To Pontifical Council for the Family

Pastoral care of divorced and remarried.

With regard to divorced and remarried Catholics, Pastors "are

called to help them experience the charity of Christ and the

maternal closeness of the Church, receiving them with love,

exhorting them to trust in God's mercy and suggesting, with

prudence and respect, concrete ways of conversion and

participation in the life of the community of the Church", the

Holy Father said on Friday, 24 January, to those taking part in

the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for the Family, as

he spoke on the theme: "The Pastoral Care of the Divorced and

Remarried". Here is a translation of the Pope's address, which was

given in Italian.


Your Eminences,

Beloved Brothers in the Episcopate,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to welcome and greet you on the occasion of the

plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. I thank

the President, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, for his kind words

introducing this very important meeting. In fact, the theme of

your reflection: "The Pastoral Care of the Divorced and

Remarried", is at the centre of the attention and concern of the

Church and of her Pastors having the care of souls, who

continually lavish their pastoral attention on those who are

suffering because of difficult family situations.

The Church cannot be indifferent to this distressing problem,

which involves so many of her children. In the Apostolic

Exhortation <Familiaris consortio> I had already acknowledged that

in dealing with a wound that is more widely affecting even

Catholic environments "the problem must be faced with resolution

and without delay" (n. 84). The Church, Mother and Teacher, seeks

the welfare and happiness of the home and when it is broken for

whatever reason she suffers and seeks to provide a remedy,

offering these persons pastoral guidance in complete fidelity to

Christ's teachings.


2. The 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family considered this painful

situation and gave appropriate pastoral guidelines for these

circumstances. In the Apostolic Exhortation <Familiaris consortio>

taking the Synod Fathers' reflections into consideration, I wrote:

"The Church which was set up to lead to salvation all people and

especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those

who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who

have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make

untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation"

(n. 84).


It is in this dearly pastoral setting, as you have explained in

your presentation of the work of this plenary assembly, that the

reflections of your meeting are framed, reflections aimed at

helping families to discover the greatness of their baptismal

vocation and to practice works of piety, charity and repentance.

Nevertheless, pastoral help presupposes that the Church's doctrine

be recognized as it is clearly expressed in the <Catechism>: "The

Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of

divine wisdom" (n. 1640).


Divorced and remarried must not despair of God's grace

However, let these men and women know that the Church loves them,

that she is not far from them and suffers because of their

situation. The divorced and remarried are and remain her members,

because they have received Baptism and retain their Christian

faith. Of course, a new union after divorce is a moral disorder,

which is opposed to precise requirements deriving from the faith,

but this must not preclude a commitment to prayer and to the

active witness of charity.


3. As I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation <Familiaris consortio>,

the divorced and remarried cannot be admitted to Eucharistic

Communion since "their state and condition of life objectively

contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which

is signified and effected by the Eucharist" (n. 84). And this is

by virtue of the very authority of the Lord, Shepherd of

Shepherds, who always seeks his sheep. It is also true with regard

to <Penance> whose twofold yet single meaning <of conversion and

reconciliation> is contradicted by the state of life of divorced

and remarried couples who remain such.

However, there are many appropriate pastoral ways to help these

people. The Church sees their suffering and the serious

difficulties in which they live, and in her motherly love is

concerned for them as well as for the children of their previous

marriage: deprived of their birthright to the presence of both

parents, they are the first victims of these painful events.

It is first of all urgently necessary to establish <a pastoral

plan of preparation and of timely support> for couples at the

moment of crisis. The proclamation of Christ's gift and

commandment on marriage is in question. Pastors, especially parish

priests, must with an open heart guide and support these men and

women, making them understand that even when they have broken the

marriage bond, they must not despair of the grace of God, who

watches over their way. The Church does not cease to "invite her

children who find themselves in these painful situations to

approach the divine mercy by other ways ... until such time as

they have attained the required dispositions" (Apostolic

Exhortation <Reconciliatio et Paenitentia>, n. 34). Pastors "are

called to help them experience the charity of Christ and the

maternal closeness of the Church, receiving them with love,

exhorting them to trust in God's mercy and suggesting, with

prudence and respect, concrete ways of conversion and

participation in the life of the community of the Church" (<Letter

to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of

Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful>, 14 September 1994, n. 2). The Lord, moved by mercy, reaches out to all the needy, with both the demand for truth and the oil of charity.


4. How is it possible not to be concerned about the situations of

so many people, especially in economically developed nations, who

are living in a state of abandonment because of separation

especially when they cannot be blamed for the failure of their


When a couple in an irregular situation returns to Christian

practice, it is necessary <to welcome them with charity and

kindness,> helping them to clarify their concrete status by means

of enlightened and enlightening pastoral care. This <apostolate>

of fraternal and evangelical <welcome> towards those who have lost

contact with the Church is of great importance: it is the first

step required to integrate them into Christian practice. It is

necessary <to introduce them to listening to the word of God and

to prayer>, to involve them in the charitable works of the

Christian community for the poor and needy, and to awaken <the

spirit of repentance> by acts of penance that prepare their hearts

to accept God's grace.


Help restore marriage to the joy Christ gave it

A very important aspect concerns <the human and Christian

formation of the children born of the new union.> Making them

aware of the full content of the Gospel's wisdom, in accordance

with the Church's teaching, is a task that wonderfully prepares

parents' hearts to receive the strength and necessary clarity to

overcome the real difficulties on their path and to regain the

full transparency of the mystery of Christ, which Christian

marriage signifies and realizes. A special, demanding but

necessary task concerns <the other members> who belong, more or

less closely, to the family. With a closeness that must not be

confused with condescension, they should assist their loved ones,

especially the children who, because of their young age, are even

more affected by the consequences of their parents' situation.

Dear brothers and sisters, my heartfelt recommendation today is to

have confidence in all those who are living in such tragic and

painful situations. We must not cease "to hope against all hope"

(Rom 4:18) that even those who are living in a situation that does

not conform to the Lord's will may obtain salvation from God, if

they are able to persevere in prayer, penance and true love.

5. Lastly, I thank you for your help in preparing the Second World

Meeting of Families which will take place in Rio de Janeiro on 4-5

October next. I address my paternal invitation to the world's

families to prepare for this meeting with prayer and reflection.

For families unable to travel to this meeting, I know that a

useful tool is being prepared for all: catechesis, which will

serve to instruct parish groups, associations and family movements

and encourage an effective interiorization of important topics

concerning the family.


I assure you that I will remember you in my prayers, so that your

work may help restore to the sacrament of marriage all the joy and

lasting freshness which the Lord gave it by raising it to the

dignity of a sacrament.


In the hope that you will be generous and attentive witnesses to

the Church's concern for families, I cordially impart my Blessing

to you and willingly extend it to all your loved ones.


Taken from the February 5, 1997 issue of "L'Osservatore Romano".

Editorial and Management Offices, Via del pellegrino, 00120,

Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.


The Work of God Apostolate