At the end I offer a solution. But be patient and read.
Sandro Magister provided an English translation of key parts of the Italian document issued by the Vicar of Rome, Card. Vallini (who runs the Diocese of Rome while the Pope popes), outlining how to implement the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia. Italian original HERE
Here are the paragraphs that concern the most controversial aspect of Amoris laetitia, that is, whether Communion can be given to those who are civilly divorced and remarried without any declaration of nullity of previous marriages, that is to say are, objectively, living in an adulterous relationship and who have not yet chosen the “brother and sister” path. My emphases and comments.
“The text of the apostolic exhortation does not go further, but footnote 351 states: ‘In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.’ The pope uses the conditional, so he is not saying that they must be admitted to the sacraments, although he does not exclude this in some cases and under some conditions [the underlining is in the text of the presentation – editor’s note]. Pope Francis develops the previous magisterium in the line of the hermeneutic of continuity and of exploration, and not in discontinuity and rupture. [!] He affirms that we must travel the ‘via caritatis’ of welcoming penitents, listening to them attentively, showing them the maternal face of the Church, inviting them to follow the path of Jesus, helping them to mature the right intention of opening themselves to the Gospel, and we must do this while paying attention to the circumstances of individual persons, to their consciences, without compromising the truth and prudence that will help to find the right way.
“It is most important to establish with all these persons and couples a ‘good pastoral relationship.’ That is to say, we must welcome them warmly, invite them to open themselves to participate in some way in ecclesial life, in family groups, in carrying out some service, e.g. charitable or liturgical (choir, prayer of the faithful, offertory procession). [So, people who are in objectively irregular situations, apparent to other people, can have liturgical roles? And note that “e.g.”. The one’s mentioned are not the only ones, it seems. How about distributing Communion?] In order to develop these processes it is more valuable than ever that there be the active presence of pastoral worker couples, and this will also be of great benefit to the climate of the community. These persons – the pope says – “need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church” (AL, 299). [Sincere question: Will making them feel so confortable also remove their incentive to rectify their situation? But if they can’t/won’t rectify their situation… we admit them to Communion?]
“This is not necessarily a matter of arriving at the sacraments, but of orienting them to live forms of integration in ecclesial life. [NB: Even though they are in an irregular situation, they are still obliged to attend Holy Mass on Sundays, etc. They are also obliged to confess their sins once a year. However, if they will not say with sincerity that they intend to amend their lives, they can’t be absolved. And though Father can be fooled, God cannot be fooled.] But when the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, meaning when their journey of faith has been long, sincere, and progressive, it is proposed that they live in continence; [NB: HERE IT IS…] if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, [that is, living as brother and sister in continence] ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist. This means a certain openness, as in the case in which there is the moral certainty that the first marriage was null but there are not the proofs to demonstrate this in a judicial setting; [I’ve never worked in a tribunal… but how do you arrive at a moral certainty without proofs of some kind?] but not however in the case in which, for example, their condition is shown off as if it were part of the Christian ideal, etc. [That last part… “ma non invece nel caso in cui, ad esempio, viene ostentata la propria condizione come se facesse parte dell’ideale cristiano, ecc.” Ummm… I think that word salad means something like they have to avoid the appearance that this set up (objective adulterers) is somehow in keeping with Christian morals. This is, I think, the Kasperite “tolerated but not accepted”. Their situation (adultery) is not “part of the Christian ideal”. Adulterers receiving Communion is “not part of the Christian ideal”. But we are going to give them Communion anyway.]
VI) “How are we to understand this openness? Certainly not in the sense of an indiscriminate access to the sacraments, as sometimes happens, [Indeed it does! And it is going to continue to happen, probably more than ever now because they will claim the cover of Amoris laetitia. Am I wrong?] but of a discernment that would distinguish adequately case by case. Who can decide? From the tenor of the text and from the ‘mens’ of its Author it does not seem to me that there could be any solution other than that of the internal forum. In fact, the internal forum is the favorable way for opening the heart to the most intimate confidences, and if a relationship of trust has been established over time with a confessor or with a spiritual guide, it is possible to begin and develop with him an itinerary of long, patient conversion, made of small steps and of progressive verifications. [Sincere question: If Fr. Spike works with Bill and Sue and they together decide that they can receive Communion, and if they do this in the internal forum, then how is Fr. Spike supposed to explain to people who know Bill and Sue why they can receive Communion? How to avoid scandal? I have an idea about this. See below.]
“So it can be none other than the confessor, at a certain point, in his conscience, after much reflection and prayer, who must assume the responsibility before God and the penitent and ask that the access take place in a discreet manner. In these cases there is no interruption of the journey of discernment (AL, 303; ‘dynamic discernment’) for the sake of reaching new stages toward the full Christian ideal.” [So the ultimate goal is either separation of the couple or living in continence and… AND… avoiding scandal. Don’t forget the issue of scandal in this.]
The document bobs and weaves, but, from what I can tell, it says, yes, Communion can be given to them. That is, Communion can be given to people who are, at the time of Communion, more than likely not in the state of grace. Right? Isn’t that what is being said?
it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist.
That “this decision is difficult to practice” means that the couple who are not married are still having adulterous sexual relations. That “for the stability of the couple” must mean that without sexual relations they are not a “couple”, and that it is, for one reason or another, important that they (who aren’t married) stay together and have sex together. No?
However…. If they have entered into a process with a priest who as helped them to see what their situation is according to the teaching of Christ and His Church, then they know that what they are doing is wrong. They know that they have committed a mortal sin. They know that are not properly disposed to receive. Wouldn’t that be part of what the priest must help them to understand?
But… they can receive anyway? Am I missing something?
Let’s say that Amoris laetitia is being properly interpreted here. Let’s say that the Pope really did intend this. This is, after all, the Pope’s diocese, right? This must be what this Pope really wants. This must really show the mens of Pope Francis.
How do we work with this?
We get the whole bit about “graduality”. We get the whole thing about “for the sake of reaching the full Christian ideal”. We also can imagine that the situation being described is going to be relatively rare.
I cannot see anyway around this. It must be either one way or the other. It is either 1) that they say that they will not live in continence as brother and sister, or 2) they say that they will try to live in continence as brother and sister. If they say they won’t, and they don’t, they cannot be admitted to Communion. They must not approach to receive Communion. That would be a mortal sin and a sacrilege. If, on the other hand, they say that they will try, really try, if they confess their sins and really intend to live in continence, they probably can be admitted to Communion – remoto scandalo – provided that scandal is avoided.
Fr. Z’s Solution:
If, in those rare circumstances when such a couple might be able to receive Communion, why not give them Holy Communion outside of Mass in the rectory? That would avoid scandal. Right?
Think about it. If reception of Communion is so important to them because they a) really understand what the Eucharist is… WHO the Eucharist is and b) the reflect on the Four Last Things and c) they are on this “journey” and living in continence, etc., then they should be willing to attend Mass according to their obligation (like everyone else) but not receive during Mass so that they will avoid even a small risk of giving scandal. If they have charity toward their neighbors, they would want to avoid scandal and putting the priest in a tough spot. Right?
They should be thrilled to receive Communion but out of sight, in the rectory, away from public view. Right?
But it must be asked: What is it that they really want? Is it the Eucharist?
What does reception of Communion mean to them? Is the moment of Communion fully about reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Savior and King of Fearful Majesty? Or is Communion about being with other people, sharing a moment together, being part of the group, being affirmed as they are?
What does Communion mean?
Is reception of Holy Communion now about something other than getting to heaven?
I keep turning this over and over in my head, asking: If they really get the Eucharist, the full implications of receiving as Paul describes in 1 Cor 11:27 (“Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.”), if they really get the Four Last Things, then … would they really want to put at risk their eternal salvation?
If they have been working with a sound priest who helps them to understand what mortal sin is, what matrimony is according to the Church’s teachings, would they really want to receive Communion in their irregular state?
Let’s say that they get all these things. Let’s say they decided to live in continence because its the right thing to do, because of their love of the Lord and out of their desire for graces of Communion in the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of their Savior. Let’s grant this scenario is possible. Fine. There may be times when they fail in their determination to live in continence and they have sexual relations. They go to confession and start over. Fine. That’s what we all do when we sin in any way. We go to confession with a firm purpose of amendment and start over with God’s help. They might be living in a very near occasion of sin, but perhaps there are legitimate reasons for that, such as the care of children, etc. Okay.
The issue of scandal is still going to loom over this.
My solution might be the way to go: Communion in private, outside of public Mass, away from observing eyes.
QUAERITUR: We must ask of ourselves as a Church a hard question. Has reception of Holy Communion come to be about something other than getting to heaven?
PS: As I have written before, faithful priests will continue to do what they do, and faithless priests will continue to do what they do. The divide between them will grow greater and unity between parishes and dioceses will diminish.