Divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly are welcome to seek reconciliation with the Church, but they need to be sure they’re following the right path, some Catholic bishops of Canada have said in new guidelines.
“It may happen that, through media, friends, or family, couples have been led to understand that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest,” said guidelines from the Catholic bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
“This view is erroneous,” they said.
Couples who express this view “should be welcomed to meet with a priest so that they hear proposed anew ‘God’s plan (pertaining to marriage) in all its grandeur’ and thus be helped to understand the correct path to follow toward full reconciliation with the Church,” the bishops said.
The guidelines concern aspects of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” They were signed by six Canadian bishops, including Archbishops Richard W. Smith of Edmonton and Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan.
The guidelines are intended to direct “authentic and effective pastoral accompaniment” of men and women who have divorced and remarried without a formal annulment of their first union, the bishops explained.
“We pray that these brothers and sisters of ours will open their hearts to the Father’s merciful love, revealed in Christ, and find healing and reconciliation within the Church,” they said.
“Our Catholic parish communities should welcome with generosity and love men and women who are divorced and remarried. Pastors in particular will take great care to ensure that these couples know they have not placed themselves beyond the embrace of the Church.”
Discovery of couples in such a situation “should not be met with awkward silence but with a warm communication of openness and readiness to accompany them in the journey of faith,” the bishops advised pastors.
The guidelines remind pastors that divorced and civilly remarried couples seeking to reconcile with the Church should always be directed to the Interdiocesan Marriage Tribunal for an investigation into their case. The bishops noted that Pope Francis recently reformed canon law to make these tribunals more efficient.
“At the same time, the pastor supports the couple by helping them examine their conscience,” the guidelines continued.
The bishops provided some questions to help pastors and couples discern the situation, such as whether a couple recognize the consequences of their divorces or adulterous behavior on their community with God and the Church. Couples and the pastor should ask whether the people in the couple’s lives have been dismissive of the Church or dismissive of the couple. They should consider whether a couple’s faith is formed more by Christ in the Gospels or by “principles, culture or theories.”
“Do they understand who it is that is waiting with the living waters of mercy?” reads another question for discernment.
The bishops’ guidelines recounted Catholic teaching that reception of Holy Communion is a visible expression of a Christian’s participation in the “new covenant” established by Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, any serious rupture of this union, such as adultery, must be healed prior to the reception of Holy Communion,” the bishops added. They said all Catholics must confess all serious sins before receiving Holy Communion.
For the Canadian bishops, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “lifts up the beauty and dignity of marriage and family life.” The Pope “calls upon all members of the Church to embrace with mercy, love and inclusion any families that are encountering difficulty.”
The guidelines took effect Sept. 14.