Response of Fr. Anthony Spadaro S.J., editor of “Civilta Cattolica” to Austen Ivereigh on the Demand for “Yes-No” Answers on Communion for the Divorced-Remarried

The cardinals want to know whether Amoris Laetitia ever makes possible absolution and Holy Communion for people who are still validly married but having sexual relations with another. They claim that hasn’t been made clear. 

I think that the answer to that has been given, and clearly. When the concrete circumstances of a divorced and remarried couple make feasible a pathway of faith, they can be asked to take on the challenge of living in continence. Amoris Laetitiadoes not ignore the difficulty of this option, and leaves open the possibility of admission to the Sacrament of Reconciliation when this option is lacking.

In other, more complex circumstances, and when it has not been possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, this option may not be practicable. But it still may be possible to undertake a path of discernment under the guidance of a pastor, which results in a recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations which attenuate responsibility and guilt – particularly where a person believes they would fall into a worse error, and harm the children of the new union.

In such cases Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of access to Reconciliation and to the Eucharist, which in turn dispose a person to continuing to mature and grow, fortified by grace.

Their other area of concern is the compatibility of AL with St. John Paul II’s teaching on objective truth and conscience in Veritatis Splendor. They want to know if after AL, church teaching continues to exclude “a creative interpretation of the role of conscience.” 

Amoris Laetitia is underpinned by a clear objectivity of the good and of truth. The proof of it is in the development of understanding and the commitment to carry out what is for the good of man in via [‘along the way’]. We find ourselves here at the very opposite pole from a situational morality in which the norm is perceived as somehow extrinsic to the act that is carried out.

In situational morality the subject is freed from the objective norm, which is conceived in an abstract fashion, in favor of a pragmatism linked to circumstances. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is right to say that “the truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason, is recognized practically and concretely by theprudent judgment of conscience” (#1780).

The moral justice of a particular concrete act includes, inseparably, the search for the objective norm which I must apply to the complexity of my case, as well as the virtue of prudence, which disposes us to discern in every circumstance our true good.

It is in function of who I am and the context in which I find myself that prudential judgement seeks, judges, chooses that which seems just and right in a concrete case. “When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking,” as the Catechism (#1777) also says.

St. John Paul II already opened the door to an understanding of the position of the divorced and remarried through the discernment of the different situations which are not objectively identical, thanks to the internal forum.

Francis has taken an important step in obliging us to clarify what had remained implicit in Familiaris consortio, namely the link between an objective situation of sin and the life of grace faced with God and His Church and, as a logical consequence, of the concrete imputability of the sin.

As Cardinal Christoph Schönborn reminded us, Cardinal Ratzinger [the future Pope Benedict XVI] had already explained this in the 1990s: we can no longer automatically speak of a situation of mortal sin in the case of a new union. There cannot exist a general norm which is capable of covering all the particular cases. Just as the general norm remains clear, so it also remains clear that such a norm cannot cover all cases in an objective way.

Which means, I guess, that it’s possible to be objectively culpable without being so subjectively?

In certain cases, when we are in an objective situation of sin without being so subjectively, or at least only partly, it is possible to grow in the life of grace and charity, receiving for this purpose the help of the Church, through the sacraments,  including the Eucharist, which is “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47).

Moving from the general rule to individual cases cannot be made only through considerations of formal situations. It is therefore possible that, in certain cases, a person who is in an objective situation of sin can receive the help of the sacraments, yes.

When the pope speaks of “objectively sinful situations” he is not only referring to cases of different kinds as in Familiaris consortio #84, but in a broader way to include those “who do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” and whose “individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis” (AL #303).

Francis notes at the start of AL (#3) that “each country or region…can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.” But do you believe that this also allows for latitude in interpretation of AL? Is one bishop’s view of AL as good as another’s? 

No. One thing is to implement AL according to local circumstance, another thing to interpret it differently. Every bishop can find his own way of formulating his pastoral strategy for the family, and indeed, that of the divorced and remarried. The bishop is both doctor and judge and knows how to implement AL, giving concrete expression to the correct interpretation of it.

The pope’s letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires leaves no doubt both that bishops must implement AL according to local needs, and that AL must be correctly interpreted.

The cardinals behind the ‘dubia’ letter are all retired or, in Burke’s case, do not lead a diocese. It’s also striking how many of AL’s critics are lay intellectuals, rather than pastors. Do you sense there is a basic division in the reactions to AL between, as it were, the pastors and legalists?

The best reactions to AL have come from priests with long pastoral experience. They have immediately understood why AL speaks from experience rather than from abstract theory. AL speaks of a pastoral response that is attentive to concrete lives. And the Gospel always takes shape within a concrete life. So those who have been exposed to pastoral ministry get it straight away.

The pope leaves no room for doubt about the teaching of the Church, and in case there should be any, he says that “in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur” (#307).

But earlier, using very strong language, he asserts that “it is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being” (#304). We must not be reductive.

Pastoral ministry always demands the discernment of situations. The Church’s doctrine is that of the Good Shepherd. Pastoral ministry is not a second-rate, or even pragmatic, application of doctrine. Doctrine without the pastoral element is a ‘clashing cymbal’. We have to continually return to the kerygma, to that which is essential and which gives meaning to our whole body of doctrine, in particular to our moral teaching.

What is your sense, overall, of how AL is being accepted by bishops’ conferences across the world? Are most behind it, or must we wait and see?

It’s early days, and it’s difficult to generalize. But from what I see and sense around me, and from the number of invitations I get to present AL to dioceses – most of which sadly I can’t take up – I can say with total certainty there is a great commitment to following the Petrine ministry, to following Francis.

My sense is that the vast majority of the cardinals and bishops are with him, and very few are resisting Amoris Laetitia.

Blogger: The questions confronting Francis are the same whether the Son is God and equal to the Father, or less because He is Son. That opposition to Pope Francis is of the order of Arianism. It is reductive conceptualization demanding the answers of human logics as opposed to a consciousness of equality without sameness. Francis is working with the Christ-Mind of Athanasius while those not understanding are working with the reductive-objectifying mind of Arius.  This is really the struggle that has raged around Vatican II, and here comes to its epistemological head over the pastoral problem of communion for the divorced-remarried. More to be said.


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