VATICAN CITY — How will Pope Francis deal with the crucial and controversial question of Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics in his upcoming post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family?
One possible avenue the pope might take is to affirm the path of integration he praised during his recent trip to Mexico.
At his February 15 Meeting with Families in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in southern Mexico, the pope listened to the testimonies of four families “wounded” in various ways.
One was Humberto and Claudia Gomez, a couple civilly married 16 years ago. Humberto was never married, while Claudia was divorced with three children. The couple has one child, who is now 11 years old and serves as an altar boy.
The couple described to the pope their journey back to the Church: “Our relationship was one of love and understanding, but we were far from the Church,” Humberto said. Then, three years ago, “the Lord spoke to [them]” and they joined a group for the divorced and remarried. “It changed our lives,” he said. “We grew close to the Church and we received love and mercy from our brothers and sisters in the group, and from our priests. After receiving the embrace and the love of Our Lord, we felt that our hearts would burst!”
Humberto then acknowledged to the pope, who nodded as he listened, that he and Claudia cannot receive the Eucharist, but said they “can enter into communion [comulgar]” through helping the sick and needy. “That is why we volunteer at hospitals. We visit the sick,” he said. “When visiting them, we saw a need for food, clothes and blankets for their families,” he said to loud applause.
They have been sharing food and clothing for two years, and Claudia is now helping as a volunteer in a prison nursery. They also help drug addicts in the prison “by accompanying them and with hygiene products.”
“Great is the Lord,” Humberto concluded, “and he allows us to serve the needy. We simply said ‘yes’ and he has taken charge of showing us the path. We are blessed because we have a marriage and a family where God is at the center. Pope Francis, thank you very much for your love.”
Pope Francis commended Humberto and Claudia before all those present for “seeking to share God’s love through service and assistance to others.”
He then spoke to them directly, saying: “You have taken courage, and you pray, you stay with Jesus, you are part of the life of the Church. You used a beautiful expression: ‘We enter into communion through the brother who is weak, ill, needy, in prison.’ Thank you, thank you!”
The example of this couple so impressed Pope Francis that he made reference to them again during his inflight press conference on the return from Mexico to Rome. Referring to the couple, he told reporters that the “key word that the synod used — and I will reiterate it — is ‘to integrate’ into the Church’s life the wounded families, the families of the remarried.”
Asked by a reporter if this meant that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics will be allowed to receive Communion, Pope Francis responded: “This is something… this is where it hits home. Being integrated into the Church does not mean ‘taking communion.’ I know remarried Catholics who go to Church once or twice a year: ‘I want to receive Communion!’ as if Communion were a commendation. It is a matter of integration…”
He then added that “all the doors are open” but “one cannot just say: from now on ‘they can take Communion.’ This would also wound the spouses, the couple, because it won’t help them on the path to integration,” the pope said. “These two were happy! They used a really lovely expression: “We do not take Eucharistic Communion, but we do find communion by visiting people in the hospital, in this or that service….”
He added that Humberto and Claudia’s integration has remained there. “If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but … it is a journey, it is a path…,” he said.
Humberto and Claudia’s example has been seen as a supreme example of “integration” and “fuller participation” in the Church without granting access to Eucharistic Communion. If Pope Francis’ response during his meeting with families in Mexico and his inflight press conference are an accurate reflection of this thought, it is likely he will not identify Eucharistic Communion as that “fuller participation in the Church’s life” which the synod fathers wanted for the divorced and remarried.
Should the pope not choose this particular route, he could allow passages in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation that could be ambiguous and read either way. But it’s probable the pope will hold fast to the Church’s teaching (see Familiaris Consortio, n. 84), given his praise for the Mexican couple, and the fact that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reviewed the document (allegedly submitting 40 pages of corrections) and it has undergone numerous drafts since January, according to Vatican sources.
Observers believe the document will be published on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and third anniversary of Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass.
To view Humberto and Claudia’s testimony to Pope Francis (in Spanish), click[view at 36:00].
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.