On March 19, 2016, the release of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia (AL)1 threw the Catholic world into confusion. One of the main questions which the document raised concerned giving Holy Communion to those who had been civilly divorced and had attempted remarriage. According to the Church’s clear moral teaching, such persons would be living in a state of sin. To the extent that they are living in that state publicly, they would normally be considered as public sinners and therefore refused Holy Communion. AL seems to open up the question, however, and make it possible, under certain circumstances, for these persons to present themselves for communion and receive Our Lord’s body.
The doubts surrounding what the document actually means drove a group of theologians to submit a study of it privately to the College of Cardinals. This study identifies statements in AL, which, taken according to their natural sense, would fall under censure because they contradict previous Catholic teaching.2 The purpose of the private submission was to allow for the clarification and correction of the document. In addition to this study, four Cardinals submitted privately to the Pope a list of dubia, or formal “doubts,” about the post-synodal document.3
Neither of these documents ever met with an official response. On the contrary, the Pope seemed to issue a kind of interpretation of his own document in a letter to the Buenos Aires bishops. The Argentinian bishops had issued pastoral guidelines to their dioceses based on the newly-released AL. Included in these guidelines was the clear statement that AL now allows for communion to be given to the divorced and “remarried.” In his letter to these bishops, Pope Francis approves their guidelines and states unequivocally that “there is no other interpretation” of his document.4 This letter would later be added to the official acts of the Holy See. (Acta Apostolicae Sedis)5
The letter of Pope Francis, other remarks that he made in reference to AL, and his silence regarding both the theological study and the dubia, finally elicited another response from clergy and laity: the Correctio filialis, sent privately to him in August 2017 and released publicly (since it received no reply) about a month later.6 The “filial correction” does not mince its words. It states directly that the Pope has given “scandal concerning faith and morals” to the Church by the publication of AL and other acts. Guarding all due respect to the Pope, the authors claim to show “how several passages of Amoris laetitia, in conjunction with acts, words, and omissions of Your Holiness, serve to propagate seven heretical propositions.”
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