Familiaris Consortio and The Synod on the Family



I hate it when a lawyer cites a case in a legal brief but then leaves out the most important part of the case which would have clarified everything. Sometimes such an omission is negligent, other times it may even be intentional.

So when I look at Section 85 of the Final Report produced by the Bishops at the recently concluded Synod on the Family, which speaks to the big issue of whether a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic might be permitted to receive Holy Communion, I immediately notice that the very first sentence points to a solution previously made by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio to resolve such a situation. That sentence reads: “Saint John Paul II offered a complex criterion that remains the basis for the evaluation of these situations.” The very next sentence in Section 85 of the Synod document references Familiaris Consortio, 1981, n. 84 as authoritative. So it is unquestionably the case that the Synod document points to Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio as dispositive.

Now it is true that in Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II made several suggestions as to how a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic could share in the life of the Church. The Pope said:

“Together with the synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the church, for as baptized persons they can and indeed must share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother and thus sustain them in faith and hope” (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 1981, n. 84).

However, Pope John Paul II went on to say in Familiaris Consortio ( n. 84) that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics positively could not receive Holy Communion, for two very profound reasons:

“However, the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the church which is signified and effected by the eucharist. Besides this there is another special pastoral reason: If these people were admitted to the eucharist the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

The paragraph quoted directly above is missing from Section 85 of the Synod document, even though it provides the clear and definite answer to whether the discernment process mentioned in Sections 85 and 86 of the Synod document might even allow the divorced and civilly remarried Catholic to receive Holy Communion. Now, is it possible to agree that Familiaris Consortio provides the guidelines to the problem whether a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic can receive Holy Communion, but then to ignore the solution it provides? That must be what some people are hoping for…to make ambiguous that which Saint John Paul II made very clear.

Cardinal Dolan of New York recently stated that “the final proposal of the Synod Bishops did nothing to alter that teaching” which precludes a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic from receiving Holy Communion. Cardinal Dolan’s opinion is entirely consistent with the Synod Bishops’ reliance on Familiaris Consortio. It is now reported that Pope Francis will be preparing an Apostolic Exhortation based on the proposals of the Bishops at the Synod.

Tom Mulcahy, J.D.

Ref. The translation I am relying on for Section 85 of the final Synod document comes from cruxnow.com (10/25/15). Section 86 of the Synod document also references Familiaris Consortio, but again not its actual prohibition of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Stock photo.

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