Three professors from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome indicate Amoris Laetitia upholds traditional teaching in a new book Acompañar, Dicernir, Integrar: Vademécum para una nueva pastoral familiar a partir de la exhortación Amoris Laetitia (“Accompany, Discern, Integrate: Handbook for a new family ministry starting from the exhortation Amoris Laetitia”).
They interpret “the help of the sacraments” in the infamous footnote 351 to refer not to offering absolution or Communion, but to a less complete participation in the sacraments. Confession is not limited to absolution, but also involves three acts of the penitent – contrition, confession and satisfaction – which can be carried out imperfectly by someone unable to receive absolution and thus Communion.
For confession, they argue: “The matter of this sacrament are the acts of the penitent, which include a movement towards conversion. Thus, someone who is moved towards reconciliation, and is accompanied by the Church on this path, is receiving already in a certain way the ‘help of the sacrament’,” in the language of footnote 351, “although they still can’t be absolved of their sins.”
They give a similar explanation of how the divorced and remarried get the help of the Eucharist without receiving Communion. Since the Eucharist is the structure of the Church, the Body of Christ, when these people participate in the Church they participate in a certain way in the Eucharist. They are invited to receive the help of the Eucharist they get by coming to Mass each week, but are still restricted from Communion.
Before further explanation, let’s look at the three authors beyond just being professors in Rome.
Father José Grandos was a consultor to the secretary general in the second synod on the family, he wrote a book on the Theology of the Body with Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, and was called “one of the leading proponents of the theological anthropology of the John Paul II Institute” by another professor, Mary Shivanandan.
The other two, Stephan Kampowski and Father Juan José Perez-Soba, authored a book in 2014, before the synod, called The Gospel of the Family which deals specifically with the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. Kampowski also co-authored an article about the need to clarify an ambiguous paragraph in the synod’s Instrumentum Laboris.
Perez-Soba has written extensively on Catholic morality in Spanish, with a dozen other works including Social Doctrine of the Church: Studies in light of the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Walking by the Light of Love: Fundamentals of Christian Morality, and The True Gospel of the Family: Perspectives for the Synod Debate (just before the 2014 synod).
In other words, these three have studied this topic extensively and are qualified to understand Amoris Laetitia in the mind of the Church.
They are absolutely clear that absolution only comes after someone has chosen to live as brother and sister when they state: “In order to be able to give absolution, the confessor needs to verify that the person is disposed to leave the situation, abandoning foundations over quicksand and implanting themselves on rock…. Therefore, absolution can be given only when the person is disposed to transform visible and corporeal relations according to the truth of the [marriage] bond.”
They also say that the secrecy of the confessional cannot identify itself with an erroneous conscience. A person may get an erroneous conscience – for instance, thinking divorce and remarriage is OK – from the culture. If the Church does not use the confessional to help them no longer remain in ignorance, they argue, she lacks charity by keeping them in the dark.
After giving their understanding, they go on to correct what they call “abusive interpretations” of footnotes 336 and 351.
Footnote 336 refers to how the effects of sacramental rules are not necessarily the same. They point out that “necessarily” does not exclude that some rules do have the same effects for everyone.
The rule that the divorced and remarried should live as brother and sister from Familiaris Consortio 84, they say, is of the type that has the same effects for all. Only those rules that depend on subjective culpability have different effects.
So what sacramental rules might have different effects? The authors refer to the preceding paragraph of Amoris, and suggest things like being a godparent or a lector could be affected by subjective culpability.
They argue footnote 351 does not trump canon law 915, which states those in states of publicly known and objectively serious sin are not to be admitted to Communion. As quoted above, they argue that “the help of the sacraments” here means the sacraments participated in imperfectly: confession without absolution and Mass without Communion.
These authors do not fully agree with my understanding of Amoris Laetitia. For example, they interpret “help of the sacraments” as those who participate in an incomplete way, while I focused on those trying to live Church teaching but failing occasionally due to weakness. However, I think both are orthodox and acceptable understandings.
I don’t think there has to be only be one interpretation, but every valid interpretation must use a hermeneutic of continuity and be in keeping with the mind of the Church.
I conclude with a summary the authors offer: If people continue living “in a way contrary to their baptism and marriage promises, they cannot still be admitted to the Eucharist.”
Note: I was informed by one of the authors that Emmaus Road should come out with an English version of this book in the next few months.