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Our readers asked:

Can A Civilly Divorced Couple Receive Communion?

Neela Kale Answers:

Q: I have friends that are Catholic. They are divorced from each other but still live together, something about how they were able to get better insurance this way. Are they still able to receive communion?

Without further details, I’ll assume that your friends obtained a civil divorce but still consider themselves to be married in the Church (Absent annulment proceedings, the Church would concur). While it might be tempting to consider their civil marital status and their sacramental marital status as completely separate, the Church resists this separation. Civil and sacramental marriage are different commitments but they are not unrelated. Blurring the lines creates the possibility for “scandal,” which in Catholic moral teaching means the possibility of leading another into error. There is a risk that others, looking to your friends for example, could fall into sin by misunderstanding the teaching of the Church. It is more common for couples to be civilly married but not married in the Church than, as in your friends’ case, for the reverse to be true. But either situation, if publicly known, can cause scandal. Your friends should make an appointment with their parish priest to discuss how they may be able to go forward. They should also review their options for health insurance now that recent reforms are taking effect.

The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • JP

    I disagree. For the couple is not creating scandal. The only marriage that counts is the sacramental marriage. The State does not trump the Church.

    I’ve always believed it was a mistake for the Church to submerse the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony inside of civic arrangements. In the distant passed, a couple would record their marriage in the parish church and that would be that. Now, it is impossible for a Catholic couple to marry until they make it publicly official (through approved public means).

  • Nathan Wilke

    I Agree with Neela Kale. As I have been told by priest, who is a Monseigneur, to refrain from the Eucharist because it could cause scandal while living with my civil wife; even if we were living as brother and sister until our marriage blessing. I can see the same thing be true to those who are in the reverse situation that it is possible to cause scandal to those who believe it “okay” to divorce and still receive communion. Until he talks with the pastor, he should refrain but I cannot see a priest denying him as long as they live a celibate life apart from marital acts between one another, if they both so choose to since they are and will continue to be each others spouse.

    • JP

      I think you misunderstand the question. Or perhaps the questioner wasn’t precise in his question. The way I understand the question is: Can a Catholic couple get a civil divorce but still live together? That is, the couple never separated nor obtained an annulment. The answer is absolutely yes, they can.

  • Mike Hayes

    As long as they are not remarried they can receive communion, but if giving scandal in this situation, they should examine their conscience carefully and seek the counsel of a priest as Neela suggested.

  • ElizD

    Neela Kale doesn’t answer the question, and seems confused about Catholic beliefs about marriage. Surely no canon lawyer would be this vague about the answer. Based on the information given, the couple is objectively married to each other, period. Civil divorce did not affect that. They are not “living in sin” together because they remain married to each other and will continue to for life. They may receive Holy Communion if properly disposed (ie, any grave sins sacramentally Confessed etc).

    Though it is a good question whether they consulted with a wise priest before seeking a civil divorce, and why did they seek a civil divorce if they are still content to have a household together and know they are objectively married?

    The situation in which someone cannot receive Holy Communion is when someone who was truly married is living in objective adultery with another partner, which often happens after someone divorced and remarried civilly. In those cases, when someone comes to realize that this new relationship is gravely sinful regardless if it seemed to “feel so right” or seemed “right for the sake of the children having 2 parents there for them,” a couple may approach a good priest and discuss their situation and a choice of living as brother and sister, going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion. In some cases an annulment may be possible (if the first putative marriage was in fact not valid in the first place) and the new marriage may be able to be regularized in the Church. The important thing is really to talk to a good priest.

    • Jo

      “Based on the information given, the couple is objectively married to each other, period.” +1. Exactly.

  • Jane Richardson

    so what is the answer to the question?

    • JP

      The answer is an affirmative, Yes. They can take communion because in God’s eyes they married and in no way are living in “Sin”. Of course, I’m not a priest or a theologian. But, objectively speaking they have done nothing wrong.

      I find it very strange that so many people (including priests) exert so much energy trying to keep “City Hall” happy.

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