Archbishop Fernandez puts forward two propositions:
- The doctrine that those not in a state of grace should not partake of communion is without exceptions.
- The discipline that those not in a state of grace should not partake of communion should have exceptions.
In Amoris Laetitia (AL) and in Fernandez's article in Medellin there is no direct reference to where the doctrine and the discipline can be found. It is legitimate to believe that this omission is deliberate.
In fact the doctrine can be found in St Paul 1 Corinthians 11:27:
And therefore, if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord's body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord's body for what it is.
The discipline can be found in the Code of Canon Law:
Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion
Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.
As regards the doctrine Fernandez is unequivocal:
“The rule that no one who is not in the grace of God ought to receive Eucharist by its very nature does not tolerate exceptions.”
After much discussion of how a Pope can alter a discipline Fernandez says:
The disciplinary consequences of the norm remained unaltered, because they were based only on an objective fault against an absolute norm. Francis proposes to go one step further.
The question is: what is that step? Fernandez writes:
The rule according to which persons in God's grace are excluded from communion as the penalty for the counter-witness which they have given, however, may be subject to exceptions, and this is exactly what Amoris Laetitia tells us. (Rocco Buttiglione L'Approccio Antropologico di San Giovanni Paolo II e quello Pastorale di Papa Francesco[The Anthropological Approach of St. John Paul II and Pastoral Care of Pope Francis).
That sentence only becomes clear if one reads Buttiglione's article. There he cites Canon 915 saying that it talks of 'grave sin' but that is not necessarily mortal sin either through ignorance or lack of consent. Therefore there can be cases where there is no mortal sin but the Canon still applies because it only speaks of 'grave sin'. Thus one can speak of a rule that excludes those in a state of grave sin from receiving communion even though they are in a state of grace. It is not because they are in a state of grace that they are excluded as Fernandez seems to suggest!
Buttiglione has a rather cavalier attitude to the question of giving scandal. It is true that people's reaction to scandal may vary, from age to age and from place to place, but how can that justify the giving of scandal? In the past people were scandalised at the idea of abortion; to-day they have become so desensitised as not to be so scandalised but does that justify a priest saying that abortion does not matter? In any case there are always going to be faithful people who are scandalised. So Buttiglione's position really boils down to the question of whether there is mortal sin or not. He accepts that there is grave matter so we are left with ignorance and lack of consent.
If there is a process of discernment it is surely impossible for ignorance to be pleaded from that point onwards. As to lack of consent Buttiglione puts forward an extreme case which he claims is not that rare but gives no evidence. The extreme case is where a woman has remarried in order to get support and protection for herself and her children and finds it impossible to refuse sexual relations to her new partner unless she leaves him. Now that may be a situation that may take time to resolve but is not the question of scandal sufficiently important to continue the exclusion from communion and is not that exclusion an incentive to continue to try to resolve the situation? In any case one suspects that many in such an extreme situation are not particularly bothered by the exclusion anyway so why allow the scandal?
Fernandez then says:
It would be fitting to clarify Buttiglione's expression "for the counter-witness they have given" by saying: "because their situation does not objectively correspond with the good that the general norm proposes."
I cannot find where in Buttiglione's article that expression occurs. Maybe there is a translation problem here but the suggested alteration suggests to me that Fernandez is dismissing the scandal argument entirely.
Further on Fernandez writes:
Staying on this path, conscience is also called to recognize "what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God ... the commitment which God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits” (AL 303).
Now, reading that one might think that the 'commitment' which God asks for is repentance and a firm intention not to sin again. However if you look at the full sentence in AL303 the commitment there is clearly not repentance but continuation in sin as being the best one can do. Viz:
It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.
That is a clear case of misquoting; a grave fault that has been all too common throughout the Synod and its aftermath. This paragraph 303 in Amoris Laetitia is the atomic bomb of which Professor Josef Seifert has so ably written earning himself dismissal by the egregious Archbishop of Granada.
Lastly one might note that whilst Buttiglione does refer to Canon 915 specifically, unlike Fernandez, there is no reference by either of them of Canon 916. Further Buttiglione claims that neither of these canons are based upon natural or divine law. That is questionable.
In conclusion all one can say is that the argument put forward by Fernandez is typical of an argument from the particular – the extreme case – to the general and it is totally unconvincing!