LOURDES, France (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Sunday the Church could not recognize “irregular unions” of Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church.
“Initiatives aimed at blessing irregular unions cannot be admitted,” he said in an address to French bishops in the shrine city of Lourdes.
Throughout the developed world, the Church has been struggling with how to administer to Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment — an ecclesiastical declaration that their first union is null and void — but want to remain fully active in the Church.
The Church does not recognize divorce. It considers the first marriage still valid and teaches that those who divorce and remarry cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sexual relations with their new partner.
While bishops in several countries have been pushing for some opening on the difficult issue, the pope said the Church could not change its teachings on the indissolubility of marriage because it was instituted by Christ.
In other remarks, the pope ordered bishops to make space for traditionalists who use the Latin Mass.
A papal decision last year to allow a much wider use of the old-style mass — a move which traditionalists demanded for decades but which was opposed by liberals — has met with resistance in some countries, particularly France.
But the pope was firm in his position.
“Everyone has a place in the Church. Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home and never rejected,” he said of those who preferred the Latin Mass instead of the new liturgy in modern languages introduced after the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965.
On Sunday morning the 81-year-old pope, on a pilgrimage to the shrine where the faithful believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl 150 years ago, told a crowd that love can be stronger than all the evil in the world.
He said a mass for nearly 200,000 people on a field in the shadow of the sanctuary built over the spot of the apparitions in 1858.
Pilgrims flocked from dozens of countries for the pope’s three-day visit, his 10th abroad and his first to France. Many were in wheelchairs or stretchers and helped by volunteers.
When he arrived on Saturday night, Benedict prayed in the grotto where Bernadette Soubirous said the Madonna appeared and spoke to her 18 times, and he drank water from a spring that believers say has healing powers.
In the past 150 years, the Church has recognized as “miracles” more than 65 medically inexplicable healings of sick pilgrims who visited Lourdes.
Benedict, saying Mass from under white canopies shaped like sails, told his listeners to be true to their faith because “it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins”.
Wearing red, white and gold vestments, he told a crowd wrapped in jackets against an unusually cold late summer day that “the power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us”.
“This is an incredible experience for our group, especially for the sick ones,” said Sean Luddock, a volunteer who helped lead a pilgrimage of several hundred people from Ireland.
“We come here in the same period every year and this year it just happened to coincide with the pope’s visit. What a treat!” he said.
Since he arrived in France on Friday, the pope has effectively given the country’s Catholics a series of pep talks, urging them not to be afraid to live their faith in public despite “laicite”, France’s separation of church and state.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan