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August 17, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 21

COMMENTARY

Divorced Catholics

Many Catholics — and other Christians — have the misconception that Catholics who are divorced and then remarry in a civil ceremony are excommunicated.

“These Catholics are not, in fact, excommunicated — and they absolutely must not be treated as if they were,” Pope Francis strongly pointed out in his August 5 weekly general audience.

All of us probably know someone who is in these circumstances. Possibly some are family members. Not all marriages make it to the finish line, even though both spouses have worked hard to keep it together.

When young children are involved, they can be harmed by seeing or hearing arguments between their mother and father. If they witness physical violence, like one spouse hitting the other in anger, there is a possibility that some of the children, particularly boys, may later carry out physical abuse in their own marriages and relationships.

In his Aug. 5 audience Pope Francis stated that Catholics in a sacramental marriage are part of an indissoluble bond. If one spouse or both spouses want to remarry, they must first get an annulment. Not all of them do.

According to Church teaching, in most cases such couples are not permitted to receive Communion. This is a source of great pain for many Catholics in this situation. It is even made more pronounced when that person attends a funeral Mass or wedding of another Catholic family member.

Will things change? Bishops at the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family last October who are now preparing for the general synod Oct. 4-25 have been studying and debating possibilities for allowing some couples in some situations to return to the sacraments.

The Church, Pope Francis said at the audience, must have “the heart of a mother, a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and the salvation of persons.”

Pope Francis is aware that good people are hurting when they feel closed off to the sacraments. He has asked priests to be more pastoral and to “demonstrate the willingness of the community to welcome and encourage” divorced and remarried couples and their families to participate in their parish community.

They are encouraged to attend Sunday Mass, educate their children in the Catholic faith and work at efforts which promote justice.        

Quoting his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open …Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church. Everyone can be part of the community.”

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