translated by Joseph Bolin
work in progress
This is a translation from the German of Josef Seifert's article, published by aemaet (pdf) on July 24, 2016, and released under the Creative Common's License with Attribution CC BY 3.0).
The article begins, in the first section, by mentioning the wealth of beautiful thoughts that Amoris Laetitia contains, and the wonderful core of AL's message, the merciful love of God for every man, as well as a small part of its statements that could have the greatest effect and that give us reason for concern and sorrow.
The second part concerns the question, who are the couples in "irregular situations", to whom AL intends to grant access to the sacraments. Four fundamentally different answers that dominate the current discussion about AL are critically addressed, in order to show that a clear statement about which answer is true and a rejection of blatantly false answers is urgently necessary:
1. No "irregular couples"?
2. All "irregular couples"?
3. Some, to be carefully examined, couples in irregular situations?
4. "Irregular couples", that have entered an apparently valid marriage of conscience and to whom AL for the first time grants recognition and legitimacy?
Since the second answer would transform the holy Temple of God into a temple of Satan, it can certainly not be the pope's answer. But since it is nonetheless suggested by from high church dignitaries, we cannot pass it over in silence, it urgently deserves the strictest rejection.
The third answer reveals itself as that intended by Pope Francis. It is examined carefully and a series of questions are raised about it. These show that every sorting out of "good persons in irregular situations" of adultery, homosexual acts, who despite their living in objectively grave sin are subjectively in a state of grace and need no repentance and conversion before the reception of the sacraments, and "evil adulterers" and homosexuals, who can be admitted to the sacraments only after repentance and conversion, exceeds the capacities of the individual priest and of the couples concerned.
While the fourth answer and the proposal of marriages of conscience that could in certain circumstances substitute for the church tribunals is presented with great sympathy as a potential merciful reform and employment of the subject and conscience in its legitimate rights by Pope Francis, it is shown that it also contradicts the teaching and tradition of the Church, as well as rational principles of justice, so that finally, only the first answer remains, which holds that Pope Francis has changed nothing regarding the sacramental discipline and can, for various reasons, effectively change nothing regarding it.
The third part addresses a series of statements that a least upon a first reading seem false, indeed heretical, and that would demonstrate the radical break affirmed by Spaemann of AL with teaching and tradition: a break with the teaching of the Gospel and the Church on the moral order, on per se evil and disordered actions, on the commandments of God and our ability to fulfill them with the help of grace, on the indissolubility of marriage and the holiness of the sacraments of the Eucharist and marriage, on the sacramental discipline and pastoral action of the Church that arise from the Word of God and the 2000 year-old tradition of the Church, on the necessity of faith in Christ for eternal salvation and the danger of eternal damnation (hell).
Since the statements concerned bear upon fundamental elements of Church teaching, a clarification and retraction of the false sense (for the most part immediately understood as the sense of the passages) is requested.
The fourth part shows, through various examples from Church history, that criticism, also by laity, of non-infallible statements of the Pope, is completely compatible with Catholic tradition and teacher: beginning from St. Paul, Emperor Constantine, and Athanasius through St. Catharine till the present the legitimacy and necessity of such a critical examination of all things, including non-infallible statements of a pope. The topic is, therefore, the dramatic question of a clarification and correction of AL in teaching and practice.
The quintessence of my article is: if it is not possible, as it does not seem to be possible, to interpret the aforementioned and other declarations of AL in continuity with the constant teaching of the Church's magisterium, we ask the Pope, the representative of Jesus Christ on earth, humbly, yet forcefully and decisively, to correct statements that nearly every reader of AL understands in a mistaken sense, which contradicts Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church, and to reject decisively disastrous interpretations of the statements of AL. If that does not take place, every more bishops' conferences (like that of the Philippines) will of necessity very soon interpret AL badly or wrongly, or make erroneous statements the foundation of their pastoral and teaching office. Since the Pope himself, and not malicious journalists or interpreters have said or written these and other things, I consider it a duty of all Catholic, to ask the pope humbly but categorically to replace errors with truth, false interpretations with right ones, muddled statements with clear ones. So that the word of Sacred Scripture and the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, that the Church the "firm pillar of the truth" is, and the Pope, when he teaches in harmony with the Gospel and the Church, our highest teacher of truth is, may shine with a new radiance.
Following the publication, which I did not authorize, of my article on Amoris Laetitia (Lágrimas . . . Tränen. . .) in several languages, I have decided to publish the correct version of it that has been approved by me. Before the publication of this article I wrote a personal letter to his Holiness Pope Francis. The letter and this article are not in the least "against the Pope." As a Catholic I believe rather that Pope Francis is the representative of Jesus Christ on earth, the successor of St. Peter, the rock, on which Jesus built his Church, the "Holy Father." Furthermore, I expressed to Pope Francis my complete loyalty to his magisterial office, to him as the supreme earthly representative of our only teacher, Jesus Christ, in the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the "pillar of the truth." I say this here in order to put aside any impression that I intend to attack the pope, to damage him or his legitimacy. My criticism has, rather, the goal of supporting him and assisting him in his fundamental task of teaching the truth.
Many voices throughout the world have responded with joy and praise to the last document of Pope Francis, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL). And without doubt, this text contains many beautiful thoughts and deep truths, which bring before our eyes the beauty and the happiness of true love, glorify God and delight the reader. Above all, the text radiates the merciful love of God and the pope for all men in whatever situation they are in: in economic or moral poverty, in material and spiritual wealth, in sin or in virtue. The text contains treasures of truth. Above all, Amoris Laetitia - like Jesus, who in his words, the words of the God-man himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus graced us with a summary of the Gospel - places at the center of Christ's message the love and the boundless mercy with which God loved and redeemed us through the incarnation, the passion, the death and the resurrection of his only beloved Son Jesus Christ. I share with the entire Catholic world joy about these aspects and about other precious parts of the teaching of AL on marriage, the gift of life and the dreadful evil of abortion.
But despite all the joy over the beautiful message of the joy of love and all the praise from many bishops, cardinals and lay persons, I believe that some passages of AL, and precisely those that tend to make the greatest impression, are an occasion of great concern and deep sadness, not only because some of them could easily lead to misunderstandings and consequently to abuses, but also because others - at least apparently - are opposed to God's Word and the teaching of the holy Catholic Church on the moral order, on per se and disordered actions, on the commandments of God and our ability, with grace, to follow them, on the danger of eternal damnation (hell), on the indissolubility of marriage and the holiness of the sacraments of the Eucharist and marriage, as well as on the sacramental discipline the pastoral activity of the Church that arises from God's Word and the 2000 year-old tradition of the Church.
I therefore see myself compelled, as a philosopher who chose for the International Academy for Philosophy and for his own life the motto "diligere veritatem omnem et in omnibus", to love all truth and to love it in all things, and as a Catholic, to share the reasons for this sadness not only with the pope personally, but also with all Catholics and all readers of this article. My hope thereby is that many of them, inflamed with love for God and for immortal souls, will implore the pope to clarify certain passages of AL and to correct others.
Not only because of the duty to correct the unauthorized publication of my first draft of this article, but also in view of the fact that Amoris Laetitia is a public document and not a private communication, I want not only to submit the present, final version of my article to the Holy Father in a personal letter, but to also publish it. For, I am deeply convinced that unclear statements, which are open to contrary interpretations, and indeed precisely such statements are urgently in need of clarification. And papal statements, which, at least in their formulation, are false, or even merely seem false and contrary to the teaching of the Church, are just as urgently in need of correction.
By the publication of these critical thoughts I follow the example of St. Paul, who publicly criticized the first Pope, Peter, who was established by Jesus himself, an example that St. Thomas presents to us all as a model of our action under certain circumstances and as an extremely serious duty, even then, when such public criticism will offend some persons or bishops. Here, the truth has primacy.
The passages that in my opinion urgently require clarifications or corrections are sometimes hidden in few lines and in footnotes in the eighth chapter.
Some formulations in AL that seem dangerously ambiguous, cry out for clarification. Others - and in this I go further than Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his magnificent public letter to the pope (Schneider, 2016) - I consider to be false and believe that they should be retracted by the pope himself. I begin with the request for clarifications, and suggest some fundamental points of clarification.
The pope allows the admission to the sacraments of "couples in irregular situations" that to some extent Cardinal Ratzinger previously considered. (Though multiple very serious reasons, which he himself and St. Pope John Paul II gave, moved his Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as Pope Benedict XVI, to retract this suggestion that he had made as Archbishop of Munich.)
We must therefore proceed to ask, who are these "couples in irregular situations," who might and should be admitted to the sacraments? Footnote 351 of AL at any rate does not offer this clarification, with the consequence that some bishops' conferences, such as the Philippines' and the Germans', give such an interpretation of this matter raised by AL, that Cardinal Mueller not long ago warned the German bishops of the great danger of a schism that would be no less grave than that of the 16th century. Therefore I passionately asked his Holiness in my letter, in order to avoid the confusion that has arisen in various parts of the Church by "wild" interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, to give us a clarification of several central questions.
I would like, in the following text, to make a modest attempt at such a clarification, by way of analyzing four different and to some extent radically opposed answers to our question, answers that are guiding the current discussions. I am convinced that only one of these answers is the right one.
This answer is the one that Msgr. Livio Melina, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, Cardinal Burke and others give or have given, who say that AL did not change anything about the Catholic sacramental discipline. On the other hand, AL manifestly attempted to change something about the sacramental order, as logically follows from the fact that footnote 351 admits some couples to the reception of the sacraments, who up till the Church had absolutely excluded from reception of the sacraments.
Therefore I believe that this first answer to our question cannot be an interpretation of the text of AL, but is rather a judgment about the character and style, as well as the value, rank and impact of AL. Thus Cardinal Burke in not unclear words said that, in his opinion, AL is not to be reckoned among the papal magisterial documents, but is merely an expression, in writing, of the post-synodal personal reflections of the pope. Cardinal Burke, Livio Melina, Cardinal Mueller and other interpreters have added that a mere stroke of the pen in a single footnote (351) is incapable, on account of its lacking the appropriate form, to change the sacramental discipline and a 2000-year-old tradition of the Catholic Church, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Codex Iuris Canonici. These texts clearly and unmistakably formulate the ecclesial sacramental discipline, which forbids those pairs or individuals living in an objectively gravely sinful manner (in "an irregular situation") from receiving Holy Communion or sacramental absolution without previous conversion, confession and the resolve to change their life.
Moreover, many of the eleven and the five cardinals, in two recently published books, as well as Cardinal Mueller in his new book, give a much stronger reason why AL has not changed the sacramental discipline of the Church: Cardinal Mueller and a series of other cardinals have with strong reasons presented and, referring to Familiaris Consortio (FC) 84, defended the thesis, that the admission to the sacraments of divorced and remarried is not the matter of a changeable decision of Church discipline, but is part and a logical consequence of the constant and unchangeable teaching of the Church. If they are right on this point, then AL has indeed in no way changed the teaching on the sacraments and the sacramental practice of the Church. "Irregular couples", who feel no remorse and who have made no confession with the firm resolve to live a life of continence from promiscuity or homosexual or adulterous relationships and to sin no more, may neither receive the Holy Eucharist nor sacramental absolution from their sins.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput expressed the same opinion and was for this reason insulted with no subtlety and with incredible crudeness insulted by the mayor of Philadelphia. Also in the book "Remaining in the Truth of Christ" Cardinal Mueller writes, e.g.,
They [divorced persons who have remarried] cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Two reasons are given for this: (a) "their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist", and (b) "if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage." Reconciliation through sacramental confession, which opens the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case of repentance over what has happened and a "readiness to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage". Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as the children's upbringing, the new union cannot be dissolved, then the two spouses must "bind themselves to live in complete continence". ... In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, of February 22, 2007, Benedict XVI summarizes the work of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the Eucharist, and he develops it further. In paragraph number 29 he addresses the situation of the divorced and remarried faithful. For Benedict XVI too, this is a "complex and troubling pastoral problem". He confirms "the Church's practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2-12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments", but he urges pastors, at the same time, to devote "special concern" to those affected, in the wish that they "live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, Eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children".
The cardinals Willem Jacobus Eijk, Carlo Caffarra, and others say substantially the same thing, with many arguments and penetrating explanations. These cardinals are without doubt right, that the sacramental discipline and teaching of the Church valid for 2000 years and rooted in the bible, including the prohibition of receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and sacramental absolution without repenting of one's way of life, cannot have been effectively changed by a couple of passing remarks in AL.
So, indeed, for a variety of reasons nothing of the sacramental discipline of the Church has been changed by AL. This applies above all and unconditionally in the case when the teaching on the sacraments and the sacramental disciplinary order of the Church derives from the Word of God and the unchangeable teaching and interpretation of that same teaching by the Church. As a judgment about the actual effect of AL (or the absence of such an effect) cardinal Burke, Chaput, and Caffarra are without doubt correct. The sacramental discipline of the Church did not change, since it has been repeatedly presented by the magisterium as part and consequence of the unchangeable truth of revelation, and, moreover, even if it were changeable, could no more than the Catechism and the CIC be changed by a stroke of the pen or a footnote.
If one, however, asks about the Pope's intention and the announcement of changes, it is certainly not true, that AL doesn't propose changes to sacramental discipline. Together with Rocco Buttiglione, it seems to me impossible to maintain that AL did not attempt to change something pertaining to the sacramental order.
In order to determine, whether these changes or at least some of them are compatible with the Word of God and the constant teaching of the Church, let us look at the remaining three, very different answers to the question: Which couples "in irregular situations" are entitled, according to AL, to receive the sacraments.
Many persons interpret the couples, who materially are living in grave sin, but who now by AL shall be welcomed at the Lord's table, in a form completely opposite to the first answer: "All divorced and remarried persons, adulterers, lesbians and homosexuals, bisexuals and other couples should be admitted to the sacraments without any restrictions." Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines through its president, and many German bishops, but also US bishops such as the Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich, have interpreted AL in the same sense. The same applies to Cardinal Schönborn, who in an interview went so far as to say that Pope Francis, at least as regards the reception of the sacraments, had eliminated every distinction between regular and irregular couples.
This interpretation of the couples, who should be admitted to the reception of the sacraments and draw help and graces from them, not only contradicts Familiaris Consortio 84, is not only the negation of that which FC and many other documents teach. It is the radical, contrary and absolute opposite of the traditional teaching.
If instead of none, now all adulterous, homosexual, lesbian and promiscuously living couples shall be invited to the sacraments, there are truly no more limits, as Fr. Spadaro assures us. Why not administer the sacraments to couples, nurses and doctors, who through abortion or assistance thereto have been automatically excommunicated?
If one were to put the explanation and practice of the sacraments in line with this interpretation and its pastoral consequences, one would desecrate the holy temple of God, indeed one would transform it into a temple of Satan and a horrible site of every Eucharistic sacrilege and blasphemy. In view of such an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, which stands in stark contradiction to the repeated papal request for Eucharistic adoration, I believe it is extremely urgent to clarify that this neither is nor can be what the Pope intends, but a completely false interpretation and a total misapprehension of the meaning of AL. It is quite clear from the text of AL that this is a false interpretation of AL.
Still, in view of the fact that this interpretation is advocated by Bishops' conferences, Fr. Spadaro, cardinals and archbishops including Archbishop Cupich, who was recently promoted to membership in the Congregation for Bishops, a very clear papal explanation that this interpretation of the words of AL is a radical misunderstanding is urgently necessary and must be given as soon as possible, if one wants to prevent total chaos. A further reason urges this, namely that the offering of the holy sacraments to all (even granted that this understanding of AL is incorrect, as I believe it is) seems to be supported by the following words of AL:
"297. It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an "unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous" mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves."
When one, moreover, considers the Holy Father's silence in reaction to this interpretation by the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, and the fact that Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. was a close collaborator in working on the text of AL, it is difficult to call into doubt what he says about AL (unless the Holy Father explicitly excludes this interpretation, which all bishops and faithful should humbly ask him to):
"The exhortation, following the synod's concluding document, goes the way of examining individual cases, without setting any limits to integration, as was formerly the case."
This silence of Pope Francis strengthens the false and scandalous second interpretation of who, according to AL, the couples are, who should be admitted to the sacraments, above all when one considers that it is in no way a general tendency of Pope France to let everything go its way, without making public corrections. Thus the Pope, a short time ago, immediately and publicly corrected the impression that had arisen with many persons, that the simple invitation of Cardinal Sarah, motivated by noble liturgical considerations, that priests, as a way of meditating on the deepest goal of the liturgy (the glorification of God), should more frequently celebrate ad orientem (versus Deum), announced a change of the liturgical norms of Paul VI, according to which the Holy Mass should normally be celebrated versus populum. (In reality this norm was never absolute, and moreover was in part modified by the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI on the right of all priests to celebrate Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Rite (sic)). This immediate and very public critical reaction (which I regret), by the Pope to a mere, very beautiful suggestion of Cardinal Sarah, which was completely in his area of competence and moreover only recommended something that is allowed to priests anyway according to the currently valid norms for liturgical celebration, gives the world all the more reason to believe that when the pope is silent regarding the scandalous second interpretation of "couples in irregular situations" (who objectively are living in a state of gave sin) who now should without distinction be invited to the sacraments, his silence indicates his consent to this interpretation.
The same thing applies to the pope's silence regarding the newest interview of Cardinal Schönborn in Corriere della Sera, in which the Cardinal, whom the Pope declared to be the most competent interpreter of AL, made the unbelievable claim that Amoris Laetitia had completely eliminated the distinction between "regular" and "irregular" couples. (This corresponds exactly to the interpretation that according to AL there is no restriction on the couples who are to be allowed to receive the sacraments, and in addition imputes to AL, that it puts marriage on the same level as concubinage, adulterous and homosexual couples.)
Many persons must think that the papal silence regarding this interpretation is a sign of papal consent. Without the promptest reaction of the pope to these interpretations the whole world must be that Francis supports this second interpretation of "couples in irregular situations" (in a state of grave sin).
Pope Francis seems, moreover, to encourage this second interpretation of the couples who should be admitted to the sacraments, by his recent appointment of Archbishop Cupich as member of the Papal Congregation for Bishops. For Archbishop Cupich defends this second interpretation regarding the admission to the sacraments more radically than any other American bishop, indeed he publicly distributes the Sacrament of the Eucharist to politicians, who for their support of abortion are automatically excommunicated, and, to top it all, defends this interpretation of AL by calling this document a radical "rule-changer" and considers it a good thing to distribute Communion to public advocates of abortion, a crime punished by excommunication (and forbids the priests of his diocese to take part in a march for life and in public priests for the abolition of abortion laws).
I therefore call on all Catholics, urgently to implore the Holy Father in the name of God and of the souls deceived by such false and scandalous interpretations of AL, to very soon make such a clear statement, to hinder a spiritual catastrophe and sacrilege without end in God's sanctuary and as far as possible, to stop a total confusion among priests and faithful.
It is impossible that the Pope teaches this. Still, I believe, that reducing the complete chaos that has arisen from this interpretation and its high ranking advocates in the church, presupposes that the pope himself exclude this second answer with the strongest expressions possible and publicly declares in a commentary to AL: "It is false to maintain that it is a correct interpretation of AL, that all who live in concubinage, adulterous, homosexual, lesbian, and all other "irregular" couples are invited to the Lord's table before they convert!"
I believe that this interpretation of the text of AL is untenable, not only because it simply cannot be that a Pope should teach such monstrosities, but also because Pope Francis in AL speaks of a testing and an examination, ideally with a priest, which should precede the reception of the sacraments by such priests.
This brings us to the third understanding of those "couples in irregular and objectively gravely sinful situations," who now should be admitted to the Lord's table:
According to this third interpretation of AL, that put forth by Rocco Buttiglione and others, the couples meant by AL as those who could receive the sacraments would be: couples who live in adultery or other grave sins, but who, on account of their limited ethical understanding or weakness of will "good adulterers", or, put more generally, those who are "only objectively, but not subjectively sinners", who indeed by reason of their subjective state are "sinners in a state of grace". For such couples the sacraments could be a help on their journey in the spirit of the Gospel. In this case the invitation to receive the sacraments would be limited to certain, perhaps few couples in "irregular situations."
We could see a certain logical fallacy in Amoris Laetitia and in certain of its defenders, such as Rocco Buttiglione and Rodrigo Guerra López, concerning the assumption that many "couples in irregular situations", who objectively live in grave sin, could for subjective reasons be inculpable. We could formulate the fallacy as follows:
The fallacy is based on an equivocation regarding the expression "knowledge" in the first and the expression "do not know" in the second premise, as well as the fallacy of a tacit (false) presupposition. The tacit false presupposition is that one cannot be guilty, indeed gravely guilty for one's lack of knowledge or one's ignorance and for one's own moral blindness, and that therefore no one who doesn't recognize his own sin as such commits a grave sin.
Certainly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is true:
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.
But the same number 1859 of the Catechism continues:
Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart [Cf. Mk 3:5-6; Lk 16:19-31] do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.
Among these things are adultery, murder, etc. Therefore we cannot assume an inculpable ignorance of the evil of murder or adultery, because there is no such thing as inculpable ignorance of the moral law that God has "written on the heart", as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nr. 1860) says.
Consequently, the second premise of the syllogism is false, since a man, under normal circumstances (if he is not psychically gravely ill or something similar), in an original intuitive knowledge always knows about the moral evil of adultery, since the natural moral law is "written" (belongs to man's natural moral reason) on the heart / conscience of man. There is a kind of deep, not always reflectively known, and often repressed knowledge, that is enough to make a man gravely guilty, even if he does not consciously recognize this knowledge.
In reference to the sin of idolatry, which Paul describes as "inexcusable", it is said in Romans 1:21-23:
"For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles." (Rom 1:21-23).
Now we can recognize the aforementioned equivocation as cause of the error. If one (without guilt) does not know that one commits a sin, one cannot commit a sin. But if, e.g., because one has deadened one's conscience by many unrepented murders, is blind to moral values and no longer recognizes the evil of one's actions, this is no inculpable ignorance, that would acquit a man of grave sins.
Dietrich von Hildebrand proved this by profound philosophical analyses, distinguishing four kinds of blindness to moral values, which for various reasons are culpable, sometimes gravely culpable, when, for instance, they follow from repeated unrepented evil deeds, by which the sinner dulls his conscience (blindness of obduracy). Ethical blindness can also occur because someone has a strong affection for what is subjectively satisfying, and at the same time does not want to consciously sin, but has a limited will to act morally uprightly, which easily leads him into the blindness of classification, in which he doesn't classify his own behavior as an instance of the adultery or murder recognized as per se evil.
Or he is subject to a partial actual value blindness, no longer recognizing as such moral demands that forbid his particular vices, etc.
Paola Premoli De Marchi, in an outstanding book, applied the results of these analyses and the roll of freedom in knowledge in an original manner to a "ethics of consent" and developed it substantially and uniquely.
For the aforesaid reasons can we in no way validly conclude that the many divorced and remarried persons, who are blind to their own sin, are inculpable or live "in the state of grace."
Is such a differentiation a practicable solution? I believe that the attempt to put it into practice leads to insurmountable impossibilities and difficulties. With regard to the unequivocal cases of adultery and bigamy, who shall distinguish, on a case-by-case basis, the good and inculpable adulterers or homosexuals and the evil adulterers or homosexuals (those in a state of grace and those living in grave sin)? On what basis?
AL says (even if not unequivocally), the distinction between "subjectively good adulterers" (in the state of grace) and "evil adulterers" (who live in mortal sin and therefore, according to the code of canon law, may not be admitted to the sacraments, if they persist in their non-marital cohabitation) should take place with the approval of a priest or confessor.
Here is the question: How can that work? Should priests declare some couples who live in adultery guiltless and tell them that in their case the reception of the sacraments does not require conversion or giving up their adulterous relationships, and that they can receive sacramental absolution from their sins and living communion with the Church without repentance and without the resolve to amend their life and to live as brother and sister? And other couples, on the other hand, who were true adulterers, may in no event receive the sacraments without the firm resolve to distance themselves from sinful, adulterous relationships, and to live in complete continence? Is it not manifest the discord and the private and public scandal that would arise, when different adulterous, in concubinage, lesbian or homosexual couples get contrary answers from the same priest? Is it not moreover clear that only a priest who had the gift of seeing souls could undertake this work of distinction? Is it not, further, evident, that many couples in "irregular relationships" would seek a "merciful" priest, who would give them the sacraments, and if he did not give them permission, would report such a confessor or at least make a complaint against him and other "cruel" priests, "who sit on the chair of Moses"? Are not immediately evident the catastrophic pastoral consequences of such a discrimination and disunity among priests that would arise from such a "new order", which Spaemann fittingly called "chaos as a principle"? So, since evidently priests cannot make such distinctions, shall we leave such judgment to the conscience of each individual couple? But to leave this judgment to each couple and each individual, who shall now be judge over themselves and their state of grace, although they knowingly live in grave sin, is that not a pastoral catastrophe?
If the Holy Father Pope Francis wants to allow civilly remarried couples to receive the sacraments, why is there in AL not a single word of warning about the real danger of committing sacrileges, if adulterous, bigamous or homosexual couples receive Holy Communion? Why, in 260 pages, is the Word of Scripture not mentioned a single time, that "no adulterer shall enter the kingdom of heaven"? Why, in this context, is there not a single word confirming what Paul says, that "he who unworthily eats the Body and drinks the Blood of Christ, eats and drinks judgment unto himself"? Would it not be merciful to recall this truth to "irregular couples", rather than telling them that they are "living members of the Church"? If a change in the sacramental discipline of the Church allows couples, who objectively live in so grave sin that until recently they were subject to excommunication, to receive the sacraments, then the complete silence regarding the real danger "to eat and to drink judgment unto oneself by the unworthy reception of the Eucharist" is beyond understanding. This very serious, horrible danger is certainly present, if couples who live in adultery or other grave sins such as concubinage or homosexual relationships, receive Holy Communion. And if the words of Sacred Scripture say that there is such a danger for souls, not to mention this with a single syllable or even point-blank to deny it, virtually invites couples, who live in objective contradiction to the Church, to persist in this contradiction. And if they, moreover, are assured that "no one will be condemned forever," this is, I think, no act of mercy. What else could it be than an act of cruelty? Much crueler than it would be to leave a passenger boarding a ship in ignorance of the face that he will very likely soon die, since the ship has a large leak and could easily sink?
I therefore consider it necessary, for the sake of the holiness of marriage and the Eucharist, and for the sake of the eternal life of the faithful, for the Holy Father himself to remind us all that we should guard ourselves from this danger. Concerning the observation of Pope Francis, that not every divorced and remarried person is subjectively living in grave sin, but could rather, on account of his ignorance, have acted with a clean conscience and so live in the state of grace: I do not deny this. Much less do I deny that for such a person the reception of Holy Communion could be spiritually fruitful.
Nonetheless we should not lose sight of two things: (a) we cannot assume that this is the normal case of a divorced and remarried couple, and (b) it must be clear that neither a normal priest nor an individual person in this circumstance can know this or claim it with the least confidence to its being the truth. Therefore, everyone who objectively is living in grave sin should so live and act, as though he were subjectively living in sin.
It is certainly truth and can be a great comfort, for these couples to know that God's mercy is always present and ready to forgive them and to say to them: "Neither do I condemn you." But we should not forget the following words of Jesus: "Go, and sin no more." Besides, if the conversion from sins is absent, then a (evil) civilly remarried divorced person no longer a "living member of the Church" and is not "on the way of life and the Gospel." If he does not convert, the Father's word about the lost son apply to him: "Your brother was dead," although the way to confession and repentance always remain open to him. And for the one who chooses that way, the word applies: "Your brother lives."
Furthermore, to avoid the great evil of a sacrilege and a public scandal, without depriving divorced (and without certification of nullity) remarried persons of sacramental grace, one could teach couples who are perhaps by reason of the purity of their conscience in a state of grace, the possibility of "spiritual Communion." They could inwardly ask God to grant them "spiritual Communion." This proposal of Cardinal Kasper regarding spiritual Communion of divorced and remarried gave rise to a controversy. The argument made in this controversy, that everyone who can receive spiritual Communion, can also receive sacramental Communion, suggests the equation of sacramental and spiritual communion.
The controversy, and in particular this suggestion, demand clarification, which Johannes Stöhr, e.g., makes.
Without offering a refined theological explanation, which would be beyond my competence and exceed the limits and the goal of this article, I would just like to make the follow notes. Following Stöhr, we can distinguish:
According to the interpretation of AL made by Rocco Buttiglione, the persons meant by Pope Francis are first of all such as objectively live in a state of grave sin, but on account of the imperfection of their knowledge and will still live in a state of grace. And that there are such persons, who only outwardly fall into Stöhrs third category, while inwardly belonging to the second group of persons he names, who, in other words, despite their objective sinful actions do not inwardly live in grave sin, is, with AL (and Thomas Aquinas) indisputable. And it is these persons, and also the fourth group of persons I distinguish - those who by reason of a "marriage of conscience" live in "irregular situations" - that I mean, when I speak of the gift of spiritual communion, to which these persons can have access. A prerequisite, to be sure, is that they do not consciously and willingly commit grave sin, but for subjective reasons, despite their objective sin, are not subjective grave sinners. And such persons, who in my opinion one should still exclude from sacramental real Communion, can, if they truly live in the state of grace, receive the graces of a spiritual-mystical Communion (in the fourth sense) - entirely without the danger of sacrilege, that presupposes the physical-real presence of the Lord.
Otherwise, if divorced and remarried persons are objectively as well as subjectively living in a state of sin, one may not say that they are "living members of the Church", without renouncing their sins of adultery or homosexual acts. Their sacramental Communion would cause public scandal and would decrease, for them, and for others, reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. For these reasons, and the reasons given in the next section, we should ask the Holy Father to revoke the admission to the sacraments of couples who objectively live in grave sin.
A fourth answer to the question, which "irregular couples" should be admitted to the sacraments, could be seen as compatible with the constant teaching of the Church and even with the truth of the first answer. It concerns couples who at least "outwardly considered" are in "irregular situations". AL 298 (as well as FC 84) refers to them:
"the case of 'those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid'" [FC, 84] (AL 298)
This fourth group of cases, in which the admission of such "couples in irregular situations" could seem to be a good, if dangerous thing, can be illustrated with three concrete examples, which are also cited in Amoris Laetitia.
1. The first example would be that of couples who are honestly (and in accordance with the truth) convinced that their first marriage was invalid, but who, on account of external circumstances, cannot celebrate a second church marriage, because they have no access to a church tribunal (or even to a Church). This inability to present their case to a church tribunal possibly is based on the fact that they live in a country in which the Church doesn't exist or is severely persecuted, or on an island, on which there is no Church or priests, etc.
The impossibility of having recourse to a church tribunal can also arise among the extremely poor, who cannot afford the costs of a long trip for a hearing before a church court or of a ecclesial annulment process, who however are honestly and for the strongest reasons convinced of the invalidity of their first marriage, after a sincere examination of conscience and, if possible, a conversation with a confessor. (Pope Francis has already to a large degree redressed this case of the poor, in proposing a gratuitous offer of ecclesial investigations of a suit claiming nullity.) This merciful law redresses the injustice that under certain circumstances, only those who could pay the considerable sums were able to obtain a certification of the nullity of their marriage. Despite the pope's generous support of such couples there can be cases in which a person is not in a position to convince the Church judges and therefore is dependent on the expensive services of a lawyer, since the Church cannot everywhere offer free attorney services, as in some dioceses. In such cases, when there is a large amount of objective evidence and a high degree of subjective certainty about the invalidity of the first marriage, it could seem justified to lay claim to the aforementioned exception from the sacramental discipline and, without a certification of nullity, to enter a "marriage of conscience." Such couples "in irregular situations," one could think, should be admitted to the sacraments.
Indeed one could argue that in such a case the Church could not only allow access to the sacraments, but could presume that despite the merely civil marriage, or marriage altogether outside the civil order that took place on an island, a valid and sacramental marriage has taken place between a baptized man and a baptized woman. Admittedly one could argue: in order that such an "irregular marriage" not be an act of disobedience against the Church, but a valid marriage according to canon law, one could change canon law and adapt it to these cases. Advocates of this four way of interpreting couples in "irregular situations", who, according to AL should be admitted to the sacraments, could perhaps argue that, in a certain sense, making such a change to canon law and so "canonizing" an "irregular marriage" according to canon law, would restore the original discipline of the sacrament of marriage in canon law, when the Church recognized a sacramental marriage that arose simply through the exchange of marital consent between a man and a woman. The many canonical rules for an (a) licit and (b) valid catholic marriage, as well as (c) the rules of the ecclesial process of annulment were added in the course of history to hinder abuses, but are not unchangeable. For, according to this view, if the Holy Father, for specific, very precisely described conditions, revised church law and understood a valid marriage only according to its unchangeable essence and freed it from its historic ballast, this would be a truly good contribution of the teaching office of Pope Francis, always on the supposition of clarity and precision of teaching and canon law. On this view, a similar value would be had by adaptions to canon law for the two following cases of couples in "irregular situations," to whom the Church could grant access to the sacraments.
2. The second case is that of persons who for objective reasons are convinced of the invalidity of their marriage, but who have no objective proofs of the truth of their statement regarding the grounds for the invalidity of marriage (e.g., the absolute "no!" of their partner to children before the moment of contracting marriage), and whom the church court does not believe. This mistrust of the ecclesial judges is possibly caused by a lack of credibility of the claimant in the eyes of the judge, or in his lack of eloquence, or in the fact that his partner lies and is a distinguished and emotional speaker, who convinces the court of her lie, or in a thousand other reasons. In this case it could seem good to allow a "marriage of conscience" and to think that admission of such couples to the sacraments would be no sin, although they could not publicly celebrate a church wedding. One could go further and say that such a union is a valid and sacramental marriage outside of the normal order of the visible Church.
3. The third second is that where a partner, likewise sincerely convinced of the invalidity of a marriage, waits for a long time for the decision of a church court, and despite the rule that a judgment of the first instance in an annulment process should be made within a year, this judgment does not come in 2, 5, or 10 years, or even only after 18 years (as happened to a famous comedian poet in the 19th century.) One could argue that in this case that it would be legitimate for a couple on the basis of the judgment of the conscience to have a civil divorce and enter a new marriage, indeed, that the Church could consider this marriage as a sacrament and admit the couple to the reception of the sacraments, even if their wedding only took place civilly, or in a situation apart from the civil order (e.g., on a remote island), but on the basis of a conscious and mutual marital consent. At the same time one could warn, that the Church should only consider such couples as sacramentally married and admit them to the sacraments, after it has changed canon law and adopted clear regulations (e.g., that such a marriage of conscience may only take place after a certain number of years without a decision of the Church court), on the basis of the conscience of the person who seeks the declaration of nullity. In this case the Church would recognize such a marriage as a possibly valid and sacramental marriage, and from that point in time, when it would recognize the marriage as such, would declare it as such. The church process of annulment would, consequently, have to be aborted at the time when such an "irregular" marriage was recognized. (For if, in such a case, the church process continued in parallel, a possible contradiction between the judgment of the church tribunal and the judgment of conscience would lead to further grave conflicts and aporias.) Could we therefore say, that in this and similar situations couples "in irregular situations" could return to the reception of the sacraments and enter into a "marriage of conscience" in good conscience? And that not only are they by reason of their subjective conscience are in a state of grace, but that their marriage is objectively a sacramental marriage? In this way it would be possible for divorced (without an ecclesial annulment) and remarried persons return to the sacraments. Does, we may ask, AL by this good and merciful innovation give many couples a genuine gift of mercy, and is it for us an occasion for joy?
This fourth answer to the question, who are those couples "in irregular situations," who could be admitted to the sacraments, does not, on first sight, contradict the first. One could think (as I did): to grant divorced and (without a church annulment) remarried persons of this fourth kind access to the sacraments would simply grant to the moral conscience of the individual in very clearly delineated cases the same right as that which normally only the Church court has: to declare a marriage as invalid. Thereby these couples would only be "seemingly irregular", but in reality "regular in an extraordinary mode," to put a name to it. Are there such "irregular regular couples"?
One could think (I myself thought it until recently), that none of these three cases of the fourth class falls under the strong reasons for which the cardinals cited, together with FC, think that the prohibition from admitting divorced and (without a church annulment) remarried persons to the sacrament is not a matter of a mutable positive law, or a merely pastoral decision, but of a church practice that is based in the Gospel itself. So, the admission of the aforesaid couples and the church recognition of their marriage seemed to me to be a merciful step and a legitimate simplification of the annulment process or an acceptable solution in the case of a negative judgment of the church court.
But despite these apparent beautiful and liberating aspects of AL, that open access to the sacraments to these or similar couples, there are serious objections that justify the conclusion, that the admission of these couples to the sacraments is not compatible with the teaching and unchangeable practice of the Church. Why?
1. The Council of Trent condemns the opinion that the conscience of an individual (the internal forum) could be judge over the invalidity of the first marriage, when it says, in session XXIV: "Whoever says, matters pertaining to marriage do not belong before church judges, let him be anathema."
2. This teaching was solemnly confirmed by many other popes, up through Benedict XVI.
3. Marriage is also on the natural level a public relation with an effect on the life of the family; it is, moreover, the foundation of society. Therefore there are no "merely private" or "merely internal" solutions for the question of the existence of a marriage. This applies all the more to the sacrament of marriage.
4. Marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The reception of a sacrament is a religious, and never merely a private act. It is therefore the Church's task to judge the validity of the sacraments, according to objective criteria.
5. Moreover, leaving this question to the individual's conscience can easily lead to injustices. Consider a man who is tempted to commit adultery. He could easily, in a personal investigation, which is possibly based on an erring conscience, decided that his first marriage was invalid and that he is free to divorce and to marry a second woman.
6. Also individual priests cannot shed light on the truth of a marriage without carrying out a conscientious examination, for which a certain procedure is necessary. It is exactly this that is the task of a church court, whose function, therefore, is irreplaceable.
7. Moreover, the wife and the family have rights of their own. Therefore, the consequences of unjustified judgments about whether there is a valid marriage damage the integrity of the sacrament and easily lead to injustice to the wife, the children, and the entire community.
8. Finally, leaving the decision about the invalidity of marriage to the conscience of an individual partner in marriage or to an individual priest would bring about great chaos. If a marital partner or a priest rejects the invalidity of the marriage, while the other marital partner or another priest accepts it, or if a couple, that is not married, acts as though it were married, the life of the Church would be damaged through manifold confusion and scandal. (Footnote 31: All these teachings of the last popes are rejected pointblank by Cardinal Schönborn in his interpretation of AL: cf. Schönborn 2016 - July 6, 2016.)
If it thus clearly seems that also the described cases of "marriages of conscience" cannot be allowed or recognized by the Church as sacramental marriages, without contradicting the express teachings of the Church, some of which are even solemnly declared through anathemas of anyone who denies them, and if leaving it to the individual conscience to declare a marriage invalid is inadmissible, the only answer to our question which "irregular couples" can be admitted to the sacraments is the first one: none. Moreover, if this follows not from changeable decisions of the Church but from the Gospel and unchangeable Church teaching, not even a Pope can deviate from this doctrine and practice of the Church. Therefore, one ought to plead with the Pope that he retracts any statement that all or some couples in such "irregular situations" are to be admitted to the sacraments.
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In my opinion it is not possible, as some excellent cardinals and bishops (e.g., cardinals Burke and Müller) and laity (e.g., Rodrigo Guerra and Rocco Buttiglione) propose, to understand these few, but very clear words in Amoris Laetitia in harmony with the words of Christ or the teachings of the Church. But if Pope Francis gives these words a completely different meaning than that which they seem to have and if the pope himself understands his teaching office in harmony with the tradition and teaching of the Church, as the aforementioned cardinals and laity thing, then let the Pope himself please say this clearly and plainly, and reject the false formulations and the many false interpretations of AL and declare unequivocally that it is a matter of false interpretations! If, on the contrary, that which, following the manifest sense of the words, Spaemann described as contrary to the Gospel and to Veritatis Splendor and called a rupture with Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor, truly is that which he intended to say, than we can only implore him to follow the glorious example of his predecessor John XXII., who a day before his death, with the Bull Ne super his rejected and condemned his own false teaching, that souls separated from the body (the animae separate) in the hereafter, before the day of the last judgment, experience neither heavenly beatitude nor the pains of hell, a teaching that was his successor Benedict XII in the Bull Benedictus Deus condemned as heresy, and that stands in blatant contradiction to the catholic and orthodox liturgy with their many invocations of the saints during the liturgy as well as in contradiction to many other rites and prayers of the Church. May Pope Francis not leave it to a successor or a Council to condemn these statements, but retract them himself.
[Currently reproduced here from the German, not translated]