Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, although it was a bit unclear at the outset, has now proposed an official change in practice in that absolution can now be given to someone who is divorced and civilly remarried (and still sacramentally married to someone else) if they and their pastor have decided that their culpability is reduced, even if they will continue to live as “man and wife” with their new spouse. John Paul II allowed this if they lived as “brother and sister” (no sexual relations) because there was no continuing sin (see Familiaris consortio). The new idea is that by living as brother and sister more harm would be done to the family, children, etc. The claim is that we aren’t changing doctrine but we are allowing a new practice that is “merciful.” Many are referring to this as the “private forum” which means instead of a court of annulment, this is handled between the person and their confessor.
So What’s the Big Deal?
The other 900-pound gorilla is that when AL was released, none of this was overtly announced. The Pope said yes, things were changing, but referred people to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who was somewhat vague at first. However, now we have seen the Pope himself confirm in writing to the Argentine bishops that “no other interpretation is possible.” Cardinal Schönborn has been overt about this as well. Archbishop Chaput, who established standards for Philadelphia, has also been criticized by new Cardinals Farrell and Cupich for upholding the previous standard. Some bishops go one way, some go the other.
Given all of this controversy, two months ago four Cardinals privately sent a letter and a document called a dubia (expressing doubts) to the Pope, asking for clarification on five questions of doctrine including whether or not we still believe that there is such a thing as objective sin. The letter was respectful and within the boundaries of Canon 212, Paragraph 3. Because the Pope refused to answer, they then made the rest of the faithful aware of the questions at hand, and released the document publicly.