Pope Francis’ teaching on marriage aims to help people in difficult family situations without departing from the broader context of Catholic teaching, Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of St. Peter has explained in a new pastoral letter.

“Only a careful and faithful reading of Amoris Laetitia will ensure that we receive the Holy Father’s words with the gratitude and respect due them, safeguarding this beautiful reflection from those who would misuse it to promote practices at odds with the Church’s teaching,” he wrote Jan. 16 in “A Pledged Troth”.

Concerning cases where a person’s first marriage was valid, Bishop Lopes cited both Amoris laetitia and St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio. The entire community of the faithful must be attentive to a couple’s situation and ensure that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church. The community must help the couple and any of their children experience the Church “as a mother who welcomes them always.”

The bishop cited Pope Francis’ exhortation, which said pastoral discernment with the divorced-and-remarried must avoid the “grave danger” of misunderstandings, including the idea that “any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions’.

Bishop Lopes explained that the prohibition against adultery “admits of no exceptions.” As Familiaris consortio says, discernment does not allow us to “look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future” and there are not different degrees of God’s law for different individuals and situations.

“Pastoral discernment admits of no exceptions to the moral law, nor does it replace moral law with the private judgments of conscience,” Bishop Lopes said.

His pastoral letter placed Pope Francis’ teaching in the context of St. John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which repeated the Council of Trent’s teaching that confessing one’s mortal sins must precede the worthy reception of the Eucharist.

A civilly remarried couple “committed to complete continence” could receive the Eucharist after proper discernment with their pastor and after making a sacramental confession, the bishop taught.

“A civilly remarried couple firmly resolving complete chastity thus resolves not to sin again, which differs in kind from a civilly remarried couple who do not firmly intend to live chastely, however much they may feel sorrow for the failure of their first marriage,” Bishop Lopes explained. “In this situation, they either do not acknowledge that their unchastity, which is adultery, is gravely wrong, or they do not firmly intend to avoid sin.”

Full story at Catholic News Agency.