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Canada’s military bishop reaffirms Catholic teaching on marriage in Amoris Laetitia guidelines

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

OTTAWA, March 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The head of the Military Ordinariate of Canada has released guidelines on Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried that reaffirm the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the discipline of the sacraments.

Bishop Scott McCaig released a document on February 22 to clarify Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’s controversial apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

Chapter 8 contains the “smoking footnote” that appears to open the door to Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried, and therefore in a state of objective adultery, to receive Holy Communion without a firm resolve to refrain from conjugal relations.

Prelates around the world have offered differing interpretations of Amoris Laetitia. The Maltese bishops notably declared the divorced and civilly remarried, or those in “irregular unions,” may receive Communion if, after consulting a priest, their conscience allows it. The German bishops issued similar guidelines.

McCaig acknowledged in his 11-page document, which is “directed especially to the priests, deacons, and pastoral associates” of the Military Ordinariate, that “there is presently much confusion on this issue.”

But he quoted the Alberta and NWT bishops’ guidelines that state it is “erroneous” to conclude divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may receive Holy Communion “if they simply have a conversation with a priest.”

Along with the Western bishops and Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, who endorsed the Alberta guidelines, McCaig insists Amoris Laetitia does not change Catholic teaching.

“It is critically important to note that the integral teaching of the Catholic Church on the reception of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried has not changed,” he wrote.

McCaig also clarified role of conscience.

“It should also be clear that one may not receive Holy Communion merely on the basis of personal conscience, for personal conscience may be in error,” he wrote.

“Consciences are to be formed in the light of the Commandments of God. Consequently, a properly formed conscience cannot be in opposition to God’s revealed Truth.”

McCaig quoted Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, who has stated that Amoris Laetitia “must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church.”

The “general and ordinary discipline of the Church, as declared in the Code of Canon Law, remains in force,” wrote the bishop.

Canon Law states: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. (Can. 915, CCEO, Can. 855).”

This “places an obligation not only upon those who are divorced and remarried, but also upon those who are responsible for the distribution of Holy Communion,” McCaig noted.

Divorced and civilly remarried Catholics “should be privately and sensitively informed that they may not presently receive Holy Communion,” he wrote.

If such couples cannot separate “for serious reasons,” they must “take on the duty to live in complete continence” in order to “receive absolution in confession which would open the way to receiving Communion.”

CDF’s Mueller stated recently that this requirement “is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments.”

Amoris Laetitia notes the difficulties for a couple to live in continence and quotes John Paul II’s stating that the possibility a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution.”

McCaig pointed out that “this practice has been formally recognized as a valid pastoral solution” since the publication of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, but is “still an example of an extraordinary circumstance.”

While divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive the sacraments, they must be “welcomed and carefully integrated into the communion of the Church,” the bishop wrote.

“More importantly, they should be lovingly invited into a process whereby they may be reconciled to the Church.”

That means “referral of their case to our Marriage Tribunal” as the “indispensable first step.”

McCaig noted that Chapter 8, entitled “Accompanying, Discerning, and Integrating Weakness,” deals with “often complex moral and pastoral situations which require extensive accompaniment, patient formation of consciences, and careful discernment.”

The “positive consequences for hurting and struggling members of the faithful are very great,” he wrote. “But, equally so, any mistaken application of these directives could cause great harm to both individuals and entire communities of faith.”

That includes scandalizing the faithful.

In Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II highlighted this as one reason why divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion.

“ ... if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage,” he wrote.

Scandal could be avoided “by the voluntary disclosure of a couple who are living in continence or it could necessitate reception of Holy Communion in private or in a parish where the situation is not known,” noted McCaig.

Chapter 8 notes that in “very specific situations the Church’s help for those in irregular situations can include the help of the sacraments.”

Pope Francis listed conditions where there could be a “pastoral exception to the ordinary discipline of the Church,” wrote McCaig.

Those are: the law of gradualness; absence of mortal sin; danger of further harm; and when continence is not feasible.

“As noted, these were already accepted foundational principles of moral theology and confessional practice,” McCaig observed.

He directed pastors to consult the Vicar General or to the Chancellor of the Ordinariate when such cases, which will likely be few, do arise. 

They will “provide the relevant theological, moral, and canonical advice required,” which “may in such a way to protect the anonymity of the individuals involved, and must always respect the sacredness of the internal forum.”

Bishop McCaig urged people to read the entire exhortation and warned priests and pastoral associates against the two extremes of legalism or “indifferentism.”

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He described the latter as the pastoral practice that would “welcome all, but through misguided compassion fail to call them into a relationship with Jesus and a deeper appropriation of the Gospel.”

The authentic ministry of “pastoral accompaniment” means “welcoming and loving people where they are at, no matter how sinful and disordered their lives might be,” he wrote.

“But it cannot stop there. It also means welcoming them into something and accompanying them somewhere,” added McCaig. “We must welcome them into an encounter with Jesus Christ and lead them into the full life of discipleship and salvation.”

Canada’s Military Ordinariate currently has 46 priests, six deacons and 37 pastoral associates who are responsible for the pastoral care of 81,000 Catholics in Canada’s armed forces and their families, as well as those who work for or attend military schools and institutions.  

Read Bishop McCaig’s statement here.

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