Divorce: Catholics Worldwide Challenge Vatican Communion Rules

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).

divorce, univision survey


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

DIVORCE

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.


 

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2 comments for “Divorce: Catholics Worldwide Challenge Vatican Communion Rules

  1. Dano50
    April 30, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Where is Ireland’s result?

    • April 30, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Sadly, Ireland was not one of the countries selected by these researchers for their study. However, others have investigated Irish attitudes to a range of issues around sex. In September 2010, I reported on some extracts from just such an Irish Times study, which showed responses to gay marriage, same – sex relationships, sex before marriage and unmarried cohabitation, which were radically different from Church teaching. In my summary and the IT extract I quoted, there was no reference to divorce in particular, and unfortunately the link to the original Irish Times is no longer working. The general pattern though, is that attitudes quite closely resemble those we have seen from countries in North America and Western Europe.
      A more recent global study on morality, by the Pew Forum on Religion covered 40 countries – but unfortunately, once again not including Ireland.

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