VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics who have divorced and are
civilly remarried "are not, in fact, excommunicated -- they
are not excommunicated -- and they absolutely must not be
treated as if they were," Pope Francis said.
Resuming his Wednesday general audiences Aug. 5 after a
month's break, Pope Francis returned to the series of talks
he has been giving on the family. It was the 100th general
audience of his papacy.
At his last audience, June 24, he talked about the damage
caused especially to children when couples fight and hurt
each other. "Today," he said, "I want to draw our attention
to another reality: how to care for those who, after the
irreversible failure of the matrimonial bond, have undertaken
a new union."
Without an annulment of the sacramental marriage, "such a
situation contradicts the Christian sacrament," which is
meant to be an indissoluble bond, the pope said.
According to church teaching, in most cases such couples are
not permitted to receive Communion. But bishops at the
extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family last October and
preparing for the general synod Oct. 4-25 have been studying
and debating possibilities for allowing some couples in some
situations to return to the sacraments.
The church, Pope Francis said at the audience, must have "the
heart of a mother, a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit,
always seeks the good and the salvation of persons."
The children of such couples suffer most and deserve
particular care, the pope said.
"How can we tell these parents to do everything possible to
raise their children in the Christian life, giving them the
example of a convinced and lived faith, if we keep them at a
distance from the life of the community as if they were
excommunicated?" the pope asked.
Particularly over the past few decades, he said, "the church
has not been insensitive or lazy" when it comes to providing
pastoral care to the divorced and civilly remarried.
In his apostolic exhortation, "Familiaris Consortio," St.
John Paul II saw an "obligation, 'for love of the truth,' to
exercise a 'careful discernment of situations,'" noting for
example "the difference between one who has endured a
separation and one who provoked it," Pope Francis said.
Retired Pope Benedict XVI also studied the question, he said,
"calling for an attentive discernment and wise pastoral
accompaniment, knowing that no 'simple recipes' exist."
As the studies and discernment continue, Pope Francis said,
it is essential that Catholic pastors "openly and coherently
demonstrate the willingness of the community to welcome and
encourage" divorced and remarried couples and their families
to participate in church life.
Prayer, listening to the word of God, attending Mass,
educating their children in the faith, serving the poor and
working for justice and peace should be part of their lives,
Quoting his apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel,"
Pope Francis told those gathered for the audience, "The
church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors
always wide open ... Everyone can share in some way in the
life of the church; everyone can be part of the community."