For Bishop Olmsted, Pope Francis shows continuity on marriage

Marriage Couple holding hands Credit scribbletaylor via Flickr CC BY NC 20 CNA 11 19 14 scribbletaylor via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Pope Francis has not changed Catholic practice on Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. Rather, his goal is to help welcome them to the Church, Phoenix's Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has said.

The Pope gives "special attention to those who walk on the edge of despair" because of personal failures, family problems, and "the complex and contradictory situations in which they find themselves now," Bishop Olmsted said in his Sept. 18 column for The Catholic Sun.

The bishop considered Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," especially as it concerns couples in irregular situations like the divorced and remarried.

The exhortation does not advocate the reception of Holy Communion for those who are divorced and remarried, he said.

"Pope Francis specifically calls those in this situation 'to seek the grace of conversion'," the Phoenix bishop said, citing the 78th paragraph of the exhortation.

Pope Francis "calls for deeper and sustained pastoral accompaniment of these suffering families, assuring them that they are welcome in the Church family, and that we are eager to seek ways to integrate them more fully into our local communities," Bishop Olmsted added.

Couples who cannot receive Holy Communion are not excommunicated from the Church, he said, adding: "Accompaniment is possible and should be the case in our parishes."

People in complex family situations "should be encouraged to pray, attend Mass, and rectify the situation in communication with their pastor, who remains their pastor despite the case of objective sin."

For Bishop Olmsted, Pope Francis continues Catholic practice on marriage.

"Throughout 'Amoris Laetitia' we see a continuity with the Church's Magisterium especially that of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI which reaffirm the constant tradition of the Church," the bishop said.

He cited previous teaching documents like St. John Paul II's 1981 exhortation "Familiaris Consortio." That exhortation asked the Church to encourage the divorced to ensure they don't feel separated from the Church, while also affirming Church practice, based on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion.

Benedict XVI reaffirmed this practice in his 2007 exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis."

Bishop Olmsted, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, said that formation of conscience "guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart."

For this task, God has given "the light of God's word and the authoritative teaching of the Church," he said. "For good reason, then, Pope Francis affirms both of these as the primary foundation for his document."

The bishop stressed that Pope Francis' exhortation "seeks the grace of conversion" for married couples and "encourages them to have confidence that forgiveness is always within their reach."

The Catechism teaches Catholics that they must examine their consciences before the cross of Jesus Christ.

"Without embracing the Cross of Christ, we cannot have life in Him," Bishop Olmsted commented. "Only when we 'take up our cross each day' and follow Him can we be His disciples. The Lord gives us the command and also the grace to do this, every day, beginning within the family in which by God's grace we live."

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