[UPDATE 3] The River Plate flows into the Tagus: Cd. Clemente’s Note on the reception of Amoris Laetitia in Lisbon

I. Introducton

Cd. Manuel Clemente has been the Patriarch of Lisbon since 2013.

At the time, he was considered to be the “conservative” candidate, but in the 2014 extraordinary Synod he defended communion for adulterers and quoted Cd. Kasper (see previous post here).

Then, a few hours after the publication of Amoris Laetitia he stated publicly that there was no change, meaning "no communion for practicing adulterers" (see YouTube video here).

Afterwards, during the debates on Amoris Laetitia organized by the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Cd. Clemente was seen as one of the conservatives, refusing a common statement by Portuguese bishops on this issue (see here)..

After the publication of the Buenos Aires guidelines he said that it was clear that the Pope allowed communion for adulterers in some cases and later promised to publish guidelines based on Amoris Laetitia, the Buenos Aires’s bishops’ letter and the guidelines of the Diocese of Rome, which he said served as a "reference" to other dioceses (see here).

On February 6, 2018 he published his “Note for the reception of Chapter VIII of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia”.

In this note, Cd. Clemente, explains to his priests how to “accompany” people in “irregular” situations" “in the road of discernment”. In order to do that, he quotes what he calls “three authorized documents”(notice the word "documents" which he will later mention in 5e): Amoris Laetitia (AL), the letter from the Buenos Aires region bishops and the guidelines issued to the “Diocese of the Pope (Rome)” by his Cardinal-Vicar (Cd. Agostino Vallini). The Cardinal recommends that all three documents should be read in full. He then proposes six “operative guidelines”.

The Cardinal starts by mentioning the three “authorized” documents.

II. Amoris Laetitia

Cd. Clemente quotes Amoris Laetitia §300, §303, §305, §307 and footnote 351.

Like in Amoris Laetitia, he mentions “the evangelical demands of truth and charity”, the “full ideal”, “the project of God in all its greatness” and excludes “the law of graduality”.

He then quotes the following excerpts from AL 303, AL 305 and footnote 351:
303. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. 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. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.

305. … Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end"

Footnote 351: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments…
The Cardinal also goes on to say that the access to the sacraments is “restricted” and “conditional”.

III. The Buenos Aires letter

Cardinal Clemente quotes the Buenos Aires letter published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis by order of Pope Francis with the accompanying papal note stating that “there are no other interpretations”,and unambiguously states that the letter is “authorized” and “requires ... indispensable reception”.

He also writes that the Buenos Aires letter, “give us a sequence of application of the chapter” [AL chapter VIII], and goes on to summarize it in five bullets (I quote only the original document):
  • Firstly, we should remember that it is not advisable to speak of “permissions” to have access to sacraments, but of a discernment process in the company of a pastor. It is a “personal and pastoral discernment (AL 300)”… “This path does not necessarily finish in the sacraments; it may also lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church: greater presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, engagement in ecclesial services, etc. (cf. 299)”.

  • a proposal may be made to resolve to live in continence. Amoris laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option (cf. footnote 329) and offers the possibility of having access to the sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose (cf. footnote 364, recalling the teaching that Saint John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, dated 22 March, 1996)”… “In more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it is acknowledged that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes he/she would incur a subsequent fault by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351). These sacraments, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.

  • However, it should not be understood that this possibility implies unlimited access to sacraments, or that all situations warrant such unlimited access. The proposal is to properly discern each case. For example, special care should be taken of “a new union arising from a recent divorce” or “the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family” (298). Also, when there is a sort of apology or ostentation of the person’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal” (297). In these difficult cases, we should be patient companions, and seek a path of reinstatement (cf. 297, 299)… Where there have been unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly outrageous”.

  • It may be convenient for an eventual access to sacraments to take place in a discreet manner, especially if troublesome situations can be anticipated.

  • "Discernment is not closed, because it “is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can ena­ble the ideal to be more fully realized” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and with confidence in the help of grace.

The Cardinal adds: “We can conclude that, for the bishops who are signatories of this Note, discernment will not stop at what has happened or still happens, and must move towards a full conformity with the evangelical truth about marriage: cf. Mt 5: 31-32; 19, 3-9; Mk 10: 2-12; Lk 16, 18.”5
[My comment] The Buenos Aires letter which, according to Cd. Clemente is “authorized”, “requires its indispensable reception” and “give us a sequence of application of the chapter”, starts by : (1) Proposing continence; (2) where that is not “feasible” and there are “limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability”, “Amoris laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist”; (3) “These sacraments, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace…”. “Discernment …must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized”.
As we shall see this is the template for Cd. Clemente's "operative guidelines".

IV. The diocese of Rome guidelines

In a previous statement, Cd. Clemente said that the Diocese of Rome serves as the "reference" for the other dioceses.

In his Note Cd. Clemente quotes The Cd. Vicar of the Diocese of Rome:
"How should this opening be understood? Certainly not in the sense of an indiscriminate access to the sacraments, as sometimes happens, but of a discernment that distinguishes properly case by case. Who can decide? From the mind and words of the author [Pope Francis], I do not think that there is any other solution than that of the internal forum. In fact, the internal forum is the favorable way to open the heart to the most intimate confidences, and if a relationship of trust with a confessor or spiritual guide has been established in time, it is possible to initiate and develop a long, patient conversion itinerary made of small steps and progressive checks. Therefore, it is only the confessor, at a certain point, in his conscience, after much reflection and prayer, that must take responsibility before God and the penitent, and ask that access to the sacraments be done in a reserved way. In these cases, the path of discernment (AL, 303: dynamic discernment) does not end in order to reach new stages in accordance with the full Christian ideal…" This preparation extends to "lay pastoral agents". 

Before the quote, Cd. Clemente makes the following comment: priests “do not replace or abandon consciences”.
[My comment] once again, we have two stages: (1) Access to the Sacraments; (2) new steps in the direction of the “Christian ideal”.

V. The 6 operative guidelines: The River Plate flowed into the Tagus

After quoting the Pope on the importance of Marriage preparation and formation (part IV of the note), Cd. Clemente goes on to list what he calls operative guidelines:

a)To accompany and integrate people into community life, following the post-synodal apostolic exhortations Familiaris Consortio, 84, Sacramentum Caritatis, 29 and Amoris Laetitia, 299 (see appendix)” – he included excerpts from the three documents. The Sacramentum Caritatis 29 (but not Familiaris Consortio 84) excerpt mention that communion is off-limits.

b)Check carefully the specificity of each case”.

c)Do not omit the presentation to the diocesan court, when there is doubt about the validity of the marriage”.

d)When validity is confirmed, do not fail to propose life in continence in the new situation”.

e)To attend to the exceptional circumstances and the sacramental possibility, in accordance with the apostolic exhortation and the documents mentioned above”.

[My comment] notice that the “documents mentioned above” are not Familiaris Consortio, 84, Sacramentum Caritatis, 29 and Amoris Laetitia, 299 or Mt 5: 31-32; 19, 3-9; Mk 10: 2-12; Lk 16, 18.

If this was so there would be no need for e) and f) and the reference to “exceptional circumstances”/"sacramental possibility" would make no sense at all. The reference to continence in d) would be quite enough.
Also, Scriptural references are not "documents" and Familiaris Consortio and Sacramentum Caritatis are only mentioned in 5a). OTOH, the "documents" are directly linked to  "the exceptional circumstances and the sacramental possibility"  which are not mentioned in Familiaris Consortio, 84 or, Sacramentum Caritatis, 29, but surprisingly are mentioned in Amoris Laetitia, the Buenos Aires letter and the Rome guidelines.
BTW, Cd. Clemente specifically says that the "accompaniment" process should take into account "the three documents" (notice the word "documents"): Amoris Laetitia, the Buenos Aires letter and the Rome diocese' guidelines (see "Nota...", I).

Cd. Clemente’s reference to the “above documents” include Amoris Laetitia - which he explicitly mentions -, the Buenos Aires letter which he calls “authorized” and of “require[d] and indispensable reception” and the Rome diocese's guidelines, which he says serve as a "reference" for other dioceses.
f)Continuing discernment, always adapting practice to the Christian matrimonial ideal and greater sacramental coherence”.
[My comment] Discernment does not start at this phase. Otherwise, the word "continuing" would be incomprehensible. This is the "dynamic discernment" mentioned in AL303,  quoted in the Buenos Aires Letter and in the Rome guidelines.

In everyone of these "documents", this "continuing" "dynamic discernment" occurs after the "sacramental possibility" in the case of "exceptional circumstances" because Pope Francis thinks that "These sacraments, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.” (Buenos Aires letter, Cf. AL 305).

Also, if f) was not meant as a phase after absolution/communion, the expression "greater sacramental coherence" would not make sense. "Greater" than what, exactly?

[My comment] Note that this proposal is in line with Amoris Laetitia, the Buenos Aires Letter "sequence" and the Diocese of Rome guidelines. Continence is proposed, and when that is not feasible we find the stages mentioned before: (1) there’s the “sacramental possibility” in “exceptional circumstances” [e)]; (2) “Continuing discernment, always adapting practice to the Christian matrimonial ideal and greater sacramental coherence” [f)].

These are in fact just the “authorized” Buenos Aires guidelines which, in Cd. Clemente’s view, are of “require[d] and indispensable reception" and which include "a sequence of application" of Chapter VIII.

The River Plate flowed into the Tagus.

VI. The reception of Cd. Clements “Note…”

Agência Ecclesia - the bishops news agency - immediatly published a press release about the Lisbon guidelines, but it took a couple of days for Cd. Clemente’s “Note” to reach the main newspapers and TVs.

It was the daily Público – one of Portugal’s “newspapers of record” -, that broke the story in its front page: “Church advises sexual abstinence to remarried catholics”.

In spite of focusing on the call to abstinence “when previous marriages cannot be annulled”, Público correctly stated that the Cardinal’s note allowed public adulterers to go to communion in exceptional circumstances.(This is repeated in a follow-up article which collects reactions from priests and bishops).

When this became national news all hell broke loose.

Most people became scandalized with the call to chastity and continence (see Público article here), in spite of the fact that the previous Popes, Amoris Laetitia, the Buenos Aires guidelines and the Braga document also mention this.

Several priests criticized the Patriarch of Lisbon.

One of them, the well known Fr. Feytor Pinto, said that he would not obey Cd. Clemente; he would not ask people to live chastely (see Visão's article here)! He nevertheless recognized that the "Note..." allows communion for some practicing adulterers on a reserved manner.

Fr. Miguel Almeida, S.J., was more diplomatic (see his Observador column here). He congratulated Cd. Clemente for acting like a pastor, “including all sensibilities” present in the diocese of Lisbon and for being faithful to the Pope. He criticized the media for the unbalanced coverage and explained that continence is just a possibility among others (including communion)... He severely criticized (and judged !) the "small group" of catholics that consider that there is no way for practicing adulterers to go to communion. He accused them of being proud and disobedient towards this Pope and the bishops. In the past "this small group"demanded loyalty to the previous Popes, you see...

Fr. Bento Domingues, O.P.., on the other hand (see Expresso interview here), a long-time promoter of communion for adulterers (see 2006 post here) and other heresies, is very worried because, as a result of the public outcry, the general perception was that the catholic church demands chastity and continence from practicing adulterers !

The spokesman for the Patriachate of Lisbon, finaly managed to state that it is "reductive" to say that D. Manuel Clemente advises sexual abstinence, because it’s an advice from Pope John Paul II (see Observador article here). He stated: “There is here a way on the part of the Church to help these second unions to be more integrated in the life of the Church, even if NOT in all cases the way is sacramental communion" (in the original the phrase is “mesmo que NEM para todos os casos o caminho seja a comunhão sacramental“ – please note that Google mistranslates this. It’s not “in all cases the way is not sacramental communion” but “not in all cases the way is sacramental communion").

[My comments]
  1. On hearing of these reactions I’m reminded of St. Paul's prophesy “there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4, 3).

  2. Apparently, allowing some practicing adulterers to go to communion is not enough. They want it all and won’t rest until, for all practical purposes, the 6th commandment is abolished.

  3. I also noticed that the front lines have moved. Conservatives are now stating that “in certain exceptional cases” practicing adulterers can go to communion, which was the position defended by their opponents a few months ago; on the "other side" we now have the people who just want to abolish the 6th commandment for all practical purposes.

    The "small group" of people who defends what the Church has always taught, was abandoned behind enemy lines and will have to seek shelter in the nearest catacomb.
P.S. Lifesite news article "Portuguese Cardinal declares acceptance of communion for adulterously remarried couples" and my comment.

P.S. 2 On Friday, February 16th 2018, Cd. Clemente published a Apresentação Geral to the "Nota...". which doesn't mention FC84/SC29. (The "Apresentação..." was dated February 13th),.

In the following Saturday, February 17th, Expresso published an interview with Cd. Clemente, in whic he states he was "misunderstood" because the media focused only in one of the "operative guidelines", which is only one possibility among others.

He also said that it is not enough to "read the operative guidelines... you have to raead the whole text".

Concerning communion for adulterers he says that "we have to take into account those cases that cannot be othwerwise without putting the chidred of the new union at risk", and then there's this:

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