Referencing sections 296 and 297 of Amoris laetitia, the German bishops said that "with the guiding concepts" of accompaniment, discernment, and integration, those affected "must be helped."
While accompaniment requires "encouraging people on the way of life and the Gospel," they said discernment should not stop at what the objective moral situation of those affected is.
On this point, they referenced footnote 351 of Amoris laetitia, in which Pope Francis wrote: "In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, 'I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord's mercy'. I would also point out that the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak'."
The German bishops' conference commented: "At the end of such a spiritual process, which is always concerned with integration, not in every case will there be a reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist."
The bishops stressed that "the individual decision of whether one, under the respective circumstances, is able to receive the sacraments, deserve respect and recognition. However, the decision to receive the sacraments must also be respected."
At the conclusion of the document the bishops encouraged those who want to pursue marriage and family life in the Church "to personally acquaint themselves with the groundbreaking text that is Amoris laetitia."
A divided stance
Bishops from Germany who had already advocated admitting the divorced-and-remarried to Communion included Cardinal Walter Kasper; Cardinal Reinhard Marx; Bishop Franz-Josef Bode; and Archbishop Heiner Koch.
However, despite the factions of bishops who seem to be opening the door to a path to admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Communion, many are still resistant to the idea, including some heavy-hitters who are themselves German.
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, was one of four signatories of a letter containing five "dubia" submitted to the Pope in September asking him to clarify ambiguous parts of Amoris laetitia, and which was later published.
Other prelates with German roots who have been outspoken against the proposal to admit the divorced-and-remarried to Communion include Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal Paul Cordes; Bishop Stefan Oster; Bishop Konrad Zdarsa; Bishop Gregor Hanke; Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer; Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann; Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt; Archbishop Ludwig Schick; and Cardinal Joachim Meisner.
In addition, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has on multiple occasions maintained that Amoris laetitia is in continuity with Church teaching.
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In an interview with Italian monthly Il Timone published the same day the German bishops' guidelines were released, the cardinal stressed that "it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris laetitia according to their way of understanding the pope's teaching."
"This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine," he said, stressing that Amoris laetitia "must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church."
Having so many bishops split off with their own interpretations "does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine," he said, adding that the Pope's magisterium is able to be interpreted only by him or by the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.
"The Pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the Pope; this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church," he said, telling the bishops "who are talking too much" to first "study the doctrine (of the councils) on the papacy and the episcopate."
As someone who teaches the Word of God to others, a bishop must himself "be the first to be well-formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind."
Cardinal Müller pointed to Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II's 1981 exhortation on the Christian family in the modern world, in which the Polish Pope stipulated that the divorced-and-remarried who for serious reasons cannot separate, in order to receive absolution in confession which would open the way to receiving Communion, must take on the duty to live in complete continence.