Critics of the pope sometimes like to employ the one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Like “adultery.” Even field hospitals employing triage don’t do things like that. And authentic accompaniment takes time. The synod bishops recognized this:
300. 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, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”,(Relatio Finalis 2015 51) the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.*
Pope Francis’s note on this involves a rare comment and a reference:
*This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in another document applies: cf. Evangelii Gaudium 44 and 47
The Holy Father advocates encouragement for many believers, and a sense of responsibility for ministers. This makes sense. We are talking about a blend between morality, law, rules, and discipline. Not every aspect of every situation falls entirely within 100% of any of those categories.
The synod bishops outlined the duty of clergy:
Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop. 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”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 85)
It does take some skill to walk with a person through such reflections. Ordinarily these are part of the annulment process. The synod bishops cite John Paul II and offer a cautious balance:
What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the 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 on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 86)
Two cautions follow: quick exceptions, and favors for favors.
These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favors. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.
What do you think? Do we live in such times and in a Church where specific discernments can be permitted?
For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.