Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the pontifical council charged with interpreting canon law, issued a short booklet explaining what the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is saying about admittance of divorced and civilly remarried couples to the Sacraments.
CNS is reporting on the booklet, entitled “The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia”, which explains that 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.
In the booklet, the Cardinal explains that 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.
For example, the Cardinal cites the case of a woman who enters into a relationship with the father of two small children whose wife abandoned him. The woman knows the relationship is not in accord with Church teaching, but believes that leaving the man and his small children would have a devastating impact on the family.
The Cardinal, who is charged with interpreting canon law, explained that 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.”
“To whom can the church absolutely not concede penance and the Eucharist (because) it would be a glaring contradiction?” the cardinal asks 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 out.”
The only time such persons would not be in a state of mortal sin 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,” he wrote.
As in the example cited above, the Church can admit such a couple to the sacraments, the Cardinal writes, as long as they meet two essential conditions: “ . . . [T]hat they desire to change that situation, but they cannot act on their desire.” This verification must be done with “attentive and authoritative discernment” under the guidance of a priest.
During a press conference yesterday, which the Cardinal was unable to attend due to a prior commitment, Father Maurizio Gronchi, a theologian and consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that Amoris Laetitia is not reaching out to couples who are content with living in situations that are not in harmony with the Gospel but is rather addressing those who want to change and return to the sacraments.
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.”
Veteran journalist Orazio La Rocca, an expert on Vatican affairs who attended the conference, told Vatican Radio that the booklet provides clear and simple guidelines for those who find themselves in irregular situations but who want to set things right with the Church.
“I had asked myself whether the doubts that had been raised regarding a possible violation of the Church’s doctrine could be founded; after reading this book it is clear that this is not so” LaRocca said.
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