Cardinal Pell rules out change on Communion for divorced, remarried

Cardinal Pell rules out change on Communion for divorced, remarried

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In a book coming out just before October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, Cardinal George Pell rules out proposed changes to church practice that would allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

“Doctrine and pastoral practice cannot be contradictory,” writes Cardinal Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who now serves as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. “One cannot maintain the indissolubility of marriage by allowing the ‘remarried’ to receive Communion.”

The cardinal calls for a clear restatement of traditional teaching, to avoid the sort of widespread protests that greeted Pope Paul VI’s affirmation of Catholic teaching against contraception in 1968.

“The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated,” writes the cardinal, who will participate in the synod.

The eligibility of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion is bound to be a major topic of discussion, inside and outside the synod hall, during the Oct. 5-19 gathering. According to church teaching, Catholics who remarry civilly without an annulment may receive Communion only if they abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners “as brother and sister.”

Pope Francis has said the predicament of such Catholics exemplifies a general need for mercy in the church today. In February, at the pope’s invitation, German Cardinal Walter Kasper addressed the world’s cardinals at the Vatican and argued for allowing some Catholics in that predicament to receive Communion.

Cardinal Pell’s statement appears as the foreword to “The Gospel of the Family,” a book-length response to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal that Ignatius Press will publish Oct. 1. Cardinal Kasper’s address, published by Paulist Press, has the same title.

“A courteous, informed and rigorous discussion, indeed debate, is needed, especially for the coming months to defend the Christian and Catholic tradition of monogamous, indissoluble marriage,” Cardinal Pell writes.

But focusing on the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, he suggests, is a “counterproductive and futile search for short-term consolations.”

“Healthy communities do not spend most of their energies on peripheral issues and, unfortunately, the number of divorced and remarried Catholics who feel they should be allowed to receive holy Communion is very small indeed,” the cardinal writes.

“The pressures for this change are centered mainly in some European churches, where churchgoing is low and an increasing number of divorcees are choosing not to remarry,” he writes.

“The issue is seen by both friends and foes of the Catholic tradition as a symbol – a prize in the clash between what remains of Christendom in Europe and an aggressive neo-paganism. Every opponent of Christianity wants the church to capitulate on this issue,” the cardinal writes.

Cardinal Pell acknowledges that the virtue of mercy, whose importance both Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper have underscored in this connection, “is central when we are talking about marriage and sexuality, forgiveness and holy Communion.”

But the cardinal also emphasizes the “essential links between mercy and fidelity, between truth and grace.”

“Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman who was threatened with death by stoning, but he did not tell her to keep up her good work, to continue unchanged in her ways,” the cardinal writes. “He told her to sin no more.”

What is Cardinal Pell’s authority to unilaterally “rule out” anything? I thought the only one empowered to unilaterally “rule out” anything was the Pope.

Or the constant teaching of the Church’s Magisterium throughout history on this issue, which has been loud and clear.

Card Pell didn’t say he was ruling out something (he just re-stated Church teaching, like michaelhagg said), it was the author of the article that decided to call it that.


Just to clarify (in case anyone is wondering), this intro from Card Pell is in a book called “The Gospel of the Family” (same title as Card Kasper’s book)

There is also a separate book called “Remaining in the Truth of Christ” that is by several other Cardinals (Muller, Burke, Brandmuller, Caffarra, and De Paolis) on the same subject.


It’s an infallible teaching, isn’t it? It involves morals, after all.

What happens if Francis agrees more with Kasper than with Pell?

Then all the “traditional” Catholics will claim he’s not the pope, he has no authority, and the church never had authority. They will form their own “Protestant” sect protesting the decision and elevate a “true pope” from the separated clergy.

It will be very sad, but history will show who was following God and his true church and who was following their own ideals even to the point of apostasy.

So you would applaud if this or any other Pope changed the ruling on an seemingly infallible Church teaching?

So you would say it is possible for a pope to change an infallible teaching?

You would say the Holy Spirit does not protect the church?

Your answer is either yes there is no divine protection


The church failed and it’s divine protection ceased.


The most likely answer is- what you think is infallible doctrine is not infallible doctrine at all.

Matrimony is infallible enough, unless ruled invalid or non-existent. Where’s the misunderstanding?

I think you knew but couldn’t resist pointing fingers at “traditionalists”.


So what is your answer to my question?

Should divorced and remarried be allowed to take communion, what say you? Does the church fail?

What so many people fail to recognize is there is no doctrine or dogma saying how one returns to a state of grace. How one becomes worthy again of taking communion.

It has changed many times over the years. At some points propoe were only allowed to confess one mortal sin. After that they could not return to a state of grace after commiting a mortal sin.

Other times there were different thoughts and practices on the matter.

Right now we treat the culpable and unculpable with spiritual discipline, barring them from communion. We treat those who truly committed mortal sin (knew it was wrong and did it anyway) with those who through no fault of their own, and through lack of knowledge on the subject are remarried.

Should the spiritual discipline practice be equal for both of them?

These are questions dealing with church discipline that can be adjusted without touching doctrine in any way.

But I am still curious to know if you think the church can fail and if you think that my assessment that there will be a break away group is inaccurate.

Of course they should not be permitted to receive communion. Anyone who is in mortal sin should not receive communion unless they also want to commit a mortal sin of sacrilege. We do NOT have a right to holy communion.

And so “if” the pope says this view in some circumstances is wrong then you are going to say he promotes sacrilege and leave the church, or are you going to trust mother church instead of yourself ?

Your question is irrelevant. The Church cannot err in faith and morals, therefore it will never teach that adultery is not a mortal sin. The pope does not have unlimited power; his power is limited by the deposit of faith that preceded him. It is the same thing as saying the pope cannot come one day and say that Christ did not really rise from the dead.

And not once did I say that adultery is not mortal sin, not did I say the pope would change that.

Classical error you make there.

You are conflating things. Obviously this is a serious and relevant question because it will be talked about. Some cardinals advocate a position like I presented. Others don’t.

It is a question that will be discussed within the bounds of dogma.

Are you prepared for an answer contrary to what you think is right?

The proof test of who truly trusts the church may be coming. The proof test on if you really believe the Catholic Church is protected from error.

We all know and agree that the divorced and remarried are guilty of committing grave sin. I suspect where the wiggle room is, is whether the degree of culpability is mortal.

What is required to complete the trio of conditions, is for full knowledge and full consent of the will. Full knowledge may be indeed not be present in many cases. And once caught in an illicit marriage, full consent of the will may be compromised. Try telling a functional family with children that have been together for many years that they must either break up, or refrain from conjugal relations.

I can tell you it would take willpower greater than my own to do either.

Therefore “full consent” of the will may be lacking.

However these cases would have to be decided individually on a pastoral basis. What may come out are some guidelines for pastoral evaluation, similar to the conditions that were published in the CCC concerning masturbation.

AFAIK, the teaching on the three conditions for mortal sin are as much part of doctrine as the indissolubility of marriage. It would seem logically inconsistent to consider that in the case of, say, masturbation there may be mitigating circumstances that reduce culpability, but that in the case of remarriage, no such circumstances are possible. ISTM it cuts both ways: if the Church teaches that mitigating circumstances can reduce culpability in all sins except remarriage after divorce, then she puts the credibility of her entire doctrine of mortal sin in peril. It would seem, at least to my feeble brain, to ultimately do more damage to the Church’s credibility on the claim of infallibility of the magesterium on issues of faith and morals, than pastorally evaluating individual cases to see if the state of objective grave sin, is or isn’t a state of subjective mortal sin and thus allowing the remarried to receive the sacraments in specific pastoral circumstances.

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