My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Since the Fourth Century, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This celebration gives the Church an opportunity from this most ancient time to recognize the place of the papacy in our Catholic faith.
The Chair, or Cathedra, of St. Peter signifies the teaching authority which Peter and his successors exercises over the life of the Church. The New Testament gives us much to meditate on when we recognize Peter, the Rock, upon whom Christ built His Church because of Peter’s confession of faith when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God and the jaws of death, meaning the attacks of the evil one, will not prevail against the Church.”
This reminds us that Peter, in the Petrine Office, is essential to our understanding of the Church. It is truly unfortunate that in divided Christianity today we cannot come to a better agreement about the Petrine Office in the Church in the latitude the various rites have for their internal organization. It is Peter who confirms us in faith and strengthens us. And it is by Christ’s demand that he takes upon himself this mission.
Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, successor of Peter, now guides the Church in preserving intact the faith and morals handed down by the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church over these past centuries. The Council of Trent confirmed that the Roman Pontiff could not lead the Church into error in matters of faith and morals, which describes the doctrine of infallibility which unfortunately has been misunderstood over time.
Pope Francis is different from his predecessors in many ways. His pastoral style and training as a religious Jesuit make his approach to teaching and preaching different from those who preceded him. The so-called “Francis effect” is something that we are learning about the Church today. His unique style has brought some closer to understanding the faith and yet others seem more perplexed.
In his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (On Love in the Family), which I summarized over several weeks in this column, Pope Francis perhaps gives cause for some as it is misunderstood. What are its intentions about? Key in this document is its discussion about a divorced and remarried Catholic who wishes to participate in the life of the Church. Pope Francis builds upon the teachings of his predecessors, recognizing the dissolubility of marriage. He also recognizes the human characteristics which cannot easily be judged. The use of the “Internal Forum” solution for divorced and remarried Catholics, means that it cannot be proven in the external forum in the Tribunal process that a marriage never existed so that the couple, one or the other or both, can be readmitted to the sacraments, in a way that does not cause scandal in the community of the Church.
Recently, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, published a book entitled “The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.” The short book outlines the canonical and moral procedures necessary in order to effectuate the internal solution. I am anxiously waiting to read this book and have asked our own Msgr. Cuong Pham who works at this dicastery in Rome to send me a copy of the book.
Some time ago, I listened to the press conference Cardinal Coccopalmerio gave about the book and clearly he recommends that it be read by priests who may be more experienced in moral and canonical issues. This may assist those who have not been able to prove definitely the invalidity of their marriage in the external forum process. I believe that this may be what we do in the diocese.
As I previously announced, there will be a seminar for all priests, and a special unit attached to the Diocesan Tribunal to assist those who may be eligible for an internal forum solution. This might be the best way of teaching what and how we can help the divorced and remarried. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis says so succinctly that no one can be condemned forever.
The Petrine Office is clearly a gift to the Church because it guides the Church always with the minds of Christ for the good of souls. Each Pontiff in his pontificate puts out into the deep waters, which many times are murky and volatile. Pope Francis has begun his Pontificate and is trying to bring the Church closer to many people. We join the prayer on this Feast of the Chair of Peter that Pope Francis may be given the wisdom and grace necessary to accomplish this task.