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My one concern about the “Sharing in the Joy of Love” pastoral plan

Canon 915, and the tradition upon which it stands, operate in the face of observable behavior and not personal conscience.

Detail from the cover of "Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family," a Pastoral Plan to implement "Amoris Laetitia" released by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (Image: Screenshot at

A single sentence threatens to undercut the good presented in “Sharing in the Joy of Love”, the graphically-attractive, 55-page pastoral plan published by the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) to implement Pope Francis’ document Amoris laetitia.

The problem sentence reads as follows: “Priests are called to respect the decisions made in conscience by individuals who act in good faith since no one can enter the soul of another and make that judgment for them” (SJL, p. 52).

This admonition can, of course, be appropriately applied in innumerable situations. But, if  the sentence means that priests must “respect the decision” of divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, living as though married to each other, to approach for holy Communion, and administer the Sacrament to them, then the admonition fails for violating Canon 915 and the Eucharistic discipline which that canon has always represented.

I say “if”, however, because whether that is  what SJL calls for is not clear. The words “canon”, “law”, and “discipline”, for example, do not appear in SJL. Canon 915 is never mentioned—not attacked, mind, just never mentioned.

What makes one fear, however, that the sentence might be intended to sway ministers of holy Communion toward administration of the Eucharist under gravely illicit conditions—besides the fact that ministers so inclined could easily invoke SJL’s phrasing here in support of precisely such administration—is that the rationale offered for such a stance, namely, that “no one can enter the soul of another and make [a conscience] judgment for them”, is repeatedly put forth these days as if a would-be communicant’s conscience preempted a minister’s application of Canon 915.

But the claim that Canon 915 yields to the conclusions of personal conscience as reached by a Catholic approaching for holy Communion is, as I have pointed out many, many timescompletely wrong. Canon 915, and the tradition upon which it stands, operate in the face of observable behavior and not personal conscience. Civil marriage after divorce is observable behavior, behavior that is gravely contrary to Christ’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, to the Christian’s duty to avoid giving scandal, and to the Church’s law on reception of the sacraments.

In short, if encouraging ministers to give holy Communion to divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics is indeed what SJL intends by its wording here, then SJL is wrong; even if such is the use that some ministers intend to make of this passage in SJL, they are using the ambiguous wording of this sentence to avoid the clear directives of canon law and sacramental discipline.

(This post originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” site under a different headline, and is posted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.)

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. The major premise of Amoris Laetitia is that the interior disposition of a penitent can be discerned for which the Pontiff offers no decidedly standard of verification. It’s impossible to read a man’s conscience a faculty reserved to God alone. Man can only judge what he can verify, which is evidence that of itself remains universally verifiable unless purposely changed such as an act. If God intended exception to marital indissolubility he would have affirmed Mosaic law. Instead Christ repeatedly insists that to leave a spouse and take another is adultery. Therefore the Church insists on visible evidence. And in accord with 915 that person “who obstinately persists in manifest grave sin” is under interdict or excommunication. Manifest is the key word cited by Canon lawyer Peters as “observable behavior”. If mitigating conditions and “concrete circumstances” are viable indicators to remove culpability of an intrinsic evil adultery, and in the case of D&R persistent then included as demonstrated by Roberto de Mattei, Cardinal Caffarra are homosexuality, false witness, child abuse. The premises place jurisdiction within “personal conscience”. If that were the new standard [though suggested, implied it is not binding since it is not sententia definitive intenda] then no moral teaching is a true standard since its integrity is relative. This new doctrine effectively removes the possibility that a penitent may have a malformed conscience.

  2. Dear Ed — If we follow the “Letter to Bishops on the Reception of Communion by Divorced and Remarried Persons” from J. Ratzinger it seems that it’s more pointed to state that the duty to withhold communion flows from the fact of marriage *as a public act* — does this not seem more clear than “observable behavior” which smacks of, well, judging a person’s interior disposition? Ratzinger rejects the “interior forum” solution — even with the “trusted pastor” due to the public nature of marriage and the effect of overriding it on the understanding of the sacrament.

    • Thanks, but, in the context of Canon 915, while a formal ‘public act’ (such as registering a civil marriage) is indeed observable behavior (and so is included in my term), not all ‘observable behavior’ comes by way of a formal public act (and so risks being wrongly precluded from a correct description of what the law can act on). Canonically, “manifest” means the community knows, actually or legally, what the situation is as a result of its observation (and not, say, by confession); “public” takes one down a rabbit trail that comes very close to “manifest”, but can complicate an explanation offered to the general public.

    • Oh, sorry, one more point you raised. Responding to ‘observable behavior’ requires NO judging of souls or assessment of the actor’s internal forum. One can say, “I saw Jane shoot John” without the slightest moral evaluation of her deed as “murder”, “justifiable”, expression of hate, accidental discharge, and so on. That is exactly what Canon 915 calls for, a response to observed (“manifest”, in the canon) behavior. Nothing more, nothing less.

  3. So many homosexual cardinals and priests, pedophiles and cover-ups, adulterous, sexual immoralities, porns,are actively in sins among religious leaders. To normalize their corruptions, Holy Communion should be given to all. Receiving the Holy Eucharist while clergies are in sins, church leaders extend their sacreligous acts with others, such as divorced and remarried and so with other faith.
    Corrupted system.

    • Why do you raise these issues? Canon law is very clear. When we point fingers and accuse others, especially our priests, we are not honoring their ministry. We are all sinners. Calling attention to the sins of others does not justify violating the teachings of Christ.

  4. Amoris Laetitia is an adulteration of Catholic faith, and the sex abuse coverup Cardinal Danneels and his post-Catholic apostate Mafiosi friend Kasper and their hand-picked post-Catholic pontiff are asking the Body of Christ to break our bond of marriage with Jesus and commit adultery against The Lord, in exchange for mere “unity” with them for the few years they sit in power.

    No – I am telling my children and family and friends that we will not commit adultery at their request.

    They – along with Wuerl and his tutors McCarrick and Mahony (and all of their followers like McElroy and Farrell and “Kiss-me-with-your-Mouth” Fernandez etc etc etc) have painted themselves into a corner, having rejected the teaching of all Popes before 2013 (ie the Popes OPPOSED by Danneels and Kasper for 33 years before they pulled off the Bergoglio deception).

  5. Future ages of the church will describe our time with contempt and disgust.
    When I think of the current hierarchy I really warm up to the Borgia’s.

  6. It looks like conscience is being used in the current discussion in the same way that health is used in the abortion debate. The modern concept of conscience has just about abolished the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner. You can probably add in instructing the ignorant, and counseling the doubtful to the scrap pile as well.
    We are approaching a time of the liturgical year where we will have a reading on Good Friday where we will hear the cries of “We have no king but Caesar.” In the modern Church we are hearing a rising cry of “We have no king but Conscience.”

  7. ” published by the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) ” ?? No, by the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington.

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