The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – no change to sacramental discipline?

Continuing the translation from Josef Seifert's article in German, released under the Creative Common's License with Attribution CC BY 3.0). Complete translation (still in progress), on a single page: The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert.

2. Is the admission to the sacraments of couples in so-called “irregular situations” compatible with the teaching of the Church? Philosophical and theological clarifications and distinctions

The pope allows the admission to the sacraments of „couples in irregular situations“ that to some extent Cardinal Ratzinger previously considered. (Though multiple very serious reasons, which he himself and St. Pope John Paul II gave, moved his Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as Pope Benedict XVI, to retract this suggestion that he had made as Archbishop of Munich.)

2.1 Who are the “couples in irregular situations”, who are to be invited by the Church to receive the sacraments? A clarification

We must therefore proceed to ask, who are these “couples in irregular situations,” who might and should be admitted to the sacraments? Footnote 351 of AL at any rate does not offer this clarification, with the consequence that some bishops’ conferences, such as the Philippines’ and the Germans’, give such an interpretation of this matter raised by AL, that Cardinal Mueller not long ago warned the German bishops of the great danger of a schism that would be no less grave than that of the 16th century. Therefore I passionately asked his Holiness in my letter, in order to avoid the confusion that has arisen in various parts of the Church by “wild” interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, to give us a clarification of several central questions.

I would like, in the following text, to make a modest attempt at such a clarification, by way of analyzing four different and to some extent radically opposed answers to our question, answers that are guiding the current discussions. I am convinced that only one of these answers is the right one.

2.1.1 No „couples in irregular situations“ (Adulterers, couples living promiscuously or homosexual couples)?

This answer is the one that Msgr. Livio Melina, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, Cardinal Burke and others give or have given, who say that AL did not change anything about the Catholic sacramental discipline. On the other hand, AL manifestly attempted to change something about the sacramental order, as logically follows from the fact that footnote 351 admits some couples to the reception of the sacraments, who up till the Church had absolutely excluded from reception of the sacraments.

Therefore I believe that this first answer to our question cannot be an interpretation of the text of AL, but is rather a judgment about the character and style, as well as the value, rank and impact of AL. Thus Cardinal Burke in not unclear words said that, in his opinion, AL is not to be reckoned among the papal magisterial documents, but is merely an expression, in writing, of the post-synodal personal reflections of the pope.
Cardinal Burke, Livio Melina, Cardinal Mueller and other interpreters have added that a mere stroke of the pen in a single footnote (351) is incapable, on account of its lacking the appropriate form, to change the sacramental discipline and a 2000-year-old tradition of the Catholic Church, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Codex Iuris Canonici. These texts clearly and unmistakably formulate the ecclesial sacramental discipline, which forbids those pairs or individuals living in an objectively gravely sinful manner (in “an irregular situation”) from receiving Holy Communion or sacramental absolution without previous conversion, confession and the resolve to change their life.

Moreover, many of the eleven and the five cardinals, in two recently published books, as well as Cardinal Mueller in his new book, give a much stronger reason why AL has not changed the sacramental discipline of the Church: Cardinal Mueller and a series of other cardinals have with strong reasons presented and, referring to Familiaris Consortio (FC) 84, defended the thesis, that the admission to the sacraments of divorced and remarried is not the matter of a changeable decision of Church discipline, but is part and a logical consequence of the constant and unchangeable teaching of the Church. If they are right on this point, then AL has indeed in no way changed the teaching on the sacraments and the sacramental practice of the Church. “Irregular couples”, who feel no remorse and who have made no confession with the firm resolve to live a life of continence from promiscuity or homosexual or adulterous relationships and to sin no more, may neither receive the Holy Eucharist nor sacramental absolution from their sins.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput expressed the same opinion and was for this reason insulted with no subtlety and with incredible crudeness insulted by the mayor of Philadelphia. Also in the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ” Cardinal Mueller writes, e.g.,

They [divorced persons who have remarried] cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Two reasons are given for this: (a) “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”, and (b) “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 through sacramental confession, which opens the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case of repentance over what has happened and a “readiness to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage”. Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, the new union cannot be dissolved, then the two spouses must “bind themselves to live in complete continence”. … In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, of February 22, 2007, Benedict XVI summarizes the work of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the Eucharist, and he develops it further. In paragraph number 29 he addresses the situation of the divorced and remarried faithful. For Benedict XVI too, this is a “complex and troubling pastoral problem”. He confirms “the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2-12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments”, but he urges pastors, at the same time, to devote “special concern” to those affected, in the wish that they “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”.

The cardinals Willem Jacobus Eijk, Carlo Caffarra, and others say substantially the same thing, with many arguments and penetrating explanations. These cardinals are without doubt right, that the sacramental discipline and teaching of the Church valid for 2000 years and rooted in the bible, including the prohibition of receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and sacramental absolution without repenting of one’s way of life, cannot have been effectively changed by a couple of passing remarks in AL.

So, indeed, for a variety of reasons nothing of the sacramental discipline of the Church has been changed by AL. This applies above all and unconditionally in the case when the teaching on the sacraments and the sacramental disciplinary order of the Church derives from the Word of God and the unchangeable teaching and interpretation of that same teaching by the Church. As a judgment about the actual effect of AL (or the absence of such an effect) cardinal Burke, Chaput, and Caffarra are without doubt correct. The sacramental discipline of the Church did not change, since it has been repeatedly presented by the magisterium as part and consequence of the unchangeable truth of revelation, and, moreover, even if it were changeable, could no more than the Catechism and the CIC be changed by a stroke of the pen or a footnote.

If one, however, asks about the Pope’s intention and the announcement of changes, it is certainly not true, that AL doesn’t propose changes to sacramental discipline. Together with Rocco Buttiglione, it seems to me impossible to maintain that AL did not attempt to change something pertaining to the sacramental order.

In order to determine, whether these changes or at least some of them are compatible with the Word of God and the constant teaching of the Church, let us look at the remaining three, very different answers to the question: Which couples “in irregular situations” are entitled, according to AL, to receive the sacraments.

One thought on “The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – no change to sacramental discipline?”

  1. Cardinal Schönborn, in his interview on July 6, says "The general norm is very clear; and it is equally clear that it cannot cover all the cases exhaustively." He understands this as true both before and after Amoris Laetitia.

    Canon 915 says: "[those] who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." Precisely because Amoris Laetitia gives, numerous times, as a major distinguishing factor, the degree of subjective guilt in an objectively disordered situation, it is not attempting to change the teaching on the sacraments or the sacramental disciplinary order insofar as they are grounded on the Word of God. At the same time, it does, apparently, intend to change or clarify the application of this discipline to individual cases, to establish, in effect, "what can no longer be reasonably presumed to be subjectively grave sin should not be treated as though it were grave sin in the sense of this canon."

    In this sense, one could agree with this first claim, that no general rule has been established or general exception has been made, allowing specific, clearly defined groups of persons in irregular situations to receive the sacraments, and at the same time think that Amoris Laetitia changes the way that the existing rule is to be applied.

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