By Father Paul J. Tougas
Bishop McManus has said he will name several diocesan priests to study “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) for implementation in the diocese.
In a recent interview, Bishop McManus commented at length on the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” which communicates the results of the recent Synod of Bishops on the family.
In June, at the end of the Presbyteral Assembly, a gathering of diocesan priests, the bishop announced that he would gather a small committee of priests to discuss the document and plan for its implementation in the Diocese of Worcester. He is expecting to use canon lawyers and some of the younger priests with advanced degrees in theological studies, to study the document.
The bishop was generous in praise for the document which he said is a “masterful task of trying to synthesize the propositions of the two synods on the family.” The bishop points out that the vast majority of footnotes are in fact from synod documents.
The document is long and the pope himself advises reading it in several sessions, yet the bishop stated that in places it is deliberately ambiguous, leaving actual solutions to be worked out under the guidance of a bishop via diocesan guidelines.
The focus of the interview quickly turned to the issue of divorced and remarried persons which received a great deal of publicity in the secular press prior to the publication of the document and then faded away when there were no apparent answers in “Amoris.” The bishop stated that failed marriages that were confected in the external forum, i.e. a public church wedding, must seek solutions first in the external church forum through the annulment process. Then, if that fails, recourse can and should be made to the internal forum as “Amoris” suggests. Pope Francis has previously simplified the annulment process to encourage this approach.
Bishop McManus pointed out that the Holy Father, in an audience (not in “Amoris” ), spoke of a civilly married couple who want to be integrated into the life of the church does not necessarily have the right to the sacraments. There are varying levels of integration into the life of the church, the pope said.
The bishop stated that there are three verbs that recur throughout the document that convey much of its meaning: accompany, discern, and integrate . These indicate that the process of working with a divorced and remarried couple is not a question of a single visit but rather an extended procedure that can involve an examination of conscience that goes into the reasons for a marriages failure, its impact on children, attempts at reconciliation, the abandoned party, the effect of the new relationship. (All of this is in “Amoris” at # 300 ) The bishop stated, “It would be pastorally irresponsible to think that this very complex situation could be solved with one meeting either in the confessional or the office.”
Other aspects of the document captured Bishop McManus’ attention. He suggested that the very beautiful meditation on Corinthians 13 could be required reading for couples before marriage. He also noted the section on preparation for marriage; the idea of accompanying the young couple in the early years of their marriage, and couples who priests feel often disappear.
Bishop McManus then turned his attention to the streamlined annulment process issued by Pope Francis on Sept. 8, 2015 in the motu proprio “Mitis Iudex.” The process places the authority and responsibility on the diocesan bishop who is the chief judicial officer in the diocese. In this briefer process the lack of a valid marriage has to be very obvious and not contested by either party. When the bishop receives the case, the new process requires the the bishop to decide it within a short time. “This is a huge change,” Bishop McManus said.
Pope Francis goes to great lengths to put himself squarely in line with his papal predecessors, quoting St. Pope John Paul II often as well as Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis also quotes “Humanae Vitae” of Pope Paul VI. All of this is to illustrate that “Amoris Laetitia” is in continuity with church teaching, said Bishop McManus.