Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Pope Francis on the correct interpretation of the 'Amoris Laetitia'
Andrea Tornielli Vatican Insider September 12, 2016 The “text is very good and fully captures the meaning of chapter VIII of the ‘Amoris Laetitia’. There are no other interpretations”. For the first time, Pope Francis puts his opinion on the correct interpretation of the post-synodal exhortation on the family, in writing, in a letter sent to the bishops of Argentina. As is known, the document in the eighth chapter is about the integration of “wounded” and irregular families and calls for a process of discernment which could lead to readmission to the sacraments depending on each individual case, without venturing into the realm of casuistry or hammering rules into people. The papal document has been subject to a variety of interpretations. Some commentators were quick to claim that previous norms essentially remained unchanged. The Pope had already given a verbal response to this on the return flight from the Greek island of Lesbos last April. He was asked whether there were any real new possibilities for access to the sacraments that did not exist prior to the publication of the “Amoris Laetitia” encyclical. “I could say “yes” and leave it at that”, Francis had replied. “But that would be too brief a response. I recommend that all of you read the presentation made by Cardinal Schönborn, a great theologian.” The document which the bishops of Buenos Aires sent to members of the clergy at the start of September was a letter outlining a set of criteria based on the eighth chapter of the exhortation and in particular on the possibility for divorcees who enter a second union to gain access to the sacraments. First of all, it states that it is not proper to “speak about ‘permission’ for accessing the sacraments but rather about a process of discernment under the guidance of a pastor. Along this path, “the pastor should accentuate the fundamental announcement, the kerygma, that stimulates or revives a personal encounter with Christ”. This “pastoral accompaniment” requires the priest to show “the maternal face of the Church”, accepting the honest intention of the penitent and his sincere intention to live his life according to the Gospel and practice charity”. This path “does not necessarily lead to the sacraments but can lead to other forms of greater integration in the life of the Church: a stronger presence of community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, a commitment to different areas of service within the Church.” In the fifth point made in their document, the bishops of Buenos Aires explain: “Commitment to continence could be considered as an option when the concrete circumstances of a couple allow it, especially when the two are Christians following a path of faith,” leaving “open the possibility of accessing the sacrament of reconciliation in such cases”. This possibility is already present in the teachings of John Paul II. In the following paragraph they explain that in the case “of other more complex circumstances and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of annulment, the abovementioned option (continence, Ed.) may not be viable. Despite this, a path of discernment is still possible. When there is acknowledgement, in a concrete case, of the existence of limitations that diminish the degree of responsibility and culpability – particularly when a person believes they would commit another mistake that could harm any children born into the new union - ‘Amoris Laetitia’ introduces the possibility of access to the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.” “These in turn allow the person to continue to mature and grow through the strength of grace,” the document goes on to say. It is important, however, to ensure that this window is not seen as providing unrestricted access to the sacraments or as if any situation could justify it. What is being proposed is a discernment that adequately distinguishes between cases. Some cases require special attention, for instance, situations where a new union is forged shortly after a divorce or where a person repeatedly falls short of their commitments towards the family. Or in cases where a person defends or brags about their own situation as if it formed part of the Christian ideal.” People need to be guided in placing themselves and “their conscience before God,” especially “when it comes to their behaviour towards their children or towards the abandoned spouse. When there are injustices that remain unresolved, access to the sacraments is particularly controversial.” Finally, bishops observe that “should access to the sacraments be granted in some cases, it could make sense for this to be kept confidential, especially when conflict is foreseen”. At the same time, however, “the community needs to be given guidance so that it can grow in a spirit of understanding and openness”. The Pope’s response came on 5 September, praising them for their work, “a true example of the accompaniment of priests”. The key phrase of his letter followed: the document issued by the bishops of Buenos Aires “is very good and fully captures the meaning of chapter VIII of the ‘Amoris Laetitia’. There are no other interpretations. I am sure it will do much good”. Regarding the “path of welcome, accompaniment, discernment and integration,” he said: “We know it is tiring, this is ‘hand-to-hand’ pastoral care, where programmatic, organisational and legal mediation is not enough, albeit necessary”.