Pope Francis resumed his General Audiences on Wednesday, following the summer holiday. In his catechesis, the Holy Father continued his teaching on the family, reflecting on the situation of those who have divorced and entered into a second union.
“The Church knows well,” he said, “that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament.” However, he continued, the Church, as a Mother, always seeks the good and salvation of all her children. The Pope said it is important for the Church to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. The Church must always show her pastoral care for those in such situations, especially the children.
Pope Francis noted that the Church in recent decades has developed a greater awareness of the need to be welcoming toward the divorced and re-married. He emphasized that they are still part of the Church – they are not excommunicated, and should not be treated as such, but rather must be encouraged, with their families, to participate in the Church’s life: through prayer, listening to the Word of God, the Christian education of their children, and service to the poor. He pointed to the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who called for careful discernment and wise pastoral accompaniment, while recognizing that there are no “simple solutions” to the difficulties wounded families face.
The Church, Pope Francis said, should imitate the Good Shepherd, welcoming all her children as a mother who is willing to give her life for them. “Each one of us can do our part by having the attitude of the Good Shepherd, Who knows every one of His sheep, and excludes no one from His infinite love.”
You can read the full text of the pope’s remarks here.
John Allen parses the pope’s words in Crux:
So what does that mean for the Communion debate?
One could read the pope’s call for welcome and encouragement as an indirect boost for the reform position, a way of preparing Catholic opinion for an eventual change. That’s an especially tempting conclusion in light of his emphasis on discernment in different situations.
Just as easily, however, one could read his language as a way of preparing people hoping for such a change for disappointment. Francis could be saying, “Even if we don’t budge on the Communion ban, that doesn’t mean we’re abandoning you.”
It’s notable that Francis explicitly said that remarriage after divorce “contradicts” the sacrament. Moreover, in ticking off ways in which divorced and remarried believers can still be part of the Church — through prayer, attending liturgies, etc. — Francis didn’t say anything about Communion.
Bottom line: Both sides could read what Francis said Wednesday and feel encouraged, but neither can claim a papal endorsement.
In the end, perhaps that was the point.
For a summary of Church teaching on divorce and remarriage (and a primer on excommunication), check out this link.