Diocese of Rome’s guidelines for ‘Amoris laetitia’. Wherein Fr. Z rants, offers solution.

0-holy-communionAt the end I offer a solution.  But be patient and read.

Sandro Magister provided an English translation of key parts of the Italian document issued by the Vicar of Rome, Card. Vallini (who runs the Diocese of Rome while the Pope popes), outlining how to implement the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia.  Italian original HERE

Here are the paragraphs that concern the most controversial aspect of Amoris laetitia, that is, whether Communion can be given to those who are civilly divorced and remarried without any declaration of nullity of previous marriages, that is to say are, objectively, living in an adulterous relationship and who have not yet chosen the “brother and sister” path.   My emphases and comments.

“The text of the apostolic exhortation does not go further, but footnote 351 states: ‘In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.’ The pope uses the conditional, so he is not saying that they must be admitted to the sacraments, although he does not exclude this in some cases and under some conditions [the underlining is in the text of the presentation – editor’s note]. Pope Francis develops the previous magisterium in the line of the hermeneutic of continuity and of exploration, and not in discontinuity and rupture. [!] He affirms that we must travel the ‘via caritatis’ of welcoming penitents, listening to them attentively, showing them the maternal face of the Church, inviting them to follow the path of Jesus, helping them to mature the right intention of opening themselves to the Gospel, and we must do this while paying attention to the circumstances of individual persons, to their consciences, without compromising the truth and prudence that will help to find the right way.

“It is most important to establish with all these persons and couples a ‘good pastoral relationship.’ That is to say, we must welcome them warmly, invite them to open themselves to participate in some way in ecclesial life, in family groups, in carrying out some service, e.g. charitable or liturgical (choir, prayer of the faithful, offertory procession). [So, people who are in objectively irregular situations, apparent to other people, can have liturgical roles?  And note that “e.g.”.  The one’s mentioned are not the only ones, it seems.  How about distributing Communion?] In order to develop these processes it is more valuable than ever that there be the active presence of pastoral worker couples, and this will also be of great benefit to the climate of the community. These persons – the pope says – “need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church” (AL, 299).  [Sincere question: Will making them feel so confortable also remove their incentive to rectify their situation?  But if they can’t/won’t rectify their situation… we admit them to Communion?]

“This is not necessarily a matter of arriving at the sacraments, but of orienting them to live forms of integration in ecclesial life. [NB: Even though they are in an irregular situation, they are still obliged to attend Holy Mass on Sundays, etc.  They are also obliged to confess their sins once a year. However, if they will not say with sincerity that they intend to amend their lives, they can’t be absolved.  And though Father can be fooled, God cannot be fooled.] But when the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, meaning when their journey of faith has been long, sincere, and progressive, it is proposed that they live in continence; [NB: HERE IT IS…] if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, [that is, living as brother and sister in continence] ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist. This means a certain openness, as in the case in which there is the moral certainty that the first marriage was null but there are not the proofs to demonstrate this in a judicial setting; [I’ve never worked in a tribunal… but how do you arrive at a moral certainty without proofs of some kind?] but not however in the case in which, for example, their condition is shown off as if it were part of the Christian ideal, etc. [That last part… “ma non invece nel caso in cui, ad esempio, viene ostentata la propria condizione come se facesse parte dell’ideale cristiano, ecc.”  Ummm… I think that word salad means something like they have to avoid the appearance that this set up (objective adulterers) is somehow in keeping with Christian morals.  This is, I think, the Kasperite “tolerated but not accepted”.  Their situation (adultery) is not “part of the Christian ideal”.  Adulterers receiving Communion is “not part of the Christian ideal”.   But we are going to give them Communion anyway.]

VI) “How are we to understand this openness? Certainly not in the sense of an indiscriminate access to the sacraments, as sometimes happens, [Indeed it does!  And it is going to continue to happen, probably more than ever now because they will claim the cover of Amoris laetitia.  Am I wrong?] but of a discernment that would distinguish adequately case by case. Who can decide? From the tenor of the text and from the ‘mens’ of its Author it does not seem to me that there could be any solution other than that of the internal forum. In fact, the internal forum is the favorable way for opening the heart to the most intimate confidences, and if a relationship of trust has been established over time with a confessor or with a spiritual guide, it is possible to begin and develop with him an itinerary of long, patient conversion, made of small steps and of progressive verifications.  [Sincere question: If Fr. Spike works with Bill and Sue and they together decide that they can receive Communion, and if they do this in the internal forum, then how is Fr. Spike supposed to explain to people who know Bill and Sue why they can receive Communion?  How to avoid scandal?  I have an idea about this.  See below.]

“So it can be none other than the confessor, at a certain point, in his conscience, after much reflection and prayer, who must assume the responsibility before God and the penitent and ask that the access take place in a discreet manner. In these cases there is no interruption of the journey of discernment (AL, 303; ‘dynamic discernment’) for the sake of reaching new stages toward the full Christian ideal.”  [So the ultimate goal is either separation of the couple or living in continence and… AND… avoiding scandal.  Don’t forget the issue of scandal in this.]

The document bobs and weaves, but, from what I can tell, it says, yes, Communion can be given to them.  That is, Communion can be given to people who are, at the time of Communion, more than likely not in the state of grace.  Right? Isn’t that what is being said?

Let’s review:

it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist.

That “this decision is difficult to practice” means that the couple who are not married are still having adulterous sexual relations.  That “for the stability of the couple” must mean that without sexual relations they are not a “couple”, and that it is, for one reason or another, important that they (who aren’t married) stay together and have sex together. No?

However…. If they have entered into a process with a priest who as helped them to see what their situation is according to the teaching of Christ and His Church, then they know that what they are doing is wrong.  They know that they have committed a mortal sin.  They know that are not properly disposed to receive.  Wouldn’t that be part of what the priest must help them to understand?

But… they can receive anyway?  Am I missing something?

Let’s say that Amoris laetitia is being properly interpreted here.  Let’s say that the Pope really did intend this.  This is, after all, the Pope’s diocese, right?  This must be what this Pope really wants.  This must really show the mens of Pope Francis.

How do we work with this?

We get the whole bit about “graduality”.  We get the whole thing about “for the sake of reaching the full Christian ideal”.   We also can imagine that the situation being described is going to be relatively rare.

I cannot see anyway around this. It must be either one way or the other.  It is either 1) that they say that they will not live in continence as brother and sister, or 2) they say that they will try to live in continence as brother and sister.  If they say they won’t, and they don’t, they cannot be admitted to Communion. They must not approach to receive Communion.  That would be a mortal sin and a sacrilege.  If, on the other hand, they say that they will try, really try, if they confess their sins and really intend to live in continence, they probably can be admitted to Communion – remoto scandaloprovided that scandal is avoided.

Fr. Z’s Solution:

If, in those rare circumstances when such a couple might be able to receive Communion, why not give them Holy Communion outside of Mass in the rectory?  That would avoid scandal.  Right?

Think about it.  If reception of Communion is so important to them because they a) really understand what the Eucharist is… WHO the Eucharist is and b) the reflect on the Four Last Things and c) they are on this “journey” and living in continence, etc., then they should be willing to attend Mass according to their obligation (like everyone else) but not receive during Mass so that they will avoid even a small risk of giving scandal.  If they have charity toward their neighbors, they would want to avoid scandal and putting the priest in a tough spot.  Right?

They should be thrilled to receive Communion but out of sight, in the rectory, away from public view.   Right?

But it must be asked: What is it that they really want?  Is it the Eucharist?

What does reception of Communion mean to them?  Is the moment of Communion fully about reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Savior and King of Fearful Majesty?  Or is Communion about being with other people, sharing a moment together, being part of the group, being affirmed as they are?

What does Communion mean?

Is reception of Holy Communion now about something other than getting to heaven?

I keep turning this over and over in my head, asking:  If they really get the Eucharist, the full implications of receiving as Paul describes in 1 Cor 11:27 (“Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.”), if they really get the Four Last Things, then … would they really want to put at risk their eternal salvation?

If they have been working with a sound priest who helps them to understand what mortal sin is, what matrimony is according to the Church’s teachings, would they really want to receive Communion in their irregular state?

Let’s say that they get all these things.  Let’s say they decided to live in continence because its the right thing to do, because of their love of the Lord and out of their desire for graces of Communion in the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of their Savior.  Let’s grant this scenario is possible.  Fine.  There may be times when they fail in their determination to live in continence and they have sexual relations.  They go to confession and start over.  Fine.  That’s what we all do when we sin in any way.  We go to confession with a firm purpose of amendment and start over with God’s help.  They might be living in a very near occasion of sin, but perhaps there are legitimate reasons for that, such as the care of children, etc.  Okay.


The issue of scandal is still going to loom over this.

My solution might be the way to go: Communion in private, outside of public Mass, away from observing eyes.

QUAERITUR: We must ask of ourselves as a Church a hard question. Has reception of Holy Communion come to be about something other than getting to heaven?

The moderation queue is ON.

PS: As I have written before, faithful priests will continue to do what they do, and faithless priests will continue to do what they do.  The divide between them will grow greater and unity between parishes and dioceses will diminish.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Y2Y says:

    “The divide between them will grow greater and unity between parishes and dioceses will diminish.”

    While regrettable, I believe this to be an inevitable element of the expurgation which must necessarily occur within the Church.

  2. JPK says:

    This matter is a very technical matter, that in truth, lies within the domain of priests. It is also a private one. I can fully understand giving private Holy Communion to a couple living as brother and sister if only to avoid public scandal.

    But reading Al and the other guidance from the dioceses I feel like hitting my head against the wall. The ambiguous not to mention overly syrupy language makes me want to vomit. What’s wrong with pithy declarative sentences expressed in the active voice? I spent a decade in the service, and my First Sergeant and Commander demanded unambiguous, lean prose. I know the RCC isn’t the DOD; but, a little clarity would help. And yes, there are some hard, very hard cases. But, I think our bishops should remember that old legal adage – Hard cases make for bad law.

  3. Dan says:

    And what has happened to teaching accountability? We hear the Holy Father saying recently we must walk with these people that Jesus would never turn his back on them. This is true. We must accompany, but we must not allow them to turn their back on Jesus either. For we know that Jesus, our of respect for our own free will, and because we are not slaves to God, will allow us to turn our backs to him.

    Do they not consider the story of the rich young man? He keeps the commandments and has since he is young, but when he is asked to do something for God that he personally doesn’t want to do, then he is allowed to walk away sad. It is sad, and no doubt breaks the Lord’s heart, but essentially with this interpretation of Amoris Laetitia aren’t we allowing people to do just that? To turn their backs to the Lord, to live their lives not doing one thing that is hard for them? But worse than that we are condemning them to death by tricking them into thinking that they have no need to do what the Lord asked?
    Why didn’t the disciples call the rich young man back and say, “wait, just come eat with us, you can keep all that you have, you are basically good.” Didn’t they know he would leave them? he wouldn’t be there to contribute to the collection plate, he might go to another church or no church at all?
    This is the greatest deception of all time, that you can walk the way of Christ without attempting to do what Christ Himself has asked that we do. I wonder who we know who is good at deception, that could maybe be called the greatest deceiver of all time? This isn’t mercy, this is condemnation
    St. Michael, Pray for us

  4. Thorfinn says:

    The document reads like an honest reflection of what Amoris laetitia teaches — bobbing, weaving, and all.

  5. Papabile says:

    Please explain to me why this principle would not apply to reception of Communion for a couple living in a valid marriage whom struggle with, but utilize, birth control for the stability of the valid marriage?

    I am sure there is some sort of difference here. The teaching on the lifelong validity of marriage itself is divinely revealed dogma. However, it is debatable as to whether the teaching birth control ascends to that level – – if it is not just de fide doctrinal in and of itself.

    It is hard for me to understand how one applies this practice with respect to a dogmatic understanding the validity of marriage, and not being able to apply the same practice to those who simply practice birth control.

    Or, take any other sin, and do the same.

    [The use of artificial birth control is not the issue here. However, there is a solid and incontrovertible principle: If you are aware of having committing a mortal sin, and you are not sorry and not willing to stop and amend your life, you cannot receive Communion except sinfully, sacrilegiously.]

  6. LDP says:

    In the course of speaking to the priest at our parish, who is instructing me – presently not a Catholic – in the faith, I remember quite clearly him telling me that the Catholic Church does not admit divorcees to Communion. Of course, I realise he must have meant divorcees who are not living a chaste life. Anyway, what struck me most was the way he said it: in a very matter of fact way, firm and unambiguous, as if this was not a controversial issue at all. My respect for Fr. certainly increased that day. Sadly, from what I’ve read, I fear his view isn’t representative of that held by many (most?) priests.

  7. ChesterFrank says:

    From someone in the pews: What about requiring the fulfillment of the Eucharistic requirement that applies to all Catholic’s: allowing those discussed to receive communion during the Easter season, Christmas season and Corpus Christi. Allowing the reception of the Eucharist during the administration of (some of ) the other sacraments such as the baptism, confirmation , marriage of their children, last rights and funeral Masses. Then the participation in a Eucharistic fast for the benefit of present and future Catholics , and as an act of faith.

  8. Chrisc says:

    Under the right mindset a ‘theology of accompaniment’ is precisely what was called pastoral theology, which was the right application of concrete moral norms.

    However, this new idea as ‘accompaniment’ follows this:
    accompaniment becomes acceptance, acceptance becomes ambiguity (2 ways of acting), ambiguity becomes ambivalence, and finally ambivalence becomes apostasy.

    The Lord comes with his winnowing fan. Mt 3:12

  9. Wryman says:

    Is there any relationship between what is proposed in AL and what Pope Paul said in Humanae Vitae? The passage I have in mind is this:
    “For this reason husbands and wives should take up the burden appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith and of that hope which ‘does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Then let them implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist. If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life” etc.
    Now, when I became Catholic (my wife was not) we were using the pill. My confessor told me that I should try to convince my wife, in a loving way and with patience, to stop using BC, but he also told me not to demand it right away, to come to confession each week, to then take the Eucharist on Sunday and keep trying to convince. I should note that everything worked out and we stopped with the pill eventually, but here was my concern then and something I ask now: I would tell the priest that, it seemed to me that if I confessed on Saturday and promised to amend my life, I couldn’t really be saying that with sincerity since I would be cooperating somehow with BC during the days of the week that would follow until my next confession. But he said no, as my confessor that what he wanted me to do was keep trying, keep loving, keep coming each week and keep confessing, and not to worry about the time between Saturday confession and Sunday morning because my intent was to try to shed this “hold” of sin.
    Do you think my confessor told me wrongly? If so, how could one actually follow the advice of HV to use the sacrament of penance? And if he told me rightly, could this apply to a couple who know that their situation is not right but who want to try, with the help of the Eucharist, to gradually get right?

  10. ldunne says:

    The document bobs and weaves, but, from what I can tell, it says, yes, Communion can be given to them. That is, Communion can be given to people who are, at the time of Communion, more than likely not in the state of grace. Right? Isn’t that what is being said?

    Not sure this is so: Moral Theology has for a long time recognized attrition as THE VERY LEAST requisite for a valid Confession. Obviously, the penitent’s full conversion is hoped for, but fear of hell is enough to absolve and place that person back into the “state of Grace.”

    [There is the issue of scandal.]

  11. Thomistica says:

    Fr. Z,

    When you state that “my solution might be the way to go: Communion in private, outside of public Mass, away from observing eyes”, which of the following cases are you referencing?

    1. the couple in question tries to live like brother and sister but occasionally fails
    2. the couple in question lives like brother and sister, constantly, at least as they represent their situation to the priest
    3. the couple in question has established via the “internal forum” that their marriage is entirely valid, and that there is no need that they live like brother and sister. [I don’t get why this case is included. If the couple are in a valid marriage bond, then… what’s the problem?]

    I take it that the objection we’re hearing is that the Pope thinks number 3 is acceptable. [If the couple is in a valid marital bond, of course it is acceptable to receive at Mass, provided there aren’t other problems. ] The claim of critics of this pontificate is that he is heterodox in thinking that situation 3 is acceptable. In which case, whether or not the couple takes Communion privately or publicly is moot and beside the point. The couple is sinning. [I still don’t get it. Did you mean to write that they couple is in an INVALID marriage?]

    As I see it, and I’m happy to hear challenges to my account above, the internal forum in this context is entirely novel.

    And, as I wrote in the combox to https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/u.s.-bishops-survey-finds-significant-energy-and-interest-in-amoris-laetiti

    “The views of two archbishops of two major cities, Chaput and Cupich, Philadelphia and Chicago, are diametrically opposed on the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. The bishops of the U.S. cannot continue on as if all is well, treating as a non-issue this major rift in their ranks on crucial matters of sacramental and moral theology, as well as ecclesiology. It will become increasingly difficult for bishops to remain silent, as the vast majority of them now do, on their differences. A large stock of testimonials about disparities in practice on the contested parts of AL will soon start to emerge. There can be no hiding. All this, in a time when unity is in dire need.”

    By the way, I just noticed this new article: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/diocese-of-romes-new-guidelines-allow-communion-for-sexually-active-cohabit

  12. My heart is broken at these betrayals. Just as it might have been if I had heard St. Peter denying Jesus at a most desperate, critical moment as He entered His Passion. Or at the time Jesus said to what seemed to be Peter, “get thee behind me Satan”.
    Peter was still Peter, Jesus did not abandon him, disown him even at that time. Peter still had The Keys. [which maybe makes the effects worse if you think about it]
    Tradition says that when St. Peter realized his terrible sin, that little ‘trenches’ formed in his face until he died, from the persistent repentant tears he shed. Pray, pray for that repentant Peter.

    We are to pray much for the Holy Father, thus instructs Our Lady.

    Many prophesies tell of a papacy under the influence of the devil. A Church occupied. But never a Church defeated.

    I pray for the lost and confused sheep, the poor of the Church, confused and misdirected. Even damned if someone doesn’t save them, show them the way. Looking for the Authority, we think it is gone. No, it is not gone, but silent. Meditate on the Passion. We are here, as the Church imitates Christ. Our Christ has become a scandalous criminal, crucified, bleeding, dying, unrecognizable, ignored. The devil wants us to believe that the Church is extinguished, that our Pope isn’t the Pope. That we are on our own – so he can trap us. Don’t flee – don’t be frightened.

    Our Lady said she would save the world through the Scapular and the Rosary. Wear it, say it with devotion, our chains to heaven that our loving mother insists we wear and pray. God is going to prove to Lucifer that he is defeated by the Woman. So it is the Woman we must hang on to – and onto the Church as disfigured as it is. Let us love God completely, without reserve – this God that loves us so, made us at the beginning of Time and put us here at this moment with all its graces, with all the prayers of the saints in heaven rooting for us.

    It is after all, just a test.

  13. pejan says:

    The funny/sad part is that any person is able to walk into a church and receive communion any day of the week. If that’s what they really want, no one is stopping them. Nobody is asking them at the door for a marriage certificate or asking them if they’re in a gay relationship. What these people are really demanding is a change in the thought process of the pope and bishops. They don’t want to receive the Eucharist as a sacrament, they want acceptance for a lifestyle that the church is telling them is immoral. For them, the Eucharist is not the true presence, it is a bargaining chip.

  14. Mike says:

    This is what “Gather Us In” and “All Are Welcome” have wrought. Among other things, sure, but, yes, really.

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    As a layperson, not an expert in church matters, can’t speak to theology except in basic terms, not well versed in Latin, doctrine, or dogma, it almost feels as if I am not qualified at all to speak to such a topic, that this topic belongs to the people in the church who can speak to it as intelligently as Our Lord Jesus Christ deserves, since it is His Body, Blood Soul, and Divinity, that are being discussed, and as a layperson, I can’t speak with the vernacular of the church nor debate effects. But what I can do is say, with all sincerity, that I cannot imagine a time more confusing, more scandalous, more fraught with perils for man or church or souls, and that in my humble opinion, given that sacrilege is surely happening on a much wider scale now, due to the rampant confusion now reigning globally, that if God does not provide a divine intervention, and this outrage is allowed to go on and on, it is not only going to test faith for many individuals, it may lead to the conclusion that the destroyers may be right, it is all just a “community meal”.

  16. joan ellen says:

    If in regards to the synod(s) on marriage & the family, & the AL document, someone has addressed the plight of the children that were left behind…I have yet to see that.

    If addressing the needs of the children in the adulterous arrangement, while ignoring the needs of the left behind children seems fair, I say no way, no how.

    No wonder the Church has, in the past, taught that parents in an adulterous arrangement should not receive the Sacraments. That seems fair.

    The Sacraments are Holy…including the Sacrament of Matrimony. The Sacrament of Matrimony protects the couple, the children, the family as an institution…as the first cell…of society. If we mess with that…even by saying that a previous marriage never existed in the first place…don’t we unfairly ‘punish’ the family as an institution?

    I know of 2 instances where a spouse received an annulment & the victim spouse was not aware of that until after the annulment had been granted. One woman victim spouse said “I didn’t know the Church could do that.” That is heart breaking to even an acquaintance.

    The annulment is worse than a divorce because with a divorce a reconciliation is uppermost in the ‘divorced kid’s mind…giving hope. With an annulment there is the loss of hope since there was never a marriage in the first place. Hope is lost for a return of the leaving parent & a possible reconciliation. Dreadful for a child, usually.

    It seems that we need to re-establish the faith…especially the Mystery of Faith, The Real Presence & the very Sacredness of what God hath joined together in the Sacrament of Matrimony. All of the talking/writing on anything less seems like a sham…because it seems to dismiss the Sacramental nature of what God has joined together.

    I am aware of impediments, etc. Certainly…even in this enlightened age we can live within the teaching of the Church. A marriage is not easy. Some of us have heard of offering it up, sacrificing, etc., etc…. Those offerings & sacrifices are the ‘soul savers’ for the spouses & for the children…usually.

    The need is for those who enter the Sacrament of Matrimony to know that the Sacrament is a call…a vocation. One may be able to get out of the Sacrament…but never the vocation. The children are the vocation…the parents are the suppliers of them…in co-operation with Almighty God.

    The idea that society can flourish with serial monogamy is false…isn’t it? Why do we want it to do so, or think it can?

  17. Long-Skirts says:


    The flower fades
    To a frail, pale yellow
    The puffy clouds
    They weep.

    The rolling thunder
    Now sounds mellow
    But the lightning by the river
    Strikes deep.

    Accompanying clouds
    And thunder with light
    It did an authentic

    Whipped them to
    A frenzy fright
    Then left
    To live by chance.

    The cloud’s wrung out,
    The thunder’s still,
    In the glade
    The flowers thirst…

    But lightning’s
    Sheep in the meadow
    To the river where they’ll drown accursed!

  18. Pingback: Diocese of Rome’s guidelines for ‘Amoris laetitia’. Wherein Fr. Z rants, offers solution. |

  19. jameeka says:

    FINALLY, someone (you, Fr Z) is asking the right question!

    The solution is a little weird, akin to a Communion call to the sick, but workable, and holds everyone accountable. Private communion would not cause scandal at Mass, and satisfies the hunger for the Eucharist while the couple is trying to maintain continence during very difficult, yet not impossible, circumstances. And the priest himself, who is also just as accountable, would be “accompanying” the couple in good conscience.

  20. Daniel W says:

    FrZ wrote: “Sincere question: If Fr. Spike works with Bill and Sue and they together decide that they can receive Communion, and if they do this in the internal forum, then how is Fr. Spike supposed to explain to people who know Bill and Sue why they can receive Communion? ”

    Fr Z’s comment underlines a major problem in the new “guidelines” that was also neglected in the solution of committing to live as “bro and sis.” In the JPII solution there was no requirement that the commitment to live as bro and sis was in the external forum. Anyone who knows personally the abandoned innocent spouse of a person who enters an “irregular union” and then starts being given Communion knows that it is a minimum requirement in justice that these commitments be in the external forum.
    Regarding Fr Z’s proposal of Communion in private, I agree it solves the problem of those who simply want a public stamp of approval for their adultery. Fr Z is aware of course that the fact of administering Communion in private can still become public. The only solution to a situation where a pastor can give Communion to a person in a publicly known “irregular” union would be when the fact that this person is on the so-called pathway of “accompaniment” can be made known in the external forum.

    This “accompaniment” involves several clear steps. The person who wishes to return to the sacraments needs to be asked as to whether the option of separation has been considered, and if this is not an option for serious reasons, then whether living as bro and sis has been considered.
    It is a matter of justice for the abandoned spouse that the fact that these questions have been asked AND the outcome be “established legitimately in the external forum.” I base this requirement on the current requirements for another delicate pastoral situation where the results of a required questioning needs to be available in the external forum. (i.e. marriage to a non-believer who refuses to cohabit peacefully without affront to the Creator; c. 1145.)

    I would also suggest that the bishops of all the parties need to be informed (c. 1081, 1082, ie the bishops of those in the irregular union and of the estranged spouse.) Again I base this on the requirements for the external forum for other delicate pastoral solutions (see for example c. 1126 as well).

    Now that Rome has spoken, it is up to local bishops to define the manner in which this process be carried out and its outcome be established in the external forum. If you know of an abandoned spouse who is suffering because the offending spouse is now receiving communion under the new “guidelines”, I urge you to ask the bishop to enact such requirements regarding the external forum ASAP, out of “justice, Christian charity and natural equity” for the abandoned spouse (cf. c. 1148) and all who may be scandalised.

  21. Giuseppe says:

    Either the church sticks with ‘one living spouse at a time’, or goes the Orthodox route. I really thought Pope Francis would loosen definitions of ‘what God has joined’, but it sounds like he is not going to do that. That would have been the easiest way out, e.g. “when it has become clear to the couple and their pastor that this union was never meant to happen, the couple should approach the bishop to discuss whether the union is null” and “the legal term of ‘irreconcilable differences’ can reflect a defective nature of the union, for if differences are irreconcilable, the union is likely null.” (I made up those quotes after a glass of Chianti.)

    I have never quite grasped the sin of scandal. Why would I even know whether or not someone who was previously married had an annulment or not? Especially in an increasingly mobile society, where people church shop locally or move frequently. I would just assume they had a valid marriage. I don’t think it’s my business to worry about it. Same thing as to whether or not a couple is living as brother and sister or not. It just doesn’t seem to be my business. And it’s hard to imagine that families with few children are not practicing artificial contraception. Should I be scandalized with small families with still possibly fertile parents?

    Part of this is also living in in the USA, where Roman Catholics are a minority. Also living in a big city. I live in an apartment complex with ~1000 people. This is larger than 9000 towns in the USA.
    I’ve only seen a dozen or so people where I live go to my church. (There are 3 Catholic churches within a 15 minute walk from my home – there used to be 5 – and 3 more within a 30 minute walk.)

    When you don’t know the backstories of people, how can you be scandalized? And there are always layers and nuances to the backstory, so why it is my business? I know Pope Francis took a tremendous amount of heat for “who am I to judge?”, but those moments when I hear people talking smack about other parishioners for alleged transgressions, I don’t worry about scandal; I look into their eyes for a plank.

    I know many feel confident to admonish the sinner, but I don’t go much further than “you might want to speak to Father J about that.” Otherwise, for me, it’s MYOB (mind your own business.)

  22. MouseTemplar says:

    I think that the fact that people who are not in the state of grace still insist on communion means:
    1) They do not grasp the true nature of the Eucharist.

    2) They do not grasp the gravity of sin.

  23. Gerhard says:

    Dear LDP – Don’t despair. There are very, very many solid priests out there, who need our prayers and support as they man the breaches in the battle for our souls.

  24. Janol says:

    I’m amazed that mention is not made of the burden such pastoring of these couples presents. There is a scarcity of priests, and a scarcity of those lay persons, all with limited time, who would be able to advise such couples, in the manner recommended.

    Given that the truths of the Faith are presented and explained clearly and graciously, it is for the couple to pray and reflect on them and their situation, and it is for them to follow up with further discussion. The guidelines, however, seem to suggest to me, that the pastor should be ever overextending himself in a way Our Lord never did. Our Lord preached “with authority” and let people accept his teaching or not, without seeking to cajole them into following him. The very manner of being “serious” (not imperious!) teaches. Pastors cannot be psychological therapists and cajolers. It is grace gained through sacrifice and prayer for these couples which are most effective.

    Allowing such couples to take on liturgical roles seems absurd to me.

  25. aliceinstpaul says:

    How much of this is old rot, not current rot?

    If no priest in your parish has talked about the four last things, about Judgment, about how you Cannot believe ” God loves me, so of course I’m going to be saved” but instead has encouraged this reasoning, how could you know there was a problem?

    How could you know there was a Truth to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that requires This of you, if it hadn’t required Anything of you in years?

    How much is just the utter blindness of us as effectively pagans, who have no formation in which to hang these principles and doctrines?

    When I returned to the Church after decades away, after my first confession in decades, I wanted to have my civil marriage validated. That meant I called the priest. The priest at the time was sensible enough to have us participate in the standard young people marriage prep, but I was still an infant in faith and catechesis, so i believed we were really married. We did the prep, and it was good for us, but it was years until daily prayer and being Awestruck at the Blessed Sacrament. Validating my marriage was the second step on that path..so far still to go.

    (aside: it was only because of my desire that we met the priest at all. How many couples simply don’t? )

    As we’d been civilly married for years, it never occurred to me to withhold the marital duty through the 6 months of prep. I had been married for years, I thought.(I was an atheist at the time if the civil marriage.) I did ask if I should refrain from communion during that time–something in me knew to. The priest said yes, I should refrain. But he didn’t tell me to do that, I asked. I don’t know what he would have done if I’d presented myself in line.

    How many priests could say more? Would be able to do so pastorally without losing the couple?

    Maybe the tension now is even if Catholic marriages are valid, the pagan worldview has so overwhelmed us all, that the ethos is pagan. And if so, if the recipients of communion have No Idea what they are receiving, maybe this really is the idea–like pagans, they can’t form the intent at all to commit mortal sin. Not just no one has informed them, but even when informed, they cannot conceive the information applies To Them, or means what the Church says t does.

    How much is also the anonymity of members, or conversely, anonymity of priests? How many priests know the situation of the couples in their parish?

    If the priests play musical chairs every seven years, and the parish members have been around 15, 20, 30, receiving communion, how would it even come to be said out loud if the couple is validly married? Would the priest get to know them well enough to find out?

    [That last point is very well taken. Yet another argument against term limits on pastors.]

  26. Gerhard says:

    “Firm purpose of amendment” is a concept our Holy Father appears not to understand. Perhaps someone ought to explain to him that we have a saying that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  27. vickg says:

    I think one of the most important passages in all of this discussion is this:
    “So it can be none other than the confessor, at a certain point, in his conscience, after much reflection and prayer, who must assume the responsibility before God and the penitent and ask that the access take place in a discreet manner….”
    Unfortunately, the couple, who have deliberately put themselves in the near occasion of sin and who intend to persist in that situation, are being given a false conscience while the poor priests who must interact with them are being made to carry the burden not only of discernment but also the penalty of any sin. The Pope may remember that the accompanying penalty goes up the ladder from there and when he ends this all-too-short life, he will have to carry the sack of poor counsel on his back to the next life.

  28. Pingback: THURSDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit

  29. oldconvert says:

    Look, I am about as learned a Catholic as Villon’s old mother, right? So I don’t understand all these arguments. Living in adultery is persisting in a state of mortal sin? Receiving the sacraments while deliberately persisting in a mortal sin is sacrilege? Or do circumstances alter cases? Condoning mortal sin to make the sinner feel better about themselves is mercy? Sounds like classic Screwtape to me, but as I said, what do I know.

  30. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    JPK brings to my mind the phrase ‘clarity is charity’ (am I remembering something I’ve read here in the past?). That seems a true formula, rightly understood.

    A case in point. Fr. Z’s lucid, ” There may be times when they fail in their determination to live in continence and they have sexual relations. They go to confession and start over. Fine. That’s what we all do when we sin in any way. We go to confession with a firm purpose of amendment and start over with God’s help” in juxtaposition with Cardinal Vallini’s, “it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist.”

    Is Cardinal Vallini in fact saying exactly what Fr. Z is saying? I don’t know! – I hope so, but I don’t know. Where is the ‘ charity’ – or even common courtesy – of ‘clarity’ here, in practice? (The road to vagueness and ambiguity can presumably paved with intentions of writing clearly…, but then, road works are needed!)

  31. robtbrown says:

    Fr Z says,

    We get the whole bit about “graduality”.  We get the whole thing about “for the sake of reaching the full Christian ideal”.   We also can imagine that the situation being described is going to be relatively rare.

    Once the word “ideal” enters any discussion about morality, the distinction between grave and light matter (thus mortal and venial) begins to become blurred.

  32. IloveJesus says:

    um……..nobody knows what a mortal sin is anymore anyway. They haven’t taught that in schools or parishes for decades. If they’ve heard the term it’s thought to be something “they” taught a long time ago.

    “Sacrilege”…..now that’s something NOBODY has ever heard of.

    (unless you’re one of those people who reads blogs like dear Fr. Z ;) )

  33. Markus says:

    Scandal? Follow the money. Unfortunately, during my 64year tenure as a Roman Catholic, I have witnessed, first hand, what appears to be “special privileges” granted to large donors. It could appear that this latest “loophole” may be intended to justify such “privileges.” Payback for a wealthy few?

  34. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Once the word “ideal” enters any discussion about morality, the distinction between grave and light matter (thus mortal and venial) begins to become blurred.

    The Catholic Moral Ideal is the Imitatio Christi.

    He is not blurred.

  35. Thomistica says:

    I think the proponents of the internal forum regard it as a procedure, in effect, that replaces the traditional role of the tribunal. Are they right to regard it this way–that is one question.

    Ed Peters had a posting about the internal forum at his blogsite.

    [The proponents don’t get to make that call.]

  36. dans0622 says:

    “This means a certain openness, as in the case in which there is the moral certainty that the first marriage was null but there are not the proofs to demonstrate this in a judicial setting.” Who is morally certain? It can’t be the person himself, as Benedict XVI said in his 2006 address to the Rota: “Indeed, trials may also revolve around matters whose settlement is beyond the competence of the parties involved since they concern the rights of the entire Ecclesial Community. The process of declaring the nullity of a marriage fits precisely into this context: in fact, in its twofold natural and sacramental dimension, marriage is not a good that spouses can dispose of nor, given its social and public nature, can any kind of self-declaration be conjectured.”
    So, moral certainty must be on the part of the pastor. If the pastor is able to attain moral certainty based on the testimony of the person, what is to prevent the person from presenting the same evidence to the tribunal? It seems to be an example of looking for an easy way around the law.

    John Paul II (1995 address to the Rota) said: “Whoever would presume to transgress the legislative provisions concerning the declaration of marital nullity would thus put himself outside, and indeed in a position antithetical to the Church’s authentic magisterium and to canonical legislation itself—a unifying and in some ways irreplaceable element for the unity of the Church. This principle applies to whatever involves not only substantive law, but also procedural legislation. This fact must be kept in mind in concrete cases and care should be taken to avoid answers and solutions “in foro interno,” as it were, to situations that are perhaps difficult but which can be dealt with and resolved only by respecting the canonical norms in force. This must be kept in mind particularly by pastors who may be tempted to distance themselves in substance from the established and approved procedures of the Code. Everyone should be reminded of the principle that, although the diocesan bishop has been granted the faculty to dispense, under specific conditions, from disciplinary laws, he is not permitted however to dispense from procedural laws” (n. 9).

    This “moral certainty can be reached by the pastor but not by a tribunal judge” line of thought holds no water in my opinion…


  37. chirho3 says:

    In Father Z’s solution of separated Communion line, I would say that as the list of separated communicants grows, so too will the observations of certain parishioners be peaked. Seeing a few or several separated communicants always going to the rectory after Mass is a recipe for gossip and wonder. [Who says it has to be after Mass?] If savvy children observe this they too will wonder the importance for certain people to “visit” the rectory after Mass. I would propose that if done in a more clandestine manner, like Tuesday night at 9 pm, then the parish chatter would likely be more subdued.

    Speculating on the profile of this line of communicants, it would likely be a group of women, since they will be the ones who would more likely than men to have a mitigating circumstance due to duress of threats (no sex, no support for children) made to them by their adulterous partner.

    But as I see it, all this is not important in the grand picture.

    The mitigating circumstances this pope proposes as legitimate reasons for allowing the “rare” cases of VENIAL sin adultery and reception of Holy Communion will not only give the appearance of scandal locally, but will have a far greater destructive element, globally, than putting certain souls at risk of damnation.

    What Francis desires (said in Amoris Laetitia), and this is KEY, is that in these mitigating circumstances/exceptions, it would not be possible for the Magisterium (like it has been practiced in the past two millennia by a general norm) to address all the varying circumstances within a cultural context and to set norms accordingly. He desires that bishops’ conferences become the arbiters of how these “mitigating circumstances” would be addressed within their cultures. In other words, the former universal norm of no Communion for those living in adultery (regardless of mitigating circumstances), would now become the moral determinations of individual bishops’ conferences around the world. Francis explains (in A.L.) that every general principle needs to be inculturated. This statement is pivotal, as it makes morality a property of culture, not of the Church.

    The odds are set firmly in favor of a mosaic of global disunity, as surely, bishops’ conferences will differ upon the ambiguous language found in A.L.. Taking upon themselves to determine the interpretation of A.L. will be a nothing short of widespread disagreement, not only among and within the conferences, but within the parishes as well, as the ambiguous language takes root.

    Unity being one of the Four Marks of the Church will be in great jeopardy, because of this directive of inculturation set forward by the pope.

    Robert Royal, editor of the ‘The Catholic Thing’ website and Fr. Gerald Murray, a canon lawyer, do an excellent review of what is at stake, found in The World Over news program (EWTN) (archive video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5Avd7bCiV0&index=2&list=PL0B89A05F9F6D3E47)

    A must-see in my opinion, to understand what is at hand – a sure recipe for division.

  38. a catechist says:

    I agree with Janol 100%. Maybe in countries where divorce is still rare this is a reasonable expectation, but not where it is sadly common. And this is part of what I find very troubling about Pope Francis’ pastoral ideas – he seems to think the shepherds are supposed to be out retrieving the one(s) lost full time, so the 99 sheep are essentially abandoned. Maybe I’m being hard-hearted & Pharisaical, but I can’t help but feel a little bitter that PF seems to think priests can and should ignore the faithful who aren’t on his peripheries & they’ll be fine, and so will their kids, and their sons will still want to become priests.

    If I think to myself, “I’m not in adultery, I’m pretty much doing what I think God calls me to do, so I’ll just tread water into heaven” that would be Presumption. I often think PF has Presumption for the actual faithful, except about hands-on care for immigrants – then our salvation hangs in peril.

  39. The Masked Chicken says:

    I promised myself I would not comment on AL anymore – too much an occasion of sin, for me, but I have some questions that I would like to have answered to help my thinking.

    Before that, I would like to comment on something that bugs me. It is the use of the term, ambiguous. AL is not an ambiguous document. It is a vague document. I say that as one of the leading scholars trying to give a precise definition to the term, ambiguous. I can define the term mathematically, at this point and AL is not ambiguous. It is vague and the vagueness allows for differing interpretations within the same domain of discourse. True ambiguity splits the discourse into two separate domains, like parallel universes. Vagueness is like blurred vision, where you can’t tell if the thing approaching you is a car or a bear, so one person calls it a car and the other person calls it a bear. In ambiguity, the object would be a car in one universe and a bear in the other, like a Necker cube that can be an up or down cube depending on how one observes it, but the two cubes occupy different perceptual spaces. Whether or not one is married can be a blurry mess, but it cannot be an ambiguous mess. Likewise, AL, chapter 8, is vague, but not ambiguous.

    Now, to the questions:

    1. Sins can be done in secret, so the internal forum makes perfectly good sense for confession (I know that’s not why confessions are done anonymously and privately, but I’m trying to make a distinction between possible modes of a sacrament), but all marriages must have two witnesses and can never be done in secret. They are always public. How can there be a private mode of pronouncing on the marriage when, clearly, the Church wants all purported acts of marriage to be done in public, in the external forum? Doesn’t this, essentially, make the confessor into a proxy tribunal, but without the public availability of witnesses and counter arguments? Where is the justice in this? Where is the seeking of evidence?

    2. Since it takes 4 people in a room to get married (the couple and the witnesses), unless the other three are teleported to another dimension, it would be likely that there would be more than one source of evidence for what happened on the day of the marriage. Suppose they disagree with each other? What is the priest to do? Who does he trust?

    3. Priests are not trained in the subtleties of Canon Law and witness interrogation. This suggests that they might need outside help in some cases to determine the truth. This seems to violate the idea of the internal forum, no?

    4.Why can’t there be a possibility of a change in law to allow a tribunal to issue a merely probable finding in cases of missing evidence or hostile witnesses (or those who refuse to testify)? Isn’t that what the confessor is doing, anyway? I am confused as to why a single priest should have to bear this burden. If he must have a moral certainty in a case, why can’t a tribunal, who hears the same evidence he does?

    5. Nowhere, absolutely nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus ever accompanied anyone (the word is pureuo, in Greek). Since when does the Head accompany the Body? When Jesus goes with other people, such as to the house of the dead little girl, He does so of his own volition and he leads the crowd, He does not accompany them. Likewise, Jesus never said he would follow anyone, either, He did say that we should follow Him, however. It is we who should be accompanying Him. Where did this notion of accompanying come from? It is not Scriptural and does not exist in the History of the Church, as far as I know, outside of Protestant and psychological literature (although, Viaticum is a type of accompaniment for death). Jesus never accompanied anyone towards conversion – He told them the truth and the consequences and left the choices to the persons involved.

    6. “But when the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, meaning when their journey of faith has been long, sincere, and progressive, it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist.

    The stability of the couple? Are they a couple? This is stupid, insane, even. Look, unless there are good statistics to indicate that, to within some order of magnitude, most priests would reach the same conclusion for a couple if presented the same facts, this is NOT AN ACT OF DISCERNMENT! This is cargo cult theology of the worst kind. It has no standardization. It amounts to the opinion of one solitary person, who is as fallible as anyone else.

    What about unmarried people who have biological urges? They are called to chastity. Why is it different for a divorced and remarried couple? Are they weaker or just more tempted? The stability of a marriage does not depend on having sex. If it did, marriages that have medical reasons for abstaining would fall apart. Some do, but many don’t. Sex is not the be-all and end-all of a marriage.

    7. Somehow, use of the internal forum in deciding marriage cases sounds suspiciously like the right to privacy nonsense that spawned Roe. V. Wade. Marriage is a public act and even though there are private moments, even those private moments can have public consequences. If the couple is upfront with people about the probability that their first marriage was, according to their pastor, invalid, why the need for secrecy? Shouldn’t the pastor stand by his discernment as the pastor of the congregation? Why should there be any scandal? Supposedly, since they can’t bring the matter before a tribunal, the couple did all that they could to establish the validity of their second marriage. Who could find scandal in that?

    None of this makes any sense to me. Some of this may be due to my lack of experience and training in these matters. So, I am here to learn. Please, enlighten me.

    The Chicken

  40. SaintJude6 says:

    Thanks to all the Church hierarchy for throwing the children of “first marriages” under the bus. Hmmm, I wonder why they are choosing to be “Nones”.

  41. gretta says:

    I’ve never worked in a tribunal… but how do you arrive at a moral certainty without proofs of some kind?

    There are certain situations where the impossibility of finding proofs beyond the petitioner’s own testimony can make coming to a judgment in the external forum difficult. Three situations immediately come to mind and all involve very brief “marriages”: 1) a person who is now in their 70s was briefly married back in their 20s. The respondent is remarried and long gone, their siblings were too young to know anything, their parents are now dead, and they are no longer friends with anyone who could testify on their behalf. Or, 2) you have someone in the military who marries briefly while stationed in some far off place, the marriage ends after a few months, the foreign spouse is unlocatable, the person has not kept up with his military buddies who could act as a witness, and the person’s family never met the spouse so their testimony about the marriage would also be useless. Or 3) “Vegas” marriages, where the person gets drunk or in some bizarre fit of whimsy marries someone on impulse before a JP, wakes up the next morning thinking, “what have I done?” and either divorces or gets the union civilly annulled. There are no witnesses, no one knows the respondent, and most friends/family are unaware the marriage ever happened. [This all still has to go first to a TRIBUNAL, and not to the tribunal which is the confessional.]

    In these types of cases, there is likely little chance of scandal because no one would remember that the marriages ever occurred. But because corroborating proof may truly be impossible to provide, a priest within the internal forum could explore the circumstances surrounding these “unions” and potentially re/admit the person to communion after working with the person to make a determination whether the marriage was truly null based on the sincere testimony of the penitent. The evidence may not be “provable” in the external forum because the penitent’s story can’t be externally corroborated, but nullity could be determined in the internal forum based on lesser evidence, but also based on the priest’s knowledge of the person and their truthfulness and sincerity. I think it is these types of circumstances where the internal forum is most useful – where there is no scandal, where the “marriages” were brief, and where there is no other way to prove nullity in the external forum beyond the sole testimony of the Petitioner. [But it is still handled first by a tribunal.]

  42. robtbrown says:

    JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Once the word “ideal” enters any discussion about morality, the distinction between grave and light matter (thus mortal and venial) begins to become blurred.

    The Catholic Moral Ideal is the Imitatio Christi.

    He is not blurred.

    I never said the ideal was blurred. I said the distinction between grave and light is blurred.

    The reason is that in so far as whatever is considered the ideal (whether Christ or the “ideal of marriage”) is never reached, then there is little if any difference among those who are not reaching it (cf mortal and venial sins). This problem is found in advocates of the various versions of the Fundamental Option, which has resurfaced in AL

  43. frahobbit says:

    It seems to me that the devil is trying to inculcate a hardness of heart towards the Blessed Sacrament. So that, no matter if they receive, they cannot be converted. The devil is trying to nullify the healing holiness of Christ.

  44. amenamen says:

    How long do you play “Duck, Duck, Goose”?

    No, you may not receive Communion unless you repent. No. No. No. No. No. No. (Then, after a long time …) No. No. No. No … OK, this is too difficult? Yes.

    ” … when their journey of faith has been LONG, sincere, and progressive, it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice … ”

    ” … and if a relationship of trust has been established over time with a confessor or with a spiritual guide, it is possible to begin and develop with him an itinerary of LONG, patient conversion, made of small steps and of progressive verifications.”

    In a large, busy parish (or hospital, or college, or military base), how many people can develop this “long, sincere, progressive” itinerary with the busy priest? If the priest (or the “spiritual guide”, whatever that means) is willing to say “yes” after five years of saying “no”, maybe he (or she?) will be willing to give permission after a month, or a week or five minutes.

  45. cl00bie says:

    During my ecclesiology class last weekend, our instructor told us that the “pastoral” option has always been open. I researched an example of a “special case” described by none other than Pope Benedict XVI.

    But this option was not widely known to the faithful. So a pastor, could quietly counsel a couple about this particular option, out if sight of the rest of the congregation. However since this document was leaked, a pastor is going to get “if they can receive, why not me?”. This might provide more harm than good.

    But my instructor told us that it wasn’t this particular pastoral option that was the subject of the class, but that the Church can and does change.

  46. Thomistica says:

    Fr. Z,
    I’m still interested in your reply to my question about your claim–at the end of your posting– about the need for a non-public partaking of Communion.
    Do you agree or disagree with the internal forum concept (understood in the sense below), and is your solution intended only to apply to cases different from those of what advocates of the internal forum have in mind? It sounded as if the answer is a resounding no with respect to both questions, but just wanted to confirm.
    The proponents of the contested internal forum idea hold something like the following: a priest working with a couple, all outside the context of an officially, canonically established tribunal, can discern that there is no barrier to Communion for a couple that is cohabiting, that remarried , and where one or both members of the couple were previously married, and where the couple is sexually active (not living as brother and sister.) For all intensive purposes, the proponents of this view regard the couple as now being in a valid marriage.

    [I don’t get why this is confusing. If they are divorced and they are civilly remarried, and if there is no declaration of nullity such that they were determined to be free to marry, then they are NOT VALIDLY MARRIED. A confessor in the “internal forum” cannot change that or make a determination about that. That is the competence of the tribunal. Mitis Iudex, however, I believe gives a bishop wider latitude in these matters, but that is still a juridical process.]

  47. Daniel W says:

    “it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist.”

    I have been getting questions about what I think this means.
    I am telling those it has confused that it can only be understood as the same sort of firm purpose of amendment required of someone in an unavoidable occasion of sin who is aware of their human weakness and fears they will sin again. In these cases the confessor judges whether or not there is a firm purpose of amendment.

    In this sense it is no different from the previous regime: Commit to live as brother and sister, even though we know this will be difficult to practice, but make a sincere effort and if you fall, then go to confession and renew your purpose of amendment again.

    My Italian is not good enough to see whether this is compatible with the original, but no-one I have asked so far can see a problem with how I am understanding this. The penitent has to decide to sincerely try to live as brother and sister and go to confession each time they fall before receiving Holy Communion.

    [As I read it, it seems to say that even if the don’t commit to continence they can still receive, I suppose with some hope that they will eventually – according to “graduality” and “accompaniment” – choose to change their situation.]

  48. JabbaPapa says:

    Daniel W :

    The penitent has to decide to sincerely try to live as brother and sister and go to confession each time they fall before receiving Holy Communion.

    My Italian is good enough, and IMO that is the intention of the document in this respect.

    It seems to me that Cardinal Vallini’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia (and of his Ordinary’s teaching generally in these matters) is that some commitment to continence is required for reception of the Eucharistic Sacrament. Read closely, the Argentine Bishops suggest the same.

    A serious issue here is that a black & white statement of the sort that some might wish for would be false — the existence of particular cases of divorced-remarried who can be admitted to the Sacraments (because of their repentance and practice of continence, ad esempio) prevents any de facto excommunication of the divorced-remarried in principle.

  49. Thomistica says:

    Fr. Z, thanks for getting back.
    Yes, indeed: as soon as people start invoking the internal forum concept outside the purview of a formal juridical process (a tribunal), then all hell breaks loose on a whole variety of fronts that pertain to moral and sacramental theology. (I think my rendering of the way people are using the concept these days is accurate, but I’m subject to correction.) The capacity of individuals, “accompanied” (whatever *that* is supposed to mean) by their priests, to make assessments based on their personal feelings or understanding of a situation easily degenerates into rationalization. “Father, I’m cohabiting but want to partake of Communion; after all, sometimes we talk about getting married”, or “Father, I want to join the Mafia; it can’t be wrong, given my penurious state and my need to support a family”, or “Father, I want to have an abortion, it will stand in the way of my career development”. This deference to a subjective individual conscience deflects from the concept that conscience has to be formed according to an objective standard.
    I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a faithful priest these days in the Archdiocese of Chicago, btw. Not to mention who knows how many other places in the world.
    Ed Peters has written about the internal forum concept here: https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/toward-informed-discussion-of-the-internal-forum/
    though for this non-canon lawyer, it’s rather on the technical side!

  50. jflare says:

    Call me a cynic if you like, but I have doubts to whether the solution of private communion outside of Mass will truly work. I get it about the idea of avoiding public scandal by receiving communion during Mass. Trouble is, this whole discussion came about because of an implication that thousands of couples needed to find a solution to this problem.
    Seems to me that if priests recommend to couples that they receive communion outside Mass, we will ultimately see couples seeking communion at the rectory after Mass, it being more convenient than arranging another moment. Technically, they will all receive “private” communion by virtue of nobody but the particular couple and the priest being in the room. Even so, they likely will wind up inflicting scandal anyway, because the stream of couples heading for “private” communion after Mass will be difficult to miss.

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