.- The head of the Vatican’s doctrine office has written to the archbishop emeritus of Freiburg in Breisgau, reaffirming that Catholics in irregular marital unions after divorce may not receive Communion.
“Pastoral paths must all agree with the teaching of the Church,” Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote in an Oct. 21 letter to Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.
The letter was a response to a document released Oct. 7 by the Freiburg archdiocese's office of pastoral care suggesting that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion if they can show their first marriage cannot be reentered, if they repent of their fault in a divorce and if they enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse.
The document also suggested priests might offer “prayer services” for divorced faithful entering into a new civil marriage.
While the Archdiocese of Freiburg is currently vacant, Archbishop Emeritus Zollitsch is its apostolic administrator, and remains chairman of the German bishops' conference. His resignation as archbishop was accepted by Pope Francis on Sept. 17, within six weeks after his 75th birthday.
Archbishop Müller wrote in the letter, published publicly Nov. 11, that the “draft text” of the pastoral care office's document “is to be withdrawn and revised so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching.”
“A careful reading of the draft shows that it does contain correct and important pastoral notes, but the terminology is unclear and does not coincide in two points with the Church's teaching,” the Vatican's head for doctrinal matters wrote.
He cited both doctrinal and pastoral reasons which oppose the draft text from Freiburg.
The doctrinal reason is that “this position of the Magisterium is well-founded: remarried divorcees put themselves in the way of their admission to the Eucharist, inasmuch as their lifestyle is in objective contradiction to that bond of love between Christ and the Church, which the Eucharist makes visible and present.”
Archbishop Müller added that the pastoral reason against is that “if such people were allowed to (receive) the Eucharist, it would cause confusion among the faithful regarding the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.”
The archbishop went on to explain why prayer services cannot be offered for the divorced faithful who enter new civil marriages.
“Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.”
“The respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry,” continued Archbishop Müller, adding that “such celebrations were expressly forbidden by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
Archbishop Müller told Archbishop Zollitsch he “felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it” because “the text has raised questions not only in Germany, but in many parts of the world as well, and has led to uncertainties in a delicate pastoral issues.”
He revealed in his letter that he was sending a copy to all diocesan bishops in Germany, since many bishops had turned to him about this topic.
“Hoping that on this delicate issue we go on pastoral paths, which are in full agreement with the doctrine of the faith of the Church, I remain (yours) with heartfelt greeting and blessings in the Lord,” Archbishop Müller concluded.
Shortly after the letter had been seen to Archbishop Zollitsch, a lengthy essay on the same topic, also by Archbishop Müller, was published in L'Osservatore Romano. The essay had previously been published June 15 in German Catholic paper Die Tagespost.
That essay stressed that while divorced and remarried Catholics cannot be admitted to Communion, this means it is “all the more imperative” to show them “pastoral concern.”
“The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned,” he added, “yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey.”