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The Vatican is striking back at conservative critics of Pope Francis’ landmark document on family life, ratcheting up its defense of the pope with new vigor as bishops begin implementing the document around the world.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Wednesday carried a lengthy essay by an Italian Catholic historian insisting that Francis’ “The Joy of Love” was absolutely in line with his predecessors and church doctrine on the thorny issue of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.
From L’Osservatore Romano’s response, written by Rocco Buttiglione, The Endowed Chair of John Paul II in Philosophy and the History of European Institutions:
Can we imagine circumstances in which a divorced and remarried person finds himself or herself living in a situation of serious sin without full knowledge or deliberate consent? Perhaps a woman was baptized but never truly evangelized, entered marriage superficially, and then her spouse abandoned her. Perhaps a man entered a union with someone he was helping in a moment of serious crisis. He sincerely loved her and became a good father (or a woman a good mother) for the sake of the children the spouse had from the first marriage. You might suggest to such a person that he or she live with his or her mate as brother or sister. But what if the partner refuses to do so? Perhaps, at some point in his or her tormented life, a person such as this encounters the beauty of faith and is truly evangelized for the first time. Or perhaps the first marriage is truly invalid, but there is no reasonable access to an ecclesiastical tribunal or any reasonable way to present evidence that demonstrates the invalidity. There is no reason to keep listing examples because we don’t want to travel down the road of infinite casuistry. But what does Amoris Laetitia tell us about such cases? Perhaps it would be better to begin with that the exhortation does not say. It does not say that remarried divorced persons can tranquilly receive communion. The Pope invites divorced and remarried persons to undertake (or continue walking along) the path of conversion. He invites them to question their conscience and to find help from a spiritual director. He invites them to go to confession and to be open about their situation. He invites penitents and confessors to walk the path of spiritual discernment. The Apostolic Exhortation does not say at what point along that path they can receive absolution and approach to receive the Eucharist. It does not say so because the variety of situations and human circumstances is too vast. The path the Pope proposes to divorced and remarried persons is exactly the same the Church proposes to all sinners: go to confession, and the priest, once he has considered all the circumstances, will decide whether to give you absolution and admit you to the Eucharist or not. Again, there is no doubt as to whether the penitent is living in an objective situation of grave sin, except in the limited case of an invalid marriage. Whether he or she is carrying the full subjective responsibility and is at fault remains to be seen. For this reason, he or she should go to confession. …There is no circumstance that can render an intrinsically evil act good, but the circumstances can increase or diminish the moral responsibility of the one who performs the act. This is precisely what Pope Francis is talking about in Amoris Laetitia. Thus there is no “ethics of circumstance” in Amoris Laetitia, but rather the classic Thomistic balance that distinguishes between the judgment of the act and the judgment of the one performing the act, in which case attenuating or exonerating circumstances need to be considered.