Pope opens path to communion for divorced and remarried

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Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach

Public Domain

Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach

Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach

Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach

In his long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the family, Pope Francis makes it possible for Catholics who are divorced and remarried to licitly receive communion. The exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“Love’s Delight”), follows in the footsteps of Eastern Orthodoxy, which teaches that the human condition is such that accommodations must be found for those unable to live up to the highest Christian standards.

In Chapter 8, Francis begins by quoting the report of the 2014 session of the bishops’ Synod on the Family that “although the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond ‘is against the will of God,’ she is also ‘conscious of the frailty of many of her children.'” He then proceeds to build on Pope John Paul II’s concept of a “law of gradualness,” glossing it as “‘not a gradualness of law’ but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law.”

Step three is a quote from the Synod’s final report: “Consequently, there is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition.'” After a walk through different ways that marital relationships fall short of the ideal (including divorce and remarriage), Francis declares (paragraph 300) that “the immense variety of concrete situations such as those” precludes the promulgation of “new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.” But with respect to the existing set of rules — and here’s where the rubber hits the road — “the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.336”

 What footnote 336 says is: “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists.” Then, in paragraph 305, comes the following:
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.351

Footnote 351 begins with, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments,” and goes on to quote from Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium to the effect that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” Get the picture?

Nearly half a century ago, a wise teacher told me that if you want to know what a document from the Vatican is saying, you have to be sure to read the footnotes. Footnotes 336 and 351 add up to formal permission for Catholic bishops and priests — after a process of discernment —  to let the divorced and remarried receive communion. This is a long way from the full Orthodox doctrine of oikonomia, under which, for example, someone who has been divorced may (penitentially) remarry in church. But with Amoris Laetitia, Francis has definitively moved his church in that direction.

  • Ben in oakland

    Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to change long standing practice, bend a rule so that it won’t duly distress the people that matter, adjust unshakeable doctrine just so that no one important is inconvenienced?

    God’s plan for marriage and family apparently has enough loopholes that you could drive a large cathedral through them. Jesus said NO DIVORCE EXCEPT FOR ADULTERY. The church has defined any remarriage outside of certain constraints to be adulterous. But hey, wouldn’t want to inconvenience anyone.

    Oh, wait. I’m sorry. One thing didn’t change at all. The hypocrisy.

    This pope has called for clergy to be nicer to gay people, if they happen to feel that way about it. I guess he won’t be sending his little bundle of Laetitia to the Bishops of Malawi, who just love us so much that they are urging the government of Malawi to put us into prisons there.

    Funny how that doesn’t apply to pedophiles under the church’s protection.

  • Leo Sprietsma

    One quote is the onne you give…”Jesus said NO DIVORCE EXCEPT FOR ADULTERY. “…..

    But the quote Church Law is based on says “NO DIVORCE, period. For any reason.

  • samuel johnston

    I fully appreciate how flexible the law can be, or how damningly rigid, depending on the authority in question. Quoth Plato “It catches the little flies, but lets he big bigs through.”

  • Ben in Oakland

    Well,in this case, I am most happy to be corrected. ?

  • samuel johnston

    Correction: “big bugs”

  • Betty Clermont

    The document is ambiguous enough to be interpreted by each bishop and priest as he chooses. For example, Pope Francis recently extended the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual to include women which was already being done for decades if the pastor approved. The pope’s appointed prefect in charge of liturgy announced soon after Pope Francis’ statement that no priest was obligated to include women.
    NB: The pope’s exhortation is more than 60.000 words. Jesus spoke 2026 words in Gospels and the four Gospels combined are 64,766 words.

  • Rep

    this article failed to understand the the apostolic exhortation…. The Pope is trying to say that there are Certain Exceptional cases where communion is allowed where there are MITIGATING FACTORS…. You must first prove that there are Mitigating Factors FIRST…. this is different to Eastern Orthodox where Divorce and re-marry is allowed after asking forgiveness….

    Pope Francis enumerated the mitigating Factors….


    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

    2352 “One must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability”