Doubts still unresolved. What do „Guidelines” of Polish bishops say to us?

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Doubts still unresolved. What do „Guidelines” of Polish bishops say to us?
Fot. Paulina Przepiora / FORUM

“This document does not deal with the issue of the Holy Communion for persons living in non-sacramental relationships,” we can read already at the beginning of the statement of the Press Office of the Conference of the Polish Episcopate issued on Sunday 10th June 2018. Indeed, Guidelines… contain no direct references to the issue that provokes so many questions, which are expressed, e.g., in Dubia prepared by four cardinals: Carl Caffarra, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner. However, some parts of the document of Polish bishops contain fragments of Amoris laetitia and other documents by Francis that are considered by hierarchs from Argentina, Germany, Malta and other countries to open the road to giving the Blessed Sacrament to divorced persons living in new relationships, i.e., in mortal sin.


Unity or decentralisation?

In the Guidelines... we can read: “… Amoris laetitia not only considers, but also supplements and updates previous statements of the Magisterium of the Church on marriage and family. The previous program documents include, among others, Humanae vitae by Paul VI, Familiaris consortio, Reconcilliatio et poenitentia, Veritatis splendor by John Paul II and Deus caritas est and Sacramentum caritatis by Benedict XVI. Thus, there is no doubt that Pope Francis does not question the teachings of his predecessors in any way in his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia. He clearly acknowledges the need for existence of the unity of doctrine and action in the Church, which, however, does not exclude the existence of “various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it” (AL 3).


However, there is a reason to have doubts as to the “unity of doctrine and action” when bishops in Malta wrote in an analogous instruction for priests and believers 1.5 years ago in the context of the issue of giving the Blessed Sacrament to adulterers: „… there are complex situations in which the choice of living ‘like brother and sister’ becomes impossible from a human perspective and leads to bigger damage,” entirely contrary to the condition clearly stated in Familiaris consortio, which expresses a lenient attitude the establishment of new relationships (in some circumstances) anyway. The “compulsion” of living together decreed by hierarchs of the local Church? After all, instead of the defence of believers, this was a complete submission to the pressure of sexual revolution that has lasted for decades.


The Permanent Council of the German Episcopate, the Roman Diocese and some other authorities acted in a way similar to that of the Maltese hierarchs. The liberal interpretation of Amoris laetitia formulated by bishops from Buenos Aires along with Francis’s letter approving it was included in the official list of documents of the Holy See – Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS).


In this context, how should we interpret another fragment of Guidelines… that also refers directly to Francis’s teaching – in this case, Evangelii gaudium? Here we can read: “... we cannot expect papal teaching to deliver definitive or exhaustive words on all matters concerning the Church and the world. Similarly, local episcopates should not be replaced in discerning problems emerging in their territories, hence the Pope’s words about the need for ‘decentralisation’ in the Church (cf. EG 16)”.


Unfortunately, this decentralisation – which can be clearly seen from diverse and mutually contradictory interpretations of Amoris laetitia – tends to create divisions. “What is a sin in Poland, is no longer treated as such beyond the Oder,” we can still hear these alarming words from the believers who take care of the unity of the Catholic community and the maintenance of the sound teaching of the Church, which we call “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” in the Credo. Doesn’t it resemble the situation that we know too well from the history of development of Protestantism?


Accompanying in sin or calling to conversion?

The text of guidelines for Polish priests and believers strongly emphasises key concepts for the teaching of Pope Francis about family: reception, accompanying, discernment and integration. The fragments referring to rules of conduct towards spouses that are abundantly quoted by bishops rightly illustrate the spirit of the model of pastoral care that is promoted today. Unfortunately, the quoted texts do not seem to contain the explicit call to conversion that the Church has addressed to persons living in permanent mortal sin for ages. “Pastoral and missionary conversion” seems to be expected from priests here. It seems as if the sinner were not obliged to abandon the state of spiritual death and return to the Church in order to save his own soul; it is the Church that “should” accompany the adulterer on his way, take care of his good mood or even look for ways of ascertaining the invalidity of his wedding.


Thus, Guidelines… point out the issues that are of crucial importance for understanding the intended sense of Amoris laetitia. For example:


“The Pope stresses that pastoral and missionary conversion in the promotion of marriage and family cannot ignore people in need and those living in difficult situations: ‘(…) the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straight away a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy.’ (AL 49). The Church is ‘the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.’ (EG 47). Such treatment of the most delicate issues of human existence ‘sets us in the context of pastoral discernment filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate’ (AL 312).”


Does that mean, therefore, that the role of bishops and priests is no longer to indicate the Ten Commandments as the vocation of every human being and the only way to salvation? Does the Church intend to give up its honourable mission of leading souls according to requirements stated clearly by Jesus and the Apostles? What is the meaning of the expression: “rather than imposing straight away a set of rules”? Does this not mean opening the road to ignorance of the conditions of a valid confession, including the need to abandon sin – particularly a permanent sin, such as living in an adulterous relationship? These questions still remain unanswered. Two or three years ago, they could be easier regarded as a symptom of oversensitivity and overinterpretation of “imprecise” expressions. Today we observe the results of putting the principles of Amoris laetitia into practice in successive countries and can clearly see the fulfilment of the most pessimistic assumptions by “progressivists”, who, incidentally, never concealed their intentions (for example, German hierarchs).


However, we cannot speak of true mercy without conversion. The human being can find God’s grace only in the sacrament of confession and, remember, upon fulfilment of all of its conditions. “Mercy” without truth and passion for justice becomes only leniency and confirmation in sin – this is the fundamental reservation that is absent from fragments of Amoris laetitia, Evangelii gaudium and other documents by Pope Francis quoted in Guidelines...


The following part of the document of the Conference of the Polish Episcopate may also raise doubts: “In the discernment of the difficult work of accompanying and discernment, it is very useful to refer to the law of gradualness mentioned by St. John Paul II in Familiaris consortio. This law assumes that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth” (FC 34, AL 295). Francis supplements this thought with the statement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about conditions under which accountability and responsibility may be reduced or even abolished [11]. He also refers to circumstances reducing moral responsibility [12]. “For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved” (AL 302).


So, do we deal here with the conception of mitigation of moral responsibility for adultery because of limited accountability or any other special conditions? This assumption has already been confirmed by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, whom Pope Francis calls an outstanding interpreter of his intentions: “I think that the controversy concerning ‘Amoris Laetitia’ would be much more peaceful if its critics studied the foundations of the Catechism that are rooted directly in Thomas Aquinas’s thought. This applies to fragments indicating that each moral action occurs as a part of a certain narration, in the history of specific human beings, along with their situation, possibilities, conditions, circumstances of life and constraints and chances of freedom,” said the Austrian hierarch in 2016.


Yes, the fragment concerning the “law of gradualness” was not used in Guidelines… clearly in the context of admission of divorced persons living in sinful relationships to the Table of the Lord. However, it may also easily be – and is! – used in the narration of opening up to the desires of persons who are unable to abandon sin, but also cannot dispense with receiving the Holy Communion.


The Instruction of the Conference of the Polish Episcopate also refers to another fragment of Amoris laetitia that raises serious doubts. The Pope wrote about the persons “who have contracted a civil marriage, who are
divorced and remarried, or simply living together” (AL 297). They “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,” we can read further in the exhortation (AL 299). Thus, we deal here with the incomplete gradualness of states of soul of the human being, which can be easily misleading. Firstly, mortal sin means spiritual death and persons who continue to live in it cannot be called in a theologically correct manner “living members of the Church that can live and develop”. Serious guilt resulting from mortal sin is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Mortal sin results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back” (CCC 1861).


Secondly, the state of mortal sin is not the same as an excommunication. Obviously, an excommunication can be contracted automatically in the case of some breaches of the Ten Commandments, but this does not apply to adultery.


The road to “Catholic divorce”?

Since today’s pastoral care should largely consist in following the human being, his expectations and emotional states, the institution of ascertainment of invalidity of marriage also changes its context. At least such conclusion can be drawn upon proper discernment from the following fragment of Guidelines…: “In consideration of the complexity of the pastoral situation of believers bound by matrimony and, therefore, unable to enter into sacramental marriage with the person with which they remain in a non-sacramental relationship in spite of their strong will to do so, it would be necessary to consider the possibility of thorough discernment of their situation in individual cases. This discernment should first lead to providing an answer to the question whether the invalidity of the first marriage can be ascertained in the course of an ecclesiastical lawsuit.”


It is worth noting that the motion for a ruling that the sacramental marriage actually did not exist may be determined by the “strong will” to conclude another. In a sense, the ascertainment of invalidity is the goal that the person engaged – among others, emotionally – in another relationship wants to achieve. It becomes a solution to the uncomfortable situation. Obviously, such situations occur also today for many reasons, but is it not a gateway to “Catholic divorce”? Should the Church facilitate and authorise such situations, thereby promoting the “mentality of divorce” among Catholics, as if it were not widespread enough.


“Irregular relationship” means adultery!

When reading Guidelines…, many Catholics will notice the characteristic language that has prevailed in statements made by hierarchs of the Church for some time. Unfortunately, it does not build the clarity and unambiguity that believers expect from their shepherds, but it is somewhat logical. How would the following sentence sound if the “irregular situation” were replaced with traditional “adultery”?

The document of the Conference of the Polish Episcopate reads: “In the pastoral care of persons who have found themselves in difficult (e.g., their spouse’s death) and irregular situations, priests and their collaborators should offer believers mainly the light of faith and compassionate and delicate presence (cf. AL 253-258).”


While on the subject of language, Amoris laetitia introduces a very puzzling category that could be called “fidelity in infidelity”. It is impossible to believe that the task of priests would be to confirm adulterers in their choices, but what to say about the following statement, on which emphasis has been put in Guidelines…?:


“It is necessary to discern whether persons living in unformalised relationships maintain fidelity, sacrifice themselves for their children, engage in Christian life, are aware of the impropriety of their relationship and living in sin, want to change their situation but cannot do so without falling into new sin (e.g., the question of responsibility for the upbringing of children, cf. AL 298).”


So, although we are making an adulterer aware of his sin, we go on to check if the return to the legitimate spouse is not another bigger sin? If Guidelines… will have their own Dubia, we can presume that a question like this will be included there.


Which way will the Polish Church take?

It is, unfortunately, difficult to agree with the statement contained at the end of Pastoral guidelines to the apostolic exhortation “Amoris laetitia” that “thanks to Pope Francis, we have a clear identification and determination” of tasks resulting from the current condition of the family, marriage and young generation. Obviously, the aforementioned doubts do not exhaust reservations discussed in such statements of Catholics as the aforementioned Dubia, a letter of cardinals from Kazakhstan or – in a particularly radical form – in Correctio Filialis de Haeresibus Propagatis. Should be, therefore, await anxiously a new Directory for the Pastoral Care of Families for the Church in Poland that has been announced in the document? Since we read that “pastoral care must be marked with closeness, a respectful look and compassion that cure, liberate and encourage believers to become more mature in Christian life”, it is worth remembering that empathy and other natural measures are not sufficient to liberate the people who are hardened in sin. In order to help save their souls effectively, it will be necessary to show clearly the path of eternal life thanks to God’s grace and sacraments, access to which is conditional upon complete conversion.


It will be also difficult to provide an effective cure without stigmatising the reasons of the disease spreading in the modern world: the plague of pornography, sexual addictions, the promotion of an egoistic life of solitude, homosexuality and gender, and the mentality of contraceptives and abortion. Moreover, there will be no true liberation if, while “accompanying” the sinner, we put aside or turn a blind eye to abandoned spouses and children – the biggest victims of adultery.

Maybe we should also expect a clear indication that human nature created by God is unchanging and forms a foundation of human activities that can be subject to objective moral evaluation because of this. Historical circumstances, difficulties and flawed actions cannot neutralise the objective situation of living in sin, which means committing moral evil.


However, this article will be concluded with an optimistic message. The bishops write: “The Pope appeals for spreading the Gospel in a new manner. He means the involvement of all Christians for the purpose of giving testimony of one’s faith with even greater enthusiasm and conviction (cf. MV 4). He reminds us that the Church is called to go out into the world with its mission in order to “reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20). The performance of this task cannot do without a renewed dialogue between priests and believers.”


It is a very positive declaration, which will certainly be received with gratitude by Polish believers, who look for clear directions from their shepherds amongst the existing chaos. Among them, there are more than 145,000 signatories to “Polonia Semper Fidelis” – an appeal encouraging the Polish Episcopate to confirm the true teaching of the Church about the Ten Commandments and about sacraments – marriage, confession and the Holy Communion. This group includes also believers who support the Letter of Doubts of Families and many other Catholics who address their questions directly to priests.


Roman Motoła

DATA: 2018-06-20 14:40
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