A Portuguese divorced and remarried Catholic couple have thanked their cardinal and Pope Francis for enabling their return to communion.
Driving the news
“We’ve gone from a wounded heart to a heart at peace. Thank you, Pope Francis”, Rosalia Rodrigues told the tabloid Correio da Manhã February 4.
Rodrigues, 39, and her divorced and remarried husband, Gastão Crespo, 47, became the first divorced and remarried Catholic couple in Portugal to be welcomed back to the Eucharist when they took communion in a parish in the diocese of Leiria-Fátima on May 13 2019, on the feast of Our Lady of Fátima.
The big picture
The fact that Rodrigues and Crespo could return to the Lord’s Table – something unthinkable in Catholic tradition, Crespo being a divorced and remarried Catholic – was in the first place thanks to Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia on love in the family.
That exhortation opened the pathway for Catholics in an “irregular” second union to come back to the sacraments.
In the second place, Rodrigues and Crespo have their cardinal, António Marto of Leiria-Fátima, to thank for being allowed to take communion again, since Marto promulgated in 2018 a new set of “pastoral guidelines in view of better ecclesial integration of divorced faithful living in a new union”.
Both Rodrigues and Crespo were active Catholics before they entered a civil marriage ten years ago.
When they entered that union, which traditional Catholic considers to be ‘irregular’, they found themselves obliged to limit their participation in the Church.
“It was painful. It felt like a big gash. I was a catechist and a minister of Communion. I realised, in the moment in which I was getting married, that I would be in a state of adultery”, Rodrigues lamented.
“We never received Communion again. It didn’t make sense to be in a state of sin. I remain married for the Church and we accepted that consequence”, Crespo added.
But thanks to Amoris laetitia and Cardinal Marto’s “pastoral guidelines”, Rodrigues and Crespo were able to complete a, bi-weekly, six-month five-stage “path of discernment” in the diocesan ‘Support Center for Families’.
That course was with the goal of proving thee “good-faith relationship with God” of the remarried Catholic couple and facilitating their return to the Eucharist.
“We feel complete, truly children of God”, Rodrigues and Crespo celebrated after receiving communion again.
Why it matters
In a short interview with the Correio da Manhã, Cardinal Marto explained he had “decided to adopt the Pope’s vision for the family”, in the words of the newspaper, because “a path had not yet been found for divorced spouses allowing them to be reinstated in the life of the Church and the Christian community, which in this case, can lead to full integration of the sacraments”.
“No one can remain condemned forever, that’s what the Pope said”, the cardinal explained.
“Does the Church need to adapt to the times?”, the Correio da Manhã asked Marto.
“Yes. It must welcome these families [of remarried Catholic couples], but this is not only the affair of priests and bishops, communities must do the same”, the cardinal insisted.
For the record
It’s not only in Portugal – where Rodrigues and Crespo and at least one other divorced and remarried couple since have been allowed to return to the Eucharist – that Francis’ dispositions in Amoris laetitia are bearing fruit.
Last November, two Italian bishops – Renato Marangoni of Belluno-Feltri and Corrado Pizziolo of Vittorio Veneto – also began to welcome divorced and remarried Catholics back to the sacraments, citing as the possibility for that the opening made possible by this Pope in his apostolic exhortation.
The Bishop of Belluno-Feltri acknowledged at the time that Catholic couples in ‘irregular’ marriage situations “have been discouraged and left our parish communities”, but he told them “that we miss you and that we feel that we need you and your witness of life”.
The Bishop of Vittorio Veneto added that the “concrete pastoral experience” priests and lay agents had gained from observing ‘rregular’ couples – as well as the desire of those couples to be “newly reintegrated” into the Church – had led him to extend new opportunities to access the sacraments to “couples who do not fully live Christian marriage”.