Pope Francis has acted to put an end to doubts about the interpretation of 'Amoris Laetitia', an exhortation he issued last year after two synods on the family. There has been dispute about whether Chapter VIII permitted the giving of Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics providing certain conditions were met.
One prominent American Catholic theologian, Fr Thomas Weinandy, who taught at Oxford before serving as chief of staff for the US bishops' commission on doctrine, even accused the Pope of causing confusion in the Church.
This is no longer the case. In four lines of Latin the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has confirmed that an exchange of letters between the Pope and the bishops of the Buenos Aires pastoral region on the bishops' plan to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion in certain circumstances is the official teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
When it was first published the directives of the Buenos Airs bishops caused controversy but the Pope describes it as 'very good' and says 'it completely explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of 'Amoris Laetitia'. He adds 'there are not other interpretations'.
Cardinal Parolin's confirmation comes in the latest edition of 'Acta Apostolicae Sedis', the official register of the decrees of the Holy See. It is likely to stir up protests among traditionalists who will object not only to what the Pope has said but to the way in which the decision has been announced. Some are accusing Francis of using a 'back door' to issue teaching. There are also complaints that the new ruling contradicts Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law.
Most Catholics, however, are likely to welcome the clarification. It should put an end to confusion in countries like England where, in the absence of guidance from the blshops, parish priest have made their own laws. From now on it is clear that allowing access to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics in certain circumstances after a period of reflection is the teaching of the 'official Magisterium'.
Paul Richardson worked for 17 years as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and is now a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster.