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Andrew Guernsey

Opinion

Here’s how Pope Francis elevated communion for adulterers to ‘authentic magisterium’

Andrew Guernsey

December 4, 2017 (Rorate Caeli) -- This week, the Vatican's organ for promulgating the Official Acts of the Apostolic See, Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), has published its October 2016 issue, containing Pope Francis' infamous Letter to the Buenos Aires Bishops. AAS not only published this letter, declaring that there are "no other interpretations" ("No hay otras interpretaciones") of Amoris Laetitia other than those of the Buenos Aires bishops, but it also published the full Buenos Aires guidelines themselves, which permit Holy Communion in some cases for couples in a state of permanent and public adultery who are not committed to living in complete continence. 

Most significantly, AAS upgrades Pope Francis' private letter to the Buenos Aires bishops to the official magisterial status of an "Apostolic Letter" ("Epistola Apostolica") - AND it includes a special rescript as an addendum by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State. This rescript declares that Pope Francis expressly intends that BOTH documents - the pope's letter and the Buenos Aires guidelines themselves- bear the character of his "authentic Magisterium", and that the pope personally ordered their publication in AAS and on the Vatican website.

The rescript reads in Latin as follows:

RESCRIPTUM «EX AUDIENTIA SS.MI» 

Summus Pontifex decernit ut duo Documenta quae praecedunt edantur per publicationem in situ electronico Vaticano et in Actis Apostolicae Sedis, velut Magisterium authenticum. 
Ex Aedibus Vaticanis, die V mensis Iunii anno MMXVII 
Petrus Card. Parolin
Secretarius Status

Here is an English translation:

Rescript "from an Audience with His Holiness"  

The Supreme Pontiff decreed that the two preceding documents be promulgated through publication on the Vatican website and in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as authentic Magisterium. 
From the Vatican, June 5, 2017 
Pietro Card. Parolin
Secretary of State

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines a papal rescript as follows: "Rescripts are responses of the pope or a Sacred Congregation, in writing, to queries or petitions of individuals. Some rescripts concern the granting of favours; others the administration of justice, e.g. the interpretation of a law, the appointment of a judge." Rescipts generally have the force of particular law, however, as in this case, only "when they interpret or promulgate a general law, are they of universal application." Since papal rescripts answer an inquiry - could this rescript be a direct reply to the dubia of the Four Cardinals?

Under Canon 8 § 1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the AAS is the regular method by which "universal ecclesiastical laws" are to be promulgated: “Universal ecclesiastical laws are promulgated by publication in the official commentary Acta Apostolicae Sedis, unless some other manner of promulgation has been prescribed in particular cases.” While most papal documents appearing in AAS lack canonical or disciplinary force, the Pope's rescript at the hand of Cardinal Parolin is clearly intended to give the Buenos Aires Guidelines a significant level of Magisterial authority in the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

The pope's use of the term "authentic magisterium" is especially disturbing because it appears intended to trigger Canon 752, to purportedly require "religious submission of the intellect and will" to the Buenos Aires guidelines' overturning of the traditional teaching of the Church:

Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it. 

In paragraph 6 of the Buenos Aires guidelines, now explicitly to be treated as belonging to Pope Francis' "authentic magisterium", the allowance for communion in cases of couples in a state of adultery without living in complete continence is made explicit:

6) In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option [living in continence] may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace. 

Pope Francis' once private letter to the Buenos Aires Bishops, but now to be considered an Apostolic Letter belonging to his "authentic magisterium", confirms these guidelines:

"The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations. And I am certain that it will do much good."

The problem with Amoris Laetitia, it is clear, is not merely with "liberal bishops" who interpret it, but with the pope whose manifest interpretation of his own document is impossible to square with the perennial doctrine and discipline of the Catholic faith.

See the October 2016 edition of the AAS on the Vatican website (very large pdf).

See the Buenos Aires guidelines on the Vatican website here.

Below is the excerpted portion of the AAS in its original published form.

Editor’s note: This article was republished with permission of the author. 

 

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