by Sandro Magister
ROME, July 6, 2016 – For a few weeks a text has been circulating without making a stir, written by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli in commentary on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”
Cardinal Antonelli, 79, is an authority on the subject. He was for five years the president of the pontifical council for the family, and he has also accumulated substantial pastoral experience. He was archbishop first in Perugia and then in Florence, in addition to being the secretary of the Italian episcopal conference for six years. He has a solid theological formation and belongs to the Focolare movement.
And yet in spite of these credentials he was not called by Pope Francis to take part in the synod on the family, neither at the first nor at the second session.
But this did not prevent him from participating actively in the discussion, in particular with a booklet published in June of last year and extensively cited in this article from www.chiesa:
> Synod. Cardinal Antonelli’s Twofold Cry of Alarm
One year ago, the cardinal’s fear was that “Eucharistic communion for the divorced and remarried and the cohabiting would rapidly become a generalized practice,” with the result that “it would no longer make much sense to speak of the indissolubility of marriage, and there would be a loss of practical relevance in the very celebration of the sacrament of marriage.”
Today, after the publication of “Amoris Laetitia,” he does not see this fear as dispelled. But neither does it seem invincible to him, if “Amoris Laetitia” can be given - he writes - an attentive and wise application, capable of shedding light on its obscure passages, even better if this is with the help of future “further guidelines on the part of the competent authority.”
As previously happened a year ago, this text by Cardinal Antonelli will also soon take the form of a brief book, published in Italy by Ares.
Here is a preview of a few passages from it. Of particular interest are, in the conclusion, the advice given to confessors on access to communion for the divorced and remarried.
Between Rules and Exceptions, a Difficult Balance
by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli
“Amoris Laetitia” has received opposing interpretations among pastors, among theologians, among media professionals. The question arises spontaneously: with respect to traditional doctrine and practice, in particular with “Familiaris Consortio” of John Paul II, is there continuity, rupture, or innovation in continuity? [. . .]
The teaching of objective truth in “Amoris Laetitia” remains that of all time. 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. This is why it is not possible to formulate general regulations; one can only encourage “responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases” (300).
In the past, in the age of Christendom, all the attention was turned to the objective moral truth, to the general laws. Anyone who fell short of the observance of the norms was presumed to be gravely culpable. This was a common conviction, tranquilly shared. The divorced in a second union gave scandal, because they endangered the indissolubility of marriage. So they were marginalized from the ecclesial community as public sinners.
More recently, in the age of secularization and the sexual revolution, many no longer understand the meaning of the Church’s doctrine concerning marriage and sexuality. It is a widespread opinion that sexual relations between consenting adults are licit, even outside of marriage. It can be hypothesized that some persons live in objectively disordered situations without full subjective responsibility. This explains why John Paul II should have seen it as appropriate to encourage the divorced and remarried to participate more fully in the life of the Church and to encounter the mercy of God “by other ways,” different from sacramental reconciliation and the Eucharist (“Reconciliatio et Poenitentia,” 34), unless they commit themselves to observing sexual continence.
Pope Francis, in a cultural context of even more advanced secularization and pansexualism, is going even further, but along the same lines. Without being silent on the objective truth, he is concentrating the attention on subjective responsibility, which at times can be diminished or eliminated. [. . .] Doctrine is competent when it comes to the norms; individual cases require discernment in the light of the norms and of doctrine (79; 304).
This dynamic process can be influenced by factors that diminish or even eliminate the imputability of the disordered human act (302). These can ultimately be reduced to three types: ignorance of the norm, incomprehension of the values at stake, impediments perceived as the occasion of other offenses (301). This framework does not depart from tradition: it has always been said that the commission of mortal sin requires not only grave matter (the grave objective disorder), but also full awareness and deliberate consent (cf. Catechism of Saint Pius X). The innovation of “Amoris Laetitia” lies in the breadth of application that is given to the principle of gradualness in the spiritual and pastoral discernment of individual cases. The intention is to give a more attractive and persuasive ecclesial testimony to the gospel of divine mercy, to comfort spiritually wounded persons, to maximize and develop, as much as possible, the seeds of goodness that are found in them.
In consideration of the dynamic of discernment, Pope Francis envisions the possibility of a progressive and more complete integration into concrete ecclesial life for persons in situations of fragility, so that they may experience ever more, and not only know, that it is beautiful to be Church. After adequate pastoral discernment, they can be entrusted with various tasks that they were excluded from until now, while however “avoiding any occasion of scandal” (299).
The personal and pastoral discernment of individual cases “would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases,’ the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same” (300), [. . .] not even “with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists” (footnote 336). “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” (305).
The pope is therefore opening an outlet even for admission to sacramental reconciliation and Eucharistic communion. But this is a matter of a hypothetical, generic, and marginal suggestion. [. . .]
The pope himself is aware that, in moving forward on this path, there are risks that are run: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street’” (308). Risks and abuses can be foreseen both among pastors and among the faithful, for example: confusion between subjective responsibility and objective truth, between law of gradualness and gradualness of the law; moral relativism and situational ethics; estimation of divorce and new unions as morally licit; disincentivization of preparation for marriage, demotivation of the separated faithful, access to the Eucharist without the necessary dispositions; difficulties and perplexities of priests in discernment; uncertainty and anxiety among the faithful.
There is a need for further guidelines on the part of the competent authority, for the sake of prudent implementation. [. . .] Admission to Eucharistic communion normally requires complete visible communion with the Church. It cannot be granted as a general rule as long as the objectively disordered situation of life continues, whatever the subjective dispositions may be (among other things, this is the discipline applied in ecumenical relations with non-Catholic Christians). Nonetheless there are possible exceptions and, as has been seen, the pope shows that he is willing to admit them in some cases (300; 305; footnotes 336; 351).
Obviously the doctrine is still true that every mortal sin excludes one from Eucharistic communion, borne witness to by the whole tradition [. . .]. Pope Francis highlights the social character, the discrimination against the poor, that was part of the sin incompatible with the Eucharist as condemned by Saint Paul (185-186), but he certainly does not mean to deny that all mortal sins constitute an impediment. In order to receive the Eucharist worthily, therefore, conversion and sacramental reconciliation are necessary. [. . .]
For couples in irregular situations, the adequate change is the overcoming of their situation, at least with the serious commitment to continence, even if because of human frailty there should be relapses (footnote 364). If this commitment is lacking, it is rather difficult to identify other signs of good subjective dispositions and of the life of grace in God that are sufficiently certain. Nonetheless one can attain a reasonable probability, at least in some cases (298; 303).
In expectation of the desired more authoritative guidelines, I will try to hypothesize with great hesitation a way of proceeding in the internal forum in the difficult case in which there would be no clear resolution concerning sexual continence.
The priest confessor could encounter a divorced and remarried person who believes sincerely and intensely in Jesus Christ, leads a life that is earnest, generous, capable of sacrifice, who recognizes that his relationship does not correspond to the evangelical norm, who nonetheless maintains that he is not committing sin on account of the difficulties that prevent him from observing sexual continence. For his part, the confessor welcomes him with cordiality and respect; he listens to him with benevolent attention, seeking to consider the multiple aspects of his personality. Moreover he helps him to improve his dispositions, in such a way that he may receive forgiveness: he respects his conscience, but reminds him of his responsibility before God, the only one who sees the hearts of persons; he admonishes him that his sexual relationship is in contrast with the gospel and the doctrine of the Church; he exhorts him to pray and to strive to arrive gradually, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, at sexual continence. Finally, if the penitent, in spite of foreseeing new lapses, shows a certain willingness to take steps in the right direction, he gives him absolution and authorizes him to receive Eucharistic communion in such a way as not to give scandal (ordinarily in a place where he is not known, as is already done by the divorced and remarried who are committed to practicing continence). In any case, the priest must adhere to the guidelines given by his bishop.
The priest is called to keep a difficult balance. On the one hand he must bear witness that mercy is the heart of the Gospel (311) and that the Church, like Jesus, welcomes sinners and heals the wounds of life. On the other hand he must safeguard the visibility of the ecclesial communion with Christ that shines in the faithful preaching of the Gospel, in the authentic celebration of the sacraments, in correct canonical discipline, in the consistent life of believers; he must in particular strengthen the evangelizing mission of the Christian family, called to radiate the beauty of Christian conjugal love: one, faithful, fecund, indissoluble (cf. Vatican Council II, "Gaudium et Spes", 48).
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.
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