Can divorced and remarried receive communion?

Papal  Exhortation Spreading – Confusion instead of clarity?

dr.james kottoor

It was on April 8th that Francis Pappa released  his long awaited Apostolic Exhortation on Family Life, “Joy of Love”. Ever since the global media has been flooded with reactions ranging from warm welcome, to graded appreciation, to frantic search for what is actually meant, to critical questions to a nearly total opposition to a document bursting all over with confusion and compromise rather than clarity  and precision on controversial issues.

CCV already published thought provoking opinions from New York Times, UK Guardian, Jesuit Catholic weekly America, Tablet UK and many others with our editorial notes. The latest one published “Confusion confounded instead of Clarity?” is from Tablet UK.  This  opinion piece is based on it mostly.

What is the great confusion in this exhortation? It is all about the question: Can divorced and remarried  receive communion? According to traditional teaching of the Church, especially of previous Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II who wrote a great deal on it, it is a definite NO because they are in a state of mortal sin. In the Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) Francis tells us, not to say they are living in sin or in irregular situation the principle being never to be judgmental like a strict judge, but be like a merciful Prodigal Father, never to be hung up on unchangeable doctrinal principles but on demands of practical pastoral needs of one dying in the battle field.

To take an example the Church must be like a mother trying to save the honor of her son accused of stealing, say $1000/- and pleadin: “Please please don’t say my son stole it, say instead he took it as he was in need!” So the motherly Francis is pleading in the Exhortation to understand that the divorced and remarried fully belong to the church, and can even receive communion (which is not only a reward for the perfect but a medicine for the sick) with the help of a conscience rectified by a counseling priest who is not to substitute or replace the conscience of the remarried. Now what does that sort of winding oneself in hundred knots  mean? Yes or No? What we want to know is: if he/she is a saint or sinner? “Oh please  con’t call anyone a sinner”, says Francis, (Recall also Vivekananda who also said the  same in another context: “Don’t call man the crown and glory of creation a sinner!) “Don’t be judgemental” says Francis following his own example: “Who am I to judge!” But that doesn’t  give us the Yes or No answer we are looking for. That means no clear answer from Francis, so all this confusion.

Now, who is an adulterer independent of what the exhortation says? Let us do a little hard talk. Jesus is very clear on it: "You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultry. But I say this to you. If a man looks at another woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart."(Mat.5, 27) Wow! Then who among us is not an adulterer? No wonder why Francis was the first to describe himself: “I am sinner”? Also why  the Synod fathers described themselves as (Sncti peccatori = Holy sinners) starting with the Holy Father who confesses every other day in public view. Now do you get why the confusion is confounded? Although Jesus was forthright in enunciating the principle, when it came to applying it to the woman caught in adultery, he was ruthless not against the woman but against the Pharisees who was eloquent on applying the principle saying: “Let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone.” He was acting like Francis. Turning  to the woman he  said: “Neither do I condemn you!”, again like Francis.

There was a young and enterprising preacher who used to give a 3-part sermon every Sunday after  reading the Gospel: 1. After reading the Gospel he used to tell those in the pews:  “You have heard what Gospel has to say which is very clear and needs no explanation.” 2. Now what does the Church or church men say about it? Then He used to give various interpretations by the church. 3. Now you want to  know what I think of it?  Answering that he used to give his personal view. Then he used to conclude saying: You are all very intelligent and literate people, so you draw your own conclusions and follow what your conscience dictates.

This is what this scribe has been saying for long ad nauseam writing in these columns or outside. Just follow your commanding conscience formed honestly and prayerfully. If the conscience is commanding, know for certain. it is the voice of God and so just obey. You are the sacred living temple of God, far superior to any man-made brick-and-mortar dead chapels, churches, cathedrals or temples or mosques, and the conscience speaking to you from within you is the voice of the Deity enthroned in you. That is why you are called the temple of God or Holy Spirit. Recall the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

If your conscience is caught between two or three doubts or options, just consult any available better informed person’s view, who need not at all be  a priest or even a religious person, enough he be  a honest and better informed person and then act. Even here, if you are not able to rid yourself of all doubts, just do one of the easiest of options you have in mind,  because the principle is: (In dubio libertas) In doubt, any of the options are equally valid and acceptable before God.

So finding God and his guidance is the easiest thing in life, if our belief that God exists and that he is really the Father figure of all, is an uncontested truth.  All humans – wise, foolish, ignorant, illiterate, rich, poor – need not go any where searching. They have only to look within themselves and listen to their consciences. Recall the famous song composed by Fr. Abel (one of my saintly friends gone to heaven: Iswarane Thedi (in Malayalam). Its substance is this: “I wandered all over the world, across sea and deserts looking for God’s foot steps, all in vain. Finally I turned into myself, into my heart. Lo and behold there He is. My heart is His abode and Love is His name, shape and features.”

Otherwise, follow the  advise given to those sailing on the Face of Amazon river: “If you are feeling very thirsty, just drop the bucket because you are sailing in the face of Amazon full of clean potable water not tainted by salt.” And for God’s help and guidance, just peep into yourself, to your conscience speaking to you. That is the Voice of God talking to you constantly. Of course what is said above is the considered  conviction of this scribe which no one is bound to follow, as one is bound to follow one’s own conscience. What I wish is that readers react honestly, fearlessly and boldly expressing  their views,  imitating the readers in the  Tablet, added at the end of the Article “Confusion Confounded” in the CCV. 

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