Four theologically conservative cardinals have sent a new letter to Pope Francis asking for the head of the 1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church to clarify his stance on divorce and remarriage.
Posted by Vatican journalist Sandro Magister to his blog earlier this week, the letter was signed by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, emeritus archbishop of Bologna, on behalf of himself and the other three cardinals and was sent in late April amid confusion in the church body.
At issue was the release in April of last year of the 255-page papal exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" (The Joy of Love), which appeared to take a more lenient approach to those who had divorced and then remarried.
"A year has now gone by since the publication of 'Amoris Laetitia.' During this time, interpretations of some objectively ambiguous passages of the post-synodal Exhortation have publicly been given that are not divergent from but contrary to the permanent Magisterium of the Church," wrote Cardinal Caffarra.
"Despite the fact that the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith has repeatedly declared that the doctrine of the Church has not changed, numerous statements have appeared from individual Bishops, Cardinals, and even Episcopal Conferences, approving what the Magisterium of the Church has never approved. Not only access to the Holy Eucharist for those who objectively and publicly live in a situation of grave sin, and intend to remain in it, but also a conception of moral conscience contrary to the Tradition of the Church."
In his blog entry from Tuesday, Magister reported that the pope has not responded to the letter, or earlier letters regarding this matter, including the request to have an audience over their questions.
"The letter was in Francis' hands back on May 6. But the prolonged absence of a response has expanded its nature," stated Magister.
"... in the meantime it is also useful to point out that, during the 45 days that have passed between the delivery of the letter to the pope and its publication, the Babel of interpretations of 'Amoris Laetitia' ... has continued to grow."
In the "Joy of Love" document, the Catholic Church suggested that those who divorced and remarried couuld receive the Sacrament of Communion.
"It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church," noted page 184 of the exhortation.
"The Christian community's care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage; rather, such care is a particular expression of its charity."
The exhortation stated later on page 229, quoting an earlier church document, that baptized members "who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal."
"The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which would allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it," continued the exhortation.
"Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel."
The Associated Press noted that since the release of the "Joy of Love," church leaders "around the world have issued different interpretations of what Francis wrote."
"More conservative bishops have reaffirmed traditional church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage; others have taken Francis' opening and gone further," reported the AP.
"The bishops of Malta, for example, said sometimes it might be 'humanly impossible' for the new couple to abstain from sex."