Pope Francis recently announced an extraordinary Synod of Bishops, with the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” While the Synod will not take place until October of 2014, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, indicated that the issue of divorced and civilly re-married Catholics will be given much attention.
There are many Catholics throughout the world who have experienced a rupture in their marriage and, for a variety of reasons, have decided to separate or divorce. Unfortunately there is often much confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce, and it presents a unique pastoral challenge, as the Christian community must seek a balance of sympathy with guidance and mercy with truth.
The Church always recognizes the indissoluble nature of the marital union, and does not recognize the civil union of divorced Catholics as valid, but rather as a “situation that objectively contravenes God’s Law.” (CCC 1650) Unfortunately, many leave the Church because of this, thinking that they are no longer welcome or allowed to participate in the life of the Church.
While it is true that those who are divorced and remarried (without their first marriage being annulled) cannot receive the Eucharist or absolution while they remain in a sinful living situation, they are still called and welcome to participate in the life of the Church.
Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons:
They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. (CCC paragraph 1651)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed this at the 2012 World Meeting of Families, saying:
“Then it is also very important that they truly realize they are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the Body of Christ. Even without ‘corporal’ reception of the sacrament, they can be spiritually united to Christ in his Body. Bringing them to understand this is important: so that they find a way to live the life of faith based upon the Word of God and the communion of the Church, and that they come to see their suffering as a gift to the Church, because it helps others by defending the stability of love and marriage.”
In the year leading up the the Synod on the Family, let us continue to pray for strength and healing in all marriages and families, and that all Catholics who are away from the Church may return to communion with Christ.
To read about how Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II approach the divorced and remarried, see the Catholic News Service blog.
To read about Divorce and the Church’s Healing Ministry, visit the USCCB initiative, For Your Marriage.