Edmonton, September 14, 2016 _The Roman Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories have issued some new guidance for priests, deacons, and pastoral workers in caring for individuals and families in difficult contemporary situations.

One document aims to answer the call of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, particularly to assist priests in their duty to accompany those Catholics who are divorced and remarried without having received a decree of nullity.

The other follows the legalization in Canada of assisted suicide and euthanasia (“Medical Assistance In Dying”), and focuses on spiritual and sacramental considerations in caring for individuals and families who may be considering death by these means.

“The ultimate aim of these guidelines is to help the faithful understand the beautiful teachings of the Church on sacramental marriage, the dignity of the human person, and the inviolable sanctity of human life,” said Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, who serves as president of the Alberta-NWT Bishops.

“We know that many Catholics, often due to the messages they receive through the secular culture, have come to some serious misunderstandings around life and family issues,” he said.

For example, a Catholic who is divorced and remarried without having a decree of nullity for their first marriage may be under the misapprehension that they may receive the Eucharist as long as they simply speak to a priest (there is more to it than that). Another example would be someone who sees assisted suicide or euthanasia as a gesture of mercy (rather than a grave sin), and asks for the Sacrament of the Sick on behalf of a loved one who plans to die this way.

 “When our people face these very difficult life situations, we want our priests and our parishes to be well prepared offer them a listening ear, patient understanding, and good spiritual guidance – to be the kind of ‘oases of mercy’ the Holy Father talks about,” Archbishop Smith said.

The documents are available online at the following links:

Guidelines for the Pastoral Accompaniment of Christ's Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried without a Decree of Nullity (PDF, 10 pages)

Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons and Families Considering or Opting for Death by Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia (PDF, 34 pages)

Both are dated on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and signed by the six bishops who serve a Catholic population of more than one million in five Catholic dioceses:

  • Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton
  • Most Rev. Gregory J. Bittman, Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton
  • Most Rev. Frederick Henry, Bishop of Calgary
  • Most Rev. Gerard Pettipas CSsR, Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan
  • Most Rev. Paul Terrio, Bishop of St. Paul
  • Most Rev. Mark Hagemoen, Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith