Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of
the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
at the Vatican. (AP)
As Catholic Church leaders, including Pope Francis, battle over whether divorced and remarried couples may receive Communion -- although the couples are objectively in a state of serious sin, i.e., adultery -- Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Vatican office dealing with Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said the Church's teaching on mortal sin and Communion cannot change and that even a Pope cannot seek to circumvent or alter this divine law.
The dispute over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholic couples stems from Pope Francis's letter Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), which grew out of the meetng of bishops (synod) in 2014 and 2015, and was released as a document by the Pope in March 2016.
Although some bishops and cardinals say the letter does not in any way change Church teaching on prohibiting Communion for couples living in adultery -- a mortal sin that separates one from God's grace until one goes to Confession -- other cardinals argue that the letter is ambiguous on this point, confusing, and could be interpreted contrary to what the Church has taught for centuries.
Some bishops, in fact, claim that Amoris Laetitia permits bishops to take an unprecedented "pastoral" approach to the divorced and remarried and, in certain cases, allow those in a state of serious sin to receive Communion.
Three German bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch, and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode agree that this is the case, reported LifeSiteNews earlier this year. The bishops cite paragraph 301 in the letter, which says, "Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation [e.g., divorced and remarried] are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace."
Cardinal Walter Kasper. (AP)
The tenor of this letter is: No one is to be excluded from the mercy of God," said the bishops in arguing their position. Also, Cardinal Wasper Kasper of Germany contends that Amoris Laetitia permits Communion for the divorced and remarried, as reported in Cruxnow.com. Kasper claims the letter marks a "paradigm shift" and a "changed pastoral practice."
As he is quoted in Crux, “A paradigm shift does not change the previous teaching; it moves the teaching nonetheless into a larger context. So Amoris Laetitia does not change an iota in the Church’s teaching, and yet it still changes everything.” [Emphasis added.]
Pope Francis himself signed a note to the bishops of Beunos Aries approving their interpretation of Chapter 8 in Amoris Laetitia, an interpretation that, according to the Sept. 12 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, leaves open the possibility in some cases of the acceptance of sexually active unmarried couples receiving the Holy Eucharist [Communion]." The Pope reportedly wrote, "the writing is very good and fully expresses the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. No other interpretations."
L'Osservatore Romano confirmed that the Pope's missive is authentic. However, it is still unclear whether Pope Francis agrees with what the German cardinals cited have argued.
The remarks of Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, were published in the Nov. 19 edition of the French magazine L'Homme Nouveau. As translated by Vatican spcialist Sandro Magister and published LifeSiteNews, Cardinal Sarah said:
“The entire Church has always firmly held that one may not receive communion with the knowledge of being in a state of mortal sin, a principle recalled as definitive by John Paul II in his 2003 encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia.’ Not even a pope can dispense from such a divine law.”
For a Catholic who is in a state of serious (mortal) sin and does not go to Confession, he "would commit a grave sin by receiving Communion," said Cardinal Sarah. He further said that the Church "stigmatizes the deformations introduced into human love," such as "homosexuality, polygamy, chauvinism, free love, divorce, contraception, etc.," reported LifeSiteNews.
“The Church does not only welcome with mercy, respect, and delicacy," said Cardinal Sarah. "It firmly invites to conversion. As its follower, I promote mercy for sinners -- which all of us are -- but also firmness toward sins incompatible with the love for God that is professed with sacramental communion.”
The Catholic Church teaches that a person who is married in the Church may seek an annulment of the marriage under certain circumstances. If the annulment is approved, the former spouses are free to marry someone else and not be in a state of serious sin. They can thus, also, receive all the sacraments of the Church, including Communion.
However, if a person divorces and then remarries (and live as husband and wife) they are in a state of adultery, according to Church teaching because their previous marriage was never annulled. It is still viewed as valid in the eyes of the Church and in the eyes of God.
Paragraph 1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ -- 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery' -- the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law.
"Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance [Confession] can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence."
Pope St. John Paul II. (AP)
In his 1981 letter Familliaris Consortio (On the Christian Family in the Modern World), Pope St. John Paul II wrote, "[T]he Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.
"They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.
"Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”