Question on communion for divorced people

Posted July 3, 2017 9:24 pm by Thomas Dowd

I know that there is a great deal of discussion going on right now regarding whether or not people living in certain marital situations should receive Eucharistic communion. Part of my job as a bishop is to provide a measure of clarity through answers to such questions. This isn’t always easy, especially when certain particular situations are especially messy. Still, sometimes the answers are easier, and I am happy to oblige.

For example, one common misconception is that people who are civilly divorced are not allowed to receive communion in a Catholic church.

The key word here is MISCONCEPTION. Simply put, there is no necessary link between being divorced and not being able to receive communion.

Got that? No necessary link. None. I don’t know where this misconception comes from, but it has to stop.

Now it is definitely true that spousal abandonment is a form of breaking of the marriage vows, and therefore has a sinful quality (although there are occasions that justify initiating a separation in the couple, such as adultery and abuse). It is equally true that sometimes in a divorce there is a truly innocent party. Therefore, it is the act of unjust spousal abandonment that would prevent a person from receiving communion, and not the legal act of divorce per se. After all, it would not make sense for the Church to punish people who find themselves divorced who never went looking for it, or who came to it as a last resort in a difficult situation.

Of course, people who are divorced often want to get remarried, and because the Catholic Church does not recognize that civil authorities have any power to dissolve valid marriages, this means they cannot get remarried in the Church (at least, not without some sort of authoritative intervention by the Church first, such as a declaration of nullity). Those who attempt marriage outside the Church definitely trigger the communion restriction. However, it is not actually because someone is divorced, but because they attempted a marriage that the Church does not recognize. Two Catholics who have never been married before who decide to elope and get married in Las Vegas by Elvis can’t go to communion either afterwards, because they got married outside the Church.

But for those who simply got a civil divorce (or even just a separation), and who are otherwise living the life of a single person without attempting a new marriage, there is no necessary reason for communion to be restricted. To be sure, there may be a lot of healing that is needed, including to mend a broken heart, but that is all the more reason to turn to God in the Eucharist and seek his strength.

In the meantime, I once again repeat:  there is no necessary link between being divorced and not being able to receive communion. I don’t know where this misconception comes from, but too many people are feeling unnecessarily hurt or rejected by the Church when in fact they have simply been misinformed by some sort of folk wisdom that is anything but wise. Let’s be sure to be part of the solution, and not the problem, by helping people live free of any misplaced guilt in this domain.

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