How should Catholics treat divorced and remarried parishioners?
In the eyes of the Church, second marriages are always regarded as invalid with a status of “adultery” and hence divorced and remarried Catholics have always been forbidden from part-taking the Communion.
However in March 2016, Pope Francis sent a massive shockwave through the Catholic Church with his landmark encyclical Amoris Laetitia (‘The Joy of Love’), where he was thought to have pulled the rug from under traditionalist Catholics, by writing that Catholics in their second marriages are allowed to part-take the Communion under certain circumstances.
In the aftermath, the Pope was attacked and accused of heresy by oppositions ranging from cardinals to internet trolls.
This week, a Catholic bishop and several dozen priests, scholars and writers published a letter accusing Pope Francis of “the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia and by other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness”. Described as a “filial correction” of some of the Pope’s teachings about marriage, the letter especially addresses issues of part-taking Communion divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, called “unrepentent adulterers” in the incendiary language of conservative Catholics.
What the Pope has written in Amoris Laetitia seems to reflect the discussions and conclusions from meetings in 2014 and 2015 of the Church’s Synod of Bishops on the family. He wrote about asking church leaders to ‘accompany’ civilly remarried divorced Catholics; to check whether their sacramental marriage was valid or if they could receive a decree of nullity; and to lead them in a process of discernment about their responsibility for the divorce and about their current marital status with respect to the Catholic Church’s teaching.
There have been many interpretations of what Pope Francis meant to do, from critics and allies alike. According to the Catholic News Service, ‘The document seemed to open the possibility – in certain cases and after the discernment process – of allowing them to receive absolution and Communion even without promising to abstain from sexual relations with their new partner.’
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