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Editor's note: Updated May 31 with an original LifeSiteNews translation. Interview appears at bottom.  

ROME, May 30, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The cardinal tasked by Saint Pope John Paul II 36 years ago with founding an institute to study marriage and the family has criticized Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation on the family for lacking clarity and causing confusion among bishops regarding perennial magisterial teaching on marriage, divorce, and reception of Holy Communion. 

“Chapter 8 is, objectively, unclear,” said Cardinal Carlo Caffarra when speaking about Amoris Laetitia, since it causes “'conflict of interpretations' ignited even among bishops.” The comments were made last week in an interview the cardinal gave in Italian to the website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.  

Ambiguity in Chapter 8 of the Pope’s exhortation has been used by left-leaning priests, bishops, and theologians to provide arguments for the administration of Holy Communion to civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. Some cite as evidence of a change paragraph 305 with footnote 351, which, when read together, suggest that the Church can help those living in an “objective situation of sin” to “grow in the life of grace” through the “Church’s help,” which “can include the help of the sacraments.” 

But Caffarra, who is the Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna, said that where confusion arises in interpreting the text, one has to refer to the continuity of the Magisterium of the past as the principle guiding light. 

“In matters of doctrine of faith and morals, the Magisterium cannot contradict itself,” he said. 

The cardinal said that despite the conflicting interpretations surrounding the exhortation, it remains the case that it is impossible for civilly divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. 

“Now, if the Pope had wanted to change the previous Magisterium, whose teaching is extremely clear, he would have had the duty — and the grave duty — to say so clearly and directly. One cannot change the age-old discipline of the Church with a footnote, and in an uncertain tone.” 

Cardinal Caffarra’s concerns about the exhortation echo those of Bishop Athanasius Schneider and Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Bishop Schneider has also noted the confusion and “contradictory interpretations even among the episcopate” generated by the Exhortation. He has called upon the hierarchy and the laity to beg the Pope for a clarification and official interpretation of the document that is in line with the constant teaching of the Church.

Cardinal Burke stated earlier this month at the Rome Life Forum that faithful Catholics must “resist” a perspective within the Church that seeks to undermine the truths of the Catholic faith regarding the indissolubility of marriage and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

“Of particular concern to me is a growing mundane perspective, a man-centered and world-centered perspective, especially in the Church,” he said, adding that the perspective expresses itself in a “secular understanding of the divine realities.”

Earlier this month in a graduation address given at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Caffarra warned of the “very grave danger” of the Church effecting a “separation of pastoral practice from the doctrine of the faith.”

“The alternative to a Church with doctrine is not a more pastoral Church, but an arbitrary Church enslaved to the spirit of the age,” he said. This “danger is serious, and if it is not overcome it causes serious harm to the Church.”

“Sacred Doctrine is nothing other than Divine Revelation about God’s plan for mankind, if the Church’s mission is not rooted in it, what does the Church have to say to mankind?” he said. 

Portion of interview dealing with Exhortation:

La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana (LNBQ): Your Eminence, what about the issue of access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried? The Pope deals with it in Chapter 8, regarding which, however, opposing or conflicting interpretations have been offered.

Cardinal Caffarra: First of all, let me point out that the Pope himself in paragraph 307 states that, before we address failed marriages, we must take care of the ones yet to be built. And, I would add, the problem with your question is that it remains quantitatively limited. Of course, on the doctrinal level it cannot be neglected. In this regard, I answer starting from four premises.

  1. Marriage is indissoluble. As I said, before it is a moral obligation, the indissolubility of marriage is an ontological fact. I am sorry to note that not all the Synod Fathers had such a clear ontological foundation.
  2. Marital fidelity is not an “ideal” to be achieved. The strength to be faithful is given in the sacrament to (can you imagine the husband telling his wife: “Being faithful to you is an ‘ideal’ which I try to achieve, but I still can’t reach it yet?’). Too many times  the word “ideal” is used in Amoris Laetitia, but one must pay attention to the point.
  3. Marriage is not a private matter, simply availed by the spouses. It’s a public matter for the good of the Church and of society.
  4. Chapter 8 is, objectively, unclear. How else to explain the “conflict of interpretations” ignited even among bishops? When that happens, you should check whether there are other Magistyerial texts that are more clear, keeping in mind this principle: in matters of doctrine of faith and morals, the Magisterium cannot contradict itself. One must not confuse contradiction with development. If I say S is P and then I say S is not P, I have not deepened the first. I have contradicted it.

LNBQ: Does Amoris Laetitia then teach or not teach that there is room for access to the sacraments for the remarried divorced?

Cardinal Caffarra: No. He who lives a state of life which objectively contradicts the sacrament of the Eucharist, cannot receive the sacrament. As taught by the previous Magisterium, those who can receive the sacrament are those who, for example, are unable to meet the requirement of separation (perhaps because of the education of the children born of the new relationship), but live in continence. This point is touched on by the Pope in a note (line 351). Now, if the Pope had wanted to change the previous Magisterium, whose teaching is extremely clear, he would have had the duty — and the grave duty — to say so clearly and directly. One cannot change the age-old discipline of the Church with a footnote, and in an uncertain tone. I'm applying a principle of interpretation that has always been applied in theology. The uncertain Magisterium is to be interpreted in continuity with the previous one.

LNBQ: So, nothing new?

Cardinal Caffarra: The novelty, in addition to the possibility given by the Holy Father to put aside — in the prudent judgment of the bishops — some canonical norms, is to, above all, take care of these brothers divorced and remarried, trying to imitate our Savior in the way that he met people most in need of the “doctor”. Chapter 8 ( “accompanying, discerning, integrating”), in my humble opinion, is the guide of this “taking care”. We must not fall into the mass-media deception of reducing everything to “Yes, Eucharist or no Eucharist.”