- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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More German bishops have insisted that the debate on how to allow remarried divorcees to receive the sacraments must continue, despite instructions from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that it must not.
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin has defended the Archdiocese of Freiburg’s handout on how to conduct a “pastorally and theologically profound discussion process” with a view to allowing remarried divorcees to receive the sacraments. The CDF Prefect Archbishop Gerhard Müller said in a letter published on 12 November that the handout had to be revoked.
“The Catholics in our parishes who have divorced and remarried are welcome and belong to us,” Cardinal Woelki insisted. “I know only too well how distressed they are about their pastoral situation and this burning issue preys heavily on my mind. We must do everything within our power to lighten their distress.”
Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, meanwhile, agreed with Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich that Archbishop Müller cannot stop the remarried divorcees debate.
“Neither Cardinal Marx nor I want to question the Catholic standpoint on marriage, but we must take the actual situation of many couples and families into consideration far more intensively and honestly than we have done up to now,” Bishop Ackerman said. “I find it problematic that someone should be excluded from confession for life as confession is a great opportunity for reconciliation and a new beginning.”
The president of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, whom Archbishop Müller has ordered to take back the Freiburg handout, told his archdiocesan council that there was nothing to take back.
Archbishop Zollitsch said that the handout was a “constructive impulse” for the special working group dealing with the issue in the German bishops’ conference and for the coming Vatican Family Synod in autumn 2014. He added that he expressly supported Cardinal Marx’s recent publicly stated conviction that “the CDF Prefect cannot end the discussion”.
According to Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart the German bishops’ conference will be publishing a declaration at their next plenary in spring 2014 suggesting that remarried divorcees be allowed to receive the sacraments on a case-by-case basis.
The issue had emerged as one of the most important questions facing the Church in its ongoing Dialogue Procedure, Bishop Fürst said.
Cardinal Marx has called on the Church to be open to people with “breaches, fears and faults” and underlined that “no one may be pushed aside because they’ve fallen short of the Church’s demands”.