In an article for his diocesan newspaper, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has said that Pope Francis’s recent document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, does not permit giving Communion to divorced and civilly remarried believers.
“As a good shepherd, Pope Francis focuses special attention on those who walk on the edge of despair because of personal failures and problems they have suffered in their families, and because of the complex and contradictory situations in which they find themselves now,” Olmsted wrote in the Sept. 18 article.
“This does not, however, include receiving Holy Communion for those who are divorced and remarried,” he wrote.
“Pope Francis specifically calls those in this situation ‘to seek the grace of conversion’,” Olmsted continued. “Throughout Amoris Laetitia we see a continuity with the Church’s magisterium, especially that of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which reaffirm the constant tradition of the Church.”
Olmsted then quotes paragraph 84 of John Paul II’s 1981 document Familiaris Consortio, in which the Polish pope stated that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics “are unable to be admitted [to Communion] 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 affected by the Eucharist.”
“This situation does not, it is important to note, mean that [these] persons are excommunicated from the Church,” Olmsted said.
“They should be encouraged to pray, attend Mass, and rectify the situation in communication with their pastor, who remains their pastor despite the case of objective sin,” he said. “Accompaniment is possible and should be the case in our parishes.”
Olmsted said that in his document, Pope Francis puts both sacred scripture and Church teaching at the center of his reflection.
“Throughout the entire exhortation, and indeed throughout all of his papacy, the Holy Father has gone to great lengths to show that God’s Plan for marriage and family is truly good news, and that it is possible, with God’s grace, to know His plan, to accept it in faith and to live it with joy and ever deepening love,” the Phoenix bishop wrote.
Since Amoris Laetitia appeared in April, bishops and groups of bishops in various parts of the world have interpreted its provisions on Communion for the divorced and remarried in differing, and, at times, contradictory ways.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in July issued a set of guidelines for his archdiocese largely drawing the same conclusion as Olmsted, and the bishops of Alberta and the North West Territories in Canada recently put out their own guidelines saying the view that the pope’s document has opened the door to Communion after a conversation with a priest is “erroneous.”
On the other hand, bishops of the Buenos Aires region in the pontiff’s native Argentina recently issued a draft set of guidelines appearing to suggest that it is possible to readmit divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion under some circumstances.
That draft drew a positive response from Francis, who wrote to the bishops to say that “there are no further interpretations” and that “I am confident it will do much good.”
To date, the Vatican has not issued additional clarification concerning the meaning and implementation of the pope’s document.