Remarried divorcees ‘not excommunicated’, pope tells Church
“These people are not excommunicated — they are not excommunicated! And they absolutely must not be treated as such. The are still part of the Church,” the pontiff said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
Speaking ahead of a highly anticipated global meeting on family life in October, he said “awareness that a brotherly and attentive welcome… is needed towards those who… have established a new relationship after the failure of a marriage, has greatly increased”.
The Church does not recognise divorce but divorcees can still take communion unless they remarry, which is considered to be adultery.
“No closed doors! Everyone can participate some way or another in the life of the Church,” Francis said, in a clear call for Catholic bishops and priests to treat those in so-called “irregular situations” with greater compassion.
People who are excommunicated are expelled from the Church, unless they repent, and are considered to be condemned to Hell in the afterlife.
The issue of remarried divorcees is likely to be addressed during the upcoming synod — a gathering of bishops — on the family, which Francis hopes will help reconcile Catholic thinking with the realities of believers’ lives in the 21st century.
A first synod last year saw riled conservative bishops move to block the approval of language heralding an unprecedented opening on the treatment of divorced Catholics, who are currently not able to take communion.
– ‘Children suffer the most’ –
The Argentine pontiff said it was not just divorced adults who needed compassion, but their children — potential future believers that the Church risks alienating by treating their parents as outcasts.
“If we look at these new relationships through the eyes of young children… we see even greater the urgency of developing in our communities a real welcome towards those who are living such situations,” he said.
Children, he said, “are the one who suffer the most” from broken families.
It would be difficult to call on parents “to do everything to educate their children according to Christian values… if we keep them at a distance from community life, as if they were excommunicated,” he explained.
Francis’s stance sets him on a fresh collision course with the Church’s most conservative members, who have fiercely resisted his attempts to soften the centuries-old institution and highlight its more human side.
At last year’s synod, bishops failed to reach a consensus on remarried divorcees and gays, despite an appeal by the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
October’s synod comes after a year of consultations. Its findings will be handed to the pope, who will then have the final say in outlining the Church’s stance on family matters.
During a trip to Equador in July, Francis called on pilgrims to pray hard for “a miracle” at the synod, adding “families today need this miracle”.