Reversing centuries of Church teaching, Pope Francis has officially endorsed communion for adulterers by ordering the official publication of his controversial letter to Argentine bishops which supported their move to allow communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
In his September 5, 2016 letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis endorsed their interpretation of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, saying that the bishops’ document “is very good and completely explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.”
The document by the Buenos Aires bishops, entitled “Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia”, allows communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, saying that in “complex circumstances” when the remarried couple could not “obtain a declaration of nullity,” the priests can nevertheless move forward to grant them access to Holy Communion.
The Pope ordered his letter to the Argentine bishops published on the Vatican website and in the “Acta Apostolicae Sedis,” the official record of Vatican documents and acts. The papal decision was announced in a brief note published last December 2, 2017 by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. The letter is now found on the Vatican website under letters written by the pope in 2016, and was published in the October 2016 edition of the “Acta Apostolicae Sedis,” which also is available online.
Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told Catholic News Service Dec. 5, “The fact that the pope requested that his letter and the interpretations of the Buenos Aires bishops be published in the AAS means that His Holiness has given these documents a particular qualification that elevates them to the level of being official teachings of the church.”
Perennial Church Teaching
Pope Francis’ official act authorising communion for divorced and remarried Catholics are in direct contradiction with the centuries-old official teaching of the Church. The Church teaches that divorced and remarried Catholic (who are not able to get a decree of nullity granted by the Church for their prior marriage) are living in a state of adultery, and as such, cannot receive communion. The only situation where reception of communion is allowed when the couple has committed to live as brother and sister, without sexual relations.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites the decree of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a letter to the world’s bishops on October 14, 1994. In that decree, the Congregation reiterated the ban on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received a declaration of nullity from the Church, and emphasised that “personal conscience” cannot be used to effectively deny the existence of the previous valid marriage:
The mistaken conviction of a divorced-and-remarried person that he may receive holy communion normally presupposes that personal conscience is considered in the final analysis to be able, on the basis of one’s own convictions, to come to a decision about the existence or absence of a previous marriage and the value of the new union. However, such a position is inadmissible.
The Catechism expounds on the above letter by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith further:
By this document the Holy See affirmed the continuous theology and discipline of the Catholic Church that those who are divorced and remarried without a Decree of Nullity for the first marriage (whether that marriage was made within or outside the Catholic Church) are in an objectively adulterous union that prevents them from honestly repenting, receiving absolution for their their sins, and receiving Holy Communion. Until the marital irregularity is resolved by a Marriage Tribunal, or other procedures which apply to marriages of the non-baptized, they may not approach Penance or Holy Communion.