By John-Henry Westen
April 16, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – On the flight returning from Greece, Pope Francis was asked if the Apostolic Exhortation contained a “change in discipline that governs access to the sacraments” for Catholics who are divorced and remarried. The Pope replied, “I can say yes, period.” The Pope then urged reading the presentation of Cardinal Schönborn for the final answer to the question, calling Schönborn a “great theologian who knows the doctrine of the Church.”
Schonborn’s presentation boiled down Pope Francis’ more than 60,000 words in the exhortation to 3000, but in that short space made sure to include the “smoking footnote” being seen as the opening of the door to Holy Communion to Catholics living in second unions where annulment from the first union was not possible. The position contradicts Pope St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In his presentation of the Exhortation, Cardinal Schonborn said:
Naturally this poses the question: what does the Pope say in relation to access to the sacraments for people who live in “irregular” situations? Pope Benedict had already said that “easy recipes” do not exist (AL 298, note 333). Pope Francis reiterates the need to discern carefully the situation, in keeping with St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio (84) (AL 298). “Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God” (AL 205). He also reminds us of an important phrase from Evangelii gaudium, 44: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (AL 304). In the sense of this “via caritatis” (AL 306), the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given “in certain cases”. But for this purpose he does not offer us case studies or recipes, but instead simply reminds us of two of his famous phrases: “I want to remind priests that the confessional should not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (EG 44), and the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (EG 47).
Is it an excessive challenge for pastors, for spiritual guides and for communities if the “discernment of situations” is not regulated more precisely? Pope Francis acknowledges this concern: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion” (AL 308). However, he challenges this, remarking that “We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311).
In Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul wrote: “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.” He explained, “They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”
Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, told Vatican journalist Edward Pentin that Amoris Laetitia adopts the approach that he has already been using within his own archdiocese, which can allow for admittance to the sacraments after a process of discernment focused on several different questions.
Schönborn, who has argued that the Church should embrace the “positive elements” of gay unions and other sexual sins and has a history of contradicting Church teaching on the subject of homosexuality, said that there are “no forbidden questions” when discussing Amoris Laetitia.
“We all know many priests,” who admit remarried divorcees to Holy Communion “without discussing or asking, and that’s a fact,” and it’s “difficult to handle for the bishop,” he said.