Faith and Spirituality

Vatican defends single mothers, says they can receive communion

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Vatican defends single mothers, says they can receive communion

HOLY FATHER. Pope Francis holds a weekly general audience, at the Vatican, December 13, 2023.

Vatican Media/Handout/Reuters

The Catholic Church should ‘value the fact that single mothers welcomed and defended the gift of life they carried in their wombs and struggle, every day, to raise their children,’ says the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

MANILA, Philippines – The Vatican came to the defense of single mothers and said they can receive holy communion, the most important sacrament for Catholics, even in the face of “machismo and dictatorial attitudes” among priests and laypersons.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office was responding to a letter from Ramón Alfredo de la Cruz Baldera, bishop of the Diocese of San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic, who voiced concern about single mothers who “abstain from communion out of fear of the rigorism of the clergy and community leaders.”

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) said on Wednesday, December 13, that women in such difficult situations “should be encouraged to have access to the healing and consoling power of the sacraments.”

“In this sense, pastoral work should be done in the local Church to make people understand that being a single mother does not prevent that person from accessing the Eucharist. As for all other Christians, sacramental confession of sins allows the person to approach communion,” said the DDF in a letter signed by its prefect, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, and approved by Pope Francis.

“The ecclesial community should, furthermore, value the fact that single mothers welcomed and defended the gift of life they carried in their wombs and struggle, every day, to raise their children,” Fernández added.

He acknowledged that there can be “difficult situations,” such as when a single mother, “given the fragility of her situation, sometimes resorts to selling her body to support her family.”

“The Christian community is called to do everything possible to help her avoid this very serious risk rather than judge her harshly. For this reason, ‘the Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements,’” the DDF prefect said, citing Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

This is the latest in a series of doctrinal documents published by the DDF under Fernández, who assumed his post in mid-September 2023. 

Other such notes include a November 8 document that said transgender people can serve as godparents in Catholic baptisms, a November 15 response to Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes that Freemasonry is still banned for Catholics, and a December 12 guidance that softened the Catholic Church’s stance on preserving ashes after cremation.

The Argentine-born Fernández has been a close associate of Francis ever since the latter was still known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Like Francis, Fernández is despised by many conservatives for his pastoral approach – as opposed to a rigid, by-the-book attitude – to Catholic theology.

‘They are the hypocrites of today’

In his response to the Dominican Republic bishop, Fernández said the Pope already addressed the same issue when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Bergoglio once said: “There are priests who do not baptize the children of single mothers because [the children] were not conceived in the sanctity of marriage. They are the hypocrites of today. They have clericalized the Church. They turn God’s people away from salvation. And that poor girl who could have sent her child back to the sender but had the courage to bring him into the world goes on pilgrimage from parish to parish to have him baptized.”

Later, in a 2015 video conference, Francis told a single mother named Rosemary: “I know that it is not easy to be a single mother. I know that people can sometimes look down on you. But I want to tell you something: you are a brave woman because you were able to bring these two daughters into the world. You could have killed them in your womb, yet you respected life: you respected the life you had inside you, and God will reward you for that, and he does reward you. Do not be ashamed; walk with your head held high: ‘I did not kill my daughters; I brought them into the world’. I congratulate you; I congratulate you, and may God bless you.”

Fernández noted that in the biblical story of the adulterous woman, in John 8:1-11, the faithful often emphasize the final phrase, “Sin no more.” He said the phrase, however, should be interpreted in its proper context.

“Certainly, Jesus always invites us to change our lives, to respond more faithfully to God’s will, and to live with greater dignity. However, this phrase does not constitute the central message of this Gospel pericope, which is simply the invitation to recognize that no one can cast the first stone,” the Vatican official said.

“For this reason, Pope Francis, referring to mothers who must raise their children alone, reminds us that ‘in such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort, and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy,’” Fernández said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com