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Cardinal Francesco CoccopalmerioAndreas Solaro

ROME, March 3, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican Cardinal tasked with interpreting Church law is defending a book he published last month in which he says Catholics in so-called irregular unions “must be given” Holy Communion.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, told National Catholic Register’s Ed Pentin that when he spoke to Pope Francis “about these questions […] we always thought the same.”

In his 30 page book titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Coccopalmerio stated that the “sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion ought to be given also to so-called wounded families and to those who, even though living in situations not in line with the traditional canons on matrimony, express a sincere desire to draw closer to the sacraments after an adequate period of discernment.”

Coccopalmerio insisted to Pentin in the February 21 interview that the above pastoral guide does not breach canon law or Church doctrine. He made the case that all that was necessary to receive Communion is the “desire” to change, not any concrete action. 

When Pentin asked if it would not be better for couples in objective sin to stop the situation of sin completely, he replied:

How can you stop the whole thing if that will harm people? It is important that this person doesn’t want to be in this union, wants to leave this union, wants to leave, but cannot do it. There are two things to put together: I want to, but I cannot. And I cannot — not for my own sake, but for the sake of other people. I cannot for the sake of other people.

If the two can live together as brother and sister, that’s great. But if they cannot because this would break up the union, which ought to be conserved for the good of these people, then they manage as best they can. Do you see? That’s it. And it seems this whole complicated thing has a logical explanation, motivation. If others depart from other points of view, they can also arrive at other conclusions. But I would say there would be something missing of the human person. I can’t damage a person to avoid a sin in a situation that I haven’t put myself into; I already find myself in it, one in which I, if I am this woman, have put myself into without a bad intention. On the contrary, I’m trying to do good, and, at that moment, I believed myself to be doing good, and certainly I did do good. But maybe if, already at the beginning I had known, if I knew with moral certitude that this is a sin, maybe I would not have put myself in that condition. But now I already find myself there: How can I go back? It is one thing to begin, another to interrupt. These are also different things, no?

Pentin then asked if the Church continues to uphold its law requiring ministers to refuse Communion to those in obstinate and manifest grave sin. Coccopalmerio said yes, but added that Communion cannot be refused from couples who have an “intention to change” but chose not to because of their circumstances.

When asked directly if such couples have to change their style of life before receiving Communion, he replied that they do not. 

No, they have to change their intention, not their style of life. If you wait until someone changes their style of life, you wouldn’t absolve anymore anyone at all. It’s the intention. I want to change even if I know I am not able.

Coccopalmerio disagreed that allowing 'remarried' Catholics to receive Communion would be a possible source of scandal for others.

I say in the book, it’s necessary to instruct the faithful that when they see two divorced and remarried that go to the Eucharist, they ought not to say the Church now says that condition is good, therefore marriage is no longer indissoluble. They ought to say these people will have reasons examined by the ecclesial authorities on account of which they cannot change their condition, and in the expectation that they change, the Church has placed importance on their desire, their intention to change with the impossibility of doing so. Therefore, it’s one of those cases in which it is possible that the Church says go to the Eucharist. Do you see? There it’s necessary to instruct the faithful. There ought not to be the possibility of, as is said, of scandal, of false judgment. It’s necessary to instruct the faithful. Do you see? I wrote all this.

He said that if the faithful are instructed properly, they will not see adulterers receiving Communion as a sign that the Church is condoning their adultery. 

“Someone can think what they want. But if you stand by what the Church says, which explains it to you, you can’t anymore think differently,” he said.

When Pentin asked Coccopalmerio if martyrs like St. Thomas More died in vain defending the indissolubility of marriage, the Cardinal said that he was not “able to explain it to you well” as to why someone would die for this. 

Let’s stop, because I know I won’t be able to explain it to you well. These people — take the women I spoke about in the book — say to everyone that marriage is indissoluble: “I am in a bad situation. But I would like to change it precisely because marriage is indissoluble. But at this moment I can’t do it.”

If you continue to say that marriage is not indissoluble, it means we haven’t understood each other; but this woman continues to say that marriage is indissoluble. But how can she leave the union? He [her civilly married spouse] will kill himself. The children, who will take care of them? They will be without a mother. Therefore, she has to stay there.

Coccopalmerio’s interpretation of Pope Francis’ exhortation contradicts one given in January by the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, Cardinal Gerhard Müller.

Müller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a strong rebuke at the end of January against bishops who use the pope’s exhortation to justify Communion for those in adulterous unions. 

“Adultery is always a mortal sin and the bishops who create confusion about this must study the doctrine of the Church,” he said.

“It is impossible for there to be a contradiction of doctrine and personal conscience. For example, it cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin. For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace. In order to overcome this absurd contradiction, Christ has instituted for the faithful the Sacrament of penance and reconciliation with God and with the Church,” he added. 

Müller said that Communion for civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics is not possible, as St. John Paul II’s exhortation Familiaris Consortio presented it: “Of course, this cannot be overcome because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments.”

Editor’s Note: Read Pentin’s interview with Coccopalmerio here