On the Appearance of Pope Francis’s Letter to the Argentine Bishops in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis

The following is a reprint of an article by Ed Peters, with permission.

Please be charitable and Catholic in the comboxes.

On the Appearance of Pope Francis’s Letter to the Argentine Bishops in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis

by Edward N. Peters, J.C.D., J.D., 4 December, AD 2017

Some three months ago I predicted that Pope Francis’ letter to the Argentine bishops, approving their implementation of Amoris laetitia, would make its way into the Acta Apostolicae SedisNow it has. An accompanying note from Cardinal Parolin states that the pope wishes the Argentine document to enjoy “magisterial authority” and that his endorsement thereof has the status of an “apostolic letter”.

Fine. Let’s work through some points.

1. Canon 915. It is crucial to understand that, today, what actually prevents ministers of Holy Communion from distributing the Eucharist to divorced-and-remarried Catholics is Canon 915 and the universal, unanimous interpretation which that legislative text, rooted as it is in divine law, has always received. Canon 915 and the fundamental sacramental and moral values behind it might be forgotten, ignored, or ridiculed, even by ranking officers in the Church, but unless and until that law is revoked or modified by papal legislative action or is effectively neutered by pontifically approved “authentic interpretation” (1983 CIC 16), Canon 915 stands and, so standing, binds ministers of Holy Communion.

Neither the pope’s letter to the Argentines, nor the Argentine bishops’ document, nor even Amoris Laetitia so much as mentions Canon 915, let alone do these documents abrogate, obrogate, or authentically interpret this norm out of the Code of Canon Law. Granted, little or nothing in these documents endorses or reiterates Canon 915, either, and the apparently studied silence that Canon 915 suffers these days is cause for deep pastoral concern. But law does not wilt under the silent treatment.

2. Apostolic letter. An “apostolic letter” is a sort of mini-encyclical and, however much attention encyclicals get for their teaching or exhortational value, they are not (with rare exceptions) legislative texts used to formulate new legal norms. Typically “apostolic letters” are written to smaller groups within the Church and deal with more limited questions—not world-wide questions such as admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. Even where a special kind of “apostolic letter” is used to make changes to the law—such as John Paul II did in Ad tuendam fidem (1998), as Benedict did in Omnium in mentem (2009), or as Francis did in Magnum principium (2017)—the “apostolic letter” used in such cases carries the additional designation “motu proprio” (i.e., on the pope’s own initiative, and not in response to another’s action), and the changes made to the law thereby are expressly identified by canon number, not simply implied or surmised, especially not by silence.

The pope’s letter to the Argentines appears simply as an “apostolic letter”, not as an “apostolic letter motu proprio”, and it references no canons.

3. Authentic magisterium. Many people use the term “magisterium” as if it were tantamount to “Church governing authority”, but in its canonical sense “magisterium” generally refers to the Church’s authority to issue teachings on faith and morals, not to the Church’s authority to enforce discipline related to matters of faith and morals.

While Francis—albeit about as indirectly as is possible (through a memo to a dicastery official concerning a letter written by an episcopal conference)—has indicated that his letter to the Argentines and even the Argentine conference letter itself are “magisterial”, the fact remains that the content of any Church document, in order to bear most properly the label “magisterial”, must deal with assertions about faith and morals, not provisions for disciplinary issues related to faith and morals. Church documents can have both “magisterial” and “disciplinary” passages, of course, but generally, only those teaching parts of such a document are canonically considered “magisterial” while normative parts of such a document are canonically considered “disciplinary”.

Francis has, in my opinion, too loosely designated others of his views as bearing “magisterial authority” (recall his comments about the liturgical movement), and he is not alone in making, from time to time, odd comments about the use of papal power (recall John Paul II invoking “the fullness of [his] Apostolic authority” to update the by-laws of a pontifical think-tank in 1999).

But that inconsistent usage only underscores that the rest of us must try to read such documents in accord with how the Church herself usually (I wish always, but I’ll content myself with “usually”) writes them, and ask, here, are there “magisterial” assertions in Amoris, the Buenos Aries document, and Francis’ endorsement letter? Yes. Plenty, running the gamut from obviously true, through true-but-oddly-or-incompletely phrased, to a few that, while capable of being understood in an orthodox sense, are formulated in ways that lend themselves to heterodox understandings (and for that reason should be clarified for the sake of the common ecclesial good).

In any case, such teaching statements, to the extent they make assertions about faith or morals and come from bishops and/or popes acting as bishops or popes, already enjoy thereby at least some (relatively little) level of ordinary magisterial value, a value not augmented by sticking the label “magisterial” on them.

And, are there “disciplinary” assertions in Amoris, the Buenos Aries document, and Francis’ endorsement letter? Yes, a few. But as I have said before, in my view, none of those rather few disciplinary assertions, even those ambiguous and capable therefore of leaving the door open to unacceptable practices, suffices to revoke, modify, or otherwise obviate Canon 915 which, as noted above, prevents the administration of Holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics.

Conclusion. I wish that Canon 915 were not the sole bulwark against the abandonment of the Eucharist to the vagaries of individual, often malformed, consciences. I wish that a lively, pastorally-driven sense of the liberating permanence of Christian marriage, the universal need for Confession to reconcile those in grave sin, the power of the Eucharist to feed souls in the state of grace and to condemn those who receive irreverently, sufficed to make invocation of Canon 915 unnecessary in pastoral practice. But apparently, in much of the Catholic world these days, such is not the case and Canon 915 must be pointed to as if it were the only reason to bar reception of Holy Communion in these situations.

But what can one say? Unless Canon 915 itself is directly revoked, gutted, or neutered, it binds ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august sacrament from, among others, divorced-and-remarried Catholics except where such couples live as brother-sister and without scandal to the community.

Nothing I have seen to date, including the appearance of the pope’s and Argentine bishops’ letters in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, makes me think that Canon 915 has suffered such a fate.

The article is a reprint, with permission, from the blog, In the Light of the Law.

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  1. If I didn’t make myself clear, please be charitable in the comboxes and behave like Catholics.

    In other words, I will ruthlessly monitor all comments and anything close to ad hominem attacks on anyone, that commenter will be suspended.

    Address the issue, not the person.

  2. “Unless Canon 915 itself is directly revoked, gutted, or neutered, it binds ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august sacrament from, among others, divorced-and-remarried Catholics except where such couples live as brother-sister and without scandal to the community.”

    Canon Law? Who cares? Lots of clergy (priests, bishops, Cardinals and the Pope) disregard various parts of Canon Law and the GIRM all of the time. They can now point to “Pope” Francis and say that he confirms their beliefs and actions.

    “divorced-and-remarried Catholics” = Adulterers. I’m sick of the made-up phrases used to hide the actual sin such as adultery or homosexual activity. “irregular’ situation”, “an objective situation of sin”, “a concrete situation”, “in complex situations”, etc.

    To “live as brother-sister”. Since when has non-sexual adultery been accepted by the Church? Since JPII’s “Veritatis Splendor” in 1980? Christ’s definition of marriage didn’t include sexual intercourse. Joesph’s and Mary’s marriage didn’t include it either. Why do we accept it from 1980 onward? This novel teaching of JPII is the crack that PF has driven a truck through.

  3. In practice, I fear, Canon 915 has already been reduced to a dead letter. The majority of the priests today are modernists, who will follow the Pope’s opinion as expressed in his Argentinian Letter and recently the Acta. Moreover, the priests who are not of the Pope’s opinion and take Canon 915 seriously, are very often under the authority of modernist bishops who won’t tolerate the application of this Canon.

  4. “Lord God, you love mercy and tenderness; you give life and overcome death. Look upon the many wounds of your church; restore it to health by your risen Son, so that it may sing a new song in your praise.”
    –Psalm Prayer for Psalm 6, “Office of Readings”, 4 Dec. ’17

  5. John F. Kennedy your statement is ridiculous. What is non-sexual adultery? The Church’s definition of marriage definitely includes sexual intercourse and it wasn’t created in 1980.

  6. Wouldn’t it be nice and most appropriate if Pope Francis himself would definitively state the binding nature of Canon 915 regarding this issue in general and Amoris Laetitia in particular? Why won’t he fulfill his Petrine duty to teach the truth with clarity? His purposeful silence in this regard is bellowing.

    Perhaps Dr. Peters has inadvertently set forth another reason why the Pope continues to fail in his teaching duties and pastoral practices that go beyond simply operating inside canonical boundaries while causing unnecessary harm to the faithful by way of intentional ambiguity and lack of clarity.

  7. Pope Francis called for divorced and remarried individuals to go to confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation cannot be used for the annulment process because only one side is heard. The penitent confessing what the spouse did is hearsay and unacceptable in a court of law or of heaven.
    The vow to love the first spouse “until death do us part” is not annulled and stands as testimony to the status of the individual as a LIAR. Liars DO NOT GO TO HEAVEN. So, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is out as an annulment process.
    Should the unrepentant liar receive the Sacred Species he will bring condemnation down on his head and the heads of all around him. He will not escape his vow witnessed in heaven and on earth “till death do us part”
    Part of the misunderstanding for those who refuse to understand is that the “death of the marriage” is not the death of the spouse. The vow intended is to be the death of the spouse.
    If the first vow meant nothing, then how can the second vow have any meaning from a liar?
    Those spouses who are killed are martyrs to the truth of the vow.

  8. Men and women who are instructed to live as brother and sister may cause scandal. The greater harm may come to the children. Prayer is needed to discern what is applicable in each situation. Another reason that the church must apply discipline.
    The application of discipline is not the application of cannon 915

  9. I emphatically disagree with JFK above. Sadly due to a complex set of circumstances and my repeated failure to follow simple direction I am in one of those irregular relationships of which JFK speaks so disparagingly. My first spouse and I were married by a Justice of the Peace outside of the Church. A few years later a sad and wrongful action initiated by her but to which I was an accomplice (about which I have written elsewhere here at TAC), she demanded divorce. 1st Corinthians 7:15 states:

    “But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace.”

    Therefore, I had no choice but to let her depart (indeed, she took the children and went to a friend’s house whose location was unknown to me). I won’t go through all the sorry events which then transpired – the lawyer, divorce court, etc. I will say this. I was kicked out into the snow in February of 2007 some 21 years in sobriety in AA. I drove my car to the edge of the driveway. If I had taken a right turn, then I would have gone to the dope dealer. So I took a left turn, grabbed my Rosary & started praying, and went to see the priest at the local parish. He was in AA recovery too. He heard my confession. And he told me not to drink, go to meetings and talk with my sponsor (who himself was a devout Catholic – praise God). God kept me sober that day to this. That’s a miracle.

    Long story short – I eventually moved because of the job situation to go work on an advanced reactor design (I can be brilliant with physics & math at work, and dumber than dirt when it comes to my personal life). After a few years I did remarry – a Filipina – but again outside the Church (I never can seem to do anything right). Now at our current age and with my declining health, conjugal relations are improbable at best (you the public don’t need to know any more). Nevertheless, I have felt more and more guilty about this as you people here at TAC have discussed this topic (I guess the Holy Spirit uses you), and so while I attend Mass I do not receive Holy Communion. And yes, I intend to go to Confession before Christmas not to make a mockery of the Sacrament but because periodic house cleaning is good for this recovering alcoholic and drug addict. It’s called the 10th step – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. (I can’t abide AA meetings any longer because of all the Christian bashing that goes on at meetings nowadays; if I could find a good Catholic with long time sobriety, then it would be different.)

    Now I have NO intention of leaving my Filipina spouse. Why? Because without me she has no income, no means to live independently. I screwed up and now I have to live with it – supporting my two children from the previous marriage and doing right by my present spouse. My former civil spouse has her live-in boyfriend and all prior attempts at reconciliation failed long ago, so I did what I did. Wrong yes. But there it is. I hope God forgives me. And if I abstain from conjugal relations and repent at Confession, then technically I could receive Holy Communion. But I am loathe to make any kind of public scandal. And as I said elsewhere, I damn sure don’t want any special treatment such as what Amoris Laetitia gives to divorce and remarried people. In nuclear power – my profession – the regulations are the regulations. Likewise here the commandment is the commandment. I messed up too many times before.

    And yes, I have to pursue annulment of my former marriage and blessing of my current marriage – I know that. Another complicated issue not for your eyes but for my priest’s ears.

    Maybe I wrote too much personal stuff. But surely I am not the only person who screwed up. So maybe this will help someone else to avoid my mistakes. My sponsor back up north always said I wasn’t unique, and if it weren’t for God’s grace, then I would be dead underneath a railroad bridge with a heroin needle in my vein. He told me to let God use my defects of character and shortcomings to His advantage, and his sponsor – a Franciscan priest – would always agree. My problem is that I take back my defects of character and shortcomings all too often, hence my screwups. Self-will run riot as Bill Wilson says in the Big Book of AA. Only one cure for that – the Cross. I need to leave those defects of character and shortcomings at the foot of the Cross in the Confessional.

    So it is what it is, JFK. I am a sinful man trying to do right, trying to stay sober one day at a time, and not make anything worse than I already have. Ain’t none of us getting into Heaven on our own merits, and I am well aware of what I deserve.

  10. In the document “Catholics in Political Life,” approved by majority vote several times in the past 13 years, the American bishops have given themselves permission to commit mortal sin.

    Yes. It’s true.

    In that document, the bishops say that a bishop may “legitimately” give Communion to those who support abortion.

    Public support of abortion is a manifest grave (mortal) sin. Thus, giving supporters of abortion Communion violates canon 915. ALL violations of canon 915 are gravely sinful.

    The arguments put forth by various bishops (Wuerl, Cupich, Dolan, Gomez, O’Malley, Chaput, etc.) to justify Communion for pro-aborts are precisely the same arguments put forth in favor of Communion for adulterers. (E.g.: “dialogue” is taking place, there may not be SUBJECTIVE guilt.)

    As long as the American bishops think they can VOTE themselves permission to commit mortal sin, nothing they do should surprise anyone.

  11. Typical American bishops. All problems are solved with “dialogue” and expansion of the welfare state.

  12. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus,
    You do know that, if you were Catholic when you “married” the first lady with a Justice of the Peace presiding, you weren’t married. The Church teaches that the matter, intention and form must be correct. The matter is a man and woman, intention was matrimony but the form was incorrect. It should a simple task for a declaration of nullity. You should then ask the Bishop for recognition of the “second” marriage.

    Ken, I’m surprised you dismiss the words of Christ so easily. Luke 16:18 – “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” I see nothing there that says it is ok if you don’t actually have sexual intercourse. As I noted previously, Joseph and Mary didn’t have intercourse yet were still married. As for the reference to 1980, Fr. Hunwinke has researched it and could find no reference before 1980 that married but living as “brother and sister” was an acceptable teaching. It was in a JPII homily and then in “Familiaris consortio” (not “Veritatis Splendor” as I mistakenly reference ealien today.) Here is a link to his post

  13. LQC, JFK is correct. A Catholic who marries outside the Catholic church does not have a valid marriage. Or if you converted to Catholicism after marriage #1 there is the Paulist principle. You didn’t say whether your current wife had previously been married. If she has been marriaged before, the circumstances of that marriage such as was she Catholic and was she married inside the Church or civilly are factors that also have to be considered. I suggest you meet with a priest with baptismal certificates and marriage licenses, and final divorce degree(s) in hand to find out where you stand.
    As JFK stated the issue of a declaration of nullity for you (and your Filippina wife if necessary) is not difficult nor time consuming if all the conditions are met. Marrying aka Blessing in the Church is a simple ceremony. I sincerely hope and pray that you and your wife will be able to receive the Eucharist again.
    There are many reasons for a marriage to be declared null and void. Having children in a marriage and the length of a marriage does not
    prevent a marriage from being declared null and void in the eyes of the church as so many think. What are grounds for a civil annulment is a different matter.
    Best to meet with a priest.

  14. Thanks, JFK and CAM. Good replies. I am going to do as CAM says, “Best to meet with a priest,” which I have done previously. Time to follow through on direction. Notate Bene (since JFK asked about it): the husband of my Filipina spouse is deceased.

    Whatever the outcome in my case, I utterly despise this short-circuiting of the rules by Jorge Bergoglio. It’s not mercy to a conscience to say, “Do what you want; Jesus will overlook it because He’s your buddy.” Don’t we understand that He is the Logos, the Eternal Word, through Whom all things were made, the Lord God King of the Universe? Just because He emptied Himself to become incarnate as man doesn’t mean His status has changed one iota. Thus, I take the Holy Eucharist very seriously. Jesus is God, Whose Body we eat and Blood we drink at the Eucharist. Thus, St. Paul’s warning at the end of 1st Corinthians chapter 11 becomes paramount:

    27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

    And whatever Canon 915 says, the Lord Jesus Christ has the last word. Neither Jorge Bergoglio nor his henchmen whom he installed in the Vatican can nullify the warning which St. Paul gave under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That’s the ultimate “You do not pass” line.

  15. Phew, ABS was worried the heresy of Franciscus was printed in the AAS but now Dr. Peters assures him it really doesn’t mean what it clearly means and that is bracing because nearly everyone reads Dr. Peters and nobody attends to the Pope.

    Did’ya hear what the Pope said?

    Don’t sweat it; it’s no biggie. Just read what a Canonist says about it…

    But, he isn’t a Cardinal or Bishop, is he ?

    He’s pretty well known…

  16. JFK the implication is clear that the marriage involves sexual intercourse. Non-sexual adultery (your absurd term) is not adultery. Canon 1084.1 informs us that impotence invalidates a marriage. Catholic marriage is built around sexual intercourse. No one will ever have a marriage like the one between Mary and Joseph.

  17. I find Dr Peters’ article persuasive as a careful analysis of the application of Canon Law.

    But the article does not address the issue of whether, by publicly holding out his previous letter as magisterial, Francis has now publicly taught heresy and has thereby removed himself from his office as Pope.

    The question of Communion for those in adulterous relations has become secondary. Consideration must instead focus on whether we are now faced with an anti-pope.

    In my vi

  18. Canon 1084.1 states:

    “Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.”

    But what if the man and woman wish to remain together because they love each other anyways regardless of the impotence?

    This is all very confusing. Impotence on the part of one person nullifies (makes null and void) the marriage. So that means that even if they still love each other and want to stay together, they must separate?

  19. Ah, another interesting thing! Not related to this topic, but I can’t resist. Donald forgive me, but Canon 1083.1 states:

    “A man before he has completed his sixteenth year of age and a woman before she has completed her fourteenth year of age cannot enter into a valid marriage.”

    So Judge Roy Moore did NOTHING wrong by dating a 14 year old! Yeah, I know. He isn’t Catholic. And it’s weird for a 30 year old to date a 14 year old. But the law says that if they had married, then it’s ok. Right? 😉

  20. LQC, “But what if the man and woman wish to remain together because they love each other anyways regardless of the impotence?”
    I suppose they could, but what they would have is not a valid sacramental marriage.

  21. JFK is correct. A Catholic who marries outside the Catholic church does not have a valid marriage.

    No, that is not true. There are paces you have to go through and you need a dispensation from the bishop if you have a disparity of cult.

  22. Art, perhaps I should have been clearer. “A Catholic who marries outside the Catholic Church, or without the Bishop’s permission to do so, does not have a valid marriage.” Having the Bishop’s permission IS in keeping with the form as I described before.

    Ken, again you seem to be confused between impotence and not having sexual intercourse. There have been many married Saints who have remained abstinent. It’s not easy and is not for everyone. Sexual intercourse is an important part of most marriages but the act itself is not a requirement. I again use Joseph and Mary’s marriage as the most famous example. They were considered married before she went to live with him. That’s why when he found out that she was with child, before they moved in together, he considered divorcing her quietly. Who needs a divorce if you aren’t married? Then throughout their remaining years together, she remained a Virgin. I am pretty sure that means they didn’t have sexual relations, yet were still married.

    If sexual relations were the key element for a valid marriage then can someone “marry” multiple people but not have sexual intercourse so they “don’t count?”

    Again, I go back to the VERY PLAIN words of Christ. The act of TRYING to marrying a second person (or third or fourth, etc) is the offense against God. Not having sexual relations in the “second marriage” does change the nature of their sin as defined by Christ. But having sexual relations in that “second marriage” are further sins. The matrimonial embrace is reserved for the lawful spouse.

  23. Sorry. That should have been..
    “Not having sexual relations in the “second marriage” does NOT change the nature of their sin as defined by Christ.”

  24. It would seem obvious that if a married couple were able to consummate, i.e., have sexual intercourse, and then after the fact one or both of the spouses become impotent (not to be confused with withholding sex) due to illness or injury, that the marriage is still valid.
    Again, best to speak with a priest preferably one involved with a marriage tribunal.

  25. JFK, I’m not confused; I quoted canon law. Recall your first post on this thread mocking people who ignore canon law yet that is what you are doing. Please I’m waiting for an explanation on non-sexual adultery. You accuse St JPII of making things up, but I believe you are. You are taking a biblical text and applying your own literal interpretation on it but that is not how the Church has understood it. For a married person to commit adultery they must engage in sexual intercourse with a third party. Pretending to confect a second marriage why still validly married is sinful but it is not adultery.

  26. Cam, you are correct. Read LQC above for the damning phrase, “Antecedent and perpetual impotence.” A valid sacramental marriage must be consummated.

  27. “Pretending to confect a second marriage why still validly married is sinful but it is not adultery.” – Ken

    “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Jesus

    Ken, if Christ’s clear description of adultery is not clear to you, I see little hope in my poor efforts to help you.

  28. John F. Kennedy,
    My understanding is that at the time of Christ, Jews had a type of marriage known as Levitical marriage that did not involve intercourse, and this is likely the kind of marriage that Mary was betrothed to have with Joseph. This explains her question to the Angel Gabriel as to how she would be able to have a son. But for marriages under Catholic law, I believe sexual intercourse is required for a marriage to be consummated, and lack of consummation can be grounds for annulment.

  29. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ”
    It would seem that a physical act is not the only determinative factor. Maybe for some, but not for Him.

    Matthew 5:27-28 | NABRE

  30. Let their be no mistake, the author of A/L and the Letter to the Argintine Bishops knows exactly what he is doing and the ramifications of his actions.
    He has brought us to the brink regarding the Holy Eucharist.
    We are now in deep, dangerous water.
    Bet on it.

  31. Fraudulent Frank (still) on the warpath, instituting his Church of Bergoglio.

    Truth is desperately needed in the Curchm. MUCH less bs.

  32. God bless and protect His Vicar! I think Tito Edwards wise instruction against ad hominem attacks should refer most of all to the Successor of Peter. As St. Escriva wrote, “I thank you God, for this love you have given me for the Pope!”

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