For some, this uncertain outcome was intentional. Fr. Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, the superior general of the Jesuits whom Pope Francis included on the commission charged with writing the final “Relatio,” openly claimed it as a success just after the synod ended:
“In everyone’s mind, on the commission, the idea was to prepare a document that would leave the doors open, so that the pope could come and go, do as he sees fit.”
And in fact all the expectations are now focused on what Francis will say. Who for his part already on October 28 revealed his intentions by telephone to his friend Eugenio Scalfari, a professed atheist and the founder of the leading newspaper of Italian secularist thought, “La Repubblica,” who promptly transcribed the pope’s words as follows:
“The diverse opinion of the bishops is part of this modernity of the Church and of the diverse societies in which she operated, but the goal is the same, and for that which regards the admission of the divorced to the sacraments, it confirms that this principle has been accepted by the synod. This is bottom line result, the de facto appraisals are entrusted to the confessors, but at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask will be admitted.”
On November 2 Fr. Federico Lombardi, questioned in this regard by the National Catholic Register, said however that what Scalfari reported “is in no way reliable and cannot be considered as the Pope’s thinking.”
But apart from the suspense over what Francis thinks and will say, the question remains. How well-founded is the interpretation of the final document of the synod – and above all of its paragraphs on the crucial point, that of communion for the divorced and remarried – as a text “open” to multiple discordant interpretations?
Below is the first in-depth analysis of this issue. It was written for http://www.chiesa by the French Dominican theologian Thomas Michelet, a writer for the prestigious journal “Nova et Vetera” of the theological faculty of Freiburg.
His conclusion is that if a clear and unequivocal magisterial document in line with tradition is not produced, the different pastoral practices already in existence will continue to develop, on one side fully in keeping with orthodoxy and on the other not, with the inevitable result of a “de facto schism,” legitimized for both sides by the contrasting dual interpretation of the results of the synod.
But let’s see how Fr. Michelet comes to this conclusion.
With one observation. The interpretive framework that Michelet adopts in the analysis of the synodal text is the same one applied by Benedict XVI to the postcouncil, in the memorable address of December 22, 2005 in which he contrasted the “hermeneutic of continuity” with the “hermeneutic of rupture”:
What does the synod really say about the divorced and remarried?
by Thomas Michelet O.P.
It will have escaped no one that the question of the “divorced and remarried” (who should instead be called “separated-recommitted”) was the one most hotly debated during this whole synod on the family, by the synod fathers, by the faithful, and also by the general public, even making the front page of the newspapers regularly, something not seen for a long time. In short, few issues have raised as much interest.
The complexity of the debate is reflected in the official documents, the points directly regarding the matter being the ones that got the smallest number of votes in favor each time, in spite of the succession of drafts aimed at reaching a broad consensus. But this is also found in the just as contradictory evaluations in the media, which proclaim according to the situation the victory of one camp or the other, either to rejoice or to mourn over it: some seeing case-by-case access to communion for the divorced as the inauguration of a tranquil revolution toward a new Church; others noting instead its conspicuous absence in the final document and therefore the firm preservation of the “status quo ante.”
But let’s not set up too hasty an opposition between “the synod of the media” and the real one, and honestly admit that this conflict of interpretation has its source, at least in part, in the formulation of the text itself, which on this precise point lacks the clarity and precision that one might have hoped for after two years of work. As we had anticipated in July on http://www.chiesa, one may fear that quite a few synod fathers found themselves satisfied on this point of agreement for reasons that at bottom are extremely different, because the text allows different interpretations and the papering over of a division that remains in spite of everything and threatens to grow larger from now on, unless all is brought to light.
1. A difficult consensus
Everyone remembers that in the “Relatio synodi” of October 18 2014, paragraph 52 on the access of the divorced and remarried to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist as well as paragraph 53 on spiritual communion were widely rejected, not having reached a two-thirds majority, or 122 out of 183 synod fathers (no. 52: 104 placet and 74 non placet; no. 53: 112 placet and 64 non placet). To these two paragraphs must be added the one on pastoral care for persons of homosexual orientation (no. 55: 118 placet and 62 non placet). Nonetheless these formally rejected paragraphs still found themselves included in the official text that acted as a working document for the next stage of the synodal process, surely in order to foster a frank discussion that would not conceal any of the difficulties.
In the “Instrumentum laboris” of June 23, 2015, under the title “the penitential way,” paragraph 122 incorporated the previous paragraph 52, adding a paragraph 123 that began with the surprising statement that “there is a common agreement on the hypothesis of a path of reconciliation or penitential way.” The question then arose of what this mysterious agreement could be. All the more so in that the majority of synod fathers meeting in 2015 seemed instead to have expressed deep reservations in this regard, with the result that the hypothesis was ultimately not adopted, at least not in this formulation.
In the “Relatio synodi” of October 24, 2015, paragraphs 84 and 86 now present a new pastoral proposal under the title “Discernment and integration.” The number of synod fathers present having grown to 265, the two-thirds majority became 177 and was been reached with difficulty in the case of these three paragraphs, in one case with just one vote to spare: (no. 84: 187 placet and 72 non placet; no. 85: 178 placet and 80 non placet; no. 86: 190 placet and 64 non placet).
The 2015 “Relatio synodi” provides three magisterial references, all three contained in paragraph 85 and already present in the 2014 “Relatio synodi” and in the “Instrumentum laboris”: “Familiaris consortio” no. 84; Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1735; the June 24, 2000 declaration of the pontifical council for legislative texts. However, the September 14, 1994 document of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, referred to in no. 123 of the “Instrumentum laboris,” has not been reintroduced.
2. The citation of “Familiaris Consortio”
First let’s examine the citation of “Familiaris consortio” no. 84:
“Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.”
This text is presented here as “a comprehensive criterion, which remains the basis for the evaluation of these situations,” both for the priest whose duty is “to accompany the persons concerned on the way of discernment,” and for the faithful, in his own “examination of conscience, through moments of reflection and repentance.”
If one speaks of repentance, this implies the necessity of recognizing one’s faults and sins for the sake of obtaining forgiveness. It is therefore not right to affirm that this document sets aside every notion of sin. The fact remains, however, that it is no longer formulated in the title of the proposition, which now does not speak directly of penance but of discernment; and one may regret this absence on the doctrinal level even if it is certainly more agreeable on the pastoral level. Moreover, it is possible that there is a tendency to understand repentance more in terms of past faults (the Church that does penance for the sins of its members), while penance more often concerns past but also present situations (and even the sins of other persons), in order to obtain the conversion of the sinner and the reparation of the harm caused by his fault. The choice of the word “repentance” therefore risks leading one to consider remarriage after a divorce only as a fault of the past rather than as an “objectively disordered situation” still in effect, or even to examine only the faults of the past that may have led to this situation seen as not desired in itself and therefore not blameworthy. When it comes to this process, both in its comprehension and in its practice, one must therefore be capable of true “semantic discernment.”
On the other hand, “Familiaris Consortio” no. 84, recalling the need to distinguish these different situations, drew an identical conclusion in all cases: the impossibility of receiving communion unless one “regularizes” one’s situation in one way or another:
“However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
“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’.”
What can one gather from the absence of an explicit reference in the document to this powerful conclusion of “Familiaris Consortio”?
In a “hermeneutic of continuity” it will be maintained that silence equals consent, that the citation of a text refers to the whole text, which furnishes the citation with its true context. Therefore such a process of discernment can lead to the Eucharist only insofar as the believer has truly been able to emerge from this objectively disordered situation through a commitment kept by a firm intention, and has therefore been able to ask for the forgiveness of his faults and finally receive absolution. Short of this point one cannot receive communion.
In a “hermeneutic of rupture” it will be maintained that silence equals dissent. If the conclusion of “Familiaris Consortio” is not expressly included, this signifies that it has become obsolete; the family context having been completely changed since then, at the end of a transformation that the document calls not only cultural but also “anthropological.” What was the discipline of the Church in the time of John Paul II should no longer be so in the new Church that is invoked. The conclusion will probably be that this process of discernment can lead to the Eucharist, even without a change of life, as long as the person has repented of past sins and has judged that he can “in conscience” receive communion.
3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Paragraph 85 of the 2015 “Relatio Synodi” also cites no. 1735 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Moreover, one cannot deny that in some circumstances ‘imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified’ (CCC, 1735) on account of various influences.”
The citation is incomplete. It is opportune to go back to the complete text:
“1735. Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”
Can this paragraph really be applied to the situation of the divorced and remarried? One must note in the first place that the same conditions are found to some extent when it comes to marriage, and they are conditions that make it invalid:
“1628. The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear (cf CIC can. 1103). No human power can substitute for this consent (CIC can. 1057 § 1). If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.”
Can one imagine, then, that one of these circumstances could render the new marriage after a divorce non-imputable on the moral level? If this were the case, the new marriage would be invalid. It already is, of course, since marriage is indissoluble and remarriage is not possible while the first spouse is still alive. But it would not only be null as a marriage: it would also be so as a human act, it would be a “miscarried act.” So one could no longer speak of the divorced and remarried: there would not be any real new commitment, and no kind of bond between the two persons. Under these conditions, it is not certain that one would always want to apply the possibility of a total elimination of imputability. And then such psychological influences would lead one to bring into question the existence of the sacramental bond itself. The situation would then be entirely different.
Vice versa, when persons are capable of exchanging a “yes” for life with the full awareness of what they are doing, they cannot help but realize that they are committing a fault against this “yes” with their new commitment to another person. It therefore makes no sense that the responsibility of such an act of recommitment could be brought back into discussion. Of course, there can be many types of motives that incite one to act this way, as paragraph 85 goes on to say: “In certain circumstances persons encounter great difficulties in acting differently.” This does not change the fact that they either know that they are harming their marital bond with the recommitment, and this is therefore a free and responsible act; or they don’t know it at all, and one can therefore doubt the very existence of their marital bond.
4. The Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
Article 85 of the 2015 “Relatio synodi” continues as follows:
“As a result, the judgment on an objective situation must not lead it to a judgment on ‘subjective imputability’ (Pontifical council for legislative texts, declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a).”
The text in question is the following, put back into its context:
“2. Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon’s substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading. One cannot confuse respect for the wording of the law (cf. can. 17) with the improper use of the very same wording as an instrument for relativizing the precepts or emptying them of their substance.
“The phrase ‘and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable. The three required conditions are:
“a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;
“b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.
“c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin.
“Those faithful who are divorced and remarried would not be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin who would not be able, for serious motives – such as, for example, the upbringing of the children – ‘to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses’ (Familiaris Consortio n. 84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only ‘remoto scandalo’.”
This declaration of the pontifical council for legislative texts therefore establishes that second marriages after a divorce are a situation of “serious habitual sin,” taken into consideration by canon 915 with regard to “those who stubbornly persevere in manifest grave sin.” The passage cited by the “Relatio synodi” specifies that this qualification must be understood objectively, not subjectively, “because the minister of communion cannot judge subjective imputability.” In other words, the situation is evaluated in the external forum, because one cannot access the internal forum. So then, in the context of the “Relatio synodi” this passage seems to take on another meaning: one cannot judge “subjective guilt,” and therefore one must abstain from qualifying this situation morally. Of course, the text does not expressly go this far, but those who do not take the trouble to go back to the text of the declaration could understand it in this way. And in any case the text does not say anywhere that what is in question is a sin, nor that Christ qualifies as adultery a new marriage while the first spouse is still alive (cf. Mk 10:11-12). This word can be hard to hear, but it comes from none other than the mouth of Christ, who measures its full effect.
In this case as well, a “hermeneutic of continuity” will lead one to interpret this text by specifying what it does not say and maintaining the definition of “grave and manifest sin,” while a “hermeneutic of rupture” will take this silence as a cue to join in abstention from judging in terms of subjective guilt, which will lead one to eliminate any qualification of this situation in terms of sin, whether grave and manifest or not.
In the first case, therefore, one will hold firm, in the light of the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” that remarriage after divorce is an evil act that can never be willed under any circumstances, in the context of a morality of objectivity and finality. The second case will present the invitation to convert one’s pastoral vision and to take circumstances more into account, and therefore to modify the doctrinal equilibrium of “Veritatis Splendor,” appealing to a morality of subjectivity and conscience. The pope has guaranteed that doctrine has never been touched, which inclines toward the first meaning. In fact, there are enough references to the magisterium to reinforce the supporters of the hermeneutic of continuity in their interpretation. But there are also enough silences and positive signals for the supporters of the hermeneutic of rupture to feel justified in their new approach. In the absence of further clarifications, both interpretations seem to be permitted.
Concluding the analysis of these three citations, the omissions in the formulation probably explain why this paragraph 85 was the one that received the biggest number of non placet, and was approved with only one vote more than the required majority. But it is possible that further clarifications in one direction or the other would have lost it a few more votes; just one of which would have been enough for it to have been rejected.
5. Accompaniment and integration
As for paragraph 84, this presents the “logic of integration” of the divorced and remarried as “the key of their pastoral accompaniment,” which is aimed at manifesting not only that they are not excommunicated, but also that they can live and grow in the Church, overcoming the “different forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational, and institutional fields.” Paragraph 86, finally, situates the “correct judgment on that which blocks the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church” on the terrain of discernment with the priest in the internal forum; “this discernment can never dispense with the demands of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church.”
Interpreted in the context of a “hermeneutic of continuity,” these two paragraphs appear to be perfectly orthodox and in keeping with the recent magisterium. The citation of “Familiaris Consortio” no. 84 and of the declaration of the pontifical council for legislative texts permits one to understand this growth as a progressive conversion to gospel truth, all the demands of which each one will seek to translate in his own life. A pastoral approach of accompaniment should always aim at the full reconciliation of the believer and his final readmission to the Eucharist, according to the conditions indicated by “Familiaris Consortio” for putting an end to the “objective contradiction of the communion of love between Christ and the Church” represented by the new commitment with a person different from the legitimate spouse, which the Code of Canon Law defines in the external forum as “grave and manifest sin.” Here there is a true journey of holiness, delineated in beautiful words by the end of paragraph 86, which speaks of the “necessary conditions of humility, discretion, love of the Church and its teaching, in the sincere search for the will of God and in the desire to reach a more perfect response to it.” The recognition of integration into the Church would therefore be made in reference to the “order of penitents,” as it was called in ancient times, with limitations on the exercise of different ecclesial functions that would be interpreted in consideration of the objectivity of the disordered situation and could be removed according to the regularization of this situation.
In the context of a “hermeneutic of rupture,” instead, since these conditions and conclusions of the previous magisterium have been passed over in silence by this text, the tendency will be to privilege the relative novelty constituted by the emphasis of the internal forum at the expense of the external forum. This will lead to a morality of subjectivity, rather than of objectivity, with the difficulty of admitting together with “Veritatis Splendor” the possibility of “intrinsically evil acts”; the accent being placed above all on conscience and on the internal perception of the various acts, decisions, and circumstances. Under these conditions, it matters little that the Code of Canon Law should qualify this situation as “grave and manifest sin,” if it is not perceived internally as such. On the contrary, it would be better to remain silent about it rather than invade the internal space of freedom and the inviolable shrine of the conscience. One would therefore have to wait for the person to be capable of defining these acts himself, without ever intervening in the process for fear of wounding him or forcing his free progression. This is more a matter of a “freedom of indifference” than of a “freedom of quality.” The accompaniment would be made on the basis of the person and of what in him could be enhanced to help him grow, instead of starting from a law imposed from the outside to which this person would have to conform. Integration into the Church would depend on the subjectivity of the person and on his internal perception of his situation. Under these conditions, if this person decides “in conscience” that he has not committed a sin and can receive communion, who are we to judge him? Spiritual progress can moreover manifest itself, paradoxically, in a movement of withdrawal, as the subject gradually perceives his sin or the objective disorder: making the decision not to receive communion anymore because only then does he understand the reason for it; declining certain tasks in the Church because only then does he understand the possible negative public witness, concerning the “example that he would offer to young people who are preparing for marriage.”
These two positions are presented in contrast here; it is not out of the question, however, that positive aspects and limitations could be found in each; hence the interest in putting them into perspective, error itself being able to serve in manifesting the truth even more. The limitation of the pure logic of objectivity is found in the consideration that we need time and various stages to reach the truth, so that this truth may be received not only as true in itself but also as true for its own sake, desirable and good, and finally possible to live and fruitful. The limitation of the pure logic of conscience is found in affirming the possibility of an erroneous conscience and in the evangelical necessity of freeing it from this error, so that it may become what it is, truly free, in act and not only potentially: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).
Finally we note a certain disquiet concerning the terminology of paragraph 84, which contrasts “exclusion” with “integration.” Such terminology is not customary in theology. It is typical, instead, of the egalitarian ideology that animates the LGBT movements in particular and liberationism in general, against an old background of Marxist dialectic, with a new nihilistic tendency. It is no longer class warfare, but the abolition of all classes, differences, categories, statutes… and therefore the disappearance of the true justice that gives each one his due (“suum cuique tribuere”), that is not necessarily the same for all, because the situations are not necessarily the same. If one begins to admit this kind of worldly opposition in an ecclesiastical document, the door is open to other categories of the population (persons with homosexual tendencies, women with respect to the male clergy, etc.) that will come to lament their “exclusion” for the sake of demanding their full “integration” into the Church. It would therefore be opportune to express in another way the search for communion with regard to persons who are not currently in full communion with the Church, on account of an objectively disordered situation that makes their admission to the Eucharist impossible, and to reaffirm instead the charity that urges us to do everything possible to bring them in truth into full ecclesial communion, in keeping with the demands of the Gospel.
6. Communion and decentralization
The “Relatio synodi” as such has no magisterial value, it is only a document delivered to the pope so that he may make a decision. One may therefore hope that in a post-synodal exhortation the pope will clearly determine the approach to be taken. Or that a document from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith may provide the necessary clarifications, for example in the form of a reminder of the correct interpretation of the magisterial documents, according to a hermeneutic of continuity.
In the absence of this, what could happen? Everyone could go home happy, certain of having obtained what they wanted and of having avoided the worst, what the other side was calling for. Now, an agreement obtained against a background of ambiguity does not produce unity: it covers up a division instead. The pastoral practices already in existence could continue to exist and to develop, some according to the hermeneutic of continuity and others according to a hermeneutic of rupture. Falling back on the pastoral decision of each priest and believer “in conscience” would permit one to establish, with a document as support, a great variety of pastoral solutions, some fully in keeping with orthodoxy and orthopraxy, the others more debatable.
Ultimately, if in one territory the priests encouraged by the “guidelines” of their bishop end up establishing practices that are uniform but divergent from those of other territories, this could lead to a de facto schism, legitimized for both sides by a dual possible interpretation of this document. And so we come to what we had presented back in July as a situation to be feared, if the synod did not succeed in defining a clear approach. And here we are.
On the feast of the holy apostles Simon and Jude
October 28, 2015
My Comment : Read the full article, it’s a bit “technical” but described the last Synod very well, a de facto Schism or like a Schism, so we will follow closely any post-synodal Exhortation from the Pope, on the way according to some sources and probably during the Year of Mercy, set up surely for a good reason, stay tuned.