Analysis: Did Pope Francis just condemn Communion for the remarried?

The Pope’s statements have the internet abuzz – but their importance has been exaggerated

For the last couple of days Catholic social media and the blogosphere have been preoccupied with some reported remarks by Pope Francis.

The remarks carry weight because they come from an impeccable source – the president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, Bishop Santiago Silva, and its secretary Bishop Fernando Ramos – and because they relate to the great ecclesial controversy of the moment: over Communion for the remarried.

But as far as I can tell, the significance of the Pope’s comments has been greatly exaggerated. Headlines like “Chilean bishops: Pope against Communion for the remarried” go too far.

The Chilean bishops were speaking to the newspaper El Mercurio, which paraphrased their remarks and included a few direct quotations. Here’s the key passage:

¿Comunión a los divorciados? Con la misma decisión, el Pontífice negó que su objetivo con el sínodo al que convocó sobre la familia haya sido autorizar la comunión de los divorciados. Les habló de que no hay “moral de situación”, dicen otras fuentes. “Nos cuesta mucho ver los grises”, les habría dicho, cuando contó un caso personal, familiar suyo. “Tengo una sobrina casada con un divorciado, bueno, católico, de misa dominical y que cuando se confiesa le dice al sacerdote ‘sé que no puede absolverme, pero deme su bendición’”.

The Pope says a few separate things here:

  • The objective of the Family Synod was not to authorise Communion for the remarried (“autorizar la comunión de los divorciados”).
  • “It’s not a matter of ‘situation ethics’.” (“Les habló de que no hay ‘moral de situación.’”)
  • It’s difficult for us to see grey areas. (“Nos cuesta mucho ver los grises.”)
  • His niece is married to a divorced man who doesn’t take Communion, but tells the priest: “I know you can’t absolve me, but give me a blessing.” (“Sé que no puede absolverme, pero deme su bendición.”)

None of these statements amounts to either an affirmation or a rejection of Communion for the remarried. True, the story about the nephew-in-law is suggestive. Like the African Catholics Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith blogged about the other day, the nephew is quietly living by Church teaching on Communion. He is aware that, as long as he is having sex outside a valid marriage, he cannot make the resolution “…by the help of Your grace, I will try not to sin again”, and so he cannot be absolved.

But the Pope has told this story before, going to the brink of reaffirming Church teaching, but not quite doing so.

The Pope’s rejection of “situation ethics” might indicate his scepticism about Communion for the remarried. Situation ethics disputes the idea of exceptionless moral norms. And most of those who support Communion for the remarried propose something quite close to situation ethics: they argue that one cannot simply say sex outside marriage is to be avoided.

But the Pope immediately goes on to talk about the need to see “grey areas”, which is a favourite metaphor of the situation ethicist. So these two vague comments cancel each other out.

Later in the interview, the Pope is quoted as saying that Communion should be denied to politicians who support abortion. Perhaps the remarks have been misinterpreted because one headline conflated the two points, saying: “Pope to Chilean bishops: no to Communion for remarried divorcees or pro-abortion politicians”. Yet in the original El Mercurio article, the two issues are treated quite separately.

Perhaps the Pope is leaning towards making an explicit reaffirmation of the Catholic doctrine on Communion. But those who are waiting for such a reaffirmation may have to wait a little longer.




  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    This silly issue is jut a smoke screen, a distraction, intended to move focus away from the real problem the Church faces – and that is the debunking of original sin. We know today, beyond reasonable doubt, that there was no six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck, no global flood, no mass Exodus from Egypt and no conquest of Canaan, and without these things there is no remaining foundation for Yahweh or the other Abrahamic gods.
    In particular, we know that mankind evolved from a pool of several tens of thousands of early ancestors and not a single breeding pair. If that had been the case, our DNA would look much different. There was no talking snake, no tree of temptation, no one man, Adam, through whom sin came into the world. The Church accepts evolution. There was no garden paradise. There was never a time when there was no death – all of that is nonsense. Our ancestors woke up on the menu. They struggled to live another day and reproduce. What was their sin? Achieving a certain level of intellect and self-aware consciousness? Learning to use tools, or perhaps learning to talk. That must have really ticked off the big guy.
    Don’t be distracted by this Communion nonsense. The Church has much greater problems, on top of the sexual and financial scandals that are a fact of ongoing life for the RCC. I hope the Church does continue to forbid Communion, as that is the best way to guarantee that parents take their kids some place where all are welcome, and helps ensure that the Church not get it’s talons into their kids, in order to psychologically abuse them, as they have done to so many of us.

    1. Richard Salvatore Reply

      Are you divorced?

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