Pope Francis, after a month-long break, resumed his weekly general audiences this morning and once again dedicated the catechesis to the family, a subject he has dedicated many months to, and he reflected on what he called “the situation of our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union.”
As I listened to the catechesis in the Paul VI Hall, I tried to imagine some of the headlines in the media, knowing many would focus on – as they should – the fact that the Pope said that people who divorce and marry again are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such but knowing that others would say the Pope opened the door to communion for the divorced and remarried, a topic discussed in the 2014 synod on the family and one which will gain headlines this coming Octobber in another synod on the family.
Pope Francis did not open that door, He did not mention communion, nor did he use the word sacrament for those who are divorced and remarried.
What did the Pope really say? I am going to help you understand this catechesis by providing the entire English translation, the official Vatican English language summary and then take a look at No. 1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1650) on this matter. The translation was by ZENIT and I made only a couple of changes for clarity.
Here are some of the photos I took this morning in the Paul VI Hall.
POPE FRANCIS: OUR DIVORCED AND REMARRIED BROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE NOT EXCOMMUNICATED
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
With this catechesis we take up again our reflection on the family. After speaking last time of wounded families caused by the misunderstanding of spouses, today I would like to focus our attention on another reality: how to take care of those that, following the irreversible failure of their marital bond, have undertaken a new union.
The Church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament. However, her look as a teacher draws always from her heart of mother; a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and salvation of persons. And this is why she feels the duty, “for love of truth,” to “discern the situations well.” Saint John Paul II expressed himself thus in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (n. 84), pointing out, for instance, the difference between one who has suffered the separation and one who has caused it. This discernment must be made.
If, then, we look at these new bonds with the eyes of little ones – and the little ones are looking – with the eyes of children, we see even more the urgency to develop in our communities a real acceptance of persons that live such situations. Therefore, it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes are always attentive to persons, starting with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. Otherwise, how will we be able to recommend to these parents to do their utmost to educate the children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a convinced and practiced faith, if we hold them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated? We must proceed in such a way as not to add other weights beyond those that the children in these situations already have to bear! Unfortunately, the number of these children and youngsters is truly great. It is important that they feel the Church as a mother attentive to all, always willing to listen and to come together.
In these decades, in truth, the Church has not been either insensitive or slow. Thanks to the deep reflections carried out by Pastors, guided and confirmed by my Predecessors, the awareness has greatly grown that a fraternal and attentive acceptance is necessary, in love and in truth, towards the baptized who have established a new cohabitation after the failure of their sacramental marriage; in fact, these people are not at all excommunicated, they are not excommunicated! And they absolutely should not be treated as such: they are always part of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI intervened on this question, soliciting careful discernment and wise pastoral support, knowing that “simple recipes” do not exist (Address to the 7th World Meeting of Families, Milan, June 2, 2012, answer n. 5).
Hence the repeated invitations of Pastors to manifest openly and consistently the community’s willingness to receive and encourage them, so that they live and develop increasingly their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with frequenting of the liturgy, with the Christian education of the children, with charity and service to the poor, with commitment to justice and peace.
The biblical icon of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18), summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: to give his life for the sheep. This attitude is also a model for the Church who receives her children as a mother that gives her life for them. “The Church is called to be always the open House of the Father […]” No closed doors! No closed doors! “All can participate in some way in ecclesial life, all can form part of the community. The Church […] is the paternal home where there is a place for each one with his difficult life” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 47).
In the same way all Christians are called to imitate the Good Shepherd. Above all Christian families can collaborate with Him by taking care of wounded families, supporting them in the community’s life of faith. May each one do his part in assuming the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love! (ZENIT news service)
VATICAN ENGLISH LANGUAGE SUMMARY
Dear Brothers and Sisters: We return now to our catechesis on the family, by reflecting on the situation of our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union. Though their unions are contrary to the Sacrament of marriage, the Church, as a Mother, seeks the good and salvation of all her children. As these situations especially affect children, we are aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For how can we encourage these parents to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of Christian faith, if we keep them at arm’s length?
I am especially grateful to the many pastors, guided by my Predecessors, who have worked diligently to let these families know they are still a part of the Church. There is no easy solution for these situations, but we can and must always encourage these families to participate in the Church’s life, through prayer, listening to the Word of God, the Christian education of their children, and service to the poor. As the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so the Church as a Mother gives her life for all her children, by being always the “house of the Father, with doors wide open”. May everyone, especially Christian families, imitate the Good Shepherd, who knows all his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love.
CATECHSIM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON CATHOLICS WHO DIVORCE AND REMARRY
(CCC 1650) Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ—”Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”—the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.