The Belgian bishops have recently (on 24 May) issued a Pastoral Letter in Dutch and in French where they, too, give their consent and support to the post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, thus joining the ranks of the German and Maltese bishops’ conferences, as well as some Argentine, Italian, and U.S. bishops. The significance of this Belgian action is that, together with the Germans and the Maltese bishops, they are representing all of their nation’s own bishops. Additionally, we might soon expect to hear of an appreciative papal response, at least indirectly sending Pope Francis’ gratitude to the supportive Belgian bishops.
The Belgian bishops’ letter states:
One cannot thus rule that all of the remarried divorcees can be admitted to Communion. One cannot rule, either, that they are all excluded. The path of each person demands the necessary discernment in light of a pastoral decision made in one’s conscience.
Just as in the case of the German bishops, the Belgian bishops also propose that this path of discernment can be accompanied by a dialogue either with a priest, or a deacon, or even another “pastoral agent” (which means a lay person). It is in this specific context that the Belgian bishops now speak, with reference to Amoris Laetitia, of the additional “help of the sacraments.” This process of discernment has to be undergone, both in light of the conscience of the “remarried” person as well as of the officially involved pastoral caretaker. It is once more proposed, with direct reference to Amoris Laetitia (37), that much scope is to be given here to the various individual and accompanying consciences. The following passage has nearly the same wording as the German pastoral guidelines with regard to the “remarried” divorcees:
It can happen that someone decides not to receive the Eucharist. We have the greatest respect for such a decision. It can also happen that someone decides in his conscience to well receive the Eucharist. This decision also deserves respect. [emphasis added]
By comparison, the German pastoral guidelines now say:
The individual decision – under the individual circumstances – not to be yet able to receive the Sacraments deserves respect and esteem. But, one also has to respect a [individual] decision in favor of the reception of the Sacraments. [emphasis added]
The Belgian bishops also openly express their “great appreciation and great gratitude for Amoris Laetitia.”
With their own approach to the “remarried” divorcees and their possible access to the Sacraments, the Belgian bishops seem to take an approach similar to the German bishops, stating that not every “remarried” person may per se have access to the Sacraments (thereby giving the impression of their equitable balance); but at the same time, giving full scope to the individual consciences of the concerned persons, thus giving permission to have access to the Sacraments.
The Belgian bishops do not make any reference to the moral obligation to live chastely as brother and sister, that is, if a “remarried” couple wishes to have access to the Sacraments.
Thus, another national bishops’ conference seems to have fallen into a promiscuous trap of effectively allowing adulterers to have untroubled access to the Sacraments.
However, as Sandro Magister has just recently pointed out, Pope Francis does not have many national bishops’ conference supportively behind his indulgent reforms. Most of the support for Pope Francis, according to Magister, comes from Europe. As he says:
With the appointment as president [of the Italian Bishops’ Conference] of Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, after that of the secretary general three years ago, Pope Francis now has full control of the Italian episcopal conference, one third of whose bishops have been installed by him, even in dioceses of the first rank like Bologna, Palermo, the vicariate of Rome, and soon also Milan.
Appointments are a key element in the strategy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. It should suffice to look at how he is reshaping in his image the college of cardinals, which in the future will elect his successor. After the latest batch of cardinals, announced one week ago for the end of June, chances are slimmer that the next pope could mark a return to the past.
Italy aside, however, winning the agreement of the bishops is anything but easy for Francis.
As Magister shows us here, the pope receives most support from those national bishops’ conferences whose countries are rather thoroughly losing the Faith. This is not a good sign for this papacy.
Steve Skojec has just written – concerning the more recent unworthy outbursts of Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga – that it now seems that the circle around Pope Francis – to include Francis himself – are thin-skinned and sensitively nervous. They might even now realize, after all, that they do not have the support of the majority of the Catholics for their unmistakably radical agenda of reform, in spite of their voluble protestations to the contrary.
Let us pray that this disquietude among the arch-reformists is based on reliable facts and that their anxiety will at least slow down their proposed ongoing revolution, if not halt it entirely. How long will Pope Francis still be able to manage his restless papacy?