Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Can the Divorced and Remarried Really Receive Communion?

November 14th, 2014, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

1987 photo of Pope John Paul II arriving in Miami for visit to United StatesEarlier today I posted a piece with the rather provocative headline “Pope Allows Communion for Divorced and Remarried.” Now, it was a bit of a risk, I know. The statement is absolutely true, but I was obviously hoping that most people would read the post and not just the headline. If I had it to do over, I might go with “Pope Outlines Process Allowing Communion for Divorced and Remarried.” It seemed a little long for a headline. Regardless, here’s a little explanation about the actual facts and why I wrote the post.

The facts:

  • If you follow the link in the article to the statement from the CDF secretary you will see that the official did, just as I said, reaffirm the teaching of the Church for over 30 years that the divorced and civilly remarried can in fact be admitted to communion under certain conditions. He then goes on to give the exact quote that I cited, outlining those conditions: either separate or refrain from marital relations since you are not married (living as “brother and sister”).
  • The key here is that the “Pope” or “Holy Father” mentioned throughout the post is of course St. John Paul II, not the current Pope. The quote given by the CDF secretary which I also quoted is taken from a document written by St. John Paul II in 1981 entitled Familiaris Consortio, just as I said in my post.
  • Also true is the fact that the document was written after a meeting of the synod of bishops on the family, but not the most recent one. The synod I was referring to did in fact end on October 25…1980.

The Message:

  • The Church has to face the reality that many people have abandoned their spouses, or been abandoned through no fault of their own, and have since attempted to invalidly enter a new marriage in a civil procedure. This is the reality. The question then is how to spiritually care for these people. What does God ask of them? Many of these people will even come to recognize the serious sins they committed that led to their present situation and want to repent and move forward in their relationship with God. There has got to be a way forward. God leaves no one in an impossible situation of sin with no way out.
  • The question then is what to do. In the days leading up to the most recent meeting of the synod of bishops, I was perplexed to hear many participants speaking as though this was the first time the Church ever considered how to minister to the divorced. The press was even amazed, with one reporter remarking, “I can’t believe the Church is actually talking about sex. This has never happened before.” The press love new things. To some extent we all love new things. I wrote my (perhaps too creative) post this morning to draw attention to an “old” thing that just might be the best thing.
  • When people are asking the Church to find a way forward so that the divorced and remarried can repent and receive communion, they don’t seem to be aware that such an arrangement already exists. I wondered how many people knew that we already had a synod on the family that discussed these same issues and came up with a concrete way forward. I believe that St. John Paul II and his teachings, especially on the Theology of the Body, are the key to solving our current crisis and wanted to raise some awareness of his teaching.

The Results:

  • Catholics who are “in the know” saw the quote and knew that this has been true for a long time and had this confirmed by the explicit reference to Familiaris Consortio.
  • As I suspected, many even faithful Catholics were not aware of the teaching of JPII allowing the divorced and civilly remarried to receive communion. One person who actually read the entire quote, and even understood it, called “Pope Francis” a heretic for allowing this “brother and sister” option. Maybe knowing it was from JPII would change her mind!
  • Some people were confused. I expected that. Some of those people sought clarification and learned about the Church’s teaching for the first time. I like that. For those that might still be confused, I hope they will ask someone, “Is it true that the Pope said there is way for the divorced and civilly remarried to receive communion?” The answer to this question is emphatically YES. Let’s make sure we can explain the process when people ask.

Finally, two important pastoral implications for a wider understanding of Familiaris Consortio:

  • I have on occasion encountered “older” couples in an invalid marriage who were not going to communion because they knew they were not validly married. The annulment process scared them and most of the witnesses were long gone which would have made an investigation into the validity of their marriage somewhat difficult. None of them had ever heard of the so-called “brother/sister” option presented by JPII. When asked if they were willing to live as brother and sister, often times the response was that they rarely if ever engaged in marital relations any more. There is nothing that prevents such a couple from being immediately reconciled to the Church and admitted to communion. How many pastors are aware of this?
  • I often tell people that if they suspect they have committed a serious sin they should not put off going to confession, advice I follow myself. Knock on my door at 3AM if you need to, but don’t stay in mortal sin! Assume the world will end today! When it comes to those living in invalid marriages, the Church says that are not able to receive communion because of the presumed repeated serious sin of adultery. How are they supposed to be OK with staying in this state indefinitely? I find it difficult as a pastor to simply leave people in this state. If it were any other sin I would be saying, “Do whatever it takes to get out of this state immediately.” If there are good reasons, such as children, that one cannot leave the new invalid marriage, then shouldn’t we be pushing the brother/sister option more? Do we as priests have an obligation to tell our people that this really is not just an option but the expected way they need to go? It might be difficult, but when we’re talking sex and mortal sin vs. continence, the Sacraments, and salvation…isn’t that a clear way forward?

At the very least, more people now know about this teaching. At present count several hundred people have clicked on the link to Familiaris Consortio in my post. That implies that they actually read the whole post, that they probably didn’t know what Familiaris Consortio was before, and now they do. Hopefully such positives outweigh any confusion. In the worst case, Pope Francis likes confusion and said to make a mess, so there you go.

 

1 Response to Can the Divorced and Remarried Really Receive Communion?

  1. Steve G

    I would caution against reducing the phrase “living as brother and sister” to mean merely abstaining from sex. How do brothers and sisters really treat each other? Do they hold hands when they walk? Do they kiss on the lips? Do they cuddle on the couch while watching TV? Do they have romantic candlelight dinners?
    Ofcourse not. That’s what the divorced and remarried are called to imitate.

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