We all have been waiting for it for quite some time now. Finally, a prelate has spoken.
On the topic of the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, has given a statement of over 6,000 words to the Italian website Corrispondenza Romana, which was published yesterday, 24 April. (No English translation has yet been made available; all of the following excerpts are taken from our own partial translation.)
While Schneider says that different interpretations of Amoris Laetitia now are now spreading, he sees that “Some of the statements of Amoris Laetitia are objectively liable to misinterpretation.” In his eyes, there are several aspects of the document which “are difficult to interpret according to the traditional doctrine of the Church.” Schneider shows how in some way, an explicit affirmation of doctrine and the continuous practice of the Church is missing concerning the rule that ‘remarried’ divorcees may not be admitted to Holy Communion.
“When it comes to the life or death of the body,” Schneider says, “no doctor would leave things in ambiguity. The doctor cannot tell the patient, ‘You should decide how to apply the medicine according to your conscience and following the laws of medicine.’ Such behavior on the part of a doctor would undoubtedly be considered irresponsible. Yet the immortal life of the soul is more important…”
Bishop Schneider quotes Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (FC) on this matter, which states that such couples “are unable to be admitted thereto, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church signified and effected by the Eucharist. There is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance – which opens the way for the sacrament of the Eucharist – can only be granted to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, they are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life no longer in contradiction with the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when a man and a woman, for serious motives – such as, for example, the education of children – can not satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on the duty to live in complete continence, by abstinence from the acts proper to spouses.'” (FC, n. 84)
According to Schneider, the pope has not established a new rule in Canon Law, applicable to all cases. However, he observes that Pope Francis does state that, in certain cases, where there are “mitigating factors”, it is “possible to live in the grace of God” and “receive the help of the Church,” even though one lives in an objectively sinful situation. Schneider adds that the pope here says that “in certain cases, there could be the help of the sacraments.”
Bishop Schneider shows how the pope quotes Gaudium et Spes ” in a way unfortunately incorrect” in paragraph 329 of his exhortation, thereby applying a statement intended only to refer to a valid Christian marriage to situations involving the divorced and remarried, indicating therewith that one can validate such a union “not in theory, but in practice.”
Bishop Schneider says that Amoris Laetitia opens itself up to “heterodox interpretations” with regard to the “remarried” divorcees by omitting the explicit quotation of relevant passages in Familiaris Consortio (n. 84). Such generalizing allusions to “moral principles” are, in the bishop’s eyes, “insufficient in the context of such a controversial matter” which is also very delicate and has great importance.
With regard to the claim of some clergymen that Amoris Laetitia‘s 8th chapter allows “remarried” couples who do not live in perfect continence to receive Holy Communion, Bishop Schneider says the following:
“… in accordance with the principle of non-contradiction, [there comes] the following logical conclusion: The Sixth Commandment which forbids any sexual act outside of a valid marriage would no longer be universally valid if exceptions were allowed.”
Thus, such a couple would live in a way that is “directly contradictory to the express Will of God.” Schneider concludes that such an encouragement of acts which are “contrary to the Will of God” would “contradict Divine Revelation.” To accept this would mean that the “Divine Word of Christ” not to separate what God has joined would, in Schneider’s eyes, therefore no longer be valid “always and for everyone” and “without exception.”
Such a rule would allow the Church to accept Christ’s teaching “in theory, but not in practice.” The works would not correspond to what we believe in. Schneider continues:
The permanent violation … of the Sixth Commandment of God … would therefore no longer [be] a serious sin or a direct opposition to the Will of God.
The prelate further shows how such an approach would have grave consequences:
The perennial and infallible teaching of the Church would no longer be universally valid, in particular the teaching confirmed by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (84) and Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis (29), according to which perfect continence is the condition for remarried divorcees to receive the Sacraments.
Bishop Schneider continues at length to discuss various parts of the papal document. It is our purpose here to share these initial passages as we await a full translation so that Catholics who have been waiting for a clear statement from one of our bishops would be given hope. We are grateful to Bishop Athanasius Schneider for his courage and love of the Faith to come out with this witness. We hope to provide more of Bishop Schneider’s statement as it becomes available in English.
UPDATE (4/26/16): We have now been provided with the full text of Bishop Schneider’s analysis of the exhortation, in English.