“Ask a Priest: What Might Amoris Laetitia Mean for My Situation?”

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Q: I have just finished reading “Amoris Laetitia” and found the section on divorce to be hopeful but vague. I became a Catholic as an adult (over 20 years ago). My former husband developed a mental illness, left me and remarried. I decided not to seek annulment for two reasons. First, the marriage was valid — we went into it with the best of intentions and I can’t lie about this. Second, in order to annul he would have had to have been contacted. He has violent tendencies, and I didn’t want to ignite any more negativity from him. I spoke with a priest and his response was that they would “get me through an annulment.” I did remarry last year (in the United Church) and my second husband is Greek Orthodox. He is also divorced and would never annul his marriage. My daughter is a strong Catholic and wants me to accompany her to Mass. My understanding is that I am no longer welcome to receive Communion. Am I correct? This situation saddens me. Am I sinning if I do take Communion? Even if I were to seek annulment (without my husband doing the same for his former marriage), would our marriage still be considered invalid? Pope Francis speaks about the idea that each situation is different and that divorced remarried people might in some exceptional cases be given permission to participate in sacraments, but it’s really vague. Thanks in advance. — J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you are being invited to attend Mass and that you have a desire to receive Communion again. This is getting you to ask the right questions.

Amoris Laetitia has probably generated more commentary than any other papal document since the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Ask a Priest won’t be able to offer the final word on Amoris Laetitia (my colleague Father Matthew Schneider has posted a bit of material on it), but I would caution against reading too much into it. The Church cannot change its core teachings on marriage.

It sounds as though the priest you spoke with sees potential for an annulment. The fact that your first husband has mental problems might — emphasis on might — be grounds for a decree of nullity.

Even though you weren’t aware of possible problems on your wedding day, there might have been something amiss from the beginning. This is what the tribunal would investigate.

Sometimes even when a person has the right intention going into marriage, mental or psychological conditions might actually impede him from being able to make the commitment that a valid marriage requires.

If that is the case, and if an annulment were granted you, then you need to look into an annulment of your current partner’s marriage. If that, too, is granted, the next step would be convalidation of the current marriage. All this would help open the path to your being able to receive Communion again.

Your longing for the Eucharist could be a nudge by the Holy Spirit, inviting you to take the steps to reunite fully with the Church that sees you as a beloved daughter. While you continue your conversations with your local priest and move this process forward, you might want to look into a useful and comforting prayer called a “spiritual communion.”

By all means, feel free to return to attending Mass. And think about trying to live as brother and sister with your partner until things are resolved (if you were to agree to do so, you could be able to receive Communion after speaking with your priest and making a good confession). Try praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary for assistance. Count on my prayers.

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