Within 90 minutes of the Te Deum being sung at the end of Synod-2015’s last working day, controversy broke out over the meaning of the three paragraphs in the Synod final report that had received the largest number of negative votes from the Synod fathers, although not the one third necessary to block their inclusion in the final text.
After these paragraphs had first been considered by the Synod fathers on Thursday night, several dozen amendments to the draft final report were offered, many of them proposing dropping one, two, or all three of the paragraphs in question because of perceived ambiguities of expression. About 20 similar suggestions were made in the general assembly’s discussion of the first draft of the final report on Friday morning. These proposals were not accepted by the drafting commission, but a crucial addition was inserted into the text; more on that in a moment.
Here is my translation of the three controverted paragraphs, made from the Italian original as released by the Holy See Press Office:
This integration is also necessary for the care and Christian education of their children, which is the most important consideration. For the Christian community to care for these people does not weaken [the Church’s] faith and its witness to the indissolubility of marriage; rather, in this care the Church properly expresses her charity.
Further, it cannot be denied that in some circumstances, “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or abrogated” [Catechism of the Catholic Church 1735] because of various conditions. In consequence, judgment about an objective situation need not lead to a judgment of “subjective imputability” [Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a].
In certain circumstances people have great difficulty in acting in a different way. Therefore, while maintaining a general norm, it is necessary to recognise that responsibility for a certain action or decision is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while still taking account of a properly formed conscience in persons, must make provision for these situations. The consequences of acts are not necessarily the same in every case.
Some exegetical notes:
⇒ The possibility of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried is not mentioned in these paragraphs or in the entire final report.
⇒ The italicised phrase in paragraph 85 above (which is “emphasis added”) was inserted into the re-drafted final report after the paragraph was criticised by the Synod fathers to confirm that the teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, and on worthiness to receive Holy Communion, remain the foundation from which “pastoral accompaniment” and “discernment” are to proceed. The construction of the entire sentence makes clear, or should, that the pastoral guidance of the bishop (and, by extension, the work of priests) is accountable to that baseline of settled teaching.
⇒ The teaching of John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio 84 is the operative and “comprehensive criterion” in these difficult and delicate pastoral situations. It was proposed in several modi (amendments) submitted this past Friday morning that section 84 of Familiaris Consortio be cited in full in the Synod’s final report; ambiguities would have been avoided had those amendments been accepted. But if Familiaris Consortio 84 is indeed the “comprehensive criterion” for pastoral and spiritual discernment in these circumstances, that “comprehensiveness” would certainly seem to include the following, which appears four sentences after the material cited in #85 above: “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. 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 that 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.”
⇒ There is no suggestion in these three paragraphs or in the final report that “doctrine” can be separated from “practice” in the matter of the worthiness of the divorced and civilly remarried to receive Holy Communion.
⇒ The Kasper Proposal does not appear in these three paragraphs on in the final report, because it was decisively rejected by the Synod fathers.
⇒ The final report does not endorse “Local-Option Catholicism,” ie, the devolution of authority in these matters to regional or national conferences of bishops, or to local bishops or pastors.
⇒ The final report makes clear that “conscience,” properly understood, is a rightly informed conscience, one formed in and by the truth; which is to say, “conscience” is not simply an expression of a person’s will. The statements on conscience in #84-86 of the final report should be read in light of that affirmation.
All of which suggests that claims from certain German bishops, repeated in parts of the world media, that these three paragraphs amount to a tacit vindication of the Kasper Proposal in any of its various iterations – Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried after a “penitential path”; devolution of authority over this to bishops’ conferences; an appeal to the rights of “conscience” – will not withstand serious scrutiny. Media reports to the effect that these paragraphs include an endorsement of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried are based on ignorance of the text or vulnerability to the German spin machine.
The language in the three paragraphs is sometimes ambiguous, especially if one is looking for ambiguity. But if read through the “comprehensive” prism of Familiaris Consortio 84 in its entirety, these three paragraphs – with their welcome and touching determination to reach out to the divorced and civilly remarried – are not only compatible with the classic doctrine and sacramental discipline of the Catholic Church; they reinforce it, by stating plainly that that teaching is the foundation from which are true pastoral accompaniment takes place.
Distinguished Senior Fellow and
William E Simon Chair in Catholic Studies,
Ethics and Public Policy Center
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