Bishop Paprocki Sets The Record Straight

The Truth about Receiving Holy Communion for Divorced and Remarried Catholics

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki’s Editorial to the State Journal Register

It is important to set the record straight about some incorrect statements made by John Freml in his letter to the editor (December 21, 2015). He notes that Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago has said that people in “irregular” situations, such as those who are divorced and civilly remarried and those who are in same-sex government marriages, should work with a spiritual director to come to a decision “in good conscience” about receiving Holy Communion.

 Of course, those who are in “irregular situations” should talk to a qualified spiritual director or a priest in the context of sacramental confession, but forming a “good conscience” means that they will recognize and repent of their sins, resolve to reform their lives in accord with Christ’s teachings and receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion.

According to the canon law of the Catholic Church, Canon 916 directs those “conscious of grave sin” to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. Individuals must form their consciences in accord with Church teaching. Conscience assesses how a person’s concrete action in a given situation accords with Church teaching — not to determine whether one agrees with or accepts Church teaching in the first place.

Canon 915, however, in contrast with Canon 916, directs ministers of Holy Communion to withhold the Sacrament, not from “sinners” per se (since no one can read the state of another person’s soul), but rather, from those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” In Catholic tradition, attempting marriage following a civil divorce without a declaration of nullity and entering a “same-sex marriage” are examples of the kind of gravely wrong public action that require ministers not to admit to Holy Communion those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” under Canon 915.

When withholding holy Communion from those whose conduct is described in Canon 915, a minister is not assessing personal “worthiness,” but rather, is acting in accord with an age-old sacramental discipline designed to protect both the Sacrament from the risk of possible sacrilege and the faith community from the harm of scandal caused by someone’s public conduct that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Thus, when Mr. Freml says that people may receive Holy Communion in such cases “even when the church hierarchy says that they should not,” this is simply not true. It is true that Jesus welcomes everyone. But as Jesus said at the last supper, so we say in the Eucharistic prayer at Mass, Jesus poured out his blood “for you and for many,” since not everyone accepts what Christ offers, just as Judas did not accept what Christ offered him.

— The Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki is bishop of Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

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13 comments to Bishop Paprocki Sets The Record Straight

  • Rita

    I have a niece who got married in a civil ceremony to a divorced man who is Lutheran an she is Catholic. She asked her priest about receiving Holy Communion and he told her it is between her and God whether to receive Holy Communion. What kind of an answer is that? Even if that is so, she doesn’t go to Mass regularly on Sunday, as this is a mortal sin in itself.

  • Patricia

    I’ve heard some say they don’t believe in annulments because it means their children were born illigitimately which makes no sense to me , Some priests are not advising the people in the right way or if they are people just want to make their own rules about the faith & there are a lot that do. I have two in the family that feel this way & if I try to tell them otherwise there will be an argument

  • Hieronymus Illinensis

    Jacqueline, if the spouse who is left behind is not in another sexual relationship and not pursuing one, that spouse can receive the Sacraments (except Matrimony and Holy Orders!) any time.

  • Jacqueline

    Silent is the disposition of the spouse that is left behind! In most cases, it is the spouse who has custody of the children brought forth from the first marriage. That spouse is divorced but not re-married and not co-habituating….Is she/he able to receive the Sacraments? Then, Annulments should be processed in a fairly sped up time allowing both parties to be not too long without the Sacraments. Annulments should be provided expeditiously and at an affordable cost.

  • Lynne

    still confused…I am married to my husband for 46yrs.. we were married by a justice of the peace. I was never married before, but my husband was married before in a Lutheran church… and divorced. I was raised Catholic and we raised our children and now grandchildren Catholic. I do not receive communion because we were not married in the Catholic church and husband will not consent to this. I pray for him to change his mind so that I can be blessed by receiving communion. I remain unsure if I can partake of communion at Mass.

    • Coleen

      In spite of what you are likely hear, all of this boils down to whether you believe the receiving communion is a sin. I know people in your position who quietly go to communion and don’t advertise their “out of church” marriage. Remember, before you can commit a sin, you have to believe what you are doing is a sin and do it anyway.

    • Fr Joy Sebastian

      Bless you Lynne for your faithfulness and perseverance in the Faith, despite the difficult situation. But please do approach your Priest, who can help you in your particular situation to have the Marriage blessed through that special dispensation allowed in the Canon Law, and then you can fully participate in the Sacramental Life of the Church too.

  • Deacon Raymond

    In my ministry, I have many who come to me seeking an annulment from a previous marriage so they can enter into a Sacramental marriage (usually they are already civilly married). For the majority of these, they cite the need to be an example to their children (who are now preparing for their 1st Communion) and the need to return to Eucharist. They realize that cannot recieve Communion in the state they are in and want to return to full communion with Jesus and his Church. Fortunately most of the previous marriages were civil only and thus not in accord with Canon Law (so Defect of Form petition). Even so, the cases that have come to me that were married in the Church, I have found that the majority were married either by fraud on the part of one of the spouses or by compulsion from one of the parents (either way, invalidates the marriage). Of those whom I have counseled who are in the irregular marriages and cannot get an annulment for whatever reason, I have suggested confession with our priest and to live as brother and sister(for the sake of the family). The reactions have been, shall we say, varied. But none have outright said they were going to live in defiance of the Church’s teaching. I think many are trying to read the hearts of others in this. I cannot, I am not a Padre Pio.

  • Better late than never

    Marriage is based on …their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitely, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.

    If a couple experiences ideas CONTRARY to these ideas AT THE TIME OF THEIR MARRIAGE then they may be said to NEVER have agreed (a personal interior decision made for the good of the other))to give themselves mutually and definitely in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.
    An annulment may be granted by the Church AS PROOF that giving themselves mutually and definitely WAS NOT given respectively.

  • Lori

    I appreciate a prelate who takes his job of shepherding souls seriously. I thank him.


    Whats the point of getting an annulment if you can get divorced and remarried. Confused catholic?

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