Amoris Rumblings in the Archdiocese of Atlanta?

April 28, 2017  (Steven O’Reilly) –  Since the publication of Amoris Laetitia (AL), I do not recall ever seeing an official statement by the Archdiocese of Atlanta regarding its understanding of the eighth chapter of this apostolic exhortation. To my knowledge, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory has never issued any specific communion guidelines or statements in the wake of AL, as have some other US bishops—such as Archbishop Chaput (Philadelphia) and Bishop McElroy (San Diego) — or as have other bishops around the world have done (e.g., see PolandKazakhstanMalta, Germany.   All has been quiet in Atlanta—until now.  There appear to be some Amoris rumblings.

What the future may bring for the Atlanta archdiocese I do not know, but information I recently received gives me, as a Catholic in this Archdiocese, cause for some concern. It has come to my attention that on April 20, 2017 there was an archdiocesan “Priests’ Workshop” or “Priests’ Study Day” where a presentation—favorable to an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia which would allow communion for the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances—was provided to the clergy present at this workshop. Is this a harbinger of what Atlanta Catholics might expect in their parishes now or in the near future?

The presentation to which I refer is a document which I recently received in an unsolicited fashion. It is entitled “SOME PASTORAL IMPLICATIONS ARISING FROM CHAPTER VIII OF THE APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION AMORIS LAETITIA” [NB: of course, anonymity of sources is respected and protected by RomaLocutaEst]. The name of Fr. Francis G. Morrisey O.M.I.—who is Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Canon Law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada—appears at end of the 26 page long document. The version of the document which I received is nearly identical to an older presentation by Fr. Morrisey which may be found online here from May 2016. The version I have was updated sometime during or after mid-November 2016 because it lists and comments (briefly) on the dubia of the four cardinals. Fr. Morrissey was, in his own words, “directly involved in the preparation of the Motu proprio Mitis iudex (pg. 1) [NB:  Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters reviews this motu proprio here: The Catholic World Report.]

I have not yet been able to independently confirm whether Fr. Morrisey actually presented the document at the Atlanta “priests’ study day,” or whether the document was only  provided to participants.  I was only told by the source, who was in a position to know, that it was “the text from the meeting.” Regardless, whether Fr. Morrisey personally presented the document or not is beside the point. The content of the document, apparently put into the hands of priests at a “workshop”/”study day”, is what is troubling. Also, it is disturbing to contemplate what it might portend for this archdiocese.  Is it part of a soft launch or stealth implementation of a policy of communion for the divorced and remarried in Atlanta?

In the document on page 3, Fr. Morrisey quotes all five of the dubia submitted by the four cardinals to Pope Francis.  Yet, after doing so, the most analysis he can bring to bear against them is to say: “It is impossible to answer these questions by a “Yes” or a “No”… they remind me of the questions that the Pharisees asked of Jesus in the Gospels.” Fr. Morrisey has made similar suggestions elsewhere, such as that they are “trick questions.” Such a claim that it is “impossible to answer these question” is simply a disingenuous dodge. Certainly, as a learned priest, Fr. Morrisey is well aware of the tradition of submitting dubia (i.e., yes or no questions on faith or morals) to Rome. Or…were these all pharisaical interventions as well? Why only now are yes/no questions “impossible” and pharisaical? The good father’s claim is ridiculous on its face. I will not relist all the dubia here, but I will list the first asked by the four cardinals:

“It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?”

I have previously written on Amoris Laetitia and its reference to “certain cases” (see here). While, clearly, the authoritative answer must come from Pope Francis, I do not see how any honest, reasonable person could say this question is “impossible to answer”—whether it be Pope Francis or anyone else. If you do not believe that the phrase “in certain cases” (cf AL Note 351 (305)) can be applied to at least some divorced persons living more uxorio (i.e., having sexual relations with a new partner), your answer is “no”—which would then mean such divorced persons cannot receive communion.  If you interpret the phrase “in certain cases” to apply to at least some such divorced persons, your answer is “yes”—which would mean these divorced persons can receive communion.  Which is it…”yes” or “no”?  This is no “trick question.” Yet, the answers do not come, even from the learned supporters of communion for the divorced and remarried. Thus, it seems, it is not the inability of the intellect to see an answer, it is simply the refusal of the will to provide it.

Fr. Morrisey’s claim that it is “impossible to answer” is all the more puzzling since he elsewhere in the document plainly asserts the possibility for the divorced and remarried to receive communion, as he does in his discussion of Canon 915, and in a section of his presentation explicitly called “APPLYING THE PRINCIPLES: POSSIBLE ADMISSION TO THE SACRAMENTS OF PENANCE AND EUCHARIST,” etc. Now, if his meaning is, as it appears to me to be, that at least some divorced and remarried persons who live more uxorio can receive communion under certain conditions, why then does Fr. Morrisey insist it is “impossible” to answer the dubia? In effect, his argues “yes,” but he cannot bring himself to answer “yes” to the first dubia.  No, he says…it is “impossible.”  The problem here is not just with Fr. Morrisey—it is the curious case that for many learned supporters of communion for the divorced and remarried there seems to be a disconnect and discord between their intellect, which arrives at an answer, and the will, which refuses to admit it with regard to the dubia. Instead, they label and name-call people and throw tantrums.  It really is quite striking. It is a great mystery. It may be the delusion of our time.

Whatever the nature and cause of this delusion, it would have us neglect, ignore or forget all the prior teachings of Pope John Paul II (see notes 1, 2 and 4), the Catholic Catechism (see note 3), and Pope Benedict XVI (see note 5) on the subject [NB: quotes and source links are provided at end of this article to demonstrate how clear and definitive the Church’s teaching has been on this issue]. In sum, the cited documents teach the practice of denying communion to the divorced and remarried, living more uxorio, is a constant and universal practice of the Church founded on Sacred Scripture. Therefore, it is strange that supporters of communion for adulterers would accuse those who believe this constant and universal Catholic practice of being pharisees.  The Lord Jesus Christ instructed us as to what is necessary if we love Him: “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). The 6th Commandment, reiterated by the Lord in the gospels is, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ and that “anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery” (cf Luke 16:18). The New Testament also tells us in various places that “adulterers” will not enter the kingdom of God (cf 1 Cor.6:9-10, Rev. 22:15) and that one must be worthy to receive communion (cf 1 Cor. 11:27). Therefore, it ought to be evident that the pharisees in this instance are those who put the absolute and clear commands of the Lord regarding adultery into a magic hat, wave a wand, mutter some pastoralbabble, and then pull out ‘communion is okay for at least some of those in irregular relationships.’ Indeed, Sacred Scripture uses harsher terms of those who would change the Lord’s teachings.

I will not go through all 26 pages of Fr. Morrisey’s presentation. My intent here is only to attempt to give another perspective. I will confine the remainder of my comments to Fr. Morrisey’s use of Canon 915, but I have written on the Amoris Laetitia controversy in other blog articles (see here and here and here). In the online document (and the updated one in my possession), Fr. Francis G. Morrisey O.M.I. writes on Canon 915 and its relation to communion for the divorced and remarried in light of AL.

Fr. Morrisey writes on canon 915 (p.22-23) [NB: emphasis added by RomaLocutaEst):

3. CANONICAL LEGISLATION – CANON 915

“Canon 915: Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.

It has been repeated time and again that the divorced and remarried are not excommunicated or subject to canonical penalties. Thus the first part of the canon is not applicable in the present case.

As for the second part, we must keep in mind the provisions of canon 18 of the Code of Canon Law:

Canon 18: Laws which prescribe a penalty, or restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception to the law, are to be interpreted strictly.

A “strict” interpretation means that all the conditions spelled out in the law must be met; if one or more is missing, the restriction does not apply.

Canon 912: Any baptized person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to holy communion.

Canon 912 spells out the fundamental right of the faithful. It is now essential to determine whether or not the law forbids the exercise of the right in the case of the divorced and remarried.

We note that canon 915 has four conditions: “[1] obstinately [2] persists in [3] manifest [4] grave sin.

Obstinacy requires at least one previous warning.
– To persist means to continue doing something in spite of the warning.
– The situation must be manifest. However, the Exhortation tells us clearly that this situation is no longer manifest (par. 302).
Grave sin: the same paragraph tells us that certain circumstances can diminish or even remove all culpability (see footnote 336 in the Exhortation).

Therefore, if this is the case, then the prohibition spelled out in canon 915 would no longer apply in all instances where a divorced person has entered into marriage without first obtaining a dissolution or declaration of nullity regarding the previous union.”

With regard to “grave sin,” common sense suggests Fr. Morrisey is confusing subjective culpability of the sin (which no one, but God, can judge) with the objective condition or situation.  The objective condition—and not the subjective culpability for it—was always sufficient cause to bar the divorced and remarried individual (living more uxorio) from communion. Pope John Paul II taught:

“However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, 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 about the indissolubility of marriage.” (Familiaris Consortio, 84) [Emphasis added]

Nowhere is Pope John Paul II’s line of argument in Familiaris Consortia contingent on a consideration of subjective culpability with regard to the denial of communion to such divorced persons. John Paul II notes the objective contradiction, and the public (manifest) nature of the situation which could lead the faithful into confusion. With this in mind, let us move from this doctrinal statement—as Pope John Paul II links the practice to Sacred Scripture—to the question of canon law. Fr. Morrisey suggests that in light of AL the prohibitions of canon 915 “would no longer apply in all instances where a divorced person has entered into marriage without first obtaining a dissolution or declaration of nullity regarding the previous union.” Daring to tread lightly where even angels fear to tread—i.e., I am most certainly not a canon lawyer—it seems to me, in light of FC 84, that Fr. Morrisey has seriously butchered canon 915 which seems to ‘implement,’ in a manner of speaking, the doctrine repeated in FC 84.  This can be seen by referencing a document released by the Pontifical Council on Legislative Texts (i.e., Declaration: II. CONCERNING THE ADMISSION TO HOLY COMMUNION OF FAITHFUL WHO ARE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED, June 24, 2000) which seems to have anticipated Fr. Morrisey’s misinterpretation of the issues of FC 84 and Canon 915.

Fr. Morrisey’s argument seems to be that since one or more conditions of Canon 915 (i.e., grave sin, obstinate, persist and manifest) may not be present in certain cases involving the divorced and remarried in an Amoris Laetitia world, then in these cases such persons can receive communion. Let us take the four conditions of Canon 915 in turn.  Fr. Morrisey asserts of “grave sin” in his presentation:

– Grave sin: the same paragraph tells us that certain circumstances can diminish or even remove all culpability (see footnote 336 in the Exhortation).

The Pontifical Council provides definitions of the terms.  With regard to “grave sin” it states:

a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;

(Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration: II. CONCERNING THE ADMISSION TO HOLY COMMUNION OF FAITHFUL WHO ARE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED, June 24, 2000; 2a) [Emphasis added]

According to the Pontifical Council, “grave sin” is to be understood in a objective sense, not in a subjective sense, as if in regard to the subjective imputability of the sin. Therefore, even if one were to grant Fr. Morrisey’s assertion—arguendo—that there might be cases of diminished culpability, or even none at all, even that in itself could not change the fact of the gravity of the sin as it is “understood objectively.”

Fr. Morrisey further asserts of “manifest”:

The situation must be manifest. However, the Exhortation tells us clearly that this situation is no longer manifest (par. 302).

Fr. Morrisey cites AL (302) to support his claim that AL “tells us clearly that this situation is no longer manifest.”  I do not know how he can conclude this.  A reading of the actual text of AL 302 indicates Fr. Morrisey’s suggestion is without any foundation or reference to the manifest nature of a sin.  Rather, AL (302) recognizes there may be lack of subjective culpability even when there is a negative judgment regarding the objective nature of the sin: “For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved” (cf AL 302). When we unpack the verbiage, the pope is not denying here that an objective and or, presumably, manifest situation of sin can exist alongside a lack of subjective imputability. The pope is not saying the situation is “no longer manifest” just because culpability might not be fully present.  In fact, the quote from Pope Francis is footnoted with text taken from the June 2000 Declaration of the Pontifical Council of Legislative texts which expressly intends to uphold the teaching of Familiarias Consortio—i.e., that communion is not to be given to the divorced and remarried unless they live as brother and sister.  On the subject of defining “manifest”, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts states the following:

c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin.

Those faithful who are divorced and remarried would not be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin who would not be able, for serious motives – such as, for example, the upbringing of the children – “to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses” (Familiaris consortio, n. 84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo. (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration: II. CONCERNING THE ADMISSION TO HOLY COMMUNION OF FAITHFUL WHO ARE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED, June 24, 2000; 3a)

Thus, the Pontifical Council is saying, even in the case where a divorced and remarried couple are not subjectively culpable at all—i.e., because they are living as brother and sister (i.e., “abstaining from acts proper to spouses“)—their condition (i.e., living together) is still “per se manifest.” Thus, Fr. Morrisey’s claim that “this situation is no longer manifest” appears—to this non-canon, non-lawyer—to be inaccurate.

Fr. Morrisey also asserts on the obstinate and persist criteria:

– Obstinacy requires at least one previous warning.
– To persist means to continue doing something in spite of the warning.

The Pontifical Council defines these (i.e., obstinate and persist) as follows:

b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.

Thus, it seems, it is incorrect to suggest in these cases regarding the divorced and remarried that “obstinate persistence” requires a prior warning.

As I said, I am no canon lawyer. But, it appears that Fr. Morrisey has seriously mangled Canon 915. His treatment of canon 915 does not provide any out which would allow a priest to give communion to a divorced and remarried person (living more uxorio).  For those—e.g., priests who have been presented with arguments such as Fr. Morrisey’s—wanting to know more about Canon 915 in light of AL, I suggest a better place to start on the question is an article appearing in Crux by Dr. Edward Peters, who is a canon lawyer.  I cite a bit from that article below:

Amoris, never mentioning Canons 915 or 916, seems to think that some process of pastoral “discernment” or “accompaniment” can lead divorced-and-remarried Catholics, even those not committed to a continent relationship as befits all non-married persons, to the point where, having satisfied themselves that they are not sinning, may approach for holy Communion, and the minister, irrespective of the communicant’s objective public status, must distribute it to them.

In other words, Canon 915, the central, historically uncontested, and canonically unambiguous norm controlling ministerial decisions to distribute holy Communion in such cases, is simply ignored.

It is the pervasive and steadfast refusal of nearly all “Amoris supporters” (I dislike the term, but it saves time) to face squarely the ancient tradition behind, and the unambiguous interpretation of, Canon 915 that dooms virtually all defenses of Amoris so far to irrelevance at best and to pastoral and even doctrinal disasters at worst. One cannot coherently discuss reception of holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics while ignoring the plain text of Canon 915.

In conclusion, as a Catholic in the Atlanta area, it is concerning to learn that a document which favors communion for at least some divorced and remarried (living more uxorio) was used in a recent “priests’ workshop” in the archdiocese. I certainly hope this does not presage a soft or stealth implementation of a policy that would allow priests to ignore Canon 915 or interpret it in any way that contradicts a long line of papal teachings (see notes below) which forbid giving communion to such persons.

Notes:

  1. “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, 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 about the indissolubility of marriage.” (Familiaris Consortio, 84)
  2. “Numerous interventions during the synod, expressing the general thought of the fathers, emphasized the coexistence and mutual influence of two equally important principles in relation to these cases. The first principle is that of compassion and mercy, whereby the church, as the continuer in history of Christ’s presence and work, not wishing the death of the sinner but that the sinner should be converted and live,(197) and careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick,(198) ever seeks to offer, as far as possible, the path of return to God and of reconciliation with him. The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions. (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34) [Emphasis added]
  3. “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”160 the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” (Catholic Catechism 1650)
  4. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Ratzinger, with the approval of the Pope John Paul II, issued a response (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994). In it, the Cardinal Prefect says in part: “At the same time it (i.e., Familiaris Consortio) confirms and indicates the reasons for theconstant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”. The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.[ Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994.]
  5. The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.” (Benedict XVI. Sacramentum Caritatis 29)

One thought on “Amoris Rumblings in the Archdiocese of Atlanta?

  1. The way things are going, I’d say Atlanta is headed down the wrong path. The signs are there. With that, I don’t have high expectations for the clergy to be solid voices in this fight. I think lay voices are going to be the decisive factor, and we’ll have to make our voices clear to the clerics alike. It’s important now not just to embrace orthodoxy, but to be orthodox and brave. Courage and outspokenness is needed. This recent lay conference in Rome was a powerful and brave voice, and there are other lay voices appearing all over the place (as, for example, this YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f308T1oiWLc

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