Question: In a recent issue of Our Sunday Visitor, there was a brief entitled “Divorced Catholics” (“This Week,” Dec. 15) that states that some bishops in Germany are allowing some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, citing a papal endorsement. What does this papal endorsement state?
— Diane Reinke, Silver Spring, Md.
Answer: There is no papal endorsement. Church policy on Catholics who are divorced and remarried remains unchanged. As a general rule, divorced and remarried Catholics are not able to receive Communion or absolution in confession. This is because they are living in an invalid marriage, where at least one of them has been married to someone else.
In accord with what Jesus teaches in Matthew 19, Matthew 5, Mark 10 and other places, those who divorce and then remarry are in a state of adultery. And, since their marriage is ongoing and regular conjugal relations are presumed, Catholics in this state are not usually able to make a firm Act of Contrition, which includes the promise to avoid adulterous sex in the future. Hence they cannot receive absolution, neither can they be offered Holy Communion. In relatively rare situations, some Catholics are able to live with their current spouse and a kind of “brother-sister” relationship where no sexual relations are part of the picture.
Regarding the German bishops, it has been reported that some are either acting contrary to current Church law or strongly requesting a change in the law. Of itself, a request to review current Church policies is a legitimate matter to consider in any number of areas. As most priests know, many people today find themselves in very complicated situations. Many, for example, have returned to the Church after many years away and often do so with the irregular marriage situations. Some can be quickly and easily rectified. Others, because current or former spouses are uncooperative, create difficulties in people being restored to the full sacramental life of the Church. Are there ways that we can more efficiently deal with these situations and at the same time respect the Lord’s clear teaching in Scripture? These are ongoing questions, and also questions that will surely be considered at the upcoming synod on family life in October.
It is unlikely that there can be any major changes in Church policy in this regard. However, there can be great improvements in explaining our pastoral stance to Catholics who are often confused by what the Church teaches and why. The prayers of the faithful for the upcoming synod will be very important so the decisions that come forth are wise, prudent and engender in that respect for Church teaching on marriage.
Preaching on teaching
Question: We have a priest at our church who is a huge fan of Medjugorje. While he points out that it is not yet recognized by the Church, his preaching on it is confusing. Any thoughts of what I can do?
— Name withheld
Answer: Priests should avoid preaching substantially out of material not approved by the Church. Balance is also necessary. Sober teaching on sin with hope rooted in grace in mercy is the basic meat and potatoes of the preaching task. Encourage Father with what he preaches well, but also request he focus his material on what is approved and less divisive.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.