Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 28, 2014 Column Father De Celles


ELECTIONS. We are exactly one month away from Election Day, November 4, 2014, when we will vote for our U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives. There are many important issues at stake in this election, so it is imperative that Catholics vote, and vote like Catholics. It’s become easy to become unenthusiastic about “off year elections” (non-presidential-election years) like this, but that’s nonsense. Every election matters, and the choice of who will represent us in the U.S. Congress—who will write our laws and approve judicial appointments—is especially important. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2240)  teaches, it is: “morally obligatory to …to exercise the right to vote…”

But you can’t vote if you don’t register. So this Sunday and next there will be a table in the narthex with information and forms to register to vote and to apply to vote absentee. The deadline to register to vote is October 14th; all mail-in applications for an absentee ballot must be received by election officials by October 28. You can also update your status or even register to vote online at:

If you have recently moved from out of state, you need to register to vote in Virginia. If you have recently changed addresses within Virginia you must notify the election officials of your new address or you will not be able to vote in your new precinct, or be eligible to vote for the U.S. Representative in your new district.

More on voting later…


SYNOD OF BISHOPS. The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be convened from October 5 to 19. 192 Bishops from all over the world will gather in the Vatican to discuss the topic: “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” They will be joined by 61 other priests and lay experts and consultants.

Much has been written about this Synod in the media. While many important topics related to the family will be discussed, the media has largely focused on one topic: whether the Church will change its “stance” of not allowing  Catholics who are “divorced and remarried” (without a Church annulment of the first marriage, and living as husband and wife) to receive Holy Communion.

It’s understandable that the media has focused on this issue. Pope Francis himself drew special attention to it by inviting Cardinal Walter Kasper to address, at length, all the cardinals gathered together in Rome last February. Kasper has long been a proponent of allowing Catholics in this situation to receive Communion, although he has been very low key on the topic since Pope St. John Paul II (through and with his Prefect for Doctrine, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI) publicly rebuked him for his stance in 1993. Kasper has now renewed his public stance, and advocated for it before the cardinals in February. Pope Francis later expressed appreciation for, although not agreement with, Kasper’s speech.

Kasper’s speech has led to an extremely unusual public debate between cardinals. In particular there has been a strong public defense of the Church’s current “stance,” and debunking Kasper’s arguments. In the last few weeks two of the Church’s most renowned scholars, Cardinals Angelo Scola (Archbishop of Milan, largest diocese in Europe) and Marc Ouellette (Vatican prefect in charge of appointing new bishops) published papers in scholarly journals. And in the next few days a new book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” will be released presenting the clear historical, scriptural and doctrinal record of the Church’s current “stance.” The book will include chapters written by 9 world renowned scholars, including Cardinals Gerhard Müller (Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith), Walter Brandmüller (world-class history professor), Carlo Caffarra (archbishop of Bologna, revered scholar on the doctrine of Marriage),  Raymond Burke (“chief justice” of the Church’s “supreme court”), and Velasio De Paolis.

What’s the fuss about? First, let me say that the Church loves and is very concerned about those who find themselves in this situation. They are welcome at all the activities of the Church life, and to all the assistance the Church can give. But there are some things the Church cannot do, and truth and mercy must go hand in hand.

Very simply stated: the Church teaches that when a couple gets married they are married for life, and no “divorce” in civil courts can end marriage in God’s eyes. So to attempt to “marry” someone else, and to live as husband and wife, is the mortal sin of adultery, that is not simply a onetime event, but continues as long as the “remarried” couple live as husband and wife. This teaching comes directly from Jesus Himself: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder…Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:9,11-12; cf. Matt. 19:9). (Note: a Church annulment is not a divorce, but a judicial ruling that there never was a valid marriage to begin with).

The Church also teaches that no one guilty of an unrepented mortal sin (not absolved through sacramental confession) may receive Communion. This too is revealed in Scripture, by St. Paul: “Whoever…eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.…” [1 Cor. 11:27].

Thus, a Catholic who is divorced and remarried (without an annulment) is objectively committing the mortal sin of adultery, and so cannot receive Communion. This is not, as some say, Church “law” or “discipline,” or “current stance.” It flows directly from the Scriptures and is the constant and defined doctrine of the Church, and therefore unchangeable. Sadly, many of the proposals advanced by Cardinal Kasper et al, seem to fail to take this into account.

I don’t know what the Synod will propose to Pope Francis on this particular issue, or what he will do with their proposals. I hope with all my heart that some way will be found to more clearly express and share the Church’s mercy with “divorced and remarried” Catholics, and to help them to be reconciled with Christ and His Church.

But Jesus calls Himself, “the truth,” and no denial of the truth can be an act of true mercy. So I can tell you what the Synod and Pope will not do: they will not change the unchangeable doctrine of Christ and His Church.

So let us pray for the bishops convened in Synod, that they may be inspired by the Holy Spirit to seek and defend Christ’s truth, and find new ways to share His mercy. And let us pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, that the Lord may bless him for his continued fidelity to Him and to us.


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles


“Our Lady of Ransom and Mercy, and St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us, for all persecuted Christians and for the conversion of Muslims. Amen