Belgian Bishops: Divorced-and-Civilly-Remarried Catholics May Receive Holy Communion

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 30, 2017   

Guidelines allow divorced and sexually active laity to follow their own conscience

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BRUSSELS, Belgium ( - The bishops of Belgium are saying that divorced Catholics who are sexually active may follow their conscience to the Communion rail.

On May 24, the Belgian bishops published in Dutch and French a pastoral letter giving an interpretation of the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) that allows divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to decide for themselves whether they should receive the sacraments.

The bishops profess paragraph 37 of AL gives laity the right to subjectively decide such matters for themselves. "We are called to form consciences, but not to claim to substitute ourselves for them. A process of discernment does not lead to an automatic yes or no whether to be able to communicate," they say.

They direct pastors to respect whatever decision the laity makes in this regard. "It may happen that someone decides not to receive the Eucharist. We have the utmost respect for such a decision. It is also possible that someone decides in conscience to receive the Eucharist, as well. This decision also deserves respect."

The bishops of Belgium reference paragraph 300 of AL as if all previously fixed Church guidelines regarding the decision to receive Holy Communion are now abandoned. "If we take into account the innumerable diversity of concrete situations, we can understand that we should not expect from the synod or from this exhortation a new general legislation of the canonical kind applicable to all case[s]," they state.

They immediately add, "It can not therefore be decreed that all remarried divorced persons may be admitted to Communion. Nor can it be decreed that they are all excluded. The journey of each person requires the necessary discernment with a view to a conscious pastoral decision."

The bishops write that footnote 351, relating to paragraph 305 of AL, has opened the door for divorced couples to receive the sacraments even if they choose to remain sexually active. "Amoris Laetitia clearly opens a door to the divorced remarried so that they can receive the help of the sacraments," they claim.

These bishops allow laity to subjectively make such decisions even when they contradict previous objective standards set by the Church. They mention conscience a total of four times in the document.

To their credit, however, they include I Cor. 11: 27–28 in their directive, which warns Catholics — in the words of St. Paul — not to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin:

From the apostolic times, to receive the Eucharist was perceived as something very serious. Thus Paul points out in his first letter to the Christians of Corinth: "He that eateth the bread or drinketh the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord." Let each one test himself before eating that bread and drinking at that cup.

This pastoral guidance was sent out to all priests of the diocese. No mention was made of the moral responsibility incumbent on each pastor who lets his sheep receive Holy Communion sacrilegiously. This responsibility is spelled out in Ezechiel 3:17–18 which warns:

I have made thee a watchman to the house of Israel: and thou shalt hear the word out of my mouth, and shalt tell it them from me. If, when I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die: thou declare it not to him, nor speak to him, that he may be converted from his wicked way, and live: the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand.


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