Amid speculation that next year’s Synod of Bishops will discuss the possibility of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has published a lengthy article arguing from Scripture and Church tradition that they cannot.
The piece by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller was published in today’s edition of L’Osservatore Romano, and comes on the heels of the Vatican’s expressing disapproval of a move by the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Archbishop Müller outlines the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, starting with Sacred Scripture:
Above all, it was his controversies with the Pharisees that gave Jesus occasion to address this theme. He distanced himself explicitly from the Old Testament practice of divorce, which Moses had permitted because men were “so hard of heart”, and he pointed to God’s original will: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and … the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mk10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18). The Catholic Church has always based its doctrine and practice upon these sayings of Jesus concerning the indissolubility of marriage. The inner bond that joins the spouses to one another was forged by God himself. It designates a reality that comes from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal.
Archbishop Müller also addresses the differences between Catholic and Orthodox practices on divorce and remarriage. These differences were briefly referenced by Pope Francis during his in-flight Q&A with reporters as he returned from World Youth Day in Rio last July. Müller writes:
In the Orthodox Churches today, there are a great many grounds for divorce, which are mostly justified in terms of oikonomia, or pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path to a second or third marriage marked by a penitential character. This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage. But it represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be underestimated.
Archbishop Müller summarizes the many instances of magisterial teaching on the question of remarriage after divorce and the reception of Communion, up to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, who acknowledged that the issue is a “complex and troubling pastoral problem” amplified by the distorted view of marriage held by many today:
[Pope Benedict] confirms “the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments”, but he urges pastors at the same time, to devote “special concern” to those affected: in the wish that they “live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children”. If there are doubts concerning the validity of the failed marriage, these are to be carefully examined by the competent marriage tribunals. Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an environment of faith. Therefore assessment of the validity of marriage is important and can help to solve problems.
In closing, Archbishop Müller expresses the need “to show pastoral concern” for divorced and remarried Catholics:
The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned. 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.
Clearly, the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist. It involves a much more wide-ranging pastoral approach, which seeks to do justice to to the different situations. It is important to realize that there are other ways, apart from sacramental communion, of being in fellowship with God. One can draw close to God by turning to him in faith, hope and charity, in repentance and prayer. God can grant his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if they find themselves in a contradictory life situation. As recent documents of the Magisterium have emphasized, pastors and Christian communities are called to welcome people in irregular situations openly and sincerely, to stand by them sympathetically and helpfully, and to make them aware of the love of the Good Shepherd. If pastoral care is rooted in truth and love, it will discover the right paths and approaches in constantly new ways.
The full article in L’Osservatore Romano can be read here.