Possibilities of sacraments to the “irregulars”, here is what is traditional
The wide-ranging essay written by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller as a preface to the book that collects the lectures and reflections of Professor Rocco Buttiglione on the exhortation Amoris laetitia (editions Ares, in bookshop on November 10) marks an important step in the not always calm discussion that followed the publication of the papal document. As it can be read in the long excerpt previewed by Vatican Insider, the German cardinal definitely distanced himself from the contents of the Correctio filialis, which attributes alleged “heresies” to the Pontiff and de facto answers to the five dubia made public by the four cardinals a year ago.
First of all, Müller believes that Buttiglione, whom he calls “an authentic Catholic of proven competence in the field of moral theology”, has offered with his recent lectures and essays “a clear and convincing answer” to some passages included in the eighth chapter of Amoris laetitia. The following words are even more challenging, “ On the basis of the classical criteria of Catholic theology, he offers a reasoned and not controversial answer to the cardinals’ five dubia” and shows that the reproaches of those who affirm that the Pope does not present the doctrine correctly do not correspond to the reality of the facts.
The cardinal reiterates that there are “different levels of gravity according to the type of sin”. Not always – let us add – this awareness appears widespread in those who have devoted themselves to examining the Pope’s doctrine. One just need to recall, for example, those sins, cited in the Catechism of Saint Pius X, which “cry out revenge before God” (in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church it is said that they “cry out to heaven for revenge”) which are: “voluntary homicide”; the “impure sin against the order of nature”; the “oppression of the poor”; “defrauding a laborer of his just wage.” Müller reminds us, as a useful warning to those who appear “monomaniac” about the sins related to the sexual sphere (it just takes to browse certain sites to realize it), that “Spirit’s sins can be more serious than flesh’s sins. Spiritual pride and avarice introduce into religious and moral life a more profound disorder than impurity resulting from human weakness”. Likewise, with an abundance of quotations from Saint Thomas, he affirms that “ adultery among married people weighs more than among the unmarried and, the adultery of the faithful, who know God’s will, weighs more than that of the unbelievers”.
This does not mean that “due to mitigating circumstances, an objectively bad act can become subjectively good”. It means instead – as Buttiglione has repeatedly pointed out – that “In the assessment of guilt, however, there may be mitigating circumstances and the ancillary elements of an irregular cohabitation similar to marriage can also be presented before God in their ethical value in the overall assessment of judgment (for example, the care for children in common, which is a duty deriving from natural law).”
It is not a question here of falling into the “casuistry”, i.e. in precisely defying the cases and circumstances in which there could be an admission to the sacraments, and place them in specific manuals, suitable for lifting the great and arduous responsibility of discernment to which both penitents and their confessors are called. Nor is it a question of claiming communion as a right, participation in the Eucharist as something due, regardless of a path of penance and awareness of one’s own state. Nowhere in Amoris laetitia is stated something similar to “everyone is free” to approach the Eucharistic table whenever one wants to.
Müller points out something that unfortunately seems to escape those who considered the Synods on the family to be useless, given that St. John Paul II had already expressed himself on this subject with the exhortation Familiaris consortio (an argument adopted by some ecclesiastical opponents of the Pontiff and not without humorous consequences: if it were always made valid, then why was there a Vatican Council II, given that there had already been Vatican Council I, etc.). The cardinal recalls in fact the context in which we find ourselves living, which has profoundly changed precisely in recent decades, “The existential situations are very different and complex and the influence of ideologies enemy of marriage is often overbearing”.
Müller explains, “Individual Christians can find themselves without their own fault in the harsh crisis of being abandoned and of not being able to find any other way out than entrusting themselves to a person of good heart, and the result is a marriage-like relationship. A special spiritual discernment of the confessor’s internal forum is needed to find a path of conversion and reorientation towards Christ that is right for the person, going beyond an easy adaptation to the relativistic spirit of time or a cold application of dogmatic precepts and canonical dispositions, in the light of the truth of the Gospel and with the help of the previous grace”. No relativism, no slapdash attitude. But not even that “cold application of dogmatic precepts” that arouse so much those examining even the Popes’ doctrine, ending up being incapable of distinguishing and discerning: the stories, the lives of people are not all equal and difficult to match to some notes in the manuals of morals.
This is why the cardinal shows that “in the global situation in which virtually there are no longer any more homogeneously Christian environments”, there is the serious problem – already strongly highlighted by Benedict XVI – of the validity of the first marriage, which perhaps was lacking one of its constitutive elements, a circumstance that occurs in our times. It was precisely these considerations that prompted Francis to reform and simplify the rules to declare a marriage null.
In the case of a conversion in mature age (of a Catholic who is such only on the certificate of baptism) – Müller clearly writes in the preface of Buttiglione’s book – one can say that a Christian is convinced in conscience that their first bond, even if it took place in the form of a marriage in the Church, was not valid as a sacrament and that their current marriage-like bond, prized by children and with a living relationship matured over time with their current partner is a true marriage before God.
And he adds, “Perhaps this cannot be canonically proven because of the material context or because of the culture of the dominant mentality. It is possible that the tension that occurs here between the public-objective status of the “second” marriage and subjective guilt can open, under the conditions described, the way to the sacrament of penance and Holy Communion, passing through a pastoral discernment in internal forum”.
When in the famous note 351 of paragraph 305 of Amoris laetitia – where it is said, referring to the attenuating circumstances for those living in “irregular” situations, that “in certain cases “, there could be” also the help of the Sacraments “- Müller explains that “If the second bond were valid before God, the marriage relationships of the two partners would not constitute a serious sin but rather a transgression against ecclesiastical public order for having irresponsibly violated the canonical rules and therefore a minor sin.”
Finally, the cardinal recalls how often one does not understand “the pastoral meaning” of Amoris laetitia and the difficulty of “applying in practice with tact and discretion” the “law of gradualness”. It is obvious that here “This is not a hardened sinner, who wants to assert before God rights that he or she does not have. God is particularly close to the person who sets out on the path of conversion, who, for example, assumes responsibility for the children of a woman who is not his legitimate bride and does not neglect the duty to take care of her. This also applies in the case in which he, because of his human weakness and not for the will to oppose grace, which helps to observe the commandments, is not yet able to satisfy all the requirements of moral law”.
In this case, the cardinal recalls,” An action in itself sinful does not become legitimate and not even pleasing to God”, However, “its imputability as guilt can be diminished when the sinner turns to God’s mercy with a humble heart and prays “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”. Here pastoral accompaniment and the practice of the virtue of penance as an introduction to the sacrament of penance has a special importance.”
“Risposte amichevoli ai critici di Amoris laetitiaˮ (Friendly answers to the critics of Amoris laetitia E.d.) (Edizioni Ares, pp. 208) by Rocco Buttiglione will be in bookstores on November 10.
The Italian philosopher responds to the criticism directed at Pope Francis, the “dubia” and the “correctio filialis”. The book opens with an extensive introductory essay by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.