Card. Schönborn: “sacraments” in Infamous Footnote 351 means mainly the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation)

The other day Pope Francis told journalists during the airplane presser on his return to Rome from Lesbos that, to understand the controversial bit in Amoris laetitia Infamous Footnote 351, we should have recourse to Card. Schönborn’s address at the presentation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation on 8 April.  I posted that text HERE.

Remember what the Infamous Footnote says…

“Sacraments…”  Which “sacraments”?  The only two candidates here are Penance and Eucharist.   However, we know that Communion can’t be received in the state of mortal sin.  Also, according to can. 915 of the Latin Church, those who are publicly known to be persevering in grave sin may not be given Holy Communion.

That said, Pope Francis’ words in the Infamous Footnote have been taken by many to mean that some “irregular” couples, at the determination of the priest – somehow in the internal forum – should give Communion to such couples, or indicate to them that they can go to Communion.  That seems to be contrary to what the Church perennially teaches, given Christ’s own words about marriage and… well… Catholic common sense.

BUT WAIT! There’s more!

Card. Schönborn gave an interview to Vatican Radio (HERE) in which he said that “sacraments” here refers mainly to the Sacrament of Penance!

On one point, in particular, Cardinal Schönborn offered significant clarification, explaining that, when Pope Francis discusses the possibility of admitting people in irregular marital situations “to the sacraments,” the Holy Father is speaking first and foremost of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“I think it is very clear,” said Card. Schönborn, “there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified.”

Ummm… no, Your Eminence, it is NOT “very clear”.  It is unclear.  The note says “sacraments” not “mainly sacrament of penance/reconciliation”.

Let’s see the transcript:

[…]CRA: Observers and some Synod Fathers expressed concern during the two Assemblies regarding process, direction and content: to the extent that those concerns were legitimate, can those who voiced them be satisfied with the document?

Card. Schönborn: The diversity of critiques that has been expressed during the Synod is quite large, and I am sure that not everybody will be satisfied with this document. It was never the case – I can’t remember any post-Synodal Exhortation that received applause from everybody. The fact is, Pope Francis has based his Exhortation largely on the results of the two Synods, and the texts he used for [the basis of] his own writing were voted on by an over 2/3 majority of the Synod Fathers, so there is a large consensus behind it. He is not innovating: he is continuing with what the Synod had already prepared and offered him.  [In keeping with what Card. Burke said when he aligned the Exhortation more closely to the acts of the Synod than the Pope’s Ordinary Magisterium.]

CRA: You have said that the continuity runs also between this document and another, specifically, St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio… 

Card. Schönborn: I am profoundly convinced that, 35 years after Familiaris consortio, Pope Francis has given us a beautiful example of what [Bl.] John Henry Newman calls, “the organic development of teaching.” [I wonder how many are convinced that this is so.] [St.] John Paul II has already innovated in some points: not a break with tradition, but his “Theology of the Body” was something very new; his words on graduality inFamiliaris consortio were rather unusual; his words on “discernment” in Familiaris consortio #84 were quite surprising – his strong invitation to discern different situations. Pope Francis is very much in continuity with this, and the Synod was – the two Synods were [as well]. Discernment was a key word in Pope Francis’ Exhortation. It is very “Jesuitical” – discernment of spirits – and that leads him to an attitude that was already present in Pope Benedict’s teaching, in Pope [St.] John Paul II’s teaching, that the Church offers help to those who are in so-called “irregular situations”. [Nota bene:] He adds a little note, where he says, “In certain cases, also, the aid, the help of the sacraments.” That’s all he said.

CRA:  That brings us nicely to the point, because, when we are talking about discernment, we are inevitably also must discuss conscience – but we must let Mother Church form our consciences – and Pope Francis certainly knows this, though it does bear mention. [And the Big Question…] The sacraments: which ones, and in what order?

Card. Schönborn: I think it is fairly clear: [Please, Your Eminence, make it clear!  And is it “fairly clear” or “very clear” (above)?] there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified. [Ummm… “clarified”?  What does that mean?  Also, these people either have a firm purpose of amendment (in regard to sinful behavior) or they don’t, even if they must stay together for some good reason (e.g., care of children, care of the sick, etc.).] Pope Francis has himself given an example: when a woman [in an irregular marital situation] comes to confess her abortion – the sin, the grave sin of abortion – not to relieve her, even if her situation is irregular – the discernment of the shepherd can be, and I would say, “must be”: you have to help this person to be freed from her burden, even if you cannot tell her that her marital situation has been regularized by this absolution – but you cannot [let her leave] the confessional with the burden of her grave sin she finally had the courage to come to confess. [Ummm…. you can’t target one mortal sin among others for absolution, leaving the others unabsolved.  Censures, yes.  Sins, no.  It’s all or nothing.  So, is he saying that even in the absence of a firm purpose of amendment regarding sexual relations in that “irregular” relationship, the priest “must” still give absolution?] That was the example he had given, and I think it is a very good example for what this little note could mean in certain cases: i.e. “[…]even the help of sacraments.” 

I guess I still have questions about what the Infamous Footnote 351 means.

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  1. Clemens Romanus says:

    If it’s so clear, why am I even more confused after this interview?

  2. Peter Stuart says:

    I guess I still have questions about what the Infamous Footnote 351 means.

    Let me try to thread it all together: If a penitent persists long enough in serious sin, he must be given absolution (and thus Holy Communion) irrespective of a firm purpose of amendment, lest the confessional become a torture chamber.

    As an SSA revert who must continually accuse myself of being shaky on that purpose (shakier now than ever, truth to tell), I’m also shakier than ever on what the Church believes and teaches. Between that and my obvious confusion leading to frequent occasions of incharity, I think I’ll steer clear of the sin bin until I can get my director to help me sort this out.

  3. Thomistica says:

    The reason why it’s unclear is that it is intended to be unclear. [That’s my take, too.] It would seem that certain individuals need to learn the old maxim: say what you mean, mean what you say.
    My reading of AL suggests that the document is intentionally written to mask the views of its writers, but that the views of its writers are clear.
    All this is quite unfair to the laity, which deserves clarity and should not have to engage in an exegetical industry every time one statement or another emerges from this papacy.
    We are not children.

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    There should have been a beta version of Amoris laetitia.

    [What’s out IS the Beta Version. The final, official version will be in Acta Apostolicae Sedis.]

  5. StMichael71 says:

    Interpreted charitably, Schonborn would be right on the latter case. Say the person confesses abortion and is contrite, but invincibly ignorant, for other reasons, about the status of their marriage (even though it is objectively irregular). In fact, the Vademecum for Confessors, dealing with contraception, gives the directive that one WOULD absolve such a person. It is not selective absolution, but the fact that there is an allowable gradualism in dealing with cases of invincible ignorance and because their contrition is sufficient. One can absolve in that moment, because the person’s contrition is complete and universal for everything that “counts” as sin for them (given invincible ignorance), but then gradually and later introduce education about the state of their marriage. One is not under a positive obligation to reveal the status of their marriage to them when it might be positively harmful to their spiritual state; immediately after confessing an abortion, to me, is a really bad time to bring up their questionable marital status. [Of course if one is not aware of, ignorant about, innocently oblivious to the objective sinfulness of one’s living arrangements, one wouldn’t confess that. I wonder what subset of those will go to confess an abortion without mentioning to the confessor even a single point about the circumstances of one’s life.]

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    The phrasing of footnote 351 admits of an orthodox interpretation (whatever might have been implied there). I still think footnote 329, in contrast, is considerably more problematic. Or have I missed something?

    [Yes, n. 329 is indeed troubling: 329 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51). For my part, it is especially troubling because of the misuse of GS 51. GS 51 clearly is about married couples, that is, a man and a woman in the married state as the Church understands matrimony.]

  7. Benedict Joseph says:

    The seamless garment of conceal and distract has been spun into a sophomoric confection of adolescent proportions. Unattractive and entirely unconvincing from an adult. Beyond mortifying.

  8. dans0622 says:

    “Organic development”–yes, a process from a bud to a leaf is good. Organic development can go “in the other direction”, though. [Ummm… no. It can’t unless it involves Dr. Who.] What are we seeing with AL? Time will tell.

    Regarding footnote 329: who is one person among the “many people” who say that? I would like to have some idea of who “they” are. What does “certain expressions of intimacy” mean, exactly? Do they necessarily include the conjugal act? If so, then we’re certainly on the wrong track.

  9. Ave Crux says:

    Well, I’m still scratching my head and wondering at the way in which there seems to be a strange phenomenon of denial going on with regard to footnote 351.

    Perhaps because admitting what it clearly says would be unthinkable and no one wants to do that?

    I read in infamous footnote 351 that persons in irregular sexual unions can be helped by the Sacraments (plural); my knowledge of the Catechism and Sacramental system immediately deduces that clearly only 2 Sacraments are “candidates” (Confession and Holy Communion); the footnote then provides examples using the Pope’s own words concerning Confession and Holy Communion, and yet it is still being denied by some that it doesn’t say what it says.

    This is profoundly disconcerting; how can it be maintained that it doesn’t say what it actually says….?

    What am I missing…..? Are my eyes lying to me? What is unclear? I beg to be enlightened as to how these words don’t mean what they actually say?

  10. Blas says:

    Maybe I´m wrong but When there was a restriction to the sacrament of penance? There was restrictions to get absolution, is Card. Schönborn referring to that? Is he saying go to confession and you will be absolved?

    [IF you are not absolved, you don’t receive the Sacrament of Penance. The priest is still bound by the Seal! But it is not the Sacrament. The matter of the Sacrament is the telling of sins. The form is the form of absolution. No absolution, no sacrament.]

  11. John_Ed says:

    Re: Footnote 329. Interestingly I find nothing troubling about it. It just states a point. It doesn’t say, ‘Look here, these folks are finding it difficult not to have sex, so let them have it.’ It just states, ‘Look here, these folks are finding it difficult not to have sex.’ [Again, the trouble is in the way that the footnote DISTORTED GS 51. That’s a problem.]

  12. Antony says:

    Fascinating. This hearkens back to The Big Interview:

    “This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?

    I had the feeling at the time that a real sleight-of-hand was playing out in this paragraph. She’s happily “remarried” with her 5 children. The abortion is troubling, but not the issue of the abandonment of her vows. I believed at the time that the abortion was the moving hand drawing attention away from the no-big-deal permanent adultery problem. It seems that this is still the strategy, painting an image of the really big nasty sin and contrasting that with the happy domesticity of “til death do us part” 2.0.

  13. Pnkn says:

    I, too, am still confused. I would like Cardinal Schonborn to name the sacrament that is not “first and foremost” . I also would like him to state whether or not the couple in his example could receive the Eucharist without causing themselves harm. (I am assuming that it is “ok” to go to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation cafeteria style – I know that it is not “ok”, but for the sake of my question and his example I make the assumption.).

    I also would wonder if some people might consider the priest to be prying rather than being straightforward in asking the confessor to describe themselves a bit. However, after all, of what use, er how mercifully guiding is pastoral counsel if the counselor is ignorant or uninformed ?

    It’s a sad day when prominent members of two orders known for scholarship and preaching/teaching cannot be relied upon to be faithful to the truths of the faith.

  14. HeatherPA says:

    ““I think it is very clear,” said Card. Schönborn, “there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified.”’

    What in the world is the above supposed to mean? It seems deliberately vague.

    I mean, is one who persists in sin without a firm amendment to change or remedy the acts of sin supposed to be given absolution anyway “at a priest’s discretion” depending on what is going on?

    I would not want to be the one answering to The Lord on judgment day for souls who were absolved due to personal discretion rather than a firm purpose of amendment to not commit that sin anymore. St. Theresa is one of many saints who were shown visions of priests in Hell who were carrying penitents they had absolved imprudently on their shoulders.

    [It is possible to think of situations which Card. S describes. It is possible. However, as we say, “hard cases make bad law”. Card. S isn’t proposing a law, but to speak in such a loose way about hard and, indeed, rare cases, in this age of muddied thinking, creates confusion. Card. S is a smart guy, well-trained. He can make all the necessary distinctions in his head, as can theologians and canonists. But when he is giving and “explanation”, it has to be broken down Barney style.]

  15. jkusch says:

    Thomistica has hit the nail squarely on the head. It is quite clear which two Sacraments footnote 351 open to those in irregular situations. But Schonborn never mentions communion for the divorced and remarried in the examples he gives. Why is he being so coy? The answer is the he and those for whom he is acting as a proxy know that what they are saying is incompatible with the perennial teaching of the Church. They know that if they stated it explicitly there’d be even more of a firestorm. Hence the evasion.

  16. dans0622 says:

    Anything is possible with Dr. Who but I don’t mean that a leaf can “organically develop” into a bud. A middle age man, though, will “organically develop” into an old man with less strength, etc. That’s what I was attempting to get at but left out a step… [He will organically decline, not develop.]

  17. John_Ed says:

    Acta Apostolicae Sedis? What’s that? Are you saying that AL is just a work in progress?

    [AAS is the official gazette of and instrument of promulgation of the Holy See. Definitive texts are found in the AAS, usually some months after their initial release! I think this is a serious issue, because people rarely if ever go to the AAS and work from the official text. They rush to use what was originally released, in various languages, without double-checking them against what is officially published later on. For example, between the initial release of, say, the Latin of Veritatis splendor (yes, it was released also in Latin on the first day and the Latin text was published in L’Osservatore Romano the next day), and the release of the official text in AAS, there were hundreds of text changes. I know. I looked at them side by side. Most of them were small things, but they were changes. So, until we have an final, official version in the AAS, yes, this is a BETA. It’s been done this way for a while now.]

  18. mjmarker123 says:

    I haven’t read anything yet on Canon 12 of the XXIV Session of Trent… Council of Trent (DZ 1812) “If anyone says that matrimonial cases do not belong to ecclesiastical judges, let him be anathema.”

    And Decree Tametsi forbidding secret marriages from the same Session: “The Church, in that she does not judge about what is not public…” (DZ 1814)

    Therefore matrimonial cases belong to judgments in the public forum, and could never be “resolved” in the private forum, even supposing theoretical invincible ignorance.

    In addition, would not Canon 915’s “manifest grave sin” refer to the material sin (e.g. an objective state of adultery being grave matter irrespective of subjective culpability) since it is about a judgment and therefore an external forum issue, rather than the formal aspect of sin (subjective culpability/ill will/knowledge and consent) which is always necessarily an internal forum issue?

    I think Canon 12 of the XXIV Session of Trent is big here. The “internal forum solution” AL seems to open up violates this canon, IMHO.

  19. chantgirl says:

    This focus on confession is rascally. If people living in unrepentant, public, objective states of sin go to confession and “receive” absolution, what’s to stop them from going to Communion? After all, they’ve been absolved. [Remember: God can neither deceive nor be deceived!] This view of the priest giving absolution for particular sins and not others seems to turn confession into magic. The priest doesn’t have the power to absolve some sins and not others in the same confession. Allowing confession in these situations is the back door to Communion for those in unrepentant, public, objective states of sin.

    Frankly, with an exhortation signed by a Pope who as Bishop authorized communion for the divorced/remarried, and presented by a Cardinal who allows the Kasper approach in his own diocese, are we really still debating intent here?

    “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.574 The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth575 will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.” Catechism 675

    I’m not betting on a day, but we need to read the signs of the times. What greater “mystery of iniquity” could oppose a Church founded on Christ’s sacrifice for our sins than forgiveness of our sins without repentance and profanation of the Eucharist? It is a mockery of both Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

  20. Nicolas Bellord says:

    If a woman confesses to an abortion but not to her irregular situation and the priest is ignorant of the latter he presumably can give her absolution for the abortion. [I can imagine such a scenario.] However does her failure to confess the irregular situation invalidate the absolution? [It would be invalid if she purposely failed to confess what she knew were mortal sins. And “irregular situation” might not be a sin, in itself, provided that sexual relations were not part of it, there was a compelling reason not to avoid the occasions of sin, scandal was avoided, etc.] Presumably one is bound to mention all mortal sins? [Yes, one is obliged to confess all mortal sins to the best of one’s ability. As always, for an objectively mortally sinful act to be a mortally sinful act for which one is subjectively culpable, you have to know it is a grave sin and then choose freely to do it anyway. If your will or knowledge are deficient, you are not as guilty of the act as you are if you know and will what you do.] Further I understand you to say that if she confesses to both but will not form a firm intention not to continue with the irregular situation you cannot absolve her from the sin of abortion? [The priest must be sure, by signs given by the penitent, that there is either attrition or contrition and then a firm purpose of amendment in at least that moment. Otherwise, he may not give absolution. No sorrow, no purpose to amend, no absolution.]
    If someone is ignorant that their irregular situation is mortally sinful then taking communion is okay. [It’s not “okay”. It is less than ideal. But it might benefit the person, provided the person is in the state of grace.] However if they then enter into a process of discernment with a priest they must surely then become aware that to continue is mortal sin excluding them from taking communion. [If the confessor/priest is worth his salt, yes. However, each person is different and a confessor has to lead them, sometimes slowly through the steps as a person begins to realize what sort of spiritual situation she is in. If the priest wants to help a person truly to convert, it might not be the best strategy to drop the entire description of the state of things all at once. For example, say a person with cancer needs radiation and chemo. You give the person doses of each over time. You don’t give them all the radiation and all the drugs all at once.] If one is a Kasperite would it not be better and simpler to leave them in their state of ignorance taking communion? [No, because then the priest is guilty of intentionally allowing a sacrilege to take place without any intention of remedying the situation and he is leaving the person in a perilous spiritual state.]

  21. martin.c says:

    Dear Father, I hate to be so insistent but I am really in need of someone knowledgeable to comment on no. 300 and footnote 336 as it is directly related with footnote 351 and, apparently, Schönborn’s interpretation. When it says that “the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same” (no 300), and that “this is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists.” (fn 336), isn’t AL implying that internal forum discernment could enable the pastor to exempt someone from external forum norms such as canons 915, 987 and 1007? [No, I don’t think that is the case. Priests must follow canon law, which includes can. 915. Can. 987 speaks to the disposition of the penitent to receive absolution. If a confessor discerns that the person is genuinely sorry for all mortal sins and truly has a firm purpose of amendment, he is not to delay absolution. If he is genuinely unsure about sorrow and purpose of amendment, based on the evidence of the penitent, writers such as St. Alphonsus think that in rare cases he can delay giving absolution for a brief time. That’s a difficult call, of course. Even great confessors such as St. Leopold Madic withheld absolution a few times. They also would use that technique to break through laxity or lack of seriousness in the penitent to elicit genuine sorrow, even if it was based at first only on fear of eternal punishment. Then they would try to move the penitent to deeper sorrow and amendment of life. Again, this is a tricky path. Can. 915 exists so that scandal may be avoided. It is possible to imagine hard cases in which a person is in an “irregular” situation but who is truly penitent but who is bound by natural obligations to remain in that “irregular” situation without sexual contact, etc. Were such a person, in the state of grace, to go to Communion in some place where she was entirely unknown, sandal would be avoided. Of course anointing (can. 1007) is a separate case, because there may be danger of death, etc.]

    Not directly related but maybe even more problematic is no. 305 view on natural law: “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”. And this is from a document released by the ITC during the pontificate of Benedict XVI… how can we interpret this in continuity with the teaching of Veritatis Splendor, that is, that negative precepts of natural law universal, absolute and necessary? [Please show me the book in which the Natural Law is codified.]

    And the doctrine about mortal sin in no 301 also seems very fishy. I understand that an objectively evil action performed with full knowledge of its malice can be a venial sin if it is performed without deliberate consent. That follows from the teaching of the catechism. But how things like “difficulty in understanding the inherent values” of moral law, or external circumstances like having to take care of children born from an adulterous relationship, could render the consent given to a sexual act not deliberate? What is the traditional teaching about deliberate consent? [It seems to me that, today, there are a lot of people who, never having received any training in morals, never having had to think about values, etc., get so mired in habitual sins, vices, that they are nearly oblivious to the last inklings of conscience that all human beings have as images of God. Conscience has been rendered so ineffective through neglect and through gratification of passions that it is hardly a factor in decision making. If, at some point, something extraordinary happens with such a person, and they begin to have a conversion, and they tentatively seek out the Church, the confessor has to deal with such a person in a way that is truly useful and beneficial for that person. That’s charity: what is truly the good of the other. If we were to have a conversation and I insisted on speaking only Dumi, a language spoken in a valley in Tibet, you wouldn’t get much out of my discourse. Quidquid recipitur in modo recipientis recipitur. I must adjust my way of communicating to you in your circumstances for us to have beneficial communication. If I insist on dropping the Code of Canon Law and the entirety of the CCC on a person who just walked in my door and who has, until a few days ago, never thought about the objective circumstances of his life… is that the charitable way to deal with him? Would that be for his true good? Even in His discussion with the woman at the well, Our Lord engaged the woman for a while before getting at objective problems in her life. Part of the problem we are facing, in the wake of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, is that a) chapter 8 is a thorough vague mess and b) it addresses an extremely complicated issue, in which no two cases are exactly alike. Add to that the shallow reporting of the MSM and the deliberate intention to mislead people that liberal dissenters have (and they have the upper hand right now), we who desire to benefit from the Exhortation while remaining in the Truth of Christ have a hard path to walk.]

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  23. JabbaPapa says:

    mjmarker123, I think you’re a little mistaken about those canons of Trent — the so-called “internal forum” naturally includes the Diocesan Church Court/tribunal, whose authority it is to judge on the sacramental validity or otherwise of a first marriage.

    Also, whilst it is anathema to deny that authority on the basis of that canon 12, this does not extinguish the other sources of authority, nor the means described in Familiaris Consortio for the divorced-remarried to live in a manner of penitential abstinence and return to a state of sacramental grace ; which need not involve any process of annulment at all.

    If anything, the German Bishops are attempting to violate the canon by trying to declare that the divorced-remarried may generally partake of Holy Communion, in complete defiance of both each individual Diocesan Authority and of the general norms regarding such situations. But then, if you start defying one of the Ten Commandments, it’s unsurprising that several lesser canons of the Law end up being violated too.

  24. JabbaPapa says:

    Father — in general, are the Vatican’s online texts those of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as revised and corrected, so that for example the current online version of Amoris Laetitia will eventually be replaced by the AAS version once it appears ? [I doubt it.]

  25. cl00bie says:

    Without contrition there can be no absolution. What is the use of Confession in this case?

    “Bless me father, for I have sinned. I expect to continue this same sine in the foreseeable future.”

    Isn’t this like administering last rites to the dead?

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