Wednesday 7 February 2018

Lisbon's document on the reception of chapter VIII of the apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”

This is the full text of the document published on February 6th by the Patriarchate of Lisbon, regarding application of chapter VIII of Amoris laetitia. The translation is not official, it was entirely done by me, if you quote or use it, please credit with link or my name (Filipe d'Avillez).
Passages of AL and all other official documents are from the original English translations available on the Vatican website. The only exception is the Pope's letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires and Agostino Vallini's norms for the diocese of Rome, which were translated by me.

Note on the reception of chapter VIII of the apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”

1. In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, concerning love in the family (AL), published on March 19th 2016, Pope Francis gives us a general Christian framework for understanding marriage and the family and some useful indications on the respective preparation and accompaniment. In chapter VIII - Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness – he does not forget the fragile situations, especially the so-called “irregular” ones, in which the marriage was followed by rupture and a civil marriage. These people also should be accompanied: “Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop” (AL, 300).

This is my aim with this note, in which I refer directly to three authorised documents: Amoris Laetitia, the correspondence between the Bishops of the Pastoral Region of Buenos Aires and Pope Francis and the indications given to the priests of the Pope’s diocese (Rome) by his Cardinal-vicar. Naturally, these documents should be read in full.

Besides all alse that should be done in the scope of the church, including the diocesan tribunal, the following should be noted: “Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL, 300).

And, regarding the forming of conscience: “Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (AL, 303)

It is against this background that the Pope says: “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end” (AL, 305). This section adds, in footnote 351, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.”

We should note the restrictive character (in certain cases) and the conditional nature “can” of the sentence. And the Pope further insists: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur […] Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown” (AL, 307).

2. On September 5th 2016, the Bishops of the Pastoral Region of Buenos Aires published a Note with basic criteria for the application of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. In a letter written that same day, the Pope thanked them for the document in these terms. “The text is very good and fully lays out the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations”. The recente publication of these documents in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, CVIII/10 (2017) p. 1071 and following, requires our indispensable reception. The text were published in Portuguese in Lumen, September/October 2016, P. 73 and following.

Granted this authority, the note gives us a sequence of application of the chapter, of which I highlight the following passages:

a) Regarding the purpose: “Firstly, we should remember that it is not right to speak of giving ‘permission’ for access to the sacraments, but rather of a discernment process under the guidance of a pastor. This is a ‘personal and pastoral discernment’ (AL, 300)”. And also “This path does not necessarily end with receiving the sacraments, but may lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church: a more active presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, or giving time to church activities etc. (cf. AL 299).”

b) As for the process: “…the priest may suggest a decision to live in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option (cf. footnote 329) and offers the possibility of having access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose (cf. footnote 364, recalling the teaching that Saint John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, dated 22 March, 1996). It continues: “In other, more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it comes to be recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes they would incur a subsequent wrong by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351). These sacraments, in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.
c) Meanwhile, the note proceeds: “But we have to avoid understanding this possibility as an unlimited access to the sacraments, as if all situations warrant it. The idea is to properly discern each case. For example, special care is called for in “a new union arising from a recent divorce” or in “the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family” (298). Also, when there is a sort of justification or ostentation of the person’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal” (297). In these difficult cases, we should be patient companions, looking for ways of integrating them (cf. 297, 299) […] Where there are unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly scandalous.

d) To these observations, the following are added: “t may be right for eventual access to sacraments to take place privately, especially where situations of conflict might arise. But at the same time, we have to accompany our communities in their growing understanding and welcome, without this implying creating confusion about the teaching of the Church on the indissoluble marriage.”

e) And the discernment process is to continue, without giving up on the proposal of Christian marriage in its entirety: “Discernment is not closed, because it “is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can ena­ble the ideal to be more fully realized” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and with confidence in the help of grace.”

We can also conclude that, for the bishops who sign this note, discernment should not focus only on what happened or still does happen, but should aim for full configuration to the gospel truth on marriage: see Mt 5, 31-32; 19, 3-9; Mk 10, 2-12; Lk 16, 18.

3. Very soon afterwards, on September 19th 2016, the then Papal Cardinal Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Agostino Vallini, spoke on this issue at the dioceses’ pastoral congress. Regarding these cases and the role of the priest, who neither replaces nor disregards conscience, he said the following: “How should this opening be understood? Surely not in the sense of indiscriminate access to the sacraments, as sometimes happens, but as a discernment which adequately distinguishes, case by case. Who can decide? Based on the content of the text and the mens of its author, I see no other solution but the internal forum. Indeed, the internal forum is a favourable path to open the heart to the most intimate confidences and, if a relationship of trust is built up over time with a confessor or spiritual guide, it is possible to begin and develop with him a long, patient itinerary of conversion, made up of small steps and progressive checks. Therefore, it can be no other than the confessor, at a certain point, who in his conscience, following much reflection and prayer, takes upon himself the responsibility before God and the penitent, to ask that the sacraments be received in a reserved manner. In these cases the discernment does not end (cf. AL, 303: dynamic discernment) in order to reach new levels on the route to the fullness of the Christian ideal”. And he added: “The very delicate task of discerning, case by case, the will of God regarding these people requires that we, priests, prepare ourselves well so as to be capable of making these serious decisions”. This preparation is extendable to “lay pastoral agents”.

4. While insisting on the cordial and respectful welcoming of all people, especially the mentioned cases, Pope Francis hopes above all to underscore the value of Christian marriage and the need to prepare and accompany it. This is an insistence taken up all through Amoris laetitia, as can be seen from excerpts such as this one: “As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities, or out of a desire to be fashionable or a sense of helplessness in the face of human and moral failings. We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer” (AL, 35).

Both before and after the celebration of the marriage, Pope Francis refers to its binding character: “Both short-term and long-term marriage preparation should ensure that the couple do not view the wedding ceremony as the end of the road, but instead embark upon marriage as a lifelong calling based on a firm and realistic decision to face all trials and difficult moments together”, and, close to the end: “marital spirituality is a spirituality of the bond, in which divine love dwells.” (AL, 315).

Those who follow Pope Francis’ magisterium will be aware of this insistence. Na insistence we should share, in order to be faithful to his intention. Even more recently: “Unfortunately, it is a fact that, especially in the West, the family is considered an obsolete institution.  Today fleeting relationships are preferred to the stability of a definitive life project.  But a house built on the sand of frail and fickle relationships cannot stand.  What is needed instead is a rock on which to build solid foundations.  And this rock is precisely that faithful and indissoluble communion of love that joins man and woman, a communion that has an austere and simple beauty, a sacred and inviolable character and a natural role in the social order.” (Speech to the diplomatic corps, January 2018).

5. "Bearing all this in mind, I present herein some operative guidelines: a) To accompany and integrate people into the life of the community, in line with the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortations Familiaris Consortio, 84, Sacramentum Caritatis, 29 and Amoris Laetitia, 299 (see appendix). b) Carefully examine the specificity of each case. c) Not to exclude recourse to the diocesan tribunal, whenever there is doubt concerning the validity of the marriage. d) In cases in which validity is ascertained, not to neglect the proposal of a life in continence in the new situation. e) To bear in mind exceptional circumstances and the possibility of the sacraments, in line with the aforementioned apostolic exhortation and documents. f) To continue the process of discernment, bringing the practice ever closer to the ideal of Christian marriage and sacramental consistency.”

Meeting of Vicars, February 6th, 2018

+ Manuel, Cardinal Patriarch


  • St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 84: “Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.”
  • Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 29: “… Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.” 
  • Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 299: I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which would allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surmounted. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important”

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