VATICAN CITY, October 22, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a lengthy essay published today, on the Vatican newspaper’s website in five languages, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has strongly reaffirmed Catholic Church teaching forbidding divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving Holy Communion.
Comments from Pope Francis on his return trip from Rio’s World Youth Day regarding divorced and remarried Catholics had led to speculation that a change in the Church’s long-standing tradition on the matter was coming. That perception was strengthened with the announcement of an upcoming synod on families for next October. But when one diocese in Germany did what many considered jumping the gun and proposed guidelines for allowing communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, the Vatican criticized the move, saying it “risks causing confusion.”
Archbishop Muller’s essay further reinforces the Vatican's position, running through extensive Church teaching on marriage and its permanence. It explicitly refutes popular arguments suggesting a change in the practice and in so doing also clarifies other questions concerning some of Pope Francis’ remarks on conscience.
The archbishop writes:
It is frequently suggested that remarried divorcees should be allowed to decide for themselves, according to their conscience, whether or not to present themselves for holy communion. This argument, based on a problematical concept of “conscience”, was rejected by a document of the CDF in 1994.
Naturally, the faithful must consider every time they attend Mass whether it is possible to receive communion, and a grave unconfessed sin would always be an impediment.
At the same time they have the duty to form their conscience and to align it with the truth. In so doing they listen also to the Church’s Magisterium, which helps them “not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis Splendor, 64).
If remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals. Marriage is not simply about the relationship of two people to God, it is also a reality of the Church, a sacrament, and it is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the Church, into which the individuals are incorporated by faith and baptism.
“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” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “The Pastoral approach to marriage must be founded on truth” L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 7 December 2011, p. 4)
The article also addresses persons who would suggest that the ‘mercy’ of God would trump the rules of the Church regarding reception of communion in difficult circumstances where marriages, while valid in the eyes of the Church, ended in divorce due to violence or other tragedies.
A further case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy. Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to be a distinctive quality of true discipleship.
This is correct, but it misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology. The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same. An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive.
The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice. If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man.
Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion, but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfil them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.
The essay ends with an appeal for pastoral care for Catholics who find themselves in such difficult situations. “The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned,” it says. “Yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey. Insofar as the parties make an effort to understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage.”
See the full article from the Vatican newspaper here.