An Argentine bishop has reaffirmed Church teaching on Communion for the remarried, in a pastoral letter which addresses “confusion” following Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
Bishop Pedro Daniel Martinez Perea of San Luis praised Amoris Laetitia as “a great message of hope” and said that there was “no basis” for arguing that the text could alter Church teaching.
Some prominent figures have claimed that Amoris Laetitia had changed Catholic doctrine. The two bishops of Malta issued a letter saying that it might be “impossible” to avoid having sex outside marriage. Therefore, they said, the divorced and civilly remarried could receive Communion without resolving to live as brother and sister. The bishops of Buenos Aires have also said that it is not always necessary for the divorced and remarried to live in continence.
But Bishop Martinez said the document must be read in line with the traditional teaching of the Church, which says that sex outside marriage is wrong and that the divorced and remarried can only receive Communion if they resolve to live as brother and sister.
This traditional teaching has also been affirmed recently by the bishops of Poland, the Alberta region in Canada and the Ordinariate, among others. Last month Cardinal John Onaiyekan became the latest member of the College of Cardinals to say that Amoris Laetitia has not altered Church teaching on Communion.
However, others such as Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop in Kazakhstan, have suggested that Amoris Laetitia is dangerous because it might cause Catholics to doubt some teachings.
In his letter, which was published in June but has been brought to light by the Catholic News Agency, Bishop Martinez reaffirmed that Communion can only be received by those who have confessed grave sin with a firm purpose of amendment.
He remarked that, if the divorced and remarried could receive Communion without resolving to live “as brother and sister”, this would also mean that unmarried couples who are sleeping together could receive the Eucharist.
The pastoral letter argues that Amoris Laetitia must be read in “continuity” with the rest of the magisterium, and cites texts including Pope St John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1994 Letter to Bishops – all of which reaffirmed the traditional prohibition on Communion for the divorced and remarried. The bishop also referred to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts’ 2000 judgment that this prohibition was a part of God’s unchangeable law, rather than a mere human regulation.
In this respect, Bishop Martinez writes, Amoris Laetitia has changed “neither doctrine nor ecclesiastical discipline”.
In a detailed section of his pastoral letter, Bishop Martinez suggests that “confusion” has sometimes arisen, with some readers of Amoris Laetitia suggesting that it had changed Catholic teaching. The bishop says that this confusion is rooted in mistakes about the nature of doctrine.
Some, for instance, believe that the Church is “in the same situation as in its beginnings, when the Apostles, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, decided on whether they needed to impose on the Gentiles the law of circumcision, as prescribed by the law of Moses (Acts 15)”.
However, Bishop Martinez said, the Church teaches that revelation finished with the death of the last apostle. It is therefore a mistake to believe that that today’s bishops can contradict previous doctrines.
Rather than “making up” doctrine, the bishop said, the bishops today are meant to “transmit it faithfully, defend it from errors, and explain it in the context of the homogenous development of doctrine.”
Another error, Bishop Martinez suggested, was to divide dogma from practical morality; or to divide the Church between what was “institutional, visible, the letter, the law, the dogma” on the one hand, and what is “charismatic, invisible, of the spirit, of charity, of the pastoral” on the other. This dualistic idea of the Church was typical of past thinkers, he said, such as Tertullian (who became a Montanist heretic) and George Tyrrell (a leading modernist thinker). But such dualism had been condemned as “simply anti-Catholic” by Pius XII, the bishop said.
Bishop Martinez said that Amoris Laetitia does contain a “novelty”, however: a new call to give a “merciful welcome” to those in complex situations. This mercy also impels us, he said, to explain the content of the faith.