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Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast processes out of Mass at Notre Dame Basilica in Ottawa on the morning of the National March for Life on May 8, 2014.John-Henry Westen/LifeSiteNews

OTTAWA, February 28, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has endorsed the Alberta bishops’ guidelines on Amoris Laetitia that call it “erroneous” for Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried to receive Holy Communion at Mass.

The Archbishop endorsed the Alberta document on February 2, calling it “guidance on how to accompany families with compassion and care while also upholding the Church’s unchanging teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage and the Eucharist.”

The guidelines, released last September by the Alberta and Northwest Territory bishops, state that “every Catholic, prior to the reception of Holy Communion, must sacramentally confess all serious sins of which he or she is aware.” The guidelines add that such a confession “must be motivated by true contrition, which necessarily involves sincere repentance and renunciation of sin and a firm resolution to amend one’s life.”

“It may happen that, through media, friends, or family, couples have been led to understand that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy ​Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest. This view is erroneous,” states the guidelines.  ​

Prendergast noted that while the Pope’s April 2016 Apostolic Exhortation “powerfully addresses the beauty and challenges of contemporary marriage and family life,” Chapter 8, however, “has drawn much attention.”

The Holy Father in Chapter 8 exhorts priests to accompany civilly-divorced-and-remarried couples who are currently living in adultery and to help them integrate into a Catholic life. The pope adds in what is now commonly referred to as the “smoking footnote” that this path to integration “can include the help of the sacraments.”

This ambiguous passage has caused a number of contradictory pastoral guidelines to emerge, some of which allow adulterers and even those living in cohabitation to receive Communion.

Prendergast said that the Alberta guidelines make it “possible to authentically receive the Holy Father’s message while remaining faithful to the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and proper reverence for receiving the Holy Eucharist.”

“For those seeking easy answers to complex questions, this document, like Amoris Laetitia itself, will present a challenge. For Catholics looking to receive, appreciate and grow in their faith in their marriage and family life, however, it is a compassionate presentation of the truth and beauty of these sacraments and the joy and challenge of family life,” he wrote.

On top of the guidelines calling it “erroneous” for divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, the bishops urge couples to live according to the objective truth of their situation.

If a marriage tribunal “upholds the validity of the first union, obedience in faith to the indissolubility of marriage as revealed by Christ will make clear to [the couple] the actions that must follow,” states the bishops’ directive.

“They are bound to live with the consequences of that truth as part of their witness to Christ and his teaching on marriage,” it adds.

For example, if a couple is “unable to separate for the sake of the care of children, they will need to refrain from sexual intimacy and live in chastity ‘as brother and sister’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84),” the guidelines state.

“Such a firm resolution to live in accordance with the teaching of Christ, relying always on the help of his grace, opens to them the possibility of celebrating the sacrament of Penance, which in turn may lead to the reception of Holy Communion at Mass.”

And if the marriage tribunal declares the previous marriage null, the pastor must help the couple understand the need to marry in the Church.

As some bishops use Amoris as grounds for giving Communion to those in objective situations of grave sin, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has rebuked such bishops for “justify[ing] situations against the will of God.”

“Adultery is always a mortal sin and the bishops who create confusion about this must study the doctrine of the Church,” Müller stated. “We have to help the sinner overcome sin and convert.”

The Alberta bishops’ guidelines make a similar point.

Pastors must help couples “examine their conscience” according to the teachings of the Church. This could take “considerable” time over many meetings, during which the pastor must attempt “gently and progressively to lead them by stages to an understanding of their situation.”

The Alberta bishops reiterate that the Church’s teaching on marriage is based on Christ’s words: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2-12; cf. Matthew 19:2-9).

These words “posed challenges” and difficulties in Christ’s day and still do today, the guidelines state.