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Cardinal Reinhard Marx at the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October 2015.Patrick Craine/LifeSite

April 15, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia permits divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to access the sacraments on a case-by-case basis, three German bishops claim. 

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Dr. Heiner Koch, and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode all cited footnote 351—the controversial footnote that critics worry undermines Church teaching by in certain cases allowing Holy Communion for those in objectively sinful situations—in their praise of the exhortation.

The bishops also cited paragraph 301 of Amoris Laetitia, which states, “Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” 

The bishops wrote that it is not sufficient for a judgment simply to determine that a second union “contradicts the first, sacramental marriage and is thus contrary to the objective norm.” Instead, they said, it is necessary to “consider the special situation of those concerned in each case.”

This, they said, is why the pope has not proposed a “general system of rules” for readmitting the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist: instead, on the “question of admission to the sacraments of reconciliation and communion” he proposes a discernment of individual cases based upon “the biography of a man and his efforts to live a Christian life.”

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

“We ask especially the priests to reach out in the spirit of this statement to the people, to those who are on the road to marriage, the spouses, but also to those whose marital relationships are unsuccessful and who often feel themselves abandoned by the Church,” they wrote. “The tenor of this letter is: No one is to be excluded from the mercy of God.”

This case-by-case approach is starkly different from that taken by Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio. In his exhortation, John Paul II wrote with unmistakable clarity:

…the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

German Cardinal Karl Lehmann wrote on the German Bishops’ official website that the exhortation’s approach to the question of the divorced and remarried was a “great shot (“Wurf”).” 

Lehmann, the Bishop of the Diocese of Mainz and the former President of the German Bishops’ Conference, wrote that Pope Francis’s “three fundamental attitudes” toward remarried divorcees are “to accompany the fragility; to discern; and to integrate.”  Lehmann said that Pope Francis urged priests and Catholics to accompany remarried divorcees in a way “that goes far beyond our existing capabilities.”

In his statement on his diocese’s website, Lehmann also praised the document’s lack of attention to homosexuality despite its condemnation of same-sex “marriage.” 

Dr. Maike Hickson wrote at OnePeterFive, “Cardinal Lehmann stresses in his statement…that the pope says now, with regard to those couples who live in ‘irregular situations’ that one cannot simply any more say that they live in ‘the state of mortal sin’ and that they have thus lost the ‘sanctifying grace.’ Lehmann stresses the importance to discern and differentiate each case individually, and he then proceeds to claim that there is no explicit change of the Church’s norm, because of that enhanced need for differentiation.”

In an interview with Die Tagespost, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said, “the question of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacraments is not decided in a principled way, but the answer is referred to the ‘internal forum.’” reported that German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes had a remarkably different take than his fellow German prelates. Cordes warned of a “misuse of the sacraments” that could come about if Pope Francis is quoted selectively.

Discernment about reception of the sacraments for the divorced and civilly remarried “can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church,” Cordes said.

Cordes has previously rebuked his fellow German bishops for declaring that they would potentially officially abandon Church teaching in their pastoral care for the divorced and civilly remarried.

Bishops in other parts of the world appeared to interpret Amoris Laetitia in ways similar to Marx, Koch, and Bode.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the bishop of Brisbane, Australia, tweeted, “Never enough to say a situation is ‘objectively sinful’ without attending to the subjective factors. #AmorisLaetitia doesn't; others do.”

“#AmorisLaetitia subverts absolutism – all v. nothing, black v. white, in v. out. Why do some seem to depend on absolutism? #Jesus doesn't,” Coleridge wrote in another tweet.

British Bishop Peter Doyle, however, told Susy Hodges of Vatican Radio, “[Amoris Laetitia is] upholding the teaching of the Church, presenting marriage in a very positive light as a gift of God, and at the same time, embracing people who are in difficult situations…It’s not a change of teaching, it’s a change of focus.”

Hodges asked Doyle whether he was surprised by Pope Francis’ suggestion of dealing with the treatment of the divorced and remarried on the question of reception of Communion on a “case-by-case” basis.

He responded:

No, I was thrilled, because all my life as a priest—I’ve been a priest for 48 years, most of the time in a parish.  There was always a tension: on one hand being loyal to the teaching of the Church, and on the other hand reaching out with compassion to people who did not fit into the categories.  And I think that this document provides a key to unlock that tension and to build a bridge for people who at the moment feel they have no hope.

Doyle also told The Tablet, “Some people will be disappointed that it is not full of black and white solutions, but as Pope Francis says, every situation is different and needs to be approached with love, mercy and openness of heart.”