Confraternities representing thousands of priests from around the world have said a clarification of Amoris Laetitia is “clearly needed” in the wake of “widespread” differing interpretations of the apostolic exhortation.
In a statement published Feb. 1, the International Confraternities of Catholic Clergy write that “an authoritative interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia, in line with the constant teaching and practice of the Church, would be of “great value” in light of “continuing widespread divergence of understanding and growing divisions in practice.”
They also thank the four cardinals who last year sent Pope Francis the dubia — five questions aimed at obtaining such clarification, arguing that such action “is clearly needed to correct the misuse of the Apostolic Exhortation to undermine sacred Tradition.”
Since it was published in April last year, the Pope’s summary document on the Synods on the Family has elicited widely varying interpretations, some of which have been criticized as erroneous and representing a rupture with Church teaching. The most contentious of these concerns whether some civilly remarried divorcees not living in continence can receive Holy Communion after a period of discernment.
Critics say such a discipline contradicts established Church teaching while proponents insist it would be a licit development of doctrine. The Pope has let it be known that he believes it to be the latter, but has yet to formally state whether or not he agrees such civilly remarried divorcees can receive Holy Communion.
The confraternities say they decided to make the statement “out of love for the Church and concern for the salvation of souls,” and note that, as with the dubia, the action has been undertaken “with deep respect for our Holy Father” and “should not in any way be used to foster divisions in the Church.”
“The grave danger to the unity of the Church due to increasing moral relativism must be honestly faced and clearly remedied,” they stress, adding that the complexity of situations facing men and women today means the Church must expound her teaching “boldly and clearly.” They also say it is “essential” that the Church’s discipline and practice match her teaching.
The priests underline the importance of making clear that Holy Communion “cannot be given to someone choosing to live in a sexual relationship with a person other than their validly espoused husband or wife”.
Such faithful must “play as full a part in the life of the Church as their circumstances allow”, they continue.
In the face of some bishops’ interpretations that stress the primacy of conscience over the Church’s objective moral teaching, the priests argue that “conscience is not a law unto itself replacing the holy law of God with private judgment, but rather an echo of the voice of the Creator.”
“The dignity of conscience must be assisted to overcome all ignorance and protected from becoming ‘practically sightless as a result of habitual sin’,” they write.
Cardinal Müller expresses same concerns
The priests’ concerns were mirrored in a new interview published today with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In the exchange in the Italian monthly Il Timone and highlighted here in English by Vaticanist Sandro Magister, the cardinal stressed that Amoris Laetitia must be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church, that there cannot be “a contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience”, and that “the task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.”
The interview coincided with guidelines issued today by the German bishops conference in which they stated that remarried divorcees could receive the sacraments “in individual cases.”
“Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of receiving the sacraments according to a process of discernment and formation of conscience,” the bishops wrote. However, they added that did not mean “all the faithful whose marriage has broken down and the divorced and civilly remarried are”, without distinction, to receive the sacraments.
Cardinal Müller’s comments and the German guidelines do not appear on the surface to be different but, in a sense, contradict each other. On a case by case basis, remarried divorcees could still be denied the sacraments. However, the cases remain purely hypothetical. “What Cardinal Müller excludes in all cases becomes an option for the Germans,” said a Church source. In short, “the exception becomes the rule.”
Here below is the full text of the Confraternities’ statement:
Statement of the Confraternities of Catholic Clergy
As members of the International Confraternities of Catholic Clergy we believe there would be great value in an authoritative interpretation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia in line with the constant teaching and practice of the Church. This statement comes in light of continuing widespread divergence of understanding and growing divisions in practice. A clarification is clearly needed to correct the misuse of the Apostolic Exhortation to undermine sacred Tradition. We therefore thank the four eminent Cardinals who have recently submitted their dubia to the Holy See, requesting such clarification. The Confraternities recognise that this action has been taken out of love for the Church and concern for the salvation of souls. As the Cardinals themselves have made clear, this step has been taken with deep respect for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and should not in any way be used to foster divisions in the Church. The grave danger to the unity of the Church due to increasing moral relativism must be honestly faced and clearly remedied.
As pastors of souls, we are well aware of the many challenges facing the men and women of today. We strive to help our people, often living in complex situations, to hear the call of Christ and his Gospel. This task is made easier when the Church expounds her teaching boldly and clearly. It is also essential that the Church’s discipline must always follow her dogmatic teaching. In particular, since at the present time there is much confusion, it is necessary to make clear that Holy Communion cannot be given to someone choosing to live in a sexual relationship with a person other than their validly espoused husband or wife. Those who find themselves in this situation are of course deserving of pastoral support and must be helped to play as full a part in the life of the Church as their circumstances allow. In connection with this, it is important to state that conscience is not a law unto itself replacing the holy law of God with private judgment, but rather an echo of the voice of the Creator. The dignity of conscience must be assisted to overcome all ignorance and protected from becoming ‘practically sightless as a result of habitual sin’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16)
Requesting such a clarification, which reiterates the perennial teaching of the Church, is an act of filial love by faithful sons of the Church who turn to our Supreme Shepherd seeking his paternal guidance. It is our desire that this elucidation will enable us and other Catholic priests and deacons to carry out our ministry in ways that are faithful and effective. We hope that this request for clarification may be an occasion for the Holy Father to feed and tend the flock entrusted to him by the Lord and to support us, the clergy, in doing the same.