Majority of German Bishops for Communion for Divorced and Remarried

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports:

The Catholic bishops in Germany continue to wrestle with the manner of dealing with those divorced and remarried. A large majority of them advocate that, in justified individual cases, Catholics in a second marriage be admitted to Eucharist and Reconciliation. A minority wishes to hold to the current regulations that the divorced and remarried certainly belong to the church and are part of the community, but generally cannot be admitted to the sacraments. The bishops are in agreement that pastoral accompaniment of faithful whose marriages failed and who have entered into a new relationship is to be intensified.

These positions, first released in Bonn on Monday, are to be found in the considerations of the German Bishops’ Conference titled “Theologically Responsible and Pastorally Appropriate Ways of Accompanying the Divorced and Remarried.”

Tr.: Pray Tell


  1. The German church wants as many people to keep paying the church tax, which is 8-9% of income, collected by the government and distributed to the churches. In fact, not paying the church tax is the only thing that would cause you not to be admitted to the Sacraments there.

    1. @Jay Edward – comment #1:
      I wouldn’t tie the difficult church tax issue at all to the pastoral/theological issue of divorce and remarriage. The bishops and theologians in Germany advocating for development in doctrine and/or discipline have never, to my knowledge, tied this to a desire to keep tax income coming in. They have argued on theological and pastoral grounds (which one may or may not agree with), and their arguments should be engaged as such. It is an unfair accusation bordering on slander to claim, in the absence of evidence, that their real motive is something else.

    2. @Jay Edward – comment #1:
      It is calumny to assert the German bishops are being pastoral only for financial gain. Italy, for example, also has a church tax, but no one suggests the Italian bishops are in any way influenced by that income. Presumably if most Italian bishops tend to oppose some pastoral ideas it will be claimed it is because they are “courageous” in being willing to forego the income. And so we are led down yet another rabbit hole (Germans bad, Italians good) rather than dealing with the issue at hand on its own.

      1. @Eric Stoltz – comment #8:
        The German Bishops Conference published a formal decree forbidding the administration of Communion, Confession, or burial should one not pay the Church tax.

        Funny…. Communion for the divorced and remarried (i.e. no annulment), but suck it if you don’t pay the tax.

      2. @Todd Orbitz – comment #10:
        I sure wish we’d all get over it already, and leave the church tax out of this. It really is a separate issue and has nothing to do with the important discussion on divorced and remarried Catholics.

        I would never defend the church tax, and I hope people closer to the scene and who know more about it than I can find a better way forward. But as I understand it, those who leave the church and decide they do not want to finance it or be a part of it are then denied the sacraments. This is different from practicing Catholics who divorce and remarry who say that they do not wish to leave the church and do wish to receive the sacraments.

        But as I say, the issue is pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics, so let’s please talk about that and leave the whole church tax issue out of it. Some are trying to use it as a “gotcha,” as if it’ll shut down debate on the issue at hand. That just doesn’t work.


      3. @Eric Stoltz – comment #8:
        By the way, the German Bishops used to maintain that one who did not pay the Church Tax was subject to Excommunication. The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts overrulled this position of the German Conference, leading them to publishe the aforsaid decree, which prohibits reception of the Sacraments unless in danger of death.

        Decree may be found here:

  2. Are there any details on how the German Bishops think this can be done in a “theologically responsible” way? What makes an individual case justified?

    Without knowing the basis on which the Germans want these decisions to be made, it is very hard to know if they are moving the debate forward, or just repeating the same unworkable stuff they have been pushing for the last 30 years.

  3. #3 AWR “have never, to my knowledge, tied this to a desire to keep tax income coming in”

    Well obviously they haven’t directly tied it to the tax, that would be foolish. However, more people in pews = more church tax, so therefore it is not an illogical conclusion to draw, that the thought has, at the very least, crossed their minds.

    1. @Chip Stalter – comment #4:

      However, more people in pews = more church tax

      You don’t actually have to be in the pews at all. All you need to do is declare your religious affiliation on the German Tax ID form.

    2. @Chip Stalter – comment #4:
      Actually, some of the same reform groups calling for development of doctrine and practice on divorce and remarriage – e.g. Wir sind Kirche, (“We Are Church”) are the ones calling for reform of the whole church tax system.

      This particular talking point, that reformers want communion for divorced and remarriage just to keep the tax income flowing in, is being used all over as a way to discredit people like Cardinal Kasper. It’s wrong and unfair and inaccurate, and someone has to call it out.


  4. #4 CS “more people in pews=more church tax.”

    The church gets the tax if an individual is simply registered as a catholic. Mass attendance is irrelevant. Presumably, the folks the bishops are trying to help are catholic and want to receive the sacraments. Otherwise, there would be no issue. I agree with Father Anthony. There is no reason to suspect the German bishops of ulterior motives.

  5. I don’t claim to have the gift of foretelling. But I will make a prediction as to how this will all play out: next year’s synod will confirm traditional Catholic teaching regarding admitting divorced and remarrieds to the sacraments. And if the German bishops aren’t able, in good conscience, to think and believe with the church on this issue, then the next pope, whoever he may be, will begin a process of reforming the German episcopate. And it will be painful for everyone concerned.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #9:
      Well that would be quite a dramatic scenario. I rather doubt it. A majority of bishops at the synod (but not 2/3) approved the paragraph with openness to further exploration of communion for the divorced and remarried. The bishops voting in favor come from nations all over the world. And bishops from several countries have likewise expressed openness. So your scenario of a painful, apocalyptic cleansing would take on large proportions indeed.

      And if Pope Francis is open on this question, as he seems to have hinted on several occasions… will his successor dig him up and condemn him like they did with Pope Formosus? I doubt it.

      But I’m no fortune teller either.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #13:

        I doubt his successor will dig him up and condemn him.

        Maybe his successor will simply canonize him and then do something entirely different……

        Wait…. that seems to be what’s happening now.

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #13:

        “Well that would be quite a dramatic scenario … your scenario of a painful, apocalyptic cleansing would take on large proportions indeed.”

        Yes, I suppose it could be fairly dramatic – but the synodal event itself, with the Germans’ open advocacy for this change, is anything but business as usual; “dramatic” is as good a descriptor as any.

        I don’t think what I’m predicting is apocalyptic. Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that it plays out as I am predicting: the ordinary synod affirms the traditional Catholic doctrine, does not approve any change in pastoral practice, and calls for new and creative ways of reaching out to those who are divorced and remarried. That would strike me as a “Francis solution”. But that outcome would also, necessarily if unintentionally, be a rebuff to the German conference, which is openly advocating for more radical change.

        So how does that scenario play out? Well, at that point we have a Catholic episcopacy that is not perfectly unified on the question. I think Francis can live with that sort of tension; he may even welcome it. But for good or ill, most church leaders don’t have Francis’ appetite for that sort of thing. Sooner or later, and I am guessing it will happen during the reign of Francis’ successor (whom I expect to ‘tend toward the mean’ of church leadership views more than Francis does), Rome will be looking, perhaps not unreasonably, for docile acceptance on the part of the German bishops. And if that docility is not forthcoming, then Rome will start doing the things it is able to do to bring about what it wishes. It needn’t be apocalyptic or even that dramatic. As sees become open, they would be filled with bishops who are able to find enthusiasm for this hypothetical synodal outcome. That would be the least intrusive way of bringing about change.

        As I say – I’m not infallible in these matters.

      3. @Jim Pauwels – comment #18:
        Jim, I think what you are describing is the JP2 solution. It certainly brought people back to churches in droves in the Netherlands. We have, what? the last 35 years to laud the methodology there.

        If the purpose of reviewing church governance and administrative practice is to lasso more people into belief and discipleship, that’s worth looking at. If the purpose is to burnish institutional credentials, then we don’t need a Pope Francis II to put the quash on it. I suspect German Catholics will speak up.

  6. Father:

    Please notice I was only responding to Mr. Edward who stated “It is calumny to assert the German bishops are being pastoral only for financial gain.” Furthermore, he then posits a false equivalence with Italy, which has no excommunication – or decree forbidding the Sacraments – attached to refusing to pay the Church tax.

    You state: But as I understand it, those who leave the church and decide they do not want to finance it or be a part of it are then denied the sacraments. This is different from practicing Catholics who divorce and remarry who say that they do not wish to leave the church and do wish to receive the sacraments.

    I agree with the sentiment you express. However, if one refuses to pay the Church tax in Germany, the German Bishops have then asserted that they have decided to leave the Church by formal act, which was refuted by the PCILT.

    There are very serious reasons for sometimes not financially supporting the Church, and they are covered canonically. Furthermore, the issue of a percentage tithe was revoked by the new law. One does NOT have to tithe a percentage to be entitled to the Sacraments. However, that it precisely what the German Bishops assert.

    I AGREE that this is not DIRECTLY attached to the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried (i.e. no anullment in the state of perpetual adultury). However, it is certainly flummoxing that the Bishops are willing to take an intense “pastoral” stand on this issue when they are willing to deny the Sacraments to those who simply refuse to pay the Church Tax through the government.

    I see no way to unconnect these two seperate policies/stands. The cognitive dissonance is amazing.

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #14:
      This will be the last comment on the church tax issue. However wrong the bishops may be on that issue, it still leaves on the table the real question, and the topic of this post – how they (and the church) should handle the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics. Only comments on that issue will be permitted now.

  7. As this topic arises yet again, it occurs to me that there may be a fundamental misunderstanding of the anullment process. As a former Defender of the Bond in the marriage tribunal it was my task to examine the submissions of the petitioner, the respondent, and the witnesses and to devise an argument for the validity of the marriage. In most cases, the only case I was able to make was to cite the documentation supporting the fact that a wedding uniting this couple took place on a particular date. The rest of the testimony offered no reasonable basis to make a case that this couple had established a bond of life and love like that spoken of in Paul’s writings. This process, then, was designed

  8. I’m sorry about the unfinished entry above. Let me see if I can wrap it up here. The annulment process is designed mainly to assist couples whose local pastors believe they deserve an opportunity for a fresh start. Pastors usually don’t encourage cases in which there are clearly no grounds for a canonical annulment. Perhaps with further modifications more of the couples who are actively seeking a sacramental relationship with Christ in the church can be accommodated in justice. But the bishop, as a successor of the apostles, possesses the power of binding and loosing, should be able to make provision for those who simply can’t go through the formal annulment process. This has nothing to do with contradicting the doctrine of indissolubility. We already know there are people who were not joined by God. Some of them for various good reasons are going to lack the full requirements of the present process. Believe me, I know of numerous cases in which that was true.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *