From Rome, for the Denzinger-Bergoglio
Let us examine an important section of John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. It does not require much explanation because the text is clear, as opposed to Francis’ document that we analyzed in the first part of this study (see here). It clearly shows that John Paul II didn’t have anything to hide…
The law of gradualness cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’
- Since the moral order reveals and sets forth the plan of God the Creator, for this very reason it cannot be something that harms man, something impersonal. On the contrary, by responding to the deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself at the service of that person’s full humanity with the delicate and binding love whereby God Himself inspires, sustains and guides every creature towards its happiness.
But man, who has been called to live God’s wise and loving design in a responsible manner, is an historical being who day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.
Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. ‘And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will.’  (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 34, November 22, 1981)
There cannot be any split or ‘dichotomy’ between instruction and doctrine
Let us interrupt the reading of the text Familiaris consortio in order to examine citation 95, extracted from a homily of John Paul II at the closing of the V Synod of the Bishops, October 25, 1980. The citation in itself is quite clear, and even preceded by this pearl (was it perhaps directed to bishop Bergoglio? The bolding is ours):
- Thinking of those who have pastoral care of married couples and families, the synod fathers rejected any split or ‘dichotomy’ between instruction (which is necessary for any progress in fulfilling the will of God) and doctrine (which the Church teaches with all its consequences and which includes the command to live according to that doctrine). It is not a matter of keeping the law as a mere ‘ideal’ to be obeyed in the future. It is a question of the mandate of Christ the Lord that difficulties should be overcome continually. (John Paul II. Homily at the Close of the Fifth Synod of Bishops, no. 8, October 25, 1980)
Alas! If Pope John Paul II had read Amoris Laetitia…what would he have said?
Continuing with Familiaris consortio, it is very clear that there are no ‘different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations’:
- On the same lines, it is part of the Church’s pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm.
As the Synod noted, this pedagogy embraces the whole of married life. Accordingly, the function of transmitting life must be integrated into the overall mission of Christian life as a whole, which without the Cross cannot reach the Resurrection. In such a context it is understandable that sacrifice cannot be removed from family life, but must in fact be wholeheartedly accepted if the love between husband and wife is to be deepened and become a source of intimate joy.
This shared progress demands reflection, instruction and suitable education on the part of the priests, religious and lay people engaged in family pastoral work: they will all be able to assist married people in their human and spiritual progress, a progress that demands awareness of sin, a sincere commitment to observe the moral law, and the ministry of reconciliation. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 34, November 22, 1981)
Pardon one more interruption in our reading of Familiaris consortio, but we wish to emphasize one point in particular: Pope John Paul II points toward a ‘sincere commitment to observe the moral law’ from the beginning, as well as the sacrament of reconciliation to continually maintain oneself in the state of grace. And he continues:
- It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with respect for the Church’s teaching and with trust in the grace of Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and experience the liberating and inspiring value of the authentic love that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord’s commandment. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 34, November 22, 1981)
Intermediate states between sin and grace?
John Paul II makes an invitation to experience true interior liberation by following the doctrine of Christ with the help of his grace. That is, the teachings of the Holy Church, for two millennia, that it is necessary to practice the Law of God, and that this is not impossible for anyone with the help of grace, which God never fails to grant.
This means that John Paul II is not speaking about intermediate states between sin, where it is possible to come to a stop. On the contrary, the gradualness that he speaks of is a progressive path within virtue to obtain greater union with God.
This is very clear from the beginning: he is speaking of the family in the true meaning of the term: two people united by the sacrament and their legitimate children, not ‘second unions’, ‘civil marriage’ or other euphemisms for adultery.
The real interpretation of Familiaris consortio cannot have been unknown to Francis, for in 1997 (16 years after the publication of the document in question) the Pontifical Council for the Family published a Vademecum for confessors regarding some topics of conjugal morality, that also mentions the same part of Familiaris consortio cited by Francis regarding the ‘law of gradualness’, saying:
- The pastoral ‘law of gradualness’, not to be confused with the ‘gradualness of the law’ which would tend to diminish the demands it places on us, consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together with a progressive path towards total union with the will of God and with his loving demands. (Pontifical Council for the Family. Vademecum for Confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life, no. 9, February 12, 1997)
The teaching could not be clearer: the ‘law of gradualness’ refers to a ‘progressive path towards total union with the will of God’ following a ‘decisive break with sin’.
And, since we are analyzing ‘citations’ from the sources presented by Francis, let’s take a look at the Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts ‘Concerning the admission to Holy Communion of Faithful who are divorced and remarried’ (from the year 2000).
It is not licit to receive Holy Communion in mortal sin
- The Code of Canon Law establishes that ‘Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion’ (can. 915). In recent years some authors have sustained, using a variety of arguments, that this canon would not be applicable to faithful who are divorced and remarried. It is acknowledged that paragraph 84 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, issued in 1981, had reiterated that prohibition in unequivocal terms and that it has been expressly reaffirmed many times, especially in paragraph 1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, and in the Letter written in 1994 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Annus internationalis Familiae. That notwithstanding, the aforementioned authors offer various interpretations of the above-cited canon that exclude from its application the situation of those who are divorced and remarried. For example, since the text speaks of ‘grave sin’, it would be necessary to establish the presence of all the conditions required for the existence of mortal sin, including those which are subjective, necessitating a judgment of a type that a minister of Communion could not make ab externo; moreover, given that the text speaks of those who ‘obstinately’ persist in that sin, it would be necessary to verify an attitude of defiance on the part of an individual who had received a legitimate warning from the Pastor. (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Declaration, Concerning the admission to Holy Communion of Faithful who are divorced and remarried, July 6, 2000)
Once again, we inquire: did the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts not have mind a certain Archbishop Bergoglio at the time of promulgating this document, when it mentions that some exclude in practice the situation of the divorced that has remarried of the prohibition to receive Holy Communion alleging subjective conditions?
The text deserves to transcribed in its entirety:
- Given this alleged contrast between the discipline of the 1983 Code and the constant teachings of the Church in this area, this Pontifical Council, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments declares the following:
- The prohibition found in the cited canon, by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church. The scriptural text on which the ecclesial tradition has always relied is that of St. Paul: ‘This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself.’
This text concerns in the first place the individual faithful and their moral conscience, a reality that is expressed as well by the Code in can. 916. But the unworthiness that comes from being in a state of sin also poses a serious juridical problem in the Church: indeed the canon of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that is parallel to can. 915 CIC of the Latin Church makes reference to the term ‘unworthy’: ‘Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist’ (can. 712). In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.
- Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon’s substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading. One cannot confuse respect for the wording of the law (cfr. can. 17) with the improper use of the very same wording as an instrument for relativizing the precepts or emptying them of their substance.
The phrase ‘and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable. The three required conditions are:
a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;
b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.
c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin.
So then, why all the complex and heart-rending cases brought up by Francis, that drive us to tears?
These situations have always existed throughout the History of the Church. Let’s not forget that human nature is the same, and it was the Church that elevated it from the most wretched condition to the heights of morality demanded by God; within the degradation of the Roman Empire (denounced so astutely by Saint Paul in Romans 1, 26 – 27, and by Saint Augustine within his brilliant work the ‘City of God’, and by so many other saints) or in any other situation where Christ is not the center of human life, degraded in their nature by original sin. And the Church, as a tender Mother, has always known how to attend to these situations, as the document of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts demonstrates. Citing Familiaris Consortio, even using the moving example – mentioned by Francis also (but he uses it to arrive at an opposite conclusion) – of children born of a second union.
- Those faithful who are divorced and remarried would not be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin who would not be able, for serious motives – such as, for example, the upbringing of the children – ‘to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses’ (Familiaris consortio, no. 84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo. (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Declaration, Concerning the admission to Holy Communion of Faithful who are divorced and remarried, July 6, 2000)
Finally, the document of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts ends with words of true maternal solicitude that perfectly express how the Church thinks and acts in light of these problems:
- Bearing in mind the nature of the above-cited norm (cfr. no. 1), no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.
- The Church reaffirms her maternal solicitude for the faithful who find themselves in this or other analogous situations that impede them from being admitted to the Eucharistic table. What is presented in this Declaration is not in contradiction with the great desire to encourage the participation of these children in the life of the Church, in the many forms compatible with their situation that are already possible for them. Moreover, the obligation of reiterating this impossibility of admission to the Eucharist is required for genuine pastoral care and for an authentic concern for the well-being of these faithful and of the whole Church, being that it indicates the conditions necessary for the fullness of that conversion to which all are always invited by the Lord, particularly during this Holy Year of the Great Jubilee.
Hopefully, after this study, some doubts created by Francis’ words have been cleared up. We shall continue on this topic in another study…