VATICAN CITY — Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the journal La Civilta Cattolica, interviewed Cardinal Christoph Schonborn about Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” and reaction to it.
The journal provided Catholic News Service with an English translation of the interview and its website — www.laciviltacattolica.it — was scheduled to post selections in English from the interview at 3 p.m. Rome time today.
Here are two of the questions and answers:
Father Spadaro: Some have spoken of AL as a minor document, a personal opinion of the pope (so to speak) without full magisterial value. What value does this exhortation possess? Is it an act of the magisterium? This seems obvious, but it is good to specify it in these times, in order to prevent some voices from creating confusion among the faithful when they assert that this is not the case …
Cardinal Schonborn: It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium: It is an apostolic exhortation. It is clear that the pope is exercising here his role of pastor, of master and teacher of the faith, after having benefited from the consultation of the two synods. I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God.
I have read it many times, and each time I note the delicacy of its composition and an ever greater quantity of details that contain a rich teaching. There is no lack of passages in the exhortation that affirm their doctrinal value strongly and decisively. This can be recognized from the tone and the content of what is said, when we relate these to the intention of the text — for example, when the pope writes: “I urgently ask …”, “It is no longer possible to say …”, “I have wanted to present to the entire church …”, and so on. AL is an act of the magisterium that makes the teaching of the church present and relevant today. Just as we read the Council of Nicaea in the light of the Council of Constantinople, and Vatican I in the light of Vatican II, so now we must read the previous statements of the magisterium about the family in the light of the contribution made by AL. We are led in a living manner to draw a distinction between the continuity of the doctrinal principles and the discontinuity of perspectives or of historically conditioned expressions. This is the function that belongs to the living magisterium: to interpret authentically the Word of God, whether written or handed down.
Father Spadaro: I have the impression, therefore, that this stage is an evolution in the understanding of the doctrine …
Cardinal Schonborn: The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.
Francis has taken an important step by obliging us to clarify something that had remained implicit in “Familiaris consortio” [St. John Paul II’s 1981 exhortation on the family] about the link between the objectivity of a situation of sin and the life of grace in relation to God and to his church, and –- as a logical consequence –- about the concrete imputability of sin. Cardinal Ratzinger had explained in the 1990s that we no longer speak automatically of a situation of mortal sin in the case of new marital unions. I remember asking Cardinal Ratzinger in 1994, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had published its document about divorced and remarried persons: “Is it possible that the old praxis that was taken for granted, and that I knew before the [Second Vatican] Council, is still valid? This envisaged the possibility, in the internal forum with one’s confessor, of receiving the sacraments, provided that no scandal was given.” His reply was very clear, just like what Pope Francis affirms: There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases. The general norm is very clear; and it is equally clear that it cannot cover all the cases exhaustively.