WE WERE NOT PLANNING A THIRD ARTICLE on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, but just when it was presumed that enough had been said, we were presented with a letter from Pope Francis to the Argentine bishops, which has been accosted by EWTN host Raymond Arroyo and his guests Robert Royal, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and Fr. Gerard Murray, a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of New York.
Pope Francis recently replied to the bishops of Buenos Aires, Argentina, after they had drafted a series of ten guidelines to assist local clergy implementing Amoris Laetitia. The pope indicated in the document that bishops should draft guidelines to assist their clergy making pastoral decisions involving divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and the possibility of admitting them to Holy Communion as discussed in his Apostolic Exhortation. Francis applauded their guidelines and indicated that they had understood the pastoral dimensions of Amoris Laetitia as well as the integral intersection of pastoral and dogmatic theology. Francis assured the bishops that their document was not only “very good”, but also that it “throughout specifies the meaning of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia.
The same cannot be said for Mr. Arroyo who is clearly uncomfortable with both the pope and the Argentine episcopate. He decided to embrace his guests warmly while employing innuendo to demean the Holy Father. He referred to his two guests as the “Papal Posse” as if the pope were some type of fugitive being hunted for bounty. Together, they concocted a distorted and twisted case against the pope and the bishops, resorting to worn-out misinterpretation, partial information, and faulty cross references.
The three present the pope as a man deviating from traditional Catholic teaching about marriage, divorce and civil unions by comparing his work with that of Pope John Paul II, especially Familiaris Consortio, which they claim, Francis has deviated from.
Arroyo initiates the conversation with his guests by quoting the bishops’ guidelines (the entire text of the Bishops ten guidelines can be cross referenced here). He excludes, however, vital and critical information necessary to properly interpret and assess the document, information that would throw his own distorted interpretation into jeopardy. He does not start at the beginning but half way into the document, after ignoring guidelines one to four he begins with partial quotes taken from guidelines five and six.
Before looking at the bishop’s guidelines, it will help to point out that the disputed paragraphs 300-308 of Amoris Laetitia begin with the following words that demonstrate the pope intends to remain within the bounds of traditional Catholic teaching on the matter:
“Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop” (para 300).
Clearly, the whole issue of divorce and remarriage must conform to the “teaching of the Church. Further, in paragraph 304 Pope Francis states:
“This discernment (to live together under the conditions just stated and perhaps others) can NEVER prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church…. THESE ATTITUDES ARE ESSENTIAL FOR AVOIDING THE GRAVE DANGER OF MISUNDERSTANDINGS, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours” (para 300)
In other words, whatever follows must adhere to the constant teaching of the Church and this adherence is essential for “avoiding the grave danger of misunderstanding“. No priest can “grant an exception” to the dogmatic truths of the faith.
Amoris Laetitia cannot be understood properly if we prescind from the above statements; they help the reader realize that any pastoral discussion that follows in the text must adhere to Church teaching; of this the pope is fully cognizant.
Without its introductory orientation, the document cannot be read properly; it sets the tone for what follows. The same caveat applies to the Argentine Bishop’s Guidelines. For example, before jumping into the Articles, it is necessary to know what prompted the bishops to draft them, what is their purpose and their end? According to the bishops themselves, they drafted the guidelines to:
“…encourage the growth of love between spouses and to motivate the youth to opt for marriage and a family.”
In other words, the primary purpose is promoting the sanctity of marriage; it is less about divorced and remarried as it is about the beauty and sanctity of marriage and the choice to marry. Then the bishops proceed to open the door to Divine Mercy calling to mind the very special time of mercy the Jesus has granted to His Church.
“Francis has opened several doors in pastoral care for families and we are invited to leverage this time of mercy with a view to endorsing, as a pilgrim Church, the richness offered by the different chapters of this Apostolic Exhortation.”
Strangely, Arroyo ignores this invitation to mercy. Ironically, EWTN is a leading promoter of Divine Mercy, at least it use to be.
The Argentine bishops proceed to explain that Amoris Laetitia is intended to help priests in their difficult work of “pastoral care for families.” Clearly the guidelines are intended to aid pastoral discernment. Although they flow from objective universal principles, they are not not dogmatic pronouncements.
Contrary to what we will hear from Arroyo, the bishops inform their clergy up front, that receiving the sacraments is not a matter of gaining permission; it is a matter of penitent couples discerning their walk with Christ accompanied by their pastor who is expected to guide them as a good shepherd by taking time to know them and to provide them with ongoing spiritual direction.
“Firstly, we should remember that it is not advisable to speak of “permissions” to have access to sacraments, but of a discernment process in the company of a pastor. It is a “personal and pastoral discernment” (para 300).
“In this path, the pastor should emphasize the fundamental proclamation, the kerygma, so as to foster or renew a personal encounter with the living Christ.”
The idea is not to simply grant permission to receive the sacraments or to deny them. Positive or negative, the whole purpose of the whole process is to bring people into union with Christ, and each other, no matter where they are or might be; sinners are called to repentance and this involves a relationship not a simple “yes you may” or “no you may not“.
“This itinerary requires the pastoral charity of the priest who receives the penitent, listens to him/her attentively and shows him/her the maternal face of the Church, while also accepting his/her righteous intention and good purpose to devote his/her whole life to the light of the Gospel and to practice charity (cf. 306).
These is essential information that cannot be ignored “without avoiding the grave danger of misunderstanding“. This type of pertinent information is ignored by ideologues so as to create misinformation and spread confusion. A couple must be willing to devote their entire lives to the light of the Gospel; no where does the document say that adulterous people may be permitted to the sacraments, as the “Posse” claims it does. What Amoris Laetitia explicitly states is that couples must sincerely repent and seek spiritual growth, just like the rest of the members of the Body of Christ.
The Eucharist is as much Bread for the sick as it is Food for the righteous. As with any sinner, and the Church is full of them, the divorced-remarried couple might fall, but they then must get up and move ever closer to the Lord becoming ever stronger by reception of the sacraments, which strengthen them in God’s mercy and love to be able to live their resolve. Because divorce and remarriage is generally accepted as “normal’ as with other types of sin, such as homosexuality, it is easy to understand how such couples might justify their own behavior and why pastoral care is necessary. Pastoral care is not meant to condone sin; it is meant to mercifully convince sinners of their sin so that they can embrace the Gospel life and eventually receive communion.
BEFORE ANY ONE CAN BE ADMITTED TO THE EUCHARIST HE OR SHE MUST REPENT AND SINCERELY RESOLVE TO “DEVOTE HIS/HER WHOLE LIFE TO THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL.”
The “Posse” has twisted the hell out of this thing. Perhaps they were too busy looking for faults to be merciful. Like blind guides, they strain at a gnat (people trying to avoid sin and live a continent life in difficult circumstances), and swallow a camel (failure to see with a heart of mercy).
Finally, the bishops point out that divorced-remarried people can and will be denied the sacraments. But if they are denied, it is good pastoral practice to include them elsewhere in the ministries of the parish (if they are trying to grow and not simply rebellious).
“This path does not necessarily finish in the sacraments; it may also lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church: greater presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, engagement in ecclesial services, etc. (cf. 299).”
Clearly, the pope and bishops are conveying to their priests that this is not a carte blanche ticket to the sacraments, that they will have to often say no, but even then, they should act as good and wise pastors.
Arroyo and the “Papal Posse” left all of these guidelines out of their supposedly scholarly and objective scrutiny.
WHAT DID THEY SAY AND HOW DID THEY MISREPRESENT HIM?
Arroyos begins his presentation by partially quoting Articles Five and Six:
“When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence.”
He then omits the following text:
“Whenever feasible depending on the specific circumstances of a couple, especially when both partners are Christians walking the path of faith, a proposal may be made to resolve to live in continence. Amoris laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option and offers the possibility of having access to the sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose” (cf. footnote 364, Recalling the Letter that Saint John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, dated 22 March, 1996).
A proposal to live in continence is to be made “depending on the particular circumstances“, especially when both partners are Christians (that is, not always). Amoris Laetitia, recognizes that this proposal will be attended by many difficulties (falls), which the pastor must be willing to lead the couple through. Moreover, they must avail themselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation, as the Church has always taught (nothing new here, but neglected by Arroyo). The “Posse” also neglects the footnote from the letter composed by Saint John Paul II to Cardinal Baum cited above. In that letter, which the Argentine bishops include in their guidelines approved and applauded by Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II states:
“It is also self-evident that the accusation of sins must include the serious intention not to commit them again in the future. If this disposition of soul is lacking, there really is no repentance: this is in fact a question of moral evil as such, and so not taking a stance opposed to a possible moral evil would mean not detesting evil, not repenting. But as this must stem above all from sorrow for having offended God, so the intention of not sinning must be based on divine grace, which the Lord never fails to give anyone who does what he can to act honestly” (From a Letter that Pope John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, March, 22, 1996).
Clearly, Pope Francis and the bishops understand that there must be true repentance along with the intention of not sinning, which are necessary for the outpouring of divine grace. In other words, God is a healer who wants to administer the balm of grace, but will not do so unless their is true honesty accompanied by true repentance and firm resolve to defeat sin. These are necessary conditions for all divorced and remarried couples to receive the Eucharist; nothing new here, but misrepresented by Arroyo. Nothing new here except the pastoral dimension and outreach to all divorced-remarried couples not just those with an annulment. Annulment or not, all such couples must meet these basic guidelines, guidelines that Arroyo happened to somehow miss in his haste to vilify the pope.
By the time we arrive at Article Six, would the reader be surprised to learn that Arroyo fails to mention vital information. According to him, Article Six states:
“If one arrives at the recognition that in their particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability particularly to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. “
Article Six does state this, but it also states more that Arroyo failed to mention; it states that:
“If it is acknowledged that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability especially when a person believes he/she would incur a subsequent fault by harming the children of the new union, Amoris laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.”
The bishops demonstrate that there are cases that mitigate the responsibility of not separating, when for example, the divorced-remarried couple have children of their own. Separating could be a sin against their own children. In such a case, if they sincerely repent, resolve to devote themselves to Christ and live in continence, they might be admitted to the Eucharist after receiving spiritual direction and first going to confession.
Of course, Arroyo might have difficulty making his case that Pope Francis is allowing adulterous couples to receive Holy Communion if he included this information. Quite simply, a couple living together in continence having sincerely given themselves to spiritual growth and union with Christ are not an “adulterous couple” anymore; they are simply a couple living together because of the mitigating circumstances of their children, which almost demands that they live together. They are not “adulterous” just because some people in the community might think so. It is necessary to avoid this scandal by their own witness, or some unique way in which the information is communicated.
At this point, as can be seen in the video below, Arroyo asks Mr. Royal what he makes of the partial quote given him by Arroyo. Royal states that he does not know what to make of it. Perhaps if he were given the entire statement he could figure it out.
Worst of all, Royal has the effrontery to claim that:
“In one way we finally do have an explicit statement on the part of the Holy Father that there are – maybe very few – but there are some cases where people are divorced and remarried involving active sexual lives – what use to be called ‘living in adulterous relationship – that they can receive communion” (2:20 in video).
This is an absolutely ridiculous and false statement; no where in the document do the bishops or the pope say anything remotely close to this nefarious nonsense. Pope Francis and the Argentine bishops have made it abundantly clear: There are a few cases where divorced and remarried couples can licitly live together, such as the case to care for their children and see to their proper upbringing. However, they must also be invited to spiritual growth by their pastor, accept the invitation, repent, sincerely resolve to live in continence and go to confession before being admitted to Eucharist. This is in fact what the bishops and pope wrote, what they teach and what they profess, to say anything else is a gross distortion.
POPE FRANCIS’ RESPONSE
In his letter of reply to the Argentine Bishops Pope Francs states:
“May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity. And it is precisely pastoral charity that drives us to go out to meet the strayed, and, once they are found, to initiate a path of acceptance, discernment and reinstatement in the ecclesial community.
“We know this is tiring, it is “hand-to-hand” pastoral care which cannot be fully addressed with programmatic, organizational or legal measures, even if these are also necessary. It simply entails accepting, accompanying, discerning, reinstating.”
The pope realizes the authentic pastoral work is an extremely difficult task requiring the ability to discern each unique situation, to make prudential judgments, to be patient, to pray, sacrifice and give oneself as a good shepherd for the flock. This is what Francis desires of Christ’s priests, more than anything else.
“The Pope has made it absolutely clear that in his opinion and his way of looking at things, that there are circumstances that people might find themselves in in which they can continue to live in an adulterous relationship and at the same time receive communion” (3:50 in video).
“So we are basically at a loggerheads here. One pope says you have to live continence if you are in an invalid marriage, if you want to receive the sacraments, and now Pope Francis is saying in some circumstances that is not necessary” (4:28).