Father Brian Harrison responds..
Today we have heard grievously troubling news from Rome: the publication in Acta Apostolicae Sedis of Pope Francis' approval of a 2016 letter of a group of Argentinian bishops, raising their controversial doctrinal position to the status of "authentic magisterium".
Some, including Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, have recently been reported as saying that the Buenos Aires bishops' letter is itself capable of a traditional, orthodox reading on the vital point - i.e., that it was still ambiguous about whether divorced and invalidly remarried Catholics could "in certain cases" receive the sacraments even without a commitment to practice continence. That is something the existing magisterium (e.g., John Paul II in Familaris Consortio #84, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1650 and 2390, and canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law) has insisted can never be permitted.
But on looking again at the key sections 5 and 6 of the Buenos Aires bishops' letter, I cannot see any ambiguity. Below I have reproduced the relevant text, so you, dear reader, can judge for yourself. (I have checked this LifeSiteNews.com translation with the original Spanish and found it accurate.) These bishops are saying that although "unrestricted" access to the sacraments cannot be granted to all divorced and invalidly remarried Catholics, Amoris Laetitia "opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist" for some people in that situation, that is, in "particular cases" where "one arrives at the recognition" that they have diminished responsibility and culpability. (We are left wondering who, exactly, is supposed to do the "recognizing" here: priest confessors? penitents themselves? a consensus of both parties?)
Excerpt from the Buenos Aires Bishops’ Letter of September 5, 2016, on the interpretation of Amoris Laetitita, Chapter 8:
5) When the concrete circumstances of a [divorced and invalidly remarried] couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).
6) In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option [i.e., a commitment to continence] may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges [or "considers" - Spanish considere] that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace. [emphasis added above]
7) However, it is necessary to avoid understanding this possibility as an unrestricted access to the sacraments, or as though any situation might justify it.
Now, today we have been told officially in the Holy See's official record, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis that the Supreme Pontiff Francis teaches, by his letter of approval to the said bishops, that this position is now "authentic magisterium".
So Pope Francis is not proposing it as infallible teaching, which would require our definitive, irrevocable assent. Nevertheless, all teachings proposed as "authentic magisterium" are supposed to require our "religious assent of mind and will". That is, we're to accept them as almost certainly true, or morally certain (and so, if we're priests and/or theologians and/or catechists, preach and teach them confidently to our people without fear of being in error). But since the same Catholic magisterium has already for two millennia required us (I would say infallibly by virtue of the ordinary and universal magisterium, but at the very least "authentically") to believe the opposite of what the present Holy Father says, I find myself unable in conscience to just flick a switch in my mind and give my religious assent to his novel doctrine. For it's a doctrine that has been constantly and energetically rejected by the present Holy Father's predecessors in the See of Peter. Moreover, I find the argumentation being given for the supposed continuity of this new doctrine with Catholic tradition quite implausible and fallacious (see https://onepeterfive.com/cardinal-schonborns-interview-how-credible-is-a-hearsay-magisterium and https://onepeterfive.com/rocco-buttigliones-reponse-four-cardinals-dubia.), and I have further hesitations about the strength of a doctrine that was originally formulated in nothing more than two mere (and unclear) footnotes to the papal exhortation in question (AL notes 336 and 351).
Oremus pro Sancta Matre Ecclesia!
Fr. Brian W. Harrison, OS, STD
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
Link to articles on the fallout
Lifesite Confusion Explodes
Interview – Roberto de Mattei Discusses the Escalating Church Crisis