The Synod of Bishops has ended in Rome with bishops taking up the challenge of Archbishop John Dew to re-think the Church’s rule that bars divorced Catholics who remarry from receiving communion.
The three-week synod began on 2 October with the episcopal delegates attending daily sessions of lectures and discussions at Synod Hall in St Peter’s Square. Archbishop John was among the first to speak in a six-minute time slot during an open discussion session. He compared the plight of Catholics who wanted to receive communion but were barred from it to hunger in the world. The Vatican released the text of his address the following day.
The Church does not recognise civil divorce and only allows annulments, rulings by Church courts that say a marriage never existed because it lacked prerequisites such as free will or psychological maturity by one or both partners.
Millions of Catholics around the world who have divorced in civil courts and remarried outside the Church still consider themselves good Catholics. But they are banned from receiving communion, which the Church teaches is the body and blood of Christ, because they are considered to be living in sin.
‘As bishops, we have a pastoral duty and an obligation before God to discuss and debate the difficulties burdening so many of our people,’ Archbishop John told the more than 250 bishops.
‘Our Church would be enriched if we were able to invite dedicated Catholics, currently excluded from the Eucharist, to return to the Lord’s table,’ he argued.
‘There are those whose first marriages ended in sadness; they have never abandoned the Church but are currently excluded from the Eucharist,’ he said.
While the late Pope John Paul was firm on their exclusion from the Eucharist, Pope Benedict has indicated that he might be more flexible.
He told priests in July that the plight of the divorced and remarried should undergo further ‘study’ because theirs was ‘a particularly painful situation’.
The Pope said at the time that such Catholics should be welcomed into parishes even if they could not receive communion.
The bishops’ propositions that were drawn up at the end of the synod and presented to the pope have retained Archbishop John’s suggestion.
The National Catholic Reporter’s correspondent in Rome, John Allen, who watched the synod proceedings closely, analyses the wording of the proposition which shows how the bishops’ thinking on the issue developed.
‘Where the first draft, circulated on Saturday [22 October], referred to “irregular” family situations, the final text mentions situations that “do not conform to the commandment of the Lord”.
In stating that nobody wishes to exclude such Catholics from the church, the new text adds that the bishops “do not share choices they have made”. A line that the suffering of divorced and remarried Catholics “can be transformed into a precious involvement in the Christian community” has been removed, and the new text invites the divorced and remarried to listen to the Word of God for their life of faith “and their conversion”.’
Besides the set of propositions for the pope, the Synod of Bishops produced before its close on Sunday 23 October a final message on behalf of the participants.
According to past practice, the pope will deliberate on the propositions in writing an encyclical or apostolic letter.