Today, Dr. Sandro Magister, the well-informed Italian Vatican specialist, published an article of great importance because he explicitly shows another example of what Pope Francis has likely intended with his post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. After the example of Argentina – where Pope Francis gave express approval of a more liberalizing attitude toward those “remarried” divorcees who do not change their lives, yet still wish to receive Holy Communion – it is now his own Diocese of Rome which has set out new guidelines in light of Amoris Laetitia. These new guidelines have now reluctantly allowed, in some cases, “remarried” divorcees to receive the Sacraments.
Dr. Magister points out that, while the official status of the guidelines of the Argentine bishops is still somewhat unclear, the act of his own Cardinal Vicar of Rome is not. Magister says, as follows:
Meanwhile however, in Rome, in the diocese of which Francis is bishop, the absolutely official guidelines on how to interpret and apply “Amoris Laetitia” are in place. They have been made public by the pope’s cardinal vicar, Agostino Vallini, who gave them solemn proclamation on September 19 in the cathedral of Saint John Lateran.
Magister rightly assumes that the new guidelines set out by Cardinal Vallini will more than likely have received ahead of time the pope’s own approval: “It is unthinkable that the cardinal vicar of the diocese of Rome should have made these guidelines official without the supreme proprietor of the diocese having first read and approved them.” So now, says Magister, we know how Pope Francis wants Amoris Laetitia to be interpreted in his own Diocese.
Dr. Magister provides the link to Cardinal Vallini’s 17-page-long instruction in Italian and he gives quotes from its most essential parts. What his analysis of the text shows is that Vallini is somewhat more restrictive and yet vacillating with regard to the question of the “remarried” divorcees, while at the same time referring to those essential parts of Amoris Laetitia which allow some access to the Sacraments. When looking at the new guidelines, moreover, one’s impression of a confusion also abounds – just as was the case with the text of Amoris Laetitia itself.
Cardinal Vallini mentions the variously equivocal possibilities for the “remarried” to receive the Sacraments, especially when he unclearly and viscously says:
This pastoral discernment of individual persons is a very delicate aspect and must take into account the “degree of responsibility” that is not equal in all cases, the influence of “forms of conditioning and mitigating factors,” because of which it is possible that, within an objective situation of sin – that may not be objectively culpable or may not be so fully – a way may be found to grow in the Christian life, “receiving the Church’s help to this end” (AL, 305).
The text of the apostolic exhortation does not go further, but footnote 351 states: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” The pope uses the conditional, so he is not saying that they must be admitted to the sacraments, although he does not exclude this in some cases and under some conditions [the underlining is in the original episcopal guidelines]. Pope Francis develops the previous magisterium in the line of the hermeneutic of continuity and of exploration [sic], and not in discontinuity and rupture. [emphasis added]
While Vallini objects to any “indiscriminate access to the sacraments” and mildly proposes that these “remarried” couples live abidingly together in continence, he still admits that, in some cases, there may be this access to the Sacraments, after a long period of discernment and with the help of a priest in the forum internum. Vallini states:
This is not necessarily a matter of arriving at the sacraments, but of orienting them to live forms of integration in ecclesial life. But when the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, meaning when their journey of faith has been long, sincere, and progressive, it is proposed that they live in continence; if this decision is difficult to practice for the stability of the couple, “Amoris Laetitia” does not rule out the possibility of accessing penance and the Eucharist. This means a certain openness, as in the case in which there is the moral certainty that the first marriage was null but there are not the proofs to demonstrate this in a judicial setting; but not however in the case in which, for example, their condition is shown off [on public display and even flaunted ostentatiously] as if it were part of the Christian ideal, etc. [my emphasis]
In order to make such a permission for such “accessing” the Sacraments, according to Vallini, it must lie in the hands of a confessor who must then “assume the responsibility before God and [also] the penitent and then ask that the access take place in a discreet manner.”
If an outsider were to read this instruction, he might very well feel at a loss. Just how this continuously confusing instruction will be implemented by any of the local priests and confessors, only God knows. Dr. Magister implies that it could very well lead to what has been done in Europe anyway, and already on a large scale, when he says that: “actions often speak louder than words. And that therefore all the conditions and precautions recalled, for example, by Cardinal Vallini can be overturned [or bypassed] – and in reality already are in many places – by practical behaviors that go well beyond them.” [my emphasis]
The Italian journalist has also rightly observed that Amoris Laetitia has indeed already opened the floodgates, and that the laxer attitude toward sin and the Sacraments will spread. He points to this development when he says: “Once Amoris Laetitia has opened the floodgates, in fact, it is difficult for communion for the divorced and remarried to remain confined to the ‘internal forum’ and to take place ‘in a discreet manner.’” [my emphasis]
We stubborn sinners – just like stubborn and passionate little children – are also in need of clear instructions. Any ambiguity will easily soon be used as an excuse for the laxer way. And, as Magister points out, the pope himself seems anyway to favor the laxer path since he has already explicitly supported the liberalizing “Argentine approach” with the help of his clearly supportive letter.