For two years, critics of Amoris Laetitia have pointed to Poland as a celebrated example of a national bishops’ conference upholding their view of “orthodoxy.” Beginning in 2016, when a senior Polish bishop vowed to never allow communion to the divorced and remarried under any circumstances, the common view was that the Polish Church rejects the pastoral model that Pope Francis laid out in chapter 8 of the document and further clarified with the affirmation of the Buenos Aires guidelines.
Indeed, as new sets of guidelines have been promulgated, anxious Church-watchers have pounced on each document to determine on which “side” they fell. Some included outright prohibitions on communion for those in irregular situations, while others embraced Francis’ vision of pastoral accompaniment and discernment.
This situation led to some papal critics to lament that such a situation leads to even further confusion in the Church. This was usually expressed in a way similar to the late Cardinal Caffarra’s lament, “What is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta.”
Reading the official guidelines of the Polish bishops, however, this doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, the Polish guidelines are very much an affirmation of Amoris Laetitia’s teaching, with absolutely no mention of the “Communion question.”
Several publications have called this a “sidestep.” I believe it’s an affirmation of the official Church position, that of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia. It’s a sign that the Church has begun to move past the controversy and further unify under the Holy Father.
Back in March, I wrote about Cardinal Wuerl’s pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Washington, which also omit any reference to the controversy. While many papal critics celebrated the plan, saying that by not explicitly endorsing footnote 351, Wuerl was rejecting it, I argued that he was really trying to move us past this conflict. Rome has spoken clearly on the subject, so there’s no need to focus so intensely on a mere footnote. The train has left the station.
It’s pretty clear that this is what Poland has done as well.
To close, here is a link to the Polish document in English, and here is a key excerpt:
Call for Pastoral Discernment and the Logic of Integration in the Light of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia
The Pope draws attention to the “countless diversity of situations” of people who have divorced and entered into new civil unions. For the sake of their spiritual well-being, a clear understanding of their situation is necessary, taking into account the fact that the degree of responsibility is not the same in all cases. It is always necessary to consider the application of the general norm to a specific case. Pope Francis speaks—and this is one of the central aspects of Amoris Laetitia—about the need to refer the general norm to real people and their specific situations. In this way, he develops the thought of John Paul II, who pointed to the need to take into account the complexity of the situation of divorced faithful living in new civil unions (cf. FC 84 §2).
Pope Francis points out that pastoral accompaniment must be given to those who are on the path of discernment “according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop” (AL 300). This process necessarily includes an examination of conscience, an objective analysis of the situation of children and an abandoned spouse, trials and possibilities of reconciliation, while taking into account the consequences of the new relationship with the rest of the family and the local community of the faithful (cf. AL 300). Doing this is especially important in the lives of people who are facing the need to take complex spiritual decisions. It is essential for proper assessment and making prudent choices. Discernment as a dynamic process should always be open to new stages of development and new decisions made in the conscience while allowing the realization of the ideal in a more complete way (cf. AL 303).
Bearing in mind the complexity of the pastoral situation of the faithful united by the conjugal bond and who cannot, therefore—despite their great desire—conclude a sacramental marriage with a person with whom they live in a non-sacramental relationship, in individual cases, the opportunity of carefully analyzing their situation should be considered. This discernment should first try to establish whether the first marriage can be annulled through an ecclesiastical trial.
In a situation where it is decided by a final judgment that annulment cannot be established, it is necessary to continue the pastoral analysis. This discernment is a difficult task with great responsibility and, hence, requires that the pastors receive solid preparation. We need to recognize whether people living in irregular relationships remain faithful, devote themselves to their children, engage in Christian life, are aware of the irregularities of their relationship, and live in sin, would like to change the situation in which they find themselves but cannot do so without committing another fault (e.g., the question of responsibility for raising children, cf. AL 298).
The discernment can lead to different, ever deeper forms of integration with the ecclesial community. It should be individualized, consistent, and long-term spiritual guidance. Making the right decision together should be the fruit of the process of discernment made by the spiritual director and the person concerned, and this cannot be done a single meeting or superficial encounter. It also requires consultation with a competent priest who serves at the episcopal court or in the diocesan center of family ministry. At the same time, the spiritual director should, first of all, consider helping the person concerned, in his or her difficult and complex situation, to advance on the path of faith in the Church community.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.