Synod of Bishops’ hardline stance. Freddy Gray reports ONE OF the most senior cardinals in the Vatican has called on the Church to consider allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, just hours after a Synod of the world’s bishops pronounced that Catholic teaching on the issue would not change.
In the final report from the Synod, the bishops strongly reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Marriage, making it clear that divorced and remarried Catholics “cannot be admitted to Holy Communion”.
But Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, said this week that the issue was still open for debate and hinted that Pope Benedict XVI could take a different line to the bishops on the issue of divorce and the Sacrament.
He told reporters that the Synod’s decision was “not the final result” and that the discussions were not over.
“It is a question that exists and we have to reflect on it in order to respond,” he said. “Every bishop in every Western country recognises that this is a grave problem ... even the Pope knows that there are worthy cases.” Cardinal Kasper also appeared at odds with the bishops over the issue of priestly celibacy. The Synod fathers said that the possibility of ordaining married men of proven virtue – viri probati – had been raised during the meeting but “in the end the discussion groups evaluated this hypothesis as a road not to be followed”.
Cardinal Kasper, however, suggested that “in certain cases it might be better to remain open to the hypothesis” that viri probati were suitable for the priesthood. After the Synod, Pope Benedict was presented with the bishops’ final report which contained 50 “propositions” for the Pontiff to consider.
He must now produce an apostolic exhortation on the bishops’ findings. Cardinal Kasper is part of a special post-synodal council established to assist the Pontiff in drawing up a final document.
The Pope took the unusual step of asking for the document to be immediately translated from Latin into Italian and made public.
In the report, the bishops concluded that sharing Holy Communion with non-Catholic Christians was “not possible”. They said that nonCatholics attending Mass should be told “delicately but clearly” that they are not permitted to receive the Eucharist. Catholics, they added, should be reminded that they must be in a state of grace before they may be given the Sacrament.
“No one should be afraid of causing a negative impression by not coming forward for Communion,” said the report.
On another point, the bishops said that the giving of the Sign of Peace should be moved to another moment in the Mass, so as not to disrupt the adoration of the Eucharist.
Proposition 25 called for the Church to maintain the dignity of the Mass, warning priests against the introduction of non-liturgical texts.
The propositions did not mention the wider provision of the Tridentine Rite, a subject that many Vatican observers thought would play an important part in discussions.
The Synod, called to discuss “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church”, officially ended last Sunday. More than 250 bishops attended. It is uncertain how long it will take for Benedict to produce his apostolic exhortation. He has 15 Synod representatives to help him.
Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon, special secretary of the Synod, said that Pope Benedict’s exhortation “might be different from previous ones and will have his mark”.
The Pope is not expected to alter the Church’s basic position on priestly celibacy or divorce. In a speech earlier this year, Benedict told remarried Catholics that he “suffers” because they are excluded from the sacraments but insisted that the Church would not change its teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
However, the Pope did hint that, in certain situations, he might consider allowing a divorced and remarried person to receive the Sacrament.
He gave the example of someone who, without really believing in God, marries in the Church for the sake of tradition and who then, after divorce and remarriage, discovers the faith only to find him or herself excluded from the Eucharist. “Given the suffering of these persons,” he said, “the question needs to be studied more profoundly.” Pope Benedict has previously clashed with Cardinal Kasper over the subject of divorce and the Eucharist. In 1993 Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz (now also a cardinal) wrote a joint letter in support of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the sacraments. Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the CDF, robustly dismissed the letter.
The two men have since jostled over a number of theological points in various journals.
However, when Cardinal Ratzinger was made Pope in April, Cardinal Kasper was quick to congratulate and praise his former rival. Benedict immediately returned the compliment, reappointing Cardinal Kasper as President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
The question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics featured prominently in the Synod discussions. Speaking from Rome, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, said that of all the topics discussed during the three-week meeting, this had caused the “most concern and anguish” among the prelates.
“A lot of people feel very strongly about this,” he said. “The breakdown of family life is one of the greatest evils in the western world ... [Yet] of course we are aware of many who are divorced and married again and therefore excluded from the Holy Communion, and that causes a lot anguish.” The Cardinal – who is also a member of the post-synodal council – added that although remarried Catholics are not allowed to receive the Sacrament, the bishops wished to emphasise that they are in no way excluded from the Church.