EDMONTON, Alberta, September 15, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic Church has not changed her practice towards divorced and civilly remarried Catholics — despite what the faithful may have been led to believe through the media or other sources, the Alberta and Northwest Territory bishops stated in pastoral guidelines released Wednesday.
It is “erroneous” to conclude that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion “if they simply have a conversation with a priest,” stated the guidelines, signed by the six bishops responsible for over 1,000,000 Catholics in five dioceses.
The 10-page document is intended to “answer the call of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, particularly to assist priests in their duty to accompany those Catholics who are divorced and remarried without having received a decree of nullity,” noted a statement from Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Alberta-NWT bishops.
In Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, the Holy Father makes it clear that the Church’s pastors are to accompany divorced and remarried with a “discernment filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate.”
The Alberta bishops letter is highly significant, however, because it does not mention the infamous footnote 351 to paragraph 305 in AL in which the pope states that “in certain cases,” this integration of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics “can include the help of the sacraments.”
The Alberta bishops’ letter also stands in stark contrast to the directive from the bishops of the pastoral region of Buenos Aires in Argentina called “Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia.”
The Argentinean document asserts that in “complex circumstances” when the remarried couple could not “obtain a declaration of nullity,” the priests can nevertheless move forward to grant them access to Holy Communion.
As reported in LifeSiteNews, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Argentine bishops confirming that “there is no other interpretation” than this of his exhortation. Following the letter’s leak to the media, Vatican Radio confirmed the pope’s letter was genuine.
Nevertheless, theological and canonical experts have insisted that Amoris Laetitia cannot, and indeed does not, change the Church’s tradition of denying Communion to those who are divorced and remarried.
The Alberta bishops’ Guidelines state that pastors should always direct divorced and civilly remarried couples seeking reconciliation with the Church to “our Inter-diocesan Marriage Tribunal for an investigation into their case.”
The pastors must also help couples “examine their conscience” according to the teachings of the Church, which could take “considerable” time over many meetings, during which the pastor must attempt “gently and progressively to lead them by stages to an understanding of their situation.”
This may be difficult given that some couples may have an “adversarial stance vis-a-vis the legitimate exercise of ecclesiastical authority” because they have been “formed in a culture where individual rights are exalted and are no longer moderated by an adequate notion of the common good.”
If the marriage tribunal declares the previous marriage null, the couple must understand the need to marry in the Church.
If the marriage tribunal “upholds the validity of the first union, obedience in faith to the indissolubility of marriage as revealed by Christ will make clear to them the actions that must follow. They are bound to live with the consequences of that truth as part of their witness to Christ and his teaching on marriage.”
For example, if they “are unable to separate for the sake of the care of children, they will need to refrain from sexual intimacy and live in chastity ‘as brother and sister’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84),” the bishops wrote.
“Such a firm resolution to live in accordance with the teaching of Christ, relying always on the help of his grace, opens to them the possibility of celebrating the sacrament of Penance, which in turn may lead to the reception of Holy Communion at Mass.”
Cases that cannot be investigated by the tribunal for various reasons, such as inability to obtain documentation, are to be referred to the bishop.
The guidelines begin by reiterating the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, and on the disposition necessary for a Catholic to properly receive Holy Communion.
The Church’s teaching on marriage is based Christ’s words: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2-12; cf. Matthew 19:2-9).
These words “posed challenges” and difficulties in Christ’s day and still do, the bishops wrote.
But “as Pope Francis continually emphasizes, Jesus is the merciful face of the Father. The Lord’s commandments, therefore, come from the heart of God, ‘the Father of mercies’ (2 Cor 1:3), and can confidently be accepted with trust in God’s wisdom and love.”
Moreover, St. Paul taught that “marriage is a great mystery which manifests the loving communion between Christ and the Church (cf. Ephesians 5: 31-32).”
Marriage is “thus a sacrament, a public institution with a mission to give witness to the faithful love of Christ,” wrote the bishops.
“Therefore, for baptized Christians, adultery is not only violation of one of the Ten Commandments; it is also a public counter-witness to the very nature of the Church: the spousal union between Christ and the baptized.”
The Sacrament of Eucharist celebrates and deepens “precisely this union between Christ and his Church,” so “any serious rupture of this union, such as adultery, must be healed prior to the reception of Holy Communion.”
This means Catholic “must sacramentally confess all serious sins of which he or she is aware” before receiving Holy Communion.
“Such confession must be motivated by true contrition, which necessarily involves sincere repentance and renunciation of sin and a firm resolution to amend one’s life.”
The bishops emphasized that priests and lay Catholics should “be prepared to undertake the necessary mission of reaching out in welcome to these brothers and sisters of ours” who have left the Church because of divorce and civil remarriage.
It is hoped that through such a welcome, these couples “will be open to understanding their situation in the light of the teaching of the Lord Jesus and his Church.”
The bishops also released guidelines on the reception of the sacraments for those considering assisted suicide or euthanasia (here).
“The ultimate aim of these guidelines is to help the faithful understand the beautiful teachings of the Church on sacramental marriage, the dignity of the human person, and the inviolable sanctity of human life,” stated Archbishop Smith.
“We know that many Catholics, often due to the messages they receive through the secular culture, have come to some serious misunderstandings around life and family issues.”
The bishops encourage people to read full document, available here.