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Divorce and remarriage: Vatican reaffirms Church teaching
The Vatican office charged with the interpretation of Church law has reaffirmed that Cathlics who are divorced and remarried should not receive Holy Communion.
A decree dated 6 July from the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts has supported earlier statements by two other Vatican bodies: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Divine Worship. The former Congregation, in an October 1994 letter to the world's bishops, had insisted that - contrary to the suggestion of some theologians and pastors, especially in Western Europe, - divorced and remarried Catholics should not be admitted to receive the Eucharist.
In the latest statement, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legilative Texts cites #915 of the Code of Canon Law, which stipulates that Catholics "who obstinately persist in grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." Christians who abandon a valid marriage in order to form another union are, in effect, involved in an adulterous relationship, and thus a grave sin.
The Pontifical Council allows that some divorced and remarried couples, "for serious reasons," such as the welfare of their children, might continue to live together "as brother and sister." In such cases, they are not involved in grave sin, and may receive the Eucharist. However, the decree cautions that these couples should use discretion, especially if their marital status is well known, so that they do not give rise to scandal.
It is in order to avoid the risk of scandal, the Council continues, that the Church must - "with extreme charity" - refuse Communion to those who are divorced and remarried. When that situation arises, the document adds, the pastor should "explain the reasons that constrain him, at an opportune moment."
Sanctity of marriage
Those reasons involve the sanctity of marriage. The Church cannot admit divorced and remarried couples to full communion without giving the impression that their marital status is acceptable - and thus that marriage is not a permanent union. While being careful to explain the situation with compassion and sensitivity, pastors should also be clear and firm.
If the widespread acceptance of divorce has given rise to a situation in which the public no longer regards remarriage as a scandal, the Pontifical Council argues that this shows a "deformation of consciences." It is all the more important, therefore, for the Church staunchly to uphold her insistence on the integrity of marriage.
The Council says that priests have the responsibility for determining which parishioners should not be admitted to the Eucharist. The pastors should then give appropriate instructions to all ministers of the Eucharist.
Catholic World News
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 13 No 7 (August 2000), p. 4
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