Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation offers the same approach to remarried couples as St John Paul II, according to Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Speaking at a press conference at the end of the Bishops of England and Wales’s spring meeting, the Cardinal said that Pope Francis’s approach was “not new” and that it described the same “tension” as St John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio.
John Paul II said that remarried people should not be allowed access to communion unless they live “in complete continence”.
Cardinal Nichols said that John Paul II was describing “the same tension that is essentially in this exhortation. That objectively speaking, there is something incompatible between the principle of entering a second marriage” and the principle of “fidelity”.
He added that “in Familiaris Consortio, St Pope John Paul said ‘Pastors must distinguish, pastors must discern.’”
The cardinal was referring to John Paul II’s statement that “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations.”
Cardinal Nichols added: “I think that what Pope Francis has done is drawn us into a much, much deeper, more sensitive, more merciful understanding. As I say, this is not new.”
Cardinal Nichols said the Pope’s “central point” was that love is “a living enterprise” which cannot be viewed “in a static way”. The cardinal said that pastoral discernment, which helped to show someone the “next step”, “has always been part of the treasury of the Church”.
The exhortation’s “only categorical statement” is that the teaching of the Church is unchanged, Cardinal Nichols said.
“What this document makes clear is that there is a relationship to be explored between the objective teaching of the Church and the personal situation.”
Cardinal Nichols was responding to a question about Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who said at the press conference for the exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, that he didn’t “see why there should be a change” from John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio.
John Paul II said of the divorced and remarried: “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.
“This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.’”
Before the first family synod, Cardinal Nichols said of the proposal to relax rules on admission to communion: “I don’t see for myself where this area of manoeuvre opens up without quite a radical rethink of one or another [indissolubility or the Eucharist], so I go to this synod intent on listening to what people have to say.”
The bishops’ statement on Amoris Laetitia welcomes the document, and refers to the need to help families in “difficult situations…however untidy these may be”. It adds that “Prayer, discernment and the Sacrament of Reconciliation can help many grow in their relationship with God whatever their situation.”