Vatican City, Nov 20, 2014 / 11:40 am
The divorced and remarried can receive absolution like any other member of the faithful, the Vatican's doctrinal office has affirmed: when they repent, in their case taking a firm resolution to abstain from sex with their new partner.
"We cannot exclude a priori the remarried divorced faithful from a penitential process that would lead to a sacramental reconciliation with God and, therefore, also to Eucharistic Communion," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote Oct. 22 in response to the question of a priest.
"In any event, absolution cannot be granted if not under the condition of being assured of true contrition, that is, 'a sorrow of mind, and a detestation for sin committed, with the purpose of not sinning for the future' (Council of Trent, Doctrine on the Sacrament of Penance, c. 4). In this line, a remarried divorcee cannot be validly absolved if he does not take the firm resolution of not 'sinning for the future' and therefore of abstaining from the acts proper to spouses, by doing in this sense all that is within his power."
The congregation's letter was signed by its secretary, Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, and its French text was translated into English by Rorate Caeli. It responded to a French priest who asked if a confessor can "grant absolution to a penitent who, having been religiously married, has contracted a second union following divorce."
The penitential process open to the divorced and remarried must take into consideration three elements, Archbishop Ladaria affirmed.
First, it is to involve "verify(ing) the validity of the religious marriage in the respect of truth, all the while avoiding giving the impression of a kind of 'Catholic divorce'."
Then, it should be seen if eventually "the persons, with the aid of grace, can separate from their new partners and reconcile with those from whom they had separated."
Finally, if the divorced and remarried "for serious reasons (for instance, children), cannot separate from their partner," then they should be "invite(d) … to live as 'brother and sister'."
The letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was signed three days following the close of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, which met in Rome to discuss challenges to the family in the context of evangelization. Cardinal Walter Kasper has used the synod to advocate for the admission, in certain circumstances, of some divorced and remarried persons to Confession and Communion.
The CDF's letter quoted from Familiaris consortio, the concluding document of another Synod on the Family, which was held in 1980.
"Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage," reads the quote from St. John Paul II's 1981 apostolic exhortation.
"This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.'"
The congregation also referred to the concluding document of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, Sacramentum caritatis, which noted that "where the nullity of the marriage bond is not declared and objective circumstances make it impossible to cease cohabitation, the Church encourages these members of the faithful to commit themselves to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's law, as friends, as brother and sister; in this way they will be able to return to the table of the Eucharist, taking care to observe the Church's established and approved practice in this regard."
The CDF's letter was released Nov. 12 in an article at the French site L'homme nouveau, the author of which, Fr. Claude Barthe, notes that even if the letter "gives the impression of being 'rigid', in reality it opts for the greatest kindness possible towards the sinner … one may say that Congregation places itself, according to the tradition of the Holy See, in the framework of the Roman school of theology, that of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who combated the French rigorists."
"The conclusion of the Responsum is particularly interesting," Fr. Barthe stated. "In effect it regulates the particular case of the absolution given to a divorcee who has contracted a new union with respect to the general principle concerning the integrity of the sacrament of Penance, and by way of the consequence of the legitimacy of the absolution that the minister of the sacrament grants."