In a 19-page essay published in advance of the upcoming extraordinary Synod on the family, Ouellet argued that divorced and remarried Catholics who have not obtained a Church annulment may receive “spiritual communion” but must remain excluded from sacramental Communion.
He said that barring “truly exceptional cases” he could see no possible way around this.
“The divorced remarried person’s new situation does not permit him authentically to express this witness because his new union is in contradiction to the love of Christ, who was faithful to death,” he wrote.
Ouellet is the prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, one of the highest ranking members of the Roman Curia. His 19-page essay appeared in Communio magazine. The former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada called for a “renewed pastoral approach” for divorced and remarried Catholics that is centred on mercy but respects the indissolubility of marriage.
He said that although divorced and remarried Catholics are barred from sacramental Communion, they should be welcomed to participate in other aspects of Church life, and can receive sacramental grace from “spiritual communion” in the form of “eucharistic adoration, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, etc.”
“In brief, let us not be caught up in an overly narrow vision of Communion in the case of divorced and remarried persons,” he wrote.
Ouellet said sacramental marriage is unbreakable. When two people become a “sacramental couple” in marriage, it is impossible to enter into a second marriage in the event of a civil divorce. To do so would be contrary to “the truth of Christ’s witness,” to the first marriage, the cardinal wrote.
“Such a possibility would directly contradict the irreversible commitment of Christ the Bridegroom in the first union,” he said. “Consequently, the act of eucharistic Communion is also excluded.
“It is not lack of mercy on the part of the Church if she does not authorize sacramental absolution and eucharistic Communion even after an authentic conversion of the divorced and remarried person. What is at stake is Christ’s fidelity to His own witness, which the Church does not feel free to modify lest she betray the truth that is the foundation of the indissolubility of marriage.”
Ouellet acknowledged Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field hospital” caring for those in need, and explored ways the Church can show mercy and welcome people in irregular marriages without violating Church teachings.
He said the Church must say to divorced and remarried people “who have repented of their faults and are incapable of abandoning their new union: God’s mercy reaches them intimately in their new situation.”
Ouellet stressed that denying Communion to those in irregular marriages is “not equivalent to declaring that these couples live in mortal sin or that they are denied Holy Communion for this moral reason.”
The restriction is for sacramental, not moral reasons, he said.
“Their second marriage remains an objective obstacle that does not allow them to participate in truth in the public witness to the sacramentality of Christ and the Church.”
Instead of the Eucharist, divorced and remarried couples can experience spiritual communion, he said.
“Just as grace is not bound to the sacramental order in the case of non-Christians or other Christians, in the case of the faithful who suffer from a sacramental handicap, God’s mercy is nonetheless active in their lives.
“These faithful continue to bear witness to Christ’s absolute fidelity precisely by abstaining from Holy Communion, out of respect for the divine Partner who did not break the first union despite the couple’s failure,” he said.
Ouellet joined several other Church heavyweights who have countered the position of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has proposed a more lenient approach to divorced and remarried couples. He would like to see them admitted to Holy Communion after a period of penance.