May 2, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholic priests from around the world are formally asking their bishops to issue a “formal reaffirmation of the Gospel” and correct pervasive “errors” about the Christian moral life and its relation to Holy Communion, sin, and marriage.
In a “pastoral appeal” released today in French, German, Spanish, English, Polish, and Portuguese, more than a dozen priests including U.S. canon lawyer Father Gerald Murray listed “ten crucial issues” they hope bishops “would formally address.”
The appeal is open for any priests who wish to add their names. The appeal can be signed here.
Many laity and clerics are so seriously “affected by secular mentalities and “the false moral theology of past decades,” they wrote, “that they now view the Church’s apostolic witness as idealistic, outmoded, or even cruel. Hence, they often mistakenly perceive pastoral affirmations of that witness as abstractions, legalisms, or personal condemnations.”
“In making our appeal we would like to encourage you not to underestimate the pastoral value of the apostolic support and direction that you could provide the universal Church, even as an individual bishop,” the priests maintain.
The need for such a “reaffirmation of the Gospel” comes from a “mistaken approach to the Christian moral life that we frequently encounter and that grievously harms those misled by it,” according to the priests. “In its basic form, the mistaken approach asserts that those who commit objectively evil acts and judge themselves subjectively free of culpability must be allowed to receive Holy Communion.”
“In a more developed form, it denies that certain behaviors are always evil and claims that in some circumstances those behaviors are the most realistic good that can be achieved or, indeed, are simply good,” the priests wrote.
The Catholic Church teaches that some actions are intrinsically evil and therefore can never under any circumstances be moral. Some examples include murder, adultery, child abuse.
The idea that some objectively evil behaviors can be good or even “can be approved or proposed by God” has “always been recognized by the Church as contrary to the Gospel,” the priests noted.
The Church “opposed these theories with particularly vigorous and precise teaching throughout the twentieth century and, above all, during the fifty years since Humanae Vitae. We believe the recent resurgence of this damaging approach despite such sustained ecclesial efforts demonstrates clearly that a more effective pastoral response is needed than parish priests can offer by themselves or than can be adequately provided by the limited authority of conventional diocesan and regional statements.”
Is Amoris Laetitia the source of so much confusion?
The letter does not mention Amoris Laetitia by name, but the 2016 controversial apostolic exhortation seems to be the source of much of this “resurgence.”
Parts of Amoris Laetitia seem to suggest that Catholics who are living in unions the Church labels adulterous might through those unions demonstrate fidelity. The document also suggests that Catholics living in such illicit sexual unions might not be capable of living as “brother and sister,” as the Church requires them to do and teaches is possible with God’s grace, should they for some reason continue living together. It suggests, too, that sometimes ceasing sinful actions could cause “further sin,” and has left in its wake confusion about previous Catholic teaching that opposed “situation ethics.”
Paragraph 301 states it “can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values,’ or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.”
According to footnote 329, “In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’.”
The newly-installed bishop of the Portuguese city of Porto, Manuel Linda, recently said that he doesn’t consider the divorced and remarried – whose unions are considered invalid and sinful by the Church – to be families unless they are sexually active.
Amoris Laetitia has inspired a number of bishops and bishops’ conferences to “implement” the exhortation in a way that directly contradicts the Church’s perennial teaching on denying the sacraments to those living unrepentantly in adultery. These “implementations” of Amoris Laetitia allow what many say amounts to sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion according to Catholic tradition.
Places where such “pastoral programs” have been implemented include Germany, Malta, Argentina, and several U.S. dioceses.
‘Crucial issues’ include conscience, ‘public witness’ of receiving Communion
In their “pastoral appeal,” the priests explained the “mistaken approach” that has taken root in the Church:
In its basic form, the mistaken approach asserts that those who commit objectively evil acts and judge themselves subjectively free of culpability must be allowed to receive Holy Communion. In a more developed form, it denies that certain behaviors are always evil and claims that in some circumstances those behaviors are the most realistic good that can be achieved or, indeed, are simply good. An even more extreme version declares that those behaviors can be approved or proposed by God. Christ’s life and moral teachings are thus presented as abstract ideals that must be adjusted to fit our circumstances rather than as realities already attuned to free us from sin and evil in every situation.
If bishops were to exercise their “full apostolic authority” by denouncing this error and reaffirming the Gospel, it “would offer the entire Church an apostolic witness uniquely capable of sustaining and guiding the clergy and laity in the urgent tasks of helping those who have been harmed and of developing authentic pastoral initiatives to reach out to all the world.”
The priests acknowledged the “deep sense of grief and betrayal” felt by Catholics who follow the Church’s difficult teachings but see “the advocacy of errors that leave others trapped in harmful situations similar to the ones they experienced.”
“We recognize that the exercise of apostolic authority and the manner of its expression are matters for each bishop to decide,” they wrote. “As priests, we wish in a fraternal and filial spirit to offer for your consideration the following affirmations of the Gospel focused on ten crucial issues we hope you would formally address. Please receive them as a witness to the Faith we profess in communion with the College of Bishops and its head, the Bishop of Rome.”
The “ten crucial issues” are as follows:
1) God is love. He has arranged everything for our good and has called us to share his divine life in Christ. Consequently, he is utterly opposed to evil, to sin (i.e., the knowing and willing embrace of evil), and to the harm that these cause. Therefore, although God may choose to tolerate the presence of evil and sin, he never proposes or approves of them.
2) Christians participating in the indwelling communion with God (i.e., in a state of grace) are in every circumstance enabled by Christ to remain faithful by avoiding the knowing and willing embrace of evil; therefore, they are culpable for any sins they commit (see I Jn 5:18 and Jas 1:13- 15). This is true even when fidelity requires suffering, privation, or death because what is humanly impossible is possible by God’s grace (see Mt 19:26 and Sir 15:15). Thus, fidelity to Christ and his teachings is realistic and achievable, not an abstract ideal needing to be adjusted to circumstances of life.
3) Christians in communion with God may suffer from ignorance or from impediments to freedom to a degree that mitigates or entirely removes culpability in a particular embrace of evil. Although what they do is actually (i.e., objectively) evil and thus harmful to themselves and others in various ways, they can be personally (i.e., subjectively) not culpable of sin and therefore remain morally unharmed.
4) Christians who embrace evil without culpability remain in communion with God, but are trapped in situations that are actually harmful and prevent them from fully sharing the abundant life Jesus came to bring. The task of the Church is to help heal and free them by patiently bringing the grace and truth of his Gospel.
5) Conscience is the immediate norm of behavior but not the infallible voice of God. It can misjudge due to innocent malformation or to distortions arising from previous sins. In the latter case, one who follows conscience or judges himself free of culpability may nevertheless be guilty of sin. Given these limitations, the subjective judgments of conscience are in need of being conformed to the Gospel revealed by Christ and continually proclaimed by him through the Church’s authentic apostolic witness (e.g., the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium).
6) Marriage is a covenant established knowingly and willingly with requisite consideration and maturity by one man and one woman who are free to marry. It is an exclusive union that cannot be dissolved by any human power or by any cause except the death of one of the spouses. The spousal union of Christ and the Church is the foundation of this conjugal bond, both in human nature and in the Sacrament of Marriage (see Gen 2:24; Mt 19:3-6; Eph 5:32; and II Tim 2:13).
7) Sexual activity outside of marriage is in every circumstance gravely evil. The culpable embrace of this grave evil is a mortal sin which, like all mortal sins, causes communion with God to cease.
8) To receive Holy Communion, Christians who recognize that they are guilty of mortal sin must have true contrition for their sins, including a resolve to avoid all sin in the future. In addition, they must normally first receive the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
9) Reception of Holy Communion cannot be reduced to a private act based on a subjective judgment of innocence because it is a public witness to one’s embrace of the communal faith and life of the Church. Regardless of culpability, those who continue to embrace an objectively grave evil after learning that their belief or behavior is contrary to the Church’s apostolic witness may rightly be expected or, at times, required to refrain from Holy Communion. This ecclesial discipline is a pastoral means for bringing them to recognize and renounce the evil so that they can be freed of it and more fully share Christ’s abundant life. Such an approach reflects the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, who based ecclesial discipline on the objective failure to accord with the Church’s life, not on a judgment of culpability (see Mt 18:17; I Cor 5:11-13; Gal 1:9; and I Jn 4:6). Holy Communion may also be withheld to avoid misleading others regarding the faith and life of the Gospel (i.e., causing scandal; see Mt 18:6).
10) Reception of Holy Communion in specific cases by those who have remarried following a divorce depends on the objective reality of the bond of their first marriage and on the avoidance of sin and public scandal, not only on their private intention to avoid future sexual activity, their subjective evaluation of the current relationship, or their subjective judgment of innocence regarding sexual activity in that relationship (see Mt 5:32).
The full letter and more information on the initiative can be viewed at www.curapastoralis.org.