Ignore the misleading headlines: the remarried cannot ‘now receive Communion’

The Church’s teaching has been consistent from the early Church to modern Popes. Last week’s events didn’t change it

Benedict XVI once spoke about the two versions of the Second Vatican Council. There was the “Council of the Fathers” – what Vatican II’s documents taught; but there was also the “Council of the media”, Vatican II as distorted by us journalists.

The events of the last week call for an update of Benedict’s distinction. In the teaching of the Church, the remarried cannot take communion without a firm resolve to live “as brother and sister”. But in the teaching of the media – parts of it, anyway – this doctrine can be switched on and off.

Last week, Catholic news was dominated by some guidelines authored by the Buenos Aires bishops. These guidelines said that the remarried could receive communion, as long as “in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability”. (Whether there are any remarried people who do not face such “limitations”, the document did not discuss.)

What made it newsworthy was that the Pope wrote them a short letter saying that he admired the guidelines. Robert Royal and Ross Douthathave interesting things to say about the strangeness of the Pope’s letter; also strange was the way in which it was reported.

The Church has consistently taught since its first centuries that a remarried person can’t receive Communion if they’re still having sex with their new partner. John Paul II restated this doctrine in Familiaris Consortio, describing it as a teaching, not of his own, but of God’s Church and God’s Bible. In Reconciliatio et paenitentia, he said the Church “can only” follow this practice.

In the CDF’s 1994 Letter to Bishops, publicly approved by John Paul and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, the practice is referred to as “doctrine” three times; it adds that a change in discipline would be “impossible”, that this is a “constant and universal practice”, which is “binding” and “cannot be modified because of different situations”. In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI affirmed this practice as “based on Sacred Scripture” – that is, God gave it to us.

This is a teaching of formidable authority. The idea that a Pope could snap his fingers and overturn it – in a private letter which does not even mention the words “communion” or “remarried” – is a fantasy.

But the fantasy has been solemnly reported as fact. The Irish Catholic leads its latest issue with a story headlined: “Divorced/remarried Catholics can now receive Communion.”

That headline has already earned a deserved backlash on social media. Less alarming, but not by much, are a number of news sources, including Catholic ones, which report the Buenos Aires guidelines without even mentioning what the Church actually teaches.

It makes me uncomfortable to bash fellow-journalists. But there are momentous questions involved here: whether confession of grave sin is necessary, or optional; whether we should fear the desecration of the Eucharist; whether the Church’s universal practice matters; whether the breaking of a sacramental marriage is a tragedy or a hiccup.

The Church cannot change its teaching on communion for the remarried, not only because of the authority of popes and councils, but because nobody has made a decent case against it. If someone gets sacramentally married, and then has sex with someone other than their spouse, they are breaking a covenant with God which can only be healed by a resolution to amend their life.

Some have tried to find a last-ditch justification, by suggesting that the Catholic teaching and practice of the last two millennia has overlooked a theological nuance. A gravely sinful act, they point out, is only a mortal sin if accompanied by full knowledge and full consent. Well, if you live by theological nuance you die by theological nuance, and experts such asDr Josef Seifert and Fr Brian Harrison have given powerful reasons to think this point is irrelevant. The Catholic tradition, says Seifert, has never attributed “a lack of knowledge” to people breaking fundamental precepts of the moral law; nor, says Fr Harrison, has it attributed “a lack of consent” to adults who consciously choose a sinful course of action over a period of time.

Even if these distinguished theologians are mistaken, the last-ditch justification still fails. As I have outlined elsewhere, if actually applied, it would lead to a ludicrous situation in which priests were required to judge if their parishioners’ souls were spiritually dead before each Holy Communion. In other words – since no priest would want to apply such an examination – it would lead to the abandonment of Church discipline.

The Buenos Aires bishops are (so far) an exception to the rule. The bishops of Poland and Costa Rica have said they’ll stick to the established practice; so have Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and – in a document released last week – the six bishops of Alberta, Canada.

So this can hardly be seen as an outdated doctrine which nobody bothers with any more. Bishops are happy to put it into practice; the laity have raised their voices to defend it. It shouldn’t be too much for the media, now and again, to mention it.




  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    This Is good stuff. Continue to deny Catholics the ability to have communion if they divorce and remarry and act as normal married couples and have sex. Deny, deny, deny them…. so that they won’t go to Church and they won’t get their kids indoctrinated by the RCC. Chase them out – it’s best for the kids.

    1. Benjamin Molenda Reply

      Patrick, it’s the divorcing parents who are denying themselves full union with the community of the Church.

      Choices have consequences, and the choice to follow self interests down the path too divorce carries with it the consequence that, that path also leads away from unity with Christ, His Body, and His Church.

      Teach the kids that God’s laws and God’s ways require us to die to our own desires, so we can remain in union with Him. Christ gave His life, submitting His human desires, to the will of God the Father. And the Bible tells husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the Church.”

      Within the sacred covenant of marriage, men and women are allowed physical union with one another AND with God simultaneously, but breaking that covenant through adultery breaks both unions, which means we are no longer in “Communion” with God. That consequence is a result of the choice to break the covenant, not the choice of an overbearing Church authority.

      Teach the kids about choices and consequences, teach them the faith, and teach them that Heaven and its rewards are worth denying ourselves the satisfaction of our own selfish desires here on earth.

      1. Patrick Gannon Reply

        You seem to have missed my point, Benjamin. The Church’s doctrine that denies communion to remarried couples practically guarantees that a large number of those couples will not be going to a Catholic Church any longer, and that means the Catholics lose the opportunity to get their hooks into the kids before they can think critically. That’s all a good thing from my perspective, but it seems self-defeating from the Catholic perspective.
        Who wants communion with a Church that worships a being so evil that he sends people to eternal torment though they live here but a handful of decades? Who wants communion with a Church that is obsessively concerned with what humans do when they don’t have clothes on? It’s a disordered organization. Living as celibate virgins dressed in robes is not “natural” yet they call LGBTs disordered. They should look in the mirror.

        1. Benjamin Molenda Reply

          No Patrick, I understood your point. You missed mine. God is not evil. God invites us to choose him, in every action of our lives. If we abuse our free will and use it to choose evil, WE are the ones sending ourselves into eternal torment, in exchange for a couple of decades of physical pleasure.

          My point was exactly that parents need to choose to teach their children by word and example, that an eternity in Heaven is worth giving up a few decades of physical gratification on earth.

          Practically, this means one of two things: Either not remarrying if they separate from their spouse, OR giving sacrificially of their own desires while they are still in the marriage so that their desires for their own gratification don’t drive a wedge into the marriage to begin with. People only want divorce as an option when the hardness of their own heart blinds them to their own responsibility in their relationship.

          Parents are supposed to be an example of self-sacrificial love to their children, but if they cannot carry that out in their marriage, they stand little chance of teaching what they do not understand themselves. God is love. He will reveal Himself to any heart open to him. And we are called love Him first and foremost.

          The call to priestly celibacy is voluntary and simply another expression of self-sacrificial love; giving up our own desires, for the love of another, and for God.

          We have natural desires, yes, but God invites us to a share in supernatural joy. “Supernatural” literally means above nature, and to achieve that, we need to raise our expectations of ourselves above giving into natural desires.

          1. Patrick Gannon

            So your child is 5 years old. She does a bad thing, like play with matches. So now you beat her with a belt, over every inch of her body, every day for the rest of her life because she “chose” to play with those matches. Is that evil? Is not the relationship between a five year old and a parent at least as distant as that between a mere human and an all-powerful god? What need has an all-powerful being to punish mere mortals in this way? Am I not as superior to an ant as your god is to me? What need have I to torture ants for my pleasure by frying them with a magnifying glass? Your god is a monster if he is as your church describes him; and certainly the bible describes Yahweh as a rather vicious, genocidal, racist, sexist, homophobic, slavery condoning, vengeful, wrathful, jealous god.
            Don’t give me that nonsense about free will and choosing eternal punishment. Nobody in their right mind would choose eternal punishment if indeed there was such a thing. What we have here is a case of extortion. We have the Mafia goon who walks into your place of business and asks you to choose between paying him a fee or having your kneecaps removed. Is that free will? Are you “choosing” to have your knees broken with a baseball bat if you decline to pay him?
            Gen 3:22 tells us that, like the gods, we know what good and evil are, and any sane person knows that to punish someone in brutal torturous hellfire for billions and trillions of endless years for things they, as mere, simple human beings, failed to believe, say or do here in the mere 70 years or so that most of us live, is as evil a thing as the human mind can conceive of. You worship an evil god.
            Except that of course there is no evidence for this or any other god, and the extortion they are trying to use is a lie. The Church translated four words (Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, Tartarus) to the pagan word “Hell” and then painted us pictures of Dane’s “Inferno,” Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and countless pieces of art depicting miserable humans wailing away in flames that burn up their skin, the fat hissing and spitting like pork, while it is replenished from below. None of that garbage is biblical. Look up those four words they translated to Hell. Sheol was not a place of punishment, Gahanna was the Jerusalem town dump, Hades and Tartarus are Greek paganism, and the original word “aionion” means ‘of an age’ and not “eternal” as they told you in their misleading translations.
            Let’s keep in mind that these Iron Age laws applied when people lived to be 35 or 40 on average. You had your kids, you raised them, then you died. Today with lifespans in the 80s we can have a whole second life, and those rules which were intended to make sure the kids were cared for are not necessarily applicable any longer. Women don’t need men in order to have a job and raise a kid, as they certainly did back in those days.
            It’s time to let the Iron Age go…

          2. Benjamin Molenda

            Ah, but your own example misunderstands the roll of God and us, His children.

            God is the parent who knows how much pain awaits in the lifelong scars and nerve damage of a burn victim, and begs us to trust Him that if we will listen and forgo the temporary thrill of playing with matches, a lifetime of great joy awaits us. But if we choose to ignore Him, and bring the pain and scars upon ourselves, we have robbed ourselves of the life (eternity) of joy He created us for.

            God did not invent Hell. Satan created hell. It’s an absence of God’s presence, which to a soul, is torment, and Satan created it by being the first being who desired separation from God. Christ Himself likened it to Gahenna, the dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem that was burning trash constantly, continuously fueled by the refuse being thrown there, putrid in its odor and therefore confined outside the beautiful city of God. It was an allegory not lost on His audience, the residents of that city.

            There is greater freedom and joy available to us within the Will of God. Anyone who comes to understand who God is, and why He made us, can share in that joy. Converts constantly express the freedom they find when they realize that sin and anxiety are burdens God wants to free us from, and accept God’s Will in their lives.

            We were created for more than this life, and our hearts will remain unrested and anxious until we accept Him. I pray this peace will find you.

            Until then, your words have portrayed a child so intent on the matches, they are blind to anything or anyone else in the beautiful universe around them.

            And creation itself is evidence of its Creator. The most learned, scientific people in history attest to it, from Heisenberg, to Einstein, to Newton, to Lemaitre.

            Werner Heisenberg, Novel Prize winner and the Father of Quantum Mechanics said “The first sip from the cup of the natural sciences will make a person an athiest. But God is waiting there for them at the bottom of the cup.”

            Stay thirsty, my friend.

          3. Patrick Gannon

            The “role” of God? I don’t recall a priest ever speaking in those terms. What is the role of God? To be a vicious jerk, I guess.
            What parent would punish a child as Yahweh does – for any reason whatsoever? What US (or western) court would sentence any human being to the kind of punishment imposed by your god? It couldn’t stand. Christians in America, by and large support the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; but their god doesn’t. Even though his so-called holy book speaks of proportionate justice (eye for an eye), Yahweh does not follow his own rules. We are better than he is. (Well duh; we know slavery is wrong, he doesn’t).
            And what of this eternity of joy? That can only work if we are zombies. If we have knowledge of the billions suffering eternal torment in Hell, then those who are truly good people will be horrified and unable to have any joy whatsoever. The only way we could be joyful knowing our family, friends or even complete strangers – even Hitler or Stalin – are suffering unrelenting torture, is if we are drugged out, stupefied, ignorant zombies. (Which may explain the Christian fascination with all this Walking Dead stuff). Oh, I know that for some demented Christians, they will have joy at the pain and suffering of these others, but the vast majority would be appalled at the brutality and evil of Yahweh. That must be why the prayer says, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That means Yahweh’s will – not ours. We won’t have will, we’ll be zombies. Those zombies might be joyful, but they won’t be “us” without our memories, emotions, compassion and love for others that Yahweh so clearly lacks. What do I care, if whatever I’m going to turn into in heaven isn’t “me” with my caring, concern and compassion for those unjustly punished by an evil god? From your response I gather that you have no problem with my little example of beating a small child every day of her life with a belt for her error, and thus, the prospect of billions suffering eternal torment, must not be something that will bother you. Well, it bothers me, and if what you believe about your god is true, then I choose to burn in moral superiority rather than worship such evil.
            God did not create Hell? Can you provide biblical evidence for that? Who created Satan? Who is all-knowing? What all-knowing being would allow this demented plan to move forward, knowing in advance of the misery of billions to come? What could possibly make such a being worthy of worship? Have you ever counted up all the people in the bible that Yahweh kills (millions) and compared it to the number that Satan kills (zero, unless he killed Job’s family with Yahweh’s permission). Is murder a bad thing? If so, why is Satan reviled when it is Yahweh who is killing (murdering) people on page after page of his book – most of whom are completely innocent? Did you know that in some very early Christian texts that didn’t make it into the bible, Yahweh was actually a secondary god and Jesus’ role was to save us from him (in the firmament, not here on earth)? See: “The Other Bible.”

            Thank you for confirming that Jesus spoke allegorically, and not of a real Hell. Yes, Gahanna was the Jerusalem town dump, and guess what – it’s been closed for a long time now. For Jews of the time, to be thrown in the dump rather than be afforded a decent burial was the ultimate insult. Why didn’t the RCC tell us this was allegory? Why did they insist on using the pagan word “Hell” and tying it to medieval concepts that aren’t biblical such as “Inferno” and “Paradise Lost” and all those gruesome paintings of people in flames? Jews at the time knew Jesus (who was probably a mythical being created by Cephas and Paul), was not speaking of a literal Hell. They knew it was allegory, just as when you tell that 5 year old the (allegorical) boogie man will get her if she plays with matches. There is no boogie man (except Yahweh).

            At that time, Jews, including Jesus, thought that everyone good and bad alike went to Sheol, which was not a place of punishment, just permanent unconsciousness. At the time of Jesus they were debating whether there would be a resurrection of the dead from Sheol, at the end of time, in which all would be wakened, judged and rewarded or simply destroyed. The idea of eternal punishment was the “good news” that the Catholic Church invented. If an all-powerful god really can be hurt, so much so that he feels the need to punish mere humans, why couldn’t he just destroy them? That wasn’t good enough for the RCC. They need torture; unending torture, to satiate their blood lust. (Actually they need it to control the sheeple by tying eternal punishment to their maniacal obsession over what we do when we take our clothes off). Let’s finish off with the other two Hells. Hades and Tartarus are related, as Tartarus is the bottom level of Hades, which the bible implies is where Satan and his demons will end up, but what is Hades? Hades is the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. Clearly this is Greek paganism, right there in the NT. Now you really have to want to turn Jesus into a monster in order to take all this allegory and paganism, and make it literal. And that’s just what the RCC did.
            I understand that feeling that converts get. I got it too when I converted from Christianity to New Age. My life was filled with joy at releasing all the Catholic shame, guilt and fear that I had been indoctrinated with as a child before I was capable of critical thinking; but I got over it. It doesn’t last if you keep digging for details. The New Age God is much nicer than Yahweh, but She has the same evidence: NONE.
            My words did NOT portray a child so intent on the matches they are blind to anything or anyone else. My words portrayed a normal child, just as we are normal humans; a child making a mistake that a child might be expected to make, just as normal humans make mistakes. The sin is in the disproportionate punishment for the mistakes. That is where the evil lies. No parent would do what your god does, or we would lock them up and throw away the key. We know what evil is, but Yahweh does not – and we should not worship such a being and no respect is due to those who do worship such evil.
            Let’s not get into evolution (which the last few popes have accepted) – the fact that we are here does not in any way whatsoever prove that there was a creator. All it proves is that we are here. Einstein by the way, does not belong on your list. He did not believe in a personal creator god. I don’t know if there are any gods or afterlives. All I know is that we have absolutely no evidence for such, or we wouldn’t still be debating it. It’s OK to “hope” that there is a good god and perhaps a pleasant afterlife, but don’t have faith in this. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t know. Don’t lie to your own brain which knows it has no evidence for gods and afterlives. Keep an open, skeptical mind and follow the evidence.
            And given that it’s the end of the workday, and I goofed off writing these posts, I think I shall go slake my thirst with my good friend Mr. Jack Daniels. Have a great weekend. Enjoyed the debate, Benjamin.

    2. Mary Reply

      I have to completely agree with you. I have left the church before because of stuff like this. I felt rejected by my church because I was leaving a bad situation.

      1. Patrick Gannon Reply

        Thank you for the confirmation, Mary. I hope your situation has improved and that you, like myself, are able to live your life with less guilt, fear and shame, and more joy, happiness and love, as a result of leaving the Church.

    3. Sharon Boucher Reply

      I got a annulment from the church but not my husband . Still I can not have communion. It’s not fair that divorce people can receive communion.

    4. Debbie Desranleau Reply

      Jesus said the road to Him is narrow. If one cannot follow that road and abide by His commands then that person better not take the first step. What’s best for the kids? Parents who stay together and really live their Faith.

  2. Djuidje Bogne marie-madeleine Reply

    Because of sin Jesus died for us, anybody must make and effort to run from it . It is good to tell person the true and live the remaining one for God

  3. Robert Umera Reply

    What so ever fight they bring to the Holy true House of God, is only for a time. The prophecies must come to pass, but woe unto him through which it passes through. Hold unto your faith, for a time will come that will need it more than the air.

  4. Ben Reply

    I think…. And think… If this case, only the people who are holy can receive the communion. Where we can find the HOLY MAN on the earth? And how can make them HOLY and how to HELP them HOLY? How we can define the person is HOLY or not before receive communion? Unholy cannot enter the heaven but the question is ‘Where we can find them? I mean, the Holy man?

    1. Robert Villamor Reply

      Ben, that is exactly what Divine Mercy is for. God is just, but He is merciful. We only have to acknowledge our faults, confess our sins and avail of the Father’s infinite mercy. No sin is too grave to be unforgiven except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is essentially a total rejection of God and His saving grace.

      1. Patrick Gannon Reply

        Does Yahweh know all things? Does Yahweh know in advance who will be saved, and who will fall by the wayside, perhaps by blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Real mercy would be not permitting such a person to be born in the first place, wouldn’t it?
        I’m curious, are atheists committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit simply for not believing there is such a thing? Would it be just to punish someone for not believing something for which there is no evidence? For example, would it be just to punish someone for not believing in unicorns? I don’t think lack of belief is blasphemy, but I’m not sure.

  5. Elizabeth Poirier Reply

    What about all the priests that sexually abused children and the church hid them from one parish to another. Allowing them to continue their sorted and sinful ways. They were still allowed to say Mass and give communion. Is their sin forgiven but, a divorced person’s is not? Double standards never sat with me very well.

  6. Isaac Mounce Reply

    Here’s a simple solution to avoid this conundrum. DON’T GET A DIVORCE! Marriage is for life. If you’re having marriage problems… WORK IT OUT

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      So if you’re a woman whose husband beats her bloody once a week on Saturdays when he gets drunk, and abuses his daughter when nobody else is around, the woman should remain with him? She should not be permitted to divorce him and take her daughter away?
      Or a man’s wife sleeps with all his friends and even his brothers and makes no secret of it. She goes out and parties and comes home drunk every night. The man should be forced to continue to remain married to her?
      What business do unnatural, disordered, celibate virgins dressed up in robes have in telling people how to live their married lives?

Leave a Reply