May 23, 2016

Amoris laetitia: Divorce, Remarriage, and Communion

No series on Amoris laetitia would be complete without a post on one of the issues that got a lot of attention, from the two sessions of the Synod on the Family down to the publication of the Exhortation itself, namely the question of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. Chapter eight of Amoris laetitia goes into this question in detail.

While it's true that the Exhortation gives us no new doctrine in the strict sense of the term, we are in a new place in the post-Amoris laetitia Church. As I alluded to when I began this series of posts, it seems to me that what we have mostly is a new challenge for pastors of souls.

Amoris laetitia certainly does not say, 'Those who have obtained a civil divorce for a sacramental marriage that they had previously consented to, and have remarried civilly, may now feel free to receive the sacraments.'

Anyone who is living in a publicly recognized spousal relationship with someone other than the person he or she is married to in the eyes of God is presumed to be persisting in adultery, and so is expected to make an attempt at a remedy for the situation before seeking sacramental absolution and approaching Holy Communion.

On the other hand, Amoris laetitia teaches and exhorts us that we also can't say, 'Everyone who has divorced and remarried while the prior bond still exists in the eyes of the Church is ipso facto living in a state of grave sin.'

Notice one of the differences in the two things we may not say, how the first says, 'in the eyes of God' and the second, 'in the eyes of the Church.' This is something important.

Situations are very diverse. 'Divorced and civilly remarried' covers a huge variety of personal histories and family arrangements, and yes, graces and virtue as well as mistakes, fault, and sin. This is why Amoris laetitia is a challenge to pastors. They may not dismiss the divorced and civilly remarried as if all such persons fell into some single category, saying 'You have to do something to regularize your situation' and giving no more time and attention to them than that.

It is up to pastors of souls to be present to people in the situations where they find themselves and help them to discover and celebrate their fullest belonging to the People of God, including, if possible, participation in Holy Communion.

For some this may mean help in obtaining a decree of nullity for the previous bond, so the current marriage can be regularized. Here bishops especially are challenged to put into practice the norms and spirit of Pope Francis's motu proprio Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus, which seeks to make this process quicker and more accessible. Pastors too need to be present and helpful in this process, accompanying those entrusted to them. It's not enough to say, 'You need to call the diocese.'

For others, and for a lot of reasons, it may be impossible to enter into or complete the process of seeking an annulment, that is to say, a public declaration by the Church that a bond of marriage is null in the eyes of God. But just because this public, ecclesiastical process may be impossible, that doesn't mean that a prior marriage might, in fact, be null in the eyes of God. Here we arrive at the so-called 'internal forum solution.' If one of the faithful and his or her confessor or spiritual director, after a careful and honest discernment, arrive at adequate moral certainty that a prior marriage is null in the eyes of God, such a person may rightly approach Holy Communion, even though a public declaration of the nullity of the prior marriage is for some reason not possible. But such a thing takes time and patience, on the part of both priests and those in their care. As Pope Francis puts it, "[f]or this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: 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." Further, someone must not "put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church." (Amoris laetitia, 300)

So again, this is a challenge to pastors. They are challenged to be available to know the situations of the people in their care, so as to be able to offer what is possible for the sake of their fullest possible participation in the Church.

And to speak of an 'internal forum solution' is nothing new. I think back to almost twenty-five years ago when I was taking 'convert instructions' in order to become a Catholic. Among the materials I was given was a book called The Question Box by a Fr. John J. Dietzen. It treated various doubts and questions about Catholic doctrine in a question-and-answer format. I remember that one of the issues that got a lot of space and attention was the 'internal forum solution' for divorced and remarried Catholics who desired to return to Holy Communion. So Amoris laetitia isn't talking about anything new in this regard.

What is new, however, is an invitation and exhortation to all who have the pastoral care of the People of God to seek out those in their care with renewed attention to all the complex particularity of their individual situations, and to help them discover and celebrate the greatest participation in the mystical Body of Christ that grace can lift up in them. And this goes for divorced and remarried people and everybody else. Now in the end there may be folks in a situation of divorce and civil remarriage for which no 'solution' is possible, and so as long as the old bond persists in the eyes of God and the Church, as best as anyone can tell, Holy Communion will not be a possibility. But even in these cases,
"They are not excommunicated' and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community These situations “require careful discernment and respectful accompaniment. Language or conduct that might lead them to feel discriminated against should be avoided, and they should be encouraged to participate in the life of the community. (Amoris laetitia, 243)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful comments. I hope that what you've written goes into the hearts of all priests, all the way up the chain. My spouse was fortunate to receive his decree of nullity after initially being turned down. We went to hell and back. Errors are made, and this opens the door to fix them. God Bless.