In what is a thinly veiled rebuke of Pope Francis' teaching that divorced and remarried couples -- adulterers in Catholic teaching -- may receive Holy Communion, Catholic priests from around the world have issued a "pastoral appeal" to their bishops to clearly and boldly reaffirm what the Gospels say about sin, marriage, adultery, true repentance and confession, and the errors of situational ethics, the idea that what is right or wrong is dependent upon one's situation or circumstances.
"As priests ordained to assist in the pastoral care of God’s people, we write to request your help in dealing with a mistaken approach to the Christian moral life that we frequently encounter and that grievously harms those misled by it," states the appeal, which was posted online April 22, 2018. "We believe much of the damage could be healed or mitigated if you were to reaffirm Christ’s teachings and to correct those errors with the full authority of your apostolic office."
"Our pastoral concern is that without such assistance this detrimental situation will worsen significantly," states the appeal issued by the priests.
The document then explains the fundamental problem:
"In its basic form, the mistaken approach asserts that those who commit objectively evil acts and judge themselves subjectively free of culpability must be allowed to receive Holy Communion. In a more developed form, it denies that certain behaviors are always evil and claims that in some circumstances those behaviors are the most realistic good that can be achieved or, indeed, are simply good.
"An even more extreme version declares that those behaviors can be approved or proposed by God. Christ’s life and moral teachings are thus presented as abstract ideals that must be adjusted to fit our circumstances rather than as realities already attuned to free us from sin and evil in every situation."
Although the appeal letter does not mention Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the issues cited in the appeal address many of the problems generated by the Pope's document.
In his letter on marraige and family, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis explains that Christian marriage "is fully recognized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society."
However, Pope Francis then discusses how "some forms of union radically contradict this ideal [of marriage], while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way," and he mentions "civil marriage," "cohabitation," and "the divorced and remarried." He lumps these arrangements under the heading "irregular situations." (The Catholic Church has always taught that a Catholic who divorces and then remarries is living in a state of adultery.)
The divorced and remarried can "find themselves in a variety of situations," states the Pope, and pastors and bishops must help such couples through a "process of accompaniment and discernment" so they can "reach the fullness of God's plan for them."
The Pope further claims that adulterers, the divorced and remarried, may be aided by "the help of the sacraments," i.e., Holy Communion at Mass.
The idea is that people living in adultery, through a process of discernment and reception of Communion, will eventually reach a state where they understand that they are living in adultery and must not receive Communion. It is a false teaching and one that has caused widespread confusion throughout the Catholic Church and division among cardinals and bishops and priests.
As the "pastoral appeal" document states in relation to those who commit "evil acts" and then claim they "must be allowed to receive" Communion -- situational ethics -- "Although this approach claims to be a new and legitimate development, its principles have always been recognized by the Church as contrary to the Gospel. She opposed these theories with particularly vigorous and precise teaching throughout the twentieth century and, above all, during the fifty years since Humanae Vitae.
Humanae Vitae was Pope Paul VI's encyclical against birth control. As with Pope Francis and Communion for adulterers, there are some clerics who have argued that Catholic couples may use birth control because of their "situation" and still receive Communion.
The appeal letter continues, "We believe the recent resurgence of this damaging approach despite such sustained ecclesial efforts demonstrates clearly that a more effective pastoral response is needed than parish priests can offer by themselves or than can be adequately provided by the limited authority of conventional diocesan and regional statements."
"That is why we are asking you [bishops] to consider exercising your full apostolic authority through a formal reaffirmation of the Gospel and correction of these errors," reads the letter.
The document then presents 10 points that the priests suggest the bishops emphasize. Among these points are the following:
-- "Although God may choose to tolerate the presence of evil and sin, He never proposes or approves of them."
-- "Fidelity to Christ and His teachings is realistic and achievable, not an abstract ideal needing to be adjusted to circumstances of life."
-- Marriage "is an exclusive union that cannot be dissolved by any human power or by any cause except the death of one of the spouses."
-- "Sexual activity outside of marriage is in every circumstance gravely evil. The culpable embrace of this grave evil is a mortal sin which, like all mortal sins, causes communion with God to cease."
-- "Reception of Holy Communion cannot be reduced to a private act based on a subjective judgment of innocence because it is a public witness to one’s embrace of the communal faith and life of the Church. Regardless of culpability, those who continue to embrace an objectively grave evil [e.g., adultery] after learning that their belief or behavior is contrary to the Church’s apostolic witness may rightly be expected or, at times, required to refrain from Holy Communion."