, December 5, 2016 – Four cardinals, as is already known, have asked the pope to give a clear answer to five “doubts” raised by the most controversial passages of “Amoris Laetitia”:
> “Seeking Clarity.” The Appeal of Four Cardinals To the Pope
But they have received no response, and probably never will. Because for Pope Francis “it is in the flux of life that one must discern,” not with strokes of “either black or white,” as “some still fail to understand”:
> Papa Francesco: Non svendo la dottrina, seguo il Concilio
A few days ago, however, Francis received through unusual channels another pressing request to speak out clearly. Getting away from which will be more complicated for him.
The request has come to him from the most famous secular newspaper in the world, “The New York Times,” and to be precise from one of its editorialists, Ross Douthat, a Catholic.
Who in turn has cited the instructions on “Amoris Laetitia” given to the diocese of San Diego, California, by Bishop Robert W. McElroy (in the photo). In which the abandonment of the indissolubility of marriage and the admission of remarriage appears so glaringly evident as to in fact oblige the supreme authority of the Church, in concrete terms the pope, to take a position. And to speak out against these, because even just remaining silent would be the same as giving the go-ahead to an unquestionably substantial rupture with a pillar of the perennial Catholic faith:
> The End of Catholic Marriage
This request to the pope to make a clear statement is all the more trenchant in that the bishop in question, McElroy, is a favorite of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who promoted him to the important diocese of San Diego precisely in order to increase his influence among the bishops of the United States.
But what do the instructions that McElroy has given to his diocese say?
The complete text is on the website of the diocese of San Diego:
> Embracing the Joy of Love
And these are the passages most in rupture with the bimillennial doctrine of Catholic marriage:
“Many Catholics who have been divorced and remarried conclude for a variety of legitimate reasons – many of them arising out of caring concern for the effects that an annulment process might have on the feelings of adult children or former spouses – that they cannot initiate the annulment process. What is their status in the Church?
“The ‘Joy of Love’ emphasizes that no abstract rule can embody the many complexities of the circumstances, intentions, levels of understanding and maturity which originally surrounded the action of a man or woman in entering their first marriage, or which surround the new moral obligations to a spouse or children which have already been produced by a second marriage. Thus, Pope Francis rejects the validity of any blanket assertion that ‘all those in any (second marriage without benefit of annulment) are living in a state of mortal sin and deprived of sanctifying grace.’
“This does not mean that there is not a deep level of contradiction in the life of Catholics who are divorced and remarried, as the Lord himself noted in the Gospel of Matthew. But Pope Francis explains that even in the face of substantial contradictions between the Gospel and the existential life of a disciple, the inexorable logic of divine grace seeks ever more progressive reintegration into the full life of the Church. […]
“In conversation with a priest, the believer with humility, discretion, and love for the Church and its teachings seeks to reflect upon their level of responsibility for the failure of the first marriage, their care and love for the children of that marriage, the moral obligations which have arisen in their new marriage, and possible harm which their returning to the sacraments might have by undermining the indissolubility of marriage. It is important to underscore that the role of the priest is one of accompaniment, meant to inform the conscience of the discerner on principles of Catholic faith. The priest is not to make decisions for the believer, for as Pope Francis emphasizes in ‘The Joy of Love,’ the Church is ‘called to form consciences, not to replace them.’
“Catholics participating authentically in this discernment of conscience should keep in mind both the permanence of marriage and the teaching of the Church that ‘the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ Most importantly, this discernment must always place at the very center the question ‘What is God asking of me now?’
“Some Catholics engaging in this process of discernment will conclude that God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist. Others will conclude that they should wait, or that their return would hurt others.
“In pointing to the pathway of conscience for the divorced and remarried, Pope Francis is not enlisting an element of the Christian moral life which is exceptional. For the realm of conscience is precisely where the Christian disciple is called to discern every important moral decision that he or she makes.”
As Douthat points out in his column in “The New York Times,” absent from these instructions are both the word and the notion of “sin,” except in a citation of “Amoris Laetitia” that is recalled precisely in order to rule it out.
Also absent are the word and the notion of sacramental confession. What takes its place is a conversation with a priest who however neither judges nor absolves, but only advises, leaving the final decision to the conscience of the individual with which he is conversing.
But what vanish above all are the indissolubility of marriage and the inadmissibility of remarriage when one’s spouse, validly married, is still alive. The realities that matter instead become the happiness of the new union or the lack thereof, with the “new moral obligations” that it involves, the needs of the first and second spouse, the care of the children from the first or second bed.
Even recourse to a proceeding over the validity of the “first” marriage must be subordinated to the sentiments of the persons in play, past or present, so as to do no harm in any way. Divorce and civil remarriage certainly remain in contradiction with the words of Jesus, but “Pope Francis explains” that the logic of divine grace also urges here toward a reintegration in the full life of the Church.
And access to the Eucharist? According to these instructions, it is enough that each one should consider within himself what God is asking of him at that moment. And so there are those who will receive communion, those who will postpone it until another time, those who will evaluate its effect on other persons. The question, in short, is no longer “whether” to receive communion, but “when” to receive it.
Put in this way, then, communion for the divorced and remarried is no longer an exception for the rare difficult cases and within a process subjected to the evaluation of the Church, as Cardinal Walter Kasper himself, the leader of the innovators, has repeatedly made a point of emphasizing and as Pope Francis himself has repeatedly shown that he means, either in his own words or through intermediaries like Cardinal Agostino Vallini, his vicar for the diocese of Rome.
No, in the format established by Bishop McElroy for the diocese of San Diego, communion for the divorced and remarried enters completely into normalcy. A normalcy in which, however, marriage is no longer indissoluble, remarriage is tranquilly admitted, sacramental confession has vanished, and Eucharistic communion is accessible “ad libitum.” As in any Protestant church.
Is all of this part of the multiform and often opposing interpretations and applications of “Amoris Laetitia” that Francis has deliberately allowed to coexist so far?
And can even this interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia” be viewed as compatible with the perennial doctrine of Catholic marriage?
These are two questions that the pope will have a hard time setting aside.