Posted by Andrew Guernsey at 6/15/2017
On June 4, the Sicilian Bishop Conference, encompassing the 17 dioceses of the island of Sicily, followed their neighboring bishops in Malta by promulgating pastoral guidelines on Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia that authorize Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried without annulment (ie. in a state of public and permanent adultery). The Sicilian guidelines also bear resemblance in their drafting to those of the diocese of Catania. The guidelines significantly admit that Familiaris Consortio required (using the past tense) such couples to practice chastity, but that this requirement has been “expanded” (read: nullified) by Francis in Amoris Laetitia. The guidelines state: “According to the assessment of the confessor and taking into account the good of the penitent, it is possible to absolve and admit [the divorced and civilly remarried] to the Eucharist, even though the confessor knows that it is, for the Church, an objective disorder.”
Here are some relevant translated excerpts of the Sicilian guidelines:
The first novelty of AL, especially in Chapter 8, is its view on concrete situations, according to the dictum of Evangelii Gaudium that considers realities greater than ideas (see EG 31)
Another novelty is the consequence of another principle outlined in Evangelii Gaudium (EG 222): “Since ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.”( AL 3). Consequently, we cannot expect unique rules for each situation, but we need a discernment over time among different situations, which does not rule out a priori or by decree the possibility of ecclesial communion for some, taking into account different levels of complementarity: between personal discernment and pastoral care (see AL 122), between the internal forum and the external forum (see EG 44), between ecclesial participation and access to the sacraments (see AL 299). In this respect, it is no small matter that Pope Francis states in EG 47: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It is no coincidence that this text is cited in footnote 351 in AL 305.
The main object of the chapter  is the pastoral activity in those situations which do not yet, or no longer, correspond to the teaching of the Church on matrimony, but which, however, ought not to prevent the Church from attempting to integrate them.
Those who are the recipients of such accompaniment and discernment:
- Those who have only made a civil bond;
- Those who don’t have any bond: the cohabitating;
- Those who are separated and divorced, and at times have been unjustly abandoned;
- Those who are divorced and live a new union;
- Those who separate, remain faithful to the bond, and do not engage in a new union.
This logic of integration, already operating in Familiaris Consortio , is expanded in AL
Familiaris Consortio 84 already envisaged active participation in life of the Church: listening to the word of God, attending the sacrifice of the Mass, increasing charitable works, participating in community initiatives in favor of justice, educating children in the Christian faith, cultivating the spirit and the works of repentance, begging God’s grace day by day. Some limitations remained: exclusion from the sacrament of penance and of the Eucharist, not absolutely, but bound by two conditions, namely, abstaining from acts proper to spouses and avoiding obstacle to others’ faith (remote scandal). Other limitations were added in areas of particular Christian witness.
Amoris Lætitia. The Pope, in AL 299, welcoming the directions of the 2015 Synod, states first of all that it is necessary to “discern which of the different forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework can be overcome. ”
Furthermore, AL in two points affirms that participation in the life of the Church can include even access to the sacraments:
- a) since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, so “the consequences or effects […] need not necessarily always be the same” (AL 300, note 336). It should be noted that this also applies to “sacramental discipline” when “discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists”;
- b) “because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” (AL 305); in footnote 351 it is affirmed that “this can include the help of the Sacraments.”
The formulations of AL cautiously open up a possibility of access to the Sacraments, which lies only in the place of discernment based on dialogue: it is not a canonical norm, but the potential outcome of a journey, the fruit of discernment and of a personal and pastoral maturity (see AL 298).
2.2.4. Some principles useful for internal discernment
- a) The concrete circumstances of action can attenuate or eliminate moral guilt or diminish it
- b) In such circumstances one can be in the grace of God even if an objective situation of moral disorder is granted
The Pope emphasizes that “it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” (AL 301)
- c) In similar circumstances, the help of the Church can also be sacramental according to the responsible assessment of the priest
Concerning sacramental aid, the Pope, who does not intend to offer recipes, speaks in footnote 351 in AL 305: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” (fn. 10 “As is known by the doctrine of the Church, confession is necessary for serious or mortal sins and you have serious sins only when those who are acting know they are committing a serious evil (with moral and not purely legal awareness) and is free to act differently” Basilio Petra, Amoris Laetitia, Un passo Avanti nella Tradizione, in Il Regno Documenti, 8, 2016, 246.)
In some circumstances, therefore, concerning the divorced and remarried, according to the assessment of the confessor and taking into account the good of the penitent, it is possible to absolve and admit [them] to the Eucharist, even though the confessor knows that it is, for the Church, an objective disorder. However, it must be clear that if “someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches […], he needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion.” (AL 297).
- d) Some criteria for a responsible assessment by the confessor.
- The seriousness of the examination of conscience on the part of the persons
“Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance.”
“The divorced and remarried 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” (AL 300).
- A sincere repentance
“In every situation, – the Pope remembers – when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. (AL 306). This welcoming of the invitation is necessary even if one cannot demand from the repentant penitent more than he can give. The requirement to gain access to the sacraments is repentance and the commitment to pursue a new path, human and spiritual, in the present objective situation in which the person finds himself, and not the abstract perfection. There are circumstances, in fact, in which every norm gets brought back to its proper end, which is the salvation of souls, the good of persons.
2.3. To Integrate
“Discernment must also be geared towards promoting greater integration Baptized people, who are divorced and remarried in Christianity in the various ways possible, avoiding every opportunity for scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral accompaniment […]. Their participation can be expressed in various ecclesial services: Therefore discern what forms of exclusion currently practiced in the To liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional can be overcome […]. This integration is also necessary for Christian care and education Their children, who must be considered the most important “( AL 299).
Discernment or the via discretionis allows shepherds to evaluate case by case, particularly with regard to the progressive inclusion of people who, finding themselves in a now irreversible situation, particularly in need of welcoming, accompaniment and mercy.
To avoid relegating these people to a kind of “de facto limbo” – on the one hand, they are not excommunicated, on the other hand, they are not in full communion with the Church – it ought to be considered that their condition is temporary, not from the spiritual point of view, because it is susceptible to change, conversion, and purification.