Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa notes the proposal of a third way in regard to Catholics in adulterous marriages:
What follows is an extract from a theological essay that proposes precisely to illustrate a possible “third way.”
The author is the Dominican theologian Thomas Michelet, of the theological faculty of Fribourg, Switzerland.
The magazine in which Fr. Michelet published his essay is the prestigious “Nova & Vetera,” founded in 1926 by the illustrious Thomist Charles Journet, who was made a cardinal by Paul VI in 1965, and afterward directed by another theologian and cardinal, Georges Cottier, both Swiss and both Dominicans. Since 2002, “Nova & Vetera” has also had an edition in English, produced and published in the United States.
Fr. Michelet’s proposal is to institute an “ordo paenitentium” for those who find themselves in a persistent condition of divergence from the law of God, so that they undertake a journey of conversion that could last for many years or even for life, but always in an ecclesial, liturgical, and sacramental context that would accompany their “pilgrimage.”
The model of this order of penitents is the sacrament of penance in the ancient Church, in an innovative form. Although they would not be permitted to receive Eucharistic communion, the penitents would not find themselves excluded from sacramental life, because their journey of conversion would itself be a sacrament and source of grace.
Reproduced below is the central portion of the essay by Fr. Michelet, which however is much more extensive and dedicates pages of great interest to two questions that were also debated at the previous session of the synod: the law of incrementalism and spiritual communion.
“Nova & Vetera” has made available to all the complete text of the essay, in French:
> Synode sur la famille: la voie de l”’ordo paenitentium”
It is to be hoped – as Pope Francis has asked – that proposals and reflections like this should become the daily bread of debate before and during the synod, unlike those who proceed and act as if everything were already settled and communion for the divorced and remarried were already an established right.
Because in Germany, for example, this is what is happening. And the recent statements of Cardinal Reinhard Marx have supported this behavior:
“We cannot wait for a synod to tell us how we must act here, on marriage and family pastoral care.”
But one can also cite the hasty conclusion “erga omnes” that the theologian Basilio Petrà gathered from the simple fact that at the consistory of February 2014 Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke out – with the pope’s approval – against the exclusion of the divorced and remarried from communion.
Already as of that February of 2014, Petrà in fact maintains, “things have changed.”
And they have changed – he says – because with the Kasper talk “the magisterium has de facto placed in the area of doubt” that which until then had been an indisputable ban.
With the result that now “a confessor can serenely hold the prohibitive norm as dubious, and therefore can absolve and admit the divorced and remarried to communion under ordinary conditions,” without even waiting for the consent of his bishop, which “is not necessary.”
The thesis of Petrà – who is a specialist in Eastern theology and an admirer of the Byzantine practice that admits second marriages, as well as being an author of reference for “La Civiltà Cattolica” – has been published with great emphasis in the latest issue of the authoritative magazine “Il Regno,” published by the Sacred Heart religious of Bologna:
But let’s return to “Nova & Vetera,” which is still taking seriously the synod to come.
SYNOD ON THE FAMILY: THE WAY OF THE “ORDO PAENITENTIUM”
by Thomas Michelet, O.P.
The true difficulty for the divorced and remarried is not Eucharistic communion, but rather absolution. […] If it is not possible to give them the sacrament of penance, this is due just as much to the impediment that is found in them as to the current conditions of the sacrament, which presupposes for admission that the person be ready to receive absolution and to perform the three acts of the penitent: repentance (contrition), the admission of one’s sin (confession), and the reparation of this (satisfaction), with the firm intention to become detached from it, if this has not yet been done, not to repeat it, and to do penance.
These elements are in themselves inviolable, being the object of conciliar definitions. The order in which they take place, however, is not so, in that it is only since around the year 1000 that penance has become the customary follow-up to absolution, as an effect of the sacrament for the sake of reparation, while in ancient penitence it was the precondition, certainly as reparative suffering but also as the predisposition to contrition.
Moreover, the ordinary form of the sacrament has become, so to speak, “instantaneous,” combining all of these elements in a single brief ritual act, while ancient penitence was extended for many years and involved various liturgical phases, from entrance into the order of penitents to the final reconciliation.
So then, this is precisely the case of the divorced and remarried, and in a more general way of all those who have difficulties in detaching themselves completely from their sin, who for this reason need a journey that may take a long time.
In its current form, the sacrament of penitence can no longer integrate this temporal and progressive dimension, which however was characteristic of ancient penitence, was still in use in the Middle Ages, and has never been suppressed. On these two points, the regime of penitence would therefore have the possibility of new enrichment – and it would be good to do this, because it is truly an element that is missing – by integrating, in addition to the sacramental forms already supplied by the ritual in effect, another “extraordinary” form, simultaneously new and profoundly traditional.
Even recent history demonstrates that, in order to initiate such a reform, a simple motu proprio would seem to suffice; but it would probably be opportune to dedicate to it first of all an assembly of the synod of bishops, just as the 1980 synod on the family was followed by that in 1983 on penance.
In addition to the advantage of duration, which was also its weakness in the absence of other forms, ancient penitence conferred a canonical and ecclesiastical status according to a regime established by the canons of the councils, and for this reason it was called “canonical penitence.” […]
This is in the first place a sign of the protection and recognition of a bond that remains valid in spite of everything. In fact, the sinner remains a member of the Church; it was in fact made for him, because the Church is holy, although it is made up of sinners, so that these may receive the holiness that it receives from its spouse, Christ. It must therefore be reiterated without hesitation that the divorced and remarried is not excommunicated as such, even if he is excluded from Eucharistic communion. But he will understand better that he is truly part of the Church if it can be announced to him in an official way that he has his traditional place in an “ordo,” along with the order of virgins and the order of widows, the order of catechumens and the order of monks. And this is no small matter: experience confirms that this simple recognition of his ecclesial existence can in itself reassure him and remove a first obstacle to reconciliation.
But there is more. The “ordo” […] also indicates a finality and a dynamic. So what are called the “states of perfection” are instead, in reality, “ways of being perfected.” […] This is even more clear for the order of catechumens, which prepares in a transitory way those receiving the sacraments of initiation, just as the order of penitents prepares them for reconciliation.
It is clear that the two paths were set in parallel – penitence as a “second baptism” or “baptism of tears” – and that both are present in the liturgical institutions of Lent to which they gave rise: the imposition of the ashes, Lenten fasting, and the public reconciliation of penitents on the evening of Holy Thursday, with the washing of feet; the official reception, the great baptismal catecheses, the examination and illumination of catechumens during the Easter vigil.
In both cases, an identical renunciation of Satan and his pomps, an identical fight against sin even in its consequences, an identical salvation obtained thanks to the final victory of Christ on the cross, gathered up in the blood of the Lamb.
This led to the proposal, formulated at the 1983 synod, to take the new ritual of Christian initiation of adults as the inspiration to create a liturgy of reception and reconciliation for those who return to the Church after a time of separation, […] making a sort of restoration of an institution that dates back to the 3rd and 4th centuries, whose utility was gradually lost in a regime of Christendom but is again becoming necessary in our time.
Nonetheless, this would not be a matter of a resumption without any changes. […] For example, it is not at all necessary to restore the regime of punishments of ancient penitence, whose severity had provoked its abandonment. Besides, the only penalty that has been imposed in all times and all places for any public sin, and which still subsists today, consists in the privation of the Eucharist, which in reality is not a punishment – although it can be experienced as such – but an impossibility inherent in the consistency of the sacraments.
Let us admit that there is one important change in the succession of acts required on the part of the penitent, which is not in itself inviolable.
In ancient penitence, before entering into the “ordo pænitentium,” one had to have satisfied already the condition of renouncing one’s sin and to have put an end to the public disorder generated by it. Afterward there was a certain period of penance, measured by the gravity of the offense and the interior disposition of the penitent. […] The current regime, as has been seen, also demands such a preliminary renunciation of sin, but the penance is pushed back until after absolution.
In the renewed “ordo paenitentium,” it would be a matter of returning to the previous regime in terms of penance, which would again become a precondition for reconciliation; this already corresponds to practice and would not in itself create great difficulties.
Total conversion, instead, would no longer be asked at the beginning of penitence; it would instead be the fruit, the measure of its duration and the condition of forgiveness. In other words, one would no longer wait to be fully converted to do penance, but one would do penance until the moment of full conversion, for the sake of obtaining this conversion as a grace of the sacrament and therefore of being made ready to receive sacramental reconciliation.
The regime of this penance preliminary to reconciliation has already been established by the magisterium: the divorced and remarried (and all sinners referred to by canon 915) should be exhorted “to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 84). […]
The only thing that is still missing here is the recognition that all of this corresponds to an “ordo,” to a canonical regime of penitence; and that such penitence is already sacramental, starting with the acts of the penitent that furnish the material down to the word of absolution that gives it its form to constitute at last the genuine sacrament of penitence and reconciliation.
One would see better that penitence so defined is not detached from the sacrament as a simple preliminary condition, but that it is a constitutive part of it, even at a distance of many years from reconciliation, because it constitutes not only the matter of this but also an anticipated fruit; the grace of the sacrament arriving to take substance and to sustain this penitence, both outer and inner, to transform it at last into perfect contrition.
Thus these penitents would no longer be considered as excluded from the sacramental regime; on the contrary, they would enter, knowingly and willingly, into this great sacrament of the resurrection that, little by little, would transform these “dead” into “living,” that they may have life to the full. […]
Pilgrims of the Covenant
We must not deceive ourselves: penitence has never enjoyed great fame, and it is not suited to draw the crowds. But it should never become that bitter pill which discourages the patient to the point of making him despair of healing.
The fact is that ancient penitence condemned itself with an exaggerated regime that was not connected to its essence, to the benefit of more accessible penitential forms that ultimately replaced it. It would be good to learn from this twofold lesson. Among these replacement forms, the penitential pilgrimage has had its days of glory since the 6th century, as a form of penitence. […]
For a few decades the pilgrimage has found a certain return to relevance. […] One must pay attention to the fact that it is, in many cases, the place of expression of a religious devotion that is not only popular but even “of the fringe,” for a certain number of those who no longer find their place in the Church and in parish churches because of their situation that is out of bounds in terms of faith or morals. It remains for them a place of alternative connection and of informal communion not only with God but also with their forebears in the faith, in whose trail they place their own footsteps. With ashes and palms, it is also part of those religious actions that can continue to be performed even by the greatest sinners and by those who are estranged from the Church, because of which their popularity is undiminished.
For all of these reasons, it can be opportune to present the penitential journey spoken of in these pages as a journey of pilgrimage first of all; the essential point not being to arrive but to depart and persevere in the right direction, as the first psalm teaches when it calls blessed the man who walks on a path of righteousness.
This is the condition of the Christian, “homo viator”; because it is the condition chosen by Christ, but also that of the Church. […] It was once not unusual to remain in the order of penitents for life; today as well there are sinners who remain prisoners of bonds from which they are unable to free themselves, not finding a true solution. May they at least do what they can and be found by the Lord in the condition of those who are walking toward the heavenly Jerusalem.
Go here to read the rest. PopeWatch does not view this proposal with much enthusiasm. The basic problem is still the same: sinners cannot be absolved if they refuse to give up their sins. Backsliding penitents PopeWatch assumes is a common problem that priests hear in confession. What is special for those in adulterous marriages, is that unless they agree to live as brother and sister, there is clearly no intent to amend one’s life. Putting such people into a penitential program makes no sense if they are unwilling to give up their sins.