Pope St. John Paul II. (AP)
John Paul II, who served as Pope from 1978 to 2005 and was canonized a saint in 2014 by Pope Francis, declared in 1981 that the Church “reaffirms her practice” of not allowing divorced and remarried persons to receive Communion because to do so would contradict Church teaching and lead the faithful “into error and confusion” about the “indissolubility of marriage.”
He also stated that pastors are forbidden, “for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry.”
In his letter, Familiaris Consortio, On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, Pope St. John Paul II explains that because “more and more Catholics” are getting divorced and remarried, the Church, “which was set up to lead to salvation all people,” must make “untiring efforts” to help the divorced attain the “means of salvation.”
Some spouses are “unjustly abandoned,” and there are “those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage,” said the Pope, adding that there are people who also remarry “for the sake of the children’s upbringing.”
All pastors and the “whole community of the faithful” must “help the divorced,” he continued, and encourage them 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.”
“However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried,” said Pope St. John Paul II.
“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,” he wrote.
“Besides this,” he continued, “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.”
For the divorced, they can receive Communion after repenting from breaking the marriage covenant and are “sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.”
“This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples,’” said the Pope.
In addition, Pope St. John Paul II explained that because of the “respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony” all pastors are forbidden, even if it is of a “pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry.”
“Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage,” said the Pope.
“By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth,” he said. “At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.”
At the recent Synod (meeting) at the Vatican, cardinals and bishops of the Church gathered to discuss the state of the family in an increasingly secular culture. Some of those Church leaders pushed for allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried for “pastoral” reasons.