I know I'm a simple sort of chap, but I am still confused. Despite all those who say that the four cardinal's request for clarification is a tactic of dissent, and that there is nothing to be confused about, I remain puzzled.
What precisely is it that people (and here I mean those advocates of mercy who believe that the divorced and civilly 're-married' should be admitted to communion without change to their behaviour) think that Amoris Laetitia is teaching?
It seems to me that it must be one of two things. On the one hand, it might be that there should be a new process for declaring a marriage null, when there are practical reasons why the current process will not work. That seems to be implied, for example, here: 'Let us suppose she cannot, for technical reasons, obtain an annulment (these are rare cases), and the first husband has long since remarried.' (I don't want to keep picking on Austen Ivereigh, but he is the one who keeps writing about it...)
On the other hand, it might be that there are situations in which the circumstances are so difficult that the only reasonable (or merciful) thing for the Church to do is to recognise a second union as being good (or at least, not adulterous). That seems to be implied here: a woman abandoned by her abusive husband who remarries to provide for her children might be in the same category as the philandering playboy who ditches his wife for a younger model, but no one could claim that both are in the same category. But oddly, that is the same example.
Nowhere does Ivereigh, nor anyone else I have so far read, say precisely which is intended. And that is problematic, for a number of reasons.
The former suggestion is, I suppose, possible to consider: if a marriage really were a sham from the start, and for complex reasons, that is hard to prove via the normal process, it might be worth looking closely at the case. However, for clear and obvious reasons, the Church has always assumed in favour of the bond, with the onus of proof being on the one who claimed it never existed. So any change here would need to be very carefully thought through and clearly articulated, to avoid grave miscarriages of justice, scandal, and so on.
But an awful lot of the language of the liberal interpreters of AL (and indeed the Holy Father's own reported response to the questions from South America, and his reluctance to answer the Cardinals' dubia) all suggest that the second line of thought is the one that is to be followed: 'many such cases require an individual discernment because they cannot simply be lumped together as ‘adultery.’' What does this mean? Ivereigh makes a distinction between the legal and the moral categories of different people. What he does not address is their married status. If they are validly married, and are engaging in sexual relations with someone other than their spouse (no matter how evil, duplicitous, philandering, etc he or she may be), they are committing adultery. No amount of discernment will alter that fact.
The Church's role, then, is certainly to extend them mercy: the mercy that consists of engaging with them in love, to lead them to the truth, resulting in the change of their behaviour to conform it to God's plan. The sacraments are there to support them in this journey of transformation: sacramental confession including a firm purpose of amendment, and holy communion as the supreme gift of grace to strengthen and nourish them.
Otherwise, the path of discernment becomes a way to help people stay locked in the grip of sin. We are not the best judges in our own case - particularly if we have been through the trauma of a relationship falling apart; and to be asked to evaluate whether God is really asking us to leave our new, comfortable, loving relationship is a tough ask... Not least because, as has often been observed before, God gives us the grace we need when we need it - not before. So it may seem an impossible demand that we should remove ourself and our children from the protection of a new partner - and as it seems impossible, we conclude it cannot be what God really wants. But actually, if we start from the other end, knowing that it is what God wants, mysteriously, as we start to follow his will, we gain the very grace we need to make it possible.
That seems to me the real failing of all those promoting what I might call cheap - or even counterfeit - mercy: that they underestimate the transformative power of God's love and grace when people really do submit themselves to the Divine Will, rather than justify themselves in the status quo...
But as I noted earlier, nowhere do the pro-readmittance interpreters of AL make clear precisely what they think the document teaches; which of these options - or is it both?
Further, the Holy Father's refusal to answer the dubia, and the increasing amount of noise without light from the commentators, suggest that clarity is the one thing that they want to avoid. Rather let everything be done privately and discretely. After all, what business is this of mine? Or yours?
Well, as the Cardinals have made clear in their dubia, confusion about Amoris Laetitia risks leading souls into mortal error: we should all be concerned about that. Moreover, the interpretation of some of the bishops in Germany and the Americas, for example, is effectively introducing Church-sanctioned divorce, which is a grave moral evil and will have devastating consequences (as widespread divorce already does throughout western civilisation). And the whole project, as conceived by some of them, is in fact an assault on Catholic truth and Catholic unity. Of course it is our business!
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