Pope Francis has avoided making a direct statement on the question of Communion for remarried couples but in a footnote to his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he has left the question open to debate.
The Pope writes that a person “in an objective situation of sin” – a second union is not named directly – “can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end”.
A footnote adds: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.” It does not expand on this statement, which is likely to lead to considerable debate and discussion.
The Vatican commentator Fr Mark Drew said: “On the question about which everybody was waiting for a decision, the only concrete answer is a twice repeated reference (although it is slipped into footnotes) to two paragraphs from Evangelii Gaudium in which the Pope had reminded us that priests should not behave like torturers in the confessional, and that Holy Communion ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.
“We must now expect continued, protracted, and perhaps acrimonious debate about how this principle is to be applied in the cases under consideration.”
There had been speculation that the Pope would make an explicit statement in favour or against Communion for some remarried people.
Amoris Laetitia makes a general call for discernment, saying: “Neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
The Pope presents the document as “gather[ing] the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges”.
Elsewhere, the document calls for a more tender style of preaching and speaking about Church doctrine. It calls for a “healthy dose of self-criticism”, adding: “We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life.”
The document speaks against abortion, artificial contraception and same-sex marriage. It draws attention to the problems faced by many families, whether migration and unemployment or the rise of smartphones, but also pays tribute to the family, saying: “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church”.