- The case for mercy
The leading proponent of relaxing the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics tells Christopher Lamb that the Church too often appears rule-bound
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Clifford Longley worries that couples in irregular second marriages “quickly sense that according to the rule book the Church does not want them” (The Tablet, 5 July). Of course there are millions of Catholics in the world, and maybe a small number of overly sensitive whiners feel that leaders of the church “exclude” them. But I suspect that most Catholics realise that we belong to a rag-tag group of sinners, somehow loved by God. What bishops do means little to most.
All over the world, there are millions of Catholics living with possible future spouses. Others are involved in adulterous or same-sex unions. Some have married again after a divorce. Usually they know that the Bible or Church policies do not approve of their lifestyle. But few are marching with placards attacking outdated bishops.
Today I live in the US, in a bustling “mega parish” with over 16,000 parishioners. At any Mass, my confreres and I guess that some people in irregular unions come to Communion. We do not send them back to their benches; nor do we comply “with their request for access to the sacraments”. We have little idea who they are! But, at every Mass, we see people approach us or other ministers with their arms folded, asking a simple blessing; they do not feel worthy of Communion. Moreover, from work in our parish schools, we know the havoc that irregular sexual unions inflict on families.
Three of us, Redemptorists, also work at the local hospital. Anne Arundel Medical Centre is a sparkling, ever-expanding institution. Each day, I meet about 30 new Catholic patients. Maybe 12 of them request the sacraments; about five can be anointed but cannot receive Communion because of feeding tubes, aspiration worries, etc. The rest decline, saying, “Father, I haven’t been to church for years,” or “I’m a fallen-away Catholic”. If patients are interested we try to help them rectify their situation. But I ask each “fallen-away”, “Do you pray?” Almost all say, “Yes.” They recite “my old prayers” at night, and, during the day, talk to God about their worries and their loved ones.
St Alphonsus wrote that the person who prays will be saved. Prayer is a lifeline between a loving God and our struggling selves. As we approach the Synod, instead of setting impossible standards for the bishops, we need to pray for them. And we need to pray to our loving and imaginative God for all the families in our harsh world. Maybe we can help to rebut Longley’s fear that “the Church will not be honest with itself”.
Fr Joseph Krastel, Annapolis, Maryland, US