Pope's letter to Argentine bishops on 'Amoris Laetitia' part of official record

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Describing them as “authentic
magisterium,” Pope Francis ordered the official publication of his letter
to a group of Argentine bishops and their guidelines for the interpretation of
“Amoris Laetitia,” his apostolic exhortation on the family.

According to a brief note by Cardinal Pietro Parolin,
Vatican secretary of state, Pope Francis wanted his letter and the bishops’
document to be published on the Vatican website and in the “Acta Apostolicae
Sedis,” the official record of Vatican documents and acts.

The papal letter, dated Sept. 5, 2016, was written in
response to guidelines published by the bishops in the Catholic Church’s Buenos
Aires region. Pope Francis said the bishops’ document “explains precisely
the meaning of Chapter VIII of ‘Amoris Laetitia.’ There are no other

The letter is found on the Vatican website under letters
written by the pope in 2016, and was published in the October 2016 edition of
the “Acta Apostolicae Sedis,” which also is available online: https://www.vatican.va/archive/aas/documents/2016/acta-ottobre2016.pdf.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told Catholic News Service Dec. 5,
“The fact that the pope requested that his letter and the interpretations
of the Buenos Aires bishops be published in the AAS means that His Holiness has
given these documents a particular qualification that elevates them to the
level of being official teachings of the church.

“While the content of the pope’s letter itself does not
contain teachings on faith and morals, it does point toward the interpretations
of the Argentine bishops and confirms them as authentically reflecting his own
mind,” the cardinal said. “Thus together the two documents became the
Holy Father’s authentic magisterium for the whole church.”

The eighth chapter of “Amoris Laetitia” is titled,
“Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness,” and is the most
debated chapter of the document. It urges pastors to assist those whose
marriages have faltered and help them feel part of the church community. It
also outlines a process that could lead divorced and civilly remarried
Catholics back to the sacraments.

Some church leaders and theologians have insisted reception
of the sacraments is impossible for such couples unless they receive an
annulment of their sacramental marriage or abstain from sexual relations with
their new partner.

The Buenos Aires document said the path of discernment
proposed by Pope Francis “does not necessarily end in the
sacraments,” but should, first of all, help the couple recognize their
situation, understand church teaching on the permanence of marriage and take
steps toward living a more Christian life.

“When feasible,” the guidelines said, divorced and
civilly remarried couples should be encouraged to abstain from sexual
relations, which would allow them to receive the sacrament of reconciliation
and the Eucharist.

While there is no such thing as “unrestricted access to
the sacraments,” the bishops said, in some situations, after a thorough
process of discernment and examination of the culpability of the individual in
the failure of the sacramental marriage, the pope’s exhortation “opens the
possibility” to reception of the sacraments.

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