Canon Law and the Confessional: Another Conflict With Amoris Laetitia

(Image: St. Nepomuk, martyr of the Seal of Confession)

As was to be expected, the first cases are now coming up where priests are being punished for not going along with the new “spirit” of Amoris Laetitia. That is to say, for not willingly administering the Sacraments (especially Penance and the Eucharist) to the “remarried” divorcees who do not themselves intend to change their habitual way of life, yet still wish to have open access to the Sacraments.

We have now a case in Colombia, the case of Father Luis Alberto Uribe Medina, who “was admonished and suspended by his Bishop because he criticized in public the new doctrine invented [sic] by Pope Francis on Marriage and the reception of the Blessed Sacrament,” according to the Catholic website Rorate Caeli.

This case has already been reported on internationally, by Marco Tosatti and Professor Roberto de Mattei in Italy and Guiseppe Nardi in Germany, among other sources. The German author, Mathias von Gersdorff, had raised, already in April of 2016, the issue of a possible forthcoming pressuring of priests to follow obediently the new rules stemming from Amoris Laetitia. In a private communication, he has reported to us that his older article has now received much attention, in the context of this Don Uribe case.

The title of von Gersdorff’s own earlier post is: “Will the [German] Bishops’ Conference Force German Priests to Commit a Sacrilege?” Von Gersdorff raises there the issue as to whether those conservative Catholics who still claim that Amoris Laetitia has not at all changed any doctrine, will come finally to resist when they, too, as priests, will be personally required to commit a sacrilege, by admitting those “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion and also to the Sacrament of Penance. Thus von Gersdorff concludes: “They would thus be confronted with the alternative: either to commit a sacrilege or to go into public resistance against their own bishop.”

Von Gersdorff, in a piercing way, points out that these priests in Germany who potentially will be pressured to give Holy Communion to some (or even many) “remarried” and divorced couples will not, most likely, then be able to receive sufficient support from Rome:

They [these loyal priests] can of course turn to Rome, but nothing indicates that there they would receive help. The pope has declared after the publication [of Amoris Laetitia] that he will not make further statements on this issue. In an interview, he said that Cardinal [Christoph] Schönborn had interpreted Amoris Laetitia in a correct way. However, this Viennese cardinal belongs to that party which especially promoted the idea of admitting the remarried divorcees to Holy Communion.

The pastors who consider it to be a sacrilege to give Holy Communion to the remarried divorcees will not be helped by the fact that numerous theologians have written in the last weeks statements which ruled out there being such a change in the Church’s teaching. They thus stood in front of the alternative to either commit a sacrilege or to go into open resistance against their own bishop.

Von Gersdorff also raises, in a side comment, the question as to whether a priest who sacrilegiously gives absolution to such “remarried” couples who live as husband and wife, and have no intent to change their sinful lives, would not also put his own priesthood at risk.

Indeed, there is actually a paragraph in Canon Law that prohibits a priest from encouraging in any way a penitent in the confessional to violate the Sixth Commandment. For such a priest would then have to be punished with suspension or worse. For example, Canon 1387 of the Catholic Church’s Canon Law says:

A priest who in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession solicits a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished, according to the gravity of the delict, by suspension, prohibitions, and privations; in graver cases he is to be dismissed from the clerical state. [my emphasis]

Thus, in spite of the current pressures that might now or soon be put on priests world-wide (and not only in Germany) to go along with the new laxity of “pastoral care” flowing out of Amoris Laetitia, Canon Law itself still puts under grave penalty such priestly indulgence and leniency towards a “remarried” divorcee who wishes to receive Absolution – in spite of remaining in a sinful state of life – a penalty so grave that it is even unto his dismissal from the clerical state. That is to say: No priest on earth is permitted to give absolution to a person who is constantly and habitually violating the Sixth Commandment without any sincere intention to amend his life. On the contrary, such a priest risks losing his office as a priest.

The knowledge and application of this particular paragraph of Canon Law could thus be especially of great help to beleaguered priests who can now quote it in defense of their conscientious refusal to grant absolution to habitual violators of the Sixth Commandment.

In this context, there is added another gravely serious fact, namely that, should a loyal priest now deny such a penitent absolution in the Sacrament of Penance – due to the unwillingness of that penitent to change his own sinful conduct as a “remarried” divorcee – he might very well then be sued himself by that penitent, and even before an ecclesiastical court! Moreover, in such a case such a loyal priest could not even defend himself, inasmuch he is still bound by the Seal of Confession. Thus, it shows the intrinsic dangers that could threaten the Seal of Confession if one were now to make such promiscuous or sentimental “pastoral” use of the Internal Forum.

Much is at stake, not the least of which is the salvation of souls and the sanctity of the Catholic priesthood. May we all together work unto the greater good here – to include, our defense of Holy Mother Church’s wise and beautiful teaching on marriage.

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