Responding to a challenge from German bishops, the Vatican last week refused to change its longstanding doctrine that divorced Catholics who remarry outside of the church cannot receive Holy Communion.
Written by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II, the nine-page document stated that the ruling "is not at all a punishment or a discrimination against the divorced and remarried, but rather expresses an objective situation that of itself renders impossible the reception of Holy Communion."
The statement was signed by the head of the doctrinal congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, himself a German and one of the pope's most trusted theologians.
The letter was seen as a response to a statement written last year by four German bishops in which they attempted to find some leeway in the church's teaching.
The bishops suggested that Catholics who are convinced in conscience that their first marriage was invalid but who are unable to obtain annulments from church tribunals could receive the sacrament.
The Catholic Church does not allow divorce, although it frequently declares marriages null, in which case a person is free to remarry.
Pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics has become a thorny issue for bishops and priests, many of whom do not want to give the impression that they are abandoning this large segment of the church. But the Oct. 14 letter made it clear that no change was on the horizon.