On Ministry to Divorced and Remarried Catholics
Yesterday, August 5, 2015, Pope Francis gave his first Wednesday general audience after a month-long break. He continued with his catechesis on the family, speaking about the Church’s ministry to divorced and remarried Catholics.
After acknowledging that remarriage after divorce “contradicts the Christian Sacrament,” the Pope, quoting Pope Saint John Paul II, said that these cases call for “careful discernment” (See Familiaris Consortio, no. 84.) For example, distinguishing between a person who initiated the divorce and a person who suffered it unwillingly informs how to minister to each.
Pope Francis called the Church to cultivate a “real acceptance” of divorced and remarried Catholics and to be “always attentive to persons” by thinking especially about the needs of children in these situations. The Pope said that we must “look at these new bonds with the eyes of little ones – and the little ones are looking,” maintaining that children are the primary victims of divorce. If our communities are closed and unaccepting to divorced and remarried Catholics and their children in our “language” and our “attitudes,” we cannot hope to keep the children and their parents Catholic. If we treat them “as if they were excommunicated,” we will not be able to “giv[e] them the example of a convinced and practiced faith.” Because the Church is a mother to all, we must seek to “not…add other weights beyond those that the children…already have to bear!”
The Holy Father emphasized the Church’s teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics “are not excommunicated…and…are absolutely not treated as such: they are always part of the Church.” Drawing on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John 10, he noted that the Church must follow Jesus’ example to make sure that “there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” He encouraged pastors to manifest concretely the community’s openness to divorced and remarried Catholics by inviting them to deepen their belonging to Christ and the Church through prayer, listening to Scripture, attending Mass, educating their children in the faith, and helping others. He proclaimed, “No closed doors! No closed doors!” and concluded his speech by calling all Christians to imitate the Good Shepherd in ministering to wounded families.