[One Austrian bishop says “Yes,” and another says “No”]
Mark 3:24-25: “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” If so, what about the Church?
January 4, 2017
By Jan Bentz
An Austrian bishop has given a sweeping interview claiming that “remarried” Catholics now have the “blessing of the Pope” to receive Communion, the use of contraception is “a decision of conscience” for couples, and homosexuals can constitute a “family.”
Bishop Benno Elbs, who heads the Feldkirch diocese in west Austria, made the comments in an interview with Die Presse on December 23.
Regarding the admission of “remarried” divorced Catholics to Communion, he said, “The teaching [of the Church] has changed insofar as she has opened the door. People have made decisions of conscience in the past, but now they can do it – so to say – with the blessing of the Pope. That is an essential progress.”
Asked about the strongest tensions during the Synod for the Family in 2015 that presaged the release of the Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Elbs responded that it involved remarried and divorced Catholics. “Another point of strong tension was how to deal with people of homosexual orientation,” he said.
During the Synod, the Church leaders in the German language circle had a huge influence on the discussion, Elbs said. While the group included Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it also included Cardinal Walter Kasper and was led by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the latter two being strong proponents of the “Kasper proposal” to admit divorced and remarried to Communion.
“We had unanimity in everything, and the Pope has taken up a lot,” Elbs said. “Thus the German language group has had a great influence.”
For Elbs, the entirety of Amoris Laetitia is about the decision of conscience: “If that is written in a footnote or not is not important. The whole paper breathes the spirit that the individual person can find a way in his conscience to deal with situations of life.”
He added that the admission to Communion of those in question is irreversible. “That has been in the pastoral praxis for quite some time. Even theologically. Now we should not make the mistake of inventing new rules. The progress is an attitude that surpasses norms.”
As to why the Synod did not allow artificial contraception, the bishop answered: “The Synod paper recommends natural methods of regulating conception. Recommends. The regulation of conception is a decision of conscience of the couple.”
With regard to homosexuals, Elbs was asked how he defined family. “Family is a place where people are raised, grow up, become strong, where they learn, what they need for life.” The reporter then asked: “Is this also true for homosexuals?” And the bishop responded: “Yes.”
Elbs authored the book in German, Where the Soul Learns to Breathe: A New Vision of Marriage and Family with Pope Francis, published in 2016.
The interview brings to light what many fear: that due to the obscurity and ambiguity in which Amoris Laetitia speaks of “borderline cases,” what will be set in place as normative for a moral choice is the conscience of the individual alone. Elbs leaves aside the Church’s teaching, elaborated in Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, that the conscience can be malformed or ignorant and that the Church’s teaching is precisely the “compass” that guides the conscience in decision making.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in No. 1777: “Moral conscience present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.”
By Claire Chretien
Austrian Bishop Andreas Laun said in a new interview that he agrees with the concerns of the cardinals who signed the dubia asking the pope for moral clarity on Amoris Laetitia, putting him “in the best company.”
“I have read the concerns of the Four Cardinals, and I agree with them!” he told Dr. Maike Hickson of OnePeterFive. “Additionally, I know personally especially Cardinals Meisner and Caffarra and know how competent they are! With them, I am in the best company!”
The dubia is a formal request Cardinals Raymond Burke, Joachim Meisner, Walter Brandmüller and Carlo Caffarra sent to Pope Francis, asking him to clarify whether certain portions of his exhortation Amoris Laetitia are harmonious with Catholic moral teaching. Varying interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, as well as Pope Francis having given approval to an implementation of the document that allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, have caused confusion. Some bishops have said Catholic sacramental discipline must remain as it always has; others have said Amoris Laetitia opens the door for unrepentant adulterers without a firm purpose of amendment to receive the Sacraments.
Laun said he would be willing to sign the dubia himself if he was asked, “after re-reading them, and perhaps also after consulting at least one of the cardinals.”
Laun, an Auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg, Austria, Professor of Moral Theology at the Philosophical-Theological Faculty of Heiligenkreuz, Austria, and an oblate of St. Francis de Sales, said that allowing the divorced and remarried Holy Communion would be like a doctor inadequately treating a patient.
IMPORTANT: To respectfully express your support for the 4 cardinals’ letter to Pope Francis asking for clarity on Amoris Laetitia, sign the petition. Click here.
“The spiritual guide whose importance Pope Francis so much emphasizes has the role of a physician who makes a diagnosis but who then does not also render a true service to the patient when he only glosses over this illness – as he would prefer to have it – even though he knows of the illness’ dangers,” said Laun. He said he cannot think of a way for remarried divorcees who aren’t living as brother and sister to receive the Sacraments even though “I would like to name for them an easier path.”
“But it is all about truth and not about my feelings,” he said. “This objective question has nothing to do with mercy. Could St. John the Baptist have ‘mercifully allowed’ Herod to have his brother’s wife?”
The charitable conduct of the four cardinals is “a service to the teaching of the Church,” said Laun, responding to a question about the attacks the dubia signers have received.
Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a close papal collaborator, accused Cardinals Raymond Burke, Joachim Meisner, Walter Brandmüller and Carlo Caffarra of trying to “ramp up” division and tension in the Church with the dubia. Spadaro said Pope Francis has already answered the questions of the dubia by approving guidelines issued by the bishops of Buenos Aires allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried.
Roman Rota dean Msgr. Vito Pinto, Cardinal Walter Kasper, American Cardinals Blase Cupich and Joseph Tobin, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Bishop Frangiskos Papamanolis, and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn are among those on the record as opposing the dubia and/or criticizing the cardinals who sent it.
Cardinals Renato Raffaele Martino, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Bishop Jan Watroba, and Bishop Józef Wróbel have all publicly expressed their support for the dubia and/or the cardinals who sent it. Laun is the first Austrian bishop to lend his public support to the efforts of the four cardinals requesting clarity on whether Amoris Laetitia is compatible with Catholic moral teaching.
“In history, there are many examples of criticism also of a pope. However, it has to follow the ‘morality of criticism’: that is, to say it politely, objectively, justly, born in love, and with much understanding for the one who is to be criticized because each criticism also hurts more or less,” Laun explained.
Laun told Hickson that it would be “a certain shame if, out of fear,” other prelates didn’t speak up in support of the dubia. He also reminded her, “The pope cannot lower or raise a moral standard – just as he cannot change a physical law. Moral laws are Divine Laws.”