In the document, the German bishops said that accompanying couples in crisis, divorce, and remarriage is “a great challenge and an opportunity to bring the Church and her understanding of marriage.”
“For the question of the reception of the sacraments, the bishops do not see in Amoris laetitia a general rule or an automatism, but rather, they are convinced that discerned solutions which do justice to the individual case are required,” they said.
In regards to Amoris laetitia, the bishops said they will proceed “from a process of discernment, accompanied by a pastoral worker.”
However, they also clarified that “not all faithful whose marriage is broken and who are divorced and civilly remarried, can receive the sacraments without distinction.”
In a statement released alongside the guidelines, the bishops praised Amoris laetitia for its “pastoral and theological benefits” and for introducing what they called four pillars “of a pastoral approach to marriage and family pastoral care.”
These pillars are: marriage preparation; marriage accompaniment; strengthening the family as a place of learning the faith; and dealing with fragility through accompaniment, discernment, and integration.
While the first three pillars are covered in just one or a few graphs, the fourth is the core of the new guidelines.
The bishops acknowledge that marriage is indissoluble, but at the same time argue that specific attention should be given to persons' individual situations and that judgements “which do not take into account the complexity of the various situations” should be avoided.
Referencing sections 296 and 297 of Amoris laetitia, the German bishops said that “with the guiding concepts” of accompaniment, discernment, and integration, those affected “must be helped.”
While accompaniment requires “encouraging people on the way of life and the Gospel,” they said discernment should not stop at what the objective moral situation of those affected is.
On this point, they referenced footnote 351 of Amoris laetitia, in which Pope Francis wrote: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, 'I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy'. I would also point out that the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak'.”
The German bishops' conference commented: “At the end of such a spiritual process, which is always concerned with integration, not in every case will there be a reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.”
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The bishops stressed that “the individual decision of whether one, under the respective circumstances, is able to receive the sacraments, deserve respect and recognition. However, the decision to receive the sacraments must also be respected.”
At the conclusion of the document the bishops encouraged those who want to pursue marriage and family life in the Church “to personally acquaint themselves with the groundbreaking text that is Amoris laetitia.”
A divided stance
Bishops from Germany who had already advocated admitting the divorced-and-remarried to Communion included Cardinal Walter Kasper; Cardinal Reinhard Marx; Bishop Franz-Josef Bode; and Archbishop Heiner Koch.
However, despite the factions of bishops who seem to be opening the door to a path to admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Communion, many are still resistant to the idea, including some heavy-hitters who are themselves German.
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, was one of four signatories of a letter containing five “dubia” submitted to the Pope in September asking him to clarify ambiguous parts of Amoris laetitia, and which was later published.
Other prelates with German roots who have been outspoken against the proposal to admit the divorced-and-remarried to Communion include Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal Paul Cordes; Bishop Stefan Oster; Bishop Konrad Zdarsa; Bishop Gregor Hanke; Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer; Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann; Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt; Archbishop Ludwig Schick; and Cardinal Joachim Meisner.