Amid rising expectations that the Catholic Church might make it easier for divorced and remarried members to receive Communion, the Vatican’s highest doctrinal official reaffirmed church teaching barring such persons from the sacrament without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriage.
But Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acknowledged that many Catholics’ first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if spouses had been influenced by prevailing contemporary conceptions of marriage as a temporary arrangement.
The archbishop’s words appeared in a 4,600-word article published in the Vatican newspaper Oct. 22.
Speculation about a change in practice has grown since Pope Francis told reporters accompanying him on his plane back from Rio de Janeiro in July that the next Synod of Bishops would explore a “somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage,” including the question of the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Pope Francis added at the time that church law governing marriage annulments also “has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.”
Such problems, he said, exemplified a general need for forgiveness in the church today.
“The church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy, and find a form of mercy for all,” the pope said.
The Vatican announced Oct. 8 that an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops will meet Oct. 5-19, 2014, to discuss the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
The announcement of the synod came amid news that the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, had issued new guidelines making it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Archbishop Muller’s article was originally published in a German newspaper June 15. Its republication in the Vatican newspaper — simultaneously in five languages including English — seemed intended to temper the expectations of change that these events have excited.