Divorced and Remarried Catholics and the Eucharist

Is the reception of the Eucharist by divorced and remarried Catholics an issue that has been infallibly decided on, or is the current teaching subject to change? This question has probably been asked before, and if so, I apologize. I just want to know why it’s causing so much confusion and division among not only the lay faithful, but the princes of the Church as well. I’ve heard different things from different places, and I want to know why there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. Help?

It’s not really a question of infallible teaching per se. The prohibition has been based on some basic principles:

*]Divorce does not end a valid marriage (neither does an annulment, it recognizes that no marriage happened in the first place)
*]One cannot enter a new marriage while still in a valid previous marriage
*]Sexual intercourse between married persons with those who are not their spouse is the sin of adultery
*]“Remarriage” (without a declaration of nullity) while a persons first spouse still lives generally include ongoing acts of adultery
*]Adultery is grave matter unto the point of mortal sin that loses saving grace
*]Receiving the Eucharist in the state of mortal sin is sacrilegious and must be answered to before the Lord
*]The sin of adultery can be forgiven in confession if, and only if, there is firm intent to avoid committing the sin again
Those understandings are at the core of our understanding of the divine nature of marriage, sexual sin and worthy reception of the sacraments. They underpin much of the framework of the faith.

The challenge for many is that recent statements seem to imply that it is possible for someone to enter into a new “marriage”, but have reduced culpability that might make it grave matter, but not a mortal sin. For many of the faithful, both clergy and laity alike, is how to square that thought with Christ’s own teachings on Divorce and Remarriage. It turns on it’s head some very basic teachings of the Church. It appears to set aside our understanding of what Christ taught and places mercy as more important than following what God has revealed to us.

As a protestant convert, it causes me some consternation as it feels a little like returning to my protestant roots where we had principles that always allowed exceptions to the rules. In the 35 years I was a protestant, I saw many exceptions become the norm and the principles be cast aside as un-achievable. If that same thought process invades Catholic teaching, then Her claim to uphold the unchanging Truth of God becomes suspect.

If remarriage no longer involves adultery then what other teachings of Christ can be set aside for pastoral mercy? How long until the exception becomes the rule? I have already seen my church of origin slough off inconvenient teachings to conform itself to the world and I don’t relish the idea of the Catholic Church doing the same. I came to the Church with faith that Her teachings were a solid island in a stormy sea of moral relativism, but without clarification on the unified teachings of the Church I wonder just how stable that moral rock is.

The confusion comes form different bishops putting forth guidelines that seem at odds with each other. If one cannot receive in Dioceses X, but their culpability is reduced in Diocese Y 30 miles away, then how can we claim to follow a universal faith?

“I came to the Church with faith that Her teachings were a solid island in a stormy sea of moral relativism, but without clarification on the unified teachings of the Church I wonder just how stable that moral rock is”

As a convert of three years ago, this is the same situation for me and it is deeply distressing. My protestant friends have spared no time in using this debate to attack the teaching authority of the Church. Their arguments understandably go straight to the crux of the matter and focus on the contradiction if such a change were ever to become official teaching. While I can hold my ground for now, it is incredibly difficult to Evangelise and present a consistent teaching in the middle of a public debate on what has historically been fundamental Catholic Doctrine.

We can only pray for some sort of clarification from the Pope so that we can all get on with being Catholic again :thumbsup:

This is a very good summary of the current situation and very insightful, thanks.

Divorced and “remarried” Catholics without having an annulment are NOT permitted to receive Communion. Such persons would be guilty of adultery and in a state of mortal sin. Nobody in a state of mortal sin may receive Communion. That is infallible and there can be no exceptions.

On the other hand if such persons confessed their adultery and ceased all sexual relationships until getting an annulment they would be able to receive Communion.

I’m no moral theologian, but what about culpability? I thought culpability was a factor in determining if a sin of grave matter was mortal.

Chapter 84 of Pope St John Paul II’s encyclical Familiaris Consortio is helpful in considering this specific situation with clarity:

"*84. Daily experience unfortunately shows that people who have obtained a divorce usually intend to enter into a new union, obviously not with a Catholic religious ceremony. Since this is an evil that, like the others, is affecting more and more Catholics as well, the problem must be faced with resolution and without delay. The Synod Fathers studied it expressly. The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation.

Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.

Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”

Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.

By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.

With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.*"

Pastoral practice leads people to the truth through an inner conversion, so that they might better understand and reflect the truth, it doesn’t confirm them in an erroneous understanding of that truth.

Mitigating circumstances cannot be used to justify continuing in a life of sin once one is aware that an action is a sin contrary to God’s Commandments. We are all obliged to form and develop our consciences to better discern God’s will, but our consciences alone are not infallible (as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). In order to have a valid Confession, one needs a firm conviction of amendment to avoid the situation/action next time around. If one goes to Confession unrepentant, and has no desire to amend, the Confession is invalid and the person remains in mortal sin. Remember the words of Christ to the woman caught in adultery, he did not condemn her but he did say “go and sin no more”. We can over-think culpability to the point that we could rationalize the committing of an objectively sinful action.

Cardinal Newman put it well in his “Discourses for Mixed Congregations” when he said:

"No one sins without making some excuse to himself for sinning. He is obliged to do so: man is not like the brute beasts; he has a divine gift within him which we call reason, and which constrains him to account before its judgement seat for what he does. He cannot act at random; however he acts, he must act by some kind of rule, on some sort of principle, else he is vexed and dissatisfied with himself. Not that he is very particular whether he finds a good reason or a bad, when he is very much straightened for a reason; but a reason he must have.

Hence you sometimes find those who give up religious duty altogether, attacking the conduct of religious men, whether their acquaintance, or the ministers or professors of religion, as a sort of excuse - a very bad one - for their neglect. Others will make the excuse that they are so far from the Church, or so closely occupied at home, whether they will or not, that they cannot serve God as they ought. Others say that it is no use trying to do so, that they have again and again gone to confession and tried to keep out of mortal sin, and cannot; and so they give up the attempt as hopeless. Others, when they fall into sin, excuse themselves on the plea that they are but following nature; that the impulses of nature are so very strong, and that it cannot be wrong to follow that nature which God has given us.

Now these persons, my brethren, tempt God; they try him, how far His goodness will go; and it may be, they will try Him for too long, and will have experience, not of His gracious forgiveness, but of His severity and Justice."

Culpability is about whether there has been coercion or if there is a lack of mental capacity. I guess it is not impossible but I strongly doubt if either would apply in a case of divorce and “remarriage”.

I believe there was the thought that a person knew that their marriage was invalid and should be declared nulled by the church. The problem was that the paperwork/research could not be obtained from the person they married or for themselves which prevented the marriage from being declared null and void (documents burned or inconclusive or lost). In these cases, the thought was batted around that the person could go to communion if remarried with the permission and knowledge of the local bishop. However this has never been approved as yet. And in a news release it seems that the pope did not appove this.

Yes, I believe this was mentioned by several at the time of the last synod. However, you can easily see how this would be wide open to abuse (consciously or unconsciously). What it’s really saying is, even if there’s no evidence or way of proving that a marriage was invalid, you can decide on the basis of a subjective feeling that you’re able to remarry, have sexual relations with a partner, receive Holy Communion and not cause a public scandal by, at least visibly, contradicting the Church’s constant teaching on divorce and remarriage. And if the “hunch” was wrong, they’d be committing the mortal sin of adultery and compounding it by involving others; that’s one risky decision to take!

Imagine a criminal court case where the presumption of innocence was dropped, and people could be found guilty, in the absence of any proof, because they have a feeling that the accused is guilty. The reason why we have rules and procedures is that they represent the application of some principle of law or philosophy which can be communicated and understood by other people. If everything is subjective and internal, there is no principle to communicate or means of explaining to people why your subjective decision to act in a particular way is any better than, or at least non-contradictory to, someone else who chooses a path going in the opposite direction while still claiming to hold the same beliefs.

The “princes of the church”?

Who’s that?


It’s a term that has been used rather extensively throughout history.

It is a kind of courtesy title today, but at one time prelates (especially cardinals) were in fact actual ‘princes’ or had the type of influence of a secular prince, if not the actual wealth, power, or pedigree of one. After all, though it seems strange to us today, ‘princes’ at one time were practically a dime a dozen in the sense that some countries which are ‘unified’ today, like Germany and Italy, were up until about 150 years ago large collections of ‘city states’ that were headed by princes, some wealthy, some not.

So if you will, it’s a cardinal, usually one in a see which is considered more ‘important’ (European capitals, large US cities). It’s often used in a derogatory manner as well by the pseudo-egalitarians of the world. Its use will probably fade and die out in a couple of generations and only be found in obscure footnotes among Catholic documents and major encyclopedias, but be extremely widespread in anti-Catholic publications.

Catholic Cardinals are call the Princes of the Curch. I seem to remember it relates to being electors of the Pope and descends from the Prince-Electors from the Holy Roman Empire, but I might not be remembering correctly.

Just to clarify, I didn’t mean it in a derogatory way. I was using it as a courtesy title. I want to become Catholic myself.:slight_smile:

This is a very good post IMHO.

In my own life I had to make a decision about supporting or not supporting a childhood friend in her divorce and pretend remarriage (no annulment). I felt even attending the 2nd wedding was impossible for me and our friendship is no more (partly because I handled it poorly in trying to articulate my concerns for her soul and the example she was setting for her young daughter). How many thousands/millions of others have seen family members split over these things and had to say goodbye to good friends? And then the Church says “we’ve evolved now” and “we weren’t merciful before but we can be merciful now”.

How could anyone plant their feet and stand firm on any moral issue, even in the face of potentially broken relationships (like we are called to do), if there is a real possibility that the Church could change her mind and her position?

We are either on shifting sand or on firm rock.

I don’t know what the answer is because I DO want my friend to return to the Church and be in full communion with her. I understand she made a decision years ago that what the Church clearly taught (at least at that time), made no difference to her. She now has one child from that 2nd marriage. What is she to do? What can she do if her 2nd partner has no desire to live as brother and sister? What if she herself doesn’t want to live as brother and sister in order to be in full communion with the Church?

The confusion comes form different bishops putting forth guidelines that seem at odds with each other. If one cannot receive in Dioceses X, but their culpability is reduced in Diocese Y 30 miles away, then how can we claim to follow a universal faith?

That’s why it’s essential Papa Francesco clears things up in the dubia. Answers written by a journalist or printed from an interview doesn’t mean anything to me on something so serious as this. We need official, clear teaching from the Pope on an official Church document.

A lot of people have lost a lot while trying to hold onto moral truths taught by Holy Mother Church in regards to marriage (St. Thomas Moore, St. John the Baptist and any lay folk trying to guide and support others to stay on the right path). If the ground sways beneath us on this issue, who’s to say other issues won’t change as well?

That’s why this is so serious, why there’s so much confusion.

Would you define “state of mortal sin” as you use it here?

A Catholic who knows a certain act is of grave matter and goes ahead anyway and commits that act.

I do not believe there is any Catholic who does not know divorce and “remarriage” without an annulment is a sin of grave matter.

This is only one of a number of possible explanations for the recent statements from Pope Francis (and indeed Pope Benedict in his time) .

A major concern is also that the Tribunals not irregularly let couples down purely for technical reasons. In other words it is relatively clear that their first marriage never happened but cannot be legally declared yet (or maybe ever). They are therefore free tpo marry before God but not the fallible Church. So their 2nd marriage does not involve the vice of adultery (though legal adultery perhaps yes) but fornication. And given the Church won’t allow them to marry even if they are likely free before God to do so … maybe not even true fornication. And unlikely culpable fornication even if it were.

The confusion comes form different bishops putting forth guidelines that seem at odds with each other. If one cannot receive in Dioceses X, but their culpability is reduced in Diocese Y 30 miles away, then how can we claim to follow a universal faith?

I suggest this is a complete red heering. Principles are the same but practice and application is and always has been varied throughout a catholic Church with local jurisdictions and implimentations. If the US bishops decide to implement AL allowances more strictly than Argentinian bishops that is their prerogative and their faithful’s loss. Local obedience is the universal duty of all the faithful.

People used to say the very same thing when Latin got changed into different local vernaculars.

You’ve attempted to define an “act of mortal sin”.

I was really asking how you define a “state of mortal sin”?

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