Explaining internal forum; religious mailings

| Father Kenneth Doyle | June 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

Q. In a recent editorial in a Catholic newspaper, I read that, with regard to whether civilly remarried Catholics may receive holy Communion, Pope Francis is now encouraging people to talk to their priest “in the internal forum.” What does that mean? (From what I can understand, I think it means that the priest will help them to examine their individual conscience so they can decide for themselves whether they feel worthy to receive.)

A. Your understanding of the “internal forum” is correct. It refers to a private conversation between a Catholic and his or her confessor, which can help to determine the degree of subjective responsibility for a particular action. In his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” issued in April, Pope Francis recommends that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics discuss with a priest the specifics of their situation.

While the norm remains unchanged — marriage is indissoluble and, generally speaking, without the benefit of a Church annulment, a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic is not considered eligible to receive Communion — the pope acknowledges that each situation is different. The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, circumstances can sometimes mitigate culpability and that “discernment can recognize that in a particular situation, no grave fault exists.”

The pastoral discernment Pope Francis encourages is far from an instantaneous and facile solution. Instead, it requires a fair amount of reflection and prayer. The pontiff says it would be wrong to conclude that “any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions.’” People, the pope explains, should ask themselves such questions as: “How did they act toward their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned
party. . . . ”

Such a thorough examination might help a person to assess where he or she stands before God and to determine his or her worthiness to receive Communion. Whatever the decision with regard to Communion, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should, the pope notes, always be welcome in Catholic parishes and supported in their efforts to raise their children in the Catholic faith.

Q. I receive, on a daily basis, mailings from multiple religious organizations requesting monetary help. Often they include address labels, holy pictures, prayers cards, etc.

I feel guilty just trashing them, so I collect them and when the pile gets big, I mail it to one of the organizations, hoping that they will know how to dispose of them. But this gets costly and, as a senior citizen, I have a limited income. Please let me know what I can do.

A. I know exactly what you are talking about because I get these mailings myself — dozens of them. What I do is this: Occasionally, if I like a particular prayer card, I pull it out and keep it for future reference. Once in a while, I send a small financial donation if I think the organization is particularly worthy. But most of the time, I simply throw the whole packet in the wastebasket.

Nearly always, the sponsoring organization is doing worthy work — often missionary activity — and this is one of the few ways they have of raising funds. But you are certainly within your rights, both legally and morally, in disposing of the material. You never requested these items, and they are not blessed.

To expect the recipient, especially an elderly person of modest means, to bear the cost of returning them would be unreasonable and unfair. (One alternative, I suppose, would be to offer such items to your local parish for use in their catechetical program, but you are not bound to make that effort.)

What you might want to do is write a quick note to each of the sending organizations saying something like this, “I know that you do good work, and I appreciate it, but I no longer wish to receive mailings from your organization. Please remove my name from your address list.”

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to Father Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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