Cardinal Marc Ouellet, in the updated English translation of his book Mystery and Sacrament of Love, offers little hope to those hoping the Church will open up communion to couples in irregular relationships. Photo by Michael Swan.

Ouellet opposes communion reform for divorced

  • September 10, 2015

In a just-released book Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet has poured cold water on arguments that the Church should allow communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Ouellet, one of the highest ranking prelates in the Vatican as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, has published an English translation of Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization. The book was first released in Italian in 2007 when Ouellet was Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada and subsequently published in French. The updated English edition arrives in light of the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family.

The topic of divorce and communion is expected to be prominent when bishops convene in Rome next month for an Ordinary Synod that will continue the discussions on family issues begun last fall.

Ouellet’s book offers no support for those such as German Cardinal Walter Kasper who have proposed a penitential path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. Nor does it support theologians who advocated for a greater openness to same-sex unions.

The book explains how doctrine has developed since Vatican II, but gives little hope to those who believe the Church needs to open up communion for those in irregular relationships.

For the Church, “it is not a matter of being more or less ‘merciful’ with regard to persons in irregular situations, but of taking seriously the truth of the sacraments (the gifts of the Bridegroom) and their missionary dimension,” Ouellet writes.

He said communion is not only spiritual nourishment but is also “an objective sign that sacramentally expresses personal union with Christ, indeed it is a witness to Christ in the world.”

“Those who have divorced and remarried are in a situation that objectively contradicts the indissoluble ecclesial bond that they solemnly expressed before the community,” he writes.

At the same time, Ouellet urges the Church to help those in irregular situations to find “other means of expressing their faith and belonging to the community.”

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, who endorsed the book, said he hopes it will be influential on those participating in the October Synod.

“The Synod on the Family last year and the upcoming one this October are dealing with the many challenges facing the basic unit of society and the couple at its core,” said Prendergast in an e-mail interview. “During his time as Pope, St. John Paul II produced beautiful writings on the family and the value of these remains.

“I hope Synod delegates will bring this synthesis to bear on the issues they seek to address, issues that tend to be viewed in merely sociological categories,” he said.

Prendergast praised Ouellet’s insight on “Trinitarian love descending and touching Earth and the lives of individuals, especially those called to matrimony.”

“This is a brilliant tour-de-force that can give hope to people who at times see in marriage and family life only brokenness, struggles, disappointments and setbacks,” he said.

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, an expert on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, said Ouellet’s book is full of hope because it puts “Christ at the centre; the Holy Trinity at the centre.”

“In the end it’s about Jesus Christ and the plan of God,” Lépine said. “This book wants to help us welcome the plan of God in our lives. In that sense it’s a very precious book, and an important topic.”

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