Four cardinals ask pope to clarify teaching on Communion for divorced

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Four cardinals said they formally
asked Pope Francis to clarify his teaching on Communion for the divorced and
civilly remarried and, not receiving a response after two months, they released
their letter to the press.

“We have noted a grave disorientation and great
confusion of many faithful regarding extremely important matters for the life
of the church,” the cardinals said. “Even within the episcopal
college, there are contrasting interpretations of Chapter 8 of ‘Amoris Laetitia,'” the
chapter dealing with ministry to the divorced in his exhortation on the family.

The four who signed the letter are: Cardinals Walter Brandmuller, a German and
former president of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences; Raymond L. Burke, a U.S.
cardinal and patron of the
Knights of Malta; Carlo
Caffarra, retired archbishop of Bologna, Italy; and Joachim Meisner, retired
archbishop of Cologne, Germany.

In releasing their letter and accompanying explanations Nov.
14, the cardinals said, “The Holy Father has decided not to respond. We
have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the
reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect. And so we are informing
the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the

Using “Amoris Laetitia” to affirm church teaching
on the indissolubility of marriage, Pope Francis also wrote that because every
situation is different, he would not provide new rules on ministry to the
divorced and civilly remarried. However, he urged a new commitment on the part
of pastors to provide spiritual guidance and assistance with discernment. A
process of discernment, he has said, might eventually lead to a determination
that access to the sacraments is possible.

The cardinals noted that St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,”
affirmed the church’s practice of “not admitting to eucharistic Communion divorced
persons who have remarried” because “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.”

Receiving absolution and Communion, St. John Paul wrote, would be possible
only for couples who could not return to their sacramentally valid marriages,
who promised to forego sexual relations and live as “brother and
sister” and who would receive the sacraments in such a way as to not give
scandal to others.

In their note, the four cardinals said that in their
opinion, if Pope Francis meant to change those rules, in effect it would change
church teaching about marriage, sexuality and-or the nature of the sacraments.

According to the four cardinals, a change would seem to
indicate: “people who are not married can under certain circumstances
legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy”; “the divorced and
remarried are legitimate spouses and their sexual acts are lawful marital
acts”; or that “the faithful can approach the Eucharistic table even
with consciousness of grave sin, and receiving absolution in the sacrament of
penance does not always require the purpose of amending one’s life.”

When pressed on the question of the variety of
interpretations being given to “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis has
pointed people to Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, whom the pope chose to present the
document to the media.

No one has “a right to receive the Eucharist in an
objective situation of sin,” the cardinal said, which is why the pope did not
grant a blanket permission and insisted that civilly remarried people go
through a whole process of discernment and repentance under the guidance of a

The discernment called for by Pope Francis, he said,
“takes greater account of those elements that suppress or attenuate
imputability,” that
is, moral responsibility, and seeks a path that would move a person
closer to the fullness of what the Gospel demands.

Although not yet meeting the “objective ideal,” such
couples would be helped to move closer to perfection, which, Cardinal Schonborn
said, “is no small thing in the eyes of the Good Shepherd.”

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