He reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, and stressed that the Church must in no way “renounce to proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its greatness.”
“Any form of relativism, or an excessive respect in the moment of proposing it, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also a lack of love of the Church,” he said.
However, he noted that, as said in Amoris laetitia, there are many complex factors contributing to why marriages fail and irregular unions are so common, such as abandonment by a spouse, cultural stigmas, or other “mitigating factors.”
The cardinal pointed to paragraph 301 of Amoris laetitia, which reads: “it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”
By referring to “any irregular situation,” the exhortation, in his opinion, “intends to refer to all those who are married only civilly or only living in a de facto union or are bound by a previous canonical marriage,” the cardinal said.
Further quoting that paragraph, the cardinal said, “a subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values,’ or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin … factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision.”
Offering an example of a situation in which a person might be fully aware of the irregularity of their situation yet faces great difficulty in changing it for fear of falling into greater sin, Cardinal Coccopalmerio pointed to couples in a new union who can’t separate due to “serious reasons” such as the education of their children.
He also used the example of a woman cohabiting with a man and his three children, after they had been abandoned by his first wife.
In the book, the cardinal said the woman had saved the man “from a state of deep despair, probably from the temptation of suicide.” The couple had been together for 10 years, adding another child to the mix, with the woman making considerable sacrifices to help raise the other three.
While the woman in the hypothetical situation “is fully aware of being in an irregular situation” and would “honestly like to change her life, but evidently, she can't,” the cardinal said, explaining that if she left, “the man would turn back to the previous situation and the children would be left without a mother.”
To leave, then, would mean the woman would fail to carry out her duties toward innocent people, namely, the children. Because of this, Cardinal Coccopalmerio said, “it's then evident that she couldn’t leave without new sin” occurring.
Speaking on the point of continence, the cardinal pointed to St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio.
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In the document, St. John Paul II taught that the divorced-and-remarried who for serious reasons cannot satisfy the obligation to separate may receive absolution which would open the way to Communion only if they take on the duty to live in complete continence – to live as brother and sister.
However, for Cardinal Coccopalmerio, while the couples who are able to do this should, for others the temptation of infidelity increases the longer a couple refrains from sexual intimacy, potentially causing greater harm to the children.
He referred to footnote 329 of Amoris laetitia. The footnote is a reference to the quoting of St. John Paul II's words in Familiaris consortio acknowledging that some of the divorced-and-remarried cannot, for serious reasons, separate. The footnote applies the words of Gaudium et spes that “where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined” – in its context, speaking about married couples – to “the divorced who have entered a new union.”
Cardinal Coccopalmerio stressed that while for him the desire to change one’s situation despite the inability to do so is enough to receive Communion, the conditions must be “carefully and authoritatively discerned” on the part of ecclesial authority, which would typically be the couple’s parish priest, who knows the couple “more directly” and can therefore offer adequate guidance.
For the cardinal, the only instance in which a couple in an irregular situation could be barred from Communion is when, “knowing they are in grave sin and being able to change, they have no sincere desire” to do so.
He also suggested that a diocesan office charged with advising on difficult marital situations could be “necessary, or at least useful.”