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Two of Pope Francis' close collaborators, including Cardinal Schönborn, are claiming that he has indeed sought to change Church practice on Communion.John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

April 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – As Catholics around the world debate the implications of Pope Francis’ controversial apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, two of his close collaborators are suggesting that he has indeed opened the door to the possibility of granting Communion to remarried divorcees – a practice condemned by previous popes as a violation of Scripture and Church teaching.

Both Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who the pope chose to present the exhortation last week, and Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a close advisor of the pope who reportedly helped draft the exhortation, have made that claim in recent days. 

Spadaro, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit journal approved by the Vatican prior to publication, wrote that Amoris Laetitia marks an “evolution” in the way the Church will approach its “accompaniment” of those living in situations that the Church teaches are objectively sinful.

In particular, he says, it incorporates a new, more open, method of discernment of individual cases, one that is “without limits on integration, as appeared in the past.” This integration, he says, quoting the exhortation, “in certain cases can include the help of the sacraments,” even in cases where there might be “an objective situation of sin.” 

In terms of what those past limits were that are no longer in effect, Spadaro specifically singles out the “condition” laid out in Pope St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio and Pope Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis – namely that couples in an adulterous second union who are unable to separate for serious reasons can be readmitted to the Sacraments only on condition that they live together in “complete continence” – i.e. without engaging in marital intimacy. 

Spadaro makes the controversial claim that by proposing a discernment “without limits” – including the limit of continence – Francis in fact “moves forward” in the same direction as his precedessors. Instead of such limits on integration, he says, the exhortation places the question back into the realm of conscience. Again quoting the exhortation, he says that conscience can sometimes “recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

The Jesuit editor concludes his article: “The pastoral practice of 'all or nothing' seems more sure to the 'rigorist' theologians, but it inevitably leads to a 'Church of the pure.' Valuing formal perfection before all else and as an end in itself brings the risk of unfortunately covering up many behaviors that are in fact hypocritical and pharisaic.”

For his part, Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, told Vatican journalist Edward Pentin that Amoris Laetitia adopts the approach that he has already been using within his own archdiocese, which can allow for admittance to the sacraments after a process of discernment focused on several different questions.

Schönborn, who has argued that the Church should embrace the “positive elements” of gay unions and other sexual sins and has a history of contradicting Church teaching on the subject of homosexuality, said that there are “no forbidden questions” when discussing Amoris Laetitia.

“We all know many priests,” who admit remarried divorcees to Holy Communion “without discussing or asking, and that’s a fact,” and it’s “difficult to handle for the bishop,” he said. 

Pentin reported at the National Catholic Register that Schönborn’s approach to the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried

…involves what Schönborn called “five attentions” made to remarried divorcees: a series of five questions the priest must ask to see how merciful and correctly they have behaved before, it can be inferred, they are able to receive Holy Communion. They include how they treat the children of their first marriages, how they treated their abandoned spouse, and how they dealt with unresolved hatred.

With this approach, the sacraments “come into another light,” he said. “It’s about the way of conversion.”

Pope St. John Paul II articulated the Church’s longstanding approach to the question in his own exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, released after the 1980 Synod on the Family. The late pope wrote:

…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.

Nevertheless, numerous bishops throughout the world are taking the exhortation to mean that the Church has left aside this longstanding practice.

In a response to the document, the Catholic bishops of the Philippine state that the Church must welcome those in irregular unions to “the table of sinners at which the All-Holy Lord offers himself as food for the wretched.” They wrote:

After collective discernment, your bishops will come up with more concrete guidelines on the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation. But mercy cannot wait. Mercy should not wait. Even now, bishops and priests must open welcoming arms to those who have kept themselves out of the Church because of a sense of guilt and of shame. The laity must do no less. When our brothers and sisters who, because of broken relations, broken families and broken lives, stand timidly at the doors of our churches – and of our lives – unsure whether they are welcome or not, let us go out to meet them, as the Pope urges us to, and assure them that at the table of sinners at which the All-Holy Lord offers himself as food for the wretched, there is always room. O res mirabilis manducat Dominum pauper, servus et humilis…O wonderful reality that the poor, the slave and the lowly should partake of the Lord. This is a disposition of mercy, an openness of heart and of spirit that needs no law, awaits no guideline, nor bides on prompting. It can and should happen immediately.

Liberal German theologians are also praising the exhortation in interviews and articles on the official website of the German Bishops. Dr. Maike Hickson has reported on these theologians at

Stephan Goertz, a progressive German theologian who has argued that same-sex relationships could potentially have a “sacramental character,” praised Amoris Laetitia’s omission of “explicit condemnation of homosexual practice as a grave sin.”

“The category of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ which dominated the Church’s sexual morality for centuries,” is thankfully on the backburner now, Goertz said.

Church historian and professor Hubert Wolf labeled the exhortation “revolutionary” and a “fundamental paradigm shift in papal teaching.”

German theologian Ute Eberl praised Amoris Laetitia to the German branch of Vatican Radio, particularly for the emphasis it places on individual conscience and pertinent decisions being made within dioceses.

Other German theologians celebrated the exhortation as embracing the heterodox practice of some German dioceses of admitting remarried divorcees to the Sacraments. Hickson explained:

Professor Eberhard Schockenhoff, of Freiburg, Germany, sees in the papal document a “confirmation of the Freiburg approach with relation to the remarried divorcees.” (In Freiburg, “remarried” divorcees may already receive the Sacraments after a time of discernment with the help of a priest.) Schockenhoff said, as follows, according to the German branch of Radio Vatican: “The diocese [of Freiburg] has every reason to feel confirmed in the path it has already chosen so far, and thus to continue walking on it with confidence. It would be even better, if other dioceses would now likewise follow [this example].” The theologian praises the pope for “not any more describing each deviation as grave sin” and for “not formulating abstract truth,” but, rather, “for wanting to make a case-by-case decision.” With it, he continues, “the foundation for any general exclusion of the remarried divorcees from Communion is thereby taken away.”

Although some passages of Amoris Laetitia upheld Church teaching on moral issues like abortion, euthanasia, gender theory, and same-sex “marriage,” numerous Catholic writers, theologians, and canon lawyers have expressed concerns about the exhortation. The lay group Voice of the Family expressed concern over certain passages that they say seriously undermine the teachings and practice of the Church.


Number of Catholic writers expressing concern about Pope’s exhortation rapidly growing
Cardinal Burke: Pope’s exhortation not magisterial, can’t change Church teaching
Catholics cannot accept elements of Pope’s exhortation that threaten faith and family
Pope Francis opens door to Communion for ‘remarried’ Catholics in landmark exhortation
Pope picks leading progressive to present family exhortation April 8