Rorate Caeli

Four Days After Synod Closes, CDF responds officially:

Father Claude Barthe
[French Catholic periodical] L'Homme Nouveau
November 12, 2014

The question of the situation of Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried was especially discussed at the extraordinary assembly of the Synod on the theme, "The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of the evangelization," that ended in Rome on October 18.

A text of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in response to a question sent by a priest, has just added, on a specific point concerning the pastoral work related to these persons, an important element, that is particularly clarifying in the general disturbance of the spirits. This response has the advantage of putting forward the problems related to the Eucharistic communion of the remarried divorced. It in fact settles what must be the attitude of priests who work in the ministry of reconciliation for those same remarried divorcees.

Therefore, we publish here the full text in French, respecting its format:

[Responsum] To the Question of a French Priest: "Can a confessor grant absolution to a penitent who, having been religiously married, has contracted a second union following divorce?"

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded on October 22, 2014:

"We cannot exclude a priori the remarried divorced faithful from a penitential process that would lead to a sacramental reconciliation with God and, therefore, also to Eucharistic communion. Pope John Paul II, in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (n. 84) envisaged such a possibility and detailed its conditions: 'Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, 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'.' (cf. also Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 29)

The penitential process to be undertaken must take into consideration the following elements:

1 – Verify[**] the validity of the religious marriage in the respect of truth, all the while avoiding giving the impression of a kind of 'Catholic divorce'.

2 – See eventually if the persons, with the aid of grace, can separate from their new partners and reconcile with those from whom they had separated.

3 – Invite remarried divorced persons who, for serious reasons (for instance, children), cannot separate from their partner to live as 'brother and sister'.

In any event, absolution cannot be granted if not under the condition of being assured of true contrition, that is, 'a sorrow of mind, and a detestation for sin committed, with the purpose of not sinning for the future' (Council of Trent, Doctrine on the Sacrament of Penance, c. 4). In this line, a remarried divorcee cannot be validly absolved if he does not take the firm resolution of not 'sinning for the future' and therefore of abstaining from the acts proper to spouses, by doing in this sense all that is within his power."

Luis F. Ladaria, SJ
Titular Archbishop of Thibica,

[L'Homme Nouveau's article continues with Fr. Barthe's comment on the responsum, see below:]

The Congregation does not just quote n. 84 of Familaris Consortio. It details with realism the concrete steps the minister of the Sacrament of Penance, the confessor , must take in exploring the case. It is important to note that the Congregation, in the framework of the question submitted, does not give a complete treatment as to how the minister might exhort and convince, in regard to the holiness of marriage, the continuing existence of the marriage despite the civil union that has been adulterously contracted, the mutual responsibilities of the separated but true spouses, the scandal given, the graces of the sacrament that continue to be given to the spouses, etc. The Responsum touches upon and regulates only the questions the Confessor must address, listening to what the penitent avows, to know if he may concretely absolve, in the name of Christ, in virtue of his sacramental ministry, and, under what conditions he may do so.


Even if, in the context of the diffusion and the discussion of heterodox theses, the Responsum gives the impression of being "rigid", in reality it opts for the greatest kindness possible towards the sinner, realistically taking into account the sinful situation created by the institution of a new union after the divorce, and seeking prudently to draw the sinner out of that situation, without "quenching the smoldering wick." One may say that Congregation places itself, according to the tradition of the Holy See, in the framework of the Roman school of theology, that of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who combated the French rigorists.

The Response therefore details the different steps or markers that the confessor will rapidly explore ‎in the tribunal of penance:

The possible future finding of the invalidity of the sacramental marriage which could set everything right. In some cases the apparent possibility of that invalidity would appear‎ with evidence, and this would lead to a deepened investigation. Even so, the Congregation makes sure to clarify that the questions must not scandalize, in giving the impression that this is all just "Catholic divorce".

Above all the confessor will try to find out if the penitent thinks that a reconciliation between the two spouses is thinkable and possible. Because, ‎according to St. Augustine: "God does not command you to do impossible things, rather, in commanding he invites you to do what you can, and to ask for what you cannot." The Council of Trent adds, glossing St. Paul, "and God helps you and makes you able" (Dz 1536) [1]. The Responsum translates this as, "with the help of grace".‎ Let us add that there can be children of the sacramental union deeply hurt by the separation of their parents.

In any case, only serious reasons can justify staying together in the adulterous union created by the second civil union or other cohabitation. They would include the presence of children of the second union, but also the advanced age of the couple, and the risks of rupturing a cohabitation which is now only a friendship. In any case the penitent must make the firm resolution to live with his or her new partner as "brother and sister". This supposes on the part of the penitent to be able to put into action such an arrangement, which will seem possible and plausible to the confessor, thus ‎ demanding the deferral of sacramental absolution for a future confession. This supposes for the penitent and his or her second partner, to take the measures and make the resolutions necessary for living virtuously, despite what the moralists call "the occasion of sin". Experience proves that it is not impossible. But only a proportionate reason (the education of children) authorizes staying in the danger of sinning. Otherwise, the Congregation goes right to the point, without treating the question of scandal, or of how such an apparently adulterous couple can be seen approaching the sacraments.

The conclusion of the Responsum is particularly interesting. In effect it regulates the particular case of the absolution given to a divorcee who has contracted a new union‎ with respect to the general principle concerning the integrity of the sacrament of Penance, and by way of the consequence of the legitimacy of the absolution that the minister of the sacrament grants. The "acts of the penitent" are necessary: contrition, avowal of one's sins, and the satisfaction or "penance", and especially the kind of contrition required by divine law for the remission of sins. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith quotes from the Council of Trent (Dz 1676): so that his sin be remitted, the penitent must be animated, with respect to the evil he has committed, with a sorrow of soul and a detestation of this sin and the resolution to not sin in the future.

[Source, in French. // Note by Fr. Paul J. McDonald, translator of Fr. Barthe's comment: 1. In Veritatis Splendor, 102 and 103, Pope St. John Paul II very strongly upholds and defends this truth. Pope Saint Pius X, did so catechetically: Can the commandments of God be kept? Yes, always and everywhere, even in the strongest temptations, with the grace which God gives, to those who pray from the heart.]

[** According to a famous canon lawyer, vérifier is wrongly translated as verify, in what he deems to be a "misleading cognate". Of course it is not: vérifier is to verify, in one of its several meanings, and in fact its usual legal meaning, that is, "to determine the truth" (etymological origin of the word) or "check the veracity" of something, or simply to "ascertain" - in the context, by way of the means available to the confessor. In both French and English, the word has this precise meaning among its possibilities (it is not a univocal word in either one of the languages) and the translation is therefore accurate. To translate it as "inquire about" expressly in the text might have been understood as forcing a linguistic construction that might have led the translator to be accused of adding an additional and exclusive layer of meaning that might have been understood as unwarranted, something always to be avoided in official documents. In any event, it is not the central point of this news item.  // What about thanking us for the unpaid work once in a while instead of finding fault where there is no fault to be found?...]