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 Andrew Medichini

Rome, December 4, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Retired Catholic Bishop of Corpus Christi TX, Rene Henry Gracida said on his blog over the weekend, “Francis’ heterodoxy is now official.” England’s internet-famed Deacon Nick Donnelly wondered on Twitter, “Has Francis deposed himself as the successor of St Peter by attempting to make the heretical interpretation of AL Authentic Magisterium?”

The comments come in response to Pope Francis' elevation of a controversial private letter of his to the status of an 'apostolic letter' and calling it “authentic Magisterium.” His private letter to the Argentine bishops approving their guidelines for giving communion to civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics living in adultery was originally thought to be fake news because of its departure from Catholic teaching. But, it was later confirmed. 

Last week the controversial letter was published officially by the Vatican in an elevated status as part of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, or Acts of the Holy See, at the request of the Pope.

Radio Spada, the Italian media outlet which broke the story, posted photographs of the newly published Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) for October 2016 on its Facebook page. The photographs show that Pope Francis’ private letter telling the Argentine bishops that “there is no other interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia (AL) beyond their guidelines has been published in the official register of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Buenos Aires guidelines were also published along with the Pope’s letter and accompanied by a “rescript” (response to a command) by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, stating:

“The Supreme Pontiff decreed that the two proceeding documents be promulgated through publication on the Vatican website and in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as authentic Magisterium.”

The Buenos Aires guidelines contradict Familiaris Consortio by allowing sexually active adulterous couples facing “complex circumstances” to “access the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist” after taking a “journey of discernment.” 

‘A veneer of officiality’

Marco Tosatti, a veteran Vatican correspondent, reported the news on December 1st, saying that he found the insertion confusing and annoying:

“The news can only serve to further feed the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the controversial apostolic exhortation and the Pope’s way of doing things,” he wrote. “[The letter] appears, once again, to be far from the clarity and directness that many of the faithful would expect.” 

“He [Francis] has given no answer to the Cardinals of the Dubia, no answer to the letters, petitions and other initiatives by scholars, theologians, and ordinary faithful confused by the deliberate ambiguity of the document,” Tosatti continued. “But at the same time, he has given a veneer of officiality to one letter sent to one member of one episcopal conference.”

“For what purpose? To oblige everyone to give religious assent to a magisterium expressed in oblique and ambiguous forms, or to respond without committing himself in a direct response which would express the mind of the Pope in an unequivocal manner to the doubtful and perplexed? [Speaking] as a simple believer,” said Tosatti, “all this inspires feelings of annoyance towards a behaviour that could be called pretext, in the worst sense of the term.”   

Stakes raised on the Amoris Laetitia debate

Steve Skojec of OnePeterFive stated that the inclusion of Pope Francis’s letter and the Buenos Aires guidelines in the official register of the Holy See raises “the stakes on the Amoris Laetitia debate.” 

In an interview with OnePeterFive, theologian Dr. John Joy took a cautious view: 

“It means that it is an official act of the pope, rather than an act of the pope as a private person,” Joy said.  “So it cannot be dismissed as a merely private endorsement of [the Argentine bishops’] implementation of AL. It is an official endorsement. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the letter to the Argentine bishops is itself magisterial.” 

If the content of the letter itself were deemed “magisterial,” it would likely mean that the Pope’s message to the bishops telling them that they have the only correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia would require religious submission of will and intellect from Catholics around the world. 

Joy told OnePeterFive that this requirement would apply only if the letter intended to teach on matters of faith and morals. As it was merely “in praise of pastoral guidelines that were anything but concrete,” wrote Skojec, “this seems unlikely.”

OnePeterFive reported also Joy’s opinion that  “adding the letter to the AAS could, in fact, damage the credibility of Amoris Laetitia by potentially removing the possibility that it could be interpreted in an orthodox way through establishing, via its publication in the official acts of the Apostolic See, that the unorthodox interpretation is the official one.”

Other Catholic commentators were disturbed by the additions of the Buenos Aires guidelines to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis

Andrew Guernsey commented at Rorate Caeli that the Pope's use of the term “authentic magisterium” in adding the Buenos Aires guidelines to the AAS “appears intended to trigger Canon 752, to purportedly require ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to the Buenos Aires guidelines' contradiction of the  traditional teaching of the Church.’ 

But Guernsey said that the Pope, by adding the problematic communion guidelines to the AAS, has only made matters worse within the Church. 

“The problem with Amoris Laetitia, it is clear, is not merely with ‘liberal bishops’ who interpret it, but with the pope whose manifest interpretation of his own document is impossible to square with the perennial doctrine and discipline of the Catholic faith.”

Respected Canon lawyer Ed Peters said that even though the Buenos Aires guidelines have been given a more official status within the Church, the Code of Canon law has not been abrogated by this fact. It still prohibits unrepentant adulterers from receiving Communion. 

“It is crucial to understand that, today, what actually prevents ministers of holy Communion from distributing the Eucharist to divorced-and-remarried Catholics is Canon 915 and the universal, unanimous interpretation which that legislative text, rooted as it is in divine law, has always received,” he said. 

Canon 915 states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Commented Peters: “Canon 915 and the fundamental sacramental and moral values behind it might be forgotten, ignored, or ridiculed, even by ranking officers in the Church, but unless and until that law is revoked or modified by papal legislative action or is effectively neutered by pontifically approved “authentic interpretation” (1983 CIC 16), Canon 915 stands and, so standing, binds ministers of holy Communion,” he said. 

“Neither the pope’s letter to the Argentines, nor the Argentine bishops’ document, nor even Amoris laetitia so much as mentions Canon 915, let alone do these documents abrogate, obrogate, or authentically interpret this norm out of the Code of Canon Law,” he added

No matter how much Canon 915 and the values behind it are ignored, they prevent sacrilegious communions from becoming a norm, Peters explained.