Cdl Wuerl: People Alone Decide Whether to Receive the Sacraments

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 26, 2017   

"Parishioners are responsible for the judgment of the state of their soul before God"

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. is informing his priests and seminarians that in implementing Amoris Laetitia, the laity alone are culpable for their own moral choices, which include if and when to receive the sacraments.

In three interventions this month regarding the papal exhortation on marriage, the archbishop of Washington is focusing on the role of each parishioner's conscience while saying nothing of the priest's role to safeguard against sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion per canon 915, which forbids those in a state of manifest, grave sin to approach to receive the Eucharist.

Canon 915 forbids those in a state of manifest, grave sin to approach to receive the Eucharist. 

Speaking to his seminarians January 21, Cdl. Wuerl told them they should as future priests affirm the moral decisions of their flock. He emphasized, "Pastoral dialogue [involves] the development of conscience and also the expression of a level of support or confirmation for the judgment the individual is making about the state of his or her own soul."

Priest's should help form consciences of the laity, the cardinal told his seminarians and their priestly formators. "But the actual judgment of conscience and therefore the culpability before God for a specific action belongs to the individual," he added.

His comments come amidst the ongoing controversy of whether Amoris Laetitia admits civilly remarried divorcees access to the sacraments while they choose to remain sexually active.


The workshop for seminarians was based on Cdl. Wuerl's guidelines on the apostolic exhortation posted to the diocese's website January 16. The guidelines, titled "Reflections on Amoris Laetitia," echoed this same point. After saying the priest can help form a person's conscience, the guidelines repeat verbatim that each individual bears his own moral "culpability before God for a specific action."

In a January 6 letter to his priests, Cdl. Wuerl began highlighting the role of conscience, which he claimed was a major point in Amoris Laetitia. The cardinal mentions "conscience" 12 times in his letter, and stressed that a person is morally responsible before God when receiving the sacraments.

"That same moral dynamic takes place regarding the reception of the sacraments. At Mass, we priests invite people to the banquet of the Lord. Individual parishioners are responsible for the judgment of the state of their soul before God."

At Mass, we priests invite people to the banquet of the Lord. Individual parishioners are responsible for the judgment of the state of their soul before God.

This moral responsibility on the part of laypeople when receiving the sacraments is the subject of canon 916: "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession."

But Cdl. Wuerl fails to mention canon 915 anywhere in his letter, guidelines or workshop. Canon 915 mandates that those who are "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." This judgment is based on the couple's objective situation, called the external forum, and is completely independent of their subjective feeling of guilt, which is part of the internal forum.

In his January 21 workshop for seminarians, Cdl. Wuerl admitted that Amoris Laetitia "does not change Church teaching." Lumping it together with apostolic exhortations from previous popes, the cardinal noted, "If you begin to pick and choose which ones you will accept because of the content you like or dislike, then you in effect empty all of them of any magisterial binding authority,”

An experienced canonist, Dr. Ed Peters, recently emphasized that priests are commanded by Holy Mother Church to follow canon 915 and not admit to Holy Communion couples who publicly live in a state of objective mortal sin:

In administering Holy Communion to a member of the faithful, Roman Catholic ministers are bound not by guidelines supposedly fashioned from a single, ambiguous and highly controverted papal document but instead by the plain and dispositive text of another papal document, called the Code of Canon Law (especially Canon 915 thereof), and by the common and constant interpretation accorded such norms over the centuries.

In an interview last May, Cdl. Raymond Burke, patron of the Knights of Malta, called it a "grave injustice" for bishops to order their priests to do this very thing which in conscience they couldn't do.

"If someone tells the priest that he has to do these things, he simply must refuse and face the consequences," he said.

 

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