.- A Spanish bishop last week published criteria for the accompaniment of the divorced-and-remarried, inviting them to a “catechumenal itinerary” by which they come to live according to Christ's words.
“The Church has only one goal to propose to man: the way of life that Jesus taught us and to which he introduces us in the sacraments,” Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla of Alcalá de Henares wrote March 20 in Accompanying the baptized who have divorced and live in another union, a set of provisions for his diocese.
The bishop began by noting the interest in and debate over pastoral care for the divorced-and-remarried which has increased since the publication of Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.
He first recommended the indications found in a vademecum produced by Fr. José Granados, Dr. Stephan Kampowski, and Fr. Juan José Pérez-Soba, of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The guide had been presented at a family congress in Alcalá de Henares March 10-12.
“The Church in her beginnings, when she saw that many asked for the sacrament of baptism while living a life far removed from Christian demands, proposed a catechumenal itinerary which included an important change in their mode of living which had to be verified in order to access the sacraments,” Bishop Reig then said.
“She did so with the conviction that the approach to the Christian community and to her way of life was the necessary support so that the person could respond to the grace of God and convert to the life proper to a Christian.”
He also explained that “penitential itineraries” were also developed “which permitted to be received again fully into the Christian community the baptized who, having moved away from life according to the Gospel, repented of their sins.”
The bishop stated that “in this sense and as a principle to avoid any gradualness of the law which the Synod of Bishops rejected and which Pope Francis disqualified in his apostolic exhortation, I encourage all our divorced brothers and sisters in irregular situations to draw near to the Christian community in order to participate in her life and accompaniment.”
By doing so they can “thus set out on a path which, step by step, brings them closer to Christ, going deeper into the Gospel of marriage, instituted by God in the beginning as an indissoluble union of man and woman and transformed by Christ into a living and efficacious sign of his love for the Church.”
“The goal of this path will be for these baptized persons to be able to live in accord with the words of Jesus,” Bishop Reig wrote. “Only when they are disposed to take this step will they be able to receive sacramental absolution and the Holy Eucharist.”
He emphasized that “the objective conditions required by the Magisterium of the Church in order to be able to be admitted to the reception of the sacraments remain in force. These objective conditions were expressed by Pope St. John Paul II in the exhortation Familiaris consortio 84, ratified by Benedict XVI (Sacramentum caritatis 29) and contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1650. Moreover, in 2000 the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts published its Declaration Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who are Divorced and Remarried.”
“It is by following these principles that we are to receive the magisterium of Pope Francis expressed in chapter eight of the exortation Amoris laetitia. That is, in continuity with the preceding magisterium (cf. Amoris laetitia chapter 3).”
Bishop Reig said that Pope Francis' proposal “consists in promoting a greater outreach” to the divorced-and-remarried and “in promoting an itinerary that permits those who are in irregular situations to return to a life in conformity with the words of Jesus.”
“The discernment which the Pope asks of us refers to the path which we are called to travel, and not to the goal we must reach.”
He added, quoting from Familiaris consortio, that it is necessary to remember particularly that on the basis of Sacred Scripture and Tradition, the Church does not admit the divorced-and-remarried to Communion, because “their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist ... Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.'”
“That is an objective requirement which does not admit of exception and whose fulfillment must be the object of careful discernment in the internal forum; no priest may be considered to have the authority to dispense with this requirement,” Bishop Reig taught.
He noted that the diocesan office for family counseling and its tribunal are both available as an aid to priests and families dealing with irregular situations.
Amoris laetitia “encourages us, as was already affirmed in Familiaris consortio 84, to open paths of accompaniment which will help these persons to take steps to have the capacity to live the sacramental truth of their situation,” the bishop concluded.
“This is the concrete way to live mercy toward these brethren, offering them a Love which heals their wounds and permits them to live the plenitude of Communion with God and with the Church.”