Are Polish Bishops Leaning Towards Allowing Some Remarried Divorcees Holy Communion?

Ahead of the publication of pastoral guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, the bishops have stressed the importance of discernment and accompaniment for some divorced and remarried Catholics although it is not clear if that means they can receive Holy Communion.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish episcopal conference, and Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga.
Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish episcopal conference, and Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga. (photo: KEP)

In a statement issued after a two-day plenary meeting, the bishops stressed the importance of “discernment, accompaniment and inclusion” in dealing with such cases, according to the Polish website Polonia Christiana Pch24.

The Polish bishops' conference, the statement reads, “continues an in-depth reflection on the forms of caring for marriage and family in the light of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

It adds that “while preserving the teaching of the Church, the bishops draw attention to the necessity of accompanying marriages, both on the path of their sacramental fidelity and in the discernment of their irregular situations.”

“Emphasizing the irreplaceable role of the sacrament of marriage, they thank spouses for their testimony of lasting love and commitment in the life of the Church,” the statement ends.

Polish Church observers say the statement gives an important indication ahead of pastoral guidelines the bishops are expected to issue on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. That document has been in the works for nearly two years.  

Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warszawa-Praga said the reason for the delay is because Amoris Laetitia is a “multi-threaded” and “very extensive” document and “much more capacious” than previous ones, although some insiders say it is because of divisions within the Polish hierarchy over whether or not to strictly adhere to John Paul II's teaching on Holy Communion and remarried divorcees, or to follow a more liberal interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

Archbishop Hoser said that although Amoris Laetitia is not a dogmatic document, it “shows the confirmation of the Church’s teaching, also in the previous pontificates.”

The archbishop said the document “introduces a completely new format into our pastoral care” based on the words  “accompaniment" and "discernment.”

Pch24 asked the archbishop how the other bishops addressed the concerns about giving Holy Communion to those living in an objective state of adultery.

In response, Archbishop Hoser said “the doctrine is clear, but the situations of individuals are different.” He added that although the conditions for the admission of the Eucharist must be verified, including for confession, “we are aware of the fact that human situations are very different and complex.” On this issue, he said, “this process of discernment must lead to a clear diagnosis of the situation and to a clear decision.”

But some are expressing clear disappointment with this week’s meeting and Archbishop Hoser's comments, as they believe they show the Polish bishops could be leaning towards allowing Holy Communion for some remarried divorcees not living in a state of sexual continence, after a period of discernment and accompaniment and in accordance with their conscience. They are also concerned about words from Bishop Jana Wątroby who reportedly said the adjudication of the invalidity of a marriage should rest with confessors.

“The Polish bishops are leaving behind John Paul II's legacy and adopting the paradigm shift proposed by Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia,” said a source with knowledge of the matter in Poland. “Following that path, the Polish Church could face the fate of the once flourishing local churches in the Netherlands and Belgium.” A spokesman for the Polish bishops disputed such a view in a message to the Register on Friday evening, but when asked if such an assertion was false, he invited a visit to see for oneself.

The news of this week’s plenary meeting follows two ongoing lay initiatives in Poland that urge the bishops to defend and uphold the Church’s teaching. The first is a petition, called Polonia Semper Fidelis (Poland Always Faithful), which has so far raised over 145,000 signatures and calls on the bishops to defend and uphold the traditional teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage in their forthcoming document.

The signatories are concerned that any weakening of Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching, which they say is clearly stated in Familiaris Consortio, would strongly affect laypersons living in sacramental marriages. 

They are therefore asking Polish bishops not to “yield to the modernist fashion” and to “refuse to accept the admission of divorced persons living in new relationships to Holy Communion in spite of their persistence in sin.”

The second initiative is called Families’ Doubts, a letter to Pope Francis, cardinals and bishops which, while “highlighting the beauty of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia,” also expresses “concerns about the liberal interpretation of this document.” 

The Polish bishops are expected to release their pastoral guidelines on Amoris Laetitia in the coming weeks.

Here below is the full text of Archbishop Hoser's remarks:

(...) The reflection of the Polish Bishops’ Conference on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation „Amoris laetitia” continues. You can ask: why are we dealing with it for so long? The reasons for this are quite evident because it is primarily a very multi-threaded document. Like any family, which is the basic Church’s community - not only ecclesiastic, but also social in general - brings together all the threads of life, and this is also reflected in this extensive document, much more capacious than previous similar documents.

The second preliminary remark is that it is not a dogmatic document, because its careful reading shows the confirmation of the Church’s teaching also in previous pontificates, over 30 times Pope John Paul II is quoted, whose long 27-years’ pontificate was a huge light regarding the problems of marriage and the family. This document has a pastoral character and introduces a completely new format to our pastoral work. A format that is actually to be created because pastoral care was mostly based on the teaching and collective formation.

Two words, on the other hand, show the novelty of this approach, that is “accompaniment” and “discernment”. In order to accompany and discern one has to switch to individual pastoral care and to accompany in time - at very different times - those who evolve in their married and family life, and at the same time to help them to discern really their situations. Not only - as we imagine - informal or non-sacramental unions, but also a whole range of marital crises that are unavoidable in the life of a marriage within decades of its duration. And therefore, we are thinking about these problems in order to prepare the instruments of action and in this light too we are thinking about completing or re-editing the Directory of the Pastoral Care of Families, which has so far been valid.

When it comes to these irregular situations, also these people, these relationships need accompaniment in their lives and they need to be included in the Church’s community after discerning their situation and the range of this inclusion; there will be a whole list of proposals for them, and at the same time the discernment of such a difficult situation when the married couple thinks that the sacramental marriage, that broke up, was not valid from the beginning. And so there must be a preliminary reflection on whether such a situation actually occurs. And above all, we thank the married couples who last, who exist, who despite difficulties and various temptations of today’s culture of civilization, however, are faithful to each other.

In answer to the question from Polonia Christiana how the the Polish hierarchy addressed the concerns of the faithful about the sacramental practice of giving Holy Communion to adulterers based on Amoris Laetitia's interpretation. The publication asked for an answer to the question of how the Polish bishops had accepted the initiatives of Polonia Semper Fidelis and the Doubts of Families, Archbishop Hoser responded:

Eucharistic (…) is closely related to the communion of the sacrament of marriage. Please note, that one and the other sacrament is the Sacrament of the Body and Blood. And so the relationships of these two sacraments are organic and very fundamental, therefore the situation of non-sacramental unions is quite special and requires good insight into the validity of this sacrament of marriage, or of the current situation, whether there are all conditions for admission to the sacramental communion. And this cannot be decreed by any one record. The doctrine is clear, while the situations of individuals are different and it must be verified what are the conditions for admission to the Sacrament of Eucharist, but it also means for the absolution of the sacrament of confession. We are aware of the fact that human situations are very different and complicated, which is why in this case the process of discernment must lead to a clear understanding of the situation and to a clear decision.

This article was amended and updated.