John L. Allen Jr.: No matter what anyone says, clarity on ‘Amoris’ remains elusive

(Crux) For a document that was intended to settle the debate unleashed by two tumultuous Synods of Bishops called to discuss issues related to marriage and family life, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s treatise on the family, instead seems notable for how much it’s left unresolved and still-disputed.

For those who haven’t been following every twist and turn, Amoris Laetitia is a broad treatment by a tremendously pastoral pope, and it can’t be reduced to single contested point. Nevertheless, the most polarizing question during the synods was whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics could receive the sacrament of Communion under at least some circumstances, and everyone read the text with one eye to what Francis would say on that question.

In the document, Francis addressed the point only in a footnote – footnote 351 – which appeared to leave the door open for a “yes” answer, but not doing so in a way that explicitly changed either Church law or teaching. That cleared the path for bishops to interpret the implications of the pope’s ruling differently, with some taking a restrictive approach and others a more permissive line.

That is exactly what’s happened, with some dioceses around the world declaring that nothing has changed and that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may receive Communion only if they live as “brother and sister,” meaning without sexual intimacy, and others saying they may come forward for Communion after a process of discernment with a priest or bishop. [More]