[Austen Ivereigh] In his first General Audience for a month, Pope Francis today stressed the importance of including and welcoming Catholics who have divorced and entered a second union, making clear that they are “by no means excommunicated”.
Although such second unions “are contrary to the Sacrament of marriage”, he said that the Church “seeks the good and salvation of all her children”, adding that it was urgent “to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities”, not least because such situations “especially affect children”.
“If then we look at these new bonds also with the eyes of small children … with the eyes of children, we see again the urgency to grow in our communities a real welcoming towards people that live in such situations,” Francis said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
In remarks added to the official text of his catechesis (see CNS), he asked: “How can we recommend to these parents to do all [they can] to educate their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a sure and practiced faith, if we put them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they might have been excommunicated?” the Pope asked.
“These persons are by no means excommunicated! They are not excommunicated!” he repeated, adding: “And they absolutely must not be treated as if they were. They should always be made part of the Church.”
Today’s catechesis is part of a series of teachings on the family at the Pope’s weekday audiences in the lead-up to the Synod on the family in October, in which the Church’s attitudes and behavior towards the remarried — who often assume they are not welcome any more in parishes, because they are unable to receive the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist — are a subject of intense debate.
Although there will be no change in the Church’s commitment to indissolubility of marriage, which is reflected in the rules over receiving the sacraments, Pope Francis is keen for the synod to come up with ways of overcoming the cycle of exclusion. Some synod delegates will favor allowing some couples to be readmitted under strict conditions, while others will resist any attempts that they believe will weaken the witness to indissolubility.
Pope Francis said today he wanted to consider “how to care for those who, after the irreversible failure of the matrimonial bond, have undertaken a new union.”
Bishops at previous synods have often pointed out the way in which the transmission of faith through the family is becoming far harder because of the numbers of parents separating and remarrying. Not only do they drift away from the Church, but their children do too, thus reversing the natural cycle of evangelization, in which faith is passed down through the generations.
Francis noted how, under his predecessors, the Church has been keen to find ways of offering pastoral care to the divorced and civilly remarried.
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio St. John Paul II saw an “obligation, ‘for love of the truth,’ to exercise a ‘careful discernment of situations,'”, Pope Francis said, between “one who has endured a separation and one who provoked it.” Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI also studied the question, “calling for an attentive discernment and wise pastoral accompaniment, knowing that no ‘simple recipes’ exist.”
As the studies and discernment continue, Pope Francis said, it is essential that Catholic priests “openly and coherently demonstrate the willingness of the community to welcome and encourage” divorced and remarried couples and their families to participate in church life, so that they “may live and grow always more in their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with attending the liturgy, with the Christian education of their children, with charity and service to the poor, with a commitment to justice and peace.”
Quoting from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the Pope noted “The Church is called to always be the open house of the Father.”
He added: “No closed doors! No closed doors!”