On Thursday, July 13, Cardinal Cristoph Schönborn — the pope’s chosen interpreter and advocate for his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia — addressed an audience at the “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family” conference in Ireland in anticipation of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin next year. According to Greg Daly of The Irish Catholic, Schönborn opened his talk by assuring those in attendance that both the exhortation and the pope responsible for it are Catholic:
The Roman Pontiff, whom St. Catherine of Siena famously referred to as “Our Sweet Christ on Earth”, also has the power to calm the raging storm now buffeting the Barque of Peter. It is not the battering of wind and waves that endangers the vessel, but confusion, error, and doubt — and worse, a rapidly metastasizing schism, spreading like a deadly poison throughout the Mystical Body of Christ.
When it comes to the self-made crisis in the Church — the mounting battle over marriage, divorce, remarriage, sacraments for those in objective grave sin, and the question of the existence of objective sin itself — our Holy Father, like the very Christ he is duty-bound to serve, has at his disposal five simple words that would pacify the tempest:
“No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
These are, of course, the only answers that a Catholic could ever give to the dubia. There are no other options. No exceptions. No pastoral discernment. No need for verbosity or for yet more nuance.
Distilled down to a crudely simple form, the dubia are essentially as follows:
Can the divorced and remarried who are still engaged in a sexual relationship receive absolution and communion without a change of life?
Do absolute moral norms still exist?
Does objective grave sin still exist?
Is the teaching still valid that however much circumstances may lessen an individual’s guilt, those circumstances cannot change an intrinsically evil act into a subjectively good act?
Does the Church’s teaching that an appeal to conscience cannot overcome absolute moral norms still hold true?
These five questions are so simple, their answers so obvious, they require no more than 30 seconds of Francis’ time. (If it would make things easier, the five words could be spoken from the pressurized cabin of an airplane, an environment that seems to stimulate papal loquacity.)
So let’s examine that one “no” in a list of “yeses”. The full question as presented by the dubia cardinals was as follows:
It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?
My distilled and simplified summary is, again:
“Can the divorced and remarried who are still engaged in a sexual relationship receive absolution and communion without a change of life?”
And Cardinal Schönborn — chosen for the job of explaining the exhortation by the pope himself — says that the answer to this question is yes.
The Austrian cardinal also had this to say about same-sex couples:
“Favouring the family does not mean disfavouring other forms of life – even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families”.
This is not the first time he has spoken favorably of unions that involve one of the sins that “cries out to heaven for vengeance”. In 2015, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna made shocking statements about such unions:
On the issue of how the Church talks about gays and lesbians, Schönborn also has been a champion of more inclusive approach.
“The Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room!” he said in a September 2015 interview with Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit-run journal in Rome.
“We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, [and] to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection,” he said in that interview.
Schönborn spoke of a gay friend who, after multiple temporary relationships, now has a stable partner.
“They share a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another,” he said. “It must be recognized that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider ‘regular’.”
During the 2014 synod, Schönborn also argued that the Church can find positive moral elements in other non-traditional relationships, such as cohabitation outside marriage.
During his talk Schönbornn also took aim at the dubia Cardinals:
Asked about the reception of Amoris Laetitia within the Church and the “dubia” – a series of questions raised by four cardinals to clear up confusion – Cardinal Schönborn said the “process of reception is a long process” and needs negotiation and discussion.
But he also criticised the cardinals over the manner in which they raised their concerns. “That cardinals, who should be the closest collaborators of the pope, try to force him and put pressure on him to give a public response to their publicised letter is absolutely inconvenient behaviour,” he said.
He told journalists: “I fear those who have rapid, clear answers in politics and economy and also in religion. Rigorists and laxists have clear and rapid answers, but they fail to look at life. The rigorist avoids the effort of discernment, of looking closely at reality. The laxist lets everything possible go, and there is no discernment. They are the same but opposite.”
“St Gregory the Great said the art of the pastoral accompaniment is the art of discernment. It is an art and it needs training,” he added.
No reference was given as to where in his body of teachings Catholics could find St. Gregory’s admonition on “the art of pastoral accompaniment”.