The slippery slope of Communion for divorced and remarried

My friend the still-parish priest of Blackfen, still-Dean of Bexley, His Hermeneuticalness, Fr. Tim Finigan has drilled into a kerfuffle which illustrates how sides are being formed concerning Communion for the divorced and, subsequently, civilly remarried.

Finigan describes the situation.  A parish priest in Italy had the temerity to uphold the Church’s doctrine and discipline.  He essentially said that, if you are a sinner you shouldn’t goto Communion.  Radical, no?  He was thereupon blasted by his diocesan bishop and by no one less than the Cardinal Baldisseri, who is in charge of the Synod of Bishops and who is in favor of jettisoning the Church’s discipline in these matters, though he has of late tried to walk back some of his odder public statements.  Baldisseri called the priest’s defense of marriage, “cose da pazzi… crazy talk”.

Go there and read the whole thing, as described by Fr. Finigan.  However, pay close attention to his conclusion, which I think is dead on target:

By way of a postscript, did you notice that there seems to be a slide forming? Are we now no longer limited to considering Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, but widening the question to all “irregular cohabitation”? I hope that the higher ecclesiastics consider the pastoral question of how long couples have to be cohabiting before they can receive Holy Communion? Parish priests such as myself and Fr Vicario need to know where the line is to be drawn.

I suppose everyone might agree that a one-night stand is not sufficient (though who knows what might be proposed by the real crazies in this debate?) But would a few weeks of shacking-up with the girlfriend or boyfriend, moving in your Playstation and bagging a few drawers for your clothes, put you in a fit state to receive Holy Communion?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. avecrux says:

    This is not a difficult question. It just isn’t. A marriage is valid or it isn’t. If it isn’t, you can’t have sex. If it isn’t and you have sex = no Holy Communion.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Your friend Fr. F is likely to get harrassed for only mentioning couples and not including trios, quartets, etc.

  3. pseudomodo says:

    Good for Fr. Finnigan [Finigan] and the Cardinal!

    Lets see if Cardinal Baldisseri tears a strip off him.

    To celebrate I think i’m going to actually have a Tom Collins tonight (with a maraschino cherry just to get the red in!)

  4. Patrick says:

    Whatever they change or don’t change on the canonical process for divorced and remarried folks re: communion, I hope they keep in mind that this problem will only exist for another 50 years or so – after the biological solution culls the herd, the only folks seeking Catholic (re-)marriages will be practicing Catholics, and the only people who care whether or not they can receive communion are folks who would want to obey the Church in any circumstance.

  5. ejcmartin says:

    In related news the FDA has decided to no longer provide healthy eating guidelines as the majority of Americans do not follow them anyway and they’re just “too hard.”

  6. tzard says:

    Of course seeing the logical consequences of thing is what Fr. Tim is trying to point out. Hopefully to cut to the chase.

    Unfortunately this is exactly where a certain mentality wants us to go – and it’s not new (the ancient heresies aside). Back in the 80’s the “communion is primarily medicinal” crowd pushed this type of thinking – that nothing short of actually murdering someone at *that* Mass could disqualify you for communion. Being young, It was appealing – not knowing at the time of any other sources of theology other than my religious education teachers and my parish priest.

  7. poohbear says:

    Didn’t Jesus say that those who divorce and remarry another commit adultery? And isn’t adultery listed in the 10 commandments? Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  8. jacobi says:

    Fr Fin and yourself know where the line is to be drawn, when for instance in the Confessional when acting “in Persona Christi” you make a judgement on whether to grant or withhold Absolution.
    No one who is in a state of Mortal Sin may receive Holy Communion. To do so would be a further mortal sin and could be Sacrilegious. A priest deliberately misadvising would be complicit in such sins.
    The divorced and remarried, co-habitors, users of comfort women, (I suppose nowadays I should add men), or a businessman just back on Friday night, who has “had it off” while away, and has to go with the family to Mass on Sunday – may not receive without Confession and a firm purpose of amendment. Quite simple really!

    This whole, now exceedingly dangerous, issue in the Church has been caused by the idea that we must all receive Holy Communion at every Mass. This was a brilliant tactical move on the part of the Relativists trying to diminish our belief in the Real Presence. Personally, for there are sins other than “pelvic”, although the Relativists try to keep it on this, I would guess that 40% reception would be closer to the mark.

    ps I always said no good would come out of this Synod on th Family.

  9. I found quite confusing the last couple of paragraphs of the usually incisive Fr. Finigan’s post. Surely he really meant to raise the question of how long an unmarried couple must be cohabiting before it is assumed that they living in mortal sin, and therefore are NOT eligible to receive holy communion. (In effect, his questions appear to inadvertently omit the word NOT.)

  10. jhayes says:

    The curate’s comments are not about persons who are divorced and remarried, nor about people in “irregular cohabitation.” They are about people who married but without canonical form” – i.e., they have contracted a civil marriage but have not yet married in the presence of a priest or deacon. [And? So?]

    You will recall that Pope Francis baptized the baby of a couple in that situation.

    Dr. Edward Peters makes the argument for reconsidering the issues about “canonical form”, which is a disciplinary requirement, not a dogmatic one.

    The requirement that Catholics wed before clergy has always been an imposition on the natural and sacramental reality of marriage, and the societal conditions that supported its imposition a few centuries ago have all but disappeared today. Instead of defending marriage, the requirement of form now permits tens of thousands of Catholics annually to walk away from marital unions that we demand all others honor, deprives Catholics in such unions the graces specific to Matrimony, and relegates such unions to the status of concubinage. Further, the pastoral need to blunt the ecclesial consequences for disregarding canonical form has led to the elaboration and/or invocation of several juridically dubious “work-arounds” in such areas as jurisdiction, dispensation, and sanation. The question is: does the requirement of canonical form do more harm than good to the Church’s proclamation of marriage today?


  11. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Mr. Edwards, it may have been a bit tricky to understand Fr. Finigan as he was speaking tongue-in-cheek about the expansion of “irregular cohabitation”, not earnestly.

  12. Cantor says:

    Is there an approved form of the Mass without congregational Communion? This might serve to reduce the perceived “need to receive” and associated embarrfassment for those who do not.

  13. Seamus says:

    I suppose everyone might agree that a one-night stand is not sufficient (though who knows what might be proposed by the real crazies in this debate?) But would a few weeks of shacking-up with the girlfriend or boyfriend, moving in your Playstation and bagging a few drawers for your clothes, put you in a fit state to receive Holy Communion?

    Father acts as if this was a thorny question. He should realize that all the intellectual heavy lifting on this issue has already been done by the Episcopalians. They have determined, after long thought and prayer: Of course a one-night stand is sufficient! To hold otherwise would be harsh, judgmental, and unwelcoming. When did Jesus ever say anything about one-night stands, anyway? (The facts that he never said anything about slavery, racism, or environmental pollution, either, or that he *did* say something about divorce, are beside the point.)

  14. Priam1184 says:

    @poohbear I’m pretty sure that the exact quote goes something like this: “What God has joined together let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9).” Forgive me all: I am an orthodox Catholic who subscribes to ALL of the Church’s Teaching including those on marriage and all sexual mores. But I do have to ask myself sometimes the following questions: if a man and a woman are having sexual relations and decide to stand before a justice of the peace and say some words, is God really joining anyone there? The Church is never apparently taught that just simply having sex is equivalent to the duty of a Catholic marriage. It is a mortal sin outside of marriage but if that act by itself does not have the power to bind a couple in marriage than how can a couple of words said before a justice of the peace have the same effect? If then a man and a woman standing before a justice of the peace constitutes a marriage then why doesn’t a man and a man standing before a justice of the peace constitute marriage? Civil marriage takes God entirely out of the picture. That is the problem with the idea of civil marriage and why it has been so destructive. And that is why the introduction of civil marriage into the Catholic world by the French Revolution is at the root and core of all of our social problems and confusion.

  15. iPadre says:

    I wonder where 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 fits into this discussion? What would Paul do?

  16. mike cliffson says:

    But Father !
    Could it-perish the thought!- be that, in your last few sentences about shared playstations and chests of drawers ,you are belittling (unmarried) tobesaidinthrilledaccents “MUTUAL COMMITTMENT”?!
    Or is the word in use different stateside or now from latesixties uk and onward , such as OUTREACH perchance?
    You got yer doubts about “fundamental moral options” and FEEEEEEEEEEElings with it, I betcha.

  17. robtbrown says:


    IMHO, your interpretation of Fr Fin’s comments is too narrow. He was saying that cohabitation does not make a marriage valid.

    and the question of baptism of infants from a bad marriage or no marriage is different. The sacraments work ex opere operato. Should an infant be deprived of the graces of baptism?

  18. robtbrown says:

    I have to wonder whether the Cardinal and the other Italian bishop have not misread the pope. The Cardinal is a professional diplomat, and the church in Italy is a court church, they try to mirror the Pope

    This pope, however, is a Jesuit, and they are hard to gauge. What he says one day might seem different from what he says another day. And what he says might not seen the same as what he done.

  19. jhayes says:

    robtbrown, Fr. Finigan wrote: “Magister told of the reaction to Fr Tarcisio Vicario, a parish priest of the diocese of Novara in Italy who recently spoke about the question of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried”

    What I pointed out is that that isn’t so. Fr. Vicario spoke about Holy Communion for a couple who were married in a civil ceremony but haven’t yet married in the presence of a priest or deacon.

    The issues are different in the two cases. Therefore, the claim that Cardinal Baldiasseri and the local bishop must be wrong because Cardinal Collins said that divorced and remarried (without declaration of nullity) couples can’t receive Communion is itself wrong because he wasn’t addressing the same issue they are.

    Finally, as far as I can see, the issue of cohabiting couples who aren’t civilly married hasn’t been raised by anyone other than Fr. Finigan

  20. robtbrown says:

    I referred to the text above. I didn’t follow the link and read the entire text.

  21. poohbear says:

    @Priam1184, I was thinking more of Mark 10:11-12, He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” And Matthew 19:8-9, He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

  22. Priam1184 says:

    @poohbear You are correct of course and I stupidly overlooked those lines. Apologies. My main concern though is that I have seen so many strange ‘weddings’ and living arrangements multiply over these last years that I am not entirely certain, outside of a Catholic marriage, what actually constitutes a real marriage, the kind of marriage that Christ was talking about in those verses. Anyone have any insight on this?

  23. Priam1184 says:

    As a last comment on this subject I will say that I think the issue of divorced and remarried as we have known it has an expiration date, and that date is coming. And it is simply for the reason that large numbers of people are not getting married anymore. They live together for a couple of years, have a ‘commitment ceremony’, have a couple of kids, and then go their separate ways. An insane way of life but it is becoming increasingly common and will soon be the norm. I don’t know that the Church has prepared herself for this onslaught that is coming in terms of children who just have no idea of the basics of life that many of us just took for granted. That is why SHE MUST START TEACHING AGAIN.

  24. Imrahil says:

    Dear Priam1184,

    I don’t know how it is where you live, but I suppose (and hope, but no, I don’t believe it’s wishful thinking) that those who don’t marry are sane enough not to go into any commitment ceremony. (Unless you mean civil marriage for those unter obligation to form; but, validity set aside, I is not entirely illogical that some of the more irreligious won’t do religious marriage.)

    And in fact I’d even suspect that the no-marriage movement is on its way out. Sure, the perceived licitness of cohabitation makes it difficult to determine when (surprisingly often when they want to have children), but notions as “marrying, what do you think I am, stupid or something”, which you did here a generation before the one young now, I do not recall hearing from the young generation.

    As for the Church teaching, she must do that – because it’s her job among other things, but I wouldwe can’t expect large-scale short-term effects to follow.

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