It is doubtless that the Church has a duty to care about its all believers – also those who after contracting their canonic (ecclesiastical) marriages have got divorced and then they entered into new marriage, certainly the civil one. However, there is a question: how far can this care reach – till the moment of allowing such people for receiving the Holy Communion?

The pro-divorce mentality, spreading more and more widely in the recent ten years, professing the individualistic and secular concept of marriage, negating the inseparability of this relation causes that also among believers of the Church, there are also those who perceive marriage as purely human vision. Perceiving it as a form of psycho-social integration, they do not pay attention to the inseparability, well – they even resort to negating this essential value of marriage.

Postulates of divorced Catholics

Suggestions or even postulates about possibility of receiving the sacraments of repentance and reconciliation and of the Holy Communion by people related to ecclesiastical marriage, who got divorced and contracted civil marriage, have been appearing for a long time. Recently the inducement for a discussion about such a possibility gave an opportunity for pope Francis to call the III Extraordinary General Meeting of Bishops’ Synod on 5 October 2014, about: ‘Pastoral challenges connected with the family in the context of evangelization’ (debates will last till 19 October). Especially that in a preparatory document elaborated by the General Secretariat of the Synod there was a questionnaire sent to the Conferences of Bishops, which asks: ‘What requests are presented to the Church by divorced people living in new relations, about the issue of Eucharist sacraments and confession? How many such people are asking for these sacraments?’.

Among suggestions submitted by various people and groups, there are also those according to which the Catholics entered into new civil marriages after their divorces, so that they could use the sacrament of repentance and reconciliation and receive the Holy Communion after having a suitable repentance and fulfilling the following conditions: 1. expressing repentance because of their divorces; 2. impossibility of returning to their previous marriages; 3. impossibility of resignation – without finding a blame – in a new relation; 4. a divorced person is trying to live in faith in a new relation and bring up children in faith; 5. the person wants sacraments like a source of strength in this situation (see the statement of cardinal Walter Kasper during a Consistory of Cardinals on 20 February 2014 and an interview of cardinal Reinhard Marx on 16 March 2014, given to a journal ‘Die Welt’).

Marriage according to the Creator

Showing full understanding to Catholic spouses who are in the aforementioned situation, and also priests who want to help them, one should ask the fundamental question: how do these suggestions correspond to the essential attribute of marriage, which is – besides the unity – inseparability? In order to answer the question, one should recall (or maybe realize the fact?), that inseparability, similarly as the unity of marriage, which is also proclaimed by the Church, has its beginning in the idea of the very Creator and was solemnly confirmed by Jesus (Mt 19.3-12; Mk 10, 2.12; Lucas 16.18). ‘Inseparability of marriage - we read in the apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II ‘Familiaris consortio’ (1981) – finds its final truth in God’s plan, expressed in Revelation: God wants inseparability of marriage and gives it as a gift, as a sign and a requirement of love which is absolutely faithful, given to the man by Him and which is given to the Church by Christ. Christ renews his original plan which the Creator inscribed in the heart of the man and the woman’ (no 20). Inseparability of marriage has its source in God’s law - both the natural and positive one. So, no wonder that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) proclaims: ‘If divorced people entered into marriage, they are in a situation which objectively is aimed against God’s law. Therefore, they cannot receive the Eucharistic Communion as long as the situation lasts’ (no 1650). This statement is a clear answer to the above asked question.

Care of John Paul II about divorced people

Realization of the suggestions – submitted in any form – about the revisions of the previous attitude of the Church (only declaring God’s law) about allowing divorced people to receive the above-mentioned sacraments would be against God’s law. One should completely be in solidarity with cardinal Carlo Caffarra, a long-time chairman of the Papal Institute named John Paul II for Studies on Marriage and Family, who said recently on Vatican Radio that ‘Jesus does not confront a person with a norm, but with the truth which Father inscribed in our hearts in the beginning’. One should also share the grief of this cardinal, expressed in an interview on 15 March 2014 for the Italian journal ‘Il Foglio’, that in a debate on the status at an ecclesiastical forum of people who are the subject of the discussion, the teaching of John Paul II is not considered at all. Whereas, he developed the ecclesiastical doctrine about marriage and family, and he also paid attention to the problem of the divorced people and those living in non-canonical relations, but he could not abolish God’s law. In order to see this exceptional care of the Polish Pope, we can only refer to the above-mentioned Exhortation ‘Familiaris consortio’ (no 84). The argument that there are more and more divorced people who decide on a new relation should be considered as embarrassing: in this way the Church would have to adjust its doctrine, even the one finding its roots in God’s law, to particular social phenomena – today and tomorrow. Not this kind of ‘adjustment’ of the Church to the world did fathers of the Second Vatican Council mean. Showing ‘mercy’ by the Church to those people would mean, in fact, acknowledgment of a new relation as binding, which, in practice would be the same as burying the principle of inseparability of marriage. It is well understood by Tomasz Terlikowski, who emphasized in ‘Rzeczpospolita’ of 17 March 2014 that the Church cannot change the Gospel or Christ’s teaching. We should share his anxiety.

Promising to improve one’s behavior – a condition necessary for absolution

Even the strictest repentance and scrupulous fulfillment of these five conditions by a spouse (also the one who is innocent of the divorce) will not be effective when at the confessional there is no strong provision of improvement. And these people remain in a direct occasion for a sin which they do not renounce: so, how can they receive absolution? ‘Reconciliation in the sacrament of repentance – John Paul II will say in the mentioned document – which would open a road to the Eucharistic Communion, can be available only for those who, regretting to have violated the sign of Alliance and faithfulness to Christ, are honestly ready for this form of life, which is not in contradiction with inseparability of marriage’ (no 84). And he adds: ‘It means that when a man and a woman cannot do compensation for divorce – like, for example, bringing up children, for various reasons, decide to live in a full abstinence, that is, restraining from acts which belong only to spouses’. We must also add this sixth one to those five conditions.

Deeply feeling sorry for the people who do not decide to fulfill the condition indicated by the Holy Father sine qua non, and also they feel – as it was expressed by the late priest Mirosław Paciuszkiewicz in the title of one of his books – ‘nostalgia and hunger’ for Eucharist, they should receive pastoral support (among the others, through suggesting filing a request to the ecclesiastical court about acknowledgment of canonic relation invalidity if there are reasons defined in the ecclesiastical law), so that they would not feel separated from the Church, ‘if they can as baptized, participate in its life’ (FC no 84). We must not omit these words from ‘Familiaris consortio’: ‘Let the Church pray for them, let it give them courage, let it be merciful mother for them, supporting them in faith and hope’.

So, good care about divorced people, contracting new marriages, should never go towards an attempt of legitimizing what would negate the plan of the Creator, towards such a significant institution which is marriage.


"Niedziela" 14/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl