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
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
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
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
“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
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.