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July 17, 2018 ( – Pope Francis has written a letter of thanks to the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, regarding his recent instructional note in which he appears to interpret Amoris laetitia as permitting Catholics who are divorced and invalidly “remarried” to receive Holy Communion even if they are sexually active, a practice forbidden in the Scriptures and canon law of the Catholic Church.

“I want to thank you for sending me, during the past Lent, the Note that you directed to the priests of the Patriarchate regarding the application of chapter VIII of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia,” wrote Francis, calling the note a “profound” one that “filled me with joy.”

The Pope then referred approvingly to the cardinal’s purpose of “integrating the fragility” of married couples in various situations – an apparent reference to the acceptance of the practice of giving communion to those who are divorced and sexually active in an invalid second “marriage,” and who are therefore objectively in a state of adultery.

“The situations of conjugal life constitute, today, one of those areas in which such accompaniment is more necessary and delicate,” wrote Francis, adding a few sentences later: “So, in expressing to you my gratitude, taking advantage of the opportunity to encourage my Brother Cardinal and his collaborators in the pastoral ministry – principally the priests – to persevere, with wisdom and patience, in the commitment to accompany, discern, and integrate the fragility that in various ways appears among couples and in their ties.”

In his February 6 instructional note, Cardinal Clemente quotes the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, as well as guidelines for implementing Amoris issued by the Bishops of the Pastoral Region of Buenos Aires (endorsed by Pope Francis), and the Amoris guidelines of the cardinal-vicar of Rome to priests of the diocese, to justify giving Holy Communion to those in invalid second marriages. All three documents appear to endorse giving Holy Communion to people who are divorced and invalidly remarried, even if they are sexually active in their invalid second unions.

Clemente quotes the Buenos Aires guidelines’ statement that the option of living in celibacy “may not, in fact, be feasible” for some invalidly remarried couples and that “there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union.”

The cardinal concludes that under “exceptional circumstances” there is the “sacramental possibility” (apparently the possibility of receiving Holy Communion) “in conformity with the apostolic exhortation [Amoris laetitia] and the above-cited documents.” He adds that “discernment” should be continued “always adjusting practice more in accordance with the Christian matrimonial ideal, and better sacramental coherence.”

Clemente’s instructional note was issued following remarks the cardinal made to the Portuguese press in December, when he told Agencia Ecclesia that divorced and remarried Catholics who want to begin receiving the sacraments will have to follow a “very long” process which isn’t a “quick, immediate, simple” decision. However, the cardinal added that “in some cases, with discretion and with the consent of the bishop, they can return to the sacramental life,” citing the authority of Pope Francis.

Such provisions would seem to contradict the clear and constant doctrine of the Catholic Church on the reception of Holy Communion. The Catholic Church, echoing the words of Christ himself, regards divorce and remarriage as an act of adultery, which is a mortal sin, one that will lead to eternal damnation if those guilty of the sin do not repent before death and receive the grace of absolution. The Church’s consistent practice throughout its history is to prohibit those who are in a state of mortal sin from receiving Communion, including those divorced and invalidly remarried.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was” (CCC 1650).

The Catechism continues: “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities” (boldface added).

Amoris laetitia has been denounced as upholding “heretical propositions” by a large number of Catholic theologians and other scholars, who signed an expression of concern about the document known as the “Filial Correction,” published in July of 2017. Other theologians and scholars have also registered grave concerns about the document.

Edward Peters, a professor of Canon Law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, says that proposals to give Holy Communion to those living in adulterous unions are also opposed to canon law.

In response to a similar proposal by the Portuguese diocese of Braga, Peters wrote on his blog in January, “It doesn’t matter what reasons might be offered by the storied Archdiocese of Braga for its plan to authorize the administering of holy Communion to basic divorced-and-remarried Catholics. If that is . . . their plan, they are wrong. Patently and gravely wrong. Just like the Maltese. Just like the Germans. And just like a few others if only in terms of the wiggle room they allow themselves in these cases, as do, say, the Argentinians.”

The pope’s laudatory note to Cardinal Clemente is one of many statements the pontiff and officials of the Holy See have made implying approval of plans to give Holy Communion to people who are divorced and remarried on the part of various bishops’ conferences and dioceses, including the bishops' conferences of Germany, Belgium, Malta, and Brazil. However, other bishops have expressed strong disapproval of Amoris laetitia and most bishops’ conferences have not approved such plans.

Francis’ approval of the guidelines issued by the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region has been published in the Acts of the Apostolic See, as an official pontifical act, although it does not rise to the level of Catholic dogma. 

To write to Pope Francis:
His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

Related (Non-LifeSite) Links:

Cardinal Clemente’s instructional note regarding the implementation of Amoris laetitia, in Portuguese

An English translation of Cardinal Clemente’s note

Pope Francis’ letter to Cardinal Clemente in Portuguese

An English translation of Pope’s letter


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