Are the Divorced and Remarried Unrepentant Adulterers?

So the opposition to Pope Francis claims. Now the starting point for the claim is sound:

{10:11} And he said to them: “Whoever dismisses his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her.
{10:12} And if a wife dismisses her husband, and is married to another, she commits adultery.”

However, Jesus also said:

{6:36} Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father is also merciful.
{6:37} Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

As I’ve said several times already, my preference is for strict rules and a narrow judgment as to who should receive Communion. But perhaps God wishes the Church to offer mercy to sinners in these difficult times, by means of this judgment of the Pope. For there are a number of cases where the divorce and remarried might receive Communion, without any contradicting the teaching of Jesus.

Divorced, Remarried, Repentant

A divorced and remarried couple may receive Communion, under current rules, if they are repentant. They must go to Confession and refrain from sexual relations. (In some cases, they may live in the same household, for the sake of the children.) But then they may receive. For the rule in the Church has NEVER been that adulterers cannot receive Communion, but only that adulterers may not receive until they repent and confess.

The assumption that all divorced and remarried couples are sexually active is unwarranted. Some married couples (speaking more generally) no longer have marital relations. This topic arises in various online Catholic discussion groups, with some spouses reporting that they have not had relations in years.

It is unjust to assume that every divorced and remarried couple are presently committing adultery. It is unjust to assume that none of them have repented and confessed.

Divorced, Remarried, Annulment

A divorced and remarried couple might obtain an annulment for the previous marriage, and then they could ratify their union in the Church, making the present marriage the true Sacrament of marriage (and not a type of adultery). Having confessed their sins, they could next receive Communion.

Some couples may have good reason to think that the previous marriage is invalid. Marriage tribunals in some places may be too strict (though in other places they may be too loose) in granting annulments. Pope Francis has the authority as the Vicar of Christ to change the rules for obtaining an annulment. He might permit a simplified process, without fees, without a marriage tribunal, without months of waiting. For example, the couple could meet with their pastor, and he could decide whether to recommend an annulment, with the Bishop making the final decision.

Good Conscience

Opponents of Pope Francis, persons who have decided that they are more Catholic than the Pope, imagine that the Synod of Bishops will permit divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. But I think that the impending change in discipline will be much broader. Pope Francis might change the rules to permit any Catholic who is not conscious of actual mortal sin to receive Communion, even if they have committed objective mortal sins. Such a decision is contrary to my own judgment and preference. But the Pope has the authority, and perhaps it is the will of God to extend this mercy to members of the Church, in preparation for the start of the tribulation.

If you object to the idea that a person might receive Communion, despite having committed objective mortal sin (without the full culpability of actual mortal sin), then why do you not object to the current rules and state of affairs? Orthodox Christians are guilty of the objective mortal sins of heresy and schism. Yet they are permitted to receive, in some circumstances. A Catholic priest who commits an actual mortal sin is permitted to say Mass and receive Communion, prior to his next confession, if he has perfect contrition and is unable to confess prior to Mass.

And in the current state of affairs in the Church, perhaps a majority of Mass-going Catholics receive Communion despite being guilty of objective mortal sins — without repentance or confession — including: contraception, abortifacient contraception, adhering to heresy, committing various sexual sins (e.g. masturbation, pornography, premarital sex, unnatural sex within marriage), voting in contradiction to Catholic teaching (e.g. for gay marriage, abortion), and failing to believe in the Real Presence. And the vast majority of Communion-receiving Catholics do not go to Confession at all. These persons should not be receiving Communion. It is hypocrisy to say only that the divorced and remarried may not receive, without also saying that all persons guilty of mortal sin may not receive. It is Pharisaism to say that mortal sins only prevent one from receiving if those sins are public, as if only the outside of the cup need be clean.


It is a grave error to speak about Pope Francis and the Bishops as if they have no ability or authority to teach and to correct. It is a grave error to speak as if any Pope could possibly commit heresy or teach heresy. It is a grave error to claim that a change in discipline is equivalent to a rejection of dogma. It is a grave error to assume that the majority opinion among conservatives or traditionalists is more reliable than the teaching of the Pope and the body of Bishops. Pride goeth before a fall.

These public opponents of Pope Francis are preparing for a schism. When Pope Francis issues changes in discipline and clarifications of doctrine at the Synod, they will cry out against him — because he dared to teach and correct them, and they imagine that their own understanding cannot err. Then they will falsely accuse him of heresy and depart from the one true Church by formal schism.

Ironically, by their own judgment, this sin of formal schism makes them unfit to receive Communion.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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