ROME, November 27, 2013 ( – Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Stuttgart has told a group of German laity that while the indissolubility of marriage is “non-negotiable” for the Catholic Church, the German bishops are going to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, despite clear instructions to the contrary from the Vatican’s doctrinal chief.

Speaking to the plenary session of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), he said that the Church must “take into account the concrete reality” of many couples and families. “It belongs to the self-understanding of the Church to help people who fail in different situations,” he said, adding that “the expectations, impatience and anger are great” among Catholics on the issue in Germany. 

The statement was a reiteration of guidelines published in October by the Archdiocese of Freiburg to admit the divorced and remarried to the Sacraments without previous annulment of marriage “under certain circumstances.”


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Following some recent comments made by Pope Francis, there was widespread anticipation that the Church was about to alter its position. But this was definitively quashed by an article by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the CDF, reiterated the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and that those who have remarried after divorce are objectively in a state of grave sin, namely adultery.

The German bishops had already issued “guidelines” for parishes that allowed such individuals to decide for themselves whether to receive Communion based on subjective criteria. But Müller wrote, “If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible.”

“The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception,” he added. Guidelines that would allow the divorced and remarried to receive the Sacraments “would cause confusion among the faithful about the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage,” he said. 

The guidelines recommend that “in justified individual cases divorced should be allowed to return again to the sacraments…A personally responsible decision of conscience and a conversation with the chaplains are prerequisite.”

After publishing the article reiterating the Church’s teaching, however, Müller then wrote a letter addressed specifically to all German bishops instructing them to withdraw the guidelines and re-write them. 

Later, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and a member of Pope Francis’ inner circle, said that Müller’s intervention had not ended the discussion.

Reporting on the ZdK meeting, General Anzeiger, a newspaper in Bonn, hinted at why this issue is so prevalent in the German Catholic Church, noting that with 180,000 divorces a year, nearly a quarter are subsequently remarried civilly. Recent statistics have shown that about 25 percent of all newly concluded marriages are remarriages.