Disappointed Dave wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Can you clarify for me the exact position of returning Catholics within the Church?
  • As a secondary question, are there significant differences between:
    • Catholics who return after an absence, and
    • Catholics who return with special circumstances, such as one with a non-practicing Catholic spouse?

In my case, I returned to church after a nearly 40-year absence. Having had my own personal experience and sign from the Lord, my faith can never be shaken. I am blessed to be back and have no intention of ever leaving. My faith is stronger than it has ever been.

My issue is not one of faith. It is an issue with the Church itself.

As background, my spouse is a non-practicing Catholic. She has not and will not, for reasons outside the scope of this question, receive an annulment. My previous marriages are annulled. We have been married for decades and I will be with her for the rest of my time on this Earth.

The problem is, when I go to worship on Sunday, I feel like a pariah within my own church.

For example, I wanted to volunteer to visit the sick but was told I could not do that unless I was in good standing with the Church. While I understand the Church's position, in this case, it gets worse.

I tried three times to become a scheduled adorer at our Adoration Chapel and I was ignored — no reply or anything. I attributed this to an ineffective leader of the Sacred Liturgy. Eight months after asking to be an Usher, and seeing another new Usher join the parish at our Mass, I finally had the courage to ask the friend what was going on. His response was that I should visit the parish rectory because I was not allowed to be an Usher.

  • Seriously?
  • an Usher?

I never dreamed the Church would ban me to that level! Not only did my friend not advise me, but the parish has never said a word about the issue and simply ignored that I existed.

This is painful, and frankly, wrong.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that they let me sit in church and I am truly thankful they will accept my offering in the plate but, in all other respects, it appears that returning Catholics are pariahs within their own church. Surely, this is not what God intended.

  • Can you clarify for me the Church's refusal to even reply to my request, and my total inability to participate further in the parish life of the Church?
  • Are these supported norms for returning Catholics?
  • Is it perhaps this parish in general?

Not receiving the Eucharist is tearing me apart as it is but this . . . this reaches a new low in my concept of Christian behavior.

  • What am I not understanding?

Your insight is appreciated.


  { Are Catholics returning after an absence or returning under special cases treated differently? }

Mike replied:

Dear David,

Thanks for sharing this with me.

This is scandalous behavior going on at your parish. For the rest of the Church, I apologize for what you are going through.

For any one to prevent you from participating in Eucharistic Adoration, even if you have a marriage that the Church hasn't looked at, is ridiculous. Heck, we should be inviting Protestant Christians to come to our Perpetual Adoration Chapels; as long as they respect what we believe and behave accordingly! Tell your pastor I said this.

I know of one Lutheran friend, Beth, who has no interest in the Catholic Church because she disagrees with some of her basic teachings but, since I told her about our Adoration Chapel, she now visits the Chapel weekly. She told me she just feels a sense of peace when there. : )

The only other thing I can add is, just because we have a bunch of scandalous jerks in our parishes whether they are priests or lay people, it doesn't take away from the Teachings of our Faith, which our Lord promised He would protect through the vicar of Peter until His Second Coming.

I am now 62 and one of the main things I have learned in life is that, whether we are aware of it or not, we touch and affect other peoples lives far more than we can imagine. We just don't see the effect.


Dave replied:

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the rapid reply.

The support means more to me than I can express. We are taught that the Church is infallible, but in the end, I’m realizing they are imperfect humans.

To clarify one thing, they wouldn't specifically block me from entering the chapel, but they did completely ignore my request (3 times) to get on the schedule and then subsequently ignored my report of the failure to receive a reply in the first place. As with ushering . . . no response . . . silence . . . crickets.

Again, thanks for your quick reply and forwarding my question to the group. Redemption and participating are a big deal to me.


Eric replied:


I think the way that you are being treated is unconscionable. Any way you look at it, it is unjustified and unwarranted. Nowhere in the Church's teaching or discipline does it indicate that people in your situation are not permitted to participate in parish life in the ways you've discussed. It is possible your situation is such that you cannot receive the sacraments (I do not know and to do not need to know), but even if this is so, and even if it is people's business, which technically it isn't, the Church, especially in recent years, encourages people in your situation to participate in the life of the Church even if they can't receive the sacraments.

I'd ask these people who are saying you are not allowed to be an usher or visit the sick or whatever to prove themselves by supplying evidence from canon law or other Church documents. They won't be able to do it. In fact you can quote the following:

Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.

Pope Benedict XVI. (2007). Sacramentum Caritatis, Number 29.

This does not mean that the Church does not take to heart the situation of these faithful, who moreover are not excluded from ecclesial communion. She is concerned to accompany them pastorally and invite them to share in the life of the Church in the measure that is compatible with the dispositions of divine law, from which the Church has no power to dispense. On the other hand, it is necessary to instruct these faithful so that they do not think their participation in the life of the Church is reduced exclusively to the question of the reception of the Eucharist. The faithful are to be helped to deepen their understanding of the value of sharing in the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, of spiritual communion, of prayer, of meditation on the Word of God, and of works of charity and justice.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (1994). Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. Number 6.

Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.

John Paul II (1981) Familiaris Consortio, Number 84.

This, in fact, touches on nearly everything you've mentioned.

  • Have you spoken to the pastor about this?

If you have and gotten no satisfaction, I suggest going to the episcopal vicar of the area, or even the bishop himself and politely asking whether, for example, a person who is married to a divorced and remarried person whose spouse refuses to obtain an annulment can be an usher in the parish or participate in parish-organized works of charity, explaining your problem, and see what happens.


Dave replied:


My sincerest thanks to both you and Mike for the quick replies reaffirming my belief. You've put a ray of hope into what began as a very dark day. As I mentioned, it’s painful enough not currently being able to receive the Eucharist, but today’s revelation goes far beyond the realm of what I thought was reasonable. I’m glad to see it’s a parish problem, and not an overall teaching of the Church.

Strengthened by your replies, I am crafting my response to the parish, and depending on their reply (if I even get one) will continue this fight as high as I can take it.

Thank you for restoring hope!


John replied:


Consider finding another parish if possible.

If you start pushing things where you are now, you may win, but the relationship will be even more sour.

Go to an orthodox faithful parish, where they aren't pharisees that think they are more Catholic than the Church!

God Bless, and feel free to ask for more input. We will pray for you.



A friend, Anonymous Andrew replied:


Eric has summed up the problem with the parish's attitude very nicely, so I'll just endorse his answer.

One possible exception: some pastors would treat liturgical service at Mass (e.g., as a Lector) more strictly than other types of participation in parish life, and, if he does so, I would say that it is a reasonable judgment call on a pastor's part but, that said, other parish prayer and charity activities should be open to volunteerism from divorced-remarried Catholics.

-- Andrew

Dave replied:

Thanks to all!

You’re correct to suggest potentially changing parishes and that the relationship will sour by my pursuing the matter. However, I know now that need to take the next step and see what our pastor himself says when I ask for a meeting.

Kindest thanks and appreciation.


Dave followed up later:

With thanks again to the group for your feedback, I wanted to let you know that I was given the opportunity to speak with our parish priest and discuss my exclusion from being an usher and also discuss the general status of divorced and remarried Catholics both in the Catholic Church and the local parish.

Relative to the exclusion of being an usher, Father Tom has assured me that it was a mistake and he has no idea who provided that information to the usher crew (they won’t say who it was). We have a new director of Sacred Liturgy who now has instructions to make sure that the usher crews have been updated with the correct information.

Our local bishop has decided the dividing line for what divorced and remarried Catholics cannot participate in is Lector, (EM) Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion aka Eucharistic Ministers, etc.

We can be scheduled adorers, we can be Ushers, but the Bishop has drawn the line at Lector. I confess that I disagree with the position. EM exclusion makes sense. Lector. . . not so much (at least not to me), but I will certainly accede to the bishop’s mandate. I also received a call from the parish secretary asking for a follow-up meeting on September 11.

I saw Fr. Tom after Mass today and he reminded me to be there for good news. We'll see what happens next.



Eric replied:


I politely disagree with the bishop's position, too, but it is not unreasonable or beyond precedent.

The position of Lector is a formal liturgical position (used to be part of the minor clerical orders) and, for example, ex-priests cannot be Lectors. Anyway, I am glad that you gained much ground in this regard.



John replied:

Hi Dave,

Glad to hear you found some resolution to the problem.

I actually agree with your bishop's decision. The ministry of Lector, although treated fairly loosely these days, is actually pretty official. They don't institute Lectors very often these days. That's mostly because they allow women to do it, and a woman can't be an instituted Lector but, when instituted, it's a very official position and, even when not, it is a liturgical function at the altar and that implies full Communion with the Church.

You're current situation may technically mean you're not in full Communion with the Church. There are also certain visual issues. For instance as a Lector, you're in the Sanctuary when Communion is distributed so the whole congregation would see you weren't receiving. That might lead many to speculate as to why, if they don't know your situation, you aren't receiving. It gives busy bodies reason to talk etc, etc.

So there are legitimate pastoral reasons.

I can understand why Eric disagrees with me and the Bishop. I think that's because Eric has never been on the other side of such issues or decisions. I was a minister of a Protestant congregation. While we didn't have the same exact restrictions, we did have to take these sort of things into consideration when it came to allowing anyone from the congregation to serve in an upfront ministry so I'm wired to think of these implications, where Eric might not be.


Dave replied:

Understood John,

. . . and I don’t want to be a source of scandalous behavior, but I still personally and respectfully disagree with the reasoning. I’d be delivering God’s Word, not performing EM duties associated with the Eucharist.

  • Frankly, as an Usher, the whole church would see I’m not receiving also, right?

I am a huge fan of [PDF] Amoris Laetitia’s footnote 351 where we are reminded that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect. I also agree with Pope Francis’ position that one of the great concerns is, as he describes it, the perfect Catholic. We could also discuss the questions raised by Amoris Laetitia, the situation in Germany, etc. but that’s an area you guys are much closer to, not me. I’m just a grammarian who is learning much and very thankful to have been led to this opportunity to assist while also learning so much about our Catholic faith.

God does indeed work to lead each of us home.


A friend, Anonymous Andrew replied:

Hi, David —

I'm also glad to hear that the pastor is opening some doors for you!


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