German Bishops Open Way to Communion for Divorced Catholics

The Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, a Roman Catholic church in Frankfurt. Many German bishops are generally considered to be within the more liberal wing of the Catholic Church.

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Catholics in Germany who have divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment may receive communion on a case-by-case basis, the German bishops’ conference announced on Wednesday. The decision is a major acceleration of a more welcoming — but disputed — stance on family life adopted by the Vatican under Pope Francis.

The decision was not unexpected; many German bishops are generally considered to be within the more liberal wing of the Roman Catholic Church. It was they who, at a 2015 synod on family life, proposed inviting divorced and remarried Catholics who had not had their first marriages annulled to seek the counsel of a priest to determine their future participation in church life.

But several German bishops have dissented, insisting that Catholics who have divorced and remarried must abstain from sex if they wish to receive the eucharist.

After that synod, the pope released a sweeping document on family issues last April that signaled a more welcoming stance toward divorced Catholics. The document — titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” and known as an apostolic exhortation — did not require churches to offer communion to the divorced, but it left the door open for bishops and priests to determine.

Bishops in Argentina and Malta subsequently adopted guidelines allowing divorced Catholics to receive the sacrament of communion; Germany has now become the most populous country to do so.

“Catholics who have been remarried under civil law after a divorce are invited to go to the church, participate in their lives and mature as living members of the church,” the German bishops’ conference said in a statement on Wednesday, summarizing the conclusions reached at a Jan. 23 meeting of the bishops in Würzburg to discuss the Vatican’s apostolic letter.

The statement offers “no general rule,” and it does not insist that priests offer communion to divorced people, but it calls for “differentiated solutions, which are appropriate to the individual case.”

Historically, the church holds that unless divorced Catholics have received an annulment, they are committing adultery by remarrying and cannot receive the sacrament of communion. Annulments are often difficult to obtain.

The April apostolic exhortation also called for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together, but it affirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, insisting that gay relationships cannot be seen as equivalent to heterosexual unions.

The German bishops who disagreed with their conference’s decision included Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the former archbishop of Cologne; Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, a scholar of church history; and Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is Francis’ chief authority on church doctrine.

Cardinal Müller told the Italian publication Il Timone that church doctrine clearly prohibits divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving communion unless they abstain from sex, a position laid out in a 1981 exhortation by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Müller also pointed to a 1993 encyclical from John Paul that warned against moral relativism.

“The Word of God is very clear, and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage,” Cardinal Müller said, according to a translation of the interview provided by the weekly newsmagazine L’Espresso. “The task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.”

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who is now the pope emeritus, has long opposed communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried, a position he laid out in 1994 when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during John Paul’s papacy.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not taken a position on the issue. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a doctrinal conservative, issued guidelines last year that insist that divorced Catholics who have remarried must live “as brother and sister” if they wish to receive communion.

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Remarried couples should abstain from sex, Philadelphia Catholic church says

File Under:  AS IF!

 

Archbishop Charles Chaput also stated that gay Catholics should also ‘live chastely’ in new rules issued after Pope Francis urged more acceptance of others

 

Charles Chaput, the Philadelphia archbishop, is known as one of the staunchest conservative leaders in the US Catholic church.
Charles Chaput, the Philadelphia archbishop, is known as one of the staunchest conservative leaders in the US Catholic church.

Catholics in Philadelphia who are divorced and civilly remarried will be welcome to accept Holy Communion – as long as they abstain from sex and live out their relationships like “brother and sister”.

New guidelines published by the conservative archbishop of Philadelphia this month also called on priests within the archdiocese to help Catholics who are attracted to people of the same sex and “find chastity very difficult”, saying such individuals should be advised to frequently seek penance. Because same-sex attraction takes “diverse forms”, the archdiocese also said that some people can still live out a vocation of heterosexual marriage with children, notwithstanding “some degree of same-sex attraction”.

The guidelines, which took effect on 1 July, come three months after Pope Francis urged bishops to be more accepting of Catholics who lived outside of the church’s social teaching and doctrine, including people who have divorced and remarried, and people in same-sex relationships. The pope’s views were published in April in a document titled Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), which was hailed as potentially groundbreaking. Because the document called on bishops to show greater mercy and flexibility to bring Catholics back to the church, while also calling on bishops not to veer from church doctrine, it was seen as giving both traditional and more progressively minded bishops the chance to interpret the document as they saw fit.

The Philadelphia archbishop, Charles Chaput, is known as one of the staunchest conservative leaders in the US Catholic church, a view that is reflected in the rules the archdiocese published.

John Allen, a veteran Vatican journalist, said he believed Philadelphia was among the first archdiocese to publish such rules based on its interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

“My suspicion is that those who are inclined to a more progressive reading [of Amoris Laetitia] are not going to put out documents to say so. It will quietly be made clear to priests that it is OK under certain circumstances, for example, to allow some people to quietly come back to communion,” Allen told the Guardian. “My suspicion is that the more traditional line [adopted by some bishops] will be more public.”

Allen said that he did not think Pope Francis would be surprised by Chaput’s reading of the papal document, since he is likely aware of traditional interpretations of his document.

In its examination of homosexuality, the Philadelphia guidelines state that two people in an “active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community.

“Those with predominant same-sex attractions are therefore called to struggle to live chastely for the kingdom of God. In this endeavor they have need of support, friendship and understanding if they fail,” the rules state.

But the greatest attention in the guidelines are focused on couples who are divorced and civilly remarried who have not obtained an annulment of their first marriage.

While divorced and remarried couples should be welcomed by the Catholic community, and not be seen as outside the church, the archdiocese said they are required by church teaching to refrain from all sexual intimacy.

“This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist,” the archdiocese said.

Priests are also directed to consider Catholic couples who are living together but are not married, including whether the couple have had children born in these “irregular unions”. If a priest senses that one person in the couple is reluctant to take the plunge, the archdiocese recommended trying to break up the pair.

“Often cohabiting couples refrain from making final commitments because one or both persons is seriously lacking in maturity or has other significant obstacles to entering a valid union. Here, prudence plays a vital role. Where one or another person is not capable of, or is not willing to commit to, a marriage, the pastor should urge them to separate,” the guidelines state.

If the cohabitating couple seems ready to tie the knot but is just a bit slow, the priest should encourage them to practice chastity.

“They will find this challenging, but again, with the help of grace, mastering the self is possible – and this fasting from physical intimacy is a strong element of spiritual preparation for an enduring life together,” it said.

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Vatican synod calls for a more welcoming Catholic Church

Bishops chat at the end of the afternoon session of the synod in Vatican City on Oct. 24.

Deeply divided clerics at a landmark Vatican summit echoed the more inclusive tone of Pope Francis on Saturday, extending more welcoming language to divorced and gay Catholics but stopping short of calling for clear alterations in policy and leaving the extent of any change in the hands of the mercurial pontiff.

The meeting — known as a synod — marked the culmination of a two-year process to recalibrate the faith’s approach to families in the 21st century and broke new ground by tackling issues once considered taboo in the Roman Catholic Church. In the most significant pronouncement, the clerics cracked open the door for divorced and remarried Catholics, who the church teaches are technically living in adultery, to receive Communion — a sacrament from which they are currently officially barred.

But the synod did not explicitly condone a change either, leaving Francis room to interpret the will of his hierarchy. The document also recognized the “dignity” of homosexuals, while also saying there was not even a “remote” similarity between same-sex unions and “God’s design on matrimony and family.”

The final communiqué, while a significant bellwether of the hierarchy’s thinking, nevertheless amounts only to a recommendation to Francis. As pope in the benevolent autocracy that is Vatican City, Francis now has the final say.

Liberals at the synod were pragmatic, saying they were impressed they got as far as they did given significant conservative resistance. But the staunch opposition to fast change suggested how difficult it may now be for Francis to translate his revolutionary style into substance.

It also puts him in a highly difficult position. If he fails to change the status quo, he risks disappointing liberal Catholics — as well as many non-Catholics — who have heralded him worldwide as an agent of change. Yet going too far beyond the recommendations could alienate many in his own divided church, triggering an even stronger backlash among conservatives — some of whom are already openly questioning the direction of his papacy.

“What the pope has to do now is take all of this in and decide how to we use it,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. “He may decide to use bits and pieces in different ways.”

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Archbishop: Family ministry is giving more love to those most in need

By Cindy Wooden

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-SECOND-REPORTS Oct. 14, 2015.
Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 14.

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich told reporters that something his mother once said might give the Synod of Bishops a way to balance the need to affirm church teaching while reaching out to those who are struggling.

The archbishop said Oct. 16 that his mother was asked if she loved one of her nine children more than the others. “Only if they need it,” she responded.

“That’s the way mothers speak,” the archbishop said, and that is the way the church needs to speak to families, especially to those who feel excluded or in need of extra attention. “The greatest contribution bishops can make to families is to act and speak like families act and speak,” he said.

At the same time, he said, the Catholic Church cannot “accompany, integrate and reconcile” people whom it does not know and with whom it is incapable of communicating.

“If we are going to really accompany people, we have to first of all engage them. In Chicago, I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they are the elderly or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples. I think that we need to really get to know what their life is like if we are going to accompany them.”

But underlying all the outreach activity, he said, “We have to believe in the mercy of God and the grace of God to trigger conversion.”

The questions of ministry to homosexuals has come up in the synod, Archbishop Cupich said. “That discussion, it is clear to me, needs to mature in the life of the church. If we are really going to accompany people, we have to first of all engage them.”

“The words accompaniment, integration and reconciliation continue to be repeated in the synod,” he said, and the church needs to find a way to transform those words into real action on behalf of all people, including people who are gay or the divorced and civilly married “or other people who feel disenfranchised.”

On the issue of finding possible ways to lead the divorced and civilly remarried back to full participation in church life, including reception of the sacraments, Archbishop Cupich said synod members have been clear in their positions and those positions are diverse. Some, like the German bishops, see it as an urgent obligation for the church while others say it is impossible without weakening church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The divorced and remarried, he said, must be ministered to on “a case-by-case basis.”

General principles are essential, he said, but ministry — like a mother’s love — adapts to meet the needs of real-life situations.

Some Catholics need their bishops and priests to speak clearly and firmly, while others need their ministers to demonstrate humility and a desire to search together for the best way to live out God’s call, he said.

The pull of those two demands is something the archbishop said he has felt for 40 years as a priest. Archbishop Cupich added that he had an archbishop friend who claimed he wanted his tombstone to read, “I tried to treat you like adults.”

“We really do have to have an adult Catholic response to living the Christian life. That is, I think, where the Holy Father is leading us. We have the means by which we can help people come to decisions — important decisions — about how they live their Christian life” through prayer and discernment.

Religious education “cannot be just about giving people the fixed doctrines,” he said. It must also show them “the path the church has outlined for making prudent decisions. We have documents that really do help us do that,” including a document from the International Theological Commission from 2009 on natural law and moral decision-making.

In a section on “The moral dispositions of the person and his concrete action,” the document discusses the formation of the conscience with an explanation of moral norms, but also how the person must be helped to apply those norms in his or her real life.

“We can’t just refer to doctrines as though they are syllogisms that we deduce a conclusion to,” Archbishop Cupich said. “There has to be the integration of the person’s circumstances, case by case.”

Asked if the case-by-case approach also applies to pastoral ministry to homosexual persons, the archbishop responded: “Gay people are human beings, too, and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the church, yet at the same time helping them — through a period of discernment — to understand what God is calling them to at that point.”

“We have to make sure that we don’t pigeonhole one group as if they aren’t part of the human family, as though there is a different set of rules for them,” he said.

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