A “Handbook” like this is just what was needed, to show the way in the chaos of conflicting interpretations of “Amoris Laetitia” and above all of its controversial eighth chapter, that on communion for the divorced and remarried:
Clear, cogent, authoritative, this “Handbook” was conceived and written at none other than the pontifical institute that John Paul II wanted to create in support of the pastoral care of the family, with its headquarters in Rome at the Pontifical Lateran University, with branches all over the world and as its first driving force and president Carlo Caffarra, afterward archbishop of Bologna and cardinal.
The authors are three professors at this institute: the Spaniards José Granados and Juan-José Pérez-Soba, and the German Stephan Kampowski, a philosopher.
The Italian version of the book has been released in recent days. As has the Spanish. The German, published by Christiana-Verlag, will be in bookstores in February. And it will soon come out in English, too.
This is how Livio Melina, until a few months ago the president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, presented the contents of this “Handbook” in the magazine “Tempi”:
> “Amoris laetitia”. Una interpretazione legittima, coerente, feconda
Below is reproduced the central part of his presentation, the part that goes to the heart of the controversy.
In interpreting and applying “Amoris Laetitia” as indicated here, there would no longer be any reason for the “dubia” presented to Pope Francis by four cardinals and so far left unanswered.
One more reason to reflect seriously on the points of this “Handbook.” If the many bishops who have remained silent so far would take it to heart and offer it as a set of guidelines for their priests and faithfull, the controversy that is tearing the Church apart would take a turn for the better.
NOT EVEN SAINT IGNATIUS ALLOWED EXCEPTIONS HERE
by Livio Melina
The integration into full communion of those persons who show signs of a wounded love (AL 291) can in no way be confused with mere social inclusion. If one confuses the ecclesial dynamic, which “Amoris Laetitia” intends as participation in the mystery of communion, with a sociological logic, then the tendency will be to conceive of every obstacle to inclusion as a form of unjust indiscrimination that violates fundamental rights and to seek the solution not in appeals and help toward conversion, but in changing unfair norms.
Integration must aim at a regeneration of persons, so that, as in the case of the divorced who have entered into new unions, a way of life may be reestablished that is in harmony with the indissoluble bond of the validly celebrated marriage. This is why there should never be talk of “irreversible situations.”
Against the individualistic and spiritualistic idea of an “invisible church” in which everything is resolved in the unquestionable forum of the private conscience, the authors recall the objective criteria of belonging to the Body of Christ: public confession of the same faith, visible communion with the Church, conduct of life in harmony with the sacraments.
In this sense, that which in the divorced who have entered into a second union is opposed to full integration, including Eucharistic, is not so much the “failure” of the validly celebrated marriage as the second union established in contradiction with the indissoluble sacramental bond. [. . .] This is precisely why the serious resolution of getting out of the situation that is objectively contradictory with the validly contracted conjugal bond is a necessary condition for the validity of sacramental absolution.
The sacramental forum, in fact, cannot be the simple legitimization of the individual conscience, perhaps erroneous, but help toward conversion for an authentic integration into the visible Body of the Church, according to the demands of consistency between proclamation of faith and conduct of life.
It is also in this sense that explanations are proposed for footnotes 336 and 351, respectively to nos. 300 and 305 of AL, which demonstrate their continuity with the preceding magisterium of the Church, in particular with “Familiaris Consortio” 84 and “Sacramentum Caritatis” 29. This is the innovation that the document of Pope Francis brings to ecclesial pastoral care: mercy is not mere emotional compassion, nor can it be confused with a tolerance that is complicit in the evil, but is an offer – always gratuitously and generously proposed to freedom – of a possibility of returning to God, which has the nature of a sacramental and ecclesial journey.
As for discernment, this cannot have as its object the person’s state of grace, the judgment of which the Church knows must be left only to God (cf. Council of Trent, DH 1534), nor can it focus upon the possibility of observing the commandments of God, for which sufficient grace is always given to those who ask for it (Council of Trent, DH 1536). The Church’s judgment not to admit to the Eucharist the divorced who are civilly remarried or cohabiting does not equate to the judgment that they are living in mortal sin: it is rather a judgment on their state of life, which is in objective contradiction with the mystery of the faithful union between Christ and his Church.
Against all individualism and spiritualism, the Church’s magisterial tradition has proclaimed the public and sacramental reality of marriage and the Eucharist: in order to receive it, not being aware of mortal sin is a subjective condition that is necessary, but not sufficient.
The authors opportunely recall how Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a master of the discernment of spirits, affirmed that there could be no discernment on two things: on the possibility of committing evil actions, which is already condemned by God’s commandments, or on fidelity to a chosen way of life already undertaken and sealed by a sacrament or a public promise. And the Church has never considered the commandment “do not commit adultery” as a counsel, but as a precept of God that does not admit exceptions.
The object of discernment can therefore concern three factors of life.
In the first place, one’s desire with respect to the Eucharist: do I really desire communion with Christ, which is inseparable from the commitment to a life in keeping with his teaching, or do I instead desire something else? The Eucharist, in fact, is never a right for anyone, and being a sacrament of the Church it is not a mere private question “between me and Jesus.”
In the second place, the object of discernment is the marriage bond, which must also be the object of a public juridical declaration, concerning a sacramental act of union between two persons.
Finally and above all, the discernment hoped for by “Amoris Laetitia” must regard the concrete steps for a journey of return to a form of life in keeping with the Gospel: is reconciliation possible? In defending the bond the Church is not only faithful to the word of Jesus, but is also a champion of the weak and defenseless. The scrutiny can also concern the obligation to leave the non-conjugal union that has been entered, and if there are “serious reasons” to eventually remain in it. Finally, discernment can concern the ways to arrive at living in abstinence and for recovering after any falls.
The objective of discernment is therefore not that of bypassing the laws with exceptions, but of finding the ways of a realistic journey of conversion, with the help of God’s grace.
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)