What Four Cardinals Asked the Pope About Divorce and Remarriage

Four Roman Catholic cardinals have requested that Pope Francis clarify his position on divorce and remarriage.

The cardinals wrote a letter on the topic on April 25, which was delivered to the pope May 6, in an effort to get answers and dispel confusion about the Holy Father’s April 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). After allegedly receiving no response from Francis, the cardinals made their letter public.

“The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment,” Francis wrote in Amoris Laetitia about the need for discernment about “irregular” situations.

In the teachings of the Catholic Church, a divorced individual must receive an annulment from the church; otherwise, the couple’s first marriage is considered intact. An individual cannot receive Holy Communion if living in an “adulterous,” invalid second marriage.

Footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia mentions pastoral care for couples.

“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments … I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,'” Francis noted.

By many accounts, Francis has not yet directly addressed the cardinals’ pressing questions. However, in some homilies and public pronouncements, he has made vague or indirect references to such issues. Toward the end of a May 11 homily, for example, the pope noted that many saints “asked for forgivenessâ€� from God during their lives. But “asking for God’s forgiveness is not an automatic thing,â€� the pope indicated. Rather, it is “understanding that I am on a journey, among a journeying people, and that one day — maybe today, maybe tomorrow or in 30 years — I will find myself face to face with that Lord who never leaves us all alone, but accompanies us on the journey.â€� He said it was vital to remember this journey “is God’s great work of mercy.â€�

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra wrote the letter to Francis on behalf of Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, and Joachim Meisner, as well as himself. The four cardinals also requested a meeting with the pope.

“Faced with this grave situation, in which many Christian communities are being divided, we feel the weight of our responsibility, and our conscience impels us to ask humbly and respectfully for an audience,” Caffarra wrote.

There is clearly confusion about whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can partake in the sacrament of Communion or not.

Related: On Divorce, Remarriage and the Sacraments, Church Leaders Are Split

“Despite the fact that the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith has repeatedly declared that the doctrine of the church has not changed, numerous statements have appeared from individual bishops, cardinals, and even Episcopal Conferences, approving what the Magisterium of the Church has never approved,” the cardinals’ letter states.

In September 2016, these cardinals asked the pope to “resolve uncertainties” about points in the Amoris Laetitia. The cardinals had five dubia, or formal questions and doubts, in which they asked “yes” or “no” questions to points in the exhortation.

Related: Vatican Official Addresses Marriage, Communion Under Pope Francis

“Can the expression ‘in certain cases’ found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’ be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live ‘more uxorio’ [in a marital way]?” the cardinals asked.

The cardinals seek an answer to this point, along with clarity on other doctrine and practices within the church. Last year in an interview, the pope indirectly referenced the cardinals’ dubia when he said, “Some still fail to grasp the point … They see things as black or white, even though it is in the course of life that we are called to discern.”

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