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The Vatican recently released guidelines this month to clarify the Church’s position on single mothers taking Communion. In a letter dated December 13 and addressed to Bishop Ramón Alfredo de la Cruz Baldera of the Dominican Republic, it noted the Bishops concern over single mothers who choose not to take Communion “out of fear of the rigorism of the clergy and community leaders.” The Vatican’s response also noted that it had received letters from lay people on the same subject. “It is noted that in some countries, both priests and some lay people prevent mothers who have had a child outside of marriage from accessing the sacraments and even baptizing their children.” The Church’s response, according to the letter, should be a focus on the fact that these women have chosen life. “Women who, in this situation, have chosen life and who lead a very complex existence because of this choice should be encouraged to have access to the healing and consoling power of the sacraments.”

The letter backed up its support of this stance by noting that Pope Francis had addressed the issue of children of single mothers being baptized while he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. At the time, Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “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.” The letter then stated that the Church should focus on compassion, and that a single mother who has confessed her sins ought not be prevented from taking the Eucharist. “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.”

The response did maintain that women who are in active sin should be approached with discernment and compassion. Once such instance it offered was when a single mother finds herself in economic uncertainty and 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,” the letter noted. It then referred to the story in the Gospels when a woman is caught into adultery and is brought to Jesus. Rather than assist the crowd in stoning the woman, Jesus invites any who are sinless to “cast the first stone.” After no one takes up his challenge, Jesus tells the woman to go and “sin no more” (John 8:1-11). Rather than focus on “sin no more,” the letter encouraged a realistic understanding of one’s own sin. “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. 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.’”

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