The head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, said that women who have had a child out of marriage and have the courage to choose life for their baby should be encouraged to have access to the healing and consoling power of the sacraments.
The dicastery prefect was responding to a question from Bishop Ramón de la Cruz Baldera of San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic, expressing concern for single mothers who abstain from the sacraments, fearing the rigidity of their pastors and judgement from fellow Catholics in their parishes.
“It is noted 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 baptising their children,” said the cardinal.
Cardinal Fernández noted that Pope Francis addressed the issue in 2012, when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“There are priests who do not baptise the children of single mothers because the children were not conceived in the sanctity of marriage. They are the hypocrites of today. They turn God’s people away from salvation,” the future Pope had said.
“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 baptised,” he added.
The cardinal also said that in 2015, while in Los Angeles, in a meeting, Pope Francis told a woman who approached him that he knew that it was not easy to be a single mother and that he was aware that people can sometimes look down on her.
He, however, thanked her for being a brave woman because she was able to bring her two daughters into the world. He thanked her for respecting life inside her and said that God would reward her.
Like with any Catholic, he said that the sacrament of confession of sins allows the person to approach communion. The ecclesial community should 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.
He also quoted the Bible, where Jesus told a woman who was caught in adultery to sin no more. This was an indicator that single mothers are supposed to be forgiven and given a chance to straighten their Christianity.
Cardinal Fernández also quoted part of Pope Francis’ 2016 letter while referring to mothers who must raise their children alone.
“Pope Francis 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,” he wrote.
The relationship between single mothers and the Catholic Church has not always been easy. Because the church has long defined marriage as central to lay Catholic identity, Catholic single mothers have sometimes stayed hidden in the shadows.
However, the treatment of single mothers in the Catholic Church has improved greatly, and many attribute it to Pope Francis.