The ‘working instrument’ prepared for the Synod in October, at paragraph 123, seems to take it as granted that ‘a great number agree that a journey of reconciliation or penance, under the auspices of the local bishop, might be undertaken by those who are divorced and civilly remarried.’ The question must be: a great number of whom? Members of the Synod? Bishops’ conferences throughout the world? The ordinary faithful as evinced by replies to the pre-synod questionnaire? The Instrumentum Laboris does not tell us.
But supposing there was a considerable body of opinion in favour of such a procedure (supposing even that there was something approaching a consensus) what would that ‘journey of reconciliation’ involve and what would it imply about the Church’s understanding of the offence for which penance was required?
Penance generally involves not only regret for past actions (which we can assume in this case), but amendment of life (which seems to be absent here). Generally speaking, there is also the expectation of restitution (Lk 19:8-9 ‘Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”’).
How would any of this apply to the proposed ‘journeys’, when the ‘penitents’ would continue in the very relationship which was itself the root of the offence? Unless, of course, there was agreement that no sin had been committed – in which case why penance at all?
Ignatius invites readers to list examples of other sins where such a penitential regimen might appropriately be employed.