Pope Francis still intends to admit remarried divorcees to the Eucharist

Let’s first recall this famous interview with Pope Francis on the airplane when returning to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil:

Gianguido Vecchi:

Holy Father, during this visit too, you have frequently spoken of mercy.  With regard to the reception of the sacraments by the divorced and remarried, is there the possibility of a change in the Church’s discipline?  That these sacraments might be an opportunity to bring these people closer, rather than a barrier dividing them from the other faithful?

Pope Francis:

This is an issue which frequently comes up.  Mercy is something much larger than the one case you raised.  I believe that this is the season of mercy.  This new era we have entered, and the many problems in the Church – like the poor witness given by some priests, problems of corruption in the Church, the problem of clericalism for example – have left so many people hurt, left so much hurt.  The Church is a mother: she has to go out to heal those who are hurting, with mercy.  If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we have no other choice than this: first of all, to care for those who are hurting.  The Church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy.  And find a form of mercy for all.  When the prodigal son returned home, I don’t think his father told him: “You, sit down and listen: what did you do with the money?”  No!  He celebrated!  Then, perhaps, when the son was ready to speak, he spoke.  The Church has to do this, when there is someone… not only wait for them, but go out and find them!  That is what mercy is.  And I believe that this is a kairos: this time is a kairos of mercy.  But John Paul II had the first intuition of this, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy…  He had something, he had intuited that this was a need in our time.  With reference to the issue of giving communion to persons in a second union (because those who are divorced can receive communion, there is no problem, but when they are in a second union, they can’t…), I believe that we need to look at this within the larger context of the entire pastoral care of marriage.  And so it is a problem.  But also – a parenthesis – the Orthodox have a different practice.  They follow the theology of what they call oikonomia, and they give a second chance, they allow it.  But I believe that this problem – and here I close the parenthesis – must be studied within the context of the pastoral care of marriage.  And so, two things: first, one of the themes to be examined with the eight members of the Council of Cardinals with whom I will meet on 1-3 October is how to move forward in the pastoral care of marriage, and this problem will come up there.  And a second thing: two weeks ago the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops met with me about the theme of the next Synod.  It was an anthropological theme, but talking it over, going back and forth, we saw this anthropological theme: how does the faith help with one’s personal life-project, but in the family, and so pointing towards the pastoral care of marriage.  We are moving towards a somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage.  And this is a problem for everyone, because there are so many of them, no?  For example, I will only mention one: Cardinal Quarracino, my predecessor, used to say that as far as he was concerned, half of all marriages are null.  But why did he say this?  Because people get married lacking maturity, they get married without realizing that it is a life-long commitment, they get married because society tells them they have to get married.  And this is where the pastoral care of marriage also comes in.  And then there is the legal problem of matrimonial nullity, this has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.  It is complex, the problem of the pastoral care of marriage.  Thank you.

Please note: the Holy Father could have given a direct answer to a direct question and said: “There is no possibility of a change in the Church’s disipline”, and then he could have explained this discipline in terms of mercy. Instead, he offered the example of the Eastern Orthodox, who permit up to three “marriages” with no disciplinary sanctions. In response to the questioner’s clear suggestion that our longstanding Catholic discipline is unmerciful, the pope did not deny the premise, but instead responded “this is the season of mercy” – as though mercy were something new and unheard of in the Catholic Church until now. He furthermore suggests that “half of all marriages are null”, indicating that fully half of married Catholics are receiving communion while in a state of adultery anyway, so why arbitrarily exclude the divorced and remarried?

Fast forward to “Evangelii Gaudium”, and Pope Francis writes as follows:

“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”

What does this suggest? Clearly, it suggests that barring anyone at all from the Eucharist is to “act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators” because, in the Church (and at the altar rail), “there is a place for everyone”. Furthermore Pope Francis declares that “If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another!”, and he specifically mentions the Eastern Orthodox in this context. 

So, let’s not be naive about what the pope intends to impose at next year’s Synod on the Family. He wants to admit remarried divorcees to holy communion without annulment or repentance. There are other hints in “Evangelii Gaudium” about how this will be accomplished doctrinally, such as his statement that:

“The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37).”

Keep in mind that, in this context, Pope Francis is specifically addressing pastors – those who are the legitimate guardians of the Eucharist, who must sometimes make precisely those kinds of judgments. “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” – John 20:23.  The pope’s statement is all the more problematic in the context of evangelization – the very topic of this Apostolic Exhortation – for which the knowledge of human responsibility and culpability is not a matter of personal judgment but of divine revelation. But here’s the point: it will be argued at the Synod that exclusion from the Eucharist is a matter of personal moral culpability alone, which only God and the sinner himself are permitted to judge; and therefore, remarried divorcees should be admitted to the Eucharist unless they choose to exclude themselves.

10 thoughts on “Pope Francis still intends to admit remarried divorcees to the Eucharist

  1. Agreed wholeheartedly. I wrote the following recent comment to a similar article concerning the German renegade diocese:

    “If the Pope, whether implicitly or explicitly, would authoritatively join with this borderline schismatic diocese, it would gut the Sacrament of Matrimony and be the beginning of the end for the safety and security of the Family and monogamous marriages. No marriage would be safe, none would be permanent and fidelity would be thrown under the bus. Destroying 2/3rds of the marriage bonum would effectively null the Sacrament and marriage before the “I Do’s” are even spoken. Of course, that is already being done through specious annulments, so, in a sense, it would simply be an extension of that which is already in effect, which, again by extension, the Pope already approves of. It essentially would be the completion of the only known perpetual motion machine to exist and would be wholly (holy?) owned by the Catholic Church – fall into love, get married, fall out of love, get divorced, fall into love, get remarried with or without annulment, get to receive Holy Communion with or without annulment, fall out of love, get divorced…well, you know the cycle.”

    In between the latter fall-in/fall-out statements, I suppose I could have inserted “…receive Holy Communion”.

    As annulments are already looked upon as “Catholic Divorce” by the modern world, so we are potentially a year away from having “Catholic Prenuptial” agreements codified by the Church. We are on the verge of re-writing the Sacrament Our Lord instituted at Cana on the one hand and disrespecting another instituted at the Last Supper on the other. He will not be pleased in either case, should it happen.


  2. This repudiation of the Pope of the bishop’s role to judge (as to the external forum, at least) does seem very problematic. When asked about homosexual priests, he (reportedly) responded “who am I to judge”, again seeming to imply that judgement is not part of the role of the apostolic office, in spite of Jesus’ words.

    While one can legitimately be wary of how many Catholics have the requisite maturity to “really” get married, it is not clear (given the Pope’s reticence to “judge” a person’s interior) that the Church ought to be trying to judge a person’s maturity. If they are old enough, and they are not mentally handicapped, then they must be assumed to be mature enough to get married, and that’s good enough. In other words, stop giving annulments for lack of maturity. Who of us, in our early 20s, is truly mature enough to take on the permanent love of wife on the (remote but real) possibility that the wife might become a quadriplegic the day after the wedding? But the experience itself also matures us, doesn’t it? Who would suppose that in the year 350, people were so much more mature at the age of 16 than we are at the age of 25, in spite of the fact that Romans and Greeks had divorce and other cultures had polygamy? Yet the Church back then didn’t annul marriages for lack of maturity in persons “of age”. Or, on the alternative, stop doing marriages until both parties satisfy the pastor that they are mature enough – a marriage test? That would be one hell of a lot easier than going through the tribunal process after the fact, and would get rid of the “difficult” after-the-fact burden of proof in favor of the marriage bond. Then, when they get divorced and try for an annulment, we can pull out the pre-marriage proof of maturity, and take that excuse off the table.

    However, there is one area that the Church could make a change in praxis that would not directly repudiate matrimony: Canon law says that a Catholic must be married according to canonical form, or it isn’t even a valid marriage. That is to say, not merely that the Catholic is doing something illicit, but isn’t even accomplishing marriage in the eyes of God. This is a juridical rule, not a doctrinal one: the Church could rescind that canon law or modify it. Doing so would have the effect of making VALID the marriages of a Catholic to a non-Catholic before a justice of the peace, assuming intentions of permanence, fidelity, and openness to children. This would also have the effect of making it much harder for such a Catholic to later get an annulment, but it seems to me that by definition the number of people who wrongly attempt marriage and then attempt to reconcile their state (whether still married in law or not) is smaller than the set of people who wrongly attempt marriage, so we ought to take concern for the larger set over the smaller.

    This might not be so good in the short run: the number of people whose tenuous ties to the Church, manifesting mainly at marriage and baptism time, might dissolve altogether, and they could stop bothering even thinking of themselves as Catholic, or pretending to raise their kids Catholic even in name. But that might not be all bad either – it would present a more realistic picture of the Church, those who still bother with sacramental marriage (if they don’t have to when contracting a valid marriage), and those who may have sentimental attachments to the name Catholic but don’t actually carry out those feelings with anything worthy of the name “follower of Christ”.


    • “However, there is one area that the Church could make a change in praxis that would not directly repudiate matrimony: Canon law says that a Catholic must be married according to canonical form, or it isn’t even a valid marriage. That is to say, not merely that the Catholic is doing something illicit, but isn’t even accomplishing marriage in the eyes of God. This is a juridical rule, not a doctrinal one: the Church could rescind that canon law or modify it. Doing so would have the effect of making VALID the marriages of a Catholic to a non-Catholic before a justice of the peace, assuming intentions of permanence, fidelity, and openness to children.”

      A very valid statement you made above, Tony. As a victim of a Canon 1108 annulment (married by SSPX priest), it amazes me that the modern Church applies such a stringent, no-nonsense, letter-of-the-law interpretation of C. 1108 and yet, cannot find the courage or backbone to apply the same set of standards to C. 915 and obstinate, public sinners (read:Catholic politicians). The dichotomy is so great and unjust, as to be laughable. They seem to think it is OK to destroy 50% of a family of 12 and yet, do not blink an eye with politicians who lead many Souls to perdition through open violation of Church Teaching.

      If the Synod should gut the Sacrament of Matrimony next year by placating obstinate sinners, the beginning of the end is at hand…there will be little or no need for a Catholic wedding. By gutting two-thirds of the marriage bonum, it will effectively render the Sacrament null from the start. Of course, it will also have the affect of more caseloads to the Tribunal’s, which means more money for the Chancery, even though they are already overbooked and will then need to ask for more streamlining to render a verdict due to the increased workload.

      Quite the conundrum, no?


  3. I was curious, so I ran a word search of EG word, looking for “repent” (including cognates). It appears twice in the exhortation, both in a quote of Luke 15:7.

    You can’t announce the Good News without at least hinting there’s the Bad if you don’t accept it.

    As to your point here, it sure seems to offer another signal, doesn’t it?


    • I fully agree. It’s just that after two months of poring over and sifting through things like this, I’ve hit a wall. It’s hard to keep up with this papacy, cognitively speaking, and harder still, for my spiritual state, to keep tracking it as an analyst. I have been encouraged to keep up my efforts, so I am prayerfully open to that call, but for now I just need a rest and to let the whole lío trundle on, more or less out of sight. Keep up the good work!


  4. Dale, thanks for doing the legwork! Somehow I missed those references. That some variation of the word “repent” appears all of two times in a 51,000 word novel-length tract about THE GOSPEL – even if only inside of a single biblical passage quoted twice, and not from the pope himself – assures us that the Holy Father is at least acquainted with the concept of repentance. :-/

    Indeed the Gospel is entirely fruitless without repentance. But then Pope Francis seems to be redefining “the Gospel”.


    • Oh, don’t sweat it. Frankly, I wasn’t aware you had done so, so it wasn’t an effort to show you up. Just an interesting–and disquieting–find that I felt compelled to share.


  5. Pingback: “All things are ready, if our minds be so.” | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam"

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