ASK FATHER: If Orthodox schismatics can receive Communion, why not divorced and remarried (adulterers)?

From a reader…


“Amoris Latitia” contains the footnote [351] stating those living in
irregular unions can be admitted to holy communion in some
circumstances; the idea being that they may be in the state of grace, despite how (objectively) they are living in a publicly sinful state. Based on the constant practice and teachings of the Church, this is erroneous.

However, canon law permits holy communion to be distributed to schismatics: “Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the oriental churches which do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask on their own for the sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the oriental churches as far as these sacraments are concerned” (CIC 844 § 3).

Is not schism, and adultery, both to be regarded as publicly sinful situations? In other words, if holy communion is to be denied to adulterers, does it not have to be denied to schismatic as well (despite how canon law sanctions it)? The alternative being, if in principle schismatics may receive holy communion if “properly disposed”, does not such proper disposition potentially apply to all other categories of public sinners?

We have to be careful with words, terms.  As the old adage runs: Seldom affirm, never deny, always make distinctions.

The 1983 Code for the Latin Church, can. 751, gives us definitions of heresy, apostasy, and schism.

The Code rarely gives definitions of terms. When it does, that is how the term is to be used throughout the Code and subsequent commentaries. Other definitions of these words may hold weight in other areas, but in canon law that is how these defined words are to be used.

Canon 751 says that schism is the withdrawal (detrectatio) of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him. By this canonical definition, then, someone who was baptized into, say, the Greek Orthodox Church, cannot be canonically considered a schismatic. Why? He has not withdrawn any submission to the Supreme Pontiff because he was never in submission to the Supreme Pontiff.  He cannot be accused of the canonical crime of schism.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a schism.  It means that in the eyes of the Code that guy isn’t considered schismatic.

Most members of the Orthodox Churches are not subject to the canonical crime of schism.  Those who commit schism in order to become Orthodox… that’s another kettle of borscht. Hence, to say that they are in an objective state of sin (canon law deals mainly with crime, and tangentially with sin) would go outside canon law’s definition.


Consider a person who was baptized as an infant in the Greek Orthodox Church, and then brought up in accord with the teachings and beliefs of that Church.  It is an entirely different thing to choose, as an adult, to attempt to enter into a marriage while one’s spouse remains alive!

Even considering that one’s guilt may be diminished because of ignorance, one is still responsible for one’s actions as an adult. If those actions have placed one in an objective state of sin, the burden lies on one’s own shoulders to extract oneself from that state (with the help of a confessor) or to demonstrate (with the help of one’s pastor and/or a trained canonist) that one’s irregular situation can be regularized.

The Church’s merciful solicitude towards our separated brethren, who share our belief in the efficacy of the sacraments and apostolic succession, who find themselves in circumstances where they have no reasonable access to their own priests, must not be confused with the ill-conceived notions of mercy that would gloss over one’s responsibility to own up to one’s own actions and set one’s own house in order before approaching the sacraments… and that means Eucharist, certainly, but Penance too, since we need to amend our lives to receive absolution.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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One Comment

  1. Maltese says:

    Father, if I read correctly, Rod Dreher, who was once a Catholic, and formally entered into the Orthodox faith, would be different than, say, Stravinsky, who was born in the Orthodox faith, and found himself in Galway in need of the Sacraments? [Yes.]

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