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CDF confirms Church ban on Communion for divorced/remarried

October 22, 2013

In a lengthy statement published in L’Osservatore Romano, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has strongly affirmed the Church’s teaching that Catholics who are divorced and remarried may not receive Communion.

Following the announcement that an extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops will be held in 2014 to discuss pastoral care for families, there has been widespread speculation that the Synod might make a change in the Church’s rule withholding Communion from Catholics who are divorced and remarried. But in a statement made public on October 22, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller observed that the Church’s teaching is not subject to change.

L’Osservatore Romano published the “extensive contribution” by Archbishop Müller in its entirety, giving unusual prominence to the statement. The Vatican newspaper explained that public question on “this pressing subject” called for explanation of the Church’s stand.

Archbishop Müller, too, acknowledged the keen interest in the topic. He said at the start of his statement that the “increasing number of persons affected in countries of ancient Christian tradition” had made the pastoral care for Catholics who are divorced and remarried a matter of urgent pastoral priority.

The CDF leader observed that both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have called for new efforts to provide spiritual support for Catholics who are divorced and remarried. However, he said, “the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist.”

Archbishop Müller insisted that the care for divorced/remarried Catholics “must be explored in a manner that is consistent with Catholic doctrine on marriage.” He noted that the Church has clearly and consistently taught that the bond of Christian marriage is indissoluble. “It designates a reality that comes from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal,” the CDF prefect wrote.

Examining the issue in light of Scripture and Tradition, the archbishop explains that unless a marriage has been found to be null by an ecclesiastical tribunal, divorced and remarried Catholics are obliged to refrain from receiving Communion. The single exception allowed by pastoral practice, he said, comes when a 2nd marital union cannot be ended (perhaps for the sake of children), and the partners make a commitment to live as brother and sister.

Archbishop Müller explicitly rejected the suggestion that divorced/remarried Catholics should make their own decision on whether they should receive Communion. That argument, he noted, “based on a problematical concept of ‘conscience,’ was rejected by a document of the CDF in 1994.” Similarly he rejected the policies of Orthodox churches allowing for divorce in some cases. “This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage,” he wrote. Throughout his statement Archbishop Müller strongly emphasized the Christian understanding of marriage as a sacrament. “If marriage is secularized or regarded as a purely natural reality, its sacrament character is obscured,” he remarked.

The archbishop did offer one argument that might be pursued by the 2014 Synod, suggesting that many Christians are not entering into valid sacramental marriages. He explained:

Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an environment of faith. Therefore assessment of the validity of marriage is important and can help to solve problems.


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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Oct. 27, 2013 3:09 PM ET USA

    I have a lot of respect for Archbishop Muller; however, blaming the culture or the persons applying for a Catholic marriage is not the answer. Muller might ask: why are so many priests performing these marriages? Rare is the priest who explains that the betrothed couple are not prepared for this sacrament. When a sacrament is so frequently nullified, what does that say about how THE CHURCH sees it? It is the Church that treats this sacrament too lightly.

  • Posted by: unum - Oct. 23, 2013 9:14 AM ET USA

    Pope Francis has already remarked that this current practice is a problem for the Church, although he admits that the Church must pray for an answer. The "marriage tribunal bureaucracy" and some clerical bullying of remarried Catholics are not a credit to Christ's Church. I can not imagine Jesus participating in either practice, based on his conduct with the woman at the well in Scripture. Where is the love for returning Catholics, and the joy at lost sheep returning to the fold.

  • Posted by: Bai Macfarlane (Mary's Advocates) - Oct. 22, 2013 11:19 PM ET USA

    If the “care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist,” it can include instructing divorcees to "not break faith with the wife of your youth" (Mal. 2:16). Canon law on separation and divorce could be used (c 1153, 1692). People don't 'find themselves' in second marriages. One first chooses to abandon marriage; the Church could shepherd lost sheep that abandon marriage when abandonment occurs – not years later after a second ‘so-called’ marriage.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 22, 2013 8:29 PM ET USA

    Those of us whose first "marriages" were declared null may receive. Archb'p Müller said, "Where nullity of marriage cannot be demonstrated, the requirement for absolution and reception of communion, according to the Church’s established and approved practice, is that the couple live 'as friends, as brother and sister'." I wish writers would put this in the first paragraph!