Catholic single mothers should be encouraged and not prevented from taking part in Holy Communion, the church has affirmed, in a letter which seeks to clarify the doctrinal position on the matter.
The announcement was in response to a bishop in the Dominican Republic, who said some single mothers have been abstaining from Communion out of fear of reprisals or reprimand. The church said on Thursday that women who have “chosen life” by giving birth in the face of challenging financial realities, should not be punished for a decision which is in line with the Catholic faith’s strong stance against abortion.
The letter from the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by the Pope, notes 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.”
In Argentina, in 2012, Pope Francis, who was then Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, had strong words for such priests, calling them “the hypocrites of today. They have clericalised the Church. They turn God’s people away from salvation.”
Thursday’s letter also states that the Pope recognised the courage of a single mother in 2015, saying: “I know that it is not easy... I know that people can sometimes look down on you. But I want to tell you something: you are a brave woman… you respected the life you had inside you, and God will reward you for that. Do not be ashamed; walk with your head held high”.
The letter also acknowledged that in some countries single mothers may be facing extreme financial pressures, even resorting to prostitution in some cases, and encouraged the church community to offer more support: “The Christian community is called to do everything possible to help her avoid this very serious risk rather than judge her harshly.”
At the Synod of Bishops earlier this year, Pope Francis denounced “chauvinist and dictatorial attitudes” in the Catholic church, and ministers who “mistreat the people of God”.
“It is up to you,” the letter to the Bishop of San Francisco de Macorís concludes, “to ensure that such behaviour does not occur in your local Church.”