The presumptive ghostwriter of the pope’s 2015 exhortation and now head of Francis’ doctrine office, Fernández did not hesitate from weighing in authoritatively on the questions posed to him by the Czech prelate — a noticeable shift from the DDF’s previous engagement with questions on Amoris Laetitia, which included not answering previously submitted dubia.
On the question of admittance to the Eucharist for a Catholic divorced from his/her sacramentally married spouse but civilly remarried to another, Fernández wrote that while priests should provide pastoral accompaniment to the individual, “it is each person, individually, who is called to put himself before God and expose his conscience to him, with both its possibilities and its limits,” and evaluate their disposition to receive.
“This conscience, accompanied by a priest and enlightened by the guidelines of the Church, is called to be formed to evaluate and give a sufficient judgment to discern the possibility of accessing the sacraments.”
Amoris Laetitia’s guidance on this subject caused controversy upon its promulgation. Five dubia submitted in 2016 by four cardinals — including two of the five cardinals who sent the pope dubia earlier this summer, the American Cardinal Raymond Burke and the German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller — asked the pope to clarify if St. John Paul II’s teaching in Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”) “on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions” was still valid in the wake of Amoris Laetitia, and other related questions on conscience and circumstances. Pope Francis never responded.
Now in the present, Fernández wrote that, as the pope’s response to back-to-back synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, Amoris Laetitia “was the result of the work and prayer of the whole Church.”
Its guidance on Communion for the divorced and remarried was also based on the magisterium of Pope Francis’ two predecessors, the DDF prefect wrote, though whereas those two popes recognized that divorced-and-remarried Catholics could partake in the Eucharist if they were “committed … to abstain from the acts proper to spouses” (St. John Paul II) or if they were “to commit [themselves] to living their relationship … as friends” (Benedict XVI), Francis “admits that there may be difficulties in practicing [continence] and therefore allows in certain cases, after adequate discernment, the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation even when it is not possible in being faithful to the continence proposed by the Church.”