Here’s the Full Text of the Vatican’s Response to ‘Dubia’ on Divorced-and-Remarried Catholics

Read the text of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s response, translated by CNA.

Post Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia ’ is shown in Vatican City on April 8, 2016.
Post Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia ’ is shown in Vatican City on April 8, 2016. (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA)

The Vatican on Monday publicly released responses to 10 dubia submitted by Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka regarding “the administration of the Eucharist to divorced couples living in a new union.” 

Originally submitted by the archbishop emeritus of Prague on July 13 on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s response — signed both by Pope Francis and new prefect Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández — had been issued to the Czech cardinal on Sept. 25.

At the heart of Cardinal Duka’s dubia and the Vatican’s response was the practical application of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation issued after the 2015 Synod on the Family. The questions submitted focus on pastoral guidance for the reception of Communion by those sacramentally married but “divorced and remarried” to another person other than their spouse.

Read the text of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s response below, translated by CNA’s Matthew Santucci: 

Response to a series of questions, proposed by His Eminence Cardinal Dominik Duka, OP, regarding the administration of the Eucharist to divorced couples living in a new union. 

On July 13, 2023, a request was received by this department from His Eminence Cardinal Dominik Duka, OP, archbishop emeritus of Prague, on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, who asks a series of questions regarding the administration of the Eucharist to divorced people living in a new union. 

Although some of the questions are not drafted clearly enough and, therefore, may be a harbinger of some inaccuracies, this dicastery intends to respond to help resolve the doubts raised by them. 

Is it possible for a diocese in a union of the bishops’ conference to make decisions completely autonomously, referring to the facts cited in questions 2 and 3?

The apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, a document of the ordinary pontifical magisterium, towards which all are called to offer the homage of intelligence and will, states that “priests have the duty to accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.” In this sense, it is possible, indeed it is desirable, that the ordinary of a diocese establishes some criteria which, in line with the teaching of the Church, can help priests in the accompaniment and discernment of divorced people living in a new union.

Can Pope Francis’ response to the question from the pastoral section of the diocese of Buenos Aires, given that the text was published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, be considered an affirmation of the ordinary magisterium of the Church?

As indicated in the rescript accompanying the two documents on the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, these are published velut magisterium authenticum, that is, as authentic magisterium (teaching). 

Is it a decision of the ordinary magisterium of the Church based on the document Amoris Laetitiae?

As the Holy Father recalls in his letters to the delegate of the pastoral region of Buenos Aires, Amoris Laetitia was the result of the work and prayer of the whole Church, with the mediation of two synods and the Pope. This document is based on the magisterium of previous popes, who already recognized the possibility for divorced people in new unions to access the Eucharist, as long as they assume “the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples,” as it was proposed by John Paul II or to “commit (themselves) to living their relationship ... as friends,” as proposed by Benedict XVI. Francis maintains the proposal of full continence for the divorced and remarried in a new union, but admits that there may be difficulties in practicing it and therefore allows in certain cases, after adequate discernment, the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation even when they fail to be faithful to the continence proposed by the Church.

Is it Amoris Laetitiae’s intention to institutionalize this solution through a permit or an official decision for individual couples?

Point 1 of the document “Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia” expressly states: ​​“It is not appropriate to speak of ‘permissions’ to access the sacraments, but rather of a process of discernment accompanied by a pastor. It is a ‘personal and pastoral’ discernment” (AL, 300). It is therefore a question of pastoral accompaniment as an exercise of the ​​via caritatis, which is nothing other than an invitation to follow the path “of Jesus: of mercy and reinstatement.” Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of accessing the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist when, in a particular case, there are limitations that attenuate responsibility and culpability (guilt). On the other hand, this process of accompaniment does not necessarily end with the sacraments, but can be oriented towards other forms of integration in the life of the Church: a greater presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, or involvement in various ecclesial services. 

Who should be the evaluator of the situation given the couples in question, any confessor, local parish priest, vicar forane, episcopal vicar, or penitentiary?

It is about starting an itinerary of pastoral accompaniment for the discernment of each individual person. Amoris Laetitia underlines that all priests have the responsibility to accompany interested people on the journey of discernment. It is the priest who welcomes the person, listens to him carefully and shows him the maternal face of the Church, accepting his right intention and his good purpose to place his whole life in the light of the Gospel and to practice charity. But it is each person, individually, who is called to put himself before God and expose his conscience to him, with both his possibilities and limits. This conscience, accompanied by a priest and enlightened by the guidelines of the Church, is called to be formed to evaluate and give a sufficient judgment to discern the possibility of accessing the sacraments.

Would it be appropriate for these to be dealt with by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal?

In cases where it is possible to establish a declaration of nullity, the appeal to the ecclesiastical tribunal will be part of the discernment process. The Holy Father wanted to simplify these processes through the motu proprio Mitis Iudex. The problem arises in more complex situations in which it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity. In these cases, a process of discernment may also be possible which stimulates or renews the personal encounter with Jesus Christ, also in the sacraments.

Can this principle be applied to both parties of a civilly divorced marriage, or distinguish the degree of fault and proceed accordingly?

St. John Paul II had already stated that “the judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience.” Therefore, it is a process of individual discernment in which “the divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God, which is not denied anyone.”

In the case of this single permission, is it to be understood that married life (the sexual aspect) must not be mentioned in the sacrament of reconciliation?

Even in the sacrament of marriage, the sexual life of the spouses is the subject of an examination of conscience to confirm that it is a true expression of love and that it helps growth in love. All aspects of life must be placed before God.

Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the entire issue to be explained better in the text of your competent dicastery?

Based on the words of the Holy Father in the letter of response to the delegate of the Buenos Aires pastoral region, in which it was stated that there are no other interpretations, it seems that the issue is sufficiently explained in the aforementioned document.

How to proceed to establish internal unity, but also to avoid disturbing the ordinary magisterium of the Church?

It would be appropriate for the episcopal conference to agree on some minimum criteria, to implement the proposals of Amoris Laetitia, which help priests in the processes of accompaniment and discernment regarding the possible access to the sacraments of some divorcees in a new union, without prejudice to the legitimate authority that each bishop has in his own diocese.

Ex Audientia Die: 25/9/2023 


Victor Fernández 

Editors' Note: The article was amended to reflect a more accurate translation in the third dubium response.


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