Lest so many words complicate a simple question

Ed Peters on Re-marriage and Holy Communion

Ed Peters on divorce, re-marriage, and Holy Communion

The following comes from a Mar. 19 posting on A Canon Lawyer’s Blog by Ed Peters.

Catholic discipline that precludes holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics rests on three simple points. Assuming the specifications and nuances that should flesh out these points, they are:

  • Catholics obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin should neither approach for nor be administered holy Communion. Canons 915, 916.
  • Catholics living in post-divorce ‘marriages’ are in a state of public and objective grave sin (specifically, a form of chronic adultery). CCC 2380, 2381, 2384.
  • Such ‘marriages’ are adulterous because true marriage is an exclusive union lasting until death. Canons 1055, 1134, 1141.

Abandon any of these three points and Church discipline in this area collapses. If marriage is not an exclusive union till death, if living in pseudo/second marriage is not objective grave sin, or if the Eucharist is not precluded for those persisting in grave sin, then divorced-and-remarried Catholics can begin receiving holy Communion today and the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family can turn its attention to other pastoral issues facing the family. But if these three assertions are sound, then the present Eucharistic discipline demands, as a matter of personal integrity and public honesty, observance by faithful and hierarchy alike, and the Synod must grapple with its pastoral ramifications.

Now, no one (at least, no one being taken seriously) in this debate denies that marriage is an exclusive union lasting until death, and few formally deny that living in pseudo/second marriage is objectively wrong—though many are confusing commission of objective sin with the incurring of personal culpability for sin and, based on their confusion, are rejecting the objective evilness of pseudo/second marriage itself. That confusion must be addressed elsewhere.

Instead, the aspect of this matter under the greatest challenge is, I suggest, whether Catholics who live in an objectively sinful state (such as pseudo/second marriage has always been reckoned) should bear the primary sacramental consequence that has always been expected regarding those known to be persisting in an objectively sinful state, namely, deprivation of holy Communion. Whatever crisis of faith some might harbor regarding Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage, or whatever crisis of courage some might experience in having to call some sins by their true names, the most visible aspect of the current crisis over divorce and ‘remarriage’ concerns, I think, the reception of holy Communion thereafter.*

And so one may ask a simple question:  what do we suddenly know about marriage, human falleness, and the Eucharist that the Apostles, the Fathers, the Doctors, and the Saints did not know before us? What do we face for upholding one of the Lord’s hardest sayings that they did not face before us?  If, as I suspect, the answer to both questions is “nothing” (or at least, nothing persuasive of, let alone compelling, change) by what authority do we consider so great a departure from the course so-long steered by the Church?

+ + +

* Yet another idea, I pause to note, being floated these days, one whereby divorced-and-remarried Catholics ‘confess’ their sin (specifically, remarriage after divorce) but not be required to put off their sin, threatens serious harm to the sacrament of Penance as well as to Marriage and the Eucharist, but we can only deal with so many heads of this hydra at one time.

Alert readers will note that I offered a version of this argument back in December 2013. I recast it here.

To read the original posting, click here.




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  1. Michael McDermott says:

    A point that I have not explored and would appreciate some insights on is – What happens when One Partner decides to Divorce the Other – Against their will or wish?

    Regardless of who it is – if one half of the Married Couple decides to leave the Church or leave the Marriage – where does that Leave the one Still Faithful?

    Just Askin?

    • There can still be no RE-MARRIAGE, when a valid marriage exists. Even for an “innocent” party.
      Divorce in itself is not a sin that cannot be confessed and forgiven. Continuing sexual activity with anyone who is not the valid spouse is the ACT that must be stopped. One can not say they are sorry for their mortal sin and expect forgiveness from God when they have every intention of continuing to commit that mortal sin.
      “Thou shall not commit adultery.” – God’s Commandment (not suggestion).
      Also quotes from Jesus: Mk 10:9; Mk 10: 11-12; Mt 19:4-6: Mt 19: 9.

    • retrospective says:

      You said it – the still faithful one is exactly that – still faithful – and may receive. But not if he /she remarries, in which case he/she would no longer be “still faithful.” No need to “explore”. Pretty simple, as are most matters.

      • Repentance and living in “complete continence” allows those who are divorced and remarried to receive the Sacraments, because then they are no longer committing the sexual sin of adultery.
        CCC # 1650

    • They are to remain faithful. Taking no one else for a spouse. Technically they would be living apart from their spouse, but that is not sinful.

      They could then approach the idea of annulment if they meet the requirements.

      • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

        A now deceased holy bishop once told me that in some Diocese you can get an anullment on “coffee grounds”. Gee, wonder what Diocese he had in mind!

        May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
        Viva Cristo Rey!
        Yours in Their Hearts,
        Kenneth M. Fisher, Founding Director
        Concerned Roman Catholics of America, Inc.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Michael that is a topic for someone to bring to the attention to a good priest (or their bishop) and only that priest can give guidance. Like any cross, not all crosses are easy to carry but with faith, our Lord will only help one grow more virtuous.

  2. Father Karl says:

    Our Lord’s words were recorded by tradition, and written down in the New Testament. His words cannot be twisted to fit what the modernists want. Christ’s words are precise, and they must not be played with or manipulated. The Protestant churches have remade the scriptures to fit their needs, and from what I have been told, so have the Orthodox churches, in regards to marriage. The Catholic Church alone was founded by God the Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. To mix up Our Savior’s words is demonic, and not a part of the apostolic tradition which has handed down certain unchangeable truths for almost 2000 years. Marriage is a sacred covenant, and despite what the Germanic church and the modernists demand, it cannot be changed because God ordered it.

    • Fr Karl

      I would like to see you reply to Michael’s comment when one person leaves the other. Also, you say your comments are based on ‘ apostolic tradition’ which covers a wide area of definition and/or interpretation. What was really said 2000 years ago? No one will ever know.

      • Those who are divorced and remarried can receive the Sacraments WHEN/IF they decide to live in “complete continence”.
        This means they are no longer committing the sin of adultery.
        One can not receive the Sacraments when they purposely choose to continue to commit the same mortal sin over, and over, and over.
        The couple needs to decide what is more important to them – being close to God and His Sacraments, or sexual sin.

        Priests, Nuns, homosexuals, and all other singles are expected to live in “complete continence”, so this is not a big deal when people decide to do the Will of God rather than their own wills.

        For more information, see the: “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” – #1646 – 1651

        CCC: ” 1650 Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions.
        In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was.
        If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.
        Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities.
        Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in COMPLETE CONTINENCE. “

    • Okey-dokey, Father Karl, you have managed to slam the Protestants, the Orthodox, the Modernists, the German Catholics, etc., in your infallible pronouncement.
      You must be quite exhausted after all that…

      • retrospective says:

        Thanks, Father Karl. It’s sad when people feel “slammed” by the truth when they are still here on earth. How much greater will the slamming be on Judgment Day! God Bless You!

      • Ann Malley says:

        Why bother pretending to follow Christ or any teaching, Michael, because you’re sure to offend somebody if you do. I haven’t tried that myself, but would imagine that practice would require no exertion whatsoever.

        So saying, THANK YOU, Fr. Karl for being a consistent voice of reason and what the Church has always taught.

      • Abeca Christian says:

        I don’t understand why people are upset at Father Karl? He didn’t say anything that was not true. He made it clear by saying “Christ’s words are precise, and they must not be played with or manipulated”.

        If Christ said them, who are we to change or argue? Now with certain circumstances, then it is up to a good holy priest to direct married couples on any moral issues they may have.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:


      I am witnessing the same strategies used to destroy Political Parties being use to break down Church Teachings. Little comments here and there, appointing men to commissions who are dedicated to destroying Church Teachings, etc. etc. are all too similar to the political strategies I witnessed as an Officer at one time or another in both Parties.

      They are building up for the Synod. Pray, pray, and pray some more!

      May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
      Viva Cristo Rey!
      Yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

  3. One is either in communion with the Church’s teachings, or they are not. In charity, those not in communion must be told the truth. Today’s notion of compassion often usurps everything else. This is wrong, and will only lead to more scandal and confusion.

    • It is not ‘Pastoral’ to condone the mortal sins of anyone.
      It is not ‘loving your neighbor’ to condone the mortal sins of anyone.
      We must never tolerate sin.

      CCC: ” 1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
      – by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
      – by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
      – by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
      – by protecting evil-doers. “

  4. Father Karl says:

    William, we know what was said and practiced 2000 years ago. It is what the Church teaches. This teaching never changes. If one spouse leaves another, unless there is proof that the one who left has died, the other spouse may NOT marry. That has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church. If someone was thought to be dead, and then the other spouse re-married, and then the original spouse returned, the second marriage would be invalid.

    • Thank you Fr. Karl. The bible, Michael, is not someone’s interpretation. It all comes from Divine Revelation. Time to turn His light on in your soul before it’s too late.

    • Fr Karl.
      Thank you for your reply but I disagree. We do not know for a fact what was said and practiced 2000 years ago and, as you stated, it is tradition the Church teaches. The teaching has changed over the years and what I was taught by the saintly Nuns/Brothers & Priests in Catholic Schools does not seem to apply anymore in many respects and I think most religious know and understand this. Also, it’s OK for the person left behind and remarried to contribute to the Sunday collection plate and the Bishops fund but not OK to received Communion which is the essence of the Mass. Thank you

      • Anonymous says:

        William, Holy Communion is Jesus Christ. All people need to be in a state of grace to receive Him. Since divorced and remarried people are not in a state of grace because of committing adultery (Mt 19:9; Mt 5:32), they cannot receive Him without committing the sin of Sacrilege. The Holy Church obviously cannot permit sacrilege and I am sure that people would not want to commit it unknowingly. As for contributions to the Church, this is a good practice for everyone. It is a holy and righteous thing so no-one is denied their right to do so, although on occasion I have heard of big donations from public sinners like pornographers being refused. Those who are divorced and remarried should participate in as much of the Church’s life as they can. My grandparents were in this situation and when their sex life ended, they were permitted to receive Holy Communion again.

      • False, William. The teachings of the Church that ALL Catholics are required to adhere to are in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”.

        For more info (prior to your postin) about the Church again, please go to:
        “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”

        The Church has never taught that one can receive the Holy Eucharist while purposely intending to continue committing the same Mortal Sin over and over again. (Sexual acts with someone who is not your valid spouse.)

    • Father Karl, I know “the teaching never changes” is a truism of the Church. Yet, is it really accurate? To be picky, I think it’s doctrine that never changes, but the teaching of it has changed and will change in the future.

      Consider the 19th century encyclical that dealt with the evils of evolution. Now, John Paul II clarified this teaching in “Truth Cannot Contradict Truth”. I do see how the earlier encyclical was valid in light of JP’s teaching that it is theories of evolution which deny God’s role as creator of the soul that is proscribed. Theories of evolution that accept this truth are perfectly consistent with Catholic faith. While the doctrine is consistent, has not the teaching of that doctrine been expanded to include new facts unknown in the 19th century?

      The truism seemingly contracts the reality of doctrinal growth.

  5. We are all coming to a point of real concern for the Church. As someone already noted, pastoral cannot supercede Christ’s gospel teaching and mandate on married.

    As we approach the October Synod, pray for the Cardinals, Bishops and Priests to remain loyal to Christ and His Church.

    “Human respect can be a tyrant.”
    –Fr Hardon

  6. donald byrnes says:

    Come on folks. God told Hosea to marry a harlot and never said anything about divorcing her. The party that is wronged just has an extra heavy cross. Bishop Sheen had the answer; “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband” (1Cor7:14) It’s what they call “for better or worse”. Anyway, we all commit adultery with Satan when we sin that’s why God gave us the Sacrament of Confession – He remains constant and calls us to do the same. Peace.

    the party that is wronged just has a heavy cross

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:


      Correct! But the heavier the cross the greater the crown!

      May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
      Viva Cristo Rey!
      Yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

      • What about this one?

        Suppose X & Y are married, Y has never taken the marriage seriously such that X should get an annulment.

        Let us suppose that, for some reason, that the Ecclesiastical Court process takes a very long time. Say more than 5 years due to appeal of a clearly deranged trial court (say, suppose that Cardinal Mahoney were in charge). What if X gets frustrated with this process, and losing faith that the process will ultimately come up with the correct answer, contracts a civil marriage.

        Let us then suppose 2 years later, the Ecclesiastical process finally grants him the annulment. Does that validate his civil marriage? Or has he been living in adultery for 2 years?

        • Abeca Christian says:

          Jon J I believe that they have been committing an adultery since they went ahead and done it anyway due to being impatient. Being holy and doing right by the Christ isn’t always an easy task for humans but if one is obedient and truly seeks to remain united with God’s graces, then they will seek in their heart to do what is right by God. Doing so will only increase in them a life of virtue and their love will only increase for our Lord.

          Good things are always worth working hard for them, always seeking the easy way out doesn’t always produce a good outcome. In order to fear the Lord, we must first apply ourselves and be vulnerable to our Lord and His truths. He loves us and wants what is best for us. This life is temporary, it goes by quickly, so its worth what ever time it takes to make right by God and His church.

          Impatient people is telling, it tells us why they even got themselves in that predicament in the first place, its surely telling that if they allow their ” impatience” to lead them, then they will surely continue on a failing path.

          • I don’t think your analysis is correct Abeca.

            I’m not a canon lawyer. Yet the argument I would make to the Ecclesiastical Court would be if X has received an annulment, is that not recognition that no true state of marriage existed from the beginning?

            If this is true, than his civil marriage should be treated like any other civil marriage contracted outside of the Church—because X was never truly married in the eyes of the Church.

        • Anonymous says:

          He has been living in adultery for 2 years. Catholics are not allowed to contract a civil marriage. The union is sinful.
          Here is another situation. A couple marries in the Church, just because their parents want them to. They have no real intention of welcoming children or staying together. Later in life, they realize that their marriage had an impediment but they do not wish to divorce. They stay together. Are they sacramentally married?
          Every priest will tell you yes, they are sacramentally married. There is no tribunal that will even look at the validity of an intact marriage.

          • I believe Catholics can validly marry outside the Church. Read about “natural marriage” as opposed to sacramental marriage. Such marriages can occur between a catholic and non-catholic, and will be considered natural marriages if the ceremony does not conform to Catholic requirements.

  7. What about this situation?

    Suppose X & Y are married, but Y commits acts that clearly demonstrate that the marriage is not genuine (such as committing constant and regularly adultery from the beginning).

    Let us now suppose when X attempts to obtain an annulment from the Church; but, for whatever reason they either don’t believe what he’s saying or some other error occurs and his application is rejected.

    Now, suppose also X is well-versed in canon law (through self study) and very well knows he meets the standard. In this case, for purposes of our hypothetical, X is indeed correct—because he knows what happened inside his marriage first hand, and any outside adjudicator is operating through a fog of less than complete certainty.

    Would X then be committing adultery if he then enters a civil marriage?

    I’m pretty certain most here will say yes, due to the “bind and loose” power of the Church. However, it seems to me that answer is valuing obedience to the earthly institution of the Church rather than Truth.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      JonJ correct me if I’m viewing you wrong but it sounds to me that you were just using that example as a trap. One to trap the church and judge it. You obviously don’t agree with Christ then and even His answer He gave to a man about why Moses time allowed divorce.

      You think that the church does not understands the sins of humans and people who are hardened of heart? It does and it goes by each and every individual case but remember that there are truly holy people seeking to honor Jesus more and ultimately will have to pay the price for the sins of others including their spouse. Remember we all have to answer as well if we have provoked another into sin. If a spouse chooses to place their spouse in that predicament due to their sinful choices, they will have to answer to God in the end not only for that sin but also how it may have brought scandal to their children and others.

      • Ann, the logic behind this isn’t so much about disagreeing with the Church’s views of divorce and remarriage. It’s more about the morality surrounding imperfect application by the Church of perfect doctrine (which, its seems, does occur).

        What duty do we have to obey error?

        Let us suppose it’s the Inquisition, and X believes that torturing suspected heretics and that executing heretics is an abuse of Church authority (a penalty I am aware was rarely imposed by Ecclesiastical Courts).

        Is it moral for X to lie if Church authorities ask him if he knows the whereabouts of his neighbor so that they might apprehend him for torture? Would it be wrong for X to keep a bag of gold hidden from Church authorities who came to seize the property (which the Inquisition would do BEFORE any trial) of his neighbor who is accused of heresy?

        • Ann Malley says:

          There needs to be a standard of judgment and/or an authority to which one can refer when determining the validity of issues, JonJ. Otherwise, the Protestant notion of every man being his own teaching authority would be the rule – as the claim of imperfection could apply everywhere and regarding everything depending upon one’s own opinion.

          When you look at it, the crucifixion of Christ was immoral and outrageous, wasn’t it? He wasn’t guilty of that which He was accused – that is blasphemy. And yet Our Lord’s suffrage under the law is precisely what opened up the doors of grace to us.

          So sometimes people do suffer wrongly, but that suffrage if understood and accepted, is often the sweetest of treasures. Not the pain involved, obviously, but the spiritual fruits of carrying the cross.

          • Your Fellow Catholic says:

            I believe the noun you seek is “suffering” not “suffrage”. Suffrage is not the noun form of the verb “to suffer”, but a word connoting either voting rights or intercessory prayers.

          • It does open up some interesting theological question, however.

            We know, beyond a doubt, of at least one faulty decision rendered by what at least was purported to be an Ecclesiastical Court—the trial and execution of Saint Joan of Arc.

          • That verdict was repudiated by God when He performed miracles through the intercession of St. Joan.

            Now, suppose you are a gaoler employed by the Ecclesiastical Court and you have been ordered to imprison, tie Joan to the stake, and toss a burning brand onto the fuel piled around her feet.

            Did the gaoler commit a sin by obeying this order? If so, at what point did the gaoler’s actions become sinful—imprisonment? Participating in torturing her in order to try to get her to confess? Tying Joan to Stake? Gathering wood and fuel to place around her feet? Or only when you light the fire?

          • Ann Malley says:

            Thanks YFC for noting that. Appreciate it 🙂

        • Anonymous says:

          The Church did not torture or condemn to death. They did not seize property. The tribunals called the Inquisition determines whether heresy had been committed. Local civil authorities were the one’s who meted out punishment.

          • Hugh James says:

            That’s such a wonderfully parsed defense of the Inquisition. They merely tortured people and handed them off to civil authorities, expressly to be murdered, at the behest of the Church, which of course was an overarching political institution.

          • Hugh James says:

            And if you’re denying that inquisitors used torture, here’s lengthy article from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 that goes into great detail. It was sanctioned originally by Pope Innocent IV. Most ironic pope name ever?


        • Is it EVER OK to lie? One of my brothers was deep undercover for 7 months “living a lie” If he’d told the truth even to a question like “What is your name?” he’d have blown the case and put himself in danger.

    • Ann Malley says:

      It is not the rule itself that is valued, JonJ, but rather the valuing and honoring of the one who issues it. If you do not hold that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church or God, then I can see very well why you would find these issues confusing and/or seemingly outrageous. Naturally speaking, the best thing for many a rotten marriage is to leave and start over. Much like a bad business venture.

      But the Church concerns Herself more with those supernatural realities as they come from God. That is the power to bind/loose comes from God, not independently from the Church.

      • How is an erroneous ruling sourced in Christ?

        • Ann Malley says:

          Who is to say it is erroneous, JonJ? People often pray that they will be relieved of cancer and are not. God’s reply is that they are called to suffer and endure. Too many folks don’t seem to get this and believe falsely that a relief of the situation is the only ‘right’ answer that can come from God. And that’s just not so.

  8. JonJ, do you own a “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”?
    Do you own a Bible?
    The answers to your questions are contained therein.

    Until and unless one gets an annulment by the Church, he or she may not re-marry.
    One will have to answer to God at his/her judgement if they lie during the process. – They would still be married in the eyes of God, and He is the one who counts. Heaven or Hell for eternity is at stake.
    “Thou shall not commit adultery” is His Commandment (not suggestion).

    • I do not believe the CCC directly addresses the possibility of error on part of the Church’s adjudicators. Yet, common sense and recent scandals should tell you such errors are possible.

      If the Ecclesiastical Court is making an erroneous judgment, obviously they cannot be speaking for Christ.

      If, for example, an individual who lies and receives a fraudulent annulment is , in fact, committing adultery by remarrying (which seems logical to me), then a person who deserves an annulment and is wrongfully denied should be categorized with a valid “attempted marriage”.

      Only this position is consistent with doctrinal truth. The alternative position, would condemn people for failing to obey error.

      However, I do think that someone who told the truth and obtained an erroneous annulment in good faith, is not committing a sin by a subsequent marriage—simply because they lack the intention of sin.

  9. When anyone is deceitful in Confession, he or she does not receive absolution in the eyes of God.
    When one is deceitful during the Annulment Process, he or she does not receive an annulment in the eyes of God. This would also include perjury.

    CCC: ” 1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context.
    There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.”

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