Vatican canon law official explains provisions of 'Amoris Laetitia'

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The provisions of “Amoris
Laetitia” allow people in irregular marriage situations access to the
sacraments only if they recognize their situation is sinful and desire to
change it, according to the cardinal who heads the Pontifical Council for
Legislative Texts.

The fact that such a couple also believes changing the
situation immediately by splitting up would cause more harm and forgoing sexual
relations would threaten their current relationship does not rule out the
possibility of receiving sacramental absolution and Communion, said Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio,
president of the pontifical council that is charged with interpreting canon

The intention to change, even if the couple cannot do so
immediately, “is exactly the theological element that allows absolution
and access to the Eucharist as long as — I repeat — there is the
impossibility of immediately changing the situation of sin,” the cardinal

Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s short booklet, “The Eighth
Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,” was
published in Italian by the Vatican publishing house and presented to
journalists Feb. 14. It includes material compiled from articles and speeches
the cardinal has given about the pope’s document on marriage and family life.

The cardinal was unable to attend the presentation because of
a meeting at the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said Salesian Father Giuseppe
Costa, director of the Vatican publishing house.

“To whom can the church absolutely not concede penance
and the Eucharist (because) it would be a glaring contradiction?” the
cardinal asked in the book. “To one who, knowing he or she is in a state
of serious sin and
having the ability to change, has no sincere intention of carrying it

Cardinal Coccopalmerio quoted “Amoris Laetitia” to make his point: “Naturally, if someone flaunts
an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose
something other than what the church teaches … such a person needs to listen
once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion.”

Maurizio Gronchi, a theologian and consultant to the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters Feb. 14 that Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s
reading of “Amoris Laetitia” is the same as the bishops of Malta,
Germany and the church region of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Those bishops have
issued guidelines that include the possibility of eventually allowing divorced
and civilly remarried Catholics access to the sacraments without first
requiring an annulment of their sacramental marriage or a firm commitment to
abstaining from sexual relations.

Dozens of other bishops around the world, including Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
of Philadelphia, head of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee for implementing
“Amoris Laetitia,” have insisted church teaching prohibits persons in
an objective state of mortal sin from receiving the Eucharist and those who, in
the eyes of the church, are not married to a person they are having sex with
are in such a state of sin.

Father Costa told reporters the cardinal’s book is not
“the Vatican response” to the challenges posed by U.S. Cardinal
Raymond L. Burke and three retired cardinals to the supposed lack of clarity
and potential misunderstanding of “Amoris Laetitia.” Rather, he said,
it is an “authoritative” reading of the papal document and a
contribution to the ongoing discussion.

In his document, Pope Francis affirms the constant teaching
of the Catholic Church on the indissolubility of marriage and the sinful state
of those who cohabit and those who form a second union while one or both of
them are still bound sacramentally in marriage to another person, Cardinal
Coccopalmerio wrote.

The only time such persons would not be in a state of mortal
sin, he wrote, is if they were ignorant of church teaching, were unable to
understand church teaching or “knew the norm and its goodness, but were
unable to act as the norm indicates without incurring another fault.”

Cardinal Coccopalmerio cited the case of a woman who enters
into a relationship with a man who, along with his small children, was
abandoned by his wife. The woman knows the relationship is not in accordance
with church teaching, but leaving the man and his small children would
devastate him and leave the children without a maternal figure.

In writing that the church could admit such a couple to the
sacraments with the “verification of two essential conditions — that they
desire to change that situation, but they cannot act on their desire,” the
cardinal said the verification must be done with “attentive and
authoritative discernment” under the guidance of a priest.

Does “welcoming the sinner justify the person’s
behavior and renounce doctrine?” the cardinal asked. “Certainly not.”

Father Gronchi told reporters “Amoris Laetitia” is
not reaching out to couples who are “peaceful and tranquil” while living in
situations that are not in harmony with the Gospel, rather it is offering
guidance, hope and the possibility of sacramental grace to couples who know
they are in sinful situations and want to change.

The papal document and the cardinal’s book are “not
saying, ‘amnesty for all,'” Father Gronchi said. “It’s about
indicating possible paths to conversion, not to amnesty.”

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