EWTN's The World Over panel expresses grave concerns over Amoris Laetitia and the Pope's recent letter to the Argentinian Bishops

October 3, 2016

EWTN's The World Over panel expresses
Grave concerns over Amoris Laetitia
And the Pope's recent letter to the Argentinian Bishops

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Catholic world is still grappling with Pope Francis' controversial apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, particularly concerning the sensitive issue of Communion for divorced and remarried couples. The document's language, in section 8, is not clear on whether Communion for those who are divorced or remarried without an annulment is permitted. Many words have been spoken and written in an effort to understand and interpret this ambiguous document.

Recently, however, the controversy has been further inflamed by the appearance of a letter Pope Francis wrote to the bishops of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in response to their implementation document for Amoris Laetitia, which allows for Communion to some couples that have been divorced and remarried. To which, in response, the Pope's letter stated: 'There can be no other interpretation'.

In the September 15th episode of the World Over, Raymond Arroyo discussed the consequences and implications of the Pope’s letter and the Argentian Bishops' implementation document with Fr. Gerald Murray and Robert Royal. Fr. Murray is a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of New York and Mr. Royal is the editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing. This duo, termed the Papal Posse by Arroyo, expressed serious reservations about these recent developments. Before we examine their statements, here are the two documents in question.

Argentinian Bishops’ Document

5) When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).

6) In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace.

7) However, it is necessary to avoid understanding this possibility as an unrestricted access to the sacraments, or as though any situation might justify it. What is proposed is a discernment that adequately distinguishes each case. For example, 'a new union that comes out of a recent divorce' or 'the situation of someone who has repeatedly failed in his family commitments' (298) requires special care. [This applies] as well when there is a sort of defense or flaunting of the particular situation 'as if it were part of the Christian ideal' (297). In these more difficult cases, the pastors must accompany with patience, seeking some way of integration (cf. 297, 299).


Pope Francis' Letter

I received the document from the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region, 'Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia.' Thank you very much for sending it to me. I thank you for the work they have done on this: a true example of accompaniment for the priests...and we all know how necessary is this closeness of the bishop with his clergy and the clergy with the bishop. The neighbor 'closest' to the bishop is the priest, and the commandment to love one's neighbor as one's self begins for us, the bishops, precisely with our priests.

The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations. And I am certain that it will do much good.

May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity.


Here are a few excerpts from the panel’s discussion which illustrate the serious reservations and concerns expressed.

Mr. Royal: 'We finally do, I think, have an explicit statement from the Holy Father that there are, maybe very few, but there are some cases where people divorced and remarried, with active sexual lives, what used to be called living in adulterous relationships, that they can receive communion.'

Fr. Murray: 'The Pope has made it absolutely clear, that in his opinion, and in his way of looking at things, there are circumstances that people might find themselves in, that they can continue to live in an adulterous relationship and at the same time receive communion. Now the reason he says that is they have diminished culpability for their adulterous behavior. And frankly, I am not convinced by that argument at all…and there are many theologians, canonists and bishops who have said this is not satisfactory because, as I think is now much clearer…this is a direct contradiction to what St. John Paul the Second said in Familiaris Consortio. So we are basically at loggerheads here. One Pope says you have to live in continence if you are in an invalid marriage, if you want to receive the sacraments – and now Pope Francis is saying that in some circumstances that is not necessary. This is a very unsatisfactory situation to be in.'

Mr. Royal: 'If you read it very strictly it is a very small number of people… but as you know, in modern America and in the modern world more generally everybody thinks he is a special case, and everyone thinks theirs is a hard case and a rationale for why they should be given an exemption, so I think this is going to lead to a lot of mischief...'

Fr. Murray: 'If you are living in an adulterous second marriage, and you approach Holy Communion at Mass, this is a contradiction of what God expects of you. Mitigating circumstances do not give you a get out of jail card, mitigating circumstances is about culpability for sin. Those apply in retrospect, you look back when you are making your examination for confession, what did I do, was anything involved. If you are planning on committing adultery tomorrow and the day after, you can’t claim mitigating circumstances, you have to say the call to conversion applies to me just like it does to everyone else.'

Mr. Royal: 'All along I have said, and I was at both Synods along with Father, we shouldn’t close the door until we are sure of exactly what the Pope means, until we have an explicit statement from him we should presume that he is still in continuity… and I think what he is trying to do is to extend mercy, whether you believe it is a good idea or not…'

Mr. Arroyo: 'And you believe this personal letter written to these bishops constitutes that explicit statement. Yes an explicit statement of some exceptions…'

Mr. Royal: 'And I can’t help but think in fact we are already seeing it…and it’s likely to only get worse, now that this has been stated explicitly.'

Mr. Royal: 'Could we say, on the basis of this, that a gay couple who are committed to one another and faithful to one another…and who have always had same sex attraction, through no fault of their own.. are there mitigating circumstances here?'

Fr. Murray: 'The discipline of the sacraments, that is what is attempting to be changed here and in fact I think it is quite clear that the Pope has given a change, but that in my opinion is going to be a matter that will disappear in the future because it is not grounded in… The purpose of law is to defend the integrity of the sacramental system. I think this does just the opposite, and causes problems.'

If you didn’t catch this episode of The World Over, it is well worth the time to watch the 12-minute segment. You can find it on YouTube.

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By Andrew Parrish

Andrew Parrish is a 2015 graduate of the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. He holds a BA in Philosophy.

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