Swiss bishop offers guidance on Amoris Laetitia

This week the bishop of Chur, Switzerland published his guidance for confessors for the implementation of Amoris Laetitia.  Here I offer an English translation:

The Holiness of the Marriage Bond:
a word on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia

Dear confreres in the priestly ministry,

In discussion about the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the eighth chapter, with the question about civilly remarried divorced persons, has come to stand in the center. For this reason I am, in my responsibility as bishop, bringing some guidance to the attention of pastoral ministers (confessors).

As a preface, I would like to hold fast to the following: the Holy Father says in the introduction to Amoris Laetitia, “that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” (AL 3). This statement helps us recognize the level of authority of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

“If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases” (AL 300), says the Pope in connection with discernment in irregular situations. This also means that the bishop is called upon all the more to point the way with a word, because priests have the task to “accompany [the affected persons] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.” (AL 300). Furthermore, “every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace” (303). This corresponds fully to what the Holy Father says in Amoris Laetitia 307: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur: ‘Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church’. A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves.” Keeping in mind all this guidance within Amoris Laetitia, I ask priests to observe the following:

1. The starting point for accompaniment, discernment, and integration must be the holiness of the marriage bond. The task of the pastoral minister is to convey to people an awareness of the holiness of the marriage bond; or to reconvey it. The Holy Father speaks of “pastoral care … centered on the marriage bond” (AL 211: in the Italian language, “vincolo”). The official German translation of “vincolo” with “Bindung” (connection) is too weak. Therefore I am speaking expressly here of the bond.

2. The marriage bond is already holy, from the creation itself (natural marriage), and all the more through the new creation (the order of grace), through sacramentally contracted marriage (the supernatural order). The formation of conscience in regard to this truth is a pressing duty in our time (cf. AL 300).

3. This formation of conscience is all the more necessary, as a pastor cannot be satisfied “simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” (AL 305). The marriage bond itself is a gift of God’s love, wisdom, and mercy that lends grace and help to the married couple. Therefore reference to the marriage bond must come first on the path of accompaniment, discernment, and integration.

4. If, during the confession of an unknown penitent, a confessor recognizes questions that call for clarification, in regard to the marriage bond, he will ask the penitent to confide in a priest who can accompany him on a longer path of conversion and integration; or the penitent should contact the confessor himself outside the context of confession.

5. In the pastoral accompaniment of civilly remarried divorcees, the next point to examine is whether the marriage contract (the “first marriage”) was made validly: whether a marriage bond really exists. The individual priest cannot undertake this examination, and certainly not in the confessional. The confessor must refer the affected person to an official of the diocese.

6. As always in regard to the validity of the marriage contract, a failed marriage must be treated in every case humanely and according to our faith. That means one must tread a longer pastoral way which demands more patience. “Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone” (AL 300). “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements” (AL 308).

7. The reception of Holy Communion by civilly remarried divorcees may not be left to subjective decision-making. One must be able to base oneself on objective factors (on the conditions of the Church for the reception of Holy Communion). In the case of civilly remarried divorcees, respect for the existing marriage bond is determinative.

8. If in conversation (during a confession) the absolution of a civilly remarried divorcee is requested, it must be established that the person is ready to take on the prescriptions of Familiaris consortio 84 (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, November 12, 1981). That means: if both partners cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they are required to live together as brother and sister. This rule still applies now as then, because the new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia expressly does not intend “a new set of general rules, canonical in nature” (cf. AL 300). The penitent must manifest the firm intention to live with respect for the marriage bond of the “first” marriage.

9. In the preparation and accompaniment of engaged couples, married couples, and families, let us always keep the word of St. Paul in view: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32) – Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico in Christo et in Ecclesia.

With my thanks for your fidelity to the Lord and his work, I send cordial greetings, together with my episcopal blessing

Chur, February 2, 2017
+Vitus Huonder, Bishop of Chur

On the topic: José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, Juan José Pérez-Soba: Amoris Laetitia, Accompagnare, discernere, integrare. Vademecum per una nuova pastorale familiare, Siena 2016.  A German translation is anticipated from femedienverlags GmbH, D-88353 Kisslegg. [Translator’s note: Also available in Spanish as “Acompañar, discernir, integrar”.]


Heraldic question

This evening I took a look at heraldist Fr. Guy Selvester’s blog Exarandorum, which shows examples of heraldry in the coats of arms of bishops, parishes, and dioceses.

To start with, the posts tagged with the label “Bad Heraldry” are particularly educational for an uninstructed person such as myself, and some are a bit amusing.  They remind me of the classic site “Web Pages That Suck”, which helped readers learn good design by looking at examples of bad design.

coat of arms of Bp. Steven LopesThe most recent posting by Fr. Selvester is not a case of Bad anything. It is the noted artist Marco Foppoli’s rendering of a new coat of arms for Bishop-elect Steven Lopes. He was recently appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the diocese-like structure for Catholics of Anglican heritage in the United States.

It took me a minute or so to get the symbols: the wolf for the surname, because “Lopes” (a Portuguese name) is derived from Latin lupus; and the crown for his Christian name Steven, since a crown is a stephanos in Greek. A tidy use of symbols!

Are there any readers with an interest in heraldry who could tell me what are the objects to the left and right of the crown?

While Bishop-elect Lopes is a worthy candidate for the office, I do think that some bishops ought to depict a wolf on their coats of arms, whether it’s historically justified or not, just as a matter of Truth In Labeling.


The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod

In 2010, Pope Benedict spoke these words as part of his homily at Holy Mass for the conclusion of the Year for Priests:

“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me”: the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church’s ministry, of the priest’s ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God’s gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd’s staff – a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

At a time when some proposals would falsify the faith, when the faith is chipped away, and when some shepherds are tempted to leave the flock to the wolves without warning them, this counsel from Benedict XVI seems worth recalling.

Categorized as Bishops

Does the next Pope have an S.T.D.?

That is: a doctorate in sacred theology?
In 1995, the eminent canon-law professor Ed Peters wrote a piece for Homiletic and Pastoral Review about the need for bishops to set aside some young priests with academic ability, and get them enough advanced study so that they would be prepared in the future, if called, to serve the Church as bishops. At the time, Peters foresaw a “coming bishop crunch” in the U.S.: a lot of bishops reaching retirement age and perhaps a shortage of qualified priests possessing an advanced degree as required by canon law for a bishop.
Canon 378 lists several official requirements for bishops, and one is that he “hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology or canon law, from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least be well versed in these disciplines.”
(In case the word “licentiate” is unfamiliar: it’s a graduate degree of lower rank than a doctorate, but it qualifies the holder to teach in a Catholic seminary awarding the bachelor’s in sacred theology.)
I thought about this topic the other day when I saw Sandro Magister’s column; it was a little chatty talk about some of the cardinals attracting interest as possible choices to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.
One of the names mentioned happens to be my local bishop, Cardinal O’Malley, and it always surprises me to see him on a list like that, since he doesn’t happen to hold either of those degrees. He does have a PhD, but it’s in Spanish and Portuguese literature. While I trust that he’s well versed in theology, I suspect that the cardinals are probably not going to elect anybody Pope unless he really fulfills the requirements with an earned degree in one of the sacred sciences named; and preferably at the doctoral level.
So I decided to make a little survey of the cardinal electors and see who studied what. For the sake of simplicity, I excluded about half the cardinals from my study population: those over 75 and those under 60 years of age, since I doubt that the cardinals will want to elect them.
Dr. Peters’ web site has a helpful table of the cardinal electors soon to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, with links to biographies of the 118 current electors. Here’s a summary of who has earned a doctorate, and in what field; the lists are in descending order by age, and names marked with a star appear more than once.
Cardinals age 60-75 as of 2/17/13:
Doctorates in canon law
Romeo (IT)
Coccopalmerio (IT)
Monteiro de Castro (PT)
Cafarra (IT)
Brady (IE)
Grocholewski (PL)
Rai (LB)
Vallini (IT)
Bertello (IT)
Tauran (FR)
Versaldi (IT)
Sandri (AR)
Piacenza (IT)
Gracias (IN)
Filoni (IT)
Burke (US)
Harvey (US)
Erdö (HU)*
Doctorates in theology
Amato (IT)
Dziwisz (PL)
Hon (CN)
Wuerl (US)
Scola (IT)*
Irosa Savino (VZ)
Rodriguez-Maradiaga (HN)*
Calcagno (IT)
Sepe (IT)*
Cipriani Thorne (PE)*
Onaiyekau (NG)
Ouellet (CA)
Ricard (FR)
Schönborn (AT)
Alencherry (IN)
Cañizares Llovera (ES)
Collins (CA)
Braz de Aviz (BR)
Scherer (BR)
Koch (CH)
Erdö (HU)*
Doctorates in moral theology
O’Brien (US)
Rodriguez-Maradiaga (HN)*
Pengo (TZ)
Doctorates in Sacred Scripture
Monsengwo Pasinya (CG)
Betori (IT)
Turkson (GH)
Other fields:
Doctorates in philosophy
Scola (IT)*
Rodriguez-Maradiaga (HN)*
Bagnasco (IT)
Sepe (IT)*
Cipriani Thorne (PE)*
Filoni (IT)*
Barbarin (FR)
Pell (AU): Church history
O’Malley (US): Spanish literature
Rylko (PL): Social science
Nycz (PL): Catechetics
Dolan (US): Church history
Which cardinals have the most academic accomplishments? Well, it’s a little hard to say, since I’m leaving out the licentiates here. But within this limited survey, the top is Oscar Rodriguez-Maradiaga of Honduras, with doctorates in theology, moral theology, and philosophy, plus a diploma in clinical psychology and conservatory studies in piano! What a guy!
Perhaps the most unusual field one of the cardinals has studied is industrial engineering. Cdl. Cipriani was an engineer working for W.R. Grace before he entered priestly studies.
To summarize: of the 67 cardinals in this age range, 18 have doctorates in canon law; 21 in dogmatic theology; 3 in moral theology, 3 in Scripture.
And 24 do not have that top-level degree in one of the sacred sciences required by the canon — which really surprises me.
And the names of those outliers include some illustrious cardinals whom I would not mind seeing as Pope: George Pell (Australia), Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don (Sri Lanka).
[Welcome, readers from WDTPRS!]

Have they discovered Google yet at the Vatican?

I got an e-mail today from, that helpful web site that tracks the appointments, transfers, and retirements of bishops, using the announcements from the Holy See as their data source.
The news is that a coadjutor bishop has been appointed for the see of San Diego. That should be good news.
But when I looked up the name of the new bishop with a web search, this article appeared near the top of the listing:
“Cirilo Flores Rarely Pursued Discipline of Molesting Priests While Serving on Important Church Board”
Now, from reading the piece, it’s clear that the article isn’t written from an unbiased perspective, and it doesn’t give both sides of the story. But the existence of such an article means that the new coadjutor is guaranteed to get bad press at the least; at worst, he might not be a suitable appointment.
So it deserves investigation before he gets appointed to San Diego. It makes me wonder whether the responsible parties of the Congregation for Bishops are even thinking to run an internet search before they send a name to the Holy Father.