Bishop Steven Lopes, head of the American branch of the Ordinariate, has released a pastoral letter which reaffirms traditional Church teaching on Communion for the remarried.
On Friday, the bishops of Malta stated that remarried people might find it “impossible” to live as brother and sister, and could therefore take Communion if they felt “at peace with God”.
But the Ordinariate document, which has been sent to all 42 Ordinariate parishes and communities in the US, repeats the teaching of Popes including John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It says divorced and civilly remarried couples can receive Communion only if they are “committed to complete continence”.
In the 16-page document, A Pledged Troth, Bishop Lopes says that the indissolubility is part of the nature of marriage, and that the Church’s dogmas “illumine the path of faith”.
On the question of the Eucharist, he writes that, before receiving Communion, a Catholic must confess any objectively grave sin, and make a resolution not to commit the sin – in this case, adultery – again.
The bishop writes: “A civilly-remarried couple firmly resolving complete chastity thus resolves not to sin again, which differs in kind from a civilly-remarried couple who do not firmly intend to live chastely, however much they may feel sorrow for the failure of their first marriage. In this situation, they either do not acknowledge that their unchastity, which is adultery, is gravely wrong, or they do not firmly intend to avoid sin.”
The document says that a firm resolution to amend is a necessary step before receive Communion. “Unless and until the civilly remarried honestly intend to refrain from sexual relations entirely, sacramental discipline does not allow for the reception of the Eucharist,” it says.
The Maltese document claimed that such a resolution might be “impossible”, and that “an informed and enlightened conscience” could decide to receive Communion.
By contrast, Bishop Lopes says that the resolution is difficult but possible, since God “never abandons us in our weakness and need”. He also rejects the idea that conscience can find “exceptions” to absolute moral prohibitions, such as those on adultery. Rather, “The word of God and the authoritative teaching of the Church provide abiding truth for the education of conscience.”
The bishop adds, quoting from the Catechism: “Conscience is not a law unto itself, nor can conscience rightly overrule the holy law of God, for conscience ‘bears witness to the authority of truth’ but does not create that truth.”
Quoting from St John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, Bishop Lopes writes: “The prohibition against adultery admits of no exceptions, and discernment with respect to individual culpability and growth does not permit us to ‘look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future’.” He also quotes John Paul’s teaching that there are not “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations”.
The document says that those living as brother and sister can receive Communion when there are “serious reasons”, such as the need to care for children, which prevent them from separating entirely. It also says that the reception of Communion must avoid “occasions of confusion and scandal”.
Elsewhere in the document, Bishop Lopes speaks of how to accompany the divorced and remarried. He says such accompaniment begins “in reminding people in this circumstance that they are loved by God and remain cherished members of the Church.”
He also recommends that the divorced and civilly remarried consider whether their first marriage was valid, and whether it may be possible to seek an annulment.
Bishop Lopes says that Amoris Laetitia must be protected from those, including the secular media, who “would misuse it to promote practices at odds with the Church’s teaching”.
Most of the Ordinariate’s members are former Anglicans, and the group retains Anglican traditions while being entirely Catholic. Bishop Lopes said it could therefore draw on the experience of different teachings in the Anglican Communion, which has often accommodated divorce, contraception, and homosexual unions. “As a result, that Communion has fractured as the plain teaching of Scripture, Tradition and reason was rejected.”
Bishop Lopes noted that the Anglican Communion has also permitted Communion for the remarried.
The bishop said that former Anglicans who become Catholic through the Ordinariate do not experience Catholic teaching as “as alien or external, but as our own. The indissolubility of marriage is our own teaching found in Scripture, from Our Lord, in our liturgy, in reason and the nature of marriage itself, and in the Tradition of the Church of which we are part.”