There has been a lot of discussion concerning whether or not those couples who are divorced and re-married can receive holy Communion without a prior annulment of their first marriages. A lot of the discussion has focused on trying to integrate these couples into the life of the Church for their spiritual well-being. St. John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.” This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
Since marriage is a public good, a public forum is required. That is why the Church has a Marriage Tribunal that the Bishop designates for marriage cases. Some divorced and remarried people have claimed that their parish priest absolved them of the sin of adultery thus these couples do not see a need to have an annulment of their prior marriages. The priest in the confessional, which deals with the internal forum, has no power to declare a marriage valid or invalid, because they are not competent to dissolve their first marriage. There can be no valid second marriage in the Church unless a declaration of nullity has been granted by the Church’s external forum, the Marriage Tribunal.