Why SPUC is concerned about reception of Holy Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics
I am occasionally asked: Why is SPUC, through Voice of the Family, engaging in the Family Synod; and, in particular, why is SPUC so concerned about the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics?
SPUC is a non-confessional human rights organisation which has in its ranks members of all faiths and none. In common with virtually every other pro-life group in the world, many, if not most, of our members are Catholics.
All members of the Church enjoy the freedom to share their views with members of the hierarchy and with each other. In fact all Catholics have a duty to do so in certain circumstances. The Code of Canon Law states:
According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. (Canon 212)
The Church has always taught that marriage is an indissoluble union of one man and one woman, which ends only with one of the death of one of the spouses. If a person “remarries”, without the first marriage being declared null by the Church, they are guilty of adultery. They cannot therefore receive Holy Communion until they have confessed this sin and resolved to amend their lives. This has been very clearly taught by the Church throughout her history and Catholics at every level of the Church have a right and a duty to defend this teaching.
This doctrine has been authoritatively restated numerous times in the last few decades including in the following documents:
- Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 22 November 1981
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of the Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried; 4 September 1994
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Concerning some Objections to the Church’s Teaching on the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful, 1st January 1998
- Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of the Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried, 24 June 2000
- Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 22 February 2007
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responsum to the question "Can a confessor grant absolution to a penitent who, having been religiously married, has contracted a second union following divorce?"22 October 2014
You will note that the most recent decree was promulgated by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of Pope Francis and since the Extraordinary Synod. In other words, the position adopted by SPUC is exactly that of the Church’s magisterium, both past and present.
Nevertheless the question remains: Is it in SPUC 's remit to campaign on this issue?
In November 2011 SPUC’s Council, our policy-making body which is elected by our grass roots volunteers, adopted a motion that the Society should “to do its utmost to fight for the retention of the traditional understanding of marriage in the history, culture and law of the United Kingdom, namely the exclusive union of one man with one woman for life; and accordingly instructs its officers and executive committee to conduct a major campaign to this end...” The defence of the traditional understanding of marriage is therefore now clearly part of SPUC’s remit. The vote of Council on that occasion was unanimous - the first time I can recall that being the case with any vote at Council in 40 years serving on that body.
The reason why marriage is so important is because all aspects of sexuality, marriage and the family are closely interconnected. In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul II taught:
“It is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection. Sexuality, which enriches the whole person, "manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love". The trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to contempt for new life.”
I am convinced that we cannot defeat abortion if our society does not value marriage as the exclusive and indissoluble union of one man and one woman. I have had the privilege of speaking about this topic at conferences in various parts of the world. Marriage is the natural habitat of unborn children, the place where God intends them to be conceived, educated and nurtured. When we destroy the habitat we end up destroying children too. The statistics bear this out; four out five aborted children are conceived outside of marriage. If an organisation that worked to protect orang-utans refused to do anything to protect the rainforest they would be generally considered to be failing in their duty. Similarly any organisation fighting to defend unborn children must defend their natural habitat, which is the family founded on marriage. It is for this reason that SPUC will continue to fight for the traditional understanding of marriage.