12 March 2015, The Tablet

Priests drum up support to resist any change to Church teaching

Priests in England and Wales are being urged to sign a letter calling on the next Synod on the Family to proclaim the Church’s “unchanging” moral teaching and resist any move allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried.

They have been sent two letters, which have been seen by The Tablet, by a group of a dozen conservative-minded clergy. The first letter is a draft that is to be submitted for publication in the press, while the second, signed by the 12 clergy, sets out the reasons for agreeing to the first.

The first letter, which priests are urged to sign and send to a “support of marriage co-coordinator”, states fidelity to the Church’s traditional doctrines of marriage and sexuality, and affirms the traditional discipline of the reception of the sacraments (which currently bars communion for the divorced and remarried).

It urges those who participate in this year’s synod of bishops to end confusion that was caused at last year’s gathering, as well as pledging help to those struggling with the demands of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society.

Last year’s Synod on the Family put forward ways for the Church to be more welcoming to gay Catholics as well as for remarried divorcees to receive Communion. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who attended the last synod and will be at the next one in October, has said divorced and remarried could be readmitted to Communion after a “long and demanding penitential pathway”.

The dozen priests’ second letter, however, contends that the media’s reporting of the 2014 synod had left a “distorted sense” that the Church’s moral teaching could be changed and Catholic practice altered “regardless of doctrine”.

It states: “Even some committed Catholics are making statements that do not appear to reflect the settled teaching of the Church nor the clear message of the New Testament.”

The 12 priests – who include the Dominican theologian Fr Aidan Nichols, Fr Daniel Seward, Provost of the Oxford Oratory and Canon Luiz Ruscillo, head of the Diocese of Lancaster’s Education Service – said they are committed to serve all who struggle to live out the demands of the Gospel in modern life.

They stress, however, that clarity in teaching is never opposed to pastoral practice but is instead its foundation. The priests argue that the synod has left many to whom they minister confused.

“All too often it is those who have been most faithful to the teaching of the Church, and have made great sacrifices in order to conform their lives to the Gospel, who have been left in greatest distress,” the letter states.

The emergence of the letter came as the conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke visited England, where he said any shift in Church teaching on marriage and sexuality was “confused and erroneous”.

The American cardinal visited Chester and Ramsgate, and spoke at St Patrick’s Soho Square, where the parish priest is Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, another of the letter’s signatories.

Among the other priests supporting the move are: Fr Tim Finigan, parish priest in Margate, Kent, and a prominent Catholic blogger; Mgr Edwin Barnes, former Church of England bishop and a priest of the ordinariate; Mgr Gordon Read, Chancellor of the Diocese of Brentwood; Fr Andrew Pinsent, research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford; Fr John Saward, former Anglican and theologian who is priest-in-charge of an Oxford parish; Fr Roger Nesbitt, parish priest of St Bede’s in Clapham, south London where the Old Rite is regularly celebrated and Fr Neil Brett of the Diocese of Brentwood.

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