The Catholic Church must reach out to Catholics who are divorced and remarried to let them know they are welcome even if they cannot receive the sacraments, several theologians have noted.
Sean Innerst, theology department chair at Denver's St. John Vianney
Seminary, said he hopes to see “interesting and creative responses” to
help those who are divorced or divorced and remarried and believe
themselves to be outside of the Church.
“They might be in a life situation which means they can't receive
Communion, but that doesn't mean they can't darken the door of the
church,” he told CNA Nov. 5.
“It’s just inconsistent with the gospel for people to feel they’re
excluded because they’re in a situation that’s tragic and complicated
and they can’t currently sort out.”
“We need to have some pastoral responses to these situations where we
don’t simply allow people to drift away because they've made serious
mistakes, because the culture has led them in this direction,” Innerst
“We need to go out and find these people and help them to know they have a place in the Church.”
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller – head of the Vatican's Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith – reaffirmed in an essay republished in
L'Osservatore Romano in October that Catholics in irregular marital
unions after divorce cannot receive Holy Communion. He underscored,
though, that it is “imperative” to show “pastoral concern” for them.
However, many Catholic bishops in Germany have said they intend to give
Holy Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, despite Catholic
The Archdiocese of Freiburg in October released a document saying that
divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion if they can
show their first marriage cannot be reentered, if they repent of their
fault in a divorce and if they enter “a new moral responsibility” with
their new spouse.
That document drew a swift response from the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, which said pastoral approaches must agree with
Despite these rejections, Bishop Gebhard Fuerst of Stuttgart in November
told a meeting of the Central Committee of German Catholics that the
German bishops have drafted guidelines and aim to approve them at their
plenary meeting in March 2014.
Last week, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith member Cardinal
Walter Kasper told the German weekly Die Zeit that the divorced and
remarried will soon be able to receive the sacraments, the Italian news
site AGI reports.
Catholic teaching recognizes the indissolubility of Christian marriage,
allowing marriages for the divorced only if they can show the first
marriage was invalid according to canonical norms. Those in irregular
unions are admitted to Holy Communion only if they are living “as
brother and sister” with their partners.
Manfred Lütz, a German psychologist and theologian in Rome for the
Pontifical Council for the Laity's plenary meeting on “Proclaiming
Christ in the Digital Age,” said the Church’s dogmatic teaching on
divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received an annulment is
“clear” but the pastoral response is the question.
He told CNA Dec. 4 that in the Catholic Church in Germany lay people are
“not always very informed about the position of the Church” and believe
that the Church is “not merciful enough.” This is “a great problem” not
only in Germany but “all over the world.”
Innerst agreed that many Catholics do not know or understand Church teaching.
“I know some people who are divorced, and not remarried, and they think
they're formally excommunicated from the Church, but that's not the case
of course,” he said. “They feel that if you violate a rule, you no
He noted that many people feel that Catholicism is “all about laws” and places the “law before love.”
While Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had to establish
guidelines to correct laxity in the Church, Innerst said, Pope Francis
is working to stress that “God loves us first.”
“All Francis is saying is that we have to start loving people first, and then bring them to...the law.”
If others see Christians as “a source of God’s love” then Catholics can
“begin to talk, about conversion and changing people’s lives in accord
with natural and revealed law. Otherwise it’s a losing battle.”
Lütz said Pope Benedict XVI was also aware that the pastoral care for
divorced and remarried Catholics is poor. Catholics have to “see how we
live in the parish together with these people” so that they are “not
thrown out of the Church.”
He said it is “very important” to help these people and Pope Francis
aims to discuss this pastoral care at the October 2014 extraordinary
synod of bishops, which is dedicated to the pastoral care of families.
Innerst suggested that the divorced and remarried should refrain from
Communion and engage in prayer and penance “not as a punishment, but
just as a way of finding meaning in their currently tragic situation.”
This would be a way for them to wait “for the time when they can come
into conformity with Church teaching.” These are ways to respond
“without pretending that the Pope can change things that he can't.”
Pope Francis “can't erase the marriage bond” but he can change the Church's approach given that the status quo is “not working.”
Innerst suggested that the Pope's request for input from the Church
around the world is an effort to find a good pastoral response for
divorced and remarried Catholics, rather than a way to “pretend that
they're not divorced.”
Lütz said the Catholic Church in Germany or an individual diocese cannot
decide these responses alone. Rather, this response has to be decided
He noted that many young Catholics in Germany place the “highest value” on being “faithful” in marriage.
“So, young people hope that to marry will be forever. But when they are
asked if they think that they personally will succeed in this, they say
they do not think so. And this is really a little bit pessimistic view