Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, published a book that is turning heads in the Vatican. Writing about the eighth chapter of Pope Francis’ encyclical Amoris Laetitia, Coccopalmerio says that Catholics in “non-legitimate” living situations, like the divorced or civilly remarried, are allowed to receive Communion as long as their intention is to change their situation, but doing so would lead to further sin.
Amoris Laetitia was Pope Francis’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation that followed the Synod on the Family. Certain aspects of the document, especially Chapter Eight, caused confusion among clergy and laypeople alike. Coccopalmerio’s 51-page book attempts to clear up confusion among Catholics.
Although some cardinals have criticized Pope Francis for being too vague on the issue of Communion and divorced and remarried Catholics, Coccopalmerio says, “The Church could admit to the Penitence and Eucharist the faithful who find themselves in illegitimate unions [who] want to change that situation, but can’t act on their desire.”
Coccopalmerio’s own writings have also been met with criticism from the clergy. German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that offering Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics is against Church doctrine, and not even the pope can change that.
Coccopalmerio is interpreting Pope Francis’ encyclical as a legal expert. The Church doctrine on marriage states that marriage is between one man and one woman, united together in an unbreakable bond until death, a position that Coccopalmerio’s writings support. “In no way, must the Church renounce to proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its greatness,” he writes. “Any form of relativism, or an excessive respect in the moment of proposing it, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also a lack of love of the Church.”
Coccopalmerio explains his position by offering the example of someone “knowing about the irregularity of [his or hers] situation” but having “great difficulty changing their situation without feeling in their conscience that they would fall in a new sin.” The Cardinal emphasizes that the desire to change the situation must be present, even if change is impossible. His position offers Catholics in such situations an opportunity to receive Communion.
No matter the situation a couple faces when dealing with divorce or remarriage, Coccopalmerio encourages couples to seek out their diocesan office and thus have a “clear conscience” when discerning whether or not to receive Communion. The only situation in which remarried couples cannot receive Communion, says Coccopalmerio , are those couples who “know they are in grave sin and being able to change, have no sincere intention [of changing].”
The issue of divorce and remarriage in the Church remains a controversial one. As Saint John Paul the Great advised in Familiaris Consortio, “The family that is open to transcendent values, that serves its brothers and sisters with joy… becomes the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God.”
By seeking to explain Pope Francis’s message regarding divorced and remarried Catholics, Coccopalmerio works toward a goal shared by Pope Francis “indicat[ing] possible paths for conversion, [not resolving] broken marriage situations.”