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.