U.S. Bishops Oppose Easing of Ban on Communion for Catholics Who Remarry

Times Religion Writer

American delegates attending an international assembly of Roman Catholic bishops disagreed Friday with suggestions by their colleagues from Canada, Japan and Austria that a way be found to allow Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive Communion.

“At the present time, we have no evidence that such an accommodation could easily be made,” said Bishop James W. Malone, head of the U.S. Bishops Conference. “The basic question is, how could a person who continues in what is considered a state of sin be said to repent when in fact that person continues to be living in a reunion that is invalid?”

“The pastoral concern is certainly there,” added Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, “but part of our pastoral concern for the whole church is . . . the very high value of the indissolubility of marriage.”


The views of Malone and Law were echoed by Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis and retired Cardinal John F. Dearden of Detroit. The four spoke at a press conference by the U.S. delegation attending a two-week “extraordinary synod” called by Pope John Paul II to assess the impact of church reform stemming from the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

The presidents of the national bodies of Austrian and Japanese bishops earlier in the week had asked their fellow bishops to take a more lenient approach to divorced Catholics who remarry, suggesting that they might be allowed to regain full participation in church life.

Divorce Not Recognized

The Catholic Church does not recognize divorce. Catholics who remarry without first obtaining a church-granted annulment are officially excluded from taking Communion and are considered to be living in sin if they have sexual relations with a new spouse.

Archbishop Karl Berg of Austria had suggested that remarried Catholics “after sincere repentance . . . be readmitted to the sacraments,” and Archbishop Peter S. Shirayanagi of Tokyo said that exclusion from Communion “seems . . . too brutal.” Their appeal was later joined by the Canadian bishops.

But the American delegation said it sees no possibility of relaxing the restriction, despite the pastoral problem of dealing with an increasing number of divorced and remarried Catholics. About 5 million U.S. Catholics have divorced and remarried, and a recent poll of American Catholics showed 73% favor acceptance of remarriage.

But May said: “We believe this (church rule) came directly from Jesus. . . . The church is countercultural . . . and is not free to set patterns based on the modern world . . . (or) to change what Jesus said.”


Three other traditional stands of the 800-million-member church--bans against abortion, married priests and the ordination of women--seemed certain to remain unchallenged at the synod.

Women’s Ordination

Malone said that the question of women’s ordination had not come up during general debate.

Speaking of women’s rights, Malone said the church supports all women’s rights except “the claimed right of a woman to abortion . . . because we feel that the unborn child has a right to life which needs to be respected.” Women, he added, do not have the right to ordination but can “fulfill the (church) roles that are now open to them,” which he said, include “responsible positions.”

Malone confirmed that he had earlier called upon the synod to re-examine its proscription against married priests. But he said his proposal was intended to strengthen the practice of celibacy rather than question it.

The only exception, Malone said, would be in countries where priests are in such short supply that the faithful are unable to receive Communion. In such a case, he said, he would favor ordaining married men.

“The shortage (of priests) in the United States is not in that category,” Malone added.

After five days of brief presentations by most of the 165 participants, the bishops Friday broke into small working groups based on the languages they speak to discuss the variety of themes raised at the synod. A short summary statement to the world’s Catholics will be issued before the synod ends on Dec. 8.