Then of course those who do not engage in the marital act may be admitted to Holy Communion, even if they remain living together in an illicit legal union.
It seems to me that Pope Francis does not make these the only two exceptions and thus the crisis and collapse of moral doctrines and theology as well as natural law that occurs due to Pope Francis.
Rocco Buttiglione’s book will be in stores on November 10. In “Risposte amichevoli ai critici di Amoris laetitiaˮ (Edizioni Ares, pp. 208) (Friendly answers to the critics of Amoris laetitia E.d.) the Italian philosopher responds to the criticism directed at Pope Francis, the “dubia” and the “correctio filialis”. The book opens with an extensive introductory essay by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of which - with permission of the publisher and with the consent of the cardinal - Vatican Insider publishes a preview excerpt.
With the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis, relying on the two Synods of Bishops on the family of 2014 and 2015, attempted to give both a theological and pastoral response of the Church to the challenges of our time. In this way, he wanted to offer his maternal support in order to overcome the crisis of marriage and family in the light of the Gospel of Christ.
Generally speaking, this comprehensive document of nine chapters and 325 articles has been welcomed in a positive way. It is to be hoped that many newlyweds and all young couples, who prepare for the holy sacrament of marriage, will allow themselves to be introduced into its broad spirit, deep doctrinal considerations and spiritual references. The success of marriage and the family paves the way for the future of the Church of God and human society.
What is regrettable, is the bitter controversy that has developed on chapter 8, entitled “Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness” (art. 291/312). The question of whether the “divorced and civilly remarried” - a problematic connotation from the dogmatic and canonical point of view - can have access to communion, even though a valid sacramental marriage still exists, in some particularly qualified cases or even generally, has been falsely elevated to the rank of decisive question of Catholicism and of measure of ideological comparison in order to decide whether one is conservative or liberal, favorable or against the Pope. The Pope instead believes that, more important than the pastoral care of failures, is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown. (AL 307). From the point of view of the new evangelization, then, it seems that the effort to ensure that all baptized people participate, on Sundays and feasts of precept, in the celebration of the Eucharist is still much more important than the problem of the possibility of receiving communion in a legitimate and valid way from a limited group of Catholics with an uncertain marital situation.
Instead of defining one’s own Catholic faith through belonging to an ideological field, the problem is actually that of fidelity to the revealed word of God, which is handed down in the confession of the Church. Instead, polarizing theses are confronted with each other in a way that threatens the unity of the Church. While on the one hand the correctness of the Pope’s faith, who is the supreme master of Christianity, is questioned, on the other hand, others seize the opportunity to boast about the Pope’s consent to a radical paradigm shift in the moral and sacramental theology that they desire. We are witnessing a paradoxical reversal of the fronts. The theologians who boast of being liberal-progressives who previously, for example on the occasion of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, radically questioned the Magisterium of the Pope, now raise any of his phrases, which they like, almost to the rank of a dogma. Other theologians, who feel obliged to adhere strictly to the Magisterium, now examine a document of the Magisterium according to the rules of the academic method, as if it were their student’s thesis.
In the midst of these schismatic temptations and this dogmatic confusion which is very dangerous for the unity of the Church, which is founded on the truth of Revelation, Rocco Buttiglione, as an authentic Catholic of proven competence in the field of moral theology, offers, with the articles and essays collected in this volume, a clear and convincing answer. This is not about Amoris Laetitia’s overall reception, but only about the interpretation of some controversial passages in chapter 8. On the basis of the classical criteria of Catholic theology, he offers a reasoned and not controversial answer to the cardinals’ five dubia. He shows that the heavy reproach of Josef Seifert, Buttiglione’s friend and companion of many years of struggles, to the Pope, who says that the Pope does not present correctly the theses of the right doctrine or that he even passes them under silence, does not correspond to the reality of the facts. Seifert’s thesis is similar to the “correctio filialis” text signed by 62 Catholics (24-09-2017).
In this difficult situation of the Church, I gladly accepted Professor Buttiglione’s invitation to write an introduction to this book. I hope to contribute in this way to restoring peace in the Church. In fact, we must all be jointly committed to supporting the understanding of the sacrament of marriage and to offering theological and spiritual help so that marriage and family can be lived “in the joy of love” even in an unfavorable ideological climate. Buttiglione’s thesis makes two fundamental statements, to which I agree with full conviction:
1- The dogmatic doctrines and pastoral exhortations of chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia can and must be understood in the orthodox sense.
2- Amoris Laetitia does not imply any magisterial shift towards an ethics of the situation and therefore there is no contradiction with the encyclical Veritatis Splendor of Pope John Paul II.
We refer here to the theory that subjective conscience could, in consideration of its interests and its particular situations, put itself in place of the objective norm of the natural moral law and of the truths of supernatural revelation (in particular that on the objective effectiveness of the sacraments). In this way, the doctrine of the existence of an intrinsice malum and objectively bad behavior would become obsolete. The doctrine of Veritatis splendor remains valid (art. 56;79) also with respect to Amoris Laetitia (art. 303) for which there are absolute moral norms to which there is no exception (cf. dubium n. 3;5 of the cardinals).
It is evident that Amoris laetitia (art. 300-305) does not teach and does not propose to believe in a binding way that the Christian in a condition of a present and habitual mortal sin can receive absolution and communion without repentance for their sins and without formulating the intention of not sinning any more, in contrast with what Familiaris consortio (art. 84), Reconciliatio et poenitentia (art. 34) and Sacramentum caritatis (Art. 29) (cf. dubium n. 1 of the cardinals) say.
The formal element of sin is the departure from God and his holy will, but there are different levels of gravity depending on the type of sin. Spirit’s sins can be more serious than flesh’s sins. Spiritual pride and avarice introduce into religious and moral life a more profound disorder than impurity resulting from human weakness. The apostasy of faith, the denial of the divinity of Christ weighs more than theft and adultery; adultery among married people weighs more than among the unmarried and, the adultery of the faithful, who know God’s will, weighs more than that of the unbelievers (cf. Thomas Aquinas, th. S. I-II q. 73; II-II q). Moreover, for the imputabilty of guilt in God’s judgment, one must consider subjective factors such as full knowledge and deliberate consent in the serious lack of respect for God’s commandments, which has as a consequence the loss of sanctifying grace and of the ability of faith to become effective in charity (cf. Thomas Aquinas S. th. II-II, q. 10 a. 3 ad 3).
This does not mean, however, that now Amoris laetitia art. 302 supports, in contrast to Veritatis splendor 81, that, due to mitigating circumstances, an objectively bad act can become subjectively good (it is dubium n. 4 of the cardinals). The action in itself bad (the sexual relationship with a partner who is not the legitimate spouse) does not become subjectively good due to circumstances. In the assessment of guilt, however, there may be mitigating circumstances and the ancillary elements of an irregular cohabitation similar to marriage can also be presented before God in their ethical value in the overall assessment of judgment (for example, the care for children in common, which is a duty deriving from natural law).
An accurate analysis shows that the Pope in Amoris laetitia has not proposed any doctrine to be believed in a binding way that is in open or implicit contradiction to the clear doctrine of the Sacred Scripture and to the dogmas defined by the Church on the sacraments of marriage, penance and Eucharist. On the contrary, the doctrine of the faith on the internal and external indissolubility of sacramental marriage is confirmed with respect to all the other forms that “radically contradict it”(AL 292) and this doctrine is put at the basis of the questions concerning the pastoral attitude to be held with persons in relationships similar to marriage. Even when some constitutive elements of marriage are found in cohabitations that resemble marriage, however, the sinful transgression against other constitutive elements of marriage and against marriage as a whole, is not good. Contradiction with goodness can never become part of it, or the beginning of a journey towards the fulfillment of God’s holy and sanctifying will. Nowhere is it said that a baptized in a condition of mortal sin is allowed to receive Holy Communion and thus receives in fact its effect as a Communion of spiritual life with Christ. The sinner consciously and voluntarily opposes to the love for God the latch (obex) of grave sin. Even when it is said “that no one can be condemned forever” this must be understood from the point of view of care, that never surrenders, for the eternal salvation of sinner rather than as a categorical denial of the possibility of an eternal condemnation which, however, presupposes voluntary obstinacy in sin. There are sins in the categories of the Church that exclude themselves from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6,9-11) but only until the sinner opposes their forgiveness and rejects the grace of repentance and conversion. The Church, however, in her maternal concern, does not renounce any person who is a pilgrim on this earth and leaves the final judgment to God, the only who knows the thoughts of hearts. The Church’s task is preaching of conversion and faith and the sacramental mediation of grace that justifies, sanctifies and heals. For God says, “I do not enjoy the death of the wicked, but that the wicked desist from their conduct and live” (Ez. 33:11).
The specific theme discussed in chapter 8 is pastoral care for the soul of those Catholics who in any way live together in a cohabitation that resembles a marriage with a partner who is not their legitimate spouse. The existential situations are very different and complex and the influence of ideologies enemy of marriage is often overbearing. Individual Christians can find themselves without their own fault in the harsh crisis of being abandoned and of not being able to find any other way out than entrusting themselves to a person of good heart, and the result is a marriage-like relationship. A special spiritual discernment of the confessor’s internal forum is needed to find a path of conversion and reorientation towards Christ that is right for the person, going beyond an easy adaptation to the relativistic spirit of time or a cold application of dogmatic precepts and canonical dispositions, in the light of the truth of the Gospel and with the help of the previous grace.
In the global situation, in which virtually there are no longer any more homogeneously Christian environments that can offer the individual Christian the support of a collective mentality and in the “only partial identification” with the Catholic faith and with its ensuing sacramental, moral and spiritual life, perhaps the problem, mutatis mutandis, of a dissolution of a first marriage contracted not “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39) in favorem fidei. may also arise for the baptized Christians that were not sufficiently evangelized.
According to the doctrine of the faith, a marriage validly contracted by Christians, which because of its baptismal character is always a sacrament, remains indissoluble. The spouses cannot declare it null and void it on their own initiative and neither can the ecclesiastical authority, even that of the Pope, dissolve it from the outside. However, since God, who instituted marriage in Creation, bases the marriage of a man and a woman in concrete terms through the natural acts of free consent and the integral willingness to contract marriage with all its properties (bona matrimonii), this concrete bond of a man and a woman is indissoluble only if the spouses bring into this cooperation of human action with the divine one all the constitutive elements of human integrity. According to his concept, every sacramental marriage is indissoluble. But in reality, a new marriage is possible - even in the life of the legitimate spouse - when in concrete terms, because of the lack of one of its constituent elements, the first marriage did not actually subsist as a marriage founded by God due to the lack of one of its constitutive elements.
Civil marriage is only relevant to us if, in the physical or moral impossibility of observing the form required by the Church of consent before a priest and two witnesses, it constitutes a public attestation of a real marriage consent. The understanding of “marriage”, however, in the legislations of many states, has been considerably distanced in many substantial elements from natural marriage and even more so from Christian marriage, even in societies that were once Christian, so that a crass ignorance about the sacrament of marriage grows among many Catholics.
In a matrimonial annulment procedure, therefore, the real will of marriage plays a fundamental role. In the case of a conversion in mature age (of a Catholic who is such only on the certificate of baptism) one can say that a Christian is convinced in conscience that their first bond, even if it took place in the form of a marriage in the Church, was not valid as a sacrament and that their current marriage-like bond, prized by children and with a living relationship matured over time with their current partner is a true marriage before God. Perhaps this cannot be canonically proven because of the material context or because of the culture of the dominant mentality. It is possible that the tension that occurs here between the public-objective status of the “second” marriage and subjective guilt can open, under the conditions described, the way to the sacrament of penance and Holy Communion, passing through a pastoral discernment in internal forum.
In paragraph 305 and in particular in note 351, which is the subject of a passionate discussion, the theological argument suffers from a certain lack of clarity which could and should have been avoided by referring to the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Trent and Vatican II on the justification, the sacrament of penance and the appropriate way of receiving the Eucharist. What is at issue is an objective situation of sin which, due to mitigating circumstances, is subjectively not imputed. This sounds similar to the Protestant principle of simul jus et peccator, but it is certainly not intended in that sense. If the second bond were valid before God, the marriage relationships of the two partners would not constitute a serious sin but rather a transgression against ecclesiastical public order for having irresponsibly violated the canonical rules and therefore a minor sin. This does not obscure the truth that the relationship more uxorio with a person of the other sex, who is not the legitimate spouse before God, constitutes a serious fault against chastity and justice due to one’s spouse. A Christian who is in a state of mortal sin - here we are dealing directly with the relationship with God, not with the attenuating or aggravating circumstances of sin - and therefore persevere in a consciously desired contradiction against God, is called to repentance and conversion. Only the forgiveness of guilt which, in the one who is justified, not only covers but completely erases mortal sin, allows spiritual and sacramental communion with Christ in charity. From this one cannot separate the intention of not sinning any more, of confessing one’s own grave sins (those of which one is aware) to offer reparation for the damages that have been done the neighbor and to Christ’s mystical body, in order to obtain in this way, through absolution, the cancellation of one’s own sin before God and also reconciliation with the Church.
The note 351 contains nothing that contradicts all this. Since repentance and the intention of no longer sinning, confession and satisfaction are constitutive elements of the sacrament of penance and are consequently of divine law, the Pope cannot dispense from them either (S. Thomas Aquinas S. th. Suppl. q. 6 a. 6). Thanks to the power of the keys or to the power to dissolve and bind (Mt. 16:18;18:18; Jn. 20:22 ff.), the Church can, through the Pope, bishops and priests, forgive sins of which the sinner is repentant and cannot forgive sins for which there is no repentance (they are “retained” ). This happens, however, in conformity with the sacramental order that was founded by Christ and is now made effective by him in the Holy Spirit. The repentant sinner, however, remains with the possibility, in the event of physical impossibility to receive the sacrament of penance, and with the intention of confessing one’s own sins at the first opportunity, to obtain forgiveness in vow and also to receive the Eucharist, in vow or sacrament.
The sacraments have been established for us, because we are corporeal and social beings, and not so that God may need them to communicate grace. Precisely for this reason it is possible that someone receives the justification and mercy of God, forgiveness of sins and new life in faith and charity even if for external reasons one cannot receive the sacraments or has a moral obligation not to receive them publicly in order to avoid a scandal.
An important point of Amoris Laetitia, which is often not correctly understood in all his pastoral meaning, and which is not easy to apply in practice with tact and discretion, is the law of gradualness. It is not a matter of a gradualness of the law but of its progressive application to a concrete person in their concrete existential conditions. This happens dynamically in a process of clarification, discernment and maturation based on the recognition of one’s own personal and unrepeatable relationship with God through the path of one’s life (cf. AL 300). This is not a hardened sinner, who wants to assert before God rights that he or she does not have. God is particularly close to the person who sets out on the path of conversion, who, for example, assumes responsibility for the children of a woman who is not his legitimate bride and does not neglect the duty to take care of her. This also applies in the case in which he, because of his human weakness and not for the will to oppose grace, which helps to observe the commandments, is not yet able to satisfy all the requirements of moral law. An action in itself sinful does not become legitimate and not even pleasing to God. However, its imputability as guilt can be diminished when the sinner turns to God’s mercy with a humble heart and prays “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”. Here pastoral accompaniment and the practice of the virtue of penance as an introduction to the sacrament of penance has a special importance. It is, as Pope Francis says, “a way of love” (AL 306).
According to the explanations of Saint Thomas Aquinas that we have reported, Holy Communion can only be received effectively by those who have repented of their sins and approach the table of the Lord with the intention of no longer committing them. Since every baptized person has the right to be admitted to the table of the Lord’s table, he or she can be deprived of this right only because of a mortal sin until they repent and are forgiven. The priest, however, cannot publicly humiliate the sinner by publicly rejecting Holy Communion and damaging his good name in front of the community. In the circumstances of today’s social life, it may be difficult to determine who is a sinner, in public or in secrecy. The priest must, however, warn everyone in general of “not approaching the table of the Lord before they have made penance for their own sins and is reconciled with the Church”. After penance and reconciliation (absolution), Holy Communion must not be refused even to public sinners, especially in the case of danger of death (S. th. III q. 80).
I am convinced that the in-depth analyses that Rocco Buttiglione proposes, despite all the limitations and necessity of integration of theological reason, open doors and build bridges to Amoris Laetitia’s critics and help to overcome their doubts from the inside. Even those who superficially recall Amoris Laetitia to relativize the indissolubility of marriage and shake the foundations of morals founded in creation and Revelation are also called to a serious rethinking.
Let us read chapter 8. of Amoris Laetitia with the heart of Jesus, Good Shepherd and Master of Truth. He looks at us friendly and says, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Lk. 15:6/7).
Let us read Amoris Laetitia together without mutual reproaches and suspicions with the feeling of faith (sensus fidei) in the light of the entire tradition of the Church’s doctrine and with an ardent pastoral concern for all those who find themselves in difficult marital and family situations and who particularly need the maternal support of the Church.
From the depths of my heart I thank Rocco Buttiglione for the great service he renders with this book to the unity of the Church and to the truth of the Gospel.