QUAERITUR: Why does the pope say a couple living together is “not excluded from the love of the Church or from the love of Christ”?

From a reader:

Why does the pope say a couple living together ‘married’ without an
annulment of a previous marriage is “not excluded from the love of
the Church or from the love of Christ”? Christ said they were
committing adultery. Mortal sin excludes one from the sacraments
because without repentance the soul is dead to the love of God.

Think about what you asked.

Even though we sin, God loves us and desires us to return to the state of grace. God gives us graces also when we are separated from Him in mortal sin so that we may the easier return to His friendship.

Such a couple may be excluded from receiving the sacraments until they get things straightened out. That doesn’t mean they can’t be members of the Church or that God has stopped loving them.

Holy Church continues to hold the door open for sinners, for the Church never desires the permanent exclusion of any person from a fuller participation in the Church’s journey towards God in heaven. Holy Church asks, however, that they be honest and not receive the sacraments if they are impeded for some reason (read = mortal sin, risk of public scandal, etc.).

When YOU commit a mortal sin, do you think God stops loving you? Do you think the Church slams the door of reconciliation in your face?

I think you need to review a bit.

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  1. Random Friar says:

    I would happily open up my confessional to them any day of the week, or help them get the paperwork necessary done. Just come in!

  2. Precentrix says:


  3. Mortal sin is deadly, but it’s deadly to us, not to God. I can commit suicide all day, but it won’t stop the EMTs and the doctors from trying to save me, if they can. Likewise, we can commit deadly sin and cut ourselves off from God, but that doesn’t cut off God from us. He is more powerful; He is the reason we continue to exist. So He keeps loving us even when we don’t love Him. He is faithful even when we’re not.

    (Cue all the Old Testament quotes of God continuing to have a relationship with Israel, when Israel keeps committing mortal sins.)

  4. LisaP. says:

    I can’t imagine the difficulty people face in these situations. I had a friend who divorced a violent drug user and then married a man who abandoned her for another woman. In her grief and pain, she turned to the Church, and the question of whether converting would mean she’d have to be alone, without a spouse, for the rest of her life was a stumbling block.

    Everyone needs to always know God loves them and wants them near.

    However, I do think it’s a tough question, how to approach folks in these situations. I also know folks that do not take communion because they are in a state of mortal sin, they consider themselves “right” with the Church and God because they don’t take communion. But the very state of sin means they aren’t right. It’s tough to think that making someone feel comfortable and loved in the pews might prevent them from repenting and keep them from heaven. Of course, alienating and demeaning folks who are still trying to find their way back to God is terribly wrong. But giving people “outs” can be problematic, too. I guess you just have to go individual to individual, some folks need to know God loves them even when they are sinners, others need to know that even though God loves them, sin still moves them away from that love.

  5. kevinf says:

    There’s a reason they call it “Good News”

  6. RoyceReed says:

    Questions like this are the reason my friend and I often say “I love traditional Catholicism, but sometimes I just can’t stand traditional Catholics.”

  7. tcreek says:

    There ARE divorced Catholics who lead a celibate life and do not attempt another marriage. These are the Faithful “cross bearers” who should be supported. I suppose many wonder if they are foolish in following the teaching of Christ and His Church in this permissive “anything goes” age. But then many unsuspected blessings probably come their way, as was the promise.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    “There ARE divorced Catholics who lead a celibate life and do not attempt another marriage.”

    And such Catholics are able to receive Holy Communion, etc. It is the civilly divorced and then civilly re-married Catholics who cannot receive.

  9. When we commit Mortal Sin, it is we who turn our backs on God; God NEVER turns His back on us. He waits, He is patient, He is merciful.

    Jesus I Trust in You

  10. thickmick says:

    It ain’t easy that’s for sure. The shame, despair, sadness I feel when it comes time for communion is DEEP, for me. It’s really hard to bear. But I count myself lucky that I can even be in the same room with Our Lord and that gives me Hope. To sit in the Church and take part is a true gift for someone like me and I am thankful that I can. Please pray for me if you read this. Thanks!

  11. Mike says:

    I believe it was St. Francis de Sales who wrote that God watches the sinner for signs of contrition more carefully than a hunter looking for his quarry.

    That being said, we have the gift of freedom, and can say “no” to God’s love. In our PC culture, being a nice guy, not setting your neighbor’s house on fire, and smiling to the folks across the street qualifies one for heaven.

    That being said, St. Faustina has it right: God wants us all to trust in his infinite mercy, and he knows well we all need that very much.

    Catholicism is not simplistic in any way.

  12. moon1234 says:

    Fr. z’s Homily on sinners and the Church and “Here comes everybody” is perfect for this post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvWEOpLLEso

  13. Charles says:

    When I was a zealous teenager, I thought that mortal sin separated one from the Church. At the time, all my good catholic friends thought the same (the whole 3 of us that actually cared about church teaching). All I’m getting at is that I think that this is a common view of what sin does to the soul; how could it not separate us from the body of Christ if it separates us from friendship with God? At root of the misunderstanding is a Protestant ecclesiology which identifies Church membership with being numbered among the elect.

  14. PhilipNeri says:

    Think about this way. . .

    God cannot stop loving b/c He is love. If He were to stop loving, He would cease to exist. Since God is existence per se, we would all cease to exist. We exist, therefore, God still exists; therefore, God still loves.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  15. Elizabeth D says:

    thickmick, I prayed for you and for setting the situation fully right. It is wonderful to draw near the Cross at Mass, a place of love beyond all telling.

  16. Tim Ferguson says:

    tcreek, it is true – those faithful who are divorced – especially those who are the innocent victims of modern “no-fault” divorce laws, and who do not attempt a second marriage should be supported. They are carrying a heavy cross, and often do so under a lot of pressure. Friends and family members, well meaning, encourage them to “move on, find someone, start dating, get out there.” Oftentimes parish events are either built for families, or built for single people looking for mates. Socializing in the world and socializing in the Church can been equally challenging.

    The situation the Holy Father is referring to is a bit different – these are the people who married, divorced, remarried, and then had an awakening of faith – or encountered the Catholic Church for the first time. It is not always the case that the first marriage can be declared null, and so they are living in a second marriage that cannot be recognized by the Church. They entered into it without understanding – often there was no malice whatsoever on their part, because of poor catechesis, an inactive faith, or they may not have even been Catholic at the time of their attempts at marriage.

    One solution to this situation would be to abandon the conjugal life – to separate. Easier said that done. Not only are their financial considerations that can’t just be dismissed, sometimes these second marriages have perdured for many, many years. There may even be children, for whom the separation of their parents would be an undue and unjust burden to place on them. These people, too, carry a tremendous burden, and the Holy Father is reminding them – and reminding the whole Church, that their situation does not separate them from the love of Christ, and their suffering can serve as a sign and witness for the rest of the faithful. I daresay that, as in the parable of the pharisee and the publican, some of these people are, despite their inability to receive Holy Communion, go to their house justified.

  17. NoTambourines says:


    Seconding Elizabeth, you’ve got my prayers as well. And you can always spend time with Him in Eucharistic Adoration as well. I need to get back to that myself.

  18. Elizabeth D says:

    Tim Ferguson, if there is true repentance and firm purpose of amendment (ie ceasing fornication) then they may go home justified. For many couples in an irregular situation but for some reason (particularly, having kids) cannot separate, the solution is to make a commitment of sexual continence, living “as brother and sister”, if sincere then they should speak to their pastor about that, and being readmitted to Holy Communion. These are difficult situations and we have to pray with much love for those involved. Marriage in itself is good, but this kind of conversation brings home the conversation Jesus has in which others say, if there can be no divorce (and remarriage) then it is better not to marry, and Jesus says that’s true, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is not for all, but for those to whom it is given it is the better choice. Like so many people I wish I had understood from a young age the wisdom of chastity, and like so many others, it would have saved me much woe. I have truly much love for chastity now.-

  19. RomRom says:

    “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 JB

    The belief that we can somehow be separated from the Love of God is not Catholic, nor Orthodox, nor even Christian– it Satanic.

  20. bookworm says:

    “I had a friend who divorced a violent drug user and then married a man who abandoned her for another woman”

    Did she ever explore the possibility that her first marriage might be null and void — especially if he was either violent or a drug user, or both, at the time they got married? I realize she might have been discouraged by the cost involved in an annulment case, but financial concessions or arrangements can be made if requested. If she is concerned about his having to testify in any annulment case, the case can go on without him, and she does not have to confront him in person. The second marriage, most likely, would not even need a formal annulment process, just a few documents submitted, since the (putative) existence of the first marriage would have voided it from the start.

    Although annulments are by no means guaranteed or automatic, except in cases of lack of form (baptized Catholic marries outside the Church with no dispensation, so marriage is never recognized in the first place), some people who have legitimate cases for annulment do not seek them due to misinformation or distorted assumptions/perceptions of what the process involves. I hope she is able to consult a knowledgeable priest or canon lawyer in confidence about her situation before she gives up completely on becoming a Catholic.

  21. LisaP. says:

    Bookworm, thank you. I do believe the circumstances of her first situation definitely warranted a look at validity, and I agree then about the second marriage. I also believe that turning to the Church can give her a greater understanding of the sacrament and of love and help her find a person she can truly join together with, if that’s the will of God. It’s the right teaching, definitely, it’s just a hard one.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    Two things. Firstly, one of the reasons I love the book Brideshead Revisited so much is the sacrifice Julia Mottram makes in leaving Charles Ryder because they cannot get married in the Church. Charles becomes a Catholic later in the book, and the implication is that her sacrifice led him to conversion. The Love of God is a theme in that book, as Sebastian Flyte also states, to Charles, “I asked too much of you. I knew it all along. Really. Only God can give you that sort of love.” Both Julia and Sebastian know what real love is-the Love of God. Learning this the hard way does not diminish the rise to holiness.

    Secondly, there are more married people living celibate lives by choice than one would think. I think many priests do not help couples understand the type of sacrificial love of which we are all capable. We are not challenged to be more than the usual. Celibacy can occur in marriage for a number of reasons, physical health preventing union, or even mental health. We are all called to holiness and I think that one huge difference between Catholic and Protestant philosophy is that the Catholic Church calls us to become more and go higher, as it were, while the Protestants accept what is and work on that as a normal moral principle.

    We can always chose to do the hard thing. And, sometimes, such a cross is thrust upon us by circumstances, or simply, by Love Himself.

  23. Patti Day says:

    Bookworm: I realize she might have been discouraged by the cost involved in an annulment case, but financial concessions or arrangements can be made if requested.

    My diocese does not charge any fees in an annulment. Any costs are paid from a special fund maintained by the diocese.

  24. Seraphic Spouse says:

    @RoyceReed: it would be a strange traditional Catholicism that did not include traditional Catholics.

  25. Taylor says:

    @Seraphic Spouse Perhaps what Royce should have said, is that sometimes, the followers of Christ do more to hurt the cause of Christ, than those who don’t.

    To be fair, there are different types of traditional Catholics, including a certain type that can ask this sort of question. They, like us all, need prayers.

  26. sdw08 says:

    LisaP: I made an account just to say that I think your comment was right on. Let’s pray for the grace to put that into practice.

  27. For those who are unaware there are the Pauline and Peterine privileges. These however are very different from a decree of nullity in that they dissolve a Natural Marriage (as opposed to a Sacramental Marriage). Granted that even a Natural Marriage should not be treated lightly, however, it is not the same as a Sacramental Marriage and as such can be dissolved by the Church. It would be best to have a Natural Marriage transformed into a Sacramental Marriage, however, this should be done with prayerful consideration as once done it is irrevocable (though willfully refusing to do so without any legitamite reasons may also have a certain degree of culpability). However, for some poor souls there may be very abusive spouses or other serious reasons why they may seek a dissolution of a Natural Marriage.

    The Peterine Privilege is applicable when only one spouse is baptized at the time of the marriage and the unbelieving spouse decides to leave, not receive baptism and will not live peacably with the baptized spouse. The fault can not be that of the baptized party. It is only granted when the baptized spouse wishes to marry a Catholic. It is more complicated than the brief synopsis above but below is a good theological link (scroll down the page to find it).

    The Pauline Privilege is applicable when both parties are unbaptized at the time of the marriage. If one spouse later receives a valid baptism and the unbaptised spouse leaves then the Pauline Privilege may be granted. This the local bishop can do. The Peterine privilege is reserved to the Pope and on average I have heard takes around 6 months (depending upon promptly filling out the paperwork.

    Just because someone is regarded as a “traditional Catholic” in no way means they are properly catechised or knows much about the Faith (other than some of the basics). We are all learning as long as we live and none of us possess the wisdom of the souls in Heaven yet.

    Have a blessed feast of the Circumcision of our Lord

  28. Seraphic Spouse says:

    @Taylor. All this person did was ask a question. For all we know, he or she is a living saint who has suffered great hardships in his or her battle to be chaste. Maybe he or she has been scandalized for years by cohabiting couples receiving communion and was truly confused by what the Holy Father said.

    Meanwhile, Catholicism, including traditional Catholicism, is all about relationships with people–beginning with the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity and including confused traditional Catholics who ask questions. And although we are frequently ashamed of fellow Christians, I don’t think shame in fellow Christians is anything to boast of in a “Thank you Lord for making me tolerant, unlike this intolerant traditional Catholic” kind of way.

  29. Supertradmum says:

    Aren’t we all sinners? I am, constantly, daily…hypocrisy is a huge sin of those who think they have salvation once and for all time, which is optimism, or presumption. And, for us traddies, “But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48

  30. Anne 2 says:

    CCC: “1665 The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.”

    However there is one way they can still receive the Sacraments if they are sorry for their sins and willing to make the sacrifice to do God’s will – – – – note the last sentence in #1650 starting with the word – “Reconciliation” ending in “complete continence”.
    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.

    Our obligation –
    CCC: “1651 Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons:
    They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace.”

  31. Innocentius says:

    “Mortal sin is deadly, but it’s deadly to us, not to God. I can commit suicide all day, but it won’t stop the EMTs and the doctors from trying to save me, if they can. Likewise, we can commit deadly sin and cut ourselves off from God, but that doesn’t cut off God from us. He is more powerful; He is the reason we continue to exist. So He keeps loving us even when we don’t love Him. He is faithful even when we’re not.”

    So we can sin with impunity and God will still be there for us and for how much longer before He withdraws His grace? So when we die with one mortal sin in our soul, we still have hope to be saved? That’s what you seem to imply.

    It is precisely because of thoughts, beliefs and opinions such as the above that Pope St. Pius X issued his Encyclical “Pacendi”: Modernism, the sythesis of all heresies. The Blessed Virgin Mary was sent by God to Fatima to ask us to stop offending God for He has already been so much offended. And she said she cannot stay His Hand any longer and He is ready to punish the world. And hasn’t He already sent us punishment in the form of wars, hunger, etc. Might as well remember what Our Lady said about sinners who go to the Pit — most are there because of the sins of the flesh.

    “(Cue all the Old Testament quotes of God continuing to have a relationship with Israel, when Israel keeps committing mortal sins.)”

    Hebrews 8: St. Paul quotes Jeremias (31:31)
    [8] For finding fault with them, he saith: Behold, the days shall come, saith the Lord: and I will perfect unto the house of Israel, and unto the house of Juda, a new testament: [9] Not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt: because they continued not in my testament: and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. [10] For this is the testament which I will make to the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my laws into their mind, and in their heart will I write them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people:

    The Old Covenant was abrogated; the New Covenant is with Jesus and the New Israel are His faithful people, the Catholics who do His holy will.

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