Pope Francis Backs Holy Communion for Some Remarried Divorcees

In letter to Argentine bishops, Pope expresses clear support for a pastoral approach allowing some remarried divorcees, unable to live in continence, to receive Holy Communion.

(photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

Pope Francis has said there are “no other interpretations” of Amoris Laetitia other than one put forward by a group of Argentine bishops to admit some divorced and remarried Catholics, not necessarily abstaining from sexual relations, to Holy Communion.

In a Sept. 5th letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires, the Pope wrote that their document on applying chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia “is very good and completely explains” the meaning of the controversial chapter which some theologians have read as giving a green light to a possible break with Church teaching.

Amoris Laetitia is Pope Francis' post-synodal apostolic exhortation (summary document) on the Synod on the Family.

The letter, first leaked on the Argentine blog The Wanderer and on a Spanish site called InfoCatolica, was reported in English on LifesiteNews, and then verified by Vatican Radio and L’Osservatore Romano.

“There are no other interpretations,” Francis wrote of the document entitled Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. “And I am certain that it will do much good. May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity.”   

In their pastoral document, the bishops said that in “more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity”, to propose living in continence as brother and sister may “not, in fact, be feasible.”

“Nonetheless,” they write, “it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment and if one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. AL 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes AL 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke and many others have persistently warned that an opening for the divorced and remarried living in a state of adultery to receive the Eucharist would represent a fundamental break in Catholic teaching. The doctrine is based on Christ's instruction that anyone who divorces and remarries and engages in sexual relations is committing adultery. The Church has taught that remarried divorcees can receive Holy Communion only if they live in continence as brother and sister.

Pope Francis, however, sees such an opening as a more merciful and pastoral approach in dealing with the complex and varied situations facing remarried divorcees. The issue dominated the Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015.

The letter is the first explicit indication of Francis’ own personal preference on the issue.