Divorced and remarried, indications on how to discern case by case

Divorced and remarried, indications on how to discern case by case

By Andrea Tornielli/ lastampa.it

Bishop Semeraro’s pastoral instruction: an application document of “Amoris laetitia” prepared and shared together with the priests.

It is a pastoral instruction entitled “Rejoice with me” dedicated to “Welcoming, discerning, accompanying and integrating into the ecclesial community the faithful who have divorced and civilly remarried”. The Bishop of Albano Marcello Semeraro, secretary of the C9, the council of cardinals who helps the Pope in the reform of the Curia and in the governance of the universal Church, is distributing it these days. The peculiarities of the document are two: it is a well-defined application instruction about the topic - described in the subtitle - and at the same time it is a generous document, which, although it doesn’t get into any case studies, it precisely outlines general main guidelines. And it is a document born from a diocesan synodal experience, which involved all the clergy.

Semeraro recalls that in talks with his priests it emerged the number of cases of civilly remarried divorcees who live “in fidelity and with self-sacrificetheir marital relationship ”. And that sometimes these faithful are “on the margins, or in the proximity of the ecclesial communities of the diocese”. For this reason, the bishop of Albano chose not to make “a solo journey, but to go down the synodal path” by asking the presbyteral council to devote all ordinary sessions of the pastoral year 2016-2017 “to reflection, to deepening and discernment on the concrete forms of response to the divorced and civilly remarried faithful present in our communities and to our brothers and sisters who ask for a word of consolation and orientation”. The contents of these reflections were then shared and discussed with all the clergy.

We have realized - Semeraro writes - that welcoming and integrating those who approach with the desire to be readmitted to the participation of the ecclesial life involves an adequate time of accompaniment and discernment, which varies from situation to situation. Waiting, therefore, for a new general norm of canonical type, the same for everyone, is absolutely out of place”.

The instruction makes it clear that, with regard to access to the sacraments, it is not a question of “thinking about it as a “right “acquired without distinction by all those who find themselves in the specific situation of being divorced and civilly remarried. Rather, we must talk about welcoming the person - and the couple - who not only live in a concrete relationship, but has also established a family over time. Now, however, these people are asking to make a journey of faith based on awareness of their own situation before God, while at the same time being ready to identify what hinders the possibility of full participation in the life of the Church and to accept to take the possible steps to promote and grow integration in it”.

To see straight, to discern, it is necessary to approach and involve ourselves.

On the part of the bishop, the parish priest or the confessor, it is in no case about granting permission to enter the community of the faithful, or more simply, to be able to make communion. This clarification is of paramount importance, also in order not to fuel misunderstandings in the public opinion, which through some media, simplifies the subject with a categorical, “all divorced and remarried can have access to the sacraments”. Put in these terms the question is radically misleading with respect to the objective of our pastoral action”.

Instead, what is needed is “a real welcome for people, to devote sufficient time to get to know them”. Always keeping in mind that divorcees who live a new union may find themselves in very different situations, which, as Amoris laetitia asserts, “must not be catalogued or locked up in statements that are too rigid without leaving room for adequate personal and pastoral discernment”. This implies, Semeraro writes “the ability to read each person’s personal history in the light of the Word and in the broad context of God’s mercy”.

The document lays down some “indispensable premises”. The first is that “it should not be a new union that comes from a recent divorce, with all the consequences of suffering and confusion that affect children and whole families, or the situation of someone who has repeatedly failed their family commitments. It must be clear that this is not the ideal that the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family. The second is that “the necessary conditions of humility, privacy, love for the Church and her teaching are guaranteed in the sincere search for God’s will”.

For this reason, “those who show their irregular and objective sinful situation, almost as if they are suggesting that their situation is not contrary to the Christian ideal, or if they put their individual desires above the common good of the Church, or even worse, if they claim to pursue a Christian path different from that taught by the Church, are to be excluded”.

It is also important, according to the instruction, “a habitual participation in the life of the parish community, beginning with that external sign of presence which is participation in Sunday mass. Even better if accompanied by other forms of presence and service (e. g. in the activity of parish Caritas, assistance to the sick, in the activity of the oratory, in family groups, or other areas of community life).

As far as the previous marriage is concerned, divorcees who have contracted a new civil union “should ask themselves how they behaved towards their children when their marital union went to pieces; whether there have been attempts of reconciliation; how the situation of the abandoned partner is, and the impact of the new relationship on the rest of the family”. Remembering the cases cited in Amoris laetitia, of “those who have made great efforts to save their first marriage and suffered an unjust abandonment, or those who have contracted a second union for the care of the children, and at times are subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid”.

With regard to the new union, however, the instruction requires that it be “consolidated over time, with new children, with proven fidelity, generous dedication, Christian commitment, awareness of the irregularity of one’s own situation and great difficulty in going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins”.

About discernment, the bishop of Albano writes, “decisive and discriminating is the explicit reference to the will of God to be fulfilled here and now by the discerning and operative subject. It is, in fact, a matter of recognizing the voice and work of God in one’s life and history in order to respond by making one’s life as conformed as possible to his will, known and loved “. It is very important - continues the instruction - to verify immediately this condition, which is indispensable for a spiritual discernment to begin. A fact, however, that reassures the presence of this interior-and-exterior disposition to search for God’s will and love of the Church, is the decision to let oneself be guided in discernment by an expert, wise and suitable person”.

Semeraro also touches upon the theme of “scandal” towards other faithful. If we need to assess whether a certain act is, or not, “scandalous”, we cannot ignore the question whether those who act have the will to push others to sin... As we can see, it is always a question of harmoniously composing elements of objective order and others of subjective order”. It also seems “rather risky to consider a priori “scandalous”- that is, driven by the will to induce others to sin - those who have faced, in the midst of so many sufferings and never with lightness, deep lacerations in their married life! Who is, or has been close to these family and personal dramas knows of the pain and anguish that afflicts those involved”.

The bishop reaffirms that Amoris laetitia “never speaks of a generalized” permission “to access sacraments by all civilly remarried divorcees; nor does he say that the path of conversion begun by those who wish to do so must necessarily lead to access to the sacraments”.

In the light of all the premises, “the priest’s task and duty is: to indicate to the faithful the moral horizon of Christian life; to help the person to grasp what depends and what does not depend on their present situation; to highlight their concrete responsibilities; to support and direct the person towards the spiritual resources necessary for the sincere search of God’s will and for its conformity”.

Therefore, the priest must “propose possible steps to be taken always taking into account the mitigating conditions and circumstances that can limit and compromise freedom of choice and the ability to make decisions. Let us not forget that the imputability and responsibility of an action can be diminished or cancelled by ignorance, inadvertence, violence, fear, habits, excessive affections and other psychic or social factors”.

We must “be aware that it is no longer possible to say that all those who find themselves in some so-called” irregular “situation live in a state of mortal sin, deprived of the sanctifying grace”, as Amoris laetitia asserts. At the same time, we must act “being careful not to pass on the wrong idea that a possible admission to the sacraments is a simple pro forma and that any situation can justify such a decision. We must learn to have the patience to evaluate reality case to case, dedicating time and making choices step by step”.

The bishop of Albano closes the document with a text of St. Augustine that reads, “If you awake your faith and consider what Christ really is, and consider not only of what he did, but also what he suffered, then you see that he was certainly strong, but also weak: he had the strength of the Son of God and the weakness of being man. He, then, is the head of the Church who is his body. Here is the total Christ: head and body. Therefore, also the Church includes, like Christ, strong and weak; it the church are those who nourish themselves with substantial bread and those who still need to be nourished with milk. The same thing is for the sacraments: in receiving baptism and approaching the altar table in the church, righteous and sinners are mixed together because the body of Christ is like the farmyard where there is wheat and straw. Only in the future will it be granary, but now, since it is a farmyard it does not reject the straw...”. As farmyard is concerned - Semeraro concludes - the Church does not now reject straw from itself. That is what we must do today.

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 15:33
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