VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says the majority of the world's bishops back his suggestion that civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion, adding fuel to the debate that has riled some conservative Catholics.
In an interview Wednesday with the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio, Francis said his 2016 document "The Joy of Love" — which contains the suggestion — was the fruit of two meetings of bishops over two years.
"It is interesting that all that (the document) contains, it was approved in the Synod by more than two thirds of the fathers. And this is a guarantee," he said.
Some conservatives have voiced increasing concern that Francis' opening on the divisive issue of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics is sowing confusion among the faithful about the church's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. The debate has been stoked by the recent publication of a letter from four conservative cardinals asking Francis to clarify his position.
Francis hasn't directly responded to them, but he has sent signals, including Wednesday's comments. He was responding to a question about the decentralized, "synodal" church he favors, where the pope listens to his church, "lets her grow," harmonizes that growth and returns it to the local churches — such as in the form of a teaching document.
"It is unity in diversity," he said.
In September, Francis fully endorsed the interpretation of the question by Argentine bishops, who wrote a set of guidelines saying "The Joy of Love" clearly allows the possibility of access to the sacraments in exceptional cases. "There are no other interpretations," Francis wrote in approving the Argentine guidelines.
Church teaching holds that unless divorced Catholics receive an annulment, or a church decree that their first marriage was invalid, they are committing adultery in a new civil marriage and cannot receive Communion.
Conservatives had insisted the rules are fixed. Liberals had sought wiggle room to balance doctrine with mercy and look at each couple on a case-by-case basis.
Francis said pastors should help individual Catholics ascertain what God is asking of them, and linked such discussions of conscience with access to the sacraments.