- 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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On being elected the new president of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich made his strongest statement to date on the need to allow remarried divorcees to receive communion.
At the forthcoming Synod on the family in October the German bishops plan to campaign for a more merciful approach to remarried divorcees at the level of the world Church, Cardinal Marx told the press after the election.
The bishops will present a paper on marriage as “an alliance and a Sacrament” which also goes into the need for mercy and forgiveness. They will propose a “pastoral way of reconciliation” for remarried divorcees. The final version of this paper will be drawn up when the permanent council of the bishops’ conference meets in April.
Already in his sermon at Mass before his election, Marx had spoken of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium and underlined the “explosive force” of mercy. Quoting Blessed Pope John XXIII, he had expressly warned against “prophets of doom”.
The faithful “rightfully” expected the Church to accompany those whose marriages had broken down, Cardinal Marx said. “It must be clear that as a Church we say: ‘You are not second-class Christians. There is a chance of a new beginning and we would like to accompany you on this path.’ We must give this approach more positive support and step up our efforts here,” he emphasized.
But at the same time he warned against expecting quick solutions. “The difficulties are being underestimated,” he said recalling that this whole question concerned the indissolubility of marriage, which was a central theological issue.
In a later interview in Die Welt am Sonntag on 16 March, Marx said he agreed with the solution Cardinal Walter Kasper had suggested in his address to the cardinals at the Consistory in Rome last month, that remarried divorcees who recognised their failures should be allowed to apply to be readmitted to the Sacraments after a period of atonement.
But he warned that the issue could only be solved at the world church level. In a globalised world, a strong centre in Rome was essential for the Catholic Church, he said.
However the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, told the Allgemeine Zeitung in Mainz that the problem concerning remarried divorcees could not be solved by “diminishing God’s word” and replacing it with man-made rules.