Monday 21 August 2017

On Discernment

In all the talk around the more revolutionary interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, the word discernment comes up.

It came up yesterday in a twitter conversation I was having on the topic with @thirstygargoyle - he had responded to my previous post about Jurisprudence and Imprudence by tweeting: It's important to note, I think, that Amoris deals with how to pick up pieces afterwards, and proposes an *augmented* internal forum. By which I mean, it proposes that discernment is guided by a priest, and is not a purely solitary exercise.

I asked: What is the discernment aimed at discerning? That is what nobody has (yet) explained to me... That the previous marriage was null?

To which he replied: It will vary from case to case. There'll be a huge range of variants.

We chatted on for quite a while, but really got no further in terms of what is being discerned.

And that worries me.

For I think that some interpreters of AL may help people to 'discern' that their previous marriage was in fact null, so they are free to treat their new union as a real marriage. Others may help people to discern that in their particular situation, it would be impossible to separate, so they too could treat their new union as a real marriage. And so on.

@thirstygargoyle makes the point that Familiaris Consortio suggests that 'the situations of individuals who had remarried after divorces were different and needed to be treated differently.' But nowhere does Familiaris Consortio or any other teaching document of the Church suggest that 'differently' might mean acknowledging a second union as legitimate when a first valid marriage endures. Yet that seems the direction of travel of many interpreters of AL.

For what it's worth, my view is that discernment should be a process that leads the individual to realise the incompatibility of living with a second partner as a spouse with the life of grace; and therefore implies a penitential path which is aimed to a resolution of the irregularity: that is to say, a cessation of the adultery. For such is the path of mercy. And whilst someone is determined to persist in adultery, such a determination de facto means they are not in a position to receive Holy Communion. That is not necessarily a judgement that they are in mortal sin; but if they are not, then they are in a state of ignorance with regard to the teaching of the Church that is also incompatible with full (and therefore eucharistic) communion.

I think the underlying problem with some interpreters of AL is that they do not really think any harm is being done by those in second unions. If the first marriage is truly over (say the other spouse has abandoned the one in discernment irrevocably), then what's the problem?

The first problem is precisely there: the first marriage is not truly over, even if the other spouse has abandoned the one in discernment irrevocably. In such a case the marriage still endures, and that means that the second party is not free to enter a new union (that's rather what we mean when we promise 'for better of for worse, till death do us part.')

The second problem is that sin harms us and others. Any sin. Every time. Even when culpability is reduced, sin is still evil, and still harmful. The abortionist who truly and sincerely believes he is helping a distressed pregnant woman is still doing something evil, even though his culpability may be minimal or non-existent. The adulterer is no different.

So any process of discernment that is not aimed at ending the adultery is the opposite of mercy. And any sexual intimacy in a second union , where the first is valid and endures, is adultery, as Our Lord clearly taught.