October 26, 2015

Most U.S. Catholics hope for change in church rule on divorce, Communion

Fewer Than Half of Catholics Say Homosexual Behavior, Remarriage Without Annulment, Cohabitation, Contraception Are SinsThe Vatican synod on the family concluded over the weekend – with somewhat inconclusive results that were open to multiple interpretations.

While there were many topics of conversation – including homosexuality, cohabitation and contraception – much of the focus fell on Catholics who have been divorced and remarried without an annulment, and the debate over whether the church would allow them to receive Communion. The synod’s final document, with each paragraph approved by at least two-thirds of the 265 voting bishops in attendance, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but some observers expect Pope Francis may leave it up to local parishes.

Most U.S. Catholics (62%) think the church should allow Catholics who have been divorced and remarried without an annulment to receive Communion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. And only about a third of American Catholics (35%) say they personally think getting remarried after a divorce without an annulment is sinful, compared with half (49%) who say it is not a sin. Only 21% of Catholics say simply getting a divorce is sinful, while 61% say it is not.

These views may be informed by the fact that many Catholics have had these experiences. A quarter of American Catholic adults (25%) have been divorced themselves, and roughly a third (9% of all Catholic adults) are currently remarried. Among all U.S. Catholics who have ever been divorced, only about a quarter (26%) say they or their former spouse have sought an annulment from the Catholic Church.

Indeed, many Catholics who have been divorced do not seem to view an annulment as necessary. The survey asked all U.S. Catholics who have been divorced and have not sought an annulment why they did not do so; the most common type of answer was that Catholics did not seek an annulment because they did not see it as necessary or did not want to get one (43%).

Our survey found that many divorced and remarried Catholics who may not be eligible for Communion in the eyes of the church say they do receive Communion at least some of the time they attend Mass. While there were not enough respondents who were divorced and remarried without an annulment to analyze separately in the survey, they can be looked at together with Catholics who are currently living with a romantic partner outside of marriage, another group that received attention at the synod.

In this combined group, 34% say they receive Communion every time they attend Mass – fewer than the 45% of all other U.S. Catholics who say the same. But still, only about three-in-ten (29%) Catholics who are divorced and remarried without an annulment or cohabiting say they never receive Communion, while an additional 5% say they never attend Mass.

Topics: Religion and Society, Marriage and Divorce, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    It is also unfortunate that certain groups… have conceived of marriage as being consummated by divine action. Such beliefs lead directly to the concept of the indissolubility of the marital state regardless of the circumstances or wishes of the contracting parties. But the very fact of marriage dissolution itself indicates that God is not a conjoining party to such unions. If God has once joined any two things or persons together, they will remain thus joined until such a time as the divine will decrees their separation. But, regarding marriage, which is a human institution, who shall presume to sit in judgment, to say which marriages are unions that might be approved by God in contrast with those which are purely human in nature and origin?

  2. Nydia Narvaez2 years ago

    My husband and I have been married close to 30 years so why an annulment? Besides it is an expensive and long process …

  3. Kitty Watson2 years ago

    In the US there is a very skewed point of view among many Catholics.
    Either we tend to think of it as another opportunity to express political beliefs voting or as a cafeteria line in which one may have the dessert …but reject the meat and potatoes.

  4. Jc Fisher2 years ago

    Clearly only an (unmerciful) minority of Roman Catholics read Pew!

  5. Loretta2 years ago

    Poll shows the ignorance of today’s catholics on church teachings, what those teachings are based on and why the actions polled are indeed sins against God and nature.

  6. ciao2 years ago

    Most US Catholics are uncatechized.

  7. Ralph Wiggum2 years ago

    This just goes to show, (1) how poorly catechized Catholics are today. (2) the sad truth that there are so many people Catholic in name only, and (3) how easily swayed people can be by a culture when you’re not focusing on God.

  8. Mike2 years ago

    I think organized religion is a way to make a buck without working too hard.

    1. Alex2 years ago

      Tell that to the priests working 80 hours a week spending time with the elderly, sick, imprisoned, and needy. Tell that to the church organizations running homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Tell that to the millions who gain peace and strength from our unity.

  9. donna2 years ago

    It really doesn’t matter how many Catholics or non-Catholics want a change in the teaching on Communion. The Church does not and never has swayed to popular opinion. We are not Lutherans, or Baptists or Evangelicals or any of the non-Catholic Christians. We hold to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

    It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to make us grow in love and faith.

    So if you are in sin – no Communion. and that means me or you or anyone.

    Christ’s teachings are not up for debate.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      You have fun with your self righteous imaginary nonsense club. Stuff like this is why I left the church years ago and never looked back.

  10. SteveGee2 years ago

    What these people want is justification. They want to have it chiseled in stone saying that it’s okay to do what they want to do when they want to do it, so their is no guilt. And then of course they want the freedom of entering into that second marriage and third and fourth marriage without anyone questioning their life style. Being in a same sex relationship carries the same guilt. It’s all the same. You see as long as the Church calls these things MORTAL SINS, or INHEIRENTLY EVIL that means unless one repents, Hell is the possible out come unless one reforms. No one wants to think they might go to Hell. I mean God’s a warm fuzzy Teddy Bear that loves and understands us and accepts us where we are, right? This is all about justification. “Be Holy because I am Holy” I think were the instructions we got.

    Not in all cases because there are exceptions, but I would bet that most of the people that are squealing so loudly for change probably aren’t regular in attending mass, not because it’s boring or non-inclusive, bit because of the guilty feeling they get or the “call of the wild” that they’re unwilling to give up. They see no need for confession, they don’t believe in the real presence, they think promiscuity and “shacking up” are okay along with artificial contraception and in extreme situations, even justify abortion. This all about mankind trying to justify a sin filled existence and joining the secular world we live in where morality is ambiguous and hedonism is rampant. We know it’s contrary to God’s will but gee, everybody’s doing it. But if we can just get the Church to say it’s okay and put all of that in writing then we get rid of that guilt you see?

    The old bugaboo reputation of Catholics being raised in guilt and seeing sin around every corner is true !! But, it is very effective, and a good thing because in this day and age, it’s true. And when we find ourselves in a state of sin, it comes back to haunt most of us– eventually, especially as we age and begin to come to grips with our mortality. Darned Fadda, ya mean I might go to Hell? You darned straight and it ain’t me that said it my son!!

  11. elias attea2 years ago

    God does not listen to polls its His will remember

  12. Oh YE!2 years ago

    Consider that the people who are active in their faith and want to receive may have something else going on. It is not merciful to have hard and fast rules. If someone is married to an abusive person but both persons are seeking therapy yet the marriage is not going to survive because of the danger involved (especially with children) are you suggesting that this is what God wants? And if you are, do you believe in the New Testament because that is Old Testament thinking. Life is messy. The fifties are over. Things have changed and I would rather err on the side of mercy than of hard heartedness because there is plenty in the Bible (since you are quoting) about how God feels about that. It is up to each person and their conscience (Oh, yes, the Catechism!) to determine these positions on faith. Because in the end it is between the heart of each man and woman and the Heart of God. So, when you say that God won’t allow it, what you are really saying is that you won’t allow it because you followed the rules and so should they! Well, it isn’t up to you or me. Thank God!! I completely believe that the Holy Spirit is at work.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Totally agree

  13. Tor2 years ago

    I’ve never heard anything from god. But I’ve read in th bible that deathsentece by stoning is allowed for a lot of crimes.. That is also gods words? Who are you to verify that the bible holds gods laws?

    1. Alper2 years ago

      Do you know the story of a prostitute dragged to jesus for adultary and people asked jesus what to do as the jewish traditions told them to stone her. Jesus said whoever is sinfree should cast the first stone. All left but the woman (Mary Magdalena) I am not a christian myself but trying to attack the faith from there is kind of unfair. Especially considering old testament doesnt has the same controlling atmosphere according to their religion. It is obvious what a christian should do. Whatever is suggested primarily on new testament. I am an exmuslim. I would believe in catholicism if it weren’t for the old testament. By the way the story I told also means we cannot judge anyone. We are all sinners according to it and we have no right to judge.

      1. Bernadette2 years ago

        I am glad you got out of your previous religion. The bible isnthe word of God. The New Testament is the new covenant. Jesus brought salvation to those who unite themselves to bm. Repent and believe in the gospel. The Jes were the chosen people. From them came our lord and savior, a Jew himself.. he came to save all who follow his way.. The Catholic Church has a
        The truth you need. Do not be put off by the Old Testament. Jesus said see I am making all things new

    2. donna2 years ago


      I think you might enjoy reading the Bible. You will see God’s love and mercy there. God wants us all to be happy. But not to do what ever we want because a lot of it is not good for us.

      When the men wanted to stone the adulterous women, what did Jesus do? He said, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” They all left until only the woman and Jesus were left. And what did he tell her? “Go and sin no more.”

      You were made in love and made for love. True love is not hurtful, or prideful, or selfish.

  14. John Germain2 years ago

    Nice poll, but who cares? The church is NOT a democracy, if there was a poll today as to whether or not Jesus should be crucified the “American people” (based on his teaching) would approve of crucifying. Fact is, the American Catholics for the most part don’t follow the church, that includes some priests and bishops. Jesus set up the church to lead and guide us “in the truth” and God’s truth doesn’t change with the times. I’m sorry but “shacking-up” is still “fornication”, adultery is still a mortal sin too, and homosexual acts are still “sodomy”. Most American Catholics are least educated about the church and the faith she professes, they know far more about every other subject that exist, so why poll the ignorant? The results become bogus.

  15. jacqueline m zurawski2 years ago

    The problem with your polls is that you are interviewing people who are claiming Catholic but who don’t practice their faith, hence, not Catholic. Poll people who go to Mass every Sunday, GO TO CONFESSION on a regular basis and ou will have true figures.

  16. Joe M Knight2 years ago

    It really doesn’t matter who or how many Catholics think one should be able to be divorced, remarried and still receive Communion. Even if it were 90% or 100%, it wouldn’t matter. If it is decreed by God as a sin, then no one, not even the Pope can change that.

    Jesus said twice in Matthew, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19 & 18:18). So if the Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, through discussion, prayer and discernment have determined that one is in sin (by God’s decree) if remarried (without an annulment) and one receives Communion, then that will be held bound in Heaven.

    If one is not in communion with Christ by their action of a grave and serious sin, how can they receive communion; which is receiving Jesus body, soul & divinity, internally? I guess it would be kind of like going up to receive a Superbowl ring even though you played for the losing team. Except in the case of receiving the Eucharist in serious sin; it is a WHOLE lot more serious of an infraction.

    1. lozeerose2 years ago

      My thoughts exactly.

      More importantly it was Christ Himself who elevated marriage to a Sacrament and reminded all that divorce was never part of God’s plan. A valid marriage is indissoluble.

    2. Ken B.2 years ago

      There’s no evidence that there is a heaven.

      1. Donna2 years ago


        Prove there is no heaven.

      2. Joe M Knight2 years ago

        Based on the human discoveries on physics, on the theory of cause and effect, it is physically impossible that God does not exist. Some people talk about the “Big Bang” theory. Well based on physics, something, or some force had to initiate this “Big Bang”. If you keep peeling this onion back to the next layer, you have to ask, “well what caused this then”; so on and so forth. So because God does exist, then so Heaven has to exist. Because the God, (the only God), that has been with us has revealed Himself to us throughout history.

        Documented history, among many, many things, reveals the parting of the Red Sea. No phenomena in any time, let alone that time frame could make a huge body of water separate into two walls many feet apart so the Israelites could pass through and escape the Egyptian army. They have recently discovered ancient chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea; which can reasonably be conjectured as to where God plunged the Egyptians into the depths as the tried to pursue the Israelites.

        And God entered into history through His son Jesus. What about the Shroud of Turin? The cloth of the Shroud has been determined to come from the time Jesus walked this Earth. The image (presumably of Jesus) on the cloth, through today’s scientific analysis, has determined that it would have been impossible, based on the technology of that time in history, for Jesus’ image to be painted on some way or a negative photo imaged imbued onto the cloth. So how did the image of Jesus get on the cloth? Unless it was miraculous. Ergo God revealed Himself by the miracle of the Shroud.

        These are only two of thousands of examples of God’s footprint in history. So bottom line, Ken, God exists and subsequently, so does Heaven. Why/ Because the God that exists said so.

      3. Joe M Knight2 years ago

        Ken, believing in the existence of Heaven is a matter of faith; and not something that can be proven by human reason or scientific study. That is the very definition of what faith is. But to satisfy your question of proof, here is my argument to you. God has overtly revealed Himself thousands of time throughout history. Read the bible. It is a bona fide, universally recognized, historical document.

        To name just a few examples of God’s existence:

        – The parting of the Red Sea by God through His servant Moses. Do you know archaeologists have discovered ancient chariot wheels where it was thought the Hebrews crossed through the parting of the sea that God made happen? Could they be the wheels from the chariots of the Egyptian army who chased the Hebrews to the promise land? I’m willing to bet that age testing of the wheels will prove that the time frame works with writings from the Old Testament.

        – Jesus resurrection from the dead. Over 500 witnesses saw Jesus alive after knowing that the Romans had crucified Him just days before. A miracle that can only be attributed to a God who loves us.

        So if God exists, then by reason Heaven must also exist.

  17. MisterBeee592 years ago

    It really doesn’t matter who or how many Catholics think one should be able to be divorced, remarried and still receive Communion. Even if it were 90% or 100%, it wouldn’t matter. If it is decreed by God as a sin, then no one, not even the Pope can change that.

    Jesus said twice in Matthew, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19 & 18:18). So if the Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, through discussion, prayer and discernment have determined that one is in sin (by God’s decree) if remarried (without an annulment) and one receives Communion, then that will be held bound in Heaven.

    If one is not in communion with Christ by their action of a grave and serious sin, how can they receive communion; which is receiving Jesus body, soul & divinity internally? I guess it would be kind of like going up to receive a Superbowl ring even though you played for the losing team. Except in the case of receiving the Eucharist it is a WHOLE lot more serious of an infraction.

  18. Joe2 years ago

    There are many Protestant sect churches that will take them

  19. Tanya Wersinger2 years ago

    Of course most Americans want a change on communion, they are americans before they are Catholic. They believe in the secular god of the US, not the God of Abraham Issac and Jacob, not in Christ Jesus, true God and true Man, who came to us and made clear the meaning of marriage.

  20. David2 years ago

    We’ve lost the understanding that it’s not about what we want, it’s what God asks of us.

  21. MisterBeee592 years ago

    This is not an election issue. The matter is NOT subject to a democratic vote in the opinion poles. It doesn’t matter if 100% of Catholics felt the same way about divorce and that they should receive communion. The #1 priority is obedience to the Church and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Jesus said it twice, “Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven” (Matt 16:19 & Matt 18:18). Which means He really means it. So if the Pope, along with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church deem it illicit or a sin to receive communion if one is divorced and remarried (without an annulment) it is with good reason; not some fluke decision. More than likely they deemed this action to be in non-communion with Christ. If one knowingly is not in communion with Christ, how can that one receive Communion at Mass? Those who disobey this teaching subject themselves to judgement when they come before Our Lord.

  22. Anne2 years ago

    Why would Catholics not think those are sins? Could it be because the Catholic Church has stopped preaching on sin to be more politically correct or protect their tax exemption? I can’t remember the last time I heard a sermon on any of those topics in an informative way. Most of the homilies involve “loving your neighbor” with no direction as to what that looks like or means. Loving someone does not mean approving of sin in some show of false mercy. Love means pointing out error in the hopes that person repents so as to be with God in eternal life. Hell will be full of unrepentant sinners and those who approve of them.

  23. Carmen Delgado2 years ago

    The bible CLEARLY state that it is a sin for the divorce to remarried without an annulment. What so hard to understand? How can you receive the body of Christ if you are livingi in sin? The world has gone mad.People want sin in many forms to be acceptable. No wander the Bible says many are called but few are chosen. The remnant will be small I can see it now.

    1. Anon2 years ago

      Really, it clearly states that? Where?

      “How can you receive the body of Christ if you are livingi [sic] in sin?”
      I don’t know. The prostitutes and tax collectors that Jesus hung out with didn’t seem to have a problem.

      I really don’t understand the Catholic policy of Communion. I was baptized and confirmed Lutheran, but my Catholic in-laws wouldn’t let me take Communion with them. I was ostracized and forced to stay behind in the pew, while everyone else (many of whom were likely “living in sin”) got up and received it. Why? Wouldn’t it be BETTER for me as a sinner of ANY stripe, with the idea that my sins might be cleansed and healed by his Body and Blood? Perhaps taking Communion will transform me. Maybe it would even lead me to convert.
      So why is it “withheld”? It doesn’t make any sense.

      1. Brad Miner2 years ago

        Where in the Bible? In Matthew 19:9: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” [The meaning of “except for sexual immorality” part is debated, but the Catholic understanding is that it refers to adulterous sexual intercourse during the betrothal period.]

      2. Michael2 years ago

        Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 7, though he also says in that chapter that it would be better for everyone to remain unmarried and never have sex at all. His teaching is actually that sex itself is inadvisable, but because people have uncontrollable lust, God granted marriage as a means to have sex without sinning. Sex before marriage and adultery are still sins though. He says, repeatedly, that it is better to never marry and remain a virgin.

        Then he says that you should not divorce your spouse, but if you do, you should never remarry. However, if a woman’s husband dies, she may remarry, though again, it would be better if she didn’t. After all, the world was about to end back in the first century and there was no time to be concerned with worldly matters.

        So it is definitely in there, and it is indeed pretty clear, but making modern sense out of the whole chapter requires pretty selective reading.

      3. Steve2 years ago

        Paul. 1 corinthians 29. Do not take communion unworthily.

        Jesus still comes to sinners, forgives their sins and tells them to sin no more.

        The guest without the garment (grace of forgiveness, which he did not seek) at the wedding feast was thrown out into the cold.

        It is better for all sinners to go to confession and gain absolution and sin no more. Then go to communion.

      4. Tanya Wersinger2 years ago

        The tax collectors and prostitutes had a conversion of heart, so they shouldn’t have had a problem. But the people who have no desire to be converted, want their cake and eat it too. As far as another faith receiving the body of the Lord in His Church, it is a problem, you must believe in the same articles of faith which Holy Catholic Church teaches, and to be free of serious sin-mortal sin. I do encourage you to look deeper into what it means to be a Catholic. And Kudos to your in-laws for giving you sound advice. Articular confession for serious sins is required for those in the Church to receive worthily. God bless you.

      5. Phil190342 years ago

        The reason the Church doesn’t allow Protestants to receive communion is 3 fold:

        1) We believe (as do some Lutherans) that receiving Communion means that you agree 100% with the teachings of the Church… this is one of the reasons the Sacrament is sometimes called “communion.”

        2) In order to receive Communion everyone (Catholics included) must be free of mortal sin and must have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka … gone to confession) within the past year (assuming you have no mortal sin).

        3) Asking people to refrain from Communion isn’t a punishment, it’s a mercy. Because the Church believes (as St. Paul teaches in the Bible) that if you are to receive the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily (aka – in a state of Mortal Sin) you eat & drink spiritual death. Just like how the Jews would physically die if the opened the Ark of the Covenant in a state of sin, we believe that we spiritually die if we partake in the Body & Blood of Christ while having unconfessed sins.

        It was a lot easier back when you had to fast all night or at least 3 hours before receiving communion. It would be better if the Church went back to that, so people don’t feel peer pressure to go up and receive unworthily.

        God Bless!

  24. Jackie2 years ago

    You can’t make up your own rules! Society doesn’t even know what SIN is anymore.

  25. Laurie2 years ago

    God’s laws are not subject to opinions.

    1. Jeff2 years ago

      Luckily, society’s laws are.

      1. eurram2 years ago

        Oh! But God’s law trumps society’s laws

        1. Claire2 years ago

          Oh please most American Catholics today do not practice their religion. How else do you explain all the two child families? Does anyone go to confession anymore? And let’s get real and allow women to be preists there would be a lot less pedophilia in the preisthood if that were the case.