VIENNA — When it comes to the pastoral care of divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, one key approach that Pope Francis holds up in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is a five-step pastoral method for pastors devised by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.
Cardinal Schönborn’s central role in the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia on this issue was communicated by his selection as the papal document’s main presenter at the April 8 Vatican press conference at the time of its official publication.
Called Aufmerksamkeiten (“Five Attentions”), the Archdiocese of Vienna’s initiative is a set of guidelines intended as a pastoral aid for those ministering to divorced Catholics who either live in a new relationship or intend to do so. Based around five questions, its aim is to help such faithful on a path of discernment, assist them in an examination of conscience and facilitate their integration into the Church’s life.
The basis of the five questions are:
n What is the situation regarding your children?
n What is the situation regarding your separated wife or husband?
n Have you overcome guilt and feelings of guilt?
n To faithfully married couples: How can you deepen your relationship and make it even happier?
n What does my conscience tell me? What is God asking of me?
According to Cardinal Schönborn, speaking at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria, on April 9, the “attentions” were discussed in the German-language working group at last October’s synod on the family.
He said he was “very happy” that Pope Francis had “taken up” the pastoral approach in Amoris Laetitia, which grew out of a lecture he gave to priests in 2007. It is reflected in Paragraph 300 of Chapter Eight of the exhortation, on “accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness.”
The paragraph states that at issue here is a “process of accompaniment and discernment.” It then goes on to quote from the final report of the last synod: Such accompaniment and discernment, it says, “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow.”
Using a similar formulation of questions to Cardinal Schönborn’s “attentions,” it then states that divorced-and-remarried Catholics “should ask themselves: How did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis?; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party?; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage?”
During Cardinal Schönborn’s Vatican presentation of Amoris Laetitia on April 8, which Pope Francis subsequently recommended reading in order to know better his thinking on this sensitive issue, the cardinal spoke of what it means in practice when Francis speaks of integrating remarried divorcees.
The “definitive answers,” Cardinal Schönborn said, are found in Paragraph 300. “These answers certainly offer material for further discussions, but they also provide an important clarification and an indication of the path to follow,” he said. He added that the “immense variety of concrete situations” means that neither the synod nor Amoris Laetitia could be expected to “provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.” He then quotes the Pope as saying that “what is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
Reception of Communion
However, the Archdiocese of Vienna’s five “attentions” for the pastoral care of remarried divorcees apparently have sometimes led to priests giving such individuals holy Communion after discernment regarding the fifth question, even if that was not the pastoral plan’s original stated intent.
According to Renate Moser, leader of the Vienna Archdiocese’s Plattform WIGE (Plattform für Geschiedene und Wiederverheiratete in der Kirche), which is responsible for disseminating the “attentions” approach, “many priests have no problems giving holy Communion” to such couples. She indicated that 80% of priests in the archdiocese use the guidelines in their pastoral care of remarried divorcees.
Asked whether she could say how many priests are giving Communion to remarried divorcees not living as brother and sister (the only time the Church allows such a practice), Moser told the Register: “We don’t have a percentage [of priests who give Communion], but we know where remarried couples are welcome, where they can receive holy Communion and where priests take care of them.”
WIGE’s website does not appear to mention the sacraments, but on its recommended reading page, it places on the top of the list two articles on Cardinal Carlo Martini, including the Jesuit cardinal’s last interview, in which he discussed giving the Eucharist to remarried divorcees.
As in Cardinal Schönborn’s presentation, Cardinal Martini talked about a “patchwork” of complex family situations, before adding: “The question of whether the divorced can receive Communion ought to be turned around. How can the Church reach people who have complicated family situations, bringing them help with the power of the sacraments?”
Focused on Integration
For his part, Cardinal Schönborn implied that he does not offer Communion as part of his “attentions.” During his presentation in Trumau, he said: “We do [not] — I do not — discuss the questions of sacramental Communion, access to the sacraments, but [rather] a pastoral way to follow for divorced-remarried people, and to see with them how they live — what John Paul II has said: how they can be integrated into the Church’s life.”
He ended his talk by saying that, by reflecting on the five points, the questions of the sacraments “come into another light. It’s not a reward because … it is a serious examination of your own past life. It is the way of conversion.”
Michael Prüller, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vienna, was unable to give a clear answer whether divorced-and-remarried couples not living as brother and sister were allowed access to the sacraments.
“Frankly, I don’t know,” he told the Register, but pointed out that the brochure on the cardinal’s five points “does not contain any procedure, or, for that matter, any stages in the sense, that there would be one well-defined step after the other, and that when everything is completed, the bishop would be notified of the outcome. It’s just not done this way.”
He stressed that the “attentions” are “not meant to be a five-stage procedure leading towards readmission to the sacraments, but to be an input for the pastor who accompanies faithful in so-called ‘irregular’ situations.”
Pruller added that the guidelines are meant “to help to find the right form of inclusion and to influence the way people are going — hopefully toward a fuller and richer and more relevant friendship with God.”