Conscience & Communion

What’s a Remarried Catholic to Do?

What should we say, amid a culture in which marriages evaporate like mist, about the sacramental status of divorced and remarried Catholics? What should we do?

Though our era is rife with failed marriages, the pastoral problem posed by divorce and remarriage has confronted the church from the very beginning. Recall Paul’s advice to those faithful in Corinth who married unbelievers (“If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases”) and Matthew’s “exception” to Jesus’ teaching on divorce (“Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery”). In modern times, eminent theologians and canonists ever since the Second Vatican Council have been debating the proper pastoral approach to divorced Catholics who have remarried, and church authorities have staked out a fine line of official pastoral policy.

The principal documents guiding this policy are John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, a 1994 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried, and a 2000 declaration of the Pontifical Council for...

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About the Author

Rev. James A. Coriden teaches canon law at the Washington Theological Union.