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Regional Italian bishops' conferences in 2018 really set the tone for the debate over Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis' controversial apostolic exhortation.
The heterodox interpretation of chapter 8, which contemplates the possibility of access to the sacraments by the divorced and remarried living more uxorio
("as man and wife") has already been embraced
by the bishops' conferences of Campania
and Piedmont and Aosta Valley
. Three of these conferences have resorted to the furtive correspondence
between Pope Francis and Msgr. Sergío Alfredo Fenoy (Delegate of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region) to support their heterodox pastoral approach, as if the letters constitute official Church teaching.
In September 2016, Catholic blog InfoCatólica leaked
a draft of a 10-point document from the bishops of Buenos Aires setting ground rules for the application of Amoris Laetitia.
The document raised much controversy because of Pope Francis' unequivocal approval
of the letter,
especially in light of his refusal to give an answer to the dubia
Point five of the Argentine document approves of admitting those in an adulterous relationship to the sacrament of penance: "Whenever feasible … the priest may suggest a decision to live in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option … and offers the possibility of having access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose."
Point six goes on to state that adulterers may also be admitted to Holy Communion — a contradiction of the longstanding teaching of the Church:
In other, more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above-mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it comes to be recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability … Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Pope Francis plainly replied
to this: "The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia.
There are no other interpretations."
The fact that this was a supposedly personal exchange between Pope Francis and his Buenos Aires colleague was a source of comfort to many, as the Pope's personal opinion cannot be considered Magisterium. But in August 2017 the exchange was published on the Vatican website
, and a month later, the messages were transcribed
to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis
(AAS), the journal of official acts of the Holy See — this time with an interesting addition: a note
from Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin stating both letters should be recognized as acts of the "authentic magisterium."
that inclusion in the AAS doesn't change
the teaching character of a document, and that the Pope's comments weren't authoritative. But it's evident this was a well-thought-out move to introduce a new pastoral practice. Pope Francis' opinion cannot be considered Church teaching, but it certainly can be manipulated to be disguised as such.
A good example of the fruits of the Buenos Aires' guidelines is the diocese of Mantua, in Lombardy. Bishop Gianmarco Busca opened Advent with a letter
to his faithful announcing the creation of a new ministry dedicated to the "reconciliation" of the divorced and remarried with the Church. The ministry's guidelines, greatly inspired by the "Letter of the Bishops of Lombardy for the reception of Amoris Laetitia
" published last April, are described in a short pamphlet
made immediately available in all parishes.
In the letter, the bishops of Lombardy state
AL 298 encourages careful examination of diverse situations … To exemplify what this implicates when discerning each particular situation, the Pope indicated as the correct interpretation of Chapter VIII and its underlying intentions the one expressed in the document of the Bishops of the regional pastoral of Buenos Aires ... which the Pope himself warranted ... as authentic magisterium.
This is confirmed in Mantua's pamphlet: "The first ones to elaborate a meaningful reflection, well appreciated by Pope Francis, were the bishops ... of Buenos Aires. Following this trail, many Italian bishops have also embarked on a route to apply the aforementioned chapter of AL."
Lombardy's bishops' conference was preceded by the bishops' conference of Piedmont and Aosta Valley, which published in January 2018 a thorough letter
to the faithful quoting the controversial passages of the Letter of the Bishops of Buenos Aires.
And in July 2018, Matteo Maria Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna (known
as "the Italian Bergoglio"), wrote a letter
to the faithful not only quoting the Buenos Aires' guidelines and Pope Francis' response, but also attaching them in their entirety to his statement, together with Emilia Romagna's recently published guidelines for the application of Chapter VIII of AL.: "These [bishops of Emilia-Romagna's guidelines] are our main reference, along with the exhortation itself [Amoris Laetitia
] and the answer given by Pope Francis to the 'basic criteria' of the bishops of Buenos Aires."
The possibility of living as 'brother and sister' in order to have access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion is contemplated by Amoris Laetitia. ... This isn't considered the only possible choice as the union and therefore the good of the children could be put at risk in the absence of conjugal acts.
In his letter, Abp. Zuppi refers the faithful to the archdiocese of Bologna's Pastoral Office
for the Family. The office
was an extraordinarily strong
ministry, as the archdiocese was led by dubia Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, co-founder of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family, until December 2015. The archives of the Pastoral Office for the Family reveal a special care
towards the families of divorced and separated Catholics, and the transcripts
of a few of their events
are proof they have always been impeccably faithful to Church teaching on the issue.
It remains to be seen moving forward, after the death of Cdl. Caffarra, how these new pastoral practices will be applied in the diocese: Will the faithful clergy of a thriving, truthful ministry be forced to act against their conscience, based on the interpretation of a footnote and personal correspondence of the Pope? In the same diocese where Cdl. Caffarra died while waiting for an answer from the Pontiff?
As if all this weren't enough, the letter to the faithful from the bishops of Lombardy is full of references to the dubia. One of them states, "To improve the art of discernment, trusting the grace and the Church, means to never reduce the matter to an immediate 'Yes' or 'No'" — which is the exact opposite of what Jesus preached on the Sermon on the Mount: "But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil" (Matt. 5:37).
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