NEWS FLASH! Pope gives public answer about Communion for the divorced and remarried

In 2012, five whole years ago and a few months, Benedict XVI answered a public question about the divorced and remarried. The occasion is a meeting in Milan and the 7th World Meeting Of Families. TEXT HERE

5 THE ARAUJO FAMILY (a Brazilian family from Porto Alegre)

MARIA MARTA: Holy Father, in our country, just as in the rest of the world, marriage breakdowns are continually increasing.

My name is Maria Marta and this is Manoel Angelo. We have been married for 34 years and we are now grandparents. As a doctor and a family psychotherapist, we meet a great many families and we notice that couples in difficulties are finding it harder and harder to forgive and to accept forgiveness. We often encounter the desire and the will to establish a new partnership, something lasting, for the benefit of the children born from this second union.

MANOEL ANGELO: Some of these remarried couples would like to be reconciled with the Church, but when they see that they are refused the sacraments they are greatly discouraged. They feel excluded, marked by a judgement against which no appeal is possible.

These sufferings cause deep hurt to those involved. Their wounds also afflict the world and they become our wounds, the wounds of the whole human race.

Holy Father we know that the Church cares deeply about these situations and these people. [Q:] What can we say to them and what signs of hope can we offer them?

THE HOLY FATHER: Dear friends, thank you for your very important work as family psychotherapists. Thank you for all that you do to help these suffering people. Indeed the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today’s Church. And we do not have simple solutions. Their suffering is great and yet we can only help parishes and individuals to assist these people to bear the pain of divorce. I would say, obviously, that prevention is very important, so that those who fall in love are helped from the very beginning to make a deep and mature commitment. Then accompaniment [Remember, no Pope before 2013 ever talked about “accompanying”.] during married life is needed, so that families are never left on their own but are truly accompanied on their journey. As regards these people – as you have said – the Church loves them, but it is important they should see and feel this love. I see here a great task for a parish, a Catholic community, to do whatever is possible to help them to feel loved and accepted, to feel that they are not “excluded” even though they cannot receive absolution or the Eucharist; [A POPE said that?  Really?  But, hey.  That was 5 whole years ago.  Obsolete by now.] they should see that, in this state too, they are fully a part of the Church. Perhaps, even if it is not possible to receive absolution in Confession, [Wow… he said it again.] they can nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide. This is very important, so that they see that they are accompanied and guided. Then it is also very important that they truly realize they are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the Body of Christ. Even without “corporal” reception of the sacrament, they can be spiritually united to Christ in his Body. [He seems to mean what he says, this Pope.] Bringing them to understand this is important: so that they find a way to live the life of faith based upon the Word of God and the communion of the Church, and that they come to see their suffering as a gift to the Church, because it helps others by defending the stability of love and marriage. [Accompany them in their suffering?!?  Which can be a defense of marriage and love?] They need to realize that this suffering is not just a physical or psychological pain, but something that is experienced within the Church community for the sake of the great values of our faith. [Hmmm… What are these “greater values”, of which he speaks?] I am convinced that their suffering, if truly accepted from within, is a gift to the Church. They need to know this, to realize that this is their way of serving the Church, that they are in the heart of the Church. Thank you for your commitment.

Let me get this straight.

  • A Pope publicly answers a direct question made in public which asks for clarity about the state of the divorced and remarried.
  • The divorced and remarried cannot receive sacramental absolution (of course, if they don’t have the intention to amend their lives, etc.).
  • They can’t receive Communion.
  • They have to be accompanied, made to feel part of the Church.
  • Their suffering serves high values in and for the Church.
  • Their suffering defends marriage and love.
  • Their suffering is a gift to the Church.
  • Their suffering is a way to serve the Church.
  • Their suffering places them – not on the edge or outside – but in the heart of the Church.

That’s positively medieval!

But that was five whole years ago.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Benedict XVI and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Robert of Rome says:

    Thanks for this post, Father. I don’t think these words of Pope Benedict XVI are well known in the Church, so your posting them helps us all.

  2. iPadre says:

    I miss Benedict’s clear and unambiguous teaching, his gentleness, and humility, his kindness, and great love.

    (unlike the libs try to paint him)

  3. Kevin says:

    How can there be any merit or communion with the church when we continue to sin mortally, and without any effort to live as brother and sister? I still don’t get it. [NB: This is an off the cuff response. Some people think that every off the cuff response has to say every possible thing. I am reminded of some commentators here. When I answer a question or make a post, they jump in with “BUT YOU FORGET X!” No. It is unlikely that I forgot it. It is more likely that, for the sake of brevity, one can’t include all possible bits of information. What Benedict said and intended remains crystal clear compared the the murky things we often hear about THIS issue.] I’m obviously missing something, this is as clear to me as PF’s statement. [No.]

    “They are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the Body of Christ. Even without “corporal” reception of the sacrament, they can be spiritually united to Christ in his Body”. How is this possible if in mortal sin and you have turned your back on Christ?

    “They need to know this, to realize that this is their way of serving the Church, that they are in the heart of the Church.” I just can’t get my head around this. How do we serve the church without trying to abandon our sinful lives? [Who says that they aren’t?]

    Pls. Help me understand I must be missing something.

  4. teomatteo says:

    Hmm…nothing about ‘irregular unions’. ??

  5. Lisa Graas says:

    Wow. Thanks for this, Father. I needed it.
    +Jesu XPI Passio+

  6. SanSan says:

    Ah clarity!

  7. arga says:

    Thank you for this valuable post. But I have to admit I don’t really get the big emphasis on their “suffering.” [?!? Someday, perhaps.] I am sure they suffer but isn’t their pain the result of their own sin and self-love? And of their refusal to correct their own sin? That isn’t the same sort of suffering of someone who endures persecution, say, for the faith. Shouldn’t some sort of distinction be made here?

  8. Andrew says:

    Before the question was asked, a strong argument in favor of divorce was carefully framed. This seems to be very common these days: an emotionally charged argument is presented in such a way that an argument to the contrary is then perceived as lacking in compassion. [Thank you for thinking about it today!]

    A similar line was followed when a Lutheran woman asked Pope Francis why she, a Lutheran, could not participate (sniff sniff) in the reception of the Eucharist together with her Catholic husband at a Catholic Mass.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  9. LarryW2LJ says:

    I how I miss Papa Benedict!

  10. Pingback: TVESDAY CATHOLICA EXTRA – Big Pulpit

  11. thomistking says:

    When Pope Benedict speaks of the suffering that a couple who cannot be married in the Church undergo, I think what he means is the suffering that they surely undergo in realizing that their relationship simply cannot be (unless one of the former spouses dies). After years together and having children this slow realization must be very painful. And we should not forget that even if they can stay together but live in continence for the sake of the children, their relationship has an expiration date. It seems like they must separate once the children are out of the house.

  12. Justalurkingfool says:

    Why isn’t there an emphasis on working to heal wounded marriages, especially those with children? Both, before a petition for nullity is accepted and, especially, when one is rejected.

    Isn’t there a history in the Church which views excommunication as a method to actually bring grave, public sinners to repentance?

    Is it part of Pre-Cana instruction these days to seek solid counsel from faithful, practicing, married Catholics when marital difficulties arise?

    Does Pre-Cana instruction give accurate information regarding “living as brother and sister”, and annulment statistics? It said nothing of the sort when my wife and I attended ours, back in 1979.


  13. MoraeEncomium says:

    Good for Benedict XVI to state clearly the Church’s authentic teaching on communion for divorced and remarried. It is refreshing, we miss him.

    But this is a yet another instance of the Church’s ineffective rhetoric in communicating that teaching. The Holy Father could have at least recommended for divorced and remarried to “live as brother and sister,” explain what that means, or explain the virtue of chastity and the path of continence toward the Eucharist — rather than dwell on perceived “suffering” of incontinent divorced and remarried.

  14. Kevin says:

    How do we serve the church without trying to abandon our sinful lives? [Who says that they aren’t?]
    Fr Z
    If they were genuinely trying to abandon their sinful lives and living as brother and sister, [And you’ve automatically assumed that Benedict doesn’t get this, I suppose.] reception of the Sacraments wouldn’t be an issue. They could go right ahead. [No. They may not be able to. Another condition is the avoidance of scandal.] If they fell they could repent, have a firm purpose of amendment and start over. Their suffering does not in any way serve the church, unless they repent they assist in the corruption of its teachings by giving scandal.
    B16 provides no clarity here in fact he too appears to offer consolation. This isn’t offering either charitable correction or even encouragement towards repentance.

    [Apart from having missed the point, you should go think about it some more.]

  15. kurtmasur says:

    @Kevin: Kevin said: “Fr Z, If they were genuinely trying to abandon their sinful lives and living as brother and sister, reception of the Sacraments wouldn’t be an issue. ”

    It’s not enough trying, it’s about DOING. In the case of a “remarried” couple, they must actually be living like brother and sister rather than merely trying to do so. If, however, they are struggling to do so, but trying, then we, as their brother and sisters in Christ, should be accompanying them in a journey that (hopefully) leads them towards holiness and saves their souls.

    Btw, if only the Pope emeritus would come back to the papacy! I would be willing to forget all that has happened in the Church since March 2013.

  16. jaykay says:

    But how many of us know, in our declining parishes, just who is involved in this situation anyway? How many, even if they did know, would even care, since everyone charges up to receive anyway? That’d be judgemental, don’t yah know.
    We hear nothing of worthiness to receive, anytime, anywhere (well, some may be lucky enough to do so but I never have). Holy Communion is reduced to a scrum (Rugby term) with about as much reverence as a McDonald’s queue. All this stuff about the divorced and “remarried” receiving, or not, to me is, basically, redundant vapourising. When did we first begin to hear it was even a problem? EVERYBODY receives, if they want. We all know that. The whole thing just stinks of some sort of organised set-up.

    Good God, catechumens in the early Church just about got to hear the Gospel, and then… Out! The real “prize for the perfect”, who were well prepared, contrite, but certainly didn’t think of themselves as “perfect”, was: the Eucharist. They suffered for it. We can’t suffer for anything, it seems.

  17. Kevin says:

    I did and you’re right. I was thinking past the point. Sorry! A lesson that I need to engage my brain fully before I spout.

  18. Antonin says:

    It is a good response and irrespective of what is occurring as brother/sister or conjugal experience, they are not going to receive due to their circumstances. What I liked about this response was that the word “adulterer” was never issued. This shows that Benedict is not only pastoral but intellectual. Nobody would say this situation means that they are “adulterers” in the common way that term is used. We are all broken and wounded and the church is a hospital for sinners and they could receive Catholic burial and are not second class citizens but truly brothers and sisters in Christ. This distinction is important as our Church does not need to become a Puritan enclave where those divorced and remarried need to wear a scarlet A for the rest of their lives.

  19. David says:

    Father Z,
    Can you comment on the moral principle, consistently taught in the past (I assume relying on one of the canons of the Council of Trent) that a person may not merit spiritually while in a state of objective mortal sin they have no apparent intention of leaving? [Sounds right to me, all things being equal. I am not entirely sure that, these days, they are. There is a growing morality vacuum and a massive black hole of confusion.] I ask this because there did seem to be a shift in papal rhetoric beginning with St. J.-P. I and continued by Pope Benedict, that appeared to create a new moral category for Catholics: ‘not necessarily in a state of mortal sin but impeded from reception of the sacraments.’ [I don’t think so.] I am unaware of either of these Popes telling people in invalid second marriages that they ought to be very afraid one of them drops dead and goes to hell, which is the way the matter would have been thought of when I was a boy. [So?]

  20. Adam Michael says:

    In the 2007 Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (Art. 29), Pope Benedict XVI taught that those who were precluded from the reception of Holy Communion (i.e. the sexually active divorced and remarried) may engage in works of penance, be formed by prayer and the Eucharist, and otherwise live a Christian life, all without abandoning their mortal sin. We don’t advise this for same-sex couples, murderers, or child molesters, who are also committing objectively mortal sin. For these other classes of mortal sinners, in 2007 (and today) the Church remains bound in conscience to call them to conversion and, sadly, testify that their way of life precludes them from fruitfully living a Christian life. However, we were creating a unique class of mortal sinners by our treatment of the sexually active civilly divorced and remarried as early as 2007. Why?

    Apparently, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI recognized a diminishment of subjective guilt in many of these individuals, which left them with the possibility of growing in sanctifying grace (a result of works of penance and the living of a Christian life), [No, on a couple counts. First, we aren’t Pelagians. Also, someone in the state of mortal sin by definition cannot grow in sanctifying grace. However, there can be praevenient graces.] even while living in adultery (compare to Amoris Laetitia, 301). Thus, according to Pope Benedict XVI, the lack of admission of the sexually active divorced and remarried to the sacraments was a reflection of an immemorial sacramental discipline that did not, per se, affirm their intrinsic inability to receive the grace of the sacraments fruitfully. [I think Benedict would be horrified at your suggestion.] This reality would make the sexually active divorced and remarried essentially eligible for the reception of Absolution and Holy Communion by Pope Francis in 2017. [Not on the basis of what the Church has been teaching all along.] Rather than contradict Pope Benedict XVI’s magisterium, Pope Francis’ magisterial teaching develops it by affirming in sacramental practice what the previous pontiff affirmed in essence. [Dream on.]

  21. robtbrown says:

    David says,

    Can you comment on the moral principle, consistently taught in the past (I assume relying on one of the canons of the Council of Trent) that a person may not merit spiritually while in a state of objective mortal sin they have no apparent intention of leaving? 

    1. The doctrine predates Trent by hundreds of years.

    2. Replace the word “spiritually” with “supernaturally”.

    3. Man cannot merit naturally what is supernatural.

    4. Thus: Being in a State of Grace (Sanctifying Grace) is necessary to merit what is supernatural.

    5. Two contrary errors:

    a. Protestantism–man can never merit.

    b. Pelagianism– man can merit naturally what is supernatural.

Comments are closed.