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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Faithful Catholics responded with fury after Pope Francis cited the hypothetical example of spiritually confused children to talk up Holy Communion for adulterous and cohabiting parents.
"How can one explain to children that their mother, abandoned by their father and not willing to establish another marriage bond, receives the Sunday Eucharist with them, while their father, cohabiting, cannot participate in the Eucharistic table?" Francis asked.
Addressing the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota at the start of its judicial year Friday, the pontiff recommended his controversial apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia as a useful pastoral tool in cases of marital breakdown and new relationships.
In his speech to the Catholic Church's appellate tribunal, which deals mainly but not exclusively with petitions seeking the issuance of a decree of nullity of a marriage, Francis announced that the "Amoris Laetitia Year of the Family" will commence March 19.
Responding to the pope's question on bewildered children wondering why their adulterous father cannot receive Holy Communion, irate Catholics voiced a cascade of catechesis.
"One can explain. It's pretty simple. He's [the father] chosen to walk into sin and put himself outside the bond of communion. Daddy did a bad thing by leaving us! Does His Holiness not understand the rules of His Church?" Catholic journalist Caroline Farrow shot back.
Catholic Sat, a media outlet that uploaded the pope's hypothetical question on Twitter, asked: "Don't children need to attain the age of reason to receive Communion, and surely one of the requisites would be knowing what mortal sin is and its consequence of separating that person from God's saving grace."
"Does Francis consider that the father should still 'share the bread' at the Eucharistic table?" queried Catholic biochemist Dr. Mark Thorne.
Father Gregory Elder, a convert from Anglicanism belonging to the San Bernandino diocese, said the mother should tell the children: "Go ask your father" since "the obligation to explain this does not lie with the abandoned wife."
However, Francis indicated that both — the "good" of the ex-spouse who has started a new union and that of the children and of the remaining family which is always and in any case "a good in itself" must be held together.
In a marriage that is declared null, the children un unum are not prepared to accept the nullification. Therefore, it is necessary to keep in mind the revealing question: What will become of the children and the spouse that does not accept the declaration of nullification? Until now all seemed obvious, but unfortunately it is not.
It is not a question of contrasting two situations, of safeguarding and accompanying each reality in an adequate manner, Francis stressed, recalling that such questions have already been addressed by the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family (2014–2015) and later in Amoris Laetitia.
Amoris Laetitia (243) states that divorced persons "who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church" and treated with "careful discernment and respectful accompaniment."
"This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists," a controversial footnote (336) adds.
The Italian Episcopal Conference media Avvenire hailed the papal address and the pope's hypothetical question for "posing a concrete case of education in the faith" lamenting that children are "too often the innocent victims of divorces and new civil unions."
Italian Catholic academic Guido Vignelli, in his book A Pastoral Revolution: Six Talismanic Words in the Synodal Debate on the Family, has criticized the pope's penchant for elastic language — especially for the weaponized ambiguity of the words "pastoral," "mercy," "listening," "discernment," "accompaniment" and "integration."
Vignelli warns of false teaching not by the direct teaching of error but by the means of "ambiguous and slippery words which, despite having a Christian origin, have been seized and instrumentalized by an anti-Christian culture to spread them in Catholic circles in order to pollute them and dispose them to failure and surrender to the enemy."
This "semantic evolution" leads to the "gradual transposition" of words "from a precise idea or position (white, so to speak), first to an ambiguous one (gray) and then to an opposite (black)," Vignelli writes.
The new theology, which "postulates the primacy of pastoral care over doctrine," implies that "fundamental goodness and good faith must always be presumed in man, even against all evidence" and so uses "discernment" to "avoid examining the person or situation in the light of truth and the law."
Instead, "discernment undertakes to examine the person or situation 'from within,' in the light of his conscience, understanding the person in his needs, in order to evaluate him in his lived authenticity," Vignelli laments.
Francis concluded his address with another pastoral illustration in which a bishop called him and told him about "a young woman [who] wants to get married in the church, she was already married in the church a few years ago, but she was forced to because she was pregnant."
Francis continued: "'Tell me, Your Holiness, what should I do?' the bishop asked me. And I asked: 'Tell me, do you have a pen nearby?' — 'Yes' — 'Sign. You are the judge, no fuss.'"
Credit: Texts from the Holy Father's address to the officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota translated by Aaron Lowry for Church Militant.