– The pastoral care of families was one of the key areas of discussion for Poland’s bishops in their latest plenary assembly, which focused on continuity between the teaching of St. John Paul II and Pope Francis.

“The bishops understand that the Church thinks in a linear way; it’s not a change of teaching, but it is in one line,” Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, spokesman for the Polish bishops’ conference, told CNA June 9.

“In Familiaris consortio and Amoris laetitia you have one line in terms of teaching on the family,” he said, noting that a large chuck of the first day of their June 6-7 plenary focused on the progress of guidelines for the application of Amoris laetitia regarding the pastoral care of families in general, as well as couples in irregular unions.

According to the official communique issued after the plenary assembly, the main idea guiding discussion of the issue was “that Familiaris consortio and Amoris laetitia are in the same line, with this linear understanding of these documents” in terms of Church teaching.

The Polish bishops, who typically meet three times a year in plenary assemblies, held their latest gathering in Zakopane, nearly 70 miles south of Krakow, to mark the 20th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s visit to the town.

Falling within the 100th anniversary of the Fatima Marian apparitions, the plenary was also meant to honor the centenary.

On the first day of the plenary the bishops renewed the Act of Consecration of the Church in Poland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which was originally made Sept. 8, 1946, by Cardinal August Hlond of Warsaw and Gniezno at the Jasna Gora shrine in Cz?stochowa.

The renewal of the consecration, especially in the centenary year of the Fatima apparitions, Fr. Rytel-Andrianik said, is  “very, very important for the life of the Church in Poland.” In fact, “more than 70 percent of all parishes in Poland have a special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”

Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, on love in the family, was also a focus of discussion at the bishops’ assembly. The document has been the subject of varied reception and interpretation, particularly regarding the pastoral care of divorced-and-remarried persons.

The sticking point is whether Amoris laetitia‚s eighth chapter, on accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness, has opened the door for divorced persons who have remarried, and without taking on the duty to live in complete continence, to receive reconciliation and Communion.

Some, like Robert Spaemann and the four cardinals who submitted dubia to Pope Francis regarding the exhortation, have maintained Amoris laetitia is incompatible with Church teaching; and others, like Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that it has not changed the Church’s discipline or teaching.

Still others, like Norbert Lüdecke and the Maltese episcopal conference, read ambiguities in Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice; or even (e.g., Rocco Buttiglione, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna) as a progression in continuity with the teaching of St. John Paul II.

As for the Polish bishops, Fr. Rytel-Andrianik said they agreed that what Pope Francis wrote in Amoris laetitia is “the same teaching as Familiaris consortio.”

The bishops, he said, constantly call for “a new approach to these people to try to include them into the life of the Church, in the light of Amoris laetitia and in the light of Familiaris consortio 84.”

In paragraph 84 of Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II said that the increase in the number of divorced couples who have entered into new unions is a problem which “must be faced with resolution and without delay.”

“I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life,” he said.

Going on, St. John Paul II said these couples “should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.”

Pope Francis expressed much of the same sentiments in Amoris laetitia, particularly on the need to welcome these couples and encourage their participation in parish life, so that they don’t feel stigmatized or ostracized.

Fr. Rytel-Andrianik said “the bishops appreciate, very much, Amoris laetitia,” and see it as “a treasure of the Church that builds on Familiaris consortio.”

Although the Polish bishops have yet to publish official guidelines for the application of Amoris laetitia, as some other bishops’ conferences have, Fr. Rytel-Andrianik said the guidelines are in the final phases of revision, and should come out sometime in autumn.

In addition to the application of Amoris laetitia, other key issues discussed during the plenary were the new pastoral program for the Church in Poland for the coming year, liturgical questions, and cooperation with the state when it comes to protection of minors.

Specifically, discussion on abuse prevention focused on adjusting ecclesial law to match an amendment to the state’s penal code that will go into effect in July, introducing a strict legal obligation to report immediately incidents of sex abuse or consensual sex with a minor to the appropriate authorities.

In terms of the new pastoral program for 2017-2018, the year will be dedicated to the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of Confirmation, according to the Polish bishops’ official website.

Elise Harris / CNA

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