From a priest…
Here is a question which perhaps you could answer for those of us who are parochial vicars.
What should we do if people regularly present themselves for communion who are married outside the Church? Ordinarily, we have the very clear teaching of Canon 915. But what should we do if they are married outside the Church, the pastor knows they are married outside the Church, and yet he still gives them communion anyway? My pastor’s attitude is that they should just know that they shouldn’t present themselves for communion. He refuses to confront them. He won’t let them be sponsors but he also won’t turn them away from receiving communion either. The Diocese tells me to follow the pastor’s lead. What is one to do?
GUEST PRIEST ANSWER: Msgr. ___ [This priest has a lot of experience in diocesan administration and priestly personnel issues.]
This is difficult and almost insolvable on a practical level given the admixture of the obedience issue with the pastor and the diocese.
Can the pastor be convinced, through Amoris Laetitia, to “encounter, accompany, and dialogue” with these couples to convince them not to present themselves for Holy Communion under canon 916 (if my memory is correct on the canon number)? Would the pastor allow the parochial vicar to do this, and maybe start a small ministry to those in adulterous second unions?
It seems these couples need catechesis and formation so they voluntarily do not present themselves for Holy Communion (or alternatively seek to live together as brother-sister, etc…).
Ultimately, I think the pastor should confront the couples on the issue and ask them to be witnesses by not receiving Holy Communion in the current state. If they don’t comply, canon 915 would come into play, although I think the pastor should have a confidential discussion with each couple so they can avoid the embarrassment of being denied Holy Communion and make sure they’re “obstinately persisting”.
The couples should also know that they can’t receive sacramental absolution in the confessional without the requisite sorrow for sin/firm purpose of amendment in regards to the adulterous second union.
It is very difficult for the parochial vicar in conscience.
However, I suppose if the pastor really doesn’t address the issue in a serious and full way with each couple, then is the couple really “obstinately persisting” in manifest grave sin? I really appreciate the situation of the parochial vicar, since the pastor is somewhat holding them in a “strategic ignorance” to afford them the reception of the sacraments.
Fr. Z adds:
Yes, the “parochial vicar” (aka assistant) is in a tough spot. He isn’t the pastor, so he doesn’t get to make the call. On the other hand, he is a priest and he is concerned for souls but also about profanation of the Blessed Sacrament in sacrilegious Communions as well as the potential of scandal.
The pastor has the care of souls and is responsible for these couples before God. If he is willfully keeping them ignorant of their spiritual peril – because do we really think that they don’t know that they should go to Communion? – then I tremble for the pastor who will answer for this before the Just Judge, the King of Fearful Majesty.
Sadly, I suspect these situations will multiply and worsen as the controversies over Amoris laetitia are allowed to go on and confuse people. As the controversies first erupted, I opined that sound priests would interpret Amoris in the best possible, faithful light and that less than faithful priests would use the document as cover to continue to do what they have been doing all along.
To the parochial vicar: Bide your time, Father. You are not the pastor. However, you might take on some penances in reparation for the sacrilegious Communions and you might pray also to the Guardian Angels of the couples. Perhaps you might also choose occasionally to preach about what it means to be “properly disposed” to receive, including also the physical disposition caused by fasting (since we are both body and soul).