Writing in his column in the current issue of Catholic Times, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, addresses some of the controversy that surrounded the release of Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of His Holiness Pope Francis.
Several commentators suggested - as they insisted would be the case for nearly two years - that the there was a change regarding the doctrine and discipline of the Church concerned Catholics living in invalid marriages and their reception of the Holy Eucharist in Amoris Laetitia.
Following the release of Amoris Laetitia, Bishop Paprocki issued a statement welcoming its publication in which he said, "There are no changes to canon law or church doctrine introduced in this document."
Having had the opportunity to give a more careful reading to the exhortation, Bishop Paprocki maintains what he says and offers a sound reasoning for it:
The starting point for interpreting papal statements and ecclesiastical documents is to remember that they do not all carry the same authoritative weight. They bear different names because they carry varying levels of importance and authority. They are grouped, for example, on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va) under different categories with a variety of titles, including: apostolic constitutions, encyclicals, motu proprios, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters, audiences, homilies, letters, messages, speeches, prayers and daily meditations. At the top of this hierarchy in terms of importance and authority are apostolic constitutions, highest in significance because they constitute papal legislation defining laws and doctrines. Among the lowest levels of authority would be extemporaneous answers given in response to impromptu questions during an in-flight press conference on an airplane. Footnotes in an apostolic exhortation would also rank low in significance, particularly since apostolic exhortations themselves simply exhort, encourage and urge the faithful to follow existing church laws and teachings. Apostolic exhortations by their very nature are not vehicles for introducing or amending legislative texts or making dogmatic pronouncements.Thus, it is important to note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church was promulgated on October 11, 1992, by Pope St. John Paul II by means of an Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, the highest level of papal authority. In that document, the sainted Holy Father wrote: “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”With regard to the question of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, the Catechism says clearly in paragraph 1665, “The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.” There is nothing in Amoris Laetitia that changes, amends or repeals this doctrine.