Pope Francis on August 5, 2015 gave a general audience in which he discussed the situation of those who have divorced and remarried without an annulment. Here is the translation of the Italian. Francis explained that divorced and remarried couples are not at all excommunicated—as such, they are always part of the Church. Remember that the Church does not let people who have divorced and remarried without an annulment receive communion (unless they are living as “brother and sister”), but this is not the same thing as excommunication. Excommunication does not cancel one’s membership in the Church, and divorcing and remarrying without an annulment does not gain excommunication. An exerpt:
[T]oday I would like to focus our attention on another reality: how to take care of those that, following the irreversible failure of their marital bond, have undertaken a new union.
The Church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament. However, her look of teacher draws always from her heart of mother; a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and salvation of persons. See why she feels the duty, “for the sake of truth,” to “exercise careful discernment.” Saint John Paul II expressed himself thus in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (n. 84), pointing out, for instance, the difference between one who has suffered the separation and one who has caused it. This discernment must be made.
He went on to say:
…. 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.
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.”
The reason for his catecheses, apart from the good of the spouses, why these situations need to be looked at carefully is: how children are affected:
If, then, we look at these new bonds with the eyes of little ones – and the little ones are looking – with the eyes of children, we see even more the urgency to develop in our communities a real acceptance of persons that live such situations. Therefore, it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes are always attentive to persons, beginning with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most, in these situations. Otherwise, how will we be able to recommend to these parents to do their utmost to educate the children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a convinced and practiced faith, if we hold them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated? We must proceed in such a way as not to add other weights beyond those that the children, in these situations, already have to bear! Unfortunately, the number of these children and youngsters is truly great. It is important that they feel the Church as a mother attentive to all, always willing to listen and to come together.
Building on the remarks of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis went on:
Hence the repeated invitations of Pastors to manifest openly and consistently the community’s willingness to receive and encourage them, so that they live and develop increasingly their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with frequenting of the liturgy, with the Christian education of the children, with charity and service to the poor, with commitment to justice and peace.
The biblical icon of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18
summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: to give his life
for the sheep. This attitude is also a model for the Church, which receives her
children as a mother that gives her life for them.
He then quotes his own apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:
“The Church is called to be the House of the Father, with doors always wide open [...]”
No closed doors! No closed doors!
“Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community. The Church [...] is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, n. 47).
The significance of his remarks have for the upcoming Synod on the Family show that on balance The Holy Father seems to favor continuity with the Church’s historic practice more than it indicates any forthcoming change on this point.