In the Nov. 28 issue of La Civiltà Cattolica, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, director of the journal and a synod father, presents a summary of the work of the 14th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the vocation and mission of the family (pp. 372-391).
Although the author makes various affirmations about the nature and work of the Synod of Bishops, which demand critical comment in a longer study, one affirmation which necessitates immediate comment is summarized thus by the author:
The synod has also desired to touch wounded persons and couples to accompany them and heal them in a process of integration and reconciliation without barriers. Concerning access to the sacraments for those divorced and remarried civilly, the synod has formulated the way of discernment and of the “internal forum,” laying the foundations and opening a door which, on the contrary, had remained closed in the preceding synod.
I set apart the fact the public declarations by several synod fathers affirm the opposite, that is, they affirm that the synod upheld the constant practice of the Church regarding those who are living in an irregular union. Even as the text of Paragraphs 84 to 86 of the final report of the synod lacks clarity regarding fundamental truths of the faith, the holy Eucharist and holy matrimony, the same lack of clarity has now emerged in the public declarations of the synod fathers.
The fact is that the synod could not open a door which does not exist and cannot exist, namely, a discernment in conscience which contradicts the truth about the supreme sanctity of the Most Holy Eucharist and the indissolubility of the marriage bond. The synod, as the Church has always taught and practiced, has wanted to show love towards the individual who finds himself in a situation which is not coherent with the teaching of Christ and his Church.
Christlike love of the individual, however, is not “integration and reconciliation without barriers,” for it is founded upon the irreplaceable truths of nature and grace and is ordered accordingly for the good of the individual and of the whole community. Christlike love accompanies the individual on the way to repentance and reparation, so that he can once again be disposed to meet Christ in the sacraments.
The way of discernment upon which the priest accompanies the penitent who is living in an irregular union assists the penitent to conform his conscience once again to the truth of the holy Eucharist and to the truth of the marriage to which he is bound. As the Church has consistently taught and practiced, the penitent is led in the “internal forum” to live chastely in fidelity to the existing marriage bond, even if seeming to be living with another in a marital way, and thus to be able to have access to the sacraments in a way which does not give scandal. Pope St. John Paul II described the Church’s practice in the “internal forum” in No. 84 of Familiaris Consortio. The “Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts” of June 24, 2000, illustrates the teaching in No. 84 of Familiaris Consortio. Both of these documents are referenced in the final report of the synod, but, sadly, in a misleading way.
To give the impression that there is another practice in the “internal forum,” which would permit an individual in an irregular union to have access to the sacraments, is to suggest that the conscience can be in conflict with the truth of the faith. Such a suggestion clearly places priests in an impossible situation, the expectation that they can “open a door” for the penitent, which, in fact, does not exist and cannot exist.
Ultimately and to the most serious harm of the universal Church, it creates the expectation that the Roman pontiff can sanction a practice which is in conflict with the truths of the faith. The Synod of Bishops, in accord with its nature and purpose, cannot be the instrument of such an expectation.
Cardinal Raymond Burke is the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.