A curious course on matrimony and family is taking place at the moment in the diocese of Austin, Texas. Curious because the three-day event, which began yesterday, is being led by Mgr Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota – while his office back in Rome appears to have had little or no involvement in the course’s preparation.
Judging from its content, its speaker, and its somewhat low-profile nature, the course could set out to push a certain interpretation of Amoris Laetitia in the USA: one which departs from traditional Church teaching on Communion for the remarried.
The course includes talks such as: “The Discernment, a necessary method for this Reformation: love and crisis of marriage and family according to the Magisterium of the last two Synods,” “Reconciliation and the Eucharist in regard to the divorced and remarried: guidelines and orientation regarding salvation of souls,” as well as “The Bishop, as Master of the Eucharist and of Discernment, sends and assists the parish priests in the search of the lost: divorced, remarried, civilly married, common life couples,” and “Fundamental Principles of the Reformation of Pope Francis on the canonical marriage process” (all italics in the original).
The course is mandatory for clergy of the diocese of Austin and invites all “Bishops, Priests, Judicial Vicars (Canonists), and Permanent Deacons and lay people who collaborate with Family Life and Tribunal” to participate.
The course seems to have been prepared by Mgr Pinto personally, since members of the Rota in Rome appear unaware that it is even happening. When contacted by the Catholic Herald, one Rota official said that in his office he had neither heard about the course nor about its preparation.
The content of the course may be guessed from Mgr Pinto’s previous contributions. He described the dubia, which asked Pope Francis to reaffirm Church teaching on the sacraments and the moral law, as “a very grave scandal”.
It is not the first time Mgr Pinto has acted as a sort of Vatican envoy on the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. In August 2017 he paid a visit to Costa Rica where he held a course for cardinals, bishops and priests from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
InfoCatolica reported Mgr Pinto as saying that that “pastors cannot know the conscience of the faithful and therefore […] it is up to the person himself to discern which path he should follow within the Church.” If he did say this – and it echoes some other Vatican officials’ words on Amoris Laetitia – one wonders how it can be reconciled with the teaching of previous popes.
For instance, John Paul II and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned the idea that the divorced and remarried, if living in a sexual relationship, could receive Communion. The CDF and the Pope taught that if the remarried received Communion anyway, “pastors and confessors, given the gravity of the matter and the spiritual good of these persons as well as the common good of the Church, have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church’s teaching.”
Mgr Pinto’s travels will continue: it is understood that the Archbishop of Trujillo, Mexico has invited him to give a course on marriage in July.
Although the texts of Mgr Pinto’s Texas course are not yet available, it seems probable that he will continue to support Communion for the remarried in some circumstances.
Given that the involvement of the Rota seems limited at best, it is likely that the initiative for the Texas trip comes partly from senior Vatican figures.
This suggests that some at the Vatican are trying to lead the US Church into a certain interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Blase Cupich, a close associate of Pope Francis, recently helped to lead three seminars for US bishops on Amoris Laetitia. He believes that “conscience” should ultimately determine the reception of Communion.
Cardinal Cupich’s seminars were invitation-only and closed to the media, rather as Mgr Pinto’s event has been little publicised – perhaps in order to avoid criticism of the content of the respective courses.
It is easy to see why there would be criticism. As Cardinal Willem Eijk recently warned, “The question of whether the so-called divorced and remarried can be allowed to receive sacramental absolution and therefore the Eucharist is cracking the Church apart.” If Mgr Pinto’s course fails to reaffirm the Church’s traditional doctrine, it can only lead to more such confusion and grief.