The apostolic exhortation goes on to state that "because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God's grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church's help to this end."
The footnote for that paragraph (305), footnote 351, states that "in certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments," and later states that "the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak'," quoting Pope Francis' own 2013 apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization, Evangelii gaudium.
Asked if this footnote admits of certain cases where the divorced-and-remarried may receive Communion, Fr. Petri first said that the teaching on the matter "comes from Our Lord Himself," wh o said that one who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery. The footnote "cannot suggest carte blanche that everyone receive or not receive Communion," he explained.
Any passage must be interpreted "in light of existing Church teaching," he said.
He pointed to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts' 2000 "Declaration Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who are Divorced and Remarried", which is cited in Amoris laetitia.
Regarding reception of Communion by divorced-and-remarried persons, the declaration states:
"Those faithful who are divorced and remarried would not be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin who would not be able, for serious motives - such as, for example, the upbringing of the children – 'to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses' (Familiaris consortio, n. 84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo."
It is the priest's job to help form a person's conscience so they can correctly determine if they are in this state or not, Fr. Petri explained.
"We have to accompany people where they are in their moral life, and help them move forward. And that's going to be different for every particular circumstance," he said, adding that "pastoral care can often be murky" and "circumstantial."
In the footnote, Pope Francis refers "in the first place" to the Sacrament of Penance, Martens said, and then to Holy Communion. This order points to Church teaching of reception of Holy Communion only after one's sins have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance and they are in the state of grace, he said.
The Pope has "underscored…the importance of confession" for his entire papacy, he added.
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Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.