One of the key questions that precipitated the decision to call the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family, was whether the Church should modify its current rule forbidding people who have divorced and remarried, from receiving communion. Results from the recent Univision global survey are unequivocal: yes, it should. (In the diagram below, 100% represents full agreement with Vatican doctrine. Those countries closest to the centre, most strongly disagree).
Like the results on contraception, this is of major importance for LGBT Catholics, but for a different reason. The disagreement on contraception challenges core sexual doctrine, but this issue is not about doctrine, but pastoral practice. Nobody is seriously expecting the Catholic Church to approve of divorce, which is clearly prohibited in the Gospels, but simply to think again about the pastoral response. At present, Church rules are that anybody who has divorced and remarried may not be admitted to communion, and may not remarry or have any second marriage recognized by the Church. It is this rigidity and exclusion that is problematic – and rests on less solid Gospel foundation. (When Jesus instructed his followers at the Last Supper, to eat his body and drink his blood, “in memory of me”, he did not add “but only when you are without sin”). It is when we are in difficulty that we most need the grace of the Eucharist, not when all is well in our lives. It is for this reason that the German bishops have already recommended changing the rules so that people who have divorced and remarried may be admitted to communion, along with everyone else (which in any case, is what already happens in most parishes, where the rules are widely ignored). It is also why Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna noted a few years ago, that at a time when so many people are not bothering to marry at all, it’s rather strange for Catholics to be so harsh on those who have married once, and having failed, wish to do so again.
Even though this is not a challenge to Church doctrine on divorce, it does have wider implications for those not directly affected – just as the widespread approval of contraception does. This is because it forces the Church to rethink its entire approach to communion. If, as the survey shows most Catholics believe, we should admit to communion people who as a result of divorce and remarriage are obviously not living in full conformity with Catholic doctrine, then what grounds are there for excluding others who in other ways, are not in full compliance – those who are cohabiting without benefit of marriage, or those in same – sex relationships?
The verdict from Catholics worldwide is clear: 58% of them do not agree with the current position that appears to treat communion as a reward for good behaviour, against only 38% who do.
The full question was
Q: Do you agree or disagree with Catholic Church policy that says: “An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion”?
With the results (AGREE / DISAGREE)
Overall – 38% / 58%
- Uganda – 78% / 21%
- Congo – 72% / 19%
- Philippines – 50% / 46%
- Colombia – 36% / 60%
- Mexico – 34 % / 65%
- United States – 32% / 60%
- Poland – 31% / 58% Brazil – 27% / 71″%
- Argentina – 23% / 73%
- France – 17% / 78% Italy – 16% / 79%
- Spain – 12% / 82%
American Catholics may be a little surprised to find that on divorce and remarriage, they are not notably more “liberal” than others elsewhere, but sit pretty well in the middle of the spectrum.
- Worldwide, 78% of Catholics Support Contraception. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Cardinal Schonborn: Church must adjust to reality of co-habitation, divorce and remarriage (queeringthechurch.com)
- Belgian Catholics Urge Greater Welcome for Gay Catholics / Divorcees. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Shrugging toward St. Peter’s. (commonwealmagazine.org)
- Survey says. (commonwealmagazine.org)
- Poll: Catholics At Odds With Vatican (world.time.com)
- The pope’s Catholic problem (smh.com.au)
- Poll: Catholics don’t share Vatican views on abortion, contraception, divorce (abqjournal.com)