The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia was issued by Pope Francis in 2016 following two meetings of the world’s bishops (synods) and extensive consultation with dioceses around the globe. In this document, the Holy Father lifts up the beauty and dignity of marriage and family life.
He calls upon all members of the Church to embrace with mercy, love and inclusion any families that are encountering difficulty. One of the many concerns he raises is the situation of those men and women who are divorced and have civilly remarried without having received a decree of nullity (sometimes referred to as “annulment.”)
“Priests have the duty to ‘accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop,’” the Holy Father has written (Amoris Laetitia, 300). In response to that call, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories have issued a guide for priests and parishes for ministry to the divorced and remarried, dated September 14, 2016.
Some highlights of the guidelines:
- Our Catholic parish communities should welcome with generosity and love men and women who are divorced and remarried as our brothers and sisters in the faith. Pastors will take great care to ensure that these couples know they have not placed themselves beyond the embrace of the Church.
- Pastoral care of these men and women will be shaped and directed by the Word of God, particularly the teaching of Jesus himself about the permanence of marriage, and by St. Paul’s teachings on the nature of marriage and the Eucharist. These are the foundations for the Church’s understanding of marriage and the requirement that Catholics must sacramentally confess all serious sins before reception of Holy Communion.
- Neither Amoris Laetitia nor the bishops’ guidelines change these teachings. Rather, they offer advice for welcoming divorced and remarried persons into a pastoral conversation about their situations, encouraging them to attend Mass and contribute to parish life, and helping them to understand how they can grow in faith individually and as a couple in order to participate as fully as possible in the life of the Church.
- A person who has divorced and remarried without a decree of nullity regarding their first marriage is not in a position to receive Holy Communion. But they can expect their Pastor to explain the reasons for this, in an atmosphere of sympathy and understanding. The Pastor will also be able to describe the nullity process, and the healing that is offered through it, and encourage them to apply to the Interdiocesan Tribunal for an examination their case.