Eight years after a footnote in one of Pope Francis’ signature documents appeared to open the door for divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Communion while remaining sexually active, a new round of public conflicts over its doctrinal legitimacy has exposed just how unsettled the issue remains at the highest levels of the Church.
The latest salvo came last week from a former chief of doctrine at the Vatican, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, after the Pope and his new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), Cardinal Víctor Fernández, the purported ghostwriter of much of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), on Oct. 3 released their joint response to a formal set of questions, or dubia, on the topic submitted by Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka. Their responsa doubles down on the 2016 apostolic exhortation’s groundbreaking implications.
Cardinal Müller responded on Oct. 13 by releasing his own analysis of the Vatican’s responsa, calling it a “rupture” with the clear teachings of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He said it also stands at odds with the Church’s established doctrines about grave sin and the licit reception of the Eucharist.
The main point of contention raised by this document, according to the cardinal, is the criterion for admission to the sacraments for divorced-and-remarried people. The Vatican’s response stated, indeed, that the bishops should develop Amoris Laetitia-based criteria in their dioceses that “can help priests in the accompaniment and discernment of divorced people living in a new union.” It added that the Pope’s letter of approval of the guidelines issued by the bishops of Buenos Aires’ pastoral region for the interpretation of the apostolic exhortation, in 2016, were “authentic magisterium.”
This Buenos Aires document, quoted by the DDF, suggests that the pastor should be able, after discernment and in the face of “complex circumstances,” to extend access to the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist to remarried divorcees who do not observe the commitment to continence in their new union.
In his response to the dubia, Cardinal Fernández elaborated on the Argentinian bishops’ guidelines, stating that Francis “admits that there may be difficulties in practicing [continence] and therefore allows, in certain cases, after appropriate discernment, the administration of the sacrament of Reconciliation even if one fails to be faithful to the continence proposed by the Church.”