The Vatican on Tuesday quashed hopes that there might be some wiggle room on one of its longstanding rules about the indissolubility of marriage, making clear that a recent German initiative on the matter was contrary to church teaching.
The Vatican’s chief doctrine official, German Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, wrote Tuesday that there is no way for Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive Communion unless they get an annulment, a church ruling that their first marriage never really existed.
“God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the church,” he wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
Church teaching holds that Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled before remarrying cannot participate fully in the church’s sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process. The issue has vexed the Vatican for decades and has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned by their church.
Earlier this month, the German diocese of Freiburg upset the Vatican when it issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met — if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation — they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.
The Vatican immediately shot down the initiative but said the matter would be discussed at a church meeting next year on the family.
Mueller’s article in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano seemed aimed at ending the debate before it even off the ground.
Mueller cited repeated documents from popes past and his own office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in rejecting arguments that mercy should win out over church rules or that people should follow their own consciences to decide if their first marriage was valid or not.
“It is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the church,” he wrote.
Pope Francis has acknowledged the need to address the issue and has said the church’s tribunal system needs to be fixed.