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Many have been hoping that the Church under Pope Francis will allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. Some argue for a change in Church teaching; many more urge the need for a “pastoral” response that leaves doctrine intact. In an interview today, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Vatican’s doctrine shop, explains why this latter approach contains a great error:

The idea that doctrine can be separated from the pastoral practice of the Church has become prevalent in some circles. This is not, and never has been, the Catholic faith.

Recent popes have been at pains to stress the personal lived reality of the Catholic faith. Pope Francis has written “I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI, which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 7). Within this personal relationship with Christ, which embraces our minds, our hearts, the totality of our lives even, we can we grasp the profound unity between the doctrines we believe and how we live our lives, or what we might call the pastoral reality of our lived experience. Opposing the pastoral to the doctrinal is simply a false dichotomy. . . .

Specifically on the issue of the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics being admitted to Communion, I would refer you to the article I published in the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano Oct. 25, 2013. However, I would like to reiterate several points I make there. First, the teaching of Christ and his Church is clear: A sacramental marriage is indissoluble. Second, those persons whose state of life contradicts the indissolubility of sacramental marriage cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Third, pastors and parish communities are bound to stand by the faithful who find themselves in this situation with “attentive love” (Familiaris Consortio, 84).

The Church’s concern for her children who are divorced and remarried cannot be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist, and I am confident that, rooted in truth and in love, the Church will discover the right paths and approaches in constantly new ways.

John Allen has noticed recent efforts to manage expectations regarding divorce and worries that in the face of inevitable disappointment “exhilaration over the new pope could turn sour.”

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