Couples who are divorced and civilly remarried without a Church annulment cannot receive the Eucharist, the Alberta bishops say in a new set of pastoral guidelines.

Couples who are divorced and civilly remarried without a Church annulment cannot receive the Eucharist, the Alberta bishops say in a new set of pastoral guidelines.

September 26, 2016
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

The bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories have issued pastoral guidelines on how to accompany divorced and remarried Catholics to ensure they are reintegrated into the Church.

This accompaniment, however, does not include allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive Holy Communion without a decree of nullity from the marriage tribunal.

"It may happen that, through media, friends or family, couples have been led to understand that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest," said the document, signed by six bishops.

"This view is erroneous."

Instead, based on Pope Francis' post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the bishops urge pastors to take every step to reach out to divorced and remarried Catholics, to encourage them to grow in their faith and integrate them into parish life.

The bishops urge "welcoming care" to help people become "open to understanding their situation in the light of the teaching of the Lord Jesus and his Church" to help them "toward full reconciliation with the Church."

HEALING, RECONCILIATION

"In order to enable such a journey of healing and reconciliation in a manner that remains obedient to the strong command of Christ that 'what God has united man must not divide,' the Church has established its marriage tribunals," the bishops write.

"These are charged with examining in mercy and truth the circumstances of the first marriage in view of making an official declaration as regards its validity or nullity."

If a decree of nullity is obtained, the couple "will understand the need to proceed toward the celebration of the sacrament of Matrimony," the bishops write.

INDISSOLUBILITY OF MARRIAGE

"In the case where the tribunal upholds the validity of the first union, obedience in faith to the indissolubility of marriage as revealed by Christ will make clear to them the actions that must follow.

"They are bound to live with the consequences of that truth as part of their witness to Christ and his teaching on marriage. This may be difficult.

"If, for example, they are unable to separate for the sake of the care of children, they will need to refrain from sexual intimacy and live in chastity 'as brother and sister' (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84)," the bishops write.

Resolving to live "in accordance with the teachings of Christ," would make it possible for the couple to receive the sacrament of Penance, and allow for their receiving Holy Communion.

"The situation may arise where a tribunal is unable fully to examine the circumstances of a prior union," they write.

"This may be due to the absence of any witnesses to the first marriage, or to the impossibility of obtaining documentary evidence. Such cases are to be referred to the diocesan bishop."

LISTEN CAREFULLY

The pastoral guidelines encourage priests to carefully listen to the stories of the couples' relationship and spiritual history to prepare them for hearing "the Lord's teaching on marriage," and how this teaching pertains to their individual circumstances.

The document gives pastors detailed guidance in how to exercise discernment in dealing with individual circumstances, as encouraged by Pope Francis.

CONTRASTING GUIDELINES

The document contrasts with more liberal guidelines put forward by Argentine bishops and endorsed in a private letter from Pope Francis that was leaked to the news media.

However, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast does not see that as a problem.

"I hope Pope Francis would have praise and admiration for these guidelines, as he strongly believes that local bishops' conferences and assemblies know how to address their local pastoral circumstances," he said in an email interview.

Prendergast described the Alberta and NWT bishops' guidelines as "profoundly pastoral while adhering to the teachings of the Word of God and the Church's tradition."

"They are realistic in describing the circumstances of married life in Canada today and the pastoral issues at work," he said.

Prendergast noted, "The Alberta and Northwest Territories bishops strongly affirm the right of those who are divorced and remarried to take part in the life of the Church."

(The complete document on the guidelines is available at caedm.ca.)