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”.]


What did the Cardinal really say?

Cardinal Woelki of Berlin (now transferred to Cologne) has been under fire for his favorable comments on respecting same-sex couples. Personally, I wish he’d be more careful about his comments, but they don’t seem to be as liberal as his critics suggest.

Here’s my casual translation of comments made in an August 2012 interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.

The reporter gets into sensitive territory by suggesting that the cardinal has his own “Woelki method”: keeping Catholic teaching untouched while giving practical signs that anything is possible.

Q. Under the “Woelki method”, we’re thinking of your statements at the Mannheim Catholic convention about recognition for homosexual couples. Aren’t you thereby taking a broad perspective on the teaching of the Catholic Church that lived homosexuality contradicts the Creator’s plan?


CARDINAL WOELKI: Wherever people are there for each other, that deserves recognition. With adult children who care for their parents, this is obvious. So when same-sex partners show a comparable degree of care, we can’t deny them respect for it. I recently heard of a young couple, in which one partner took care of the other in a serious illness and accompanied him to the point of death. That is humanly valuable and worth recognizing.


Q: How could this recognition be shown? For example, what possibility is there for openly living homosexual Catholics to be involved in parish councils?


CARDINAL: The Church’s Magisterium has repeatedly clearly and unmistakably established that homosexual acts “are intrinsically disordered”, contradict natural law, and therefore cannot be condoned by our conviction of the faith. Obviously I am not striking out a line of that.


Q: But then what does that mean?
(Woelki takes a long pause and reflects)

Q: Is the question crossing your mind now whether it would hurt things, if we insist so much on this point, or if you might lean even farther out the window if possible?


CARDINAL: For a fact, my words in Mannheim already immediately brought forth criticism. Not to overlook the “Internet Magisterium” with its usual polemical attacks, which, directed against a cardinal, come out even more embittered than they were before, if possible. But further polarization will not get us anywhere, for sure.


Q: Federal policy is close to doing what you called for in Mannheim – more recognition for same-sex couples through a better position in tax law.


CARDINAL: The secular state has the option to order such things for its citizens. This is clear: for us as the Catholic Church it is marriage of man and woman, open to children, the ideal of living together and also the model we support. Also in the Basic Law [the German Federal Constitution] marriage and family stand under special state protection as a natural basic unit of society (and also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Overall, it sounds like the bishop’s method is close to what the reporter thought: the bishop enunciates Catholic teaching clearly as applying to intra-Church matters; but he is unspecific about what society and the state should do. There is Catholic teaching against unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons, and perhaps the bishop is only calling for observance of that. But he gave no guidance about where the state should restrain itself in granting status to same-sex couples.

Did Cdl. Bergoglio disagree publicly with Pope Benedict?

Here’s a little piece, just for the record.

There’s a bit of talk on the net lately based on a March 2013 piece in the Telegraph which portrays “Pope Francis’ run-in with Benedict XVI over the Prophet Mohammed“. It says that Cdl. Bergoglio sharply disagreed with Pope Benedict’s magisterial lecture at the University of Regensburg in 2006.

I’ve seen this story cited as a justification for making one’s own critique of the Pope. After all, if Bergoglio thought it’s OK to diss Benedict’s statements, no one can complain when people talk back about Pope Bergoglio’s surprising remarks. Right?

Well, that’s the argument.

On the other side, I’ve seen at least one defender of Pope Francis suggesting that the Telegraph made up the whole story in a fit of typical British-press sensationalism.

The truth is between these.

As you may recall, Pope Benedict’s speech cited the writing of a Byzantine emperor who lamented what he saw as the harmful influence of Mohammed and Islam. He denounced the use of force by Muslim invaders and their use of forced conversions. This evoked much tumult at the time of the Pope’s speech, as did his (quite accurate) discussion of Islam’s concept of God, which would make God so transcendent that He could contradict reason, or contradict Himself. That’s contrary to the Catholic faith, which posits that divine revelation and human reason are consistent and can be integrated.

As the press was gathering reactions to the speech, Cdl. Bergoglio’s spokesman told Newsweek Argentina that Pope Benedict’s remarks “don’t represent me”, and that they were “unfortunate”.

The Telegraph piece suggests that Cdl. Bergoglio nearly got sacked over the dispute (that sounds unlikely), and that he cancelled a trip to Rome because of it. He even supposedly passed up attending the Synod of Bishops. That is a little puzzling, since (as far as I can tell) the Synod met in 2005 (regarding the Eucharist), and not again until 2008 (on the Word of God). So it’s not clear what event Cdl. Bergoglio passed up in October 2006. Still, it does seem that he passed up something, and there was a real fuss at the time.

I can say for sure that the Telegraph didn’t make up this story in 2013, because it was covered in the Spanish-language press in 2006. I’ll summarize the headlines:

So the fuss started with remarks like these from the press spokesman: “It’s a pain. When one insists on doctrinal differences, it necessarily leads to confrontation. . . . When the Pope enters the field of debate about truth, whether it’s true or not, the declaration becomes unfortunate (infeliz)“.

According to the Clarin story, Vatican sources called this “unheard-of”.

The story in La Razón said Cdl. Bergoglio was cancelling a trip to Rome — though it didn’t attribute this decision solely to the Islam fuss, but also mentioned political conflicts within Argentina at the time.

Then some more stories in December 2006 reported that the Cardinal was replacing his spokesman. The El Litoral story said this:

“Fr. Marcó will give up the direction of the press office in order to dedicate himself with more freedom to spread Christian thinking through the media, as he did before, without the responsibility that his words may be interpreted as the thought of the archbishop,” said an electronic statement.

This suggests that Fr. Marcó’s statement was unauthorized and reflected his own thinking, and perhaps not anything that Cdl. Bergoglio had said.

So — to give a bottom-line assessment, based on what I’ve seen so far — the Telegraph was mistaken about the existence of a dispute between Bergoglio and Benedict on the subject of Islam. But the mistake is understandable: their piece reflects what the Argentine press wrote in October 2006. Unfortunately, they didn’t catch the December 2006 follow-ups.

I think it was a bad choice for the Telegraph to present a quote from Horatio Verbitsky, without mentioning that he wrote a book accusing Cdl. Bergoglio of silent complicity with the “dirty war”. I’d expect that in the Guardian, not the Telegraph — well, at least the reporter labelled him accurately as “left-wing” — he was a former armed guerrilla.

“I cannot; I must not; I will not!”

At the religious freedom rally in San Francisco on Friday, Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., spoke as follows:

In every age Christians have been challenged to stand up for what they believe. I would like to share with you the story of a little-known Saint. His name is Gaspar del Bufalo. It was 1810. He was only 24 years old, and had been ordained a priest just a short time. But now he was under arrest. Napoleon had conquered Rome and had imprisoned the pope. His intention was to close the churches and to force all the priests to swear allegiance to him.
So there Gaspar stood in front of the prefect. The prefect was a kind old gentleman, who did everything to minimize the event, downplaying it and reducing everything to a mere formality. It was just a harmless bureaucratic exercise.
The important thing was that Gaspar be put at ease, that he should not realize the seriousness of the choice to which he was being called. After all, many priests had already acquiesced and signed the oath of allegiance.
But Gaspar was not listening to the prefect, he was thinking of the blood which Napoleon had already caused to be shed. He was thinking of the imprisonment of the Holy Father, and he was thinking of the violation of liberty and the suppression of independence for the church.
So his response to the prefect was clear and decisive:
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
Just 200 years later, It is a different country and it is a different government. This time it is an American President. He has taken it upon himself to determine what is and is not religious. He has taken it upon himself to determine how I should live my faith in this time and in this place. Should I acquiesce to his demands?
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
The world health organization classifies oral contraceptives as a class one carcinogen right up there with tobacco. And the government wants me to provide this free with healthcare.
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
Women who use oral contraceptives for four years prior to their first full-term pregnancy have a 52% increased risk of developing breast cancer. And the government calls this health care and wants me to provide this for free, well…
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
Oral contraceptives do horrific damage to a woman’s body, and should we call this health-care? Abortion destroys human life and is it reasonable or intelligent for us to call that healthcare?
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
The president proposed a compromise that would allow insurance companies to pay for the contraceptives rather than the church institution. My question, what if I belong to a church institution that is self-insured? I would then be required to pay for this.
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
What if I’m a Catholic business person who is required by my government to provide insurance that violates my conscience?
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
What will it be next and who will it be next? The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled that it is illegal for a photography business owned by Christians to refuse to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony even though New Mexico law does not permit same-sex marriage. What will they say next? Will they say that it is illegal for me to refuse to do a same-sex marriage. Would we as Catholics allow the state to change one of our sacraments.
I cannot, I must not, I will not!
Saint Gaspar del Bufalo spent four years in prison for his profession of faith. We must pray too, that we have the strength to be firm in our faith.
We are not imposing our values on anyone. The government has dictated that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception, and that is the imposition on our faith and on our conscience. The government doesn’t want so much to advance the cause of women’s health, but rather, they seek to demonize a faith group that has the “audacity of hope,” that they might live their faith free from government interference and intrusion.
I know it is just a mere formality, just a harmless bureaucratic exercise. I know that the important thing is that we should not realize the seriousness of the choice to which we are being called. After all everybody else is doing it. But let me be perfectly clear:
I cannot, I must not, I will not!

Free speech, part II

Some months ago the non-Catholic false mystic Vassula Ryden sued Swiss resident Maria Laura Pio, in a court in Belgium, demanding to take down Mrs. Pio’s web site of critical articles, The choice of Belgium as a venue was puzzling, since both Pio and Ryden are residents of Switzerland. Maybe some foolish lawyer in Belgium is a follower of Mrs. Ryden and volunteered to do the dirty work at no charge, thinking that he’s serving God by persecuting Mrs. Pio.
When the case came to a hearing, the court in Belgium promptly dismissed it on procedural grounds, so that went nowhere.
Well, Mrs. Ryden has found another foolish lawyer to do her dirty work, and this time she may get her way. A lawyer in Cardiff, Wales, has threatened to sue Mrs. Pio, claiming that the domain name of her web site infringes on Mrs. Ryden’s trademarks. Mrs. Pio has decided not to spend any more time defending herself from such vexatious litigation and has announced (here’s a copy) that she’s closing the site this month.
A commenter on the previous blog post observes:

Vassula and TLIG are at it again and this time may have potentially shut down the one-stop site for truth about the cult –

The threats are spurious – and I’ve done some more research on the people behind this. The solicitor who is threatening to sue for legal fees and loss of TLIG(TM) earnings, Anthony Jeremy, is a specialist in CANON law and a fully paid up member of the cult, having posted at length, coincidentally, about the Congregation’s ban on the use of church premises and being mentioned by someone else in a ‘testimony’.

Vassula(TM) is a registered trademark, as is TLIG(TM), which is curious. The attack has no basis, clearly Pio’s site is not trading as TLIG, is not selling a bogus product, in fact is not selling anything and doesn’t even carry advertising! It clearly falls under ‘fair use’, otherwise it would be impossible to ever mention Vassula(TM) or TLIG(TM). Also note that nowhere on the TLIG(TM) site does it mention that these are registered trademarks and only refers to copyright on the message content. I wonder why?

Also note that TLIG(TM) is not mentioned in full, no corporate address or full details of the company. TLIG(TM) seems not registered in the UK as a trading entity. Looking at the Foundation, we find that this is registered in Switzerland. It has one office and one employee. The president, Jan Kooger Howard, has currently 19 separate companies running from front offices around Geneva – none has more than 6 registered employees – his main interest seems to be an oil brokerage for Nigerian oil, Sahara Energy Services. And no, that does not appear to be a trademark!

The trademarks are owned by the VP, another Swiss big businessman, Jacques Gay, one of the Freres Gay and the owner of a few watch clasp patents.

I’ll take your word as to the lawyer’s identity, since I don’t know it for myself. His claims seem spurious to me too: Mrs. Pio isn’t engaged in trade, so it seems strange to claim that she’s violating a trademark. And the claim that Vassula’s followers can’t tell a critical website from a supportive one is really an insult to them.
How a lawyer can make such implausible assertions without turning purple from embarrassment is beyond me, but some people have a natural skill for it.
[Update (August 2012): clarified the description of the Belgian court’s action.]