In paragraph #305 of AL, Pope Francis wrote: “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. Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.”
Blogger: The pope is saying that a person may be in an objective state of sin – he/she may be divorced from a valid marriage/remarried, no annulment, not living as brother and sister with children by the second woman/man – and, having repented of the divorce but giving self to the second union and the formation of the children responsibly, cannot leave the second objectively sinful union without violating justice toward the children – the person can subjectively be in grace and growing in holiness, and hence capable of the sacraments of the living.
What is essential to understand this is the development of moral theology in John Paul II’s “Vertatis Splendor” of 1993 where he explains that the criterion of moral goodness is the person making the gift of self, that is “the subject” going out of himself. The meaning of moral goodness is prototypically the Person of Christ who is total Self-gift to the Father in obedience to death. We have been created in His image and likeness and baptized into His passion and His death. We become good to the extent that we attempt to give ourselves to God and others even in the most objectively disordered immoral circumstances. In this regard, recall the words of Benedict XVI: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants;” Benedict XVI “Light of the World,” Ignatius (2010) 119.
Hence, moral goodness is not reducible to an objective state of conduct in accordance with law or theoretical principle but in acts of practical self-transcendence. I believe this to be the metaphysical, epistemological and moral nub of the question: subject-growth in moral goodness while being trapped in an objectively immoral state of affairs.