Did Pope Francis Open the Door for Communion
for the Divorced and Remarried?
 

                                                                                                 Dan Lynch
Feast of St. Athanasius
May 2, 2016


“If an ecclesiastical document [“Ammoris Laetitia” (Joy of Love)] – which, in our case, is neither definitive nor infallible – is found to contain elements likely to give rise to interpretations and applications that could have dangerous spiritual consequences, all members of the Church, and especially the bishops, as the fraternal collaborators of the Supreme Pontiff in effective collegiality, have a duty to report this and respectfully request an authentic interpretation…. There is … no real, genuine joy of love without truth.  (Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Amoris Laetitia”: A Need for Clarification in Order to Avoid a General Confusion).
 
“The Church has no authority – without a previous conversion – to positively, sanction with the help of the Sacraments, disordered sexual relationships and thereby to get ahead of God’s Mercy. Independently of how these situations have to be assessed in human and moral terms – the door here is closed, just as in the case with female priests.
 
The pope should have known that he will split the Church with such a step and that he leads her into the direction of a schism – a schism that would be not at the periphery, but in the middle of the Church. May God help us to avoid this.” (Robert Spaemann, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Munich, see here).
 
Pope Francis wrote The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), probably the longest papal document in history. The document contains a moving exegesis of marriage and the family from the Psalms; the Pope’s reflections on the Trinity and the Holy Family and Jesus as they relate to the family; his explanation of St. Paul’s teaching on love and marriage and the Pope’s own many tips on how to have a happy marriage and family and how to prepare for marriage; and suggestions for the pastoral care of newly married couples and the raising and education of children.
 
Pope Francis affirms the Church’s teaching for openness to new life and against contraceptive acts as contained in Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae. (See note 84).
 
However, he neither cites, confirms, nor re-affirms St. John Paul II’s teachings in Familiaris Consortio (No. 84) on adultery and the prohibition of the reception of the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried without an annulment.

Pope Francis writes that he “will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us.” (No. 6).
 
He claims in the Introduction that he wants merely to highlight “some pastoral approaches that can guide us in building sound and fruitful homes in accordance with God’s plan.” Many of these pastoral approaches and suggestions read like a self-help manual and might be helpful for people to experience happier marriages, families and homes.
 
However, we know that God’s plan does not include divorce and remarriage without an annulment and sexual acts that the Sixth Commandment says are adultery, that Jesus Christ said is adultery and that the Church teaches is adultery. Certainly, this will not “guide us”, as the Pope writes, “in building sound and fruitful homes in accordance with God’s plan.”

In his document, Pope Francis makes a general statement about those in “irregular” relationships (see No.305), a term that he writes with quote marks as if they are not truly irregular. Objectively, they are really adulterous. The Pope writes, “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” Of course this is true, but he writes in a footnote that this help may include the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist.
 
In footnote 351 Pope Francis adds that both the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist are a part of “receiving the Church’s help to this end.” He writes, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy’ I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.' ”

The clear implication from these ambiguous and imprecise words is that Pope Francis has opened the door for divorced and remarried persons without an annulment who engage in sexual intercourse to continue to do so without any firm purpose of amendment and nevertheless receive the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist. This is the interpretation of Cardinal Walter Kasper and the Pope’s adviser, Father Antono Spadaro.
 
Father Spadaro worked closely with Pope Francis as his adviser and translator. He reportedly helped to draft the document. He said that Pope Francis has removed all restrictions on the access of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. (See here).

Pope Francis asked German Cardinal Kasper to address a consistory of cardinals in February 2014 on how Communion might be given to divorced and remarried couples, perhaps an indication that this was the Pope’s desire.
 
Cardinal Kasper now says that “the door is open” for admission of the divorced and remarried to the sacraments. He said, “There is also some freedom for the individual bishops and bishops’ conferences. Not all Catholics think the way we Germans think. Here [in Germany] something can be permissible which is forbidden in Africa. Therefore, the Pope gives freedom for different situations and future developments.” (See here).
 
In addition to reading the Pope’s document about his pastoral approach, it may be easier to simply recall one of the Pope’s famous phone calls. His actions may speak louder than his words.
 
Jacqueline Lisbona was married to a divorced man and said that she had tried going back to Mass, but that her parish priest told her that she could not receive Communion.

So, she wrote to Pope Francis and later received a phone call. She said, “The phone rang and my husband answered. It was Fr. Bergoglio calling. The Father asked to speak to me and my husband asked, ‘Who’s calling?’, to which the voice replied ‘Fr. Bergoglio.’ I asked him if it was really him, the Pope, and he said it was and that he was calling in response to my letter.”
 
She said that the Pope told her that she should go to Communion. “He told me to go and take Communion in a different parish.”
 
The Pope told her that he was “dealing with the issue” of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, and, she added, “Then he told me there are some priests who are more papist that the Pope. He was completely normal with me on the phone.” (See here).
 
Jacqueline’s story is very credible and is typical of Pope Francis‘ style. She had no motive to lie and fabricate a story. Her story is filled with little credible details, such as that the phone call was in response to her letter which sought his advice, that the caller said it was “Father Bergolio” and that he was calling in response to her letter, that he was completely normal, that he was dealing with the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and that he concluded the call with one of his typical name-calling barb’s that some priests are more papist than the Pope. The Pope told Jacqueline that he would use her letter to "support his argument." It is very unlikely that Jacqueline made up this story.
 
The Vatican admits that the telephone conversation took place and has not explicitly denied her story. Moreover, the Vatican has neither disputed, denied nor clarified the above statements of Cardinal Kasper and Father Spadaro.
 
So, the Pope’s pastoral process is as simple as a phone call with a priest, such as himself as “Father Bergoglio”, without a long discussion, even if the advice is contrary to the local pastor’s judgment. If it is, the Pope’s pastoral advice is to simply go to a different parish without any need to consult the pastor there. This appears like authorized priest-shopping.
 
Pope Francis corroborated his pastoral approach to the Argentinian woman when he supported Cardinal Kasper’s advice to a priest to allow Holy Communion to a divorced and remarried woman without annulment. Cardinal Kasper said that the Pope confirmed his own attitude and that the Pope said, “That is where the pastor has to make the decision.” So, the Cardinal said, “the door is open” for admission of the divorced and remarried to the sacraments. (See here).

The criteria for those in irregular relationships to receive the Eucharist in the Pope’s document are left to the “personal discernment” of the individuals. This discernment takes place through “conversation with the priest, in the internal forum” (No. 300), “case by case”.  

St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Pope’s order of the Jesuits, initiated the Rules of Discernment. It was a serious process to discern whether a person was being led to an action by good spirits, and thus apparently that it was God’s will, or by evil spirits, and thus apparently that it was not God’s will. Apparently, through the Pope’s discernment process, the good spirit can lead people to discern that it is morally permissible for people in irregular relationships to continue to engage in adultery and to receive the Eucharist.
 
Strangely, Pope Francis mentions St. John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio that persons in irregular relationships may not be able to separate because of harm to the children. (See note 329). However, he fails to mention St. John Paul II’s teaching in the same document that persons living in those relationships are living in adultery and may not receive the Eucharist.
 
More strangely, in paragraph 186 Pope Francis writes that discrimination against our brothers and sisters can make us unworthy to receive the Eucharist. However, he does not mention that divorce and remarriage without an annulment makes persons in those relationships also unworthy to receive the Eucharist.
 
The full teaching that Pope Francis doesn’t even mention, confirm or re-affirm is that under Canon 915 the Eucharist must be withheld by ministers from those who, as an external and observable matter, “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2384 describes civil remarriage after divorce as “public and permanent adultery”, which is certainly “manifest grave sin” within the meaning of Canon 915.
 
The Church’s clear teaching in these relationships is set forth by St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio that is neither mentioned, confirmed nor re-affirmed by Pope Francis.
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 that 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.
 
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
(See St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, No. 84).
The clear teaching and pastoral approach of the Church is set forth in precise, unambiguous language by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, papal predecessor of Pope Francis, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
 
This is what he wrote (emphases supplied):
3. Aware however that authentic understanding and genuine mercy are never separated from the truth, pastors have the duty to remind these faithful of the Church's doctrine concerning the celebration of the sacraments, in particular, the reception of the Holy Communion.

4. they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this [irregular relationship] situation persists.

This norm is not at all a punishment or a discrimination against the divorced and remarried, but rather expresses an objective situation that of itself renders impossible the reception of Holy Communion.

5. this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.

6. Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors, given the gravity of the matter and the spiritual good of these persons as well as the common good of the Church, have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church's teaching.

7. The mistaken conviction of a divorced and remarried person that he may receive Holy Communion normally presupposes that personal conscience is considered in the final analysis to be able, on the basis of one's own convictions, to come to a decision about the existence or absence of a previous marriage and the value of the new union. However, such a position is inadmissible.
(See here).
The danger of the implementation of Pope Francis’ pastoral approach to permit the reception of the Eucharist by those living in irregular relationships is the increase of scandal to the faithful, sacrilegious Communions by the recipients and the spiritual danger to them of bringing them under judgment, as St. Paul warned. (See 1 Corinthians 11:27-31).
 
The Pope’s so-called pastoral approach and discernment process in these relationships is contrary to the teachings of Canon Law 915, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2384, St. John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict the XVI, and the refusal of the Fathers of two Synods on the Family to endorse any change in these teachings or pastoral approaches to them.
 
The teaching of the Church in these relationships is clear. The divorced and remarried without an annulment who engage in sexual intercourse may not be admitted to the Eucharist. There does not exist an “internal forum” to justify it and there can be no private judgment of conscience that the prior marriage was null or that the reception of the Eucharist is morally permissible. That judgment may be made only in the external forum by a decree of nullity by the Church.

Pope Francis raises some heart wrenching situations to justify his pastoral approach to allow for the reception of the Eucharist by persons living in an objective state of sin. (See No. 298). However, there is no genuine mercy without truth and similar situations were considered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that ruled that these situations are no justification for the reception of the Eucharist.

 Pope Francis writes that he will “make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations.” (No. 37).
 
The imprecise language that Pope Francis uses to excuse or mitigate (lessen) guilt and his call to extend mercy even to the potential extent of license, may lead to a loss of the sense of sin. There really is no need for mercy where there is really no sin. The persons concerned are granted a license, not genuine mercy, and marriage, the family and the Church are not strengthened, but grow weaker.
 
God loves us where we are, but he does not want to leave us there. He wants to draw us closer to himself. He does not forgive our unrepentant sins for which we have no firm purpose of amendment. He accompanies us on the path of repentance, conversion and hopefully to forgiveness. St. John Paul II wrote “In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness” (Dives in Misericordia 14). “The gift of mercy . . . offers liberation from the slavery of evil and gives the strength to sin no more.” (Veritatis Splendor 118).

 The Church should do all that it can to bring people in these relationships to conversion and reconciliation with the Church and not permit them to violate the Sixth Commandment by applying a distorted false mercy upon them, not doing the right thing for them and enabling them to continue their objectively evil lifestyles. This is license.
 
Marriage was instituted by God not as an “ideal”, as Pope Francis calls it, but as a natural state of existence in a permanent indissoluble bond between a man and a woman, open to new life, who provide and educate for their children. Moreover, marriages are for everyone and not privileges for super holy people or an impossible state of life for anyone to live in. God does not propose the impossible. His grace is sufficient. Catholic marriage is a sacrament that confers the necessary grace upon a man and woman to live in an indissoluble bond of love. Catholic persons married in the Sacrament of Matrimony receive from their mutual consents the grace to live the love that they pledge to each other.

As Cardinal Burke said, “If the Church permitted the reception of the sacraments (even in one case only) to a person who is in an irregular union, it would mean that marriage is not indissoluble and thus the person is not living in a state of adultery, or that Holy Communion is not communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, which instead necessitates the person’s correct disposition, that is to say, contrition for the grave sin and a firm resolution to sin no more.” (Interview with Alessandro Gnocchi, Ill Foglio, October 14th, 2014).

Persons in irregular relationships are called to make the courageous choice to abstain from sexual intercourse, as many have faithfully done. The Church should encourage people to stay on the straight and narrow road and not open the broad road of the Pope’s pastoral approach that may lead to their perdition.

The Church’s clear teaching and practice that persons living in a persistent, objective state of adultery may not receive the Eucharist is not found anywhere in the document of Pope Francis. On the contrary, his pastoral approach contradicts it. He does not affirm the Church’s teaching that, "Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2384).
 
Let us consider the words of Cardinal Burke, “The Church has historically been sensitive to the erroneous tendency to interpret every word of the pope as binding in conscience, which, of course, is absurd. …  A personal reflection of the Pope, while received with the respect owed to his person, is not confused with the binding faith owed to the exercise of the magisterium. In the exercise of the magisterium, the Roman Pontiff as Vicar of Christ acts in an unbroken communion with his predecessors beginning with St. Peter.” (See here). So we should consider the pastoral approach of Pope Francis in these irregular relationships to be simply his ‘personal reflection’. ”

Let us make ours, the words of a courageous Bishop, Athanasius Schneider. He said, “I will not accept an obfuscated speech nor a skillfully masked back door to a profanation of the Sacrament of Marriage and Eucharist. Likewise, I will not accept a mockery of the Sixth Commandment of God. I prefer to be ridiculed and persecuted rather than to accept ambiguous texts and insincere methods. I prefer the crystalline ‘image of Christ the Truth, rather than the image of the fox ornamented with gemstones’ (Saint Irenaeus), for ‘I know whom I have believed’. ” (2 Tim 1:12). (See here).

Priests should clearly without obfuscation tell persons in irregular relationships the truth in love and not grant them a false mercy, which is really license and harmful to their souls, to continue in their relationships without repentance and to receive the Eucharist unworthily in sacrilege which may lead to their eternal condemnation. Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean 'yes,' and your 'no' mean 'no.' Anything more is from the evil one." (Matthew 5: 37).
 
Philosopher Robert Spaemann said, “There is indeed only the clear yes-or-no decision. There is no third possibility between giving Holy Communion or not.” (See here). Mr. Spaemann was greatly valued as an adviser by St. John Paul II, is a friend of Benedict XVI and is widely held to be the most important German-Catholic philosopher of recent decades. He is emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Munich.

“Living in an invalid marital union and constantly contradicting the commandment of God and the sacredness and indissolubility of marriage signifies not to live in the truth. To declare that the deliberate, free and habitual practice of sexual acts in an invalid marital union could, in individual cases, no longer constitute a grave sin is not the truth, but a serious lie, and will therefore never bring genuine joy in love." (Bishop Athanasius Schneider, see here).
 
The Pope’s pastoral approach in these relationships should be considered only as his “personal reflections”, as Cardinal Burke wrote, and not binding on the consciences of any priest, who may use his own discernment process against it and not apply it. This is not a rejection of any competent papal authority. It is a rejection of the authority of priests, such as “Father Bergoglio”, as he identified himself to the Argentinian woman, to grant permission to those practicing sexual acts in irregular relationships to receive Holy Communion.
 
“When dealing with the observance of the express commands of God and the indissolubility of marriage, we cannot speak of opposing theological interpretations. If God says, 'thou shalt not commit adultery,' no human authority could say 'in some exceptional cases or for a good purpose you can commit adultery’.” (Bishop Athanasius Schneider, see here).
 
“Admitting couples living in ‘irregular unions’ to Holy Communion and allowing them to practice acts that are reserved for spouses in a valid marriage would be tantamount to the usurpation of a power that does not belong to any human authority, because to do so would be a pretension to correct the Word of God himself.” (Bishop Athanasius Schneider, see here).
 
Professor Spaemann said, “The Church has no authority – without a previous conversion – to positively, sanction with the help of the Sacraments, disordered sexual relationships and thereby to get ahead of God’s Mercy. Independently of how these situations have to be assessed in human and moral terms – the door here is closed, just as in the case with female priests.” (See here).

Many priests, especially in Germany, are now knowingly administering the Eucharist to people in these relationships. The approach of Pope Francis will encourage this practice. Priests who do not believe that such an approach is permissible will probably be marginalized. They and their supporters will likely be subject to the name-calling that Pope Francis so often employs such as that they are rigid, hardhearted, judges, Pharisees, stone throwers etc.
 
St. John Paul II gave the correct pastoral approach. “I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.” (Familias Consortio No. 84).

Pope Francis has urged us to follow his own example and to go out and make messes. Most people prefer divine order, the tranquility of which is peace.
 
Pope Francis has created his mess. He clearly opened the door for Communion for the divorced and remarried without annulment in his telephone conversation with the Argentinian woman in an irregular relationship whom he told to receive the Eucharist.
 
He opened the door again with the imprecise and ambiguous language of his document and his omission from it of the clear teachings of his predecessors, St. John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. This opening was confirmed by his unofficial spokesman, Father Antono Spadaro, who said that Pope Francis has removed all restrictions on the access of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. The opening was also confirmed by Cardinal Kasper. Neither the Pope’s official spokesman, Father Lombardi, or the Vatican has denied these statements or clarified them.
 
Professor Spaemann said, “Each individual cardinal, as well as each bishop and each priest is now called to preserve in his field of authority the Catholic Sacramental Order and to confess it publicly.” (See here). Moreover, each of them is now called to act in unity and not according to geography, as Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper allow, so that Cardinal Kasper can now state that Germany can say “yes” to allow Holy Communion for those in irregular relationships, but Africa may say “no”. He said, “Not all Catholics think the way we Germans think. Here [in Germany] something can be permissible which is forbidden in Africa. Therefore, the pope gives freedom for different situations and future developments.” (See here).
 
On behalf of Jesus King of All Nations, I call upon all priests to act in unity and to accompany people living in irregular relationships on the road to repentance, conversion and Confession and to encourage them to follow the clear teachings of the Church to refrain and abstain from the sexual acts of adultery, fornication, contraception and homosexuality and then happily receive the sacrament of the Eucharist.
 
If they have no intention to abstain, they should be encouraged to attend Mass to hear the word of God and to receive a blessing and to share in the life of the Church and receive all of its assistance to grow in holiness, except for the reception of the Eucharist until their Confession with repentance and a firm purpose of amendment to remain continent.
 
Jesus King of All Nations said, "I most particularly Reign in the Most Holy Eucharist, and in loving hearts that receive Me as their God and Savior." (Journal 197).
 
Let us call upon St. Michael, Protector of the Blessed Sacrament, who said, “Let souls turn to me for renewed devotion to Our Lord in this Blessed Sacrament! He must be properly adored, loved, thanked, praised and worshiped in this the Most Glorious Sacrament. Let souls call upon me whenever sacrileges and abominations are being committed against the Most High God in this Sacrament of His Love. I promise to put to flight His every enemy. GREAT is my zeal for the glory of God!” (Journal 86). Read more about St. Michael here.
 
Let us make reparation for sacrilegious Communions by making Holy Communions and practicing The Novena of Holy Communions.
 
“Considering the confusion regarding sacramental practice in respect of the divorced and remarried, and the many differing interpretations of AL amongst priests and bishops, one may consider justified the call on our beloved Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, the "sweet Christ on earth" (St. Catherine of Siena), to order the publication of an authentic interpretation of AL, which must necessarily contain the explicit proclamation of the disciplinary principle of the universal and infallible Magisterium concerning the admission of divorced and remarried couples to the sacraments, according to the formulation in Familiaris Consortio 84.” (Bishop Athanasius Schneider, see here).
 
Professor Spaemann warns that passages of Pope Francis’ document represent, not a development of doctrine, but "a break (or rupture) with the doctrinal traditions of the Church."
 
He also warns that this "rupture" brings with it a risk of schism: “The pope should have known that he will split the Church with such a step and that he leads her into the direction of a schism – a schism that would be not at the periphery, but in the middle of the Church. May God help us to avoid this.” (See here).
 
To “help us to avoid this”, as Professor Spaemann says, let us pray to God the Chaplet of Unity. Jesus said, “I promise to give this Chaplet of Unity Great Power over my wounded Sacred Heart when prayed with faith and confidence to heal the brokenness of my peoples’ lives caused by so much sin, selfishness, error, division and disunity.”
 
Here are some articles by others supporting this article:
 
"Amoris Laetitia": A Need for Clarification in order to Avoid a General Confusion, Bishop Athanasius Schneider
 
Reflections on “Amoris Laetitia, Fr. Gerald E. Murray
 
Francis' sprawling Exhortation a marriage of profound and muddled, Carl E. Olson

Five Serious Problems with Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia,  Dr. E. Christian Brugger

In Amoris Laetitia, who is admonishing whom?, James V. Schall, SJ

Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia and St. John Paul II, Eduardo Echeverria 
 
Beautiful, Moving, and Divisive,  Robert Royal


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