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 Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

May 4, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, considered second only to the pope as the Vatican's authority on doctrinal matters, has responded to the question of whether Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, has opened the door to giving Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s response is unambiguous: the Church’s teaching cannot be changed, and the exhortation did not do so.

The clarification from Cardinal Müller on the much-debated footnote 351 is likely to be the highest-level clarification to come out of the Vatican. When Pope Francis was recently asked about the footnote by journalists he said he did not remember it, nor what it said.

The cardinal gave his remarks during a recent trip to Spain. As reported by Die Tagespost, and translated by Maike Hickson at 1Peter5, Cardinal Müller spoke directly to arguments interpreting Amoris Laetitia as saying, in the words of the newspaper, that “the door has been opened for the remarried to be admitted to the Sacraments in individual cases.”

The newspaper reports that the cardinal stated, “with decisiveness,” that this is not the case, and that statements by previous popes on the matter still stand.

“This applies clearly to the reception of Holy Communion by remarried divorcees,” said Müller. “What has been taught by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio and by Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis is still valid in an unchanged way.”

Arguments that Amoris Laetitia changed Church practice on Communion for the divorced and remarried are based largely on footnote 351, which comes in the context of a chapter devoted to the Church's pastoral care for couples in “irregular” unions, and which states that this help can “in some cases include the help of the Sacraments” – with reference to Confession and the Eucharist.

At face value, this humble footnote was taken by many, including several German bishops, among them Cardinal Reinhard Marx, as marking a change from Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio. Cardinal Walter Kasper, while not making specific reference to the footnote, has also stated that it “seems clear” the exhortation allows Communion for the remarried divorcees.

RELATED: Pope Francis: ‘I don’t remember’ controversial footnote in exhortation

In Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II had stated that couples in adulterous second unions can only receive the Eucharist if they separate, or, if they cannot separate for “serious reasons,” then they live together as “brother and sister” – i.e. without sexual relations.

However, Cardinal Müller clarified that this Magisterial teaching cannot change, and that, even if the pope intended to do so, the conditions for changing such a serious matter are not present in Amoris Laetitia.

If Amoris Laetitia intended to rescind such a deeply rooted and such a weighty discipline, it would have expressed itself in a clear manner and it would have given the reasons for it. However, such a statement with such a meaning is not to be found in [Amoris Laetitia]. Nowhere does the pope put into question the arguments of his predecessors. They are not based upon the subjective guilt of these our brothers and sisters, but, rather, upon the visible, objective way of life which is in opposition to the words of Christ.

Speaking directly to footnote 351, the cardinal stated that the footnote was not speaking specifically about situations of remarried divorcees.

“Without entering into this question in a deeper way, it is sufficient to point out that this footnote refers in a general way to objective situations of sin, and not to the specific cases of the civilly remarried divorcees,” he stated. “Because this latter situation has its own distinctive characteristics which differentiate it from other situations.” 

RELATED: Cardinal Kasper: ‘Seems clear’ exhortation allows Communion for divorced/remarried in some cases

The cardinal clarified once again that footnote 351 did not change the teachings promulgated by Pope John Paul II or by Cardinal Ratzinger, when the latter was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Footnote 351 does not “touch upon the earlier discipline,” said the cardinal. “The norms of FC 84 and SC 29 and their application in all cases continue to remain valid.”

The statement from Cardinal Müller on the much-debated footnote 351 is likely to be the highest-level clarification to come out of the Vatican. When Pope Francis was recently asked about the footnote by journalists on a plane ride back from the Greek Island of Lesbos, he said he did not remember it, nor what it said.

On the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried, the pope directed journalists to the presentation given by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn at the Vatican on the day of the release of the exhortation.

In that presentation, the cardinal had cited footnote 351, saying that it provides an answer to the question of what the pope says “in relation to access to the sacraments for people who live in ‘irregular’ situations?” Said Cardinal Schonborn: “In the sense of this 'via caritatis' (AL 306), the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given 'in certain cases. But for this purpose he does not offer us case studies or recipes…”

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Die Tagespost reports that Müller also addressed the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried elsewhere, again unambiguously reaffirming the traditional Church teaching.

As translated by Maike Hickson at 1Peter5, he stated:

The principle is that no one can really want to receive a Sacrament – the Eucharist – without having at the same time the will to live according to the other Sacraments, among them the Sacrament of Marriage. Whoever lives in a way that contradicts the marital bond opposes the visible sign of the Sacrament of Marriage. With regard to his existence in the flesh, he turns himself into a “counter-sign” of the indissolubility, even if he subjectively is not guilty. Exactly because his life in the flesh is in opposition to the sign, he cannot be part of the higher Eucharistic sign – in which the incarnate Love of Christ is manifest – by receiving Holy Communion. If the Church were to admit such a person to Holy Communion, she would be then committing that act which Thomas Aquinas calls “a falseness in the sacred sacramental signs.”