Document not in line with teachings of previous Popes
by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo
Many Catholics report being troubled as they ponder Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
I too was disconcerted when it was published in March 2016, and my perplexity continued when four cardinals, uniquely qualified and highly learned men in ecclesiastical disciplines – doctors in canon law, moral and dogmatic theology, and experts in the administration of the sacraments – requested an explanation from Pope Francis.
The cardinals sent five Yes/No questions to the Pope asking him to clarify their doubts arising from the ambiguity of his document. One of them, Cardinal Raymond Burke, said if the Synod on the Family opened the way for divorced and remarried Catholic to receive Communion, without having obtained a declaration of nullity for their previous marriages, then this has “departed from Catholic teaching in a very fundamental matter.”
The editor of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Catolica, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, also said the Synod had “laid the foundation” for civilly remarried Catholics to be admitted to Communion.
Cardinal Burke commented that “Fr. Spadaro goes through this whole confused argument about a ‘potential way’ and an ‘internal forum solution’ to say that now the way is open for all this. So I believe that Catholics should be very concerned. The teaching of the indissolubility of marriage is based on the very words of Our Lord Jesus in the Gospel – ‘Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery’ (Mt. 5:32).”
From an early age, I learned “adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his commitment. He does injury to the sign of the covenant which the marriage bond is, transgresses the rights of the other spouse, and undermines the institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is based. He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children who need the stable union of their parents. Between baptised Catholics, a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2381-82).
It is hard to believe the Pope’s response to the questions of the four cardinals was absolute silence. And now, out of the blue, the long period of silence has been broken with the publication of the guidelines of Malta’s bishops, who allowed their divorced and civilly remarried faithful to receive Communion.
It is well known the Pope, as the sovereign ruler and governor of the State of Vatican City, gave his permission to L’Osservatore Romano to publish the “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,” drawn up by the two bishops of Malta, Charles Scicluna and Mario Grech, for the priests of their diocese to implement “if they are at peace with God.”
Although the two Maltese bishops did not get an approving letter from Francis as Argentine bishops of the Buenos Aires region did earlier in the year, they regarded the publication of their guidelines in the Vatican’s newspaper as a sign of approval. Because it might be “humanly impossible” to follow Church teaching which requires the civilly married to live chastely to be allowed to receive the Eucharist, the document presents guidelines in keeping with the directions given by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia.
“If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with ‘humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it’ (Amoris Laetitia, note 300), a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist“ (Amoris Laetitia, notes 336 and 351).
Regarding conjugal continence, the two bishops say some couples may be able to do this, but, “on the other hand, there are complex situations where the choice of living ‘as brother and sister’ becomes humanly impossible and gives rise to greater harm” (Amoris Laetitia, note 329).
St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI both taught that Catholics receiving the Eucharist while living in non-matrimonial unions must abstain from sexual relations and live chastely. Asserting the impossibility of this precept, the document from the Bishops of Malta appears to conflict directly with what was established by the previous Pontiffs.
One of the worst sins a man can commit is adultery, divorcing his wife and marrying another, (Mt.19:9), separating what God has united. Based on this principle, I do not see how the set of guidelines produced by the two bishops of Malta can be accepted, since they clearly state the door is open for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned clearly and finally the theory of the internal forum, and I am unnerved not so much by the commentaries of the bishops, but by the attitude of the Holy Father, who appears to be encouraging bishops to modify the theology of sin and confession. Let us pray that God protects His Church!