After a somewhat more extended period for its preparation, the long-awaited pastoral and doctrinal document (“Word of the Bishops”) of the German Bishops’ Conference concerning the application of Amoris Laetitia has finally come out. As the German Bishops’ website, Katholisch.de, reports today: “The Remarried May Receive Communion in Individual Cases.” This piece of news, unsurprisingly, is already being reported internationally.
As the new document – published today, 1 February 2017 – says, “not everybody whose marriage is broken and who is remarried” may go to the Sacraments, to include the Sacrament of Penance. The bishops propose a process of discernment in order to decide whether such a “remarried” couple, or individual persons, may receive the Sacraments.
The German Bishops’ document – which is dated 1 February, but which was already adopted by the bishops’ council itself on 23 January 2017 – also says that Amoris Laetitia (AL 300) does not “categorically exclude” the “remarried” divorcees from the Sacrament, since in some cases, there is not to be found “serious guilt [sic].” The text, as expected, also refers to the controversial paragraph – paragraph 305 with its footnote 351 – and claims that not everybody who is in an “objectively irregular situation” is in the state of sin, or at least “not completely so”. Moreover, even though not every couple per se may be admitted to the Sacraments, the German bishops say that, for some couples, indeed, “Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of receiving the Sacraments of Penance and of the Eucharist.” [my emphasis] However, this should also be done, according to the bishops, with the help and accompaniment of a “pastoral caretaker.”
It is in this context and situation of discernment that the German bishops – with explicit reference to Amoris Laetitia (37) – stress the importance and weight of the individual consciences, as such, which may not then come to be effectively “replaced by the Church herself.” The document thus says:
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. [my emphasis]
The German bishops do stress the formation of conscience, which has to take place, as well. But, while they reject both extremes of “laxity” or “rigorism,” they still subtly give much scope to the individual couples who now may decisively discern themselves – with the help of an accompanying and discerning priest (or another pastoral caretaker) – whether or not they should receive the Sacraments yet. The Church, according to the German bishops, would then have to respect their own decision, as the last quote also implies.
Thus it seems that even the German bishops do not yet go as far as the Maltese bishops with their own new guidelines – who have stressed even more explicitly the weight of the individual conscience – but the Germans come quite close to it. This, of course, should not be astonishing, since the German bishops – among them Cardinal Walter Kasper himself – have been recurrently pushing for the indulgent laxening of the Church’s morality concerning the “remarried” divorcees, and for a long time.
This is how it sounded, already back in 1993, when Kasper, together with two other bishops, first proposed to implement in southern Germany the “Kasper proposal” (as it is now called) – now almost 25 years ago:
The priest [in discerning with the couple their individual case] will respect the judgment of the individual’s conscience, which that person has reached after examining his own conscience and becoming convinced his approaching the Holy Eucharist can be justified before God. [my emphasis]
Back then, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stopped this initiative. It is helpful in this context, moreover, to know that Cardinal Gerhard Müller as the Prefect of that same Congregation has just unequivocally said that there cannot be a contradiction between doctrine and the individual conscience, and he then added:
For example, it cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin. For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace. [my emphasis]
Cardinal Müller also insisted – with reference to Familiaris Consortio 84 – that “remarried” divorcees have to live in sincere and enduring continence if they wish to receive the Sacraments. That topic, however, is not even at all being discussed by the German bishops’ own new statement.
This very troubling new document from the German bishops comes at a time where one of the German bishops – Archbishop Heiner Koch, of Berlin – has now even declined to make a moral judgment upon the sinfulness of homosexual unions.
For example, on 30 January, 2017, the German progressive newspaper taz published an interview with the German archbishop of Berlin which mainly deals with the question of homosexuality. While Koch insists that the word “marriage” means a union between a man and a woman, because it is open to life; he then makes the stunning remark that “I have respect about how they [homosexual couples] are living out their own sexuality – since I assume that they are doing it responsibly.” [my emphasis] When the journalist asked him why the Church is so sure that a homosexual is living in the state of sin, even though Jesus Christ Himself has not made such an explicit statement on the matter, Koch answers: “You wish that I make a general judgment about an individual person. That I will not do.” [my emphasis] He thus refuses to proclaim the Church’s own moral teaching on homosexuality and its acts.
As can be seen here, the dissolution of Catholic Doctrine continues to grow in Germany.
Update, 2 February: According to a Katholisch.de article of today, the “remarried” divorcees may not necessarily need to contact a priest for the discernment of their individual situation with regard to the Sacraments. I myself had understood the German word “Seelsorger” as meaning a priest; however, I might have been mistaken. I will try to follow up on this matter with the German Bishops’ Conference itself.
Update, 5 February: According to our new findings, I replaced in this article now the word “pastor” with “pastoral caretaker” which is broader and which indeed includes laymen, as well.