The struggle over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics continues

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

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An article by Josephine McKenna points out some contradictions as we gear up for the opening of the Synod of Bishops on the family. A conservative group of cardinals is releasing a new book that challenges Cardinal Walter Kasper's efforts to move the conversation in the direction of change. Yet Pope Francis himself has just celebrated the weddings of 20 couples, including those who have been openly living together and one who had a child out of wedlock. Is he hinting at his position?

The argument is being fought over a change in doctrine, but is it really a change in doctrine? I suspect conservatives are trying to cast the discussion in the starkest terms possible because they really don't want any kind of change.

The doctrine in question is the indissolubility of marriage. No change in that doctrine is contemplated. What is being considered is a pastoral change. There is no doctrine involved, only church law, when the discussion is about who can receive Communion.

Non-Catholics can receive Communion and sometimes do when regulations are relaxed. Divorced and remarried Catholics can be admitted to the sacraments without changing church doctrine. Jesus apparently shared the Eucharist with Judas. The focus now is on mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. It is about tending to the spiritual needs of all people. These are pastoral decisions, not doctrinal ones. Those who want to imply that the sky is falling or that if this change goes through, the church will be admitting that it had been wrong really just want to confuse the issue.

But you say, "How can you give Communion to one living in sin?" We enter into very sensitive territory when we say that someone is living in sin. Many of those living in "irregular" marriages are also living good Christian lives and raising their children to be good Catholics. In many rural areas and distant lands, you have entire communities "living in sin" because there is no priest. We have also been taught that an act of contrition absolves sin. None of us can say for sure who is actually in a state of sin. The Eucharist is not for the perfect, but to nourish and help us on our journey. The issue is providing the Eucharist to our people who need God's presence in their lives. It is not about changing doctrine.

The conservative bishop of Providence, R.I., has it about right. Bishop Thomas Tobin says: "I often think about, and truly agonize over, the many divorced Catholics who have 'dropped-out' of the Church completely, as well as those who attend Mass faithfully every Sunday, sometimes for years, without receiving the consolation and joy of the Holy Eucharist." He wrote that any change should be adopted on a global level to stem the tide of those leaving the church.

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