One of the most aggressive debates taking place at the Bishop’s Synod for the Family is over whether or not divorced and civilly-remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive communion without going through the annulment process. This movement has been spearheaded by Cardinal Kasper of Germany for years and some Catholics are concerned he will gain Pope Francis’ approval for this during the Synod.
I don’t believe he will and would like to share a few observations to explain my confidence, but first, I’d like to clarify why this debate has people worried:
The “Right” To Receive
Many people believe the Church’s standards regarding the reception of the Eucharist by divorced and civilly-remarried (DACR) Catholics [why not use the term adulterers?] are unfair and harshly discriminatory. The media often spins this as a sort of “rights” issue; as if the Church denying them communion is treating them unfairly. But, the truth is simple: Anyone – married, never-married, widowed, divorced, religious – who is not in the state of grace is prohibited from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1385). This mandate is not intended to ostracize or unfairly discriminate against a particular group of people, it’s in place for our protection and encourages us to resolve our problems so we may receive the Eucharist worthily.
Some, like Cardinal Kasper, may argue that DACR Catholics should be permitted to receive for pastoral reasons. To that I raise two important points:
- Our goal should be happiness in heaven, not happiness in the moment.
Divorce is a devastating experience and the idea of finding new love can mistakenly appear to be the remedy for the intense pain and suffering that comes from losing a marriage. But, what is typically missed is that pain and suffering have value if one is focused on eternity and not the moment. Suffering can be the vehicle to profound personal growth, and much of that kind of growth can be realized by going through the annulment process. We should be helping divorced Catholics to rethink their rush to find a new relationship long before they ever say “I do” a second time.
- Pope Benedict Emeritus Has Already Settled This Score
In 1994, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, addressed this issue in a pastoral way that agrees with the doctrine on marriage and divorce. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
“In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ(5), the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists(6).
“This norm is not at all a punishment or a discrimination against the divorced and remarried, but rather expresses an objective situation that of itself renders impossible the reception of Holy Communion: “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 his 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”(7).
Cardinal Ratzinger sets the record straight on this issue and agrees with the majority of Synod Fathers that pastoral practices must agree with doctrine. This letter was approved by John Paul II and gave the order for its publication.
As the Synod progresses over the next two weeks there will, no doubt, be more developments on this issue. One of the best things you and I can do as we wait and watch is to pray for the Synod Fathers and for everyone dealing with the horror of divorce. I invite you to join me in praying the Synod Prayer as the events continue to unfold.