The text had gone mostly unnoticed before the publication of Pope Francis’ response to the dubia of five cardinals on the Synod. On September 25, 2023, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith also responded to dubia drafted by Cardinal Dominik Duka, Archbishop Emeritus of Prague. The focus of his doubts is the thorny issue of access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried people.
The response was signed by the dicastery’s cardinal-prefect, Victor Fernández, after consultation with the pontiff.
The “doubts” expressed by Cardinal Duka, who was close to Benedict XVI, concern the interpretation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016).
Amoris Laetitia is a text to which “all are called to offer the submission of intelligence and will,” replies the Argentine cardinal-prefect from the very first lines of the response to Cardinal Duka’s dubia.
The Czech cardinal also asks for clarification regarding the response Pope Francis sent in 2016 to a leader of his former diocese of Buenos Aires. The archbishop had published a document establishing pastoral norms precisely to accompany people on the requested path of discernment.
“No other interpretations” of Amoris Laetitiae
This latest text, published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, is part of the Pope’s “authentic magisterium,” explains the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. While this issue is still the subject of much controversy within the Church, the pontiff, the Argentinian cardinal stresses, will not produce a new text to clarify this issue as Cardinal Duka seems to be requesting. In fact, Cardinal Fernandez, after consulting the Pope, says that the issue was “sufficiently” explained in the letter sent by the Pope to the head of pastoral care in Buenos Aires. That letter stated that there are “no other interpretations” of Amoris Laetitia.
Priests as guides
As specified in this letter, the paths of discernment proposed to divorced and remarried people must be led by the priest who receives the request from the people concerned, whatever position he occupies, the prefect stresses. But, he insists, it is primarily the people themselves who are called upon to initiate this journey of conscience, and priests must accompany them.
The prefect encourages divorced and remarried people, where possible, to obtain recognition of the nullity of the previous relationship, recalling that the Pope simplified these legal procedures with the adoption of the Motu proprio Mitis iudex in 2015.
But an impossibility of obtaining an annulment does not mean that a journey of discernment to renew the encounter with Christ, “also through the sacraments,” is not conceivable, insists the Argentine cardinal.
The prefect clearly encourages bishops’ conferences to establish minimum criteria “for implementing Amoris Laetitia” on a similar basis to those put in place in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. However, each bishop remains free to implement them in his own diocese.