Amoris Laetitia, ZENIT - HSM

In No Way Does Amoris Laetitia Authorize 'Unrestricted Access to the Sacraments'

Letters of the Pope and of the Bishops of the Buenos Aires Region (Unabridged Translations)

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DECEMBER 7, 2017 ( The Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetita in no way authorizes “unrestricted access to the Sacraments,” explained the Argentine Bishops in 2016, in an interpretation of the Exhortation’s text, validated by Pope Francis in a letter. The two documents are published in Spanish on the Vatican’s Internet site.
Amoris Laetitia
Here is a ZENIT translation of the two letters.
* * *
Letter of the Bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region
Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia
Esteemed Priests:
We received with joy the Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which calls us first of all to make the love of spouses grow and to motivate young people to opt for marriage and the family. These are the great topics that should never be neglected or be overshadowed by other questions. Francis has opened several doors in the family pastoral and we are called to take advantage of this time of mercy, to assume, as pilgrim Church, the richness that the Apostolic Exhortation gives us in its different chapters.
Now we will pause only on chapter VIII, given that it makes reference to “guidelines of the Bishop” (300) in order to discern on the possible access to the Sacraments of some “divorced in a new union.” As Bishops of the same Pastoral Region, we believe it appropriate to agree on some minimal criteria. We offer them without prejudice to the authority that each Bishop has in his own diocese, to specify, complete and shorten them.

  • In the first place we remind that it is not appropriate to speak of “permissions” to access the Sacraments, but of a process of discernment accompanied by a Pastor. It is a “personal and pastoral” discernment (300).
  • In this endeavor, the Pastor should stress the fundamental proclamation, the kerygma, which will stimulate or renew the personal encounter with Jesus Christ alive (Cf. 58).
  • The pastoral accompaniment is an exercise of the “via caritatis.” It is an invitation to follow “the way of Jesus, that of mercy and integration (296). This itinerary calls for the pastoral charity of the priest who receives the penitent, listens to him attentively and shows him the maternal face of the Church, at the same time that he accepts his right intention and his good resolution to put his whole life in the light of the Gospel and to practice charity (Cf. 306).
  • This itinerary does not end necessarily in the Sacraments but can be oriented to other forms of integrating more in the life of the Church: greater presence in the community, participation in groups of prayer or reflection, commitment in different ecclesial services, etc. (Cf. 299).
  • When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christian with an itinerary of faith, the endeavor can be proposed to live in continence. Amoris Laetita does not ignore the difficulties of this option (Cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility to access the Sacrament of Reconciliation when there is failure in this resolution (Cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).

6) 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. 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. notes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the strength of grace.
7) However, one must avoid understanding this possibility as unrestricted access to the Sacraments, or as if any situation justified it. What is proposed is a discernment that distinguishes appropriately each case. For example, “a new union that comes from a recent divorce” requires special care or “the situation of someone who has repeatedly failed in his/her family commitments” (298). Also when there is a sort of apologia or ostentation of one’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal” (297). In these more difficult cases, we, Pastors, must accompany with patience, seeking some way of integration (Cf. 297, 299).
8) It is always important to direct persons to put themselves with their conscience before God, and, useful for this, is the “examination of conscience” that Amoris Laetitia 300 propose, especially in regard to “how they have behaved with their children” or with the abandoned spouse. When there are unresolved injustices, access to the Sacraments is particularly scandalous.

  • It can be appropriate that eventual access to the Sacraments is done in a reserved way, above all when conflictive situations are foreseen. However, at the same time, one must not cease to accompany the community so that it grows in a spirit of understanding and welcome, without this implying the creation of confusions in the teaching of the Church regarding indissoluble marriage. The community is the instrument of mercy that is “unmerited, unconditional and free” (297).
  • Discernment does not close, because “it is dynamic and must remain always open to new stages of growth and to new decisions that make possible the realization of the ideal in a fuller way” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and trusting in the help of grace.

We are above all Pastors. That is why we want to receive these words of the Pope: “I invite the Pastors to listen with affection and serenity, with the sincere desire of entering the heart of the drama of persons and of understanding their point of view, to help them to live better and to recognize their place in the Church” (312).
With affection in Christ.
The Bishops of the Region
September 5, 2016
Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]


The Holy Father Francis’ Letter to the Bishops of the
Buenos Aires Pastoral Region, in Response to the Document
“Basic Criteria for the Application of
Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia
Monsignor Sergio Alfredo Fenoy
Delegate of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region
 Dear Brother:
 I received the writing of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region “Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. Thank you very much for sending it to me; and I congratulate you for the work you have done: a true example of accompaniment of priests . . . and we all know how necessary this closeness is of the Bishop with his clergy and of the clergy with the Bishop. The Bishop’s closest “neighbor” is the priest. And the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself begins, for us Bishops, precisely with our priests.
The writing is very good and makes fully explicit the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations, and I am sure that it will do much good. May the Lord reward you for this effort of pastoral charity.
And it is precisely pastoral charity that moves us to go out to encounter the estranged and, once found, to begin a path of reception, accompaniment, discernment, and integration in the ecclesial community. We know that it is exhausting, it is about a “body to body” pastoral not satisfied with programmatic, organizational or legal mediations, although necessary. Simply: receive, accompany, discern <and> integrate. Of these four pastoral attitudes, the one least cultivated and practiced is discernment; and I consider urgent formation in discernment, personal and communal, in our Seminaries and Presbyteries.
Finally, I would like to remind that Amoris Laetitia was the fruit of the work and prayer of the whole Church, with the mediation of two Synods and of the Pope. Therefore, I recommend a complete catechesis of the Exhortation, which will certainly help the growth, consolidation, and holiness of the family.
Again I thank you for the work done and I encourage you to go forward, in the different communities of the dioceses, with the study and catechesis of Amoris Laetitia.
Please, don’t forget to pray and have prayers said for me. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin look after you.
Vatican, September 5, 2016
 Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
 [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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Anita Bourdin

France. Journalist accreditated to the Holy See press office since 1995. Started Zenit in french in january 1999. Classical litterature (Paris IV-Sorbonne). Master in journalism (IJRS Bruxelles). Biblical theology (PUG, Rome).

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