The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – couples in marriages of conscience?

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 on a single page: The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert.

2.1.4 Are there divorced and remarried Catholics, who considered outwardly do not live in a sacramental marriage and have not received certification from an ecclesial court of the nullity of their marriage, and therefore cannot celebrate their marriage in the Church, but who have entered a marriage of conscience, which count be reckoned by the Church as the sacrament of marriage and justify their admission to the sacraments?

A fourth answer to the question, which "irregular couples" should be admitted to the sacraments, could be seen as compatible with the constant teaching of the Church and even with the truth of the first answer. It concerns couples who at least "outwardly considered" are in "irregular situations". AL 298 (as well as FC 84) refers to them:

"the case of 'those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid'" [FC, 84] (AL 298)

This fourth group of cases, in which the admission of such "couples in irregular situations" could seem to be a good, if dangerous thing, can be illustrated with three concrete examples, which are also cited in Amoris Laetitia.

1. The first example would be that of couples who are honestly (and in accordance with the truth) convinced that their first marriage was invalid, but who, on account of external circumstances, cannot celebrate a second church marriage, because they have no access to a church tribunal (or even to a Church). This inability to present their case to a church tribunal possibly is based on the fact that they live in a country in which the Church doesn't exist or is severely persecuted, or on an island, on which there is no Church or priests, etc.

The impossibility of having recourse to a church tribunal can also arise among the extremely poor, who cannot afford the costs of a long trip for a hearing before a church court or of a ecclesial annulment process, who however are honestly and for the strongest reasons convinced of the invalidity of their first marriage, after a sincere examination of conscience and, if possible, a conversation with a confessor. (Pope Francis has already to a large degree redressed this case of the poor, in proposing a gratuitous offer of ecclesial investigations of a suit claiming nullity.) This merciful law redresses the injustice that under certain circumstances, only those who could pay the considerable sums were able to obtain a certification of the nullity of their marriage. Despite the pope's generous support of such couples there can be cases in which a person is not in a position to convince the Church judges and therefore is dependent on the expensive services of a lawyer, since the Church cannot everywhere offer free attorney services, as in some dioceses. In such cases, when there is a large amount of objective evidence and a high degree of subjective certainty about the invalidity of the first marriage, it could seem justified to lay claim to the aforementioned exception from the sacramental discipline and, without a certification of nullity, to enter a "marriage of conscience." Such couples "in irregular situations," one could think, should be admitted to the sacraments.

Indeed one could argue that in such a case the Church could not only allow access to the sacraments, but could presume that despite the merely civil marriage, or marriage altogether outside the civil order that took place on an island, a valid and sacramental marriage has taken place between a baptized man and a baptized woman. Admittedly one could argue: in order that such an "irregular marriage" not be an act of disobedience against the Church, but a valid marriage according to canon law, one could change canon law and adapt it to these cases. Advocates of this four way of interpreting couples in "irregular situations", who, according to AL should be admitted to the sacraments, could perhaps argue that, in a certain sense, making such a change to canon law and so "canonizing" an "irregular marriage" according to canon law, would restore the original discipline of the sacrament of marriage in canon law, when the Church recognized a sacramental marriage that arose simply through the exchange of marital consent between a man and a woman. The many canonical rules for an (a) licit and (b) valid catholic marriage, as well as (c) the rules of the ecclesial process of annulment were added in the course of history to hinder abuses, but are not unchangeable. For, according to this view, if the Holy Father, for specific, very precisely described conditions, revised church law and understood a valid marriage only according to its unchangeable essence and freed it from its historic ballast, this would be a truly good contribution of the teaching office of Pope Francis, always on the supposition of clarity and precision of teaching and canon law. On this view, a similar value would be had by adaptions to canon law for the two following cases of couples in "irregular situations," to whom the Church could grant access to the sacraments.

2. The second case is that of persons who for objective reasons are convinced of the invalidity of their marriage, but who have no objective proofs of the truth of their statement regarding the grounds for the invalidity of marriage (e.g., the absolute "no!" of their partner to children before the moment of contracting marriage), and whom the church court does not believe. This mistrust of the ecclesial judges is possibly caused by a lack of credibility of the claimant in the eyes of the judge, or in his lack of eloquence, or in the fact that his partner lies and is a distinguished and emotional speaker, who convinces the court of her lie, or in a thousand other reasons. In this case it could seem good to allow a "marriage of conscience" and to think that admission of such couples to the sacraments would be no sin, although they could not publicly celebrate a church wedding. One could go further and say that such a union is a valid and sacramental marriage outside of the normal order of the visible Church.

3. The third second is that where a partner, likewise sincerely convinced of the invalidity of a marriage, waits for a long time for the decision of a church court, and despite the rule that a judgment of the first instance in an annulment process should be made within a year, this judgment does not come in 2, 5, or 10 years, or even only after 18 years (as happened to a famous comedian poet in the 19th century.) One could argue that in this case that it would be legitimate for a couple on the basis of the judgment of the conscience to have a civil divorce and enter a new marriage, indeed, that the Church could consider this marriage as a sacrament and admit the couple to the reception of the sacraments, even if their wedding only took place civilly, or in a situation apart from the civil order (e.g., on a remote island), but on the basis of a conscious and mutual marital consent. At the same time one could warn, that the Church should only consider such couples as sacramentally married and admit them to the sacraments, after it has changed canon law and adopted clear regulations (e.g., that such a marriage of conscience may only take place after a certain number of years without a decision of the Church court), on the basis of the conscience of the person who seeks the declaration of nullity. In this case the Church would recognize such a marriage as a possibly valid and sacramental marriage, and from that point in time, when it would recognize the marriage as such, would declare it as such. The church process of annulment would, consequently, have to be aborted at the time when such an "irregular" marriage was recognized. (For if, in such a case, the church process continued in parallel, a possible contradiction between the judgment of the church tribunal and the judgment of conscience would lead to further grave conflicts and aporias.) Could we therefore say, that in this and similar situations couples "in irregular situations" could return to the reception of the sacraments and enter into a "marriage of conscience" in good conscience? And that not only are they by reason of their subjective conscience are in a state of grace, but that their marriage is objectively a sacramental marriage? In this way it would be possible for divorced (without an ecclesial annulment) and remarried persons return to the sacraments. Does, we may ask, AL by this good and merciful innovation give many couples a genuine gift of mercy, and is it for us an occasion for joy?

This fourth answer to the question, who are those couples "in irregular situations," who could be admitted to the sacraments, does not, on first sight, contradict the first. One could think (as I did): to grant divorced and (without a church annulment) remarried persons of this fourth kind access to the sacraments would simply grant to the moral conscience of the individual in very clearly delineated cases the same right as that which normally only the Church court has: to declare a marriage as invalid. Thereby these couples would only be "seemingly irregular", but in reality "regular in an extraordinary mode," to put a name to it. Are there such "irregular regular couples"? Admission to the sacraments of the fourth type of "couples in irregular situations" contradicts the clear teaching and dogma of the Church as well as the manifest reason grounds of this teaching

One could think (I myself thought it until recently), that none of these three cases of the fourth class falls under the strong reasons for which the cardinals cited, together with FC, think that the prohibition from admitting divorced and (without a church annulment) remarried persons to the sacrament is not a matter of a mutable positive law, or a merely pastoral decision, but of a church practice that is based in the Gospel itself. So, the admission of the aforesaid couples and the church recognition of their marriage seemed to me to be a merciful step and a legitimate simplification of the annulment process or an acceptable solution in the case of a negative judgment of the church court.

But despite these apparent beautiful and liberating aspects of AL, that open access to the sacraments to these or similar couples, there are serious objections that justify the conclusion, that the admission of these couples to the sacraments is not compatible with the teaching and unchangeable practice of the Church. Why?

1. The Council of Trent condemns the opinion that the conscience of an individual (the internal forum) could be judge over the invalidity of the first marriage, when it says, in session XXIV: "Whoever says, matters pertaining to marriage do not belong before church judges, let him be anathema."

2. This teaching was solemnly confirmed by many other popes, up through Benedict XVI.

3. Marriage is also on the natural level a public relation with an effect on the life of the family; it is, moreover, the foundation of society. Therefore there are no "merely private" or "merely internal" solutions for the question of the existence of a marriage. This applies all the more to the sacrament of marriage.

4. Marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The reception of a sacrament is a religious, and never merely a private act. It is therefore the Church's task to judge the validity of the sacraments, according to objective criteria.

5. Moreover, leaving this question to the individual's conscience can easily lead to injustices. Consider a man who is tempted to commit adultery. He could easily, in a personal investigation, which is possibly based on an erring conscience, decided that his first marriage was invalid and that he is free to divorce and to marry a second woman.

6. Also individual priests cannot shed light on the truth of a marriage without carrying out a conscientious examination, for which a certain procedure is necessary. It is exactly this that is the task of a church court, whose function, therefore, is irreplaceable.

7. Moreover, the wife and the family have rights of their own. Therefore, the consequences of unjustified judgments about whether there is a valid marriage damage the integrity of the sacrament and easily lead to injustice to the wife, the children, and the entire community.

8. Finally, leaving the decision about the invalidity of marriage to the conscience of an individual partner in marriage or to an individual priest would bring about great chaos. If a marital partner or a priest rejects the invalidity of the marriage, while the other marital partner or another priest accepts it, or if a couple, that is not married, acts as though it were married, the life of the Church would be damaged through manifold confusion and scandal. (Footnote 31: All these teachings of the last popes are rejected pointblank by Cardinal Schönborn in his interpretation of AL: cf. Schönborn 2016 – July 6, 2016.)

If it thus clearly seems that also the described cases of "marriages of conscience" cannot be allowed or recognized by the Church as sacramental marriages, without contradicting the express teachings of the Church, some of which are even solemnly declared through anathemas of anyone who denies them, and if leaving it to the individual conscience to declare a marriage invalid is inadmissible, the only answer to our question which "irregular couples" can be admitted to the sacraments is the first one: none. Moreover, if this follows not from changeable decisions of the Church but from the Gospel and unchangeable Church teaching, not even a Pope can deviate from this doctrine and practice of the Church. Therefore, one ought to plead with the Pope that he retracts any statement that all or some couples in such "irregular situations" are to be admitted to the sacraments.

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – marriage and virginity

Amoris laetitia says, in number 159, "Rather than speak absolutely of  the superiority of  virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another."

The theologians censure the theoretically possible interpretation of this as "denying that a virginal state of life consecrated to Christ is superior considered in itself to the state of Christian marriage." Such a claim would be contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that the married state surpasses that of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema.”

What Amoris laetitia actually says is, "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out…" Strictly speaking, it is not denying that there is some sense in which there could be a superiority absolute in some sense (abstracted from some set of considerations or circumstances), but affirming that it isn't necessary to speak about superiority absolutely, that it should suffice to note, first, that the states are complementary, and then, when appropriate, to note the respects in which each one is superior or more perfect.

The judgment "It's not necessary to speak about a superiority" would generally imply either that (1) there isn't a superiority, or (2) while there is a superiority, it would be unhelpful or even misleading to speak about it. Since Amoris laetitia in the previous sentence notes John Paul II statement that the bible does not give us a reason to assert the superiority of virginity as a mere fact (its superiority is not absolute, but in relationship, in relationship to the kingdom of God), there is some reason to think that the rejection of this kind of superiority lies behind the statement "Rather than speak absolutely." On the other hand, since Pope Francis could have simply denied superiority in this sense, there is plausibility to see the reason for the statement "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough etc." as being, on the one hand, that noting the complementarity and specifying the respects in which each is more perfect suffices to communicate the particular values of each, and, on the other hand, that speaking about absolutely superiority might be misleading.

My years of teaching about the states of life have given me a lot of sympathy for this view. It is, indeed, for many people difficult to internalize the proposition "abstracting from particular circumstances of individual cases of consecrated virginity or marriage, christian consecrated virginity is superior as a sign of and means to holiness" without drawing various false conclusions, such as, "no married person is holier than a holy consecrated virgin."

Nonetheless, this statement of Amoris laetitia does seem to me to be a bit overstated, i.e., it doesn't specify "for whom", or "to what end", "it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another etc.", and there seem to be at least some persons and some ends for which it would not be enough to point out complementarity and specific sense of perfection, but for whom and for which it would be important to talk about in what ways these superiorities are "absolute", "conditioned", and/or "relative".

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – death penalty

Amoris laetitia in n. 83, says that the Church "firmly rejects the death penalty." The theologians censure a theoretically possible interpretation of this that would understand it "as meaning that the death penalty is always and everywhere unjust in itself and therefore cannot ever be rightly inflicted by the state." Such a meaning would contradict Church doctrine. Read in context, I don't see anything suggesting that the text would mean anything so absolute. As it is speaking about the Church's mission to defend life, the straightforward meaning of saying that the Church "firmly rejects the death penalty," would be that the Church holds with conviction that the death penalty should not be employed today.

Though it is not relevant to what the common Catholic would understood the text to mean, evidence for this reading is the way Pope Francis elsewhere describes Pope John Paul II's and the Catechism's position on capital punishment. E.g., in his address to the delegates of the international association of penal law, Pope Francis, referring to their statements that the cases where it is necessary to kill an offender are rare, if not practically nonexistent, says that "Pope John Paul II condemned the death penalty, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church." So the weaker language of "firmly rejects" is adequately interpreted in this sense of being practically never necessary.

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoke out stronger against the death penalty. One may disagree with the prudence of this. But as there are not real indications that he intends to use the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia to further opposition to the death penalty or to change Church teaching on it, it would seem more well-advised to address those stronger statements, rather than raising concerns about what the statement "firmly rejects the death penalty" could be interpreted to mean.

Habemus Papam!

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., was elected today to the papacy, taking the name of Francis. He is the first Jesuit to be elected as pope. He gave a brief public address, beginning with an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for Bishop Emeritus of Rome Benedict XIV, asked the people to pray for him, and gave the first papal blessing. Read the first public words of Pope Francis.

Words of Pope Benedict XVI at the General Audience

At the beginning of the general audience today, Feb 13, 2013, Pope Benedict spoke about his decision to renounce the Petrine ministry, and thanked the faithful for their prayers.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.

Website hacker, vandalism

Inmotion hosting, the company where this site is hosted, was hacked yesterday, September 25, and pages on many of the 700,000 sites hosted by this company were replaced with electronic graffiti boasting of the hacker's accomplishment. Here a series of announcements from the company on the matter. The hacker is apparently the hacker who through DNS hijacking intercepted the local domains for google, microsoft, yahoo, and others, instead sending a similar hacked page to internet users' browsers. ( The blog on this site was defaced for around 20 hours, as some readers noticed. The hacked page was not itself dangerous to computers or browsers viewing the site. The pages have been repaired, and the company says that it is acting to close the security vulnerability issues that allowed the attack in the first place.

Puzzle About Happiness

The following puzzle compares the happiness of a man who thinks some of the goods he generally seeks in life are realized with the happiness of a man in the case where those goods are realized, but he thinks they are not. Besides being an interesting thought exercise, it might be helpful for shedding some light on what is involved in the notion of happiness. Warning! The scenario presented is not a pleasant one! A nicer scenario that would so starkly focus on the same issues did not, however, occur to me.


Twenty years from now, two twins, who are both happily married and love their families, have had a falling out with a extremely brilliant, wicked, and rich scientist, who determines to destroy their lives. He kidnaps them, locks them in separate rooms, and offers each of them the choice between the following two options:

(1) I will kidnap your wives and children, and torture them for the rest of your life in the most horrible ways thinkable, but by careful use of precise memory-altering drugs, planted evidence, false witnesses, etc., I will see to it that you are convinced without the slightest doubt that your wife and children died a a heroic or a peaceful death.

(2) I will kidnap your wives and children, and by the use of precise memory-altering drugs so that they no longer remember you at all, arrangement of circumstances, etc., I will do my best to see to it (there's a 95%-99% chance of success) that they are quite happy in their new life, but by use of similar drugs, falsified evidence, etc., I will ensure that you are convinced that they are being tortured and suffering horribly.

The first of the twins chooses the first option, while the second chooses the second. The wicked scientist keeps his threats and promises. Five years later, the first man is still convinced that his family died heroically, though they are in fact still suffering. The second man is still convinced, and reasonably on the basis of the evidence available to him, that his family is suffering, though they are not.

The questions for you, dear reader, are the following: on the basis only of the statements provided: (1) at this point in time, five years after the deed, which of the two men is happier? (2) Taken as a whole, whose life is happier?

Solemn High Mass in Norcia

I was recently in Norcia, Italy, at the Monastery of St. Benedict, and had the opportunity to assist as deacon of a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the first time. (I wrote a post two years ago when they received the apostolate from the Ecclesia Dei commission to celebrate the Holy Mass in both the ordinary and the extraordinary form. Their conventual Mass is now regularly celebrated in the extraordinary form.) Here are couple of photos from a Mass where I and two of my brothers were the ministers.

For those of my readers who are not subscribed to the feed, but come to this website itself, I wish to note that I will be unlikely to make any new posts until the end of August.

Just before the Gloria

Receiving the blessing from the priest before the Gospel

Make me responsible and trustworthy, but not yet…

The "Budget Control Act of 2011" (PDF of the bill; see also the Congressional Budget Office's Analysis of the Bill) passed by the house yesterday and by the senate today reminds me of Augustine's plea: "Make me chaste, but not yet". The plan makes conditions that entail a reduction of 2.1 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years — assuming that income from taxes remains as calculated, and that the interest rate for the US public debt does not rise. However, virtually none (merely 1%) of this reduction has to occur before 2013. Essentially, the plan is a promise to do something about the problem, but not yet… only after the next election. It is an attempt to satisfy voters with the promise to rectify the out-of-control debt of the USA, while avoiding the dissatisfaction that might follow upon the hardships possibly entailed in correcting the problem.

In addition, even with its future promise the plan offers far too little. It allows for an increase in the public debt limit of at least 1.5 Trillion in the next two years, while requiring a reduction of 1.9 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years. The current annual deficit is more than one trillion, and the expected deficit over the next ten years well over ten trillion, making this "deficit reduction" nearly meaningless. Obama basically suggested that the people of the united states, who were, according to the polls, against any increase in the debt limit, are just ignorant of economics. [Press Conference]

The real situation is more like this: picture someone with $200,000 debt, paying 10% interest on it, and whose spending otherwise matches his income; he has to borrow an additional $20,000 this year to make the payments on his long-term debts, and is thus getting ever deeper and deeper into debt; next year he will have to borrow $21,000 to make the payments (assume half of his debt payments go to interest and half to principal), and over the next ten years will have to borrow $300,000 and be $150,000 deeper in debt. He decides he will take out a mortgage on his house to cover the payments for the next ten years, and will reduce his spending by $50,000 over the next 10 years. Now, instead of borrowing a total of $300,000 over the next 10 years, and getting $150,000 deeper into debt, he only has to borrow $250,000, and get only $100,000 deeper into debt. This is only slightly putting off the time when he can no longer make the payments on his debts, and is bankrupt.

Despite the near uselessness of the budgeting of the Budget Control Act, there is a condition in it of potentially more real value, namely that the House of Representatives and Senate should vote before the year's end on a resolution proposing a "balanced budget amendment" to the Constitution of the United States. If such a meaningful amendment were to be made, it would be of far greater value than stop-gap measures like the budgeting of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"Call to Disobedience" and Schönborn's Response

The leaders of the "pastors' initiative" of Vienna pubished a public "call to disobedience" on Trinity Sunday. Cardinal Schönborn this week in the summer edition of the staff magazine of the Archdiocese of Vienna made a response to this “call to disobedience” of the “pastors' initiative”, which, if not formally schismatic, is close to it. I translate both of them here.

If anything, the Cardinal's response could perhaps have been even stronger. Is one justified in going out of one's way not to lose those who in many ways do not share the mind of the Church, if this results in detriment to the visible christian identity, unity, and witness of the Church–and thus the loss of many who would otherwise be attracted to and find Christ in the Church? It does not seem so to me.


“Call to disobedience”

 Rome's refusal to make a long needed reform of the Church and the inactivity of the bishops not only allow us, but force us to follow our conscience and to ourselves take action:

 We priests in the time to come want to point the way ahead:

1. WE WILL in the future speak an intercession for reform of the Church. We take seriously the scriptural saying: Ask, and you shall receive. Before God there is freedom of speech.

2. WE WILL absolutely not refuse the Eucharist to believers of good will. This applies particularly to the divorced and remarried, to members of other christian churches, and in individual cases also those who have left the Church.

 3. WE WILL as far as possible avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, or employing travelling priests who are unknown to the local community. A Liturgy of the Word that is done by the community itself is better than liturgical on tour.

 4. WE WILL in the future consider a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion as a “priesterless celebration of the Eucharist”, and will also name it such. Thus we fulfill our Sunday obligation in a time of few priests.

5. WE WILL disregard the prohibition of preaching for competently educated lay persons and teachers of religion. Precisely in a difficult time it is necessary to proclaim God's word.

 6. WE WILL do what we can to see to it that every parish has its own director: man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part-time. This is to be accomplished not by merging parishes, but by a new image of the priest.

7. WE WILL therefore use every opportunity to speak out publicly for the admission of women and married men to the priestly office. We see in them welcome colleagues in the office of pastoral care.

Finally we see ourselves in solidarity with those colleagues who are no longer permitted to exercise their office on account of a marriage, but also with those who, despite having a (sexual) partner, continue to fulfill their service as priests. Both groups with their decision follow their conscience – as we also do with our protest. We see in them just as much as in the pope and the bishops “our brothers”. What a “fellow brother” is supposed to be over and above that, we do not know. One alone is our master – while we are all brothers. “And sisters” – as it however should be said among christians. For this we desire to stand up, for this we desire to intervene, for this we desire to pray. Amen.


Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's response

Dear fellow workers!
Dear brothers and sisters!
And this time especially: dear fellow brothers in the priestly service!

The leaders of the “pastors' initiative” published a “call to disobedience” ( on Trinity Sunday (June 19). I did not want to reacted immediately, lest I answer in the anger and sorrow that this call aroused in me. At the priestly ordination on June 24 I made indirect reference to it in my homily. The public call to disobedience shakes me deeply. How would it be for the families in our country, if disobedience were raised to a virtue? Many employees ask themselves how it is possible to propagate and practice disobedience in the Church, when they know that they would have long ago lost their jobs if they there made a call to disobedience. 

We priests at our ordination freely, forced by no one, put our hands in the bishop's to show “reverence and obedience” and before the whole community said loudly and clearly, “Yes, I do promise it.” Do you stand by this? Can I, can the communities have confidence in this? As a bishop I also promised faithful communion with and obedience to the pope. I shall stand by this, even if there have been moments wenn that was not easy.

Christian obedience is a school of freedom. It is a matter of the concrete expression in life of what we pray in every Our Father, when we pray to the Father that his will be done in heaven and on earth. This prayer receives its meaning and its power through the interior readiness of the one who prays to accept God's will also in those cases where it differs from what he would imagine for himself. This readiness also becomes concrete in ecclesial obedience to the pope and bishop. What this readiness demands can sometimes be painful.

In the “master plan” for our diocese, in the process “Acts of the Apostles” 2010 and in our plan of development for the diocese it is also a matter of God's will. What is God's will for us, for the archdiocese today, in a situation of great change? In prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist together, in contemplation of the Scriptures, in our looking at the development of our society, we strive to recognize God's will. The “master plan” should indeed be the plan of the Master, of the Lord.

Precisely here the “call to disobedience” takes up its position – but crosswise to the “master plan”. Since the reforms demanded by the initiators of the “pastors' initiative” have still not occurred, and since they bishops, as they see it, are inactive, they see themselves forced, “to follow their conscience and themselves take action.”

If it becomes a question of conscience, to be disobedient to the pope and bishop, then a new level is reached that urges a clear decision. For the conscience is always to be followed when it is a formed conscience that has examined itself critically. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, in a solitary decision of his conscience, refused military service in Hitler's army, at the cost of his life. Blessed John Henry Newman came after many years of intense struggle to the certainty of conscience that the Anglican Church had deviated from the truth and that the Church of Jesus Christ lives on in the Catholic Church. Therefore one who in his examined conscience comes to the conviction that “Rome” is on a wrong track that gravely contradicts God's will, would in the ultimate case have to draw the conclusion, to no longer continue on the way with the Roman-Catholic Church. But I believe and hope that this ultimate case does not occur here.

I do not have to give interior assent to every decision of the Church, especially not in regard to disciplinary decisions, and I may honestly wish that the leadership of the Church would decide otherwise. But when the pope again and again – as in the case of the priestly ministry – gives clear guidelines and recalls the standing teaching, then the exhortation to disobedience in fact calls the ecclesial community into question. Ultimately every priest, and we ourselves must all decide whether or not we want to go the way with the pope, the bishop, and the universal Church. It is always difficulty to see one's own vision curtailed. But he who gives up the principle of obedience, dissolves unity.

In my pastoral letter I invited all to a common way together. I suggested a very concrete way: that we put mission in the first place, and direct everything to it, putting before all else the effort to become new and better disciples of Jesus. By this “the world” will recognize whether following Jesus is worth it, whether being the Church of Jesus Christ really brings something salvific. All efforts at structural reform have to be seen from this perspective.

I do not consider the “call to disobedience” to be a helpful step. I will at the next opportunity talk with the representatives of the “pastors' initiative”. I will particularly point out some inconsistencies in their “program of disobedience”, such as the formulation “priestless celebration of the Eucharist” or the disparaging remarks about the help of outside priests as “liturgical tours”. Only a style that is marked by mutual esteem helps us further along, as we had the happiness of experiencing in the three diocese assemblies.

In not long I will have been a bishop for 20 years. The bishop is at the service of unity, for his own diocese and with the pope and the universal Church. I perform this service with joy. I experience much that is beautiful, but also some painful wounds to unity. The “call to disobedience” is among these wounds. I call to unity, for which Jesus prayed to the Father (cf. John 17:21) and for which he give his life. May he help me in my service of preserving the bond of unity in love and true.

I wish you all a blessed summer time.


+ Christoph Cardinal Schönborn