The German Bishops’ Conference announced Wednesday that “differentiated solutions” made at the parish level would allow previously divorced but now remarried Catholics to receive communion.
The bishops’ proposed method – a case-by-case basis without hard criteria – does not guarantee such parishioners the ability to participate in communion. “Not all believers whose marriage broke down and who received a civil divorce and are now remarried will be able to receive the sacrament without a decision,” they wrote.
However, the bishops said their decision “opens the possibility of receiving the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist” to divorced Catholics currently in a second marriage.
These married Catholics were previously barred from taking communion because the Church considered them to be living in a state of sin. Only if the couple received an annulment of their prior marriages could they receive what Catholics believe to be the body of Christ.
Interpretation of a papal writing
In their statement, the bishops cited Pope Francis’ April 2016 “The Joy of Love” exhortation as the source for their conclusion.
Though Pope Francis avoided issuing concrete guidelines on whether remarried Catholics could partake in communion, he emphasized the importance of questions of conscience. The bishops concluded that this allows for such people to receive the Eucharist on a case-by-case basis.
Individual evaluations will be made at the parish level by pastoral counselors and the people affected. The German bishops’ decision follows that of Argentinean and Maltese bishops, who earlier announced similar guidelines.
Opposition in the clergy
Though Catholic reform groups welcomed the statement, not all clergy leaders agree, with conservative bishops arguing that the decision weakens the institution of marriage. German Cardinal Joachim Meisner and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller joined the pope’s doctrinal leader, German Gerhard Müller, in opposing the bishop conference’s interpretation of Pope Francis’ words.
In an interview with Italian media, Müller said church doctrine clearly prohibits divorced and remarried Catholics from taking communion unless they abstain from sex. Catholic bishops should also take their teachings from doctrine and not from the pope, he added.
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