The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia enjoys favorable presentations as to its part concerning Christian marriage, its beauty, etc. Whereas its part on the divorced, remarried, and civilly married, there is plenty of critique.
I followed the Synods’s progress (both the first and the second one) and I welcomed and meditated on them in the light of the grace of the confessional box – of course, because the priest in the confessional box, in close communion with the Magisterium, is in the flow of the sacramental grace; that is why Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the apostles before giving them the power to forgive or not forgive sins – and I was confronted with the right warnings not to transform the confessional box into a place of torture, etc. Now I can say something, beyond first impressions.
Well, the exhortation has not introduced any rules, as it is explicitly stated, and it has not repealed any, specifically on living as brother and sister, a solution connected with the indissolubility of marriage. Life as brother and sister is a point expressed in John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio and in Benedict XVI’s exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis.
Only in a note (329) of Amoris Laetitia, in some way, the rule of living as brother and sister is discussed again – not repealed – citing the authority of Gaudium et Spes, No. 51; a conciliar, hence strong, authority. The text of G. S. No. 51, however, concerns marital fidelity (sacrament of matrimony) in today’s complex life, where work, distance, and schedules, cause difficulties to family life and put fidelity at risk, as well as the arrival of new children. Fidelity disregarded due to impossibility of a regular conjugal intimacy has an impact on children. The solution is, again in No. 51, in cultivating “sincerely the virtue of conjugal chastity”, that is, asking for extra generosity when marital intimacy is not possible, including sexuality.
This point of G. S. No. 51 is transported by the note (329) to a different level, that of divorced and remarried, by deleting the passage: “Where intimacy of married life is interrupted, it is not uncommon for fidelity to be endangered and the good of the children may be compromised”. This translation, however, is not exactly proper because both sacramentally and civilly united couples live the problem of loyalty in the same social context today, the context referred to by the GS No. 51, and as couples united in sacramental marriage are invited to a generous supplement as part of conjugal chastity – that means use of natural methods -, do not see why we should not invite to the generosity to live as brother and sister, who are not united in a sacramental marriage.
But the precise point made in the note (329) is that “many, knowing and accepting the possibility of living together” like brother and sister, “the Church offers them, argue that it lacks some expressions of intimacy, it is not uncommon that fidelity is endangerment and the good of the children could be compromised”. The answer to this is that, if you accept to live as brother and sister, falls, given human weakness, may happen, but it must remain so, and cannot be transformed in line to be followed. In addition, it is also possible with the help of grace, an enriching life, even emotionally, between man and woman, in purity; and this is undoubtedly pouring enrichment on their children if they have had any. No one will be spared from this cross, not even us, priests, but if we accept it, it will be victory in Christ. The cross is present in Amoris Laetitia, mentioned 11 times.
Accompany: undoubtedly putting light, as Jesus did to the disciples of Emmaus, and pray. Illuminate the law, not obscure it, for there can be no gradualness of the law in accompanying, but the law of gradualness (Pontifical Council for the Family: Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some moral pertaining to conjugal life, n°9), beginning with the various situations, already stressed in Familiaris Consortio. It should be borne in mind that the law itself (in this case the New Testament law of indissolubility and what follows from it) is full of pedagogy, as is clear, about the law of the Old Testament, by Saint Paul (Gal 3:24), hence it should not be hidden in the act of accompanying.
Discern: undoubtedly see the steps taken towards the rule, seen not as a pure ideal, but with life commitment and desire, because it is the truth, it makes us free, and the truth is mercy God gives to men. Presenting life as brother and sister, there may be difficulties, and we should not disregard that there is a long way to get there, and thus have access to confession and the Eucharist. Reaching the heartfelt decision to live as friends, will know moments of weakness, given human frailty, but such moments of weakness will be brought to confession, where certainly no one is going to add heavy boulders on the ship to make it sink altogether. There will be someone willing to take away these heavy rocks that make it difficult to proceed with pastoral love. It is true that there are objective situations of sin, which subjectively are not such, due to influence, psychological fragility, ignorance, but it is true that this situation of subjective non-fault, the internal bore, cannot be perceived by the confessor: a special inspiration should also have something objective where to occur, but Amoris Laetitia does not provide it. In any case, the person will always be treated with respect and provided with accompaniment, especially of prayer and sacrifice to the Lord.
Integrate: undoubtedly, we should not exclude, but follow and look for.
Father Paolo Berti, Capuchin Friar, member of GRIS