Bishops in Poland have said the Church needs to serve “people living in irregular relationships according to the pastoral criteria proposed by Pope Francis: Acceptance, accompaniment, discernment and integration.”
The statement came in a set of pastoral guidelines issued for Francis’s 2016 document on the family, Amoris Laetitia.
During their June 2017 plenary assembly, the Polish bishops issued a statement saying Amoris Laetitia had not changed Church doctrine on the practice of forbidding Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried, citing Pope John Paul II’s exhortation Familiaris Consortio.
However, the bishops in 2017 said they would be producing official guidelines at a later date.
After a year, these guidelines were adopted on June 8, 2018, while the Polish Bishops’ Conference held its 379th plenary meeting in Siedlce.
In the document, the bishops do not directly address the issue of giving Communion for divorced-and-civilly married Catholics, but the Polish hierarchy does devote an entire section to Amoris Laetitia’s controversial chapter 8, which seems to offer a cautious opening to changing Church practice.
Different bishops’ conferences around the world have come to different conclusions about the meaning of this chapter of Amoris Laetitia, with some – such as the bishops’ conferences of Argentina and Malta – issuing guidelines which say communion can be given to those in “irregular unions” under some circumstances, and others – such as the bishops of Kazakhstan and the original 2017 statement from the Polish bishops – saying it can never be allowed.
The Polish bishops note that Francis “points out that pastoral accompaniment must be given to those who are on the path of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”
Their guidelines say proper discernment is “essential for proper assessment and making prudent choices.”
“Bearing in mind the complexity of the pastoral situation of the faithful united by the conjugal bond and who cannot, therefore—despite their great desire—conclude a sacramental marriage with a person with whom they live in a non-sacramental relationship, in individual cases, the opportunity of carefully analyzing their situation should be considered,” the document says.
This discernment should first try to establish whether the first marriage can be annulled through an ecclesiastical trial.
The bishops insist this process must consist of “individualized, consistent, and long-term spiritual guidance.”
“Making the right decision together should be the fruit of the process of discernment made by the spiritual director and the person concerned, and this cannot be done in a single meeting or superficial encounter,” the document says.
The bishops say the spiritual director should consult with “a competent priest who serves at the episcopal court or in the diocesan center of family ministry.”
Although not directly addressing the issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried in their latest document, the Polish hierarchy does stress Amoris Laetitia must be read in the context of “previous programmatic documents” including Blessed Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae; St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, Reconciliatio et Poenitentia, and Veritatis Splendor; and Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est and Sacramentum Caritatis.
The guidelines also call for “understanding [to be] shown to the faithful who, after the disintegration of their sacramental marriage, have entered into new unions … and wanting to fully participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist, have decided to live as brother and sister,” an allowance made by John Paul in 1981’s Familiaris Consortio.
During the two Synods on the Family – held at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015 – the bishops of Poland were vocal in their defense of the teachings of John Paul, their native son.