Guidelines on implementing Amoris Laetitia written by the bishops of the pastoral area of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, have made the news recently because of their strong endorsement by Pope Francis (See Crux).
The guidelines were written to help priests understand Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia in their pastoral practice, namely, the part of the Pope’s document on the family and marriage that refers to access to sacraments for the divorced and remarried.
After receiving the guidelines on September 5, Pope Francis wrote back approvingly. “The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,” he told them, adding: “There are no other intepretations.”
He added that he was sure that the guidelines “will do much good” and congratulated them on “this effort of pastoral charity”.
His letter said that while the path of “welcome, accompaniment, discernment and integration into the ecclesial community” could be “tiresome” because it involved face-to-face, patient meetings, it was also necessary.
Of the four “pastoral attitudes” the least practised and cultivated, he said, was discernment, and said formation in discernment in seminaries was necessary — a call he made in July to the Polish Jesuits (see CV Comment).
A translation of the Argentine bishops’ Guidelines (5 September) follows:
Buenos Aires Pastoral Area
Basic criteria for the implementation of chapter VIII of Amoris laetitia
We have received with joy the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which calls us, above all, to encourage the growth of love between spouses and to motivate young people to opt for marriage and a family. These are important issues that should never be disregarded or overshadowed by other matters. Francis has opened several doors in pastoral care for families and we are called to take advantage of this time of mercy with a view to endorsing, as a pilgrim Church, the richness offered by the different chapters of this Apostolic Exhortation.
We will focus for now on chapter VIII, since it refers to the “guidelines of the bishop” (300) in order to discern the possibility of access to the sacraments of the “divorced who have entered a new union”. We deem it convenient, as Bishops of the same Pastoral Region, to agree on some minimal criteria. We present them without prejudice to the authority that each Bishop has in his own Diocese to clarify, complete or restrict them.
1) Firstly, we should remember that it is not right to speak of giving “permission” for access to the sacraments, but rather of a discernment process under the guidance of a pastor. This is a “personal and pastoral discernment” (300).
2) In this journey, the pastor should emphasize the fundamental proclamation, the kerygma, so as to foster or renew a personal encounter with the living Christ (cf. 58).
3) Pastoral accompaniment is an exercise of the via caritatis. It is an invitation to follow “the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and integration” (296). This itinerary calls for the pastoral charity of the priest who welcomes the penitent, listens to them attentively and shows them the maternal face of the Church, at the same time as accepting their righteous intention and goodwill in placing their whole life under the light of the Gospel and in practising charity (cf. 306).
4) This path does not necessarily end with receiving the sacraments, but may lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church: a more active presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, or giving time to church activities etc. (cf. 299).
5) Whenever feasible, and depending on the specific circumstances of a couple, and especially when both partners are Christians walking together on the path of faith, the priest may suggest a decision to live in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option (cf. footnote 329) and offers the possibility of having access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose (cf. footnote 364, recalling the teaching that Saint John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, dated 22 March, 1996).
6) 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 (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes they would incur a subsequent wrong by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351). These sacraments, in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.
7) But we have to avoid understanding this possibility as an unlimited access to the sacraments, as if all situations warrant it. The idea is to properly discern each case. For example, special care is called for in “a new union arising from a recent divorce” or in “the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family” (298). Also, when there is a sort of justification or ostentation of the person’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal” (297). In these difficult cases, we should be patient companions, looking for ways of integrating them (cf. 297, 299).
8) It is always important to guide people to stand before God with their conscience, and for this the “examination of conscience” proposed by Amoris laetitia 300 is very helpful, specifically in relation to “how did they act towards their children” or the abandoned partner. Where there are unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly scandalous.
9) It may be right for eventual access to sacraments to take place privately, especially where situations of conflict might arise. But at the same time, we have to accompany our communities in their growing understanding and welcome, without this implying creating confusion about the teaching of the Church on the indissoluble marriage. The community is an instrument of mercy, which is “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” (297).
10) Discernment is not closed, because it “is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and with confidence in the help of grace.
Above all, we are pastors. This is why we would like to welcome the following words of the Pope: “I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen [to the faithful] with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church” (312).
With love in Christ,
The Bishops of the Area