Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of Argentina told listeners in a global broadcast that Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) is "irreversible" and that remarried divorced Catholics, in some cases, may be given access to the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Dismissing critics, he said, "After a time of intense activity among the sectors opposed to the novelties in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia — a minority albeit hyperactive, or powerful attempts to disguise them — the war appears to have come to a stalemate."
While the eighth chapter of Pope Francis' 2015 apostolic exhortation is considered by many Catholics as a break from tradition on the sacraments of matrimony, the Eucharist and reconciliation, "Tucho" Fernández dismisses the objections.
Fernández, the author of Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing, has long been a theological advisor to the current pope. Francis appointed him in 2018 to head the diocese of La Plata, a city near Buenos Aires.
Dr. Michael Pakaluk of the Catholic University of America believes Fernández may be not only a ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia, but also of Francis' Evangelii Gaudium.
Fernández gained notoriety in 2020 when he summarily dismissed a young professor and father of four from the University School of Theology of Mar del Plata. The bishop's explicit reason was that the professor had posted on Facebook Abp. Carlo Maria Vigano's criticisms of the pope's "destructive" document on Human Fraternity.
Cardinals Raymond Burke and Walter Brandmüller joined the now-deceased cardinals Joachim Meisner and Carlo Caffarra in publishing their questions (dubia) about the exhortation in 2016 when it became clear that Francis would not respond.
The cardinals asked Francis to affirm Church teaching that forbids civilly "remarried" Catholics engaging in sexual relations to receive the sacraments.
The leftist archbishop of Austria, Cdl. Christoph Schönborn, asserted in 2016 the encyclical is a "development" of Church teaching rather than a break.
"There is continuity in teaching here, but there is also something really new. There's a real development [of doctrine], not a rupture," claimed Schönborn.
In contrast, Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio that a cohabiting couple — who for serious reasons cannot separate— "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples." Schönborn claimed that just as Pope St. John Paul II had "developed doctrine" in Familiaris Consortio, Francis was doing likewise in Amoris Laetitia.
Adding to the confusion over the exhortation was that Francis himself gave assurances that the only possible interpretation was the heterodox one given by the bishops of the Buenos Aires region, of which Abp. Fernández is a part.
Speaking at June's global teleconference Fernández dismissed critics: "After a time of intense activity among the sectors opposed to the novelties in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia — a minority albeit hyperactive, or powerful attempts to disguise them — the war appears to have come to a stalemate."
Now it is the time to stop and recognize what it is specifically that Francis provides to us as an irreversible novelty. Although it is interesting to emphasize that the great theme of the document is love, and that it is above all about strengthening conjugal love, however, the situation of broken loves cannot be ignored.
Francis, he said, "has amply clarified the correct interpretation of this chapter and explained the foundations of his call to better integrate these irregular unions into the Church, even with the possibility, in some cases, of accessing the sacraments."
As to any questions about Amoris Laetitia, Fernández said that "waiting for any other response from the pope is unnecessary."
Fernández said the pope "recognizes the possibility of proposing perfect continence to the divorced in a new union, but admits that there may be difficulties in practicing it."
He pointed to a footnote in Amoris Laetitia that claims:
some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II [in a 1996 letter to Card. William Baum], who stated that the possibility of a new fall "should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution."
Fernández wrote: "Contrary to this careful precision of St. John Paul II, some seem to require a kind of strict control of what others do in private." While congratulating those who "manage to live in perfect continence," he wrote, "this does not imply ignoring that others have serious difficulties in achieving it."
Section 301 of the 8th chapter of Amoris Laetitia reads:
Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any "irregular" situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding "its inherent values," or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.
While the Bible, sacred tradition and the Magisterium indicate no exceptions for evil, Amoris Laetitia teaches that there are exceptions for Christians. Indeed, Francis himself blurred the lines between himself and the Magisterium when he wrote to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region in 2016 to affirm their consensus on chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia and that "there is no other interpretation."
The Argentine bishops wrote for guidance in offering the Eucharist to divorced Catholics. Quoting sections of Amoris Laetitia, they wrote:
Now we will stop only at Chapter VIII, since it refers to "guidelines of the bishop" in order to discern about the possible access to the sacraments for some those "divorced in a new union." We believe it convenient, as bishops of this pastoral Region, to agree on some minimum criteria. We offer them without prejudice to the authority that each bishop has in his own diocese to specify, complete or limit them.
When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, the commitment to live in continence can be proposed. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option and leaves open the possibility of accessing the sacrament of reconciliation when that proposal has failed.
The Argentine bishops' central assertion opens the door, as part of "pastoral accompaniment" and "via caritatis," to allowing divorced remarried Catholics access to the Eucharist. They wrote:
In other more complex circumstances, and when a declaration of invalidity could not be obtained, the mentioned option may not in fact be feasible. However, a path of discernment is also possible. If it is recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and guilt, particularly when a person considers that he would fall into a further fault damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of access to the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These, in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 1385 about receiving the Eucharist:
To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of reconciliation before coming to Communion.
Teachings proclaimed by recent popes are in apparent contradiction with the teachings of Pope Francis and his Argentine confreres.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio:
However, 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 which 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.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, wrote:
In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.