10 April 2015
The priests’ letter and access to the Sacraments
The very public letter from 461 Catholic priests in Britain urging the continuation of the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments and other issues related to the family, gives cause for concern on many scores.
Most profoundly, it seems to be pre-empting the working of the Holy Spirit during the Synod by arriving at conclusions before debate, prayer and discernment. Cardinal Kasper has spoken of the Church’s living tradition which has a rightful place for doctrine that is a development of tradition, and therefore allows for nuanced change to meet the pastoral needs of the age. This letter clearly refutes that position.
The letter signed by the priests has provoked further controversy within an already fragile Catholic Church in Britain and as such has done nothing to help move the Church towards greater unity. It has also stirred up those lay people who are disaffected by the current papacy to further criticism of Francis and the primacy of mercy and compassion in the life of any Christian. There are currently similar letters circulating for lay people to sign – and so the misunderstandings grow and the schism widens.
Sr Moira O’Sullivan CRSS, Chelmsford
The fact that nearly 500 priests signed a letter supporting the traditional view that re-married Catholics should not receive the sacraments is very concerning. Whilst this represents 12 per cent of active clergy, there must be many more who agree with its content but decided not to sign the letter or 'didn't get around to doing it'. It is proof, if proof were needed, that many of the clergy in our country are worryingly conservative and out of touch with the open debate currently taking part within the Church at all levels about sexual ethics.
I was disturbed by the views expressed by Fr Aidan Nichols (Letters, 28 March). He quotes St Paul, who uses a beautiful analogy to describe the relationship between two people in marriage to be like the relationship between Christ and his Church. He then goes on to question how someone who has broken this bond and entered another relationship can present themselves for Communion.
How can anyone conclude from this that those in another relationship have somewhere separated themselves from the Church? Paul was merely saying something lovely about the marital relationship. He wasn't in anyway indicating (and why should he be?) that other relationships fall outside the Church.
The Church is for all of us who are open to God's grace, including those who are in a relationship which is not included in the concept of traditional Catholic marriage.
Chris Larkman, London SW20
In emphasising the objective nature of Christ's representation of his relationship with his Church in marriage Fr Nichols has forgotten the other side of sacraments – the human subjectivity of the recipients. Without necessarily going as far as recent claims in high quarters that many marriages are not valid at all we can surely see that married people often require mercy in that their understanding and dispositions were inadequate for receiving the full meaning and graces of the sacrament. If not. I fear that by analogy we shall also have to go back to the pastoral view that baptism marks the end of sin.
Dr Tom Woodman, Reading, Berks
“Bravo” to Clifford Longley for his article on conservative clergy and the family (The Tablet, 4 April); there will be many like me who “groaned” when they read about the nearly 500 Priests who have signed a letter stating their fidelity to the Church's teaching on divorce and re-marriage.
The scenario laid out by Mr Longley about a conversation these priests might have with a child receiving First Holy Communion, about why their parents could not receive with them is very poignant and brings back memories of similar teaching I, and many others, received at school in the 1950s. Mortal sin was high on the agenda then and the suggestion that repentance followed by living “ as brother and sister” as laid down in Familiaris Consortio is ludicrous and cruel. Many years ago, as a 12-year-old, I used to visit a friend's house regularly and, even then, was aware of a strained atmosphere between her parents; the fact that they slept in separate rooms did not signify at the time, but later this all fell into place as a possible reason. In fact this was for family limitation reasons, but the result was not a happy one for her and her siblings.
One wonders how parishioners of these priests with these problems would view this intransigence, it is hardly likely in this day and age that they would bother with them and would probably find a new parish with a pastor who was more sympathetic and has taken notice of the exhortation of Pope Francis to show mercy and understanding. These men can take comfort in their “ theology textbooks” as Clifford Longley states and feel smug and self-satisfied that they are faithful to the the teachings and principles of the Church. Their complete lack of understanding of marriage and what holds it together for the sake of the couple and their family is so sad and not very Christian.
Gail Brown, Kidderminster, Worcs
The question is whether tradition by itself is a sufficient basis for teaching and practice, whether it is enough to say ‘This is what we have always taught and done.’ Personally, I am as averse to change as anyone, but my answer would be that while the Church, like a sovereign state and any other society in which people live their lives, must have rules and customs concerning sex and procreation, such rules require rational justification; they must be shown to benefit the society’s members while they are in force; and this must be shown, not just (as some theologians may think) by appealing to the natural physiology of the human species, but also by considering the historical, social and economic circumstances existing at the time.
William Charlton, West Woodburn, Hexham
The attitude of the priests who signed the letter shows religion at its worst, concentrating on excluding, condemning and judging in a narrow view as to who is worthy to receive Communion. Does such an attitude reflect the true generosity of Jesus who ate at the table with sinners, the lost and the broken ?
It is hard to discover that there are still so many clergy who spend their time defining and deciding who cannot participate instead of fulfilling their vocation of leading their fellow men and women to a deep encounter with God.
Brenda Dennison, Oxted, Surrey
In The Tablet of 28 March Peter Stanford wrote an interesting article about Judas, which noted that Jesus, according to three of the Gospels, invited Judas to share in the Last Supper, whilst being fully aware of his pending betrayal. Such compassion appears to be in direct contrast to many comments in support of the Church's reluctance to admit divorced and remarried people to share communion.
Antony Denman, Brixworth, Northampton
Fr Aidan Nichols’ letter is convincing. However just as theory is sometimes very far from reality, so can a metaphor be from the reality compared to it. Was a pre-divorce-marriage ever a domestic church?
Is it not the action of God, through grace, that draws the divorced and remarried back or into the Catholic Faith, maybe bringing their children with them? Can anyone really believe that the loving God who drew them to the Mass, wishes then to withhold himself from them in Communion?
Speaking tongue in cheek, I ask Fr Nichols that if the Church represents the Spouse of Christ, surely the fact since those purporting to be at the centre of it are 100 per cent male, do we have here a very strong argument for homosexual marriage?
Elizabeth Price, Maidstone, Kent
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