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Amoris laetitia: the “basic criteria” of the bishops of the region of Buenos Aires. And the endorsement of Pope Francis

The bishops of all eleven dioceses in the ecclesiastic region of Buenos Aires drew up a guideline with the purpose of offering dioceses in the region a set of “basic criteria” for the application of chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia: “Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness.” After having received the document Pope Francis expressed his appreciation of the text, pointing out that as regards the Exhortation “there exist no other interpretations”

A short document marked by clarity and concreteness and a short answer equally important and incisive owing to its content and author: Pope Francis. The document providing ecclesial keys of interpretation, application and implementation of the recent Pastoral exhortation Amoris Letitia follows the Vatican-Buenos Aires route, starting with the document “Criterios básicos para la aplicación del capítulo VIII de Amoris laetitia” (Fundamental criteria for the application of Chapter VIII dell’Amoris Laetitia). The contribution elaborated by the bishops of eleven dioceses in the ecclesiastic region of Buenos Aires, dated September 5, is a veritable guideline designed to provide “basic criteria” for the application of chapter 8 of the post-synodal Exhortation, “Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness”, to dioceses in the region.

The primacy of “pastoral charity.” After a few hours the document’s resonance extended from a regional to a global level also owing to the answer arrived on the same day, of Pope Francis (although the correspondence was made public last weekend.) After having received the document the Holy Father promptly wrote to Monsignor Sergio Alfredo Fenoy, the bishop coordinator of the ecclesiastic region, expressing his appreciation for the document, clarifying that there

“are no other interpretations” of the Exhortation

except for the document of the Argentine bishops. The thread linking the indications is “Pastoral charity.” It is precisely this charity – the Pope wrote in his letter – that for the bishops is expressed in two ways. First of all, the document is “a true example of accompaniment to the priests… and we all know how this closeness between the bishop and his clergy is necessary.” In fact, the ‘closest’ neighbour to the bishop is the priest, and the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself begins for us bishops precisely with our priests.”

“Hand-to-hand” pastoral care. Pope Francis highlighted that “it is precisely this pastoral charity that moves us to seek out those who are most distant, and once we have found them, to begin a journey of acceptance, accompaniment, discernment, and integration into the ecclesial community.” This can be “exhausting”, for

“it is a ‘hand-to-hand’ pastoral care that cannot be reduced to programmatic, organizational, or legal mediation, although these are necessary.”

Francis thus indicated four pastoral attitudes: “embrace, accompany, discern, integrate.” Of these, the “least practiced” one is discernment. “I consider the formation in personal and communal discernment in our seminaries and presbyteries to be an urgent task”, Francis wrote. The Pope continued with the reminder that “Amoris Laetitia was the result of the work and prayer of the whole Church, with the mediation of two Synods and of the Pope.”

A guideline for discernment. Bearing in mind the Pope’s indications, the document of the Argentine bishops and the ten points they propose provide useful insights. The document makes clear that we should not speak of a “permission” to access the Sacraments, but rather of a “personal and pastoral discernment process with the accompaniment of the priest (first point); this itinerary should stimulate “the personal encounter with Christ” (second point). Accompaniment is an exercise of the “via caritatis” (third point). Special relevance is given to the pastoral charity of the priest who “welcomes the penitent, listens to him attentively and shows him the maternal face of the Church.” This path does not necessary lead to the Sacraments “but it may lead to other forms of greater integration into the life of the Church” (fourth point).

Possibility, not generalised access. In the perspective of access to the Sacraments the bishop recall the opportunity, if circumstances make it feasible, to propose to living in continence (fifth point). However, it is equally possible (sixth point of the document) “to undertake a journey of discernment.” And “if one arrives at the recognition that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability”, Amoris Laetitia “opens up the possibility of access to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

In the seventh point the bishops remind the faithful, with concrete examples, that

this is not equal to “generalized access” to the Sacraments, as if it were possible “in any given situation.” It remains of utmost importance “to guide the faithful to directing their consciences towards God.”

It is not excluded (point nine) that access to the Sacraments may occur on a confidential basis, whilst continuing to accompany the communities so they may mature a feeling of “understanding and welcome” which, at the same time, may avoid confusion on Church teachings on the indissolubility of marriage. The bishops conclude with the reminder that discernment is a dynamic process that “must remain open to new steps for growth.”

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