'Amoris Laetitia' at three months: Communion question still debated

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Three months after the publication of
Pope Francis’ exhortation on marriage and family, bishops and bishops’
conferences around the world are studying practical ways to apply it. Some
still disagree on what exactly the pope meant.

In the first week of July, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s pastoral
guidelines for implementing the exhortation’s teaching in his archdiocese went
into effect; an Italian blog published reflections on the document by Cardinal
Ennio Antonelli, former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family; and
La Civilta
Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal, released a long interview with Cardinal
Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, the theologian Pope Francis chose to present the
document to the press.

Pope Francis continually insists that the exhortation,
“Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), is about the
importance and beauty of marriage and family life and the church’s obligation
to support and strengthen it. But much of the debate has focused on access to
the sacraments for couples in what the Catholic Church traditionally defined as
“irregular situations,” particularly people who were divorced and
civilly remarried without an annulment.

Emphasizing Jesus’ own words about the indissolubility of
marriage and centuries of church practice, Archbishop Chaput urged pastors to
accompany such couples, but insisted “church teaching requires them to
refrain from sexual intimacy.”

“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,”
said the guidelines issued by Archbishop Chaput, who was a member of the 2015
Synod of Bishops on the family and is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc
committee on implementing “Amoris Laetitia.”

Pastors, the archbishop said, have an obligation to educate
Catholics because “the subjective conscience of the individual can never
be set against objective moral truth, as if conscience and truth were two
competing principles for moral decision-making.”

Cardinal Antonelli, in the text published by the Italian
journalist Sandro Magister, said the objective truth taught by Pope Francis is
what the church always has taught. “It is held in the background, however,
as a presupposition. In the foreground is placed the individual moral subject
with his conscience, with his interior dispositions, with his personal
responsibility,” which “is why it is not possible to formulate
general regulations.”

In an age when Christianity was dominant, he said, the focus
was on objective truth: Is this person living according to church teaching or
not? “Anyone who fell short of the observance of the norms was presumed to
be gravely culpable” and excluded from the Christian community.

However, he said, because the influence of Christianity is
waning “it can be hypothesized that some persons live in objectively
disordered situations without full subjective responsibility.” That is
why, he said, St. John Paul II believed it was “appropriate to encourage
the divorced and remarried to participate more fully in the life of the church,”
although without access to the Eucharist.

“Pope Francis, in a cultural context of even more
advanced secularization and pansexualism, is going even further, but along the
same lines,” the cardinal wrote. “Without being silent on the
objective truth, he is concentrating his attention on subjective
responsibility, which at times can be diminished or eliminated.”

“The pope is therefore opening an outlet even for
admission to sacramental reconciliation and eucharistic Communion,” Cardinal Antonelli wrote.

Such an approach brings risks, including a mistaken view
that the church is accepting divorce and remarriage, he said, so he asked Pope Francis
for more explicit, “more authoritative guidelines.”

Civilta Cattolica, which is reviewed before publication by the Vatican
Secretariat of State, did a lengthy interview with Cardinal Schonborn, touching
many of the same questions. The journal gave a copy of the interview to
Catholic News Service before publication.

“It is possible, in certain cases, that the one who is
in an objective situation of sin can receive the help of the sacraments,”
said the cardinal, a theologian who was the main editor of the Catechism of the
Catholic Church.

But the Austrian cardinal said Pope Francis insisted
Communion for the divorced and remarried was not a central question, which is
why the pope put his response in a footnote in “Amoris Laetitia.”

The basic questions are: Who is in need of God’s mercy and
how does that mercy reach people, he said. The answer is that all people
“are called to beg for mercy, to desire conversion.”

No one has “a right to receive the Eucharist in an
objective situation of sin,” the cardinal said, which is why the pope does
not grant a blanket permission and insists that civilly remarried people go
through a whole process of discernment and repentance under the guidance of a

Referring to the exhortation by its initials, Cardinal
Schonborn said, “AL is the great text of moral theology that we have been
waiting for since the days of the (Second Vatican) Council and that develops
further the choices that were already made by the Catechism of the Catholic
Church and by ‘Veritatis Splendor,'” St. John Paul’s 1993 encyclical on
the church’s moral teaching.

The discernment called for by Pope Francis, he said,
“takes greater account of those elements that suppress or attenuate
imputability” and seeks a path that would move a person closer to the
fullness of what the Gospel demands.

Although not yet meeting the “objective ideal,”
helping a person move closer to perfection “is no small thing in the eyes
of the Good Shepherd,” the cardinal said.

“Amoris Laetitia,” he said, leads the church away
from “a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession”
and toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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