Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio has published a book on Amoris Laetitia

A senior Vatican cardinal has argued that the divorced and remarried can take Communion when it is impossible for them to avoid having sex.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, has published a book on Amoris Laetitia. The cardinal says that a couple should have “absolution and access to the Eucharist as long as – I repeat – there is the impossibility of immediately changing the situation of sin.”

St John Paul II and Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive Communion, except possibly when they endeavour to live “in complete continence”.

The Vatican’s doctrinal chief, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, recently said that this doctrine could not be changed, as it rested on a parallel between marriage and the Eucharist which is essential to Catholic theology. “No power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it,”, Cardinal Müller said.

However, some senior figures, including the two bishops of Malta, have said that the Church’s teaching could be changed. The Maltese bishops said that avoiding sex with a new partner may be “impossible”.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s short book, “The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,” takes a similar line. The cardinal says that if someone has “the ability to change” and does not, they cannot receive Communion. But he cites the case of a woman who knows that leaving a man and his children would leave them bereft. “If, in fact, she left the union … the children would be without a mother. Leaving the union would mean, therefore, not fulfilling a moral duty towards innocent persons.” Here, he says, it might be impossible to avoid having sex.

The cardinal mentions the requirement to live “as brother and sister”, but writes: “If, however, the commitment creates difficulties, the two partners seem to not be obligated in and of themselves.”

The Council of Trent taught that it is always possible to keep the moral law, saying: “God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes thee to do what thou canst and to pray for what thou canst not, and aids thee that thou mayest be able.” The Council also declared: “If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema.”

Cardinal Coccopalmerio was scheduled to present the book at a press conference yesterday morning, to which Vatican reporters had been invited. However, it was announced at the press conference that the cardinal was unable to attend, due to a diary clash.

In the book, the cardinal also says that a priest may be best placed to make the decision about Communion, as he “knows the people directly and can for that reason can give an adequate judgment in these delicate situations.”

Fr Maurizio Gronchi, a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters that the cardinal’s book is not “the Vatican response” to the dubia posed by the four cardinals.