Questions Answered

  • What are the arguments against giving Holy Communion to divorced Catholics who are remarried outside the Church? I have heard that the Eastern Church permits this practice.
  • Same-sex marriage is being approved on a vast scale in many traditionally Catholic countries today. The Catholic Church has always been opposed to this. Why?

Question: What are the arguments against giving Holy Communion to divorced Catholics who are remarried outside the Church? I have heard that the Eastern Church permits this practice.

Answer: There is a current debate about the possibility of permitting this in the Catholic Church. Fortunately, the Holy See has sought to give guidance to resolving whatever questions may be raised about this in an article written by Archbishop Gerard Ludwig Müller, the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, “Testimony to the Power of Grace: On the Indissolubility of Marriage and the Debate concerning the Civilly Remarried and the Sacrament,” published on October 23, 2013, in L’Osservatore Romano.

In this article, Archbishop Müller first invokes the testimony of Holy Scripture. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Moses permits a decree of divorce. The prophets, however, constantly compare the relationship of God to that of Israel, which includes “not only the ideal of monogamy, but also of indissolubility” (“Testimony”).

Christ does not accept the practice of divorce in the Old Testament, but returns to Genesis, in which the two are declared to be one flesh (Mk 10: 5-9; Mt 19: 4-9; Lk 16:18). Christ does seem to make an exception for unchastity, but this has been a subject of great debate from scriptural exegetes ever since the time of the Apostles. The archbishop is clear, though, that “(t)he Church cannot build its doctrine and practice on controversial exegetical hypotheses” (“Testimony”). Most Catholic interpreters say that the seeming exception clause for adultery in Matthew 19 either involves, what, today is called, a “separation” (rather than a dissolution of marriage), or perhaps a ban on incestuous marriage. Paul, of course, permitted flexibility regarding the indissolubility of marriage if the parties were not baptized, even though the marital covenant is ordered to that. This is the so-called Pauline privilege and is made in respect to the primacy of faith in conversion.

Church tradition is also quite clear. The Fathers and Councils rejected civil divorce and remarriage as contrary to divine law. However, as the connection between the Church and State became more pronounced in history, at times, there were compromises made concerning this teaching. This was especially true in those Churches which become tenuously connected with the Pope, like the Orthodox Churches. In those Churches today, there are many grounds for divorce, and these are “justified in terms of oikonomia, or pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path to a second or third marriage” (“Testimony”). The archbishop is clear, though, that because of Christ’s teaching, “This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will” (“Testimony”). The Church never tolerated the Eastern practice. Latin canonists always referred to this as an abuse. The Church’s teaching and practice on this was so pronounced, that the schism of the Church of England was basically caused by adherence to this teaching.

Vatican II expressly affirmed this teaching in Gaudium et Spes, 48. “Through the personally free act of their reciprocal consent, an enduring, divinely ordered institution is brought into being, which is directed to the good of the spouses and their offspring, and is no longer dependent on human caprice” (“Testimony”). The present Magisterium, from St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio to statements of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, again constantly affirm, that though one must be pastorally present to those who are divorced and remarried, and though they should be encouraged to attend Mass, “they cannot be admitted to the Eucharist,” unless they are willing in confession to promise to live “no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage” (“Testimony”). This basically means to either separate or live as brother and sister. Though a couple might be convinced in their conscience that their first marriage was invalid, and though this is an intense pastoral issue today because of the staggering number of divorces, the Church cannot bless the second union.

It is true that this teaching seems absurd to those who live in our increasingly secularized culture. But the archbishop observes: “The Church cannot respond to the growing incomprehension of the sanctity of marriage by pragmatically accommodating the supposedly inevitable” (“Testimony”). If the Church were to change this teaching to correspond, for example, to the individual conscience, this would proclaim that any private person can decide the validity of marriage, and also fail to affirm that, for Christians, the marriage contract is not a private affair. It involves Christ’s Church. Also, epikeia (equity) would not serve here because this principle only relates to matters of purely human law reserved to the Church, whereas, the indissolubility of Christian marriage is a matter of divine law.

Some say that this attitude is unmerciful. Yet mercy cannot be based on a denial of God’s law which would put the whole sacramental economy, itself an implementation of divine mercy, in jeopardy. Pastoral solutions, based on such misconceptions, can only put the whole teaching of marriage into further disarray, as couples would enter into the consent with the idea that it could be temporary. Though authentic pastoral care admits that this is a difficult teaching for some and welcomes the participation of the divorced and remarried to prayer and fellowship, this must stop short of Holy Communion.

Those who advocate a change in this teaching seem to treat the whole question as one which admits of canonical ambiguity and can be reduced to too strict an interpretation of canon law. The Church has been crystal clear for centuries, that such an interpretation can only unseat the teaching of Christ. As a direct contradiction to divine law, it cannot be promoted or tolerated.


Question: Same-sex marriage is being approved on a vast scale in many traditionally Catholic countries today. The Catholic Church has always been opposed to this. Why?

Answer: It seems strange that anyone would have to ask this question who is familiar with the history, and scriptural and dogmatic testimony, concerning this question. Since this seems such a contemporary issue, and also is generic to the defense of traditional marriage, a review of the Church’s teaching seems in order here not only on this question, but also regarding marriage in general. In this limited space, I can only provide the basic principles.

Marriage is instituted by God through the natural order. In the beginning, before original sin, Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship described by St. John Paul II as “spousal love.” This love is based on the “nuptial meaning of the body.” Spousal love is the perception of two persons that enjoy a relationship in which they completely give and receive each other in love. Since human beings have bodies, this cannot merely be a love which is exclusively spiritual, since the first two people perceive each other through seeing each other’s body. The occasion of this relationship is the creation of woman from man, not man from man or woman from woman. The specific nature of the relationship is thus based on the perception of sexual differentiation. From this perception, this relationship receives its special character of a friendship based on sexuality between man and woman. The body expresses this sexuality. The sexual act is the seal of the spiritual commitment to lifelong fidelity, which our first parents experienced. The body is a means of giving the self.

This self-giving is completed in the act of giving life in imitation of God, who creates the world and gives life. Adam and Eve experienced this relationship without lust. They were “naked and not ashamed” (Gn 2:23). This means that they looked upon the physical nature of the sexual act as the completion and ratification of the spiritual communion which already existed in their consent to life with each other in a lifelong relationship. They could do this without fear of using, or being used, merely as objects for pleasure. Instead, they discovered themselves as subjects of love. They could do this because each already enjoyed an interior union with the Holy Trinity through sanctifying grace.

Since this is the case, the special kind of love which characterizes marriage must be open to life, and must also involve the most intimate of natural friendships possible among human persons. The traditional way of putting this is that those who have a sexual relationship must embrace it according to the rights of the Creator when he created human life. The Code of Canon Law expresses this state in relation to the sacrament of Christ in the New Testament in this way: “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which, of its very nature, is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has, between the baptized, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (Canon 1055, n. 1).

The well-being of the spouses spoken of is the growth in the spousal meaning of the body which cannot be experienced without the possibility of children arising from the act which expresses it. In the case of same-sex unions, this is obviously impossible, and as a result, there can be no marriage between same-sex couples practicing any relationship which parodies conjugal love. Not only is this contrary to grace, but also to nature. It therefore neither affirms the parties who participate in it, nor the society which depends on marriage as the basic human community. One of the reasons society has been so accepting of this parody of marriage is because of the separation of the procreation of children from the matrimonial act sanctioned by the contraceptive mentality. Any society which makes laws which permit same-sex marriage has attacked the very foundations of social union.

Though the Church cannot sanction same-sex marriage, this does not mean it is judging the individual conscience of homosexuals. The teaching is, that, as persons, they must be respected, but acts which result from homosexuality are disordered as they are contrary to both the procreative and (therefore) the unique unitive dimension of marriage. When Pope Francis said he could not judge them, this should be interpreted to mean their responsibility and, thus, guilt for sin. They must remain chaste, and that means not practicing sexual actions which would be the basis for a marriage contract.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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  1. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Father Mullady always gives theological answers logically. Since the Sacrament of matrimony cannot be dissolved an impediment exists with catholics divorced and remarried in receiving the Eucharist . Same sex unions have a responsibility of practicing chastity refraining from the legitimate sexual union of one man and one woman.