Cardinal Burke: Synod Report Lacks Clarity

As we would expect, Cardinal Burke points out the obvious.  Notable points are highlighted.

 “The entire document requires a careful study, in order to understand exactly what counsel it is offering to the Roman Pontiff, in accord with the nature of the Synod of Bishops, “in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline” (can. 342). The section entitled “Discernment and Integration” (paragraphs 84-86) is, however, of immediate concern, because of its lack of clarity in a fundamental matter of the faith: the indissolubility of the marriage bond which both reason and faith teach all men.

First of all, the term, integration, is a mundane term which is theologically ambiguous. I do not see how it can be “the key of pastoral accompaniment of those in irregular matrimonial unions.”  The interpretative key of their pastoral care must be the communion founded on the truth of marriage in Christ which must be honored and practiced, even if one of parties of the marriage has been abandoned through the sin of the other party. The grace of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony strengthens the abandoned spouse to live faithfully the marriage bond, continuing to seek the salvation of the partner who has abandoned the marriage union. I have known, since my childhood, and continue to meet faithful Catholics whose marriages have, in some way, been broken, but who, believing in the grace of the Sacrament, continue to live in fidelity to their marriage. They look to the Church for that accompaniment which helps them to remain faithful to the truth of Christ in their lives.

Second, the quotation from no. 84 of Familaris Consortio is misleading. At the time of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family, as throughout the history of the Church, there has always been pressure to admit divorce because of the painful situations of those in irregular unions, that is, those whose lives are not in accord with the truth of Christ on marriage, as He clearly announced it in the Gospels (Mt 19, 3-12; Mk 10, 2-12). While, in no. 84, Pope Saint John Paul II acknowledges the different situations of those who are living in an irregular union and urges pastors and the whole community to help them as true brothers and sisters in Christ by virtue of Baptism, he concludes: “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.” He then recalls the reason for the practice: “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.” He also rightly notes that a different practice would lead the faithful “into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

Thirdly, the citation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1735) regarding imputability must be interpreted in terms of the freedom “which makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary” (CCC, no. 1734). The exclusion of those in irregular matrimonial unions from the Sacraments does not constitute a judgment about their responsibility for the breakdown of the matrimonial bond to which they are bound. It is rather the objective recognition of the bond. The Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts of June 24, 2000, which is also cited is in complete accord with the constant teaching and practice of the Church in the matter, citing no. 84 of Familiaris Consortio. That Declaration also makes clear the finality of the conversation with a priest in the internal forum, that is, in the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 84). The Church’s discipline provides ongoing pastoral assistance for those in irregular unions who “for serious reasons such as for example the children’s upbringing, …cannot satisfy the obligation to separate,” so that they may live chastely in fidelity to the truth of Christ (Familiaris Consortio, no. 84).”

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Discernment and Integration

84. The baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried should be more integrated into Christian communities in the various ways possible, avoiding every occasion of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral accompaniment, so that they know now only that they belong to the Body of Christ which is the Church, but that they may have a joyous and fruitful experience of this. They are baptized, they are brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit pours into them gifts and charisms for the good of everyone. Their participation can be expressed in various ecclesial services: it is therefore necessary what are the various forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional areas can be overcome. They must not only not feel excommunicated, but they can live and mature as living members of the Church, feeling that she is a mother who always welcomes them, takes care of them with affection and encourages them in the walk of the life of the Gospel. This integration is also necessary for the care of Christian formation of their children, who must be considered the most important. For the Christian community, taking care of these people is not a weakening of its own faith and witness regarding the indissolubility of marriage: indeed, the Church expresses her charity precisely in this care.

85. St. John Paul II offered overall criteria which remain the basis for the evaluation of these situations: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.” (Familiaris Consortio, 84). It is therefore the task of pastors to accompany interested persons on the way of discernment in keeping with the teaching of the Church and the guidance of Bishops. In this process it will be useful to make an examination of conscience through times of reflection and penitence. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves how they behaved toward their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; if there were attempts at reconciliation; how is the situation with the abandoned partner; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; what example it offers to young people who must prepare for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen the trust in the mercy of God which is never denied to anyone.

Furthermore, it cannot be denied that in some circumstances “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (CCC 1735) for reasons of various conditions. Consequently, the judgment of an objective situation should not lead to a judgment about the “subjective imputability” (Pontifical Council for legislative texts,Declaration of 24 June 2000, 2a). In specific circumstances people find great difficulty in acting a different way. Therefore, while upholding a general norm, it is necessary to recognize that the responsibility regarding certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking account of the rightly formed conscience of persons, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of the acts carried out are not necessarily the same in all cases.

86. The process of accompaniment and discernment directs these faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and the steps that can foster it and make it grow. Given that for the same law there is no graduality (cf. FC, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the demands of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church. For this to happen, the necessary conditions of humility, confidence, love for the Church and her teaching, in the sincere search for God’s will and the desire to achieve a more perfect response to it, must be secured.
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