It is unjust and unmerciful and a bad error to propose or imagine human solutions that offer guarantees which may depart in doctrine or practice from Divine teaching.


Synod Questions And A Clarification On The Virtue Of Mercy October 30, 2014
Rev. Marcel Guarnizo



QUESTION:   Do you see the effort in the relatio as strictly pastoral, or does it raise doctrinal issues?


FATHER GUARNIZO   There is no such thing as strictly pastoral. Pastoral practice cannot contradict Church doctrine. Pastoral practice depends on doctrinal teaching. Practice follows necessarily from theory.

Pastoral practice exists to teach, to implement in practice Divine revelation as mediated and defined by the Magisterium of the Church. It is not within the jurisdiction of pastoral practice to decide what is true in the deposit of faith. Pastoral practice necessarily takes its guiding principles from the dogmatic teaching of the Church, not the other way around. Pastoral “theology” is the praxis which depends necessarily on the dogmatic teaching of the Church. To think that pastoral practice, rules or even guides dogmatic theology is a mistake. Theoretical science and its principles, in this case given by the Divine person, are in no way subject for their truth and certitude upon pastoral concerns.


If Divine doctrine could be settled by votes, popular opinion, or the opinion of a few theologians, such doctrine would be anything but of Divine origin. God’s word and its teaching by the Church is immutable – not because some are not with the times but rather because God cannot change and His Divine Word for the salvation of mankind is – unlike man’s testimony – immutable. It is immutable because it is true.

Theology requires much intellectual humility. God cannot deceive or be deceived. God is not the consultant from whom we seek opinions to determine what is true and good. He is Truth and Goodness itself.

Pastoral practice cannot determine or grant the promise of truth. Truth of a Divine origin has been true before there were any pastoral agents in the Church. These new “pastoral theologians,” need to be reminded of their function. Judging revelation is not one of them.

The granting of communion to the divorced and remarried without a previous annulment is evidently a doctrinal issue in the Catholic Church. To claim that this is a disciplinary issue and does not touch doctrine is at best an error in thought by the proponents of such a theory. The merciful obligation to deny communion to individuals in situations which are objectively gravely sinful in the teaching of the Church is a solemn duty. Simply put, to attempt a second marriage while still validly married is taught by Our Lord and the Church to be adultery. Sexual relations in such invalid marriages are also grave matter and clearly forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, ergo those who engage in them cannot receive communion. Communion is denied in practice by the Church, as an act of mercy.

The commandments are commandments, not suggestions or proposals. From a philosophical point of view, to change pastoral practice and grant communion and maintain the condition of such communicants to be objectively disordered, would be a logical contradiction which cannot be exercised at a practical level. Both cannot be maintained simultaneously.

Furthermore, to grant communion touches the doctrinal teaching of the Church in matters regarding grace, the sacrament of confession and the authority of the Magisterium of the Church. Cardinal Kasper has proposed a mysterious “penitential path,” which somehow would conclude with confession and absolution. But this is also a logical contradiction. Of what would these divorced and remarried individuals be absolved? If they are being absolved for attempting a marriage outside of the Church or for illicit sexual relations outside of marriage, how is it that it would be sinful for that one confession concluding the penitential path and then, they could go back to commit and persevere in the same actions which a priest has just absolved and recognized as sinful? How were such actions determined to be sinful once and the same exact actions thereafter are perfectly fine? It makes no sense. No priest in a confessional could solve these illogical and irrational dilemmas. Are they to absolve them once and then say that the same actions are fine? If they are morally sound after the confession why weren’t they acceptable the day of the confession at the end of the penitential path? No theology is needed to see the problems. A previous science, namely logic and philosophy, disqualifies these proposals as contrary to reason.

Finally, all priests are held to serve and protect their faithful from spiritual damage. To “do no harm”, is the most basic and fundamental ethical principle of human action. The Church teaches with St. Paul, who taught that, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm and a considerable number are dying.” (1 Cor. 11: 29-30).

It is of no benefit to the communicant who is objectively in a condition of serious sin to receive communion. Since we have a moral obligation to endeavor for the good of souls, we must not give to people what de facto will do damage to them. It is in my view, positively unmerciful to give communion knowingly to such individuals. We hold to the doctrine of the proper reception of communion and counsel souls not to receive if they are not in a state of grace, for many reasons. The fact that mercy obliges us to do this is one of them. There should be no shame, fear, or discomfort in this; we cannot give what would harm another person.

Communion without conversion is an impossible proposition, morally and theologically. Our Lord taught the conditions for discipleship, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24). This is the order required by wisdom and true discipleship. We must first deny ourselves that which God forbids. This will not be easy, but with God’s grace we must carry our cross and then and only then, does He invite us to follow Him. Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, supported by others as well, is in my view, the antithesis of the Divine requirement. If Communion without conversion were possible, Our Lord would have perhaps stated: “Do not deny yourselves, do not pick up your cross, just follow me.”

It seems to me, that it is a grave oversight to forget that the sacrament of Confession is the visible and effective sign, instituted by the Divine person as an endless fountain of mercy for humanity. Confession is the sacrament of mercy. Mercy as a virtue cannot exist outside of that which is true and it cannot exist without the proper observance of justice. It is unjust and unmerciful and a bad error to propose or imagine human solutions that offer guarantees which may depart in doctrine or practice from Divine teaching.

The relatio’s review and proposals on all other issues, including that of cohabitation and homosexual unions, compounds all these problems. But, in my view, there is little complexity to the proposals being offered. They all follow, from the same erroneous start, to multiply the dangers for the souls of the faithful. If the teaching of Our Lord and the Sixth Commandment is to hold any relevance, all types of sexual unions outside of marriage (between one man and one woman), fall under the same logical and doctrinal judgment. Sexual relations outside of marriage being forbidden by the Sixth Commandment also would forbid adultery, homosexual relations, the sexual relations of those who cohabitate and are not married. All of these are simply a different specie or kind of the same sin forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, namely fornication. None of these can be advised without contradicting the Sixth Commandment. There is really in my view, very little complexity to the proposals being deliberated.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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