YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast (LifeSiteNews) — The following is a letter by an African priest known to LifeSiteNews who prefers to use the nom-de-plume Fr. Jesusmary Missigbètò. His first open letter to Pope Francis regarding Amoris Laetitia can be found here.
SECOND OPEN LETTER TO POPE FRANCIS, CARDINALS AND BISHOPS
“Second call for Pope Francis’ rectification”
Yamoussoukro (City of Peace); Ivory Coast
December 8, 2021
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
Dear Elders in the Catholic faith,
A. Why a second open letter?
Harold Abrahams, British athlete, told his fiancée Sybil Gordon: “I don’t run to take beatings! I run to win! If I can’t win, I won’t run!” She replied: “If you don’t run, you can’t win! Ring me when you’ve sorted that one out” (Film Chariots of Fire, 1981). It is this obvious truth in ordinary life that is forgotten by “progressive” Catholics in their “mercy” towards the remarried divorced. My first open letter was addressed to all Christians because of the international publicity Pope Francis’ acceptance of homosexual civil coexistence laws had received. Still in the spirit of charity and truth of St. Paul at Antioch (cf. Galatians 2:11), this second open letter is addressed only to the Pope, cardinals, and bishops.
B. In 2100 years of history, what has Catholic Tradition done for remarried divorcees?
“I (name) take you (name) to be my wife/husband. I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.” These are the sacred words with which a man and a woman swear to love each other forever, taking God and the Church as their witnesses. When serious difficulties arise later (quarrels, violence, infidelity, etc.), the Catholic Church recognises that spouses have the right to live in peace and not to have the same place of residence (legal separation). However, she cannot accept divorce and the possibility of founding a new family with another woman or man. The Church, in fact, remains faithful to the sacredness of the words spoken by the spouses themselves on the day of their marriage. And she also remains faithful to the words of Jesus Christ, her Master: “Have you not read that the Creator made them male and female in the beginning and said: ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore let no one separate what God has joined together.” (Matthew 19:4-6) “If anyone divorces his wife and marries another, he is an adulterer of the first; and if the wife divorces her husband and marries another, she is an adulteress.” (Mark 10:11-12)
Catholics who, after receiving the Sacrament of Marriage, have ultimately left their wife (husband) to form a new family with another woman (man) are called “remarried divorced”. Some resort to civil divorce and marriage. Others ask the Catholic Church to open a process in which the nullity of the Sacrament of Marriage received is established and declared. Then they can marry their new partner before God and the Church. In fact, they think (subjectively or objectively) that the Sacrament of Marriage received was invalid, i.e. that there was no marriage because of an essential defect (lack of maturity, lack of free consent, desire for infidelity, exclusion of procreation, etc.) Catholic Tradition has endeavoured to resolve the problem in its causes and consequences. Upstream, the Church has begun to better instruct fiancées on the sacredness of the marriage commitment and the seriousness of marriage preparation (true friendship, mutual knowledge, prayer, etc.); downstream, the Church has accepted to open nullity proceedings and to accompany the remarried divorced with mercy, encouraging them to live their Christian life well in spite of the difficulties.
From the moral point of view, all remarried divorced persons who cohabit sexually commit the sin of adultery (if the previous marriage was valid) or the sin of fornication (if the previous marriage was not valid). The Tradition of the Catholic Church, faithful to the Old and New Testament, has always considered these two sins as grave (6th commandment). For the sake of the eternal salvation of the remarried divorced, Tradition has invited them to separate (to get out of adultery) or to resolve the problems that prevent marriage (to get out of fornication) before they can receive the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist (cf. Code of Canon Law 915).
What to do when it is impossible for the remarried divorced to separate for serious reasons that oblige them to live together (children, financial means, age, etc.)? On November 22, 1981, Pope St. John Paul II recalled a first mercy granted by the Catholic Church: “when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.'” (Familiaris Consortio 84). Therefore, they live as brother and sister (tamquam frater et soror), because conceding common life for serious reasons does not mean conceding sexual life. On September 14, 1994, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger clarified that, “in such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to bishops, 4). Concretely, this means that the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist are received in private and not in public, otherwise “the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage” (Familiaris Consortio 84).
What to do when, despite a commitment to live as brothers and sisters, remarried divorced people frequently fall into a lapse against the virtue of continence? On March 22, 1996, Pope St. John Paul II recalled a second mercy granted by the Catholic Church: “it is indeed possible that, even in the loyalty of the resolution not to sin any more, the experience of the past and the consciousness of present weakness give rise to the fear of further falls; but this does not impair the genuineness of the resolution, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, to do what is possible to avoid sin” (Letter to Cardinal William Baum 5). The Church is thus a Mother full of closeness, compassion and tenderness. To receive the Sacrament of Penance, she does not ask for a promise of victory, but a promise of struggle. However, after so much mercy of the Catholic Tradition towards the remarried divorced, is it possible to do more?
C. Amoris Laetitia and its new “mercy”
The publication of Amoris Laetitia (March 19, 2016) has sparked a lively debate. On April 18, 2016, on his return from the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist: “some claim that nothing has changed… others claim, rather, that much has changed… Are there new concrete possibilities that did not exist before the publication of the exhortation of not?” Pope Francis’ answer: “Yes.”
On September 5, 2016, Archbishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy and the bishops of the Pastoral Region of Buenos Aires wrote a letter to the Pope: “5) When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians walking the path of faith, the commitment to live in continence can be proposed. Amoris laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and offers the possibility of having access to the sacrament of Reconciliation when such a commitment fails (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of St. John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 03/22/1996). 6) In other more complex circumstances, and where a declaration of nullity cannot be obtained, the mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is also possible. If it is recognised that in a particular case there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person considers that he/she would incur a subsequent fault by harming the children of the new union, Amoris laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.”
On the same day, September 5, 2016, Pope Francis wrote a letter in response: “I received the text of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region… The text is very good and thoroughly explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris laetitia. There are no other interpretations”. On September 19, 2016, in the Lateran Basilica, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, made public a text similar to that of the Argentineans. On June 5, 2017, the Pope ordered that the Argentinean letter and its reply be published in the official Vatican archives (cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 108, pp. 1071-1074) and on the website www.vatican.va. There is therefore no doubt that Pope Francis fully accepts the content of the Argentinean letter.
D. Why does the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, validated by Pope Francis, contradict Catholic doctrine and morality?
1) The struggle against sexual cohabitation becomes an option.
Catholic Tradition has always placed the struggle on the virtue of sexual continence as an absolute condition for the remarried divorced (like all the faithful of the Church) to have access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. On the contrary, with Amoris Laetitia, this condition has become an “option.” For Pope Francis and the bishops of Buenos Aires, “the commitment to live in continence can be proposed”. However, what is the supernatural (divine) basis for such an affirmation? None. Who are the holy popes or bishops who have proposed to the remarried divorced the struggle for sexual continence as an option? None. In 21 centuries, which magisterial document exempts unmarried persons from struggling against sexual cohabitation? None. A simple historical proof is this: in the Sacrament of Penance, the firm resolution to use all possible means to avoid sinning is part of the penitent’s acts.
Number 1451 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the definition of the Council of Trent (Doctrine on the Sacrament of Penance, 14th session, November 25, 1551): “Among the penitent’s acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again’ (Cc. Trent: DS 1676).” This resolution is also required in the case of imperfect contrition (cf. Council of Trent DS 1678, Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 303). The Catechism of the Council of Trent adds: “The same thing also Christ our Lord prescribed to the woman taken in adultery; ‘Go thy way, says he, and now sin no more’. And to the lame man that was cured at the pool of Bethsaida. ‘Behold, says he, thou art made whole, now sin no more. But nature itself also and reason plainly shew, that these two things are chiefly necessary to contrition, to wit, grief for sin done, and a purpose and caution not to do the like for the time to come” (Part II, Henry Hills Edition, 1687, p. 255). The Catechism of St. Pius X confirms that this resolution implies a necessity of means: “A good resolution consists in a determined will not to commit sin for the future and to use all necessary means to avoid it” (The Sacrament of Penance, 60 Q).
2) There is gradualness of the law (instead of law of gradualness).
“Gradualness of law” consists in inserting degrees or levels in the duty to fulfil the law. This would mean that not all human beings have the same duty. Therefore, some might be exempted because of their person, situation, or circumstance. The “law of gradualness” consists in inserting degrees or levels in the effort to fulfil the law. The Catholic Tradition has always rejected the gradualness of the natural moral law (10 commandments): “what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations” (Familiaris Consortio 34). In fact, the natural moral law proceeds from God the Creator, is absolute (without exception), universal (all human beings). and immutable (always valid, Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1956, 1958).
Amoris Laetitia 295 rejects the “gradualness of the law”. However, the letter of the bishops of Buenos Aires, validated by Pope Francis, accepts this gradualness as it says that “the commitment to live in continence can be proposed” and is an “option.” This means that it does not underline the absolute and obligatory moral character of the virtue of continence for the remarried divorced. The wording more in line with the Catholic Tradition would be: “the commitment to live in continence must be required,” which means that it is a “duty.” Synonymous expressions could also be used, for example, “obliged,” “obligation,” “need,” “necessary,” etc.
3) There is moral relativism or situation ethics.
When an absolute or obligatory law becomes optional for some people, this is called moral relativism. When this is done according to certain circumstances or situations, we speak of situation ethics. This is the case with the letter of the bishops of Buenos Aires because it presents the virtue of sexual continence as a possibility. Moreover, it states that for some remarried divorced persons this virtue “may not, in fact, be feasible” for the following reasons: “more complex circumstances… a declaration of nullity cannot be obtained… there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability… a person considers that he/she would incur a subsequent fault by harming the children of the new union.”
In reality, this means that the Buenos Aires bishops and Pope Francis do not recognise that adultery and fornication are intrinsically evil actions. As Pope St. John Paul II explained, “reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances… (they) are always seriously wrong” (Veritatis Splendor 80). All this will necessarily have serious consequences for the future of the Catholic Church.
4) Serious future consequences.
1st consequence: for the remarried divorced (as well as with Catholic fiancés who cohabit sexually, have children, and cannot marry quickly for economic, professional, or family reasons). Catholic Tradition nudged them towards the good: striving in the virtue of continence has always been a mandatory condition for receiving the sacraments; this encouraged the remarried divorced to give up adultery and fornication, or to live in continence if they had to live together for serious reasons. With “Amoris Laetitia mercy,” the condition no longer exists. The remarried divorced are thus indirectly encouraged to turn away from the virtue of continence. In fact, the better they demonstrate that “the commitment to live in continence” is not “feasible” (i.e. that their passion for sexual practice is strong and habitual), the more help they will receive from the sacraments “to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.”
2nd consequence: with married people in the Catholic Church. If a person goes through a difficulty that distances him/her from his/her spouse for a while, it will be easier for him/her to give in to the temptation of infidelity and divorce because he/she knows that this will not prevent him/her from continuing to receive the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist in the future.
3rd consequence: for priests. They will explain to the remarried divorced that “the commitment to live in continence can be proposed” and that they do “not ignore the difficulties of this option,” which “may not, in fact, be feasible.” After such explanations, won’t they themselves find excuses for not living priestly chastity? Especially when we already know that some, unfortunately, excuse themselves by saying that on the day of their ordination to the diaconate they made a promise of celibacy and not of chastity.
4th consequence: for the universal Church. A strange moral casuistry will be born. The Catholic moral Tradition had left to all confessors (young, old, experienced, or inexperienced) a clear, simple, objective, effective and rapid criterion for giving absolution to the remarried divorced. They were asked two short questions: Do you have serious reasons for living together? Are you willing to struggle with the means at your disposal to avoid sexual cohabitation? Today, with Amoris Laetitia, in addition to being confessors (which in itself is not an easy task), priests must be perceptive investigators to grasp the complexity of situations, canonists to understand cases of matrimonial nullity, psychologists to study the multiple mitigating circumstances. Is this not too much? Besides, there will be as many cases studied as there are remarried divorcees, and they are not the only faithful that priests have to look after. So, in practice, as the work of discernment takes time and the number of priests available is insufficient, it is obvious that in the long run most priests will take the short cut of giving the sacraments to all remarried divorcees, not safeguarding the obligation to avoid scandal among the married faithful, which will obviously have an effect on the value of the Sacrament of Marriage.
5th consequence: for the sacraments. The architecture of the sacraments is broken. If baptism is the door to all the sacraments (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1213), the Eucharist is the greatest of the sacraments. Indeed, all the sacraments give grace, but only the Eucharist gives the very Author of grace and of the sacraments (cf. Catechism of St. Pius X, Nature of the Sacraments, 30 Q.) This is why the Catholic tradition has always shown great respect for the real presence and majesty of Jesus in the Eucharist. Today, with Amoris Laetitia, mitigating circumstances and the conscience of a nullity (subjective or objective) make it possible to suspend the struggle against improper sexual cohabitation and to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist. But if this concession of Amoris Laetitia is to be respected, would it not be more logical to solve the problem at its root by first granting the Sacrament of Marriage to the remarried divorced? In fact, he who can do more can do less. Why should the same mitigating circumstances and conscience that allow one to receive the greatest of sacraments not allow one to receive a lesser sacrament than the Eucharist?
E. Response to some objections.
1st objection: “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'” (Amoris Laetitia, note 329). Answer: “It often happens that man acts with a good intention but without spiritual gain because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused. ‘There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just.’ (Rom 3:8)” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Opuscula Theologica II, cf. Veritatis Splendor 78). The end does not justify the means.
2nd objection: “[T]he commitment to live in continence… may not, in fact, be feasible” (Letter of the bishops of Buenos Aires 5, 6). Answer: This is not true since remarried divorced people do not live “attached”. There are times in their lives when they are obliged to live in sexual continence, e.g. work, travel, illness, etc. If for ordinary reasons the remarried divorced succeed in living continence, why can they not make this effort for the extraordinary reason of the Sacrament of the Eucharist? Are these ordinary reasons more important than the Eucharist? Moreover, the fact that a commitment is often not realised does not mean that it is always unrealisable. Many Christian testimonies are living proof of this: there are people who have gone from great impurity to great purity; any great sinner can become a great saint, e.g. Mary Magdalene, Dismas the Good Thief, St. Augustine, et alia.
3rd objection: “Amoris laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist… These, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace” (Letter of the bishops of Buenos Aires 6). Answer: Paradoxically, this openness leads rather to sabotage the fruits of these sacraments for the simple reason already known to theologians: “gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit; grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it” (Summa Theologica, I, q.1, art.8, ad.2). If someone does not provide the human means to live sexual continence, how can the sacraments easily make this virtue grow in him? This last aspect brings “Amoris Laetitia mercy” closer to Protestant theology in which all primacy is given to the action of grace while the importance of human action is annulled.
F. What could cardinals and bishops do to help solve the problem?
“If we speak explicitly about Communion for the remarried divorced, you don’t know what a mess they will make us. So let’s not speak about it directly, do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.” Pope Francis said this to Archbishop Bruno Forte, Special Secretary of the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family. This revelation was made by the archbishop himself on May 2, 2016 during a conference to present Amoris Laetitia at the Rossetti Theatre in the city of Vasto. This, then, was the method used by Pope Francis to circumvent the opposition of “traditionalist” bishops to his new “mercy.” Today, the “progressive” cardinals, bishops, and priests who have supported “Amoris Laetitia mercy” are numerous: Parolin, Kasper, Schönborn, Coccopalmerio, Vallini, Cupich, Grech, Paglia, Forte, Scicluna, Fenoy, McElroy, Spadaro, Bordeyne, et alia.
Despite this, quantity and media power are not criteria of truth. Truth remains truth even if it is defended by a single person without media power. In the Catholic Church, truth is not a question of majority but of fidelity to Jesus Christ, God’s Eternal Truth. Now, there cannot be two truths on the same subject. Therefore, in the presence of the living Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, for the good of the Church and of souls, all the cardinals and bishops of the Catholic Church are called, in conscience by the Lord, to answer the following two questions: Where is the truth? Is it on the side of Tradition before Amoris Laetitia or on the side of the new “mercy” inspired by Amoris Laetitia? With John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church seems to have reached the most advanced pastoral frontier in the matter of mercy. Before God, there is certainly a red line that must not be crossed: that of granting the sin of adultery or fornication to the remarried divorced.
G. Other problems.
Seeing the problem of situational ethics in the pontificate of Pope Francis, I looked into suspicions about the invalidity of his election (suspicions based on the words of a cardinal who, after swearing an oath before God and his brother cardinals, betrayed his own word and the secrecy of the conclave by making
confidences to an Argentine journalist). However, these suspicions do not seem to be well-founded.
Personally, I have no doubt that Pope Francis was elected to the See of Peter. But I also have no doubt that the current pontificate has opened the doors of the Church wide to situational ethics. We will come back to this in my next open letter. Next? Yes, because there are still other issues related to the same problem. In the meantime, let us continue to pray for Pope Francis and for the Church. May the Immaculate Virgin, solemnly celebrated today, help the remarried divorced in their struggle for the virtue of purity! May St. Mary and St. Joseph obtain peace and unity for the Catholic Church around Jesus Christ, God’s Eternal Truth! Pax Christi Ecclesia.
Father Jesusmary Missigbètò
Gmail: [email protected] / Facebook: @fatherjesusmary / Twitter: @fatherjesusmary