Does the Text of Amoris Laetitia Allow Communion for the Divorced and Remarried?

Part 1

Since it came out, some have argued that Amoris Laetitia permits Communion for the divorced and remarried. This is often based on a few lines rather than going back and analyzing the text as a whole in line with tradition.1 Benedict XVI used “hermeneutic of continuity” to refer to reading Church documents as a whole and in tradition, and Cardinal Müller said it was the only way to read Amoris Laetitia.2

This article will argue positively: Amoris Laetitia continues a direction the Church has taken since Vatican II to help the divorced and civilly remarried better integrate in the Church, but does not allow Communion for the divorced and remarried who intend to continue sexual relations. Francis adds new emphasis on mercy for those who are either ignorant or occasionally fall despite intentions to abstain. A second part will take up four objections.

To analyze this thesis, a little background will be done with the hermeneutic of continuity and some history showing the trajectory of Church documents, some specific texts of Amoris Laetitia will be examined, and analysis of Amoris Laetitia by way of analogies will be done.

The Hermeneutic of Continuity

The hermeneutic of continuity means reading all texts of the Magisterium in continuity with tradition.3 It sees tradition as an organic growth like a tree which begins as an acorn and slowly becomes a mighty oak. This idea has been generally part of Catholic theology but most developed by Cardinal John Henry Newman in the nineteenth century.4

Vatican II caused similar problems with interpretation. In 2005, Pope Benedict gave a seminal speech about two hermeneutics. He recommended a hermeneutic of continuity and called out the improper hermeneutic of discontinuity or suspicion, which created such division in the Church. Later in 2013, he expounded on this, specifically contrasting the council of the Fathers and that of the journalists during Vatican II.

While the Council of the Fathers was conducted within the faith — it was a Council of faith seeking intellectus, seeking to understand itself and seeking to understand the signs of God at that time, seeking to respond to the challenge of God at that time and to find in the word of God a word for today and tomorrow — while all the Council, as I said, moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today’s media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church.5

The hermeneutic of continuity sees this organic development of dogma as the growth of a tree. A new dogmatic statement cannot contradict a previous statement but it can add details only implicit before. For example, the Church’s teaching on the death penalty developed from Thomas Aquinas justifying it in order to safeguard the common good,6 to John Paul II and Francis arguing it should be abolished since modern man has ways to protect himself and society, and so we should give criminals a chance to reform their lives.7 These statements are not contradictory, but show a development based on more secure prisons and a deeper understanding of human dignity.

A hermeneutic of continuity sees the Holy Spirit guiding the Church through the hierarchy, even in what might seem like human ways. In an article showing how Paul VI was an example of this hermeneutic, Matthew Albright notes, “The key here is to recognize that the cardinals were guided by the Holy Spirit to come to a consensus in choosing a disciplined leader whose papacy would keep the Church true to herself while speaking to the times.”8 In the same way, we can see Pope Francis being chosen as a voice to speak to the times as part of this hermeneutic.

A hermeneutic of suspicion tends to read the author’s mind and — instead of placing one document in continuity with the past — assumes an opposition between the new document and past documents. In Benedict XVI’s original 2005 address, he points out this mode of interpretation claims “the true spirit of the Council is not to be found [in the actual documents] but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.”9

A direction or impulse of a text is important, but you cannot say a text means the opposite of what it actually says. A hermeneutic of suspicion claims such superior knowledge and, as such, is a form of Gnosticism, where an ordinary person might read something clear in the text but those in the know understand the deeper mind of the author and thus know what it really means, which may have little to do with the actual text. This hermeneutic often claims to know more than what the actual author wrote, at times even claiming the text is superseded by the understanding on the hermeneutic of suspicion.

Reading Church documents in this way leads to misinterpretation because formal magisterial documents are meant to be obvious in the precise words chosen. Christianity is a public religion in that a theologian and an ordinary person should draw the same conclusion from a text, although the theologian likely has a deeper understanding of that reality. Amoris Laetitia should be read in continuity, in the light of the whole Magisterium, including one part of the document in light of another.

Following the general rules of the hermeneutic of continuity, a pope would need to be very explicit if he wanted to change a pastoral practice already laid out clearly in previous magisterium. If there is silence or lack of clarity, it should be read as continuing the current practice. Pastoral practices have changed throughout history, but always with a clear direction: for example, Pope Boniface VIII required all women’s religious communities to be cloistered10 and then this was reversed by subsequent popes approving the non-cloistered to make simple vows, culminating in Pope Leo XIII granting the religious state to those women who had made simple vows.11

Dogmas, however, cannot change and pastoral practices must be in line with dogma. Within Catholic dogma various practices can fit, so dogma is a fence, not a path. For a basic example, go to a Divine Liturgy of an Eastern Catholic rite and compare it to the Roman Mass — it is not the same practice, but every dogma about the Eucharist is the same. We can also look to the history of the sacrament of confession to see a wide variety of practices but the same dogma.

Church History Regarding the Divorced and Remarried

Amoris Laetitia fits in to the history of how the Church has dealt with this issue. History aids an interpretation following a hermeneutic of continuity. As history is not the focus of this article, this section will be a summary, rather than exhaustive.

In Medieval Christendom, marriage was seen as an ecclesiastical matter, so divorce was non-existent and annulments were the only possibility. Divorce was first permitted in Prussia in 1752 as marriage left the ecclesiastical realm for the civil realm.12

In 1884, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (meeting of US bishops) issued an excommunication for those who, though validly married, have dissolved their marriage civilly and attempt another civil marriage.13

The 1917 Code of Canon Law contained no excommunication for a second civil marriage without previous annulment directly. However, Catholic priests could not witness such attempted “marriages,” and marrying before a “non-Catholic minister” was an excommunicable offense.14 However, elsewhere in the Code, it seems to distinguish between a non-Catholic minister and a civil official,15 thus it is not clear if attempting a civil non-religious marriage when already married resulted in excommunication.16

After Vatican II, we see a switch in pastoral practice. In 1970, Paul VI issued revised decrees on mixed marriages for Catholics which opened up greater freedom to marry non-Catholics and explicitly removed the above excommunication for marrying before a non-Catholic minister.17 This decree also removed these excommunications for those who had incurred them.18 In 1977, the US bishops moved to remove the 1884 excommunication for all attempting a second marriage without an annulment19 and the Vatican approved the bishops’ proposal.20 It seems that other countries had local excommunications for remarriage that were lifted not long after Vatican II, following a path similar to the USA, but a country-by-country analysis is beyond this article’s scope.

In the 1980 Synod on the Family,21 there was some discussion on re-admitting some or all of the divorced and remarried to Communion. John Paul II opened this possibility in his closing speech and repeated it in Familiaris Consortio 84 under some strict conditions. He admits that for the sake of raising children, or analogous situations, it may not be prudent for someone divorced and remarried to separate. However, those who are civilly remarried with no annulment of the first marriage can only be admitted to sacramental absolution and the Eucharist if they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”22

John Paul II would repeat this in a few other magisterial documents. Benedict XVI adds a different pastoral sensitivity in how he phrases the same idea in Sacramentum Caritatis, saying the divorced and remarried must live “as friends, as brother and sister,”23 in order to receive Communion. The magisterium of both popes states those in a “second marriage” must live chastity, not just attempt it.

A 1994 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarifies some elements of the approach John Paul II took and Benedict XVI would continue regarding Communion for the divorced and remarried. The letter was in response to several German bishops’ initiatives in this field, although it never mentions this context directly. This letter quotes a long section of John Paul II’s concluding homily at the 1980 synod, thus moving it into a more formal and official document of the Magisterium. This section offers Communion to those who sincerely attempt to live chastity in a second marriage, even though they may occasionally fail, to be admitted to absolution and Communion.

Those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake [literal translation: “sincerely embrace”] a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”24

This is a basic principle of Catholic moral theology and confessional practice laid down at Trent: that a sinner cannot be absolved if they sincerely intend to commit a mortal sin again.25 However, absolution is available if the confessor knows they are weak and will likely fall despite their best efforts. This was implicitly in Familiaris Consortio 84, but this brings it out more clearly.

This letter also notes that blocking the divorced and remarried from Communion is not a judgment on their soul, but that marriage is a public reality. Since it is public, a personal conviction that a previous marriage was invalid does not make it so.

Texts from Amoris Laetitia

Amoris Laetitia does not answer Communion for the divorced and remarried in a single place, like in Familiaris Consortio. Texts will be examined to show: (1) there is no change of rules, so Familiaris Consortio — understood as intending chastity — is still in force; (2) the difference between intending to sin and weakness or ignorance with various degrees of responsibility; and (3) Pope Francis’s emphasis on mercy united to truth.26

No Change in Rules

Francis clearly does not intend to make new rules. Near the beginning of the controversial chapter eight he declares, “Neither the Synod nor this document could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable in all cases.”27

In the lines that follow, Francis discusses the need to accompany those in “second marriages” and similar situations, and discern how and when to show them the reality of their sin. However, the Pope clarifies what he means by discernment: “Discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands as proposed by the Church.”28 Then he gives criteria for discernment that sound straight out of an Ignatian guide on the topic: “Humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it.”29 Thus, no matter what he says about discernment anywhere in the document, he has set up existing Church teaching as a fence around what can be discerned. Discernment is a process of deciding spiritually what to do — like deciding which prayers to say daily — but a basic pre-condition for proper discernment is that it cannot go outside Church teaching.

Later, Francis points out that we must promote a full view of marriage, which would include sexual activity, divorce, and remarriage as grave matter: “In no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.”30 From these texts, it seems clear that those who live in willful disobedience to the command of chastity in Familiaris Consortio cannot be admitted to absolution or Communion.

Further, when talking about integrating the divorced and civilly remarried into the Church, the Pope says it must be “while avoiding any occasion of scandal.”31 Scandal can be defined as “any action or its omission . . . that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong.”32 If scandal refers to those acts which may induce someone else to sin, it implies that some forms of integration of some divorced and remarried people are sinful, as otherwise there would be no danger of scandal. Thus, some of the divorced and remarried can be integrated fully, including absolution and Communion, while it would be morally wrong to integrate others in similar situations fully. (“Fully” is distinguished since part of Francis’s point here is that all can be integrated in some way: even a couple unwilling to live chastely can participate in the Church in non-sacramental ways, and are not excommunicated.) This paragraph gives no way to distinguish these, but the most logical distinction, given other teachings, would be to offer full integration to those who try to live in accord with Church teaching. Living according to Church teaching shows unity with the Church, thus indicates further possible integration into the Church.

Difference between Intending to Sin and Weakness or Ignorance

As noted above, sacramental absolution and Eucharistic Communion cannot be given to those who intend to commit more mortal sins.33 The presumption is that a penitent does not intend to continue in sin, unless evidence given in confession indicates contrarily. Intending to continue is distinct from weakness: in confession a priest can absolve a man for drunkenness even if they both know he will likely fall again; however, he cannot absolve him if he says he wants to get drunk again this weekend. The same principle would apply to having sex with anyone but one’s legitimate spouse. Furthermore, as Granados, Kampowski, and Pérez-Soba note, “For reasons of internal sacramental logic it is impossible that someone who is living in contradiction to one sacrament (Matrimony) should actually want to receive another sacrament (the Eucharist).”34

Francis distinguishes this with “flaunting” sin: “If someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches . . . this is a case of something which separates from the community.”35 An “objective sin” is a sin insofar as can be seen externally, ignoring knowledge of the sin or degree of culpability: here it indicates that nobody can claim sleeping with someone other than one’s legitimate spouse is moral. “Separation from the community” refers to separation from the Church and thus from Communion.

The lessening of responsibility due to weakness or ignorance is dealt with in Amoris Laetitia: “While upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions and decisions is not the same in all cases.”36 Francis maintains that relations in a divorced-and-remarried situation are grave matter, as he is only talking about “responsibility,” which refers to the other requirements for mortal sin. Serious ignorance or weakness can make grave matter not mortal sin.

The Pope goes further a little later: “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.”37 The general law or rule would refer to grave or light matter, while the concrete circumstance would refer to things like their knowledge of the Church’s teaching and their freedom. A person may not understand their “second marriage” is not valid, or a person may be coerced by their “second spouse” to sexual relations.

Francis’s Emphasis on Mercy

Finally, Francis shows his continued emphasis of mercy. He notes: “Mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth.”38 Thus mercy would include guiding someone towards the truth that is contained in Church teaching and never acting in ways contrary to Church teaching.

Granados, Kampowski, and Pérez-Soba express our mistaken ideas about mercy, contrasting it with the true mercy Francis refers to:

Nowadays, mercy sometimes tends to be equated with an emotional sort of compassion that bends down over the wounds without identifying the real malady; this limited approach stops at the symptoms without going so far as to administer medicine for fear of disturbing the sick person. . . . Beyond mere compassion and tolerance there is a biblical mercy which, as a work of God, is capable of renewing the person’s heart, purifying it of all evil.39

It would not be mercy for a priest to tell someone they can have sexual relations with anyone other than their legitimate spouse, because that would go against truth and justice. Nor can a priest absolve a penitent who fully intends to continue acting against Church teaching which the penitent understands.

Nonetheless, in pastoral accompaniment, a priest might present the moral law gradually to one who has significant ignorance. In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II spoke of the gradualness of the law which he distinguished from the law of gradualness: that is, we can present someone with the moral law gradually, but we can never claim that, due to circumstances, the ultimate law someone is striving for is less than full Church teaching.40 Francis reaffirms this, stating the gradualness of the law is “a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law.”41

Reading the exhortation according to the hermeneutic of continuity means ambiguity is read according to previous tradition and not in opposition to it. If a pope wanted to change a pastoral practice, two things would be required: he would need to state so clearly, and it would need to not be against Church doctrine. Encouraging the divorced and remarried who intend to continue relations to receive Communion fails on both those criteria. First, Francis has made some ambiguous statements that could be misunderstood that way, but he has not said anything clearly contrary to previously existing Church practice; if anything, he endorsed current practice. Second, Church teaching clearly says sexual relations with anyone but your legitimate spouse is grave matter; if grave matter is done with understanding and freedom, it is a mortal sin; and for absolution, and thus Communion, one must be contrite. Trent clarifies contrition, noting it “implies not only cessation from sin and the resolve and beginning of a new life, but also the hatred of the old.”42 Cessation of the mortally sinful act is the minimum: Trent asks further for hatred of the sin and a change of life.

Analogies

Three other similar circumstances illuminate Francis’s teaching in Amoris Laetitia. The first two come from Lumen Gentium.

Talking about membership in the physical Church, Lumen Gentium distinguishes between a person who is “fully incorporated in the society of the Church” and one who, “though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity.”43 The difference between these two people may not be fully evident externally — they could show up in neighboring pews every Sunday morning — but has to do with their internal dispositions. One wills to be a member of the Church and follow what she says; the other, though physically a member, despises her. The relationship of two pairs of divorced-and-remarried persons may similarly look the same outside, but one wills to continue relations while the other — though weak — wills that they end. The latter would be like the fully incorporated member striving to live in accord with Church teaching while the former, in a way, despises Church teaching in their will and chooses to continue acting contrary to this teaching. In fact, this may be more than a mere analogy, as one striving to follow the Church’s teaching but often failing could easily be a full member of the Church while one intentionally going against what she teaches would not persevere in charity.

Lumen Gentium also presents the aspect of fault with regard to being outside the Church: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”44 This is a case where people, even though in an external way outside what the law demands, are not outside of it because of a lack of personal responsibility. This is speaking about the possibility of salvation for those who do not know Jesus, such as a pagan or atheist. They strive to follow God as they know him even if that knowledge is rather shadowy, rather than clearly the Trinity. Analogously, this could refer to a person in a country with a high divorce rate who may be unaware that their “second marriage” is not valid — they may even see local Protestant pastors get divorced and remarried. The latter part about conscience provides more of an analogy for one who strives to do what the Church teaches but falls through weakness.

Finally, we have the analogy to a childhood development of moral reasoning. When a two- or three-year-old steals a cookie, the child has not sinned: they just sought the natural good of nutrition, unaware the cookie was not theirs. When a child reaches the age of reason and still steals the cookie, we count that as a sin. What makes the distinction in such cases: it is not the action — theft — or the object of that act — a cookie — but the degree of knowledge and willingness. As a person who has lived in ignorance of the gravity of their situation comes to know the truth and forms themselves to overcome their habit of having sexual relations outside marriage, the acts which may have been no sin would become venial and then mortal in relation to their own growth in knowledge and freedom of the will, just like happens as when we grow up.

These three analogies all point to the relationship between the person’s actions and culpability. They give us two lessons: first, someone might fall into a non-spousal sexual relation either without any sin or without mortal sin; and, second, we should not withhold Communion just because someone is aware they will likely fall into mortal sin soon. Francis seems to want to give more leeway for the weak or ignorant, without changing the reality that we cannot absolve or give Communion to any one intending to commit another mortal sin.

Conclusion

There appears to be slight variations in emphasis when reading Amoris Laetitia versus previous magisterial statements. However, when read as a whole and in tradition, giving Communion to someone in a “second marriage” just because they want it cannot and should not be read into the document: it is not in the text and contradicts numerous statements elsewhere in the text. The text of Amoris Laetitia does not allow absolution or Communion for the divorced and remarried who intend to have sexual relations with their “second spouse.”

  1. I will deal with the objections in the second part of this article.
  2. Cf. Jeffery Mirus, “Cardinal Müller walks the tightrope: A Catholic tutorial?” Catholic Culture, December 2, 2016, catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=701.
  3. This refers to Traditions which are part of the deposit of faith; not theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 83.
  4. Cf. John Henry Newman, An Essay On Development Of Christian Doctrine, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1994). The topic of development of doctrine is a vast field which is related to the hermeneutic of continuity but, to stay on topic, this paper will not investigate it further.
  5. Benedict XVI, “Meeting with the Parish Priests and the Clergy of Rome,” Paul VI Audience Hall, February 14, 2013; AAS 105 (2013), 293–94. Note: Here and throughout this paper I will be quoting the official translations of documents as found on the Vatican website (Vatican.va) unless otherwise stated.
  6. Cf. ST II-II.64.2.
  7. Cf. Homily, St Louis, January 27, 1999.
  8. Fr. Matthew J. Albright, “Recognizing a Link in the Hermeneutic of Continuity: A Brief Look at Blessed Pope Paul VI,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, November 14, 2014, hprweb.com/2014/11/recognizing-a-link-in-the-hermeneutic-of-continuity/.
  9. Benedict XVI, “Christmas greetings to the Members of the Roman Curia and Prelature,” December 22, 2005; AAS 98 (2006), 46.
  10. Arthur Vermeersch, “Cloister,” Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (New York: Robert Appleton, 1908), 63.
  11. Arthur Vermeersch, “Religious Life,” Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12 (New York: Robert Appleton, 1911), 752.
  12. Cf. Max Rheinstein, “Trends in Marriage and Divorce Law of Western Countries,” Law and Contemporary Problems 18, no. 1 (Winter 1953): 5, doi:10.2307/1190354.
  13. Cf. Acta et decreta Concilii Plenarii Baltimorensis Tertii. A.D. MDCCCLXXXIV (Baltimore: Joannis Murphy, 1886), 63–64. Available in electronic format: archive.org/details/actaetdecretaco01gibbgoog.
  14. Cf. Pietro Gasparri, ed., Codex iuris canonici Pii X Pontificis Maximi iussu digestus, Benedicti Papae XV auctoritate promulgatus (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1918), c. 2319 §1, 1° (p. 631). Available in electronic format: books.google.com/books?id=DzgUAAAAYAAJ.
  15. Cf. CIC (1918), c. 1063 §3 (p. 303).
  16. This is a debate among canonists: Since this is not the focus here, I will simply note the discussion and not take sides or give it further discussion.
  17. Although the excommunication was lifted, marrying before a non-Catholic minister did not become an ordinary option for Catholics, but in the current code can only be granted by dispensation. Cf. Code of Canon Law cc. 1108–23, especially c. 1121 §3.
  18. Cf. Paul VI, Matrimonia mixta (March 31, 1970), no. 15; AAS 62 (1970), 262.
  19. Cf. Cletus O’Donnell, “Divorced and Remarried, Bishops Vote to Repeal Excommunication,” Origins 6, no. 49 (May 19, 1977): 765.
  20. “On File,” Origins 7, no. 23 (Nov. 24, 1977): 354.
  21. Official title: “The 1980 Fifth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.”
  22. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, November 22, 1981, no. 84; AAS 74 (1982), 186. Quoting: John Paul II, Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, October 25, 1980, no. 7; AAS 72 (1980), 1082.
  23. Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission, February 22, 2007, no. 29; AAS 99 (2007), 129.
  24. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful,” September 14, 1994; AAS 86 (1994), 976. Literal translation done myself based on: John Paul II, “Omelia nella Santa Messa a Conclusione della V Assemblea Generale del Sinodo dei Vescovi,” October 25, 1980; AAS 72 (1980), 1082.
  25. Cf. “The Council of Trent” in Heinrich Denzinger and Peter Hünermann, Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals; English eds. Robert Fastiggi and Anne Englund Nash, 43rd ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2012), 1706 (p. 411), 1676 (pp. 401–402). I have covered this in more depth: “Reading Amoris Laetitia in Light of Trent,” Catholic Stand, February 27, 2017: catholicstand.com/reading-amoris-laetitia-light-trent/.
  26. I wrote similarly: “What if we’ve been wrong about ‘Amoris’ all along?” Crux (February 6, 2017), cruxnow.com/commentary/2017/02/06/weve-wrong-amoris-along/.
  27. Francis, Amoris Laetitia (March 19, 2016), no. 300; AAS 108 (2016), 433.
  28. Amoris Laetitia, no. 300; AAS 108: 433.
  29. Amoris Laetitia, no. 300; AAS 108: 433–34.
  30. Amoris Laetitia, no. 307; AAS 108: 437.
  31. Amoris Laetitia, no. 299; AAS 108: 432.
  32. John Hardon, Catholic Dictionary (New York: Image, 2013), 460.
  33. Cf. DH 1706 (p. 411), 1676 (pp. 401–402).
  34. José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, and Juan José Pérez-Soba, Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating: A Handbook for the Pastoral Care of the Family According to Amoris Laetitia, trans. Michael Miller (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road, 2017), 77.
  35. Amoris Laetitia, no. 297; AAS 108: 431.
  36. Amoris Laetitia, no. 302; AAS 108: 435.
  37. Amoris Laetitia, no. 304; AAS 108: 436.
  38. Amoris Laetitia, no. 311; AAS 108: 439.
  39. Granados et al., Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating, 66. (Italics removed.)
  40. Cf. Familiaris Consortio, no. 34; AAS 74 (1982), 123–25.
  41. Amoris Laetitia, no. 295; AAS 108: 430.
  42. DH 1676 (p. 401).
  43. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (November 21, 1965), no. 14; AAS 57 (1965), 18, 19.
  44. Lumen Gentium, no. 16; AAS 57: 20.
About Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC

Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC is most well-known for his presence on Twitter and Instagram (@FrMatthewLC) where he has over 50,000 followers between the two platforms. He is a religious priest with the Legionaries of Christ ordained in 2013. He is currently enrolled at the STL program out of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He lives in the Archdiocese of Washington where he helps at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center and produces material for Regnum Christi.

Comments

  1. Denis Jackson says:

    I could not fit all this into my secular life asa follower of Jesus . For me …..this kind of long essay and thinking is not inline with ordinary folks . Whatever ones past, state, mistakes, I believe the Lord offers himself …..so yes A L does permit divorced to recieve him .

    • Deacon David Oatney says:

      In fairness, I don’t think this essay is intended for “secular life,” It is positing a theological and pastoral argument based on Amoris Laetitia, so it is not going to be short.

      What “I believe” and what Holy Mother Church intends, both in the document in question and in the wider Magisterium, may be two different things.

      Amoris Laetitia is much longer than Father Schneider’s essay!

    • As the author, I totally admit that this is recommended as an essay to convince those who have some background in theology like priests. (Just looking at the footnotes where I cite ST, DH and AAS which are standard theology reference works shows this.) I wrote this as even people at this level misunderstood it. I have written other pieces in other publications that are probably better for the average layperson. ALmost two years ago, I wrote this which still stands as a good summary that I think an average Sunday Mass attendee can understand. https://cruxnow.com/commentary/2017/02/06/weve-wrong-amoris-along/

      • Denis Jackson says:

        But Father , my point is that the good folks who are deprived of the Sacrament are not going to be party to this kind of theological and canonical analysis which seems to be reserved for clerical circles . The ‘sensus fideum’ in the pews will not read AL , but they are hungry for The Love of God . So many divorced & remarried will just ignore the Magisterial statements and follow their (misinformed ?…consciences ) and take of the Lord at his table . Is He going to withhold his bounteous Love from such thirsty people?
        I certainly believe the likes of Cardinal Kasper et al are having more meaningful conversations with the faithful than the more hardline , ‘theologically correct’ clerics .

      • Denis Jackson, we know that Christianity is a public religion in that the wisest monk and simplest peasant believe the same. However, their degrees of knowledge might vary. I think the way some theologians have made bold and misleading – if not outright false – statements about this document is unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that secular media seems to love such theologians (or those who agree with them about it allowing Communion but think that is a bad thing so create an exciting sparring contest to boost ratings) rather than inviting people like Perez-Soba, Dawn Eden Goldstein, Robert Fastiggi, Kampowski or myself on (all of whom have explained the document well and all except me who are theology professors). I can’t control this. These theologians will have to answer for their statements that mislead people on judgement day. I am by no means perfect but I have a clean conscience in regard to trying to explain this at both the level of the average person (elsewhere) and the theologian (here). I would gladly appear on almost any many media and explain this, and would explain it at a much less complicated way than I do here.

        I would encourage you and others to take this and simply it for all kinds of media Catholics might encounter.

  2. Thank you Father for defending an orthodox interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. I read Perez Soba’s et al. Writings during the Synod and agree completely with the pastoral they propose.

    Do you have any hope the Holy Father will clarify that indeed this is what he intended in AL?

  3. Victor escamilla says:

    Thank you father,

    It make it understand very clearly our holy father.

    And understand the arguments some in the church using it as a power play to advance their personal gains!

  4. This piece has a number of problems and others have already refuted the claims made here. This would even include the pope’s own inner circle and most ardent supporters, for they admit there has been a change in substance in the teaching. I would first note that the problem that is not addressed is that we do not know definitively what Francis is teaching because he has refused to clarify it nor has there been any official explanation by the Holy See for how it doesn’t contradict prior teaching, etc. This also means this piece is only speculation, only an opinion for the purpose of trying to explain away a contradiction.

    First, the claims here are not even what Francis himself has indicated in AL and approval of the argentine guidelines and others to a lesser, informal degree. The argentine guidelines, though they are still sloppy and ambiguous, clearly allow the sacraments for people who do not necessarily intend to remain continent or do anything to change their situation. The same goes even more for other guidelines Francis has given some form of approval to, e.g., malta, Braga (Portugal), Germany. These clearly say that after a rote period of discernment, even if the parties don’t even intend to be continent, they can receive the sacraments. Francis has not indicated there is anything in them contrary to what he wants, either. One can also note the reply to bishops who have affirmed the perennial teaching and how they have been chastised for going against what Francis wishes. Remember what happened when the first bishop in the u.s. to do so- Chaput of Philadelphia- issued his guidelines? He affirmed that the teaching and discipline of F. Consortio/the catechism is still applicable; a few days later an obviously orchestrated piece appeared in l’osservatore romano assailing him for this. Francis has also only given approval for those guidelines that do NOT affirm the perennial teaching/require continence. So, the claim that the perennial teaching is still in force and has only been tweeked by making explicit what was implicit is seriously contradicted by the factual situation, and as we will see, in theory as well.

    It is also to be noted that the perennial teaching requiring separation or continence is thus not reiterated by Francis or the argentine guidelines, at least in whole. This must be assumed to be deliberate and means it cannot be claimed it is still in force, but means a change has occurred. Not only is it not restated/reaffirmed but something different is given in its place. (In AL Francis even twists the meaning of a passage from G. et Spes as a way to introduce the change from FC.) We are clearly not given the scenario claimed here: that separation or continence are still required, but now there is just explicit allowance for those who fall. Instead, we are told those who do not separate or pledge to be continent can receive the sacraments, whether explicitly or by making no mention of any such requirement. (e.g. The Malta guidelines say anyone “at peace with God” can receive them, no caveats required) In fact, we are also now told- falsely- that continence may not be possible, and for the sake of the children the partners may continue committing adultery. (e.g., the Argentine guidelines say continence “may not, in fact, be feasible.” And how odd that it is for the children, not the salvation of the parties, that the situation is allowed.) So there is an even deeper change underlying this, also involving the resurrection of errors in moral theology (And sacramental theology) that JPII addressed in V. Splendor.

    Next, the prior and only teaching did not plan in advance/did not permit for any situations in which the parties might choose not to or claim to be unable to, live in continence. Here we also see a bit of a bait and switch performed when it is quoted: “This section offers Communion to those who sincerely attempt to live chastity in a second marriage, even though they may occasionally fail, to be admitted to absolution and Communion.” So, because someone in such a situation might fall, this is equated with the situation now being proposed, whereby it is said that people who do not separate or commit to perpetual continence can possibly receive communion. These are clearly two different things. What is now proposed does clearly make no commitment to continence an envisioned option, a part of the “teaching.” So the prior and current claims cannot be equated or say one follows from what was “implicit” in the other. And again, there is no claim in A.L. or argentine guidelines that what is being done is just an extension of the prior teaching- that it is now referring to/permitting explicitly the situations of those who pledge to live in continence, but fall.

    Furthermore, the appeal to subjective culpability of the parties as a way to reception was explicitly considered and rejected by JPII and B16, multiple times, in categorical, definitive language (e.g. the 1994 & 2000 statements on the issue.) So, it cannot be now admitted without having a contradiction with the prior magisterium. The primary reason for the prohibition is the objective situation of the parties. But if the subjective situation is now the standard we again have a rupture with prior teaching. Furthermore, this is semantics: trying to determine what “intends” means. On this alone the piece completely falls apart. It is also bizarre when people who know better or at least once they are made aware, pretend as though this argument has not been previously considered and dismissed. In fact it is downright silly- as though the Holy Spirit never would have thought of this “angle” until 2013! This also reveals how an ultimate aim is to rationalize something rather than seek the truth.

    One should seek a hermeneutic of continuity, but it is not absolute, so as to try to put the square peg in the round hole. It is erroneous to assume it must be in continuity and therefore we need to come up with some explanation, any explanation. If one cannot reconcile something, then it must be rejected, not have a contorted explanation forcing it. And if one is going to cite Cardinal Muller one also has to cite his many statements whereby he infers the new claims contradict the constant teaching of the Church. He precisely appears to save the matter from a forced continuity by rightly labeling Francis’ claims as his own personal views. This is perhaps most open in a statement about the argentine guidelines, whereby he notes their approval contains the personal views of Francis; and thus the conclusion there must be something in them that cannot be reconciled with valid, prior teaching. For example, he says Francis cannot “submit his personal view of things for others to believe, or force their acceptance with canonical punishments, which they must unconditionally accept for the eternal salvation of their souls;” and “all the more disturbing that an individual letter from a pastoral region anywhere in the world [the argentine guidelines] is credited with an authentic and almost infallible teaching authority, and which in addition is confirmed as almost infallible;”

    So, we have two different teachings, different in substance. Francis himself does not even invoke the claims made here- that he is maintaining the perennial teaching requiring separation or a pledge to continence and only making more explicit something permitted under it. Usually what happens at this point, when people can’t overcome the contradiction, they invoke an absolutism of papal will- that basically whatever Francis says, goes, and because he is latest in line.

    • As the author, I think you do make some valid points that other have argued for a very different interpretation. I don’t think they have “refuted” anything said here as you claim.

      I ask for your patience as noted in the second paragraph, “This article will argue positively […] A second part will take up four objections.” I think your concerns will be taken up n part 2. If you still have concerns then, let’s talk.

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