German Bishops Open Way to Communion for Divorced Catholics

Communion for Divorced Catholics! –  By Sewell Chan, Feb. 1, 2017, in New York Times

James KottorIn the pic: The Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, a Roman Catholic church in Frankfurt. Many German bishops are generally considered to be within the more liberal wing of the Catholic Church. CreditMichael Probst/Associated Press (Note: The Germans and the French are in the forefront of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church. Ahead of all was Francis with his German Theologian adviser Cardinal Walter Kasper. Even before the two Family synods began the cardinal in a speech at the invitation of the Pope had given an indication of the direction they were moving.

But seeing the strong opposition from the vast majority of the Conservative wing, Francis slowly began to soft peddle and put himself into a silent mode, to force the whole church to rethink under pressure from the German, French and Belgian theologians. For synod observers it was a foregone conclusion that the Germans will go ahead with or without the Pope to give communion to the divorced – not annulled, remarried or not married. On what grounds? Didn’t Francis say many times off the cuff that half of the Catholic marriages may not be valid at all? If not valid where is the question of annulling or validating any?

What was there to doubt?  The Pope and the  Cardinal had repeated time and time again that the “Name of our God is Mercy”, that the image par-excellence of that God is “the Prodigal Father” who leaves the doors of his house wide open all the time, and stands out in the courtyard and strolls out of the gate to look far ahead to see if his prodigal son was returning. For that reason he even directed the doors of Catholic churches should always be kept open for every repentant to come in unquestioned.

Didn’t Francis even say that there is no “ratio de-etre” for a Church which is not for sinners, just as Jesus said, the Son of Man did not come looking for saints, the healthy but for sinners, the wayward, the  sick and the mortally wounded in the battle fields of the Church? To which side does a giant oak is leaning terribly – to the East? Only to that side it will fall! Not to the west, to the conservative side.

To all sensible people it was a foregone conclusion, in this Pope’s shepherding time, his Church will go even to Hell to rescue sinners from the strangle hold of devils who are out to sully the Church’s fair face, her bewitching beauty and what is more to steal her virginity! All know the names of this Lucifer gang headquartered in Trump’s US and scattered around the globe especially in Australia and Europe.

The Germans have gone ahead now and shown the way, after holding some private meetings and taking some hesitant steps as trial balloons. Others in the conservative wing will be making noises led by US cardinal Raymond and Knights of Malta-man Matthew Festing for the sake of laity wing of Archconservatives, but to no avail in the long run. Thus  the God of Catholics may be known soon as “Embodiment of MERCY” for the whole world. james kottoor, editor)

Catholics in Germany who have divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment may receive communion on a case-by-case basis, the German bishops’ conference announced on Wednesday. The decision is a major acceleration of a more welcoming — but disputed — stance on family life adopted by the Vatican under Pope Francis.

The decision was not unexpected; many German bishops are generally considered to be within the more liberal wing of the Roman Catholic Church. It was they who, at a 2015 synod on family life, proposed inviting divorced and remarried Catholics who had not had their first marriages annulled to seek the counsel of a priest to determine their future participation in church life.

But several German bishops have dissented, insisting that Catholics who have divorced and remarried must abstain from sex if they wish to receive the eucharist.

After that synod, the pope released a sweeping document on family issues last April that signaled a more welcoming stance toward divorced Catholics. The document — titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” and known as an apostolic exhortation — did not require churches to offer communion to the divorced, but it left the door open for bishops and priests to determine.

Bishops in Argentina and Malta subsequently adopted guidelines allowing divorced Catholics to receive the sacrament of communion; Germany has now become the most populous country to do so.

“Catholics who have been remarried under civil law after a divorce are invited to go to the church, participate in their lives and mature as living members of the church,” the German bishops’ conference said in a statement on Wednesday, summarizing the conclusions reached at a Jan. 23 meeting of the bishops in Würzburg to discuss the Vatican’s apostolic letter.

The statement offers “no general rule,” and it does not insist that priests offer communion to divorced people, but it calls for “differentiated solutions, which are appropriate to the individual case.”

Historically, the church holds that unless divorced Catholics have received an annulment, they are committing adultery by remarrying and cannot receive the sacrament of communion. Annulments are often difficult to obtain.

The April apostolic exhortation also called for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together, but it affirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, insisting that gay relationships cannot be seen as equivalent to heterosexual unions.

The German bishops who disagreed with their conference’s decision included Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the former archbishop of Cologne; Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, a scholar of church history; and Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is Francis’ chief authority on church doctrine.

Cardinal Müller told the Italian publication Il Timone that church doctrine clearly prohibits divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving communion unless they abstain from sex, a position laid out in a 1981exhortation by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Müller also pointed to a 1993 encyclical from John Paul that warned against moral relativism.

“The Word of God is very clear, and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage,” Cardinal Müller said, according to a translation of the interview provided by the weekly newsmagazine L’Espresso. “The task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.”

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who is now the pope emeritus, has long opposed communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried, a position he laid out in 1994 when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during John Paul’s papacy.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not taken a position on the issue. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a doctrinal conservative, issued guidelines last year that insist that divorced Catholics who have remarried must live “as brother and sister” if they wish to receive communion.(Follow Sewell Chan on Twitter @sewellchan)

The following two articles below, predated April 8/2016 in New York Times, are given  to give an idea of the controversies still going on among the laity  and some bishops on the question of denying communion to divorced and remarriesd. Ed.

Catholics Express Hope & Disappointment Over Pope’s Statement on Families

              By LAURIE GOODSTEINAPRIL 8, 2016, in NY Times

From left, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Tex.; Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, Ky.; and Msgr. Ronny Jenkins at the start of the general session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2014. Credit Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

Wedding invitations. Empty nesters. In vitro fertilization. Children of divorce. Pope Francis’ new 265-page manifesto, “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love,” covers so much territory that it is going to take some time for Catholics to read and reflect on it.

But they are already forming impressions. Many said they appreciated Francis’ approach of accepting families as they are, instead of insisting on some ideal of perfection.

The language in the document left plenty of room for people to draw their own conclusions on the hot-button question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive the sacrament of communion without having their first marriages annulled. Those who were hoping for the church to be more flexible found plenty of that in Francis’ missive. Those who were hoping for a reaffirmation of the church’s doctrine that marriage is permanent and indissoluble were also reassured by what they read. Amoris Laetitia is turning out to be a Rorschach test for Catholics.

‘What It Boils Down to Is Relevance’

Gina Ryan of Fairfield, Conn., said she felt hopeful that Francis is working to make the church more relevant to American Catholics. Ms. Ryan, 74, said the church had been central to her life, but that she had wrestled with its positions on contraception and the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

Ms. Ryan has been married three times — each ended in divorce and annulment. Her first husband, with whom she had three children, was gay and died of AIDS 15 years ago. “I feel that the marriage to my first husband and the father of my children is my only real marriage, even though he was gay,” she said.

She said she felt that Francis went as far as he could in his statement. “I think doing this with such sensitive language was very wise. I think what it boils down to is relevance. Without change, I think that people are just going to give up going to church.”

A Bishop Sees Change

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Ky., is the president of theUnited States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a social worker who has been in parish ministry.

“Every aspect of church ministry is going to be affected,” especially marriage preparation and support for couples once they are married, Archbishop Kurtz said in a telephone news conference.

He said he expected that the exhortation would have an effect on how seminarians are trained to work with families. Archbishop Kurtz said he thought Pope Francis’ message to pastors was “don’t forget to see people as unique,” not simply as categories.

“The teaching is not changing, he’s not giving new regulations or new rules, but he is giving a mind-set in which we see the person first,” the archbishop said.

Disappointed in Francis

William Steinmetz, a divorced father of two children, said he had hoped for more from Francis. Specifically, he said, he wanted to hear that the church would “recognize families as they actually exist in all their variations.”

Mr. Steinmetz, 46, grew up in Pennsylvania and served as an altar boy in his local parish. He said he began to fall away from the church after his parents divorced, but was deeply committed to a spiritual life. He has been living with another man in a civil partnership in São Paulo, Brazil, for more than 20 years, but said he did not feel very welcome in any Catholic parish.

“When Francis became pope, I was very excited,” he said. “I had very high expectations, but I realize he wasn’t as open as I thought he was.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, said in a statement: “Clearly, church officials, up to and including Pope Francis, still have little idea of the reality of L.G.B.T. people’s faith, lives, and family situations. This document continues to demonstrate a tragic ignorance. Many L.G.B.T. people and families have offered to share their experience with church officials, and often get a deaf ear.”

An Attitude That Every Pastor Should Have’

The Rev. Paul Huesing is pastor of Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chicago, and a member of the Paulist religious order. His congregation is ethnically diverse, with a lot of young families.

For the last 35 years as a priest, he said, he has been using the approach Francis suggests in the document. He encourages people who have remarried outside the church to examine their own conscience regarding whether to take communion.

“The notion is that there’s a prayerful, reflective process going on,” Father Huesing said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh I want to go to Communion again.’ You take the teachings to heart, and evaluate your marriage in light of those teachings, and make an informed decision.”

He said that this approach was “very common” among priests, but that “it varies widely.”“I think the Holy Father is affirming a very pastoral and loving attitude that every pastor should have,” Father Huesing said.

‘I Don’t Think It’s Going to Work’

Barbara Falls raised eight children, now all grown, in Old Town, Me., never used contraception and attends Mass every Sunday. She said she really appreciated the passages in the document that call the church to work harder at preventing couples from divorcing, because in her experience marriages can be saved.

“I don’t care whether you’re liberal, conservative, Catholic or atheist, keeping families together is really important,” she said.Mrs. Falls, who considers herself an orthodox Catholic, says she thinks that Francis is “trying to get people back to the church, so he’s trying to make it like we’re inclusive.”

She said she knows people who are divorced, use contraception or have had abortions, and they already go to church and take communion with little hesitation — so Francis’ effort to welcome them back is unlikely to make much difference. “If you want to go to church, you’ll go to church.”

‘A Really Good Middle Line’

Luke Arredondo, a Ph.D. student in religion at Florida State University in Tallahassee, attends Mass weekly with his wife and three young daughters. He is partway through reading the exhortation and said he found it “genius” that Francis seemed to be allowing bishops and priests in different countries to “localize specific pastoral initiatives.”

“I think Francis walked a really good middle line,” Mr. Arredondo said. “Francis gets painted as sort of this crazy guy who you never know what he’s going to do. And certainly that’s true in his airplane interviews. But in his more thought-out moments, he’s pretty middle-of-the-road.”




 Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Saturday. CreditAlessandro Bianchi/Reuters

ROME — At 256 pages and 391 footnotes, the apostolic exhortation Pope Francis issued on Friday is a lengthy reminder of the importance he places on family, if also a puzzle. Some analysts are calling it revolutionary. Others describe it as tepid or opaque.

For two years, as Francis oversaw a contentious process to create the document, the focus has been on hot-button issues such as whether he would shift the church’s approach on homosexuality or toward divorced and remarried Catholics. Some hoped Francis would issue new policy as if he were dictating marching orders for the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

But the exhortation, titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” is not a book of new rules — if anything, it is the opposite. Rather than dictating policy like a chief executive, Francis effectively devolved power and suggested that in a global church, answers sometimes are best found locally.

In this way, the document created something more significant: a broader space, or room to operate, in the relationship between the clergy and the faithful — a space that some liberal Catholics think may provide a path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments, including communion.

Rules matter, Francis wrote,

but so does individual conscience.

“The exhortation will disappoint those who expected rules, in one direction or another, but it’s exactly this mentality of rules that the pope wants to unhinge, especially on these issues,” said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. “The pope doesn’t entrust the governance of souls and families to one rule, but to the responsible meeting, within the church community, between pastors and the faithful.”

Parsing papal documents laden with theological, literary and philosophical footnotes is never simple, especially on tight deadline. At the Friday news conference unveiling the document, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn joked that church documents “do not belong to one of the most accessible literary genres.” Francis apologized for his prolixity early in the tome but blamed the vast array of issues raised during the two-year period of preparation.

Yet the pope made one thing abundantly clear in the third paragraph: Even if “unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the church,” it does not “preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.” In a global church, different countries or regions can seek different solutions better suited to domestic cultures and traditions, he added.

Pope Francis is now such a commanding global figure that it is easy to forget he was elected three years ago by cardinals frustrated with the centralized, top-down management style of the Vatican. They wanted a greater role in making decisions. The term of art was “collegiality.”

Paul Vallely, one of the pope’s biographers, recalled that Francis chafed at interference from midlevel Vatican bureaucrats during his long tenure as archbishop in Buenos Aires. And like many Latin American bishops, Francis had embraced the collegial message of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II.

“This is a pope acting like a Vatican II pope,” Mr. Vallely said. “The people who will not like this are the people who say, ‘Let’s have a set of rules, and if you break them, then the church condemns you and you are in a state of sin.’ ”

Francis made collegiality a centerpiece of the process that produced “Amoris Laetitia,” even if he may not have always liked the results. He ordered questionnaires distributed to parishes worldwide to gauge opinions of ordinary Catholics. He called two major meetings of bishops, known as synods, and encouraged a freewheeling discussion that exposed sharp ideological divisions.

Stories of Catholic Marriage and Divorce

A synod of Roman Catholic bishops met in 2014 to begin a discussion of the church’s teachings on the family. The Times asked readers how the church’s rules on divorce had affected them.

In February 2014, when Francis announced the long process that would produce the family document, expectations arose among some interest groups that the bold new pope might take provocative positions. Groups representing gay Catholics were especially disappointed on Friday. Francis said the church must be more welcoming to homosexuals and the children of same-sex unions, but made clear that he did not consider those unions equal to traditional marriages and blamed same-sex marriage laws for diminishing the value and allure of marriage.

Catholics hoping for clear protocols on how the church would deal with divorced and remarried Catholics did not get them. Lucetta Scaraffia, a Rome-based scholar of Catholicism, said Francis might have wanted a bolder document, but he faced stiffed resistance from opponents who feared that he was trying to change doctrine, or that loosening norms might mean the triumph of moral relativism.

“So he had to scale back because he had to avoid a break within the church,” said Ms. Scaraffia, who writes often for the official Vatican newspaper,L’Osservatore Romano. “Basically, they could not accept the passage from being judges who reproach errors, the keepers of morality, to pastors who embrace suffering.”

Yet, in pointedly giving license to churches in different countries to confront problems and make decisions, one interpretation is that Francis has gone over the heads of this opposition. Some conservative bishops had already embraced the pope’s emphasis on decentralization, but other conservative Catholics are uncomfortable and say it is a dangerous step that moves the church closer to Protestantism.

At a bare minimum, Francis has clearly endorsed the idea that bishops must move church practice closer to the realities of the pews, where priests often accommodate people whose lives do not comport with a strict reading of church norms. He calls for priests to guide and accompany people in distress — not throw the rule book at them — and suggests a process of “discernment” and an examination of conscience.

To laypeople, this language can seem hazy, but some analysts said it could empower priests to guide divorced Catholics who remarry without annulments to receive communion and return to full standing in the church. It is hardly a clearly established process — and opens the likelihood that different priests apply it in different ways — but Francis seemed to signal his position in a footnote, repeating one of his earlier statements on the subject.

“I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” he said.

So much time and attention has been focused within the church on the process leading to “Amoris Laetitia” that its publication felt to some like an endpoint. Yet those who know Francis disagree.“The apostolic exhortation is not just the last step of a long process,” said Father Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest close to the pope and editor in chief of the Catholic journal Civiltà Cattolica. “It is going to be another starting point.”He added: “This is the big message that Francis is giving in his pontificate. The doctrine is not a stone to be carried on. The doctrine is a good piece of bread to help you stay alive.”(Gaia Pianigiani and Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome)

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