Freiburg: Development in Access to Communion for the Remarried

The Archdiocese of Freiburg intends to permit its priests to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. The exclusion of these people from Communion has become one of the most difficult topics in the Catholic Church in Germany. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch was bishop of Freiburg until his recent resignation at age 75; he remains president of the German Bishops’ Conference.

According to Catholic teaching, divorced people who remarry are not allowed access to the sacraments, which has troubled many people. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Germany in 2011, President Christian Wulff called for a solution to the problem. More recently, Pope Francis has called for mercy for the divorced.

In the paper for pastoral assistance published on the archdiocese’s homepage, ministers are given tips for dealing with people who are divorced and have remarried civilly. “As a consequence of a responsibly made decision in conscience,” the remarried could receive the sacraments, provide that “the requisite concrete disposition of faith” is there.

According to the diocesan spokesman, Robert Eberle, this paper does not fundamentally give open access to Communion to the remarried. “It is merely a small building block along the path by which we extend the hand to the divorced and remarried,” he said. “There will certainly be individual cases where this sacramental issue is solved this way.” The couple must enter into an extended conversation with a clergyman which may lead to admittance to the sacraments. “Everything we are doing here stands on the basis of canon law with observance of church teaching.”

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27 comments

  1. This is a real problem, and especially so for honest people of conscience. I believe that this Sunday in Catholic Churches across America – let alone the Archdiocese of Frieburg – there will be thousands of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. Why? Because they don’t tell anyone they are divorced and remarried.

    This state of affairs makes the Church position particularly punitive to those who are divorced and remarried who have been honest about their situation and are therefore denied the sacrament, when all these other people stand mute and receive. And I realize that those who do receive against the Church’s teaching sin again, but it still seems a little incongruous. In fact, you can commit the gravest sin of murder, confess and seek absolution and then receive, but you can’t get absolution for adultery that is ongoing. So I understand why people might want to see a change in the Church position.

    But at the same time, there is a reason for the teaching, and it is all over the scriptures, including the very words of Christ. I find it ironic that many of my Protestant friends, who are usually literalists in biblical interpretation, can gloss this over so easily. I don’t know that there is a solution. I already like Pope Francis, but if he can solve this, I will be truly an admirer.

    1. @Charles Day – comment #1:
      Divorce and remarriage: the unforgivable sin. Mismanaging sex predators, or even being unrepentant sex addicts: this not so much.

      The Church already has a credibility problem in the eyes of many people who strive for honesty in their moral lives. Nearly all Catholics recognize the sad reality of divorce. A few of us, including Pope Francis, know that the Orthodox have a pastoral solution to this. If it works for a valid sacramental system, why not for Roman Catholics?

      Too much time and effort spent in the canons. Not enough in pastoral care. Even preventing divorce.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #4:

        Todd: A few of us, including Pope Francis, know that the Orthodox have a pastoral solution to this. If it works for a valid sacramental system, why not for Roman Catholics?

        I’m convinced that the annulment tribunal system is a moneymaker for dioceses. Furthermore, what’s the use of bring forth testimony, etc, in many cases? Testimony and prosecution (defense of the bond) merely exacerbate wounds between divorced persons.

        I fully agree with you Todd that Rome should adopt the general Orthodox model of individual and pastoral discernment about annulment and a second sacramental marriage. One alternative to the current annulment tribunal might be an annulment directly issued by a bishop on the confidential advice of a pastor. The bishop would retain final say as to whether or not the annulment case should progress to a tribunal or result in a less complicated direct episcopal ruling. I would not be surprised if the vast majority of divorces would be annulled simply on pastoral recommendation.

        I’ve never been wed, but I do sympathize greatly with relatives, coworkers, and others who have often make mistakes and deserve a chance for another marriage to be recognized by their parish community and the Church at large. I understand that many more conservative Catholics decry “easy annulments”, but perhaps they never stop to listen to people’s stories.

    2. @Charles Day – comment #1:
      “And I realize that those who do receive against the Church’s teaching sin again,”

      It is not possible for this statement to be true unless you can see into the consciences of the people in question. Acting against church teaching is generally not to be recommended, but it is not intrinsically evil. While what the church teaches will mostly coincide with what a Christian believes, there may be times when it’s morally correct to contravene church teaching. For example, the bishops (and women) who were ordained without a Vatican mandate under atheistic Communist régimes.

      The scriptural evidence is not at all as unambiguous as you claim. It’s clear that the author of the Gospel according to Matthew was unhappy with the absolute ban on divorce which he encountered in the Gospel according to Mark, and consequently introduced an exception not found in Mark. In both cases the teaching is placed on the lips of Jesus.

      1. @Gerard Flynn – comment #13:
        It’s possible for it to be true if people are simply disregarding the teaching in favor of a personal preference. Now I am not claiming that everyone who receives against the teaching sins, and surely you are not claiming that anyone who wants to receive can do so without pain of sin. That’s the only way it’s “not possible”.

        Let me digress a bit. Leaders of the Church have been charged with the obligation of feeding lambs and tending sheep, and failure to do that after having accepted the responsibility is huge. So I don’t think that the Church teachings are arbitrarily punitive. In essence, they aren’t Church teachings so much as they are Christ’s and the Father as we have come to accept them over time. Revising those teachings in order to be more contemporary is tricky business. Also, using one error (such as the mismanagement of sexual predators) is not a justification for another that suits your purposes.

        All that said, I think it is clear in my original post that I see the pain of it and hope there is a solution. It has been mentioned that the Orthodox Church has a way of addressing the issue, but I don’t know what that is, so if anyone can explain, I would appreciate it.

  2. I wonder why they have done this unilaterally. This doesn’t look like collegiality in the sense that is advocated by so many. Surely on a topic as difficult and as important as this, acting in union with fellow bishops would be most important.

  3. “… there will be thousands of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. Why? Because they don’t tell anyone they are divorced and remarried.”

    That’s one of many things I love about the Catholic Church. Lots of rules and regulations, but no one waiting at check points asking to see your papers. Opens the door to quiet effectiveness.

  4. Three reflections on Charles Day’s comments. One: “there will be thousands of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. Why? Because they don’t tell anyone they are divorced and remarried.” Possibly, but there will probably be just as many who have talked their situation over with a priest od deacon and, in the realm of private conscience that Freiburg is talking about, have decided to share in the sacraments as the diocese suggests.

    Two: “I realize that those who do receive against the Church’s teaching sin again . . . .” Really? I thought that serious sin involved serious matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will. At least two of those three fall within the realm of private conscience aforementioned, so I would hesitate to charge anyone guilty of sin. Violation of church law, yes, but not sin.

    Three: “There is a reason for the teaching, and it is all over the scriptures, including the very words of Christ.” Whether those “words” reflect the teaching of Christ or of several of the early churches (since Christ seems to disagree with himself on this point!) would be open to discussion.

  5. Think that this sends a bad message. If every local church just does whatever it wants…regardless of the Universal Church or even moral law…you’ll be in for total chaos.

    As a priest I sympathize with many of my couples but I encourage them to abstain because in the end…that is greater Eucharistic devotion than just going up anyway because of pride. From those I’ve worked with it’s almost always that, because people don’t want to be seen staying back.

    This is not a problem in Latino parishes. Many of them know there are in situations that prohibit sacramental communion but are devout and will probably receive more actual grace because of their devotion and respect of the Blessed Sacrament. Remember quality over quantity is better in Communions.

    1. @Jeffrey Maurer – comment #7:
      Jeffrey,

      That sounds a bit like Jansenism to me. If couples are coming to you wanting communion and instead of counseling them and finding a way to accept their contrition and desire to return to communion you ask them to continue to abstain, I can’t help but think we are making an egregious error. There must be a way to reconcile them if they wish to be reconciled. They can’t very well leave the spouse they are currently with and go remarry the other (yes, I am aware there is no real divorce and remarriage in the Catholic Church). I agree totally with Fr. Jack that there must be a way to bring them back into communion, and it is the job of pastors to bring them back. There are so many people close to me who desire to come back to the Church but no one is reaching out to them, or responding to their need, to provide channels for reconciliation. This is a sinful shame.

  6. It is appealing to accept prima-facie the lenient stance within Orthodoxy on second marriages upon the basis of oikonomia, but I wonder if we would be equally willing to accept the stringent stipulations that the Orthodox churches place upon inter-faith marriages. Such cases are easily remediable in the Latin Rite by a mere dispensation from disparity of cult, whereas the Orthodox will not even apply oikonomia in such situations. It is my understanding that Orthodox Christians who decide to enter an inter-religious marriage are unable to wed in the Orthodox Church, and lose their sacramental privileges. Would we also be willing to have a second marriage ceremony be a more penitential occasion, as is the Orthodox practice?

  7. “This is not a problem in Latino parishes. Many of them know there are in situations that prohibit sacramental communion but are devout and will probably receive more actual grace because of their devotion and respect of the Blessed Sacrament. Remember quality over quantity is better in Communions.”

    I am waiting to hear about a priest who, in solidarity with the people who are in situations that prohibit sacramental communion, will voluntarily forego receiving communion and aim to instead receive grace because of their devotion and respect of the Blessed Sacrament.

  8. I’m divorced and the leader of my RCIA group wanted me to apply for an annulment. I looked into it and was appalled at both the cost and the process. I can’t help thinking it’s mainly a way for the church to make money.

    As for taking Jesus literally, there are interpretations of what he said about divorce – Keith Ward has a pov on this.

  9. Crystal, the cost is not supposed to be a barrier. Every diocese where I looked said specifically that it would not charge people for whom it was an excessive financial burden. As to the process, it can be sort of interesting to take a step back and re-examine one’s past. Since there is nothing intrinsically sinful about it, it seems to me to be worth, as an obedient daughter of the church, to go through it as honestly as possible, and let the chips fall however they may. In the end, it is liberating to have one’s official status in the church match one’s state of life. The main downside, as I see it (and it is a big one!), is that it takes one out of the margins and back in the centerfold of the church while leaving the other divorced people behind. It is not very compassionate towards them, and it seems that a truly caring, strong enough Christian might prefer, instead of escaping alone, to stay at the margins with the other divorced Christians.

  10. It seems to me that not only does the sacrament of Matrimony need to be reviewed, but so does the whole concept of sin, especially these days when many think that what sin is, is essentially a mistake.

    Yes, some sins are mistakes, but some are freely chosen while knowing they’re evil. And some mistakes are just that — mistakes, unintentional errors, not sins. I suspect that the distinction should play a very big part in any discussion of annulments. The whole psychology of sin needs reviewing. Modern psych has some important insights to add to the discussion, I think. Not to mention reviewing the difference between mortal and venial sin.

  11. From the opening post: “Everything we are doing here stands on the basis of canon law with observance of church teaching.”

    And there are viable options for divorced Catholics, canon law being well-nuanced on this subject:

    http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2012/01/03/divorced-catholics-and-the-eucharist/

    Post-divorce celibacy is definitely a viable option, especially for those of us who are at an age where “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” is no longer very forceful, lol.

  12. Mark Emery (at #16): Post-divorce celibacy is definitely a viable option, especially for those of us who are at an age where “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” is no longer very forceful, lol.

    As someone who, in the eyes of some Catholics, shouldn’t have even have healthy, normal companionship because I am a “person with deep-seated homosexual tendencies” whose affective and emotional drive is towards another man is “objectively disordered” (can we do acronyms? I have acute carpal tunnel), I have a huge amount of sympathy for persons who are objectified by certain members of the Church because of their sexual orientation or “irregular” marital status (scare quotations definitely intended).

    Human beings are just that. We all require emotional intimacy for healthy personal development. For many (probably most), this might include sexual intimacy. I abuse/d Catholic liturgical fundamentalism in a vain attempt to run away from my sexuality. Any dogma or doctrine of any religion can be used to objectify others or to self-objectify, often with tragic consequences. Simply citing canon law doesn’t take away the sting of a person’s implicit or explicit exclusion by a family that is a religious belief and faith.

    In a postmodern nation or society, persons who don’t fit in to a particular religious group can just up and go. Maybe the “smaller Church” is a better option, so far as there would be greater congruency between believers and beliefs. I do know this though: at no time can the the catechism, canon law, or bully pulpits diminish or negate the absolute need to love and be loved.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #18:

      I just wanted to thank Jordan for his total upfront honesty in this post. It seems to me that he could be an exemplar for many others in a similar situation (using fundamentalism as a way of denying their own sexuality) who have not yet embarked on the journey that he has made. Thank you, Jordan. I’m sure many of us are with you in this, and also appreciate what you have said in support of those in “irregular” marital status.

  13. Can anyone deny that Christ directed his teaching to disciples who desired to live in the kingdom of God? It’s a rigorous teaching, perhaps akin to the one about cutting off one’s hand or foot? The latter is regarded as hyperbole while the former as inviolable Verbum Dei. Why is that? There are untold numbers of people who enter marriage without a modicum of belief in God’s kingdom let alone any faith practice, including more than a few Catholics. How about the number of couples who wed only after becoming sexually addicted to each other. Yes, many of these folks can and do navigate the choppy waters of the anullment process, but many more cannot for a variety of reasons. And how did remarrying after divorce become the unforgivable sin? Since it is in fact not unforgivable, why should we not reconcile those who seek God’s mercy with humble and contrite hearts? It happens with great frequency with no scandal save occasionally an “older brother” full of resentment and judgment.
    By the way, it is a canard that the church makes money off annulments. Whatever cost may be levied in some dioceses only helps offset expenses. Many dioceses including my own assess no fees. Expenses are covered by the diocesan tax on parish income.

  14. In New York, the Q&A says: “At this time, a fee of $1,000.00 is requested for a formal case.
    Inability to pay the entire fee has absolutely no bearing on the final decision. A person is never turned away from this Tribunal because of lack of financial resources. In case of actual hardship, documents must be provided for reduction or cancellation of fee.”

    In Fresno: “What Are The Costs?
    A Petitioner is responsible for only a portion of the costs of a case. The faithful of the Diocese of Fresno substantially subsidize the operation of the Tribunal through their parish contributions. For efficiency, the office must be staffed with trained and qualified priests, canon lawyers, support staff and equipment, all of which is costly.

    For a formal trial of invalidity, a Petitioner is asked to pay $500.00, which is payable as follows: a non-refundable filing fee of $100.00, and the balance of $400.00, is to be paid in full upon final notice of an affirmative decision. The outcome of a case is not contingent upon a Petitioner’s ability to pay the fee. If there is financial difficulty, a Petitioner should make this known to the Tribunal.”

    In Oakland: 36. Is there a fee for the formal judicial process?
    There is no pre-set fee. Once the case has been accepted by one of the judges, we ask the Petitioner to assume as much as possible of the total cost for handling the case. At the present time, it costs the Diocese of Oakland about $900 to handle each marriage nullity case, although the actual fee requested by the Tribunal is considerably less than this amount. We ask each Petitioner to assume as much as they are able. In cases of financial difficulty, the Petitioner will be given an opportunity to ask for a reduction or total waiver of the fee. No one will be refused a decision because of an inability to pay all or part of the cost of the case.

    Similar texts, I am sure, are found elsewhere.

    Cost must not be an obstacle.

  15. So now instead of selling indulgences we sell divorces. Henry VIII would find this development interesting, but probably not amusing.

  16. So it seems that Annulment is a Sacrament. A kind of “Shadow Sacrament” which, by discerning and declaring a previous sacramental act to be invalid, opens a door for people to gain access to sacramental grace which they have been denied…

  17. That costs are routinely waived in whole or in part does not dismantle the barrier entirely. A diocese places a cost, n, on the process for a declaration of nullity, not guaranteeing a “favorable” result. The petitioner pays n-x, where x is the value of a grant. Most people acknowledge that “x” implies a certain exchange, a response of gratitude at minimum.

    Let’s say that a divorced and remarried Protestant plunks down $250 in NYC to find out in a year’s time that a previous marriage did indeed have the marks of a sacrament. $250 plus $750 in good will/gratitude, and still stuck on a decision to choose either a spouse or the Church.

    In contrast, a Catholic gets a Vegas weekend wedding and quickie divorce and how many pages of paperwork do you think that takes?

    Almost three decades before I was baptized, my protestant mother was married for a few months during WWII. I still remember her brushing aside my (early 70’s) question about why she didn’t become Catholic like us kids. When she admitted her first marriage to me last year, I understood a little bit more the situation. That the Church could not recognize her 50 years of marriage to my father (25 at the time–we were baptized on my parents’ silver wedding anniversary). But they did acknowledge what was likely the serious mistake of a Baptist teenager.

    Such matters should not routinely go to canon lawyers. Something is wrong in the Church for this practice, however well-founded with good intentions and sacramental theology it may be. And yet, the current practice is gravely disrespectful to both the Sacraments and to the people who are striving to live a holier life with the real companionship of both the Lord Jesus and a life’s partner.

  18. I wonder are there (m)any requests for annulments from countries in the developing world, or is it only/mainly a Western phenomenon.

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