ROME, Italy, November 16, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis’ emphasis on “mercy” over “law” allows him to view a “second marriage” after a first valid marriage in such a way that it is not “characterized continuously as adultery,” suggested a Catholic priest and seminary professor in an article recently published in the Vatican’s official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
Father Gerald Bednar, Vice Rector and Professor of Systematic Theology at Saint Mary Seminary in the U.S. Diocese of Cleveland, wrote in an article published November 10 that Pope Francis in his exhortation Amoris Laetitia [Joy of Love] is not trying to “fashion a new doctrine” but to “incorporate a merciful way of applying the law.”
He criticized “dissenters” from Amoris Laetitia who “fail to understand a subtle but important distinction between law and mercy.”
“The issue is not whether divorce is permissible. Clearly it is not. The issue is whether a second marriage must be characterized continuously as adultery. That precise question has not been addressed before, not even in Familiaris Consortio,” wrote Bednar.
The Church, however, following Christ’s words on marriage in the Gospels, teaches that a consummated marriage between a baptized man and woman who have entered the union validly is indissolubility, that is, such a union is unable to be broken by any authority, including the Pope.
Following the Sixth Commandment from God that prohibits adultery, the Church teaches that for a married man or woman to unite sexually with someone who is not his or her spouse constitutes an act, which, in and of itself, independently of circumstances and intentions, is always “gravely illicit by reason of its object.”
“Adultery refers to marital infidelity,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations — even transient ones — they commit adultery.”
“The Sixth Commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely,” the Catechism adds.
Bednar wrote that Pope Francis “proposes that in appropriate cases, partners already in a second marriage may enter a period of discernment, accompanied by an experienced priest, so they can reflect on relevant issues. After a suitable period of time, they may celebrate a sacramental confession in which they accept an appropriate penance and receive absolution.”
“Communion may follow that discernment and penance (AL 305),” he added.
The Church, however, teaches that only those Catholics who are in the state of grace, being free from mortal sin, and in the right disposition may worthily approach Holy Communion. Many bishops, following this teaching, have interpreted the Pope’s Exhortation as not allowing communion for civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics living in adultery. These include a number of bishops in Canada, the U.S., and all of the Polish bishops.
Bednar said the “traditional response” that couples in irregular marital situations live as “brother and sister” before receiving Communion causes many to “recoil at the very idea of simulating the sacrament [of marriage].”
He said “Pope Francis shows mercy” to those who have failed in their first attempt at marriage through personal moral failings.
“After they confess their sin, must they settle only for a simulated marriage? All agree that after a divorce from a valid marriage and upon remarriage, the guilty party should repent and reconcile. If there is no reconciliation, as years pass, the situation of the parties may change. Mercy may call for leaving the second marriage in place,” he said.
Bednar’s article comes one year after four Cardinals went public with five questions (dubia) to Pope Francis, asking if his exhortation conforms to perennial Catholic teaching. Assertions made by Bednar on marriage, adultery, and the sacraments in his article highlight the relevance of the dubia cardinals’ unanswered questions.
The first three dubia ask:
1) Following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (nn. 300-305), can a habitual adulterous couple be granted absolution and receive Holy Communion?
2) With the publication of Amoris Laetitia (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor that there are “absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?”
3) After Amoris Laetitia (n. 301), is it still possible to affirm that habitual adultery can be an “objective situation of grave habitual sin?”
Earlier this week, Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the dubia cardinals, issued a “final plea” for clarity to Pope Francis.
He said how the current situation in the Church is “continually worsening” as bishops from Philadelphia to Malta offer divergent and “at times incompatible” interpretations of Amoris Laetitia.
The Cardinal said the mix of interpretations is endangering “essential matters of the deposit of faith” and “has led some to propose a paradigm shift regarding the Church’s entire moral practice.”
Burke has indicated that a “formal correction” of the Pope from cardinals may become “necessary” so as to provide a “clear presentation of the Church's teaching on the points at issue.”