Q. I am a divorced and remarried Catholic, married now for more than 20 years to my second wife. I continue to attend Mass, but since my marriage have been unable to receive holy Communion.
It seems to me that, if a priest can forgive a murderer — assuming that the person is truly repentant — he should also be able to forgive someone for remarrying after a divorce. (I am truly sorry for what I did to contribute to the divorce, and in particular for the pain which the divorce caused our children. But the situation is irreversible now; I cannot simply leave my present wife, whom I love very much.)
I honestly feel in my heart — although this might be wishful thinking — that God has already forgiven me, but the church seems fearful of allowing me to participate fully in the Mass by taking Communion.
What is a divorced Catholic to do to receive forgiveness? Is not the forgiveness of sin really between the heart of the sinner and God? (Livonia, Mich.)
A. Your question, so honestly and articulately expressed, speaks to the situation of many individuals and tugs at the heart of anyone attempting to answer. The first instinct of a priest — and of the church — is to want to respond with compassion and leniency.
At the same time, the church is the bearer of Christ’s teaching and feels compelled to be faithful to the Gospel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, with specific references to the first three Gospels and to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, states in No. 2382 that “the Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.”
The catechism goes on to clarify in No. 2383 that, in certain cases, the separation of spouses can be warranted, together with a civil divorce when necessary to preserve legal rights. But as to remarriage outside the church, the language of the catechism is stark and straightforward (No. 2384): “Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: The remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery.”
In light of this, the church (charged also to be the guarantor of the purity of the sacraments) does not feel free to admit to holy Communion someone who has contravened such an essential teaching.
In saying this, neither I nor the church presume to invade the sanctity of your conscience and to proclaim where you stand before God. That is ultimately, as you indicate, a private matter between you and the Lord.
Clearly, though, you feel some ambiguity within, and just as clearly you long to receive the Eucharist. You might think about looking into the possibility of a church annulment for your first marriage.
Often enough, even when a marriage has lasted for a while, it can be established that from the start there was something to indicate that the relationship could never really last — perhaps immaturity or emotional instability on the part of one or both spouses. My best advice would be for you to meet with a sympathetic priest and discuss your situation fully.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.