Monday, October 30, 2017

The Sarah Case

Bearing in mind ´ubi satanas (Mt. 16:23) Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Deus´, the following post (# 1 of a three part series) is a case study which, read with post # 2 and post # 3, is an attempt to reach out and arrive at the via media between both sides of the debate on chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia (AL).

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AL 2:
´The complexity of the issues that arose (in the 2014/2015 Synod) revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions. The thinking of pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church, honest, realistic and creative, will help us to achieve greater clarity. The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations


´The Sarah case´ is an example where two licit paths may be possible, viz.,

(A) a ´rigorous´ approach to sacramental discipline - [cf. AL 308], - or
(B) a ´less rigorous´ approach.

John and Sarah enter into a valid sacramental marriage*. They are blessed with two children. They get a civil divorce on grounds of incompatibility and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
[* It is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity from a marriage tribunal.]

John marries again. Sarah is unable to make ends meet and properly support her children. Mohammed comes into her life; they develop a liking for each other; he indicates his willingness to support her children; a civil marriage follows; two children are born in this new union. Later, Sarah has a conversion experience; she wants to live as sister and brother with Mohammed. He doesn’t agree since he thinks it is bizarre for spouses to live as such; threatens divorce if she insists on her way, and forcibly has sex with her whenever he wants. She reluctantly submits each time because she fears / is anxious that she would end up being abandoned and left with no means to support four young children; two of whom would then face the prospect of growing up without their father at home, and the other two - who have already had to bear the brunt of the first divorce, - would have to face the pain of absence of a father figure, (albeit foster/step father.) Sarah cannot go back to John because (1) he doesn’t want her back (2) he won’t accept her children by Mohammed (3) he is happily ´married´. Sarah realizes the irregularity of her situation, blames herself, feels trapped, guilty, remorseful; tries to atone and make amends by fasting whenever she can, saving the food which she would have eaten, and giving it to any homeless person she encounters.  

As AL 303 puts it, Sarah´s conscience*② - whether rightly or wrongly - recognizes*③
´with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, -
[i.e., she is against even reluctantly giving in to Mohammed´s sexual advances, but reasons - whether rightly or wrongly - that, until the situation somehow changes*④, she would have to continue to wearily put up with*⑤ the same for the sake of the good of her children, and in the meantime, have recourse to prayer and fasting; she hopes that in His Mercy, God may at least consider her feeble acts of atonement]*⑦ -
and (whether rightly or wrongly, her conscience* has) come to see with a certain moral security that it -
[i.e., her prayer to be delivered from the knotty situation + patient offering-up of her suffering + Tob. 4:10, Sir. 3:30]*⑦ -
is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of (her) limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal
[* NB: AL 37:
'We...find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.']
[*In some cases, what the conscience recognizes may be due to "an inculpable error of judgment" - cf. # 7 of the section entitled 'Pastoral Guidelines for Confessors' in the Vademecum for Confessors.]

[* Perhaps Mohammed may stop forcing himself on Sarah or he may agree to live as brother and sister after having a conversion experience himself.]

[*⑤ Literally, this involves Sarah not encouraging Mohammed´s sexual advances and simply lying still while he engages in coitus.]

Plagued and distressed, Sarah reveals all in the confessional. Can a pastor throw the stone / brand Sarah as an adulteress, lock the prison door and throw away the key, or move on (cf. Lk. 10:31b) saying: ´Justice demands she suffer the consequences of her sin by being reminded every time she attends Mass that she is ´living in a state of mortal sin and...deprived of sanctifying grace´ (cf. AL 301)?

AL 297: 

´...if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17)...´
Clearly, there is no ´flaunting´ involved here. 

If Sarah were to deliberately choose to live more uxorio and engage in sexual acts with Mohammed, she obviously cannot be granted absolution; for doing so would be, as Archbishop Chaput puts it, ¨“accompanying” (her) over a cliff.¨

But here, the situation is different as described above. Going by analogies, Sarah can be visualized as trying to pull herself up from the ravine into which she has fallen, but Mohammed´s attitude is a ´block´. 


AL 298:

´The divorced who have entered a new union...can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children...a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins...The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing”, with an approach which “carefully discerns situations”. We know that no “easy recipes” exist
So, knowing that ´spilled milk cannot usually be unspilled´ (i.e., sometimes, people get into situations from which it is very difficult to extricate oneself through one´s own efforts), there are two paths open to a pastor:

(A) Choose the ´rigorous´ approach to sacramental discipline and simply ´let down a rope´ (to Sarah 'in the ravine', - in order to help her to ´clamber up´.) This may result in the likes of Sarah being accompanied and integrated into parish life*⑥, although, in order to avoid scandal, she would not be given access to the Sacraments nor would she hold a position of responsibility (e.g. on a parish council), or carry out liturgical ministries or functions (e.g., lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion).


[* As mentioned in # 6 of the CDF letter concerning the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful, that can include helping Sarah to deepen her understanding of...
  • the value of sharing in the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass,
  • spiritual communion,
  • prayer,
  • meditation on the Word of God, and
  • works of charity and justice.
(However, considering that she has already experienced a conversion and is already performing works of charity/atonement, she is likely to be quite aware and appreciative of the profound value of all of those.)]

[ If it is asserted that ´Sarah is not eligible for sacramental communion but only for spiritual communion´, please click here to see why that may not be sustainable.]

(B) In a ´less rigorous´ approach, realizing that ´food´ is also needed to sustain Sarah during the long, arduous climb up and out of the ´ravine´, a pastor prays and discerns*⑦ if she - who is plagued by guilt - can benefit per AL footnote 351, viz.:
´In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). 
I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).´
[* AL 305:
´...Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.´]
Bearing in mind the quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and AL below, would the pastor be guilty of accommodating or green-lighting adultery if, after granting absolution, he gives Communion privately to Sarah or admits her to Eucharistic Communion remoto scandalo?

[1] AL 304:
'It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”. It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations...'
Another woman in Sarah's situation may deem it fit to resist Mohammed's sexual advances come what may - even if that means enduring another divorce. (In doing so, such a woman may be deciding to heroically trust in the Lord to take care of, and be the Father for her children. She may also be assuming that a divorce would not result in the custody of two of her children by Mohammed being ripped away from her and given to him.)
But for Sarah, practical rectitude involves being prudent and not risking the psychological harm to her children that may result in the event of divorce and absence of a parent from the home.
With respect to the variable factors that influence one´s actions - (as one ´descends to matters of detail´), - there can be differing perceptions / assessments of practical rectitude.
For instance, in the Sarah case, answers to questions such as...
  • Is Mohammed taking care of and providing for the children?
  • Can he be reasonably trusted to do so in the future? 
  • Does he have any vices such as alcohol, pornography or drug addiction which compound the situation and affect the children´s right to grow up in a healthy environment?
...can further influence and swing the mother´s decision-making process while taking a call on how best to proceed.
But the bottom-line: ´weighing´ everything and taking that call is ultimately Sarah´s conscientious responsibility - because she alone is best placed to make that decision based on her personal experience of the ground realities. (It would be unwise for outside parties such as a confessor to dictate and replace the conscience.)

[2] CCC 1650:
'Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.'
Sarah certainly repents for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ. Is she 'committed to living in complete continence'? She definitely wishes to live in complete continence, - if only Mohammed were co-operative and didn't insist on - as he sees it - his 'spousal right'.

[Such 'insistence', if resulting even to the extent of rape, may not be criminally liable in some countries*⑧- but in any case, Mohammed believes there is presumption of consent implicit in the legal contract of marriage. So, while Sarah wishes that they live as brother and sister, "If we can't be husband and wife, then we can't be husband and wife" is his reasoning in holding out the threat of divorce.]

[* Two possible scenarios are:
(a) Sarah and Mohammed are in a country where marital rape is a crime. Here, pastoral accompaniment can foreseeably involve actively helping Sarah to get out of any abusive / coercive relationship.
(b) Sarah and Mohammed are in a country where marital rape is not a crime. This means, in line with that country's tradition, the 'force of law' can be seen as having an additional influence in reinforcing the legitimate expectation of fulfillment of sexual needs by a spouse. When living amidst such a tradition, a pastor, noting AL 3 which says:
'Each country...can seek solutions...sensitive to its traditions...',
may have to be more discreet in offering Sarah any help, since that could lead to possible (legal?) complications, where the ´husband´ reacts more negatively to any such effort because he considers it hostile and illegal interference in his personal ´marital´ affairs.

After forcing cajoling ´guiding´ Sarah into the belief that it is worth enduring a risky painful legal fight, if things turn ugly and there is a messy divorce proceeding, (with the probable difficulty of proving that Mohammed forces himself on Sarah), while a court may - depending again on the country and the culture - take a dim view of Mohammed's actions, the probability of a secular court giving credence to a so-called "(Christian) conversion experience" is low. (Sarah may have to point to that experience as the trigger for her wish to live as sister and brother with Mohammed. Even if she doesn´t bring it up, Mohammed´s lawyer can do so, in order to make the case that her ´bizarre´ desire is unfair to his client.)

And any talk about wanting to live as sister and brother may itself not quite cut it with the judge / lawyer for Mohammed, who can wonder: "Why then did you not only marry him - raising legitimate expectation on his part of sexual relations - but also allow him to become the father of two children, only to now expect him to suddenly stop having sexual needs?"
Moreover, what hangs in the balance is - who would get custody of the children of the second union? (particularly if Mohammed´s lawyer forcefully argues that in order to not let a court be seen as a party to ´imposition of religious beliefs under the garb of so-called conversion experiences´, it would be best, under the circumstances, for custody of the children of the second union to be handed to the father, so that it serves as a warning and deterrence against ´gold-diggers´ like Sarah.)

To back up and return to the pastor, - any help he offers to Sarah (to get out of any abusive / coercive relationship) would have to involve not breaking the Seal of Confession (if Sarah reveals the fact of Mohammed forcing himself on her only while in the confessional.)

Besides, either way, as AL 37 says,
'...We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.'
And in its light, the pastor needs to remember that it is ultimately up to Sarah to ´weigh´ and decide whether to - as she reasons - ´reluctantly lie still´*⑨ each time Mohammed wants to exercise the ´legitimate spousal right´ (which he believes she consented to, on marrying him), or leave and risk two of her children growing up without their father at home.
(Or leave and risk two of her children growing up without their mother at home {lesser chances of those children benefiting from a Catholic upbringing} in case the custody of Mohammed's children is given to him in the event of a divorce.)]

[* Sarah´s reasoning resonates with footnote 329 of AL, viz.,

´...many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers”...´
While Sarah does not want to engage in sexual relations with Mohammed, she reluctantly ´decides´ that while from her part there will not be ´expressions of intimacy´, she may have to at least acquiesce ´reluctantly lie still´ in case he initiates coitus, (so as to avoid Mohammed carrying out the threat of divorce, - which would lead to a situation where the good of the children suffers, - with one parent missing from the home.)]

[3] CCC 1859:
´Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent…a consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a personal choice.´
[4] AL 302 citing the CCC, the CDF´s Declaration on Euthanasia ´Iura et Bona´ and John Paul II´s Apostolic Exhortation ´Reconciliatio et Paenitentia´:
´...Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by fear... 
...Circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility include conditions of anxiety...´
Sarah regrets the past and wants to turn over a new leaf. She continues to be grateful to Mohammed for being supportive during the painful period after her divorce, and respects him for taking care of even her children by John.
Despite her actual wish - for the sake of primarily the children of the second union - to live with Mohammed (but only as sister and brother), is her continued reluctant submission to sex out of fear (of being divorced) and anxiety [that she and her children would be abandoned and that two of her children would grow up without their father/mother in the home] a consent SUFFICIENTLY deliberate to be a personal choice?

Without lumping this as another problematic version of the 'fundamental option' theory, does Sarah's ‘consent’ make her guilty of mortal [as opposed, at worst, to venial] sin?
Moreover, is absolution to be withheld in the sacrament of healing?

FAQs
A) Is Sarah choosing to commit adultery?
No, - she wishes to live as sister and brother with Mohammed; does not wish to have sexual relations with him.

B) Is she choosing to be raped?
No.
[Looking superficially from the outside, without grasping the nuances of the facts, if it were argued that by deciding to remain with Mohammed for the sake of the children, Sarah has placed herself in a situation where she may have to submit to sex, and that ergo, she is definitely ´choosing rape´, then mutatis mutandis, one might as well (erroneously) argue against CCC 2263 and hold that the killing of an aggressor during legitimate self-defense is definitely and always intentionally chosen / cold-blooded murder.
Or, one might as well (erroneously) argue against an ethical/religious directive such as #48 (p.27) and hold that in case of extrauterine pregnancy, interventions which don´t cause a direct abortion - such as salpingectomy - are also morally illicit because they involve the intentional choice to murder a baby.
Or again, one might as well say that after receiving Communion for the first time, there was a unanimous synodal choice by the cleansed (Jn. 13:10; 15:3) to be unfaithful. (Mk. 14:50)]

C) Is it prudent on the part of Sarah to choose a rapist to bring up her children?
Is that query intended to preclude any role for conscience?
Would we be forming replacing conscience by insisting that the only (´commonsensical´) path which can and should be taken under the circumstances is for Sarah to choose separation/divorce and also take on the risk of the children growing up without one parent at home?
[NB: Canon 1153 does not say that separation is mandatory.]

D) But how can a rapist possibly be a good father?
Short-sighted labeling aside, this is again ultimately Sarah´s call. She holds gratefully in mind Mohammed´s support after her divorce as well as his continuing care of even her children by John. If Sarah is pinning her hopes on Mohammed having a change of heart and agreeing to live as brother and sister, can she be faulted? Besides, Sarah fears that a messy divorce proceeding can involve trap questions such as: ´Why should this court allow one party to impose her faith on another? Considering your ´track record´, viz., -
  • you said ¨I do¨ to John, then it turned out to be ¨I don´t¨;
  • you said ¨I do¨ to Mohammed and now it looks like ¨I don´t¨ under the cloak of religious convictions,
- why should this court grant custody of the children to a woman who can´t seem to make up her mind or provide a stable marital / family environment?´

E) Isn´t situational ethics being promoted?
No.
If something along the following lines is held, then that would be a promotion of situational ethics:
  • adultery is generally / sometimes wrong but considering the situation in which she finds herself, (where there is a threat of divorce and consequent negative effect on the children´s welfare), Sarah can legitimately engage in coitus.
But that is not what is happening here.
When what is being discerned is whether an (evil) act has been freely chosen by Sarah, it is obviously taken for granted that:

  • there indeed are (intrinsically) evil acts, (adultery being one among them), and
  • situations cannot change intrinsically evil acts into excusable or commendable acts.
F) Isn´t Sarah´s action akin to a woman prostituting herself out of poverty / to feed her children?
No.
[Such a woman may (eventually?) be ¨ahead¨ (cf. Mt. 21:31c), but although the imputability for the offence against chastity can be attenuated (CCC 2355), the taking of proactive steps to sell herself would be problematic, considering that ´one may not do evil so that good may result from it´ (CCC 1756). In contrast, after her conversion experience, there is no step taken by Sarah to commit adultery, but Mohammed forces himself on her.]

G) By respecting Sarah´s conscientious decision/intention to live (as sister and brother) with Mohammed for the sake of the children, would the pastor considering the ´less rigorous´ approach to sacramental discipline be giving the thumbs-up for adultery or rape / allowing oneself to be raped?
No.
[Saying ´yes´ may be a misrepresentation / misunderstanding, considering all that is noted above.
Besides, the pastor realizes that just as there is a time for everything (cf. Eccl. 3:1-8 & Mt. 13:29), a time will come when:
  • either the fear and anxiety which currently have a grip on Sarah will dissipate, or 
  • God may intervene in other ways {such as through bringing about a conversion experience in Mohammed himself (or/and John?) when he finally comes to his senses (cf. Lk. 15:17a) and realizes the depth of the wound he has inflicted (cf. Acts 9:4b; 22:7b)},
and that until such time, continuing to respect Sarah´s conscientious decision is the a prudent path forward.

The intervening time will also enable Sarah herself to
“...(advance) gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in...her entire personal and social life.” {AL 295, quoting Familiaris Consortio (FC) # 9}.
(It is pertinent that FC # 9 also says that in opposing
¨the injustice originating from sin...what is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward
This being so, Sarah´s initial conversion experience should be looked upon not as a definitive all-embracing one, but simply the beginning of that continuous, - as FC # 9 puts it, - ¨dynamic process¨, to which all are called.
And the pastor also realizes that for the likes of Sarah,
i.e., - as elaborated in post # 2 - for those who are duly disposed AND against whom no obex hinders absolution, (frequent recourse to) the sacraments of healing and life are indispensable weaponry in the battle ahead.)]

Thus, in the light of:
  • AL 301:
  • ´...it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace...A subject may know full well the rule, yet...be in a concrete situation which does not allow...her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin...´
  • the facts of the case, and what is laid out in post # 2 (from which it is clear that there is no obex attributable to Sarah which would stand in the way of the grant of absolution),
  • her disposition (which cannot be said to run afoul of 1 Cor. 11:27,29 so as to precipitate in the illness or death mentioned in 1 Cor. 11:30),
can´t the pastor grant absolution, and then,
privately or remoto scandalo (to avoid scandal)
´let down Food´ (Jn. 6:53-58) (to Sarah ´in the ravine´) 
not out of false compassion 
(or as a license to commit sin - cf. Rom 6: 1, 2, 12, 13, 15) - 
but out of the conviction that...
  • if sacramentals such as blessed water ['...advérsus omnes morbos inimicíque insídias tuæ defensiónem grátiæ consequéndam...' (p. 778)] and blessed salt ['...ubicúmque hæc salis et aquæ commíxtio fúerit aspérsa, omni impugnatióne inimíci depúlsa...' (p. 779)] are powerful, surely even more powerful is the One to whom their blessing is implored?
  • since all conversion experiences [including - as noted above - ´opposing of the injustice originating from sin...interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness´] are red flags waived before bulls (Ps. 22:12; Ex. 14:5, 9) / powers (Eph. 6:12), who wouldn't take it lying down when their powers [over slaves (cf. Jn 8:34)] are under threat, how better to protect than?...
  • cue Newman: '...When all was sin and shame, He, the last Adam, to the fight and to the rescue came. O wisest love! that flesh and blood which did in Adam fail, should strive afresh against the foe, should strive and should prevail. And that a higher gift than grace / the highest gift of grace should flesh and blood refine: God’s presence, and His very self and essence all-divine. O generous love! that He, who smote with in man for man the foe, The double agony with in man for man should undergo.'
  • or cue the ´O-Jesu-vivens-in-Maria´ prayer (p. 26), viz.: ´O Jesus living in Mary, come and live with among in Thy servants...subdue every hostile power in Thy spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.´ 
And naturally, the concomitant conviction is that...
is indeed the medicine of immortality, the Manna broken and given up to protect and sustain (even) [´unhindered-by-any-obex´ and duly-disposedwayfarers like Sarah who find themselves in the Way (Jn. 14:6) of the long struggle to climb up and out from the ´ravine´ in the valley of tears.

AL 308:
´...I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. 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 judgments. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Jesus “expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated”.´
Hard cases make bad law?
Or,
while never straying from, nor compromising, but always remaining in the Truth of Christ (cf. Lk. 6:4),
considering ´salus animarum suprema lex´,
and taking a cue from Mt. 12:20, Lk. 15:4, 10, 17-18, 20-24, 32,
can´t hard cases such as that of Sarah justify a merciful ´turning of the keys´
not across-the-board,
but precisely - as AL footnote 351 puts it - ¨in certain cases¨
where prudent discernment has occurred in prayer on the knees?

And if this can be answered in the affirmative, then can´t paragraph 6*⑩ in the ´Basic criteria for the application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia´*⑪ - (sent by the Bishops of Buenos Aires to the priests of their pastoral region) - also be seen as applicable to the Sarah case?

[*⑩ Paragraph 6 unofficial translation:
´In other more complex circumstances, and when a declaration of nullity could not be obtained, the option mentioned might not be feasible. Nevertheless, a path of discernment is likewise possible. If there is acknowledgement that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that attenuate responsibility and culpability [Cf. (AL) 301-302], particularly when a person considers that he/she would fall into a further fault, hurting the children of the new union, Amoris Laetita opens the possibility of access to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist [Cf. (AL) footnotes 336 and 351]. These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the strength of grace.´]
[*⑪ In an apostolic letter, Pope Francis has said this document of the Bishops of Buenos Aires
¨...is very good and makes fully explicit the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations...¨
Both his letter and the document have been promulgated ´velut Magisterium authenticum]

AL 7:
´Given the rich fruits of the two-year Synod process, this Exhortation will treat, in different ways, a wide variety of questions. This explains its inevitable length. Consequently, I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text. The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs. It is likely, for example, that married couples will be more concerned with Chapters Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight. It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity”
When we step back and reflect on Amoris Laetitia, it is regrettable that one chapter has received disproportionate attention (such as to obscure the pastoral message of the apostolic exhortation as a whole).
Worse, even that chapter has been misunderstood or misinterpreted in various ways.
To say something along the lines of ´Amoris Laetitia allows Communion to be given to (some) adulterers´ encapsulates the overall message of the exhortation and captures its nuances just about as truthfully as concluding from Jn 2:19 that the message of the Bible is that God came to destroy.

The Holy Father´s response to the last question reported here is pertinent, viz.:
´...I’ll use this question to say something else that I believe should be said out of justice, and also out of charity. In fact I hear many comments – they are respectable for they come from children of God, but wrong – concerning the post-synod apostolic exhortation. To understand Amoris Laetitia you need to read it from the start to the end. Beginning with the first chapter, and to continue to the second and then on … and reflect. And read what was said in the Synod...´
In sum, - ideological echo chambers notwithstanding, - if we prayerfully do follow the Pope´s suggestion, can´t it be affirmed that:
  • there is indeed ´food´ (Lk. 10:16; Mt. 16:18-19; Jn 21:17; Prov 1:8) in that exhortation (including its chapter eight*⑫),
  • as with most Church documents (which are ignored / misread / partially read / misunderstood / ´speed-read´ / selectively read / quoted out-of-context / hastily ´eaten´ without proper ´chewing´ / read or ´digested´ without treasuring the dicta ´sentire cum Ecclesia´ and ´cum Petro et sub Petro´), incorrect interpretations*⑬ of Amoris Laetitia don´t justify ´throwing the baby out with the bathwater´, and
  • a pastor who in certain appropriate cases prudently applies the ´less rigorous´ approach to sacramental discipline as described further above in no way violates Sacred Scripture, doctrine, or Sacred Tradition?
[*Questions which may arise:

(a) Is there really ´food´ in chapter eight of AL - for, doesn´t normal confessional practice apply to cases like Sarah? That is to say, just as the culpability for contraception cannot be attributed - per the standard principles of moral theology - to a woman who has had sexual relations with her husband when he used a condom against her wish, can´t Sarah be likewise said to not be morally culpable, - thereby opening up access to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (without any need to rely on AL)? So, in that respect, does it make sense to speak of a ´baby´ in chapter eight of AL?

Response: If it is held that the standard principles of moral theology / normal confessional practice do foresee the grant of absolution to the likes of Sarah followed by access to the Eucharist, then AL footnote 351 can be read simply as ´shedding light on´ / reinforcing / reiterating what is already legitimately allowed / being followed per sacramental discipline ¨in certain (appropriate) cases.¨ (A loose analogy: just as Munificentissimus Deus solemnly proclaimed what had already been believed in the past {viz., the dogma of the Assumption}, AL footnote 351 can be considered as simply acknowledging / making explicit what is licitly practiced by confessors who encounter penitents like Sarah.)

If it is held that the standard principles of moral theology / normal confessional practice do not foresee the grant of absolution to Sarah followed by access to the Eucharist, then, considering all that has been laid out above, can´t the demands of justice and mercy be seen to have been met in AL footnote 351? 

Either way, can it not be seen that there is indeed present in chapter eight ´food´ which, on proper ´chewing´ and ´digesting´, will provide the ´energy´ to discern how to best handle hard cases? 

As the Holy Father put it in AL 7: 
´...everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight...´ 
It remains to be seen though, what place this ´baby´ will have in the grand scheme of things on the return journey to the Father´s Home. 
For instance, 
if the orthodox nature of the ´principle´ / bottom-line of AL chapter eight is acknowledged, 
and if care is taken to avoid not only the perils of situational ethics 
but also the 'intolerable casuistry' against which there is a warning in AL 304 - [see response to question (d) below],
- to what other situations 
- (and not necessarily with respect to the Sixth Commandment alone)
can it be frivolously legitimately applied mutatis mutandis as a ´lifeboat´ to those ´flotsam and jetsam´ who are not hell-bent on drowning? 
Time and experience (of those not laboring under a delusion) will tell. 
Those who are humbly courageous enough to stick their necks out into ´ravines´ will begin to ´see´ new opportunities for fishing.

(b) Aren´t cases such as that of Sarah likely to be rare, and hence, even if it be admitted that there is ´food´ in chapter eight of AL, aren´t such cases likely to be of limited pastoral relevance?

Response: Whether rare or not, it wouldn´t be advisable for a pastor on the ground who faces such a situation / penitent to slip into 
´an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules´ (AL 2) 
or to simply 
´...apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”...´ (AL 305)
(Would justice and mercy be served by such an attitude?)

As for ´limited pastoral relevance´, in addition to the question whether such a characterization is in sync with the ´salus animarum suprema lex´ dictum - (are we simply paying lip service to it?), - we need to ask whether that is premature. 

Priests are being encouraged to not be mechanical in applying the law to ¨irregular¨ situations but to prudently discern whether the obex that hinders the grant of absolution (as discussed in post # 2) is attributable to / chosen by the penitent. 
Pastors are also being exhorted to (help the faithful) be more compassionate toward the weak. Instead of ´jumping the gun´ and being dismissive ab initio, time needs to be given for this ´baby´ to grow.
If prudent discernment occurs according to the mind of the Church, the actual extent of pastoral relevance will be evident with the passage of time.

Further, can it not be seen that when ´the rubber meets the road´, the sensitivity and understanding with which the pastor actually handles the matter is of great personal relevance to the penitent on the ground,  (like Sarah, - whose desire to rectify the situation by living as sister and brother with Mohammed is not supported by him)?

(c) What is the ¨weight¨ to be assigned to an apostolic exhortation or portions of it? 

Response: Assessments of the ´weight´ / ´rank´ / ´pecking order´ of Church documents should not lead to a case of:
  • ´missing the wood for the trees´,
  • ´sawing-off the branch (of credibility) on which one is sitting´,
  • having an ´abortifacient´ effect on the ´baby´ / ´corrosive´ effect on the ´food´,
  • (un)knowingly lacerating the Body, - cf. AL 185 & 186, viz.:
´...we do well to take seriously a biblical text usually interpreted outside of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social. I am speaking of 1 Cor 11:17-34, where Saint Paul faces a shameful situation in the community... 
...Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. This is what it means to “discern” the body of the Lord, to acknowledge it with faith and charity both in the sacramental signs and in the community; those who fail to do so eat and drink judgement against themselves...When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily...´
  • risking the penalty in Mt. 18:6-7 
  • breaking away through a de facto / de jure (attempt at) usurping of the Magisterium by conveniently (and ´magisterially´) asserting a ´state of necessity´ {which would naturally make the People of God to instinctively wonder: ´Quo warranto?´ (cf. CCC 85-87)}
  • spiritual amnesia with respect to the dictum ´He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother´ - (that is, the {´healthy´} Hierarchical Holy Mother Church, and not a sick one.)
Can it not be seen that just as a ´generous opening of the heart´ to a letter of Benedict XVI (to bishops on the occasion of the publication of the apostolic letter ´Summorum Pontificum´) can reap a pastoral harvest, so too would a generous opening of the heart to chapter eight of AL? 
(Although there is a possibility that her shoes may get ´soiled by the mud of the street´, the Bride can confidently walk the steps of the Groom in Lk. 15:4-6 and Lk. 10:34
And that itself would be an impetus for a deeper, searing conversion on the part of the one to whom mercy has been shown.)

(d) Is AL chapter eight applicable only to situations such as that of Sarah?

Response: No. 
AL 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 casesWhat is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases...´
Moreover, providing specific examples can (again) fuel a propensity to get into ´flowchart mode´ - [as AL 298 puts it: ´(pigeonholing) or (fitting) into overly rigid classifications´] - which has little need for Grace, Mercy and conscience, (or tends - at best - to pay lip service to them.)

Also, there is AL 304:
´...what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would (also) endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care
(e) Doesn´t chapter eight set a dangerous pastoral precedent because it ´opens the floodgates´ through a slippery slope?

Response: It is not as though canon 915 and fidelity to the truth about faith and morals as taught by the Church can be thrown out of the window; pastors obviously have to take them also into account when prudently discerning which cases can actually benefit from AL footnote 351.

As AL 300 stresses, the discernment is expected to...
´...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”. 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 favours. 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
If one were to still have misgivings, can it then not be (speciously!) argued that just as the ´certain cases´ of AL footnote 351, the portion highlighted in bold below (an excerpt from # 10 of Humanae Vitae) also lays the ground for a slippery slope?
´With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.´
The point is, those looking for ´quick fixes´ or ´loopholes´ or ´playing around´ with Church teaching can always misread and arrive at destinations of their choice. If honest, they would have to admit that they really are not in line with AL 300 quoted above and risk getting on the wrong side of 1 Cor. 11:28-30.

On a broader note, just as an ´anything-goes´ mindset can lead us to the ivory towers of la-la land, if the dicta ´sentire cum Ecclesia´ and ´cum Petro et sub Petro´ are not taken to heart, paranoia and suspicion can imprison us as bitter, resentful, joyless and ossified souls hunkering/gnashing in (virtual?) ghettos; - a far cry indeed from Is. 11:8.  
(An antidote is of course indicated in Ex. 32:20, Hos. 8:6, 2 Kings 18:4, etc.)

* With respect to AL or any other Church document, (indeed - Sacred Scripture itself - considering what has been experienced down the centuries), when faced with dime a dozen unsound interpretations (from any side of the ideological spectrum), it may be salutary to recall that while the Index librorum prohibitorum had its heyday, the temptation to publicly call out every error can be a draining rabbit hole infernally calculated to sap the energy and subtly prevail (Mt. 16:18b) by shifting the focus away from a balanced proclamation of the Good News.

[After all, an effective strategy is to distract by creating the smokescreen of error after error, in the hope that an enemy - it´s easier if blindness hasn´t even been acknowledged - will take the bait and be lured right into the quicksand. Half the battle is won when the opponent is put under siege and trapped constantly in defense, tilting at windmills. The mission to scatter (cf. Mt. 12:30) can then be accomplished sooner.

✳ There is merit in what is noted in an ancient Chinese military treatise: viz., ´If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.´]

In cases such as this, where a prudential judgment call is involved, it may be better to let the driver drive rather than giving directions from the back seat on how he should handle the wheel

Keeping in mind...
instead of choosing to do non serviam´s desire (cf. Jn. 8:44
that the poison of looking down the (gnostic) nose may be ´fertile´,
an arguably more productive and effective occupation 
may be to battle 
(´...imitémur quod cóntinent...´{Jn. 8:12, 4:34; Mt. 12:50, 7:24-27}, 2 Chr. 20:1517Jn. 15:5), 
the wolves/whores/adulterers/abortionists/idolaters within (cf. Eph. 6:12Mt. 11:12Lk. 17:21Rom. 6:12, Mk. 7:21-22, Jas. 1:14, Rom. 7:20, 1 Jn 1:81 Jn. 1:101 Chr. 5:25Hos. 9:12 Chr. 20:33Jer. 9:2Mk. 5:9)
by trusting (Dan. 9
and seeking refuge on the ´mountains´ (Mt. 24:16
¨in the service of prayer...in the enclosure of St. Peter¨, 
in preparation for 
And it is that which will aid a clearer reading of the signs of the times 
and enable the 
´wanted-dead-(Col. 3:5; 1 Pet. 5:8Rom. 8:13)-and-alive´ (Rom. 14:8)
branch 
to remain in the Vine
rather than becoming 
a whine
trampled for being off-key.]

<<Submitted for the judgment of Holy Mother Church>>

Based on the above case, click here to see a response to the dubia of the four cardinals.