The compassionate Catholic church: Divorced people can take Holy Communion so long as they don’t ever have sex, and gays should try to be heterosexual

In its continuing attempt to stem the hemorrhage of people out of Catholicism, the church, under Pope Francis’s guidance, is trying to be more “Catholic friendly,” pretending to make its doctrines more liberal. But often that just makes the Church look dumber, as in a list of guidelines published by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to try to retain those Catholics who divorce civilly and who haven’t gotten the required annulment. These guidelines, reports the Guardian, are supposed to help Catholics interpret the Pope’s recent document Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love“) .  There are three invidious exhortations (quotes from the document are indented).

You can take communion (prohibited to those without annulments, I think), so long as you don’t have sex. From the Philadelphia Guidelines:

In light of this, priests must help the divorced and civilly-remarried to form their consciences according to the truth. This is a true work of mercy. It should be undertaken with patience, compassion and a genuine desire for the good of all concerned, sensitive to the wounds of each person, and gently leading each toward the Lord. Its purpose is not condemnation, but the opposite: a full reconciliation of the person with God and neighbor, and restoration to the fullness of visible communion with Jesus Christ and the Church.

. . . With divorced and civilly-remarried persons, Church teaching requires them to refrain from sexual intimacy. This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist. Such individuals are encouraged to approach the Sacrament of Penance regularly, having recourse to God’s great mercy in that sacrament if they fail in chastity.

Homosexual acts are still a big no-no (a “grave sin”), but if you’re married and find out you’re gay, keep living out that good Christian marriage (my emphasis):

Those who work in pastoral ministry often encounter persons with diverse forms of same-sex attraction. Many such persons have found it possible to live out a vocation to Christian marriage with children, notwithstanding experiencing some degree of same-sex attraction. Others have found it difficult to do so. Because Christian marriage with children is a great good, those who find themselves unable to embrace this good may suffer from a sense of loss or loneliness. And, as with those who are attracted to the opposite sex, some can find chastity very difficult. Pastoral care of such persons must never lose sight of their individual calling to holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and that the power of God’s grace can make this a real possibility for their lives.

Catholic belief, rooted in Scripture, reserves all expressions of sexual intimacy to a man and a woman covenanted to each other in a valid marriage. We hold this teaching to be true and unchangeable, tied as it is to our nature and purpose as children of a loving God who desires our happiness. Those with predominant same-sex attractions are therefore called to struggle to live chastely for the kingdom of God. In this endeavor they have need of support, friendship and understanding if they fail. They should be counseled, like everyone else, to have frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, where they should be treated with gentleness and compassion. In fact, more than a few such persons, with the help of grace and the sacraments, do live exemplary and even heroic Christian lives.

Unmarried Catholic couples should either tie the knot or, with pastoral encouragement, break up.  Isn’t that compassionate?

Often cohabiting couples refrain from making final commitments because one or both persons is seriously lacking in maturity or has other significant obstacles to entering a valid union. Here, prudence plays a vital role. Where one or another person is not capable of, or is not willing to commit to, a marriage, the pastor should urge them to separate.

Of course the vast majority of liberal Catholics will completely ignore this advice, and the Church knows that full well. The Vatican is clearly in a real bind, for how can it accommodate itself to modernity when it’s tied to unchanging doctrine? Unless somehow the Pope decides, ex cathedra*, that being gay and having sex is okay, or that getting civilly divorced is okay, they’re going to bleed followers. This is one example where there’s no good rationale for Catholic “morality,” and its collision with changing secular morality will ultimately make the Church irrelevant.


*That’s when the Pope is, as Archie Bunker put it, “inflammable.”


  1. Joseph Stans
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m still trying to work out the logical linkage between sex and communion.

    Sex has always been communion but you have to pay attention to draw that bit of reality to the surface. And it is unlikely a priest would make that connection.

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      The linkage is supposedly that someone in a state of sin or whatever the term is not supposed to take communion.

      That extends to sex-sins, needless to say.

  2. Woof
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Strikes me as the Vatican version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Like Sam Harris once said: They are especially interested in what you are doing while naked. As you remove more clothing, we will be watching.

  4. E.A. Blair
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    The Catholic policy on sex:

    “Sex is evil, filthy, disgusting and perverted. Save it for someone you love.”

  5. Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    There is always “the sex that god can’t see”

    Definitely NSFW – although I think it’s funny (my wife differs on this)

  6. George
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I somehow survived 12 years of Catholic “education”. And I was an atheist for the last six of those years. The turning point was the vocation talk in sixth grade. Boys and girls separated. Priest talked to the boys about becoming a priest, nun talked to the girls about becoming a nun. It had a great impact on me. It led me to rejecting the entire enterprise.

    I have no sympathy for those whose personal lives are affected by Catholic teaching. How can you remain loyal to an institution that rejects you as an individual? I cannot take Andrew Sullivan seriously who insists that he as a gay man can be a devout Catholic.

    The obsession with sex that almost all religions have is in direct conflict to the fact that sexuality is a basic component of our humanity. Religion rejects that. Sex interferes with the property rights men have in women. Religion is always about protecting those in power. No matter how pious and humble they claim to be.

    • somer
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      I think its about maximising the population of the faithful and keeping them together as one social body. Sex isn’t to be encouraged unless it produces children and produces them within a relationship where (in traditional pre modern state societies without modern health care, vaccines, clean water or social security) they are most likely to be raised to adulthood. Individuals don’t matter. Circumstances of the society might change but the institution, invested as the expression of the religion, refuses to change.

      In the case of Christianity and Islam also about spreading the faith.

    • somer
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Until relatively modern times the Western churches encouraged the idea that the body is sinful and its needs should be subordinated to spiritual matters to the extent that they saw washing as undue attention to the body and discouraged it. Up until the 18th C people did not wash and this was part of the reason the recurrence of the plagues lasted so long and were so devastating in Europe. Scientific changes going on in Europe eventually largely countered this – certainly on the cleanliness front. The process is ongoing in my view and always threatened from within and without

  7. Mike
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    OK, so go ahead and get an official church annulment, but get a grip on your wallet
    because it’s going to cost you a bundle.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      You mean you don’t just go up to the front of the church on Sunday morning and punch the priest until he signs the paperwork?

      Who’d a thunk it?

      Indulgent? Moi?

  8. steve oberski
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Often cohabiting couples refrain from making final commitments because one or both persons is seriously lacking in maturity or has other significant obstacles to entering a valid union.

    This from an organization where arrested psychosexual development is a job requirement.

    Roman Catholic priests in the United States, Ireland and perhaps generally across the world are psychosexually immature and underdeveloped. This is the sad state of affairs that continues. It has been “officially recorded” that about 2% of U.S. bishops and priests have sex with prepubescent children and 4% have sex with adolescents (mostly males). That is a long-term baseline but it does not reflect the true numbers of clergy abusers. In many dioceses and religious houses the percentage of sexual activity with minors is closer to 10%. Thirty percent of the 1966 and 1972 ordinations classes of St. John’s Seminary, Camarillo California subsequently abused minors. In 1983 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had 11.5% of its active priests subsequently identified as abusers. This year (2012), Jolliet, Illinois reported similar figures for abusive priests in its diocese around the same period.


    A.W. Richard Sipe’s research and his book Sex, Priests and Power are specifically referenced in the 2015 film Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy, as being crucial in the story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning 2002 investigation of predatory priests and the decades-long cover-up of the crimes of such priests by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The 1995 book is shown onscreen in its bright-red-covered hardback edition when the investigative team meet their first victim, Phil Saviano, the founder of the New England chapter of SNAP.

  9. Stonyground
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    It still amazes me that the RCC has even a single member left. I used to think that they managed to retain members because of the power of childhood indoctrination and that certainly seems to be a factor. But there are actually people who convert from other Christian denominations to Catholicism. What, your church isn’t anywhere nearly demented and bigoted enough? Your life isn’t too bad all told, so you need a religion that will really mess it up? Or is it that you actually believe them when they tell you that, although they are really screwing you over now, they are really going to see you right when you are dead?

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      And you even have adults like T.S. Eliot converting to Catholicism. WTF? A dumb genius I guess.

      • kieran
        Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        If you can’t stand the smell of incense in the morning get out of the vestibule

    • ChrisH
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      I remember having heated arguments with a Catholic friend of mine after the Pope visited the UK. I went on the protest, she went to the service.

      I pointed out the fact that she did pretty much everything that the RCC teaches against, and that although you can get away with that in the west they’re a much more malign influence elsewhere and putting in to the collection only encourages them but she didn’t seem to get what I was driving at.

      It fair wound me up!

  10. Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Everything you need to know about the perfect and unchanging word of God vis à vis marriage may be found here:

    Written by a bona fide professor of religious studies!

  11. Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Hum… let’s see: Brazil: they gave away millions of free condoms during carnival… Argentina was the first country in Latin America to legalize same sex marriage…

    Brazil: 61% catholics… Argentina: 71%

    So much for following the rules😉

    Catholics have been doing the contrary for centuries. All depends on the implementation: Spanish and Portuguese and their descendants in the colonies (Latin America, Africa, Asia) never followed suit: you can see that in our faces today😉

    New Pope is a wolf in disguise… and also these attempts are ridiculously funny, unless they are applied seriously, causing a lot of (luckily) pain and stress in the ones that follow.

    Only I can say from the pope, that Maradona was right claiming that it was the hand of god in 1986 against England… (disclaimer: I’m brazilian, grown up in Argentina)

    • somer
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes – and apparently the condom ban in Africa often isn’t applied according to the cardinals wishes. Im glad the Guardian publishes something like this – a stupid bit of medieval sadomasochism, but they and many others often go on about how this Pope is “progressive”. Reminds me of an ordinarily very left wing and also a veteran journalist here who has often criticised all brands of Christianity but who wrote a few years ago that its probably pretty selfish for Western women to take contraception as it leads to western consumerism and environmental destruction and he cited Sub Saharan Africa as a favourable example!!

      I Remember reading that since medieval times the Church has had an aversion to remarriage even of widows or widowers. Not to mention homosexuality, unmarried couples etc. Also even if an annulment of the previous marriage is allowed (and paid for) I gather it basically pretends the previous marriage never existed – pretty insulting and even more so if you have children.

  12. Posted July 6, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I think it all translates as ‘you’re still a good catholic so long as you feel guilty about doing what you love.’

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    The guidelines do say that remarried couples who have sex and gay persons who have same sex can atone by taking the Sacrament of Penance.
    So, to quote the great Tom Leher in The Vatican Rag:
    “Get in line in that processional,
    Step into that small confessional,
    There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
    Tell you if your sin’s original.
    If it is, try playin’ it safer,
    Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
    Two, four, six, eight,
    Time to transubstantiate!”

  14. Karl Heinz
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Good lord.

    Is it a good thing or a bad thing when The Onion makes more sense than the Roman Catholic Church?

    But it takes two to tango: the priest who makes these absurd pronouncements and the flock who follow them.

    I don’t think God admires ignorance. Use the brain he (or He) gave you. Assuming he/He exists, of course.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      He doesn’t.

  15. Posted July 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I grew up Catholic, attended Catholic primary and high schools, and ended up rejecting the church. So much for indoctrination! I blame part of it on the nuns, a bunch of wonderful, liberal, Social Justice Warriors who pounded the roots of my current Humanism into my brain. So when I got old enough, my obligation to love others and treating them with respect started to totally clash with the Church’s position on so many issues that I threw up my hands and rejected the whole institution. Eventually I rejected religion altogether, though it took awhile.

    Meanwhile, back at home, my mother was struggling. Always a devout Catholic, as her own mortality began to weigh on her and her life was not turning out the way she wanted it to, she became more and more devout. She was too disabled to attend Mass, and that troubled her greatly… though I know she always hated the actual act of attending a service. Despite her disability, she insisted on going to confession occasionally (the sacrament of Penance). I would drive her to her church, stand in line for her at the confessional, and then hold the door for her as she hobbled in. I haven’t the foggiest notion what she thought she needed to confess. She was a kind-hearted woman, and treated everyone well.

    She took to praying the entire long, repetitive prayer sequence known as the Rosary at least once a day. (I don’t think I ever made it through the whole sequence of a Rosary.) She prayed against my father’s disinterest in religion. She prayed for me in my apostasy. She prayed for grandchildren (they didn’t happen, by choice on my part, and that distressed her terribly). She prayed for the world to be as she wanted it, not the way it was. The prayers gave her comfort.

    So, to everyone who wants to know why anyone would still be Catholic, I think my mother is the poster child for devout Catholicism. She didn’t think very hard about what the Church might be doing wrong; she merely wanted to stay on God’s good side and make her world better, in ways that were important to her, by invoking his help (or that of the saints).

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t the foggiest notion what she thought she needed to confess. She was a kind-hearted woman, and treated everyone well.

      Bishop to Monsignor : “Watch that one – seems so harmless, must be a spawn of Satan. Soooo deceptive, the Adversary is. Unlike He Who Works In Mysterious Ways.”

      • Posted July 6, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        I don’t mean to imply that my mother was a saint; actually we had many differences, and our relationship was difficult at times. But her ***heart*** was always in the right place. She wanted the best for everyone, and her biggest failing was not understanding that we might not agree with her on what that might be.

        Still, given my Catholic upbringing and my understanding of sin, I really could never imagine my mother sinning. Driving your daughter half-crazy with unreasonable expectations, when you don’t believe they’re unreasonable, never struck me as a confessionable sin; in any case, she never recognized the problem.

    • Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your loving letter about your Mom. Thank you for being the kind of person you are who didn’t berate or condemn her for her beliefs, but assisted her. There are a lot of good Christians like your mother in the world (and people of other religions) who love us although we aren’t just like them, and pray for our well-being.

  16. mfdempsey1946
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    The “loving God” cited in this papal document is indistinguishable from Satan. Or would be if either of them existed.

  17. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Are they still trying their #1 line of shit? Yes, here it is.

    Many such persons have found it possible to live out a vocation to Christian marriage with children,

    And what about those who have no interest in having children, or (possibly even more heinous) in only having a limited number of children? “Roll over darling, I’m not allowed a condom so it’ll have to be lubricant followed by phenolic soap for afters.”

    • Gordon
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      A colleague of mine married a catholic so had to go the “you’re getting married ” seminar run by a priest. She told me the bit on birth control was along the lines of “The Church does not believe in birth control. But many of you may not be able to live up to that expectation and find it difficult to observe. But it is something you should try to aspire to.”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 6, 2016 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        What the hell have these priests got to do with getting married anyway? It’s like they think they invented the institution (instead of taking over what people were doing long before they were around) and it hasn’t changed since their holy book was last re-written (it has).

  18. Mark R.
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    …its collision with changing secular morality will ultimately make the Church irrelevant.

    It can’t happen soon enough.

  19. Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Two comments:

    1. What does the Vatican and the Pope have to say to the young man who committed suicide this week about 30 years after his Catholic priest started routinely sexually abusing him?
    Or the many other men abused as boys by their priests? This is one accidental favor done
    by Catholicism for girls in that they couldn’t be altar boys and subject to abuse (until years later).

    2. “The Vatican is clearly in a real bind, for how can it accommodate itself to modernity when it’s tied to unchanging doctrine?”

    Requirements for living as a “good” Catholic have changed over and over again throughout the history of the church. It has never been truly “catholic” and consistent. Some of the rules are nonsensical. Some are about money
    (unmarried priests, eating fish, buying indulgences,) etc. Catholics are lucky early beliefs that a male should castrate himself to literally become a”eunuch” for Jesus didn’t continue into the present. Hair shirts, whips and cilices suffice for the truly dedicated Catholic today.

    • somer
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      I think the problem is celibacy but there is a refusal to even consider having a non celibate stream of clergy is because of the power a celibate clergy preserves. No dual loyalty to family. No divulgences to family members of sensitive church matters. No wealth left to family members as opposed to church – and no incentive to gather wealth for one’s family in ones lifetime. No risk of establishing self interested political dynasties at the Church’s expense and possibly breaking it up. As Ive mentioned various times in 1922 the then pope had a secret decree (recently exposed presumably by Benedict XVI’s secretary) that Bishops and Cardinals must not hand over clerics accused of sex abuse to the secular authorities. It was aimed at maintaining church power in the face of state power. The existence of the Vatican having state status is another factor that bears on the child abuse issue.

      In Australia we have a lot of Catholic schools here but clergy are not allowed to teach in them and they have a very good academic reputation and are not particularly religious and accept non Catholics. People who otherwise couldn’t send kids to private school send them and there would be a lot of resistance to the state de funding them (all schools in Australia get some government funding though of course govt schools get more – not a great system but there are historical reasons for it rooted in earlier religious based discrimination)

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not feeling the exhortations to chastity and abstaining as a real winning strategy for the Holy Roman Church here — though some of my Catholic friends might interpret parts of it as an excuse for indulging the fine frisson of sex-with-an-ex.🙂

    • somer
      Posted July 6, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      I gather they’ve lost about 20-25% of their congregation even in South America where they used to be very strong, and the Philippines is somewhat less staunch tho continuing poverty may keep them on the straight and narrow.

  21. Posted July 6, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Catholicism has turned to aggressive sales and marketing in hopes of deterring extinction ever since pedophilia became an essential part of the “after hours” transubstantiation ritual.

  22. Claudia Baker
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    What the fuckity-fuck? The arrogance and audacity of the catholic church boggles the mind. How can anyone actually believe this horseshit?! (Excuse my French, as we say in Canada.)

  23. Newish Gnu
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    I can’t read that drivel without hearing the “wha, wha wha, wha wha, wha wha” sound of adults talking in the animated Peanuts TV specials. None of it makes any sense.

  24. E.A. Blair
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Then there was the guy who sued the Catholic church for not molesting him when he was an altar boy.

  25. madscientist
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    I’d like to tell the archbishop “hell yeah – we’ll do that when you priests keep your dicks away from our kids”.

  26. Mattapult
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    “Church teaching requires…”

    What a disingenuous use of the word teach. Those aren’t teachings, those are rules. But they want you to think they are wiser than you.

    Government teaching requires you to stop at red lights. That substitution doesn’t work anywhere else.

    We need to call out their word games as often as we can.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    The Catholic Magic Mystery Show is that they can continue to utter these guessed at handwavings as “inflammable truth” in front of their innocent flock.

    At long last, have they left no sense of decency?

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