Canadian bishops: no change in policy on Communion for divorced/remarried

The Catholic bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories in Canada have issued new guidelines for priests regarding the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics, saying that those who wish to receive Communion should resolve to live as brothers and sisters.

Acknowledging confusion among Catholics about the possibility of a change in Church teaching, the Canadian bishops’ statement reads:

It may happen that, through media, friends, or family, couples have been led to understand that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest. This view is erroneous.

Interesting how this seems to directly contradict the Argentinian bishops’ document that states that divorced and remarried may receive communion (without living as brother and sister) in certain situations. These are strange times in the Church when there is so much confusion about.

Canadian, huh.

I’m pleasantly surprised (although, being Alberta and Northwest Territories, I guess I can’t be TOO surprised).

Now if only they issue that retraction to the Winnipeg Statement…


Confusing, perhaps. It looks like Pope Francis will have the final word, and he has been harmonizing (quoted word) canon law codes lately:

A more accurate headline should read “Some Canadian bishops…” or “A small number Canadian bishops”

Alberta and the Territories are, population-wise, only 11% of the total population of Canada, and less than 7% of the population of nominal Catholics in Canada.

Quebec on the other hand, is roughly 25% of Canada’s total population, and 45% of the nation’s nominal Catholics. Alberta is 3 archdioceses/dioceses, and Quebec is 12 archdioceses/dioceses.

It will be interesting to see Quebec bishops’ take on AL.

Your point remains - but for the record, there are two metropolitan sees in Alberta: Edmonton (with the suffragans of Calgary and St. Paul) and Grouard-McLennan (with the suffragans of Mackenzie-Fort Smith and Whitehorse). The Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan encompasses most of Northern Alberta.

The two do not contradict each other at all.

Father, is it possible if you could elaborate on that? I’ve been feeling confused too.

Yes, apparently I do not understand either. The Argentinian document states that it may possible for couples who are in invalid unions to receive communion, without refraining from sexual relations, after discernment with a priest. The Canadian guidance makes it clear, that if an annulment is denied, couples must refrain from sexual relations or they cannot receive communion. It does not say that discernment is an option. This seems to be a contradiction to me. I guess one could argue that since discernment and receiving communion in an irregular union after speaking to a priest is not discussed, that it theoretically remains an option, but that seems like a stretch at best. The guidance put out by the Philadelphia Archdiocese a couple of months ago was very similar - it made it crystal clear that if you’re in an invalid union, no sex, or no communion. It made no other allowances. The Argentine document does. Maybe I am misunderstanding here.

It may happen that, through media, friends, or family, couples have been led to understand that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest. This view is erroneous.
The Bishops from Canada are speaking very precisely – and correctly – when they say people have misunderstood what the post synodal apostolic exhortation has said to bishops and priests.

All of us who are priests and bishops are quite aware of that.

These Canadian bishops also correctly state that there has not been a change of practice such that by simply having a conversation with a priest, that can remedy a situation. To think in those terms is, as they say, indeed erroneous. The Latin American bishops would affirm that as well. So would my diocese. This is not a matter of simply a conversation.

Beyond that, these are properly matters for the bishops, collectively and then in their respective dioceses, then for the theologians who assist the episcopate and the presbyterate, and then ultimately for the presbyterates with guidance from their bishop and his periti – and in that regard specifically concerning those priests who have the cura animarum and more narrowly regarding those specific souls over whom they have been given cura animarum by their bishop.

I am sure the pastoral care guidelines the bishops will establish for their priests will guide those priests in the provision of pastoral care to laity in need of pastoral care. And those guidelines are for those priests from their respective bishops. I have had occasion over decades to help draft guidelines and as many or more occasions to implement guidelines

As a theologian, I understood, and appreciated, the subtle nuances in what was communicated by both sets of bishops. And that is really all I have to say about these matters. Other than, as a theologian, to affirm them.

As for being confused, if you are not a bishop, you won’t be making any guideline…if you’re not a theologian or canonist whose input has been sought, there is no counsel to give…and if you are not a parish priest, you won’t be having recourse to any guideline as to how to proceed


The confusion is in listening to the wrong people. The Church CANNOT change her teaching on Marriage just to suit some people or even some Bishops. I would not want to be one that would fool myself into thinking I could receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin for any reason. God Bless.Memaw

The Archbishop of Ottawa has now endorsed the guidelines:

I found this interesting point:

The situation may arise where a tribunal is unable fully to examine the circumstances of
a prior union. This may be due to the absence of any witnesses to the first marriage, or to
the impossibility of obtaining documentary evidence. Such cases are to be referred to the
Diocesan Bishop.
I like a bishop that is willing to take on the tough cases himself.

I know you don’t make this point but the part you quoted doesn’t necessarily mean that the Bishop on his own makes a definitive decision regarding the validity of a marriage. If the tribunal couldn’t come to a decision, then I doubt the Bishop would make a definitive decision. And as for Communion, the guidelines don’t allow Communion for those who are in an invalid second marriage and do not live as brother and sister.

He most certainly would not render any such decision. He is not able to operate outside of procedural law as established in the Code of Canon Law (most recently revised by Pope Francis) and the 2005 Instruction Dignitas connubii.


Actually they do.

**The Canadian bishops:**In the case where the tribunal upholds the validity of the first union, obedience in faith to the indissolubility of marriage as revealed by Christ will make clear to them the actions that must follow. They are bound to live with the consequences of that truth as part of their witness to Christ and his teaching on marriage.This may be difficult. If, for example, they are unable to separate for the sake of the care of children, they will need to refrain from sexual intimacy and live in chastity “as brother and sister” (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84). Such a firm resolution to live in accordance with the teaching of Christ, relying always on the help of his grace, opens to them the possibility of celebrating the sacrament of Penance, which in turn may lead to the reception of Holy Communion at Mass.
To be clear, going to Confession and ultimately Communion depends on the remarried divorcees separating or, if that is problematic for the children, living as brother and sister. No other alternative is offered.

The Argentinian Bishops:

5) When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).

Notice how the Argentinian bishops present the continence option (living as brother and sister) merely as something “feasible” in “concrete circumstances” - not as something *necessary *in order to avoid adultery.

BTW Saint John Paul II doesn’t say what they claim he says, but commenting on that would make the post too long. Read his entire letter here.

**6) In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace.
And here we have it, all quite plain and unambiguous. The “aforementioned option” refers to the continence option mentioned (rather hesitantly) in heading 5. Here, the remarried divorcee - although committing a sin in engaging in sex with his/her partner - may have “limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability”. So, according to the Argentinian bishops, adultery is not always mortal sin. Adultery is further excused if the children are damaged by a “subsequent fault” - presumably one partner leaving another when he/she is no longer sexually satisfied. These sexually active cohabiting partners may go to Confession and receive Communion without having to practise continence - that’s covered in heading 5.

This obvious and irreconcilable dichotomy in the hierarchy can be resolved only by a clear intervention by the Pope, not by pretending it doesn’t exist.

The Holy Father has for the present thrown his weight behind the Argentinian bishops:The document [the Argentinian bishops’ directives] is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations. And I am certain that it will do much good. May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity.

I am most familiar with both sets of guidelines. They are not in contradiction.

They are not, however, identical, no?

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