This post assumes some familiarity with the controversy about Pope Francis’ position in his recent Amoris laetita. The controversy focuses on reception of the Eucharist by Catholics legally divorced from a spouse in a valid Catholic marriage, legally married to a spouse in a subsequent marriage without a Catholic annulment of the former marriage. A footnote #351 in §305 suggests that under certain conditions in consultation with a priest a person in such a marriage may find it helpful for his or her spiritual life and salvation to receive the Eucharist. Pope Francis has claimed that his stance in Amoris laetita propose no change in Catholic moral theology. I will state the Dubia from an article in the
National Catholic Register.
Then I give a short answer which could, but do not go into much depth and length. Dubia are to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” My answers have no standing as Catholic teaching.
Dubia 1] It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (§300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio,§84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, §34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, §29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 §(305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?
My answer to 1] Is a qualified No. First note some important qualifications. The “valid marital bond” should be read as “unannulled Catholic marriage bond”. To more uxorio add “in a legally valid either secular or of some reglious denomination.” It is still not possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion . However, the footnote leaves open the possibility of confessors counseling penitents still objectively and subjectively in a sinful condition to receive the Eucharist.
Dubia 2] After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, §79, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?
My answer to 2] The simple answer is Yes. The challenge is not precise enough. It should have focused on sexual morality. For all that was written in Amoris leatitia there was no challenge to moral absolutes for other areas, eg. Justice.
The thesis of my answers is that the ambiguity raised by Pope Francis is a call for Catholic theologians to work in sacramental theology on the role the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist can play in bringing sinners still immersed in sin into a sinless life. Hold moral theology constant in these investigations. How can sacraments be medicine in the “field hospital for sinners?”
In Chapter VIII of my book, Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism I investigate similar problems for Catholics practicing artificial birth control.
Dubia 3] After Amoris Laetitia (§301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “Declaration,” June 24, 2000)?
My answer to 3] My answer is Yes even when “a person” is explicitly read as “all persons.” Nothing in Amoris Leatitia changes the conditions for being right with respect to the moral law or the more stringent laws of Catholic moral theology.
Dubia 4] After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (§302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, §81, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?
My answer to 4] My answer is Yes because the issue is not about changing what is or is not in accord with the moral law or Catholic moral law. The issue concerns conditions for reception of the Eucharist for people living in conflict with the law!
Dubia 5] After Amoris Laetitia (§303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, §56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?
My answer to 5] is Yes. As noted in my answer to  the issue is not about making exceptions to the moral law. The issue is about the role reception of the Eucharist can make in the progress, if any, of people living in conflict with exceptionaless moral laws. Can the Eucharist help people intentionally living in sin gradually grow out of sin. The question is not about gradualism of the law but whether or not there are sacramental means for gradually growing in compliance with the law. Rules are not to be provided for these decisions. See also my post Gradualism of the Law and “Eucharistic” water stops.
I personally struggled with this topic. In my “internal forum” I decided that I should long for reception of the Eucharist but not receive the Eucharist until I was in complete compliance with the traditional teaching of the Church on reception of the Eucharist. I look back on those years of longing for the Eucharist as a period of my richest understanding of this mystery.
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $3.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.
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