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Catholic leaders speak out as controversy continues over divorced, remarried church members

Posted August 2

Should divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed access to communion? Pope Francis and some bishops disagree. (Deseret Photo)

As Pope Francis prepares to present his recent document on family life to church leaders in Poland this week, debates over the impact and meaning of his writings continue.

"When it was released in April, 'The Joy of Love' immediately sparked controversy because it opened the door to civilly remarried Catholics receiving communion. Church teaching holds that unless these divorced and remarried Catholics obtain an annulment — a church decree that their first marriage was invalid — they cannot receive the sacrament, since they are seen as committing adultery," The Associated Press reported.

More conservative bishops have argued that "The Joy of Love" does not change official church teachings, noting that it should be thought of as a personal reflection from Pope Francis.

"The Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for his Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those" who disagree, wrote Cardinal Raymond Burke for National Catholic Register in April.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia announced this month that divorced and remarried Catholics in his archdiocese will only be eligible for communion if they refrain from sex, Crux reported. The clarification of church teaching is meant to guide Catholic leaders as they share "The Joy of Love" with parishioners.

Other more liberal church leaders, such as the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, present the pope's document on family life as authoritative. They say it is in line with historical teachings and allows communion-related decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis, the AP reported.

"The path that the pope proposes to divorced and remarried is exactly the same that the church proposes to all sinners: Go to confession, and your confessor, after evaluating all the circumstances, will decide whether to absolve you and admit you to the Eucharist or not," wrote historian and politician Rocco Buttiglione in a Vatican newspaper, according to the AP.

Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics has been a hot-button issue during Pope Francis' papacy. The issue was addressed at high-profile gatherings of bishops in October 2014 and 2015, paving the way for "The Joy of Love," as the Deseret News reported last year.

In discussions with church leaders, the pope has been open about his sense that "the church must be open to change if it wants all Catholics to feel welcome," the article noted.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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