He said pastoral charity “moves us to reach out to those who have drifted away, and once we have met them, to begin a path of welcoming, accompaniment, discernment and integration into the ecclesial community.”
The Buenos Aires document, also dated Sept. 5, aimed to offer “minimal criteria” on the discernment of the possible access to the sacraments by penitents who are divorced and in a new union. Every bishop may clarify, complete, or establish limits on these criteria in his own diocese, the document said.
This advice must not be understood as “unrestricted access” to the sacraments or as if “just any situation would justify it,” the document said.
“What is proposed is a discernment which adequately distinguishes each case,” it said.
It emphasized a process of discernment for a penitent accompanied by a pastor. The pastor must emphasize the fundamental proclamation of Christ. This path calls for the priest to show pastoral charity in welcoming the penitent, listening carefully to him, and accepting the penitent’s “upright intention and good purpose to place his entire life in the light of the Gospel and to practice charity.”
“This path does not necessarily end in the sacraments, but rather it can guide one to other ways of joining more in the life of the Church,” it said. This include a greater presence in the community, participation in prayer groups, and commitment to various ecclesial services for those who have divorced-and-remarried.
“When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a faith commitment, it is possible to propose that they try to live in continence,” the document said.
“In other more complex circumstances, and when a decree of nullity cannot be obtained, the mentioned option may not in fact be feasible. Nevertheless, a path of discernment is equally possible.”
The Buenos Aires document did suggest that penitents in a limited number of circumstances, after careful discernment, could access the sacraments.
“If one comes to recognize that in a specific case, there are limitations that attenuate responsibility and culpability, particularly when a person believes that he would fall into a subsequent fault of harming the children of the new union, Amoris laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. These sacraments in turn dispose the person to continue to mature and grow with the power of grace.”
Adequate discernment of each case deserves “special care” in examples such as a new union that arose from a recent divorce or the situation of someone who has consistently failed in his family obligations.
The document also warned of situations where a person justifies or flaunts one’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal.”
(Story continues below)
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“In these more difficult cases, we pastors must accompany with patience, trying to find some way of reinstatement,” the Buenos Aires document said.
The document stressed the importance of the examination of conscience as well as the need to avoid confusion about Church teaching.
In some cases it may be appropriate that access to the sacraments takes place in “a discreet manner” when conflicting situations can be foreseen.
“But at the same time the person should not stop accompanying the community so that he or she grows in a spirit of understanding and of welcome, without this involvement creating confusion regarding the teaching of the Church about the indissolubility of marriage.”
Pope Francis’ Sept. 5 letter to the Buenos Aires bishops reflected on the difficulties of discernment.
“We know this is tiring, it is a matter of a ‘person to person’ pastoral ministry, not satisfied with programmatic, organizational or legal mediations, however necessary. Simply: to welcome, accompany, discern, integrate. Of these four pastoral attitudes the least cultivated and practiced is discernment; and I consider formation in discernment, personal and communitarian, in our seminaries and rectories to be urgent,” he said.