Doctrine of the Faith: Encourage single mothers to approach the Sacraments

Responding to a question from a bishop in the Dominican Republic, who pointed out that some single mothers abstain from Communion out of fear of the clergy’s rigorism, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith recalls with Pope Francis that women in such situations, already facing difficulties for having chosen life, must be encouraged to encounter the saving power of the Sacraments

Vatican News

Single mothers must not be prevented but encouraged to approach the Sacraments, writes the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in response to a question from Bishop Ramón Alfredo de la Cruz Baldera of San Francisco de Macorís, in the Dominican Republic.

Letter approved by the Pope

In the Letter, approved on Wednesday by Pope Francis and published today on the Dicastery’s website, Cardinal Victor Fernandez responds to the Dominican bishop’s concern that some single mothers “abstain from Communion out of fear of the rigorism of the clergy and community leaders.” The prefect 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.”

The Eucharist, God’s answer to the hunger of the human heart

Recently, the Letter points out, Pope Francis himself has recalled that “the Eucharist is God’s response to the deepest hunger of the human heart, the hunger for authentic life, for in the Eucharist Christ himself is truly in our midst, to nourish, console and sustain us on our journey” (Greeting of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Organizing Committee of the National Eucharistic Congress of the United States of America, 19 June 2023). This, the Dicastery says, is why “women who in such a situation have chosen for life and lead a very complex existence because of that choice, should be encouraged to access the saving and consoling power of the Sacraments.”

The courage of single mothers

“The issue of single mothers and the difficulties that they and their children face in accessing the sacraments,” the document notes, “was already addressed by the Holy Father when he was the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires: ‘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” (Homily of September 2012).

The letter notes, too, that Pope Francis has recognized the courage of these women in carrying the pregnancy to term: “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” (Video conference hosted by ABC, 11 September 2015).

Being a single mother does not prevent access to 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,” the Letter explains, adding, “As for all other Christians, sacramental confession of sins allows the person to approach communion. 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.”

Indeed, the Letter observes, “there are ‘difficult situations’ that need to be discerned and accompanied pastorally. It can occur that one of these mothers, 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.”

The logic of compassion

“For this reason,” the Letter continues, “‘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’” (Amoris laetitia, 308).

Cardinal Fernandez then points out that often, commenting on the biblical episode of the adulterous woman (Jn 8:1-11), Jesus’ final words – “Sin no more” – are emphasized. “Certainly,” he writes in his Letter, “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, he writes, “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’” (AL, 49).

Chauvinistic and dictatorial attitudes

Finally, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith recalls what the Pope said in his message to the Synod on the feminine and maternal face of the Church, when he denounced “chauvinist and dictatorial attitudes” of those ministers who “exaggerate in their service and mistreat the people of God” (Address to the Synod of Bishops, 25 October 2023).

“It is up to you,” Cardinal Fernández concludes in his reply to the Bishop of San Francisco de Macorís, “to ensure that such behaviour does not occur in your local Church.”