Doctrinal wars? Both sides fire over Communion for divorced, remarried

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will not open until Oct. 5, but some of its most prominent members are already publicly debating what is bound to be one of its most controversial topics: the eligibility of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

In an interview published Sept. 18, a proponent of changing church practice to allow such Catholics to receive Communion answered criticism from some of his fellow cardinals, suggesting they are seeking a “doctrinal war” whose ultimate target is Pope Francis.

“They claim to know on their own what truth is, but Catholic doctrine is not a closed system, but a living tradition that develops,” German Cardinal Walter Kasper told the Italian daily Il Mattino. “They want to crystallize the truth in certain formulas … the formulas of tradition.”

“None of my brother cardinals has ever spoken with me,” the cardinal said. “I, on the other hand, have spoken twice with the Holy Father. I arranged everything with him. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do but stand with the pope? I am not the target, the target is another.”

Asked if the target was Pope Francis, the cardinal replied: “Probably yes.”

Cardinal Kasper, who will participate in the upcoming synod by personal appointment of the pope, was responding to a new book featuring contributions by five cardinals, including three of his fellow synod fathers, who criticize his proposal to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

According to church teaching, Catholics who remarry civilly without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriage may not receive Communion unless they abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners “as brother and sister.”

Things are getting really scary :frowning:

Is Kasper saying the Pope agrees with him here?

It seems more like he is hinting at that, but if pressed on it, he could reasonably say that’s not what he was saying. :stuck_out_tongue:

I wouldn’t read into it too much. It seems to me like they are getting all this out in the open beforehand so that hopefully they can focus on other issues once the Synod actually starts.

The only way I know of to enable communion for the divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity, is to make obtaining a declaration of nullity a lot easier. The Church has no authority to overturn a command of Jesus.

Perhaps there will be a “presumption of nullity” for all first marriages. Actually in today’s society, such a presumption may not be far from the truth. However, the Church has always taken the position that a marriage is presumed valid until proven otherwise.

The only other possibility is to take the position that yes, we assume your first marriage remains valid and so the existing second one cannot be, so you are living in an objective state of adultery, but no matter–you can receive communion anyway. Such a position, if taken, would almost certainly have to be extended to other sins as well.

A presumption of nullity for all first marriages would not work either. For what reason would they be authorized? Because people these days are “ill equipped for marriage?” Wouldn’t it make sense that these people should not have been married in the first place, rather than granting them a second marriage if they are indeed so ill equipped?

Instead of making annulments easier, marriage should be made harder, if that is the case IMHO.

Yes, it would make sense that probably a great many first marriages should never have occurred in the first place; so often it seems people just have no idea what they are doing. (But that of course also lays the groundwork for nullity.)

The problem is that the Church historically has taken the position that all persons have a right to marry unless there is some impediment preventing it. In past times most people took it for granted that marriage was for life, so even if they didn’t know much, they knew that much! Once you married, you were married for life! It would be a change in itself, though not a doctrinal change, to make the presumption that most people seeking marriage simply do not have the capacity and understanding to make a valid lifelong vow.

Most people think that the pope agrees with them. That’s how this works.

Besides, the pope can think that the sky is purple if he wants. Inserting that into the Church’s magisterial teaching is a completely different matter. If Cardinal Kasper thinks that this is some political game where it is all about getting “your guy” into power to do what you want him to, then he’s seriously underestimating the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying he actually thinks that, but the point stands whether he does or doesn’t.

Maybe the whole issue is whether the Church can promote one sacrament (Communion) at the expense of another (Matrimony). Seems like the latter sacrament has already been undermined severely. Can it do much worse? Why marry at all if Matrimony has no meaning?

Not always. There was a time that a second and in extreme circumstances a third marriage was allowed under the principle of economia. The bishops have the power to bind a loose. There is no reason you can’t return to this ancient practice, a practice far older than your current system of annulments.

I’m not all that familiar with the practice of economia. But I must admit that it seems to me to simply be an acceptance of divorce and remarriage. What happened to the first (or second) marriage? Were the vows for life or not? Does the Church have the power to terminate what God has joined?

People already call annulments “Catholic divorce.” With economia, I think we would simply have Catholic divorce in practice.

Well “Catholic divorce” was practiced for many many centuries. It was viewed as sinful and the second and third marriages carried escalating penances. There was never a fourth marriage allowed.

The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family has already released preparatory documents ahead of time, one of which (Instrumentum Laboris) addresses this topic and, I think, shows that they do not intend to change this matter. Here are the relevant paragraphs: [91.] Many times, people in these irregular situations do not grasp the intrinsic relationship between marriage and the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance. Consequently, they find it very difficult to understand why the Church does not allow those who are in an irregular situation to receive Holy Communion. The catechetical instruction on marriage does not sufficiently explain the connection. Some responses (America, Europe, Asia) relate how at times people wrongly think that divorced people as such, without entering a new union, are automatically excluded from receiving Holy Communion. Such people, however, are not prohibited from receiving the sacraments.

  1. Some Church members who are cognizant that they are in an irregular situation clearly suffer from the fact that they are unable to receive the sacraments. Many feel frustrated and marginalized. Some wonder why other sins can be forgiven and not theirs. Others cannot see how religious and priests can receive a dispensation from their vows and priestly obligations so they can marry, while divorced and remarried persons are unable to receive Holy Communion. These questions highlight the necessity of providing suitable formation and information in the matter.

source Another relevant portion is this paragraph: In other cases, persons do not understand how their irregular situation can be a reason for their not being able to receive the sacraments. Instead, they believe that the Church is at fault in not permitting their irregular marriage situation. This way of thinking can lead to viewing withholding the sacraments as a punishment. Furthermore, another factor of concern is the lack of understanding of the discipline of the Church when access to the sacraments is denied in these cases, as if it were a punishment. A good number of episcopal conferences recommend assisting people in canonically irregular marriages not to consider themselves as “separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life” (FC, 84). Moreover, responses and observations from some episcopal conferences emphasize that the Church needs to equip herself with pastoral means which provide the possibility of her more widely exercising mercy, clemency and indulgence towards new unions.

source I think these paragraphs make it clear that irregular marriage situations will remain obstacles to receiving Holy Communion, and the mercy, clemency and indulgence which it calls for will be based on regularizing irregular marriage situations. The subsequent paragraphs in the document suggest options for localizing the annulment process, for example.

I read the entire article and one point I think to keep in mind is from Cardinal Muller. Bold is my emphasis.

Cardinal Muller’s essay, previously published in the Vatican newspaper, reaffirms the traditional ban. However, the cardinal notes that many Catholics’ first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if the parties have been influenced by prevailing contemporary conceptions of marriage as a temporary arrangement.

I believe the Synod will end up concluding that the many first previous-marriages, even those within the Catholic Church, were invalid.

Even back just before Pope Benedict XVI resigned, he stated that the lack of faith could be grounds for nullifying a marriage and marriage tribunals should take this into account when discerning approval of an annulment.

That all being said, when a couple who have been remarried and desire to come back into the Church, they’ll have to go through the annulment process, but that process will be less stringent and less costly. It won’t require the multiple background checks from every person who was in the wedding party or involved with the couple, but merely a statement from the person seeking the annulment alone. After all, they are required to be honest in their statements.

Either way, we should all pray that Our Lord’s will be done on this issue and hopefully in His mercy, will inspire the Bishops along with the Pope to come to a decision which will help couples return to Christ in His Church.


Canonist Ed Peters addresses some of this in his recent blog post:

According to Peters, many of these things like witness testimony and personal interviews are already not required by Canon Law. The reason they are so often employed is because the petition for nullity would otherwise fail without them.

I agree that some streamlining would be great. But I don’t think there’s going to be a quick-fix, easy solution to streamline the annulment procedures. If it becomes a matter of relying solely on the words of the petitioner, there will either be a lot more petitions that are denied, or there will be a lot of abuse of the system. I don’t think either of those outcomes is desirable.

I have to admit, after thinking about it, that prospect struck me as a little humorous. I can’t imagine the Church going from a position of: “The Church has no authority to end a valid, consummated marriage,” to “No 4th marriages, ever!”

Wow, speaking of doctrinal wars, there are now three :eek: books coming out just before the Synod that refute Card Kasper’s position:

“Remaining in the Truth of Christ” (Cards Muller, Burke, Brandmuller, De Paolis and Caffarra)

“The Gospel of the Family” (Card Pell does the intro)

“Marriage: Theological and Pastoral Considerations” (Cards Ouellet and Scola)

Yeah you just went the other direction. ;):stuck_out_tongue:

Reading this gives me hope. I just started my journey with my husband and daughter to join the Catholic Church via the RCIA process. I was completely disheartened and defeated, to find out that I might not be able to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil due to my husband’s divorce from his first marriage (due to her infidelity). While I understand what the annulment is for, I still felt persecuted because all I have done is kept my vow to my husband of 19 years. Then to hear that it can be a long arduous process (as well as very costly), when all it takes is a phone call to her (I have spoken with her about this and she is more than willing to explain her actions to the priest) is even more news to put my soul in turmoil and feel like I am being punished for finally coming home to the Catholic faith.

That’s terrible. I’m so sorry for you. It will all work out in the end I’m sure.

That’s terrible. I’m so sorry for you. I’m sure things will work out in the end. I was in a similar situation. When I decided to become Christian I wanted to be Catholic. My wife had a first marriage when she was eighteen and she was divorced just over a year later. The priest at the local parish helped us with the paperwork and assured us that her case was sure to be annulled. Still it caused a lot of anxiety because of how invasive the process is and the fact that we felt like second class citizens. While I was waiting for RCIA to begin I decided to attend a liturgy at the local Greek Orthodox parish. From the moment I walked in I was hooked and the rest is history.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit