CHUR, Switzerland (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Swiss bishop is notifying his priests that admittance of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to the sacraments isn't decided by penitent's subjective conscience but by objective Church law.
In a letter to his priests, February 2, regarding application of the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL), Bp. Vitus Huonder of Chur, Switzerland, told his priests:
The reception of Holy Communion by civilly remarried divorced persons must not be left up to a subjective decision. It's necessary to rely on objective conditions (the Church's requirements for the reception of Holy Communion). In the case of civilly remarried divorced persons, respect for the existing marriage is decisive.
His statement conflicts with guidelines from bishops of neighboring countries like Germany and Austria, who are saying a penitent's conscience has the final say in such matters. German bishops are telling their priests an individual's "decision to receive the sacraments must also be respected." Bishop Benno Elbs of Feldkirch, Austria, claims such people can "make this decision with their conscience."
[W]hen the absolution of a civil remarried divorced person is requested, it must be established that this person is ready to accept the provisions of Familiaris Consortio (paragraph 84) ... This means that if the two partners for serious reasons can not fulfill the obligation to separate ... (see AL par. 298), they must live together as brother and sister.
Paragraph 84 of FC reads, "Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who ... 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.'"
John Paul II teaches that this practice of withholding the sacraments from active or unrepentant adulterers "is based upon Sacred Scripture." Bishop Huonder explains that this discipline is still in force. "This is still the case because the new apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, doesn't expressly provide for a 'new legal regulation in canon law.' (AL par 300). The penitent must express a firm determination to live respectfully of the original marriage."
Paragraph 300 of AL supports Bp. Huonder's assertion that AL didn't change church law. "(N)either the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature." In the same paragraph, AL does call for "pastoral discernment" that "can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church."
The bishop emphasizes this same point in his opening remarks, namely, that AL doesn't change the Church's discipline on marriage. He does so by recalling what Pope Francis says in paragraph 3 of AL. "The Holy Father says in the introduction to Amoris Laetitia, that not all doctrinal, moral or pastoral discussions must be decided by an intervention of the magisterium (AL par. 3)." Bishop Huonder says this statement reveals how to understand the value of AL.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington's archbishop, believes AL has changed the Church's discipline by exalting personal conscience over Church doctrine and discipline. In a January 6 letter to his priests, he highlighted the role of conscience, claiming it as a major point in AL, mentioning conscience 12 times.
He stressed it is the role of those recieving Holy Communion to judge whether or not they should receive. Wuerl adds, "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."
Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, has repeated that AL isn't part of the Church's magisterial teaching. He maintains the document merely contains the Pope's personal reflections. "Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium," says Cdl. Burke. "The very form of the document confirms the same. It is written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops."
Burke confirms that AL changes neither Church teaching nor practice as it can only be understood in the light of Catholic doctrine and discipline.