BY VIVIANE HEWITT IN ROME
FEARS GREW THIS week of a rift between the German Church and Rome over the question of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacrament of Communion.
The German episcopal conference seemed to be siding with three of its members who have said that the Vatican's recent letter barring such Catholics from Communion "cannot be the last word" on the subject. "We must continue dialogue," said Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz this week. Bishop Lehmann, president of the German Episcopal Conference, was interviewed while in Rome for the Synod of Bishops on religious and consecrated life. "The situation is so grave that we must talk with other hierarchies," he said. "We must also see if there are other possibilities better than our position," he added.
Together with Walter Kasper, Bishop of Rottenburg Stuttgart and Oscar Saier Bishop of Frieburg, Bishop Lehmann has been rebuked by Rome for distributing a joint pastoral letter in August 1993 suggesting that in some cases re-married divorcees should have access to the Eucharist.
Before the Vatican letter last week which reaffirmed its position on re-married divorcees taking Communion, Bishop Lehmann and the two other German bishops had allowed Communion on a case-by-case basis for those Catholics in an unapproved marriage who believed that their first marriage was invalid.
The three bishops dropped the policy after the Vatican statement, but asked that the question remain open. Progress in the Church involves sharp contrast of ideas, he added. "New ideas produce a conflict and then we go forward." In Germany, one-third of all adult Catholics are in second marriages, and "many Germans do not want to go through the annulment process," he said. The bishop cited three reasons why German Catholics are sceptical of the process: "They find it too formalized"; "they believe the process is ambivalent and enters too deeply into the intimacy of their marriage"; "they fear that if the case goes to Rome they will have to pay a lot of money and wait a long time."
The Mainz Diocese grants 50-60 annulments yearly, he said. In Britain there are 1,500-2,000 applications for annulments each year. A French bishop supported the German call for dialogue. A "vast consultation" is needed so that the feelings of all the bishops are known, said Bishop Henri Derouet of Arras, France. "For a long time, this was the custom in the Church. Rome indicated the direction to follow after having listened to the entire Church," he said in an article last week, in La Croix.
The bishops' 1993 letter was followed by a reply from the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith said that the three bishops did not fully respect Catholic doctrines.