Final Relatio: An Opening for Communion to Divorced & Remarried?

by Christine Niles  •  •  October 24, 2015   

"Discernment" is key term

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VATICAN CITY, October 24, 2015 ( - Liberals are already rejoicing over the Final Report of the 2015 Synod on the Family.

The Italian version was released today, with the English translation expected soon. It's reported that all 94 paragraphs received a two-thirds majority vote. Although the small circle reports of the Synod Fathers this past week overwhelmingly rejected the Kasper Proposal (opening up Holy Communion to those in non-sacramental, invalid marriages — the numbers were four to one against), fears were that the Final Relatio, drafted by a group consisting largely of a liberal bloc of six prelates and one priest, would gain a victory for the progressive agenda by writing this proposal in.

Those fears seem largely to have been realized, at least according to liberals who are celebrating what they deem an opening for Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried in the final Synod document. Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times tweeted: "Bishops open the door to allow divorced & remarried Catholics to take communion, on a case by case basis."

And Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin issued a similarly celebratory tweet: "Breaking #Synod 15 doc: Striking softening to remarried Catholics, stresses 'internal forum,' individual conscience."

The key paragraphs are 84–86. Paragraph 85 reportedly barely received a two-thirds majority, making it in by only one vote ('s working translation follows):

Discernment and Integration

84. The faithful who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more integrated in the Christian communities in different ways as possible, avoiding any chance of scandal. ... [It] is therefore necessary to discern which of the various forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework can be overcome. ...

85. St. John Paul II offered a comprehensive policy, which remains the basis for the evaluation of these situations: "Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to discern situations. There is indeed a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have contracted a second marriage for the sake of the children, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous marriage, irreparably broken, had never been valid" (Familiaris Consortio, ​​84). It is therefore the duty of priests to accompany the people concerned on the way of understanding according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the Bishop. ...

Moreover, one cannot deny that in some circumstances "imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified" ( CCC , 1735) due to several constraints. Accordingly, the judgment of an objective situation should not lead to a judgment on the 'subjective culpability'"(Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a). Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while supporting a general rule, it must recognize that the responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. The pastoral discernment, while taking account of a properly formed conscience of the people, must take responsibility for these situations. The consequences of acts are not necessarily the same in all cases.

86. The process of discernment directs these faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. The interview with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and the steps that can foster it and make it grow. Given that the same law offers no gradation (cf. FC , ​​34), this discernment will always consider the needs of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church. ... (emphasis added)

Vatican journalist Edward Pentin is reporting that at today's press conference, German cardinal Christoph Schönborn noted that the term "discernment" is the "key word" to understanding and applying these passages, and that each case of non-sacramental unions is not "black and white," thus necessitating "discernment" on a case-by-case basis. Schönborn has been controversial in his favorable remarks towards same-sex relationships and other irregular unions, which he claims include "positive elements."

Notable as well in paragraph 86 is mention of the phrase "internal forum," a point of contention in discussions this past week. Emphasis on the "internal forum" is seen by some orthodox prelates as just another pathway to open up Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried by focusing less on the person's objective state of mortal sin and more on his conscience and personal understanding of sin, in order to mitigate his culpability.

This possibility was welcomed by Cdl. Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India, one of the members chosen to draft the Final Relatio. In recent remarks he made to the National Catholic Reporter, he said, "Certainly, an internal forum solution is a possibility which we'll have to study. This is ... not new. Bernard Häring, the moral theologian, proposed this many, many years ago." (Häring was a liberal Redemptorist priest who dissented on Humanae Vitae, among other things, and was investigated by the Vatican.)

These two phrases — "discernment" and "internal forum" — are precisely what liberals are celebrating today.

Father Martin goes on to explain the definition of "discernment" as:

a classic Jesuit term [that] refers to the practice of making decisions in a prayerful manner, weighing which impulses and insights come from God and which do not. Discernment begins with a stance of freedom, and one reflects on the decision one is presented with, considers the Gospels and Church teaching, brings the question before God in prayer, consults a priest or spiritual adviser if necessary, and then makes a decision. One expects a 'confirmation' of the discernment, which comes in a sense of a peace often called 'consolation.' One feels in synch with God's desires because one is.

Most notable in this definition is the emphasis on subjective "sense" and feelings, rather than on the objective moral law laid down by God through the unchanging Magisterium. Orthodox Catholics, however, are under no obligation to interpret the term "discernment" in this way. In fact, the Final Relatio carries no magisterial weight, and can in no way alter doctrine or previous discipline on the question of Communion to the divorced and remarried.

Critics of the Final Relatio will counter that the passages in question are ambiguous enough that they can be interpreted to allow local bishops and pastors to "discern" a pathway to Communion for those in adulterous unions by emphasizing conscience and the internal forum. Just as the Vatican II spin machine kicked into high gear by seizing on ambiguous phrasing in the Council's documents to interpret them according to their agenda, so liberal Catholics are now doing the same with these paragraphs from the Final Relatio, which again, carry no official weight.

Earlier reports had expressed concerns that Pope St. John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio would be distorted or ignored. Although segments are quoted in several passages of the Final Relatio, including in paragraph 85 above, nowhere is the defining section quoted that shuts the door on Holy Communion to those in adulterous marriages:

84. The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

The lack of any mention of this key article of Familiaris Consortio, coupled with an emphasis on "discernment" and the "internal forum," leaves the Final report sufficiently vague that liberals may indeed have reason to rejoice today.


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