28 July 2016, The Tablet

Polish bishops vow to refuse communion to divorced and remarrieds

Announcement highlights tensions between Francis and Polish hierarchy after closed door meeting last night

A senior bishop has said that the Church in Poland will refuse communion to divorced and remarried Catholics despite the landmark family document from Pope Francis which opened up the possibility.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said that giving communion could not be allowed following a period of pastoral discernment - something which Francis has advocated - adding that if remarried divorcees had a valid first marriage they cannot receive the eucharist.

His remarks came just hours after the Pope’s arrival in Krakow for a global gathering of young Catholics and highlighted the tensions between Francis and Poland’s hierarchy. “This [communion for divorced and remarried] cannot be solved in a confessional box in two minutes or even a couple of years,” the archbishop told journalists at a briefing last night. “This is a path for the priests and the laity to walk together knowing that if a marriage has been validly concluded there is no ground to administering communion to remarried divorcees.”

The archbishop cited John Paul II’s document on the family - where communion for divorced and remarried was effectively ruled out - and said that Francis’ text, issued following two synod gatherings, had taken into account the Polish hierarchy’s recommendations. These, he added, “retain the truth of the gospel that we cannot deliberately overstep Christ’s precept against divorce.” 

Archbishop Gadecki also pointed to Francis’ desire for local churches to have a say: “The Holy Father says the general laws are very hard to enforce in each country - the Pope speaks about decentralisation, that is the conferences in individual countries might interpret papal encyclicals looking at their own religious and cultural situations,” Archbishop Gadecki said in a briefing to journalists last night. 

On the day of his arrival the Pope had a closed-doors meeting with the bishops where no speeches were made - in the past Francis has used such gatherings in Mexico and the United States to upbraid national hierarchies. But given that the legacy of his polish predecessor John Paul II looms large during his visit the Pope sought to avoid any public clashes.   

During his visit to Poland Francis has regularly cited John Paul II and last night repeated the watchword phrase of the Wojtyla papacy - “do not be afraid” - when greeting a crowd of young people. The figure of John Paul II also hovers over the papal visit to Poland given that Francis is here for World Youth Day, an event established by the Polish Pope. 

This morning Francis travelled to Czestochowa, about 90 miles from Krakow, to mark the 1,050th anniversary of what is known as the Baptism of Poland. While there he prayed in front of the famous image of the Black Madonna at the Jasna Gora monastery and then celebrated an outdoor Mass for hundreds of thousands gathered outside. 

There was concern during the entry procession when the Pope stumbled and crumpled to the floor while still clutching the thurible. But he was helped to his feet and was well enough to continue with celebrating the Mass without medical attention. During his homily the Pope said that God is not something in the history books but a concrete reality in people’s lives. "The Lord does not want to be feared like a powerful and aloof sovereign. He does not want to remain on his throne in heaven or in history books." 

This afternoon he will return to Krakow to officially greet the around 400,000 young Catholics who have gathered for the event who are being joined by some 800 bishops and 70 cardinals. On Friday he will travel to the place of the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz where will pray in silence and meet with some Holocaust survivors. 

The Tablet's Rome Correspondent Christopher Lamb is in Krakow for World Youth Day


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