Thavis said the pope typically issues a post-synodal document in which he reworks the meeting’s final propositions, giving him a kind of last word on the deliberations.
Divorced, remarried Catholics
Based on remarks Pope Francis and some leading cardinals have made, the synod will likely take up the issue of divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the Church.
According to Catholic News Service, retired German Cardinal Walter Kasper told the world’s cardinals in February that he believes the Church needs to find a way to offer “healing, strength and salvation” to remarried Catholics who want to make their new marriages work – and want to do so within the Church with the graces of the Eucharist.
Cardinal Kasper made the remarks after Pope Francis asked him to introduce a discussion by the cardinals on family life. The cardinal proposed offering a “life raft” in the form of Communion to those who have sinned by remarrying and suggested that in certain cases the Church could tolerate, but not accept such second unions.
“I think Francis sees this almost as a test case of how much space can be created for pastoral flexibility without going against Church doctrine,” Thavis said. “I think he sees it as a difficult area, but has thrown it down as a challenge.”
However, Archbishop Cordileone said, “I don’t know how allowing them to go to Communion would be a life raft.” A life raft, he continued, would be offering divorced Catholics moral and emotional support and a sense of belonging. As for the Church tolerating second marriages, he said, “we already do that. [Divorced and remarried Catholics] are still members of the Church. They are not excommunicated and are still part of the family. Because of the irregularity of their situation, they are not allowed to receive Communion, but we don’t kick them out of the Church.”
The life raft
Rose Sweet, a Catholic speaker and author of several books on divorce and the annulment process, said the Church is able to offer healing, strength and salvation to divorced Catholics in irregular marriages, but she doesn’t believe that would be accomplished by offering them Communion.
“The teachings are that marriage, if valid, is unbreakable, and somebody who has remarried outside the Church is no longer in full communion with the Church. To receive that public or even private act of Communion would be disingenuous. It would be a lie.”
Sweet said Catholics who cannot go to Communion are not being deprived of their baptismal graces and can still have spiritual communion with Christ. The life raft the Church can offer them, she said, is a two-section one: the teachings of Christ and parish/diocesan programs that help divorced Catholics through the annulment process.
Sweet said she would like to see the Church modify its disciplines, not its teachings, to provide a more pastoral treatment for divorced Catholics. One way would be to make more advocates available to help divorced Catholics through the annulment process. Because the system is overburdened with the machinery of bureaucracy, Sweet said, the average person in a failed marriage seeking help from the Church can go through several years of the process without having anyone to help or explain things.
Thavis said streamlining the annulment process would not involve doctrinal issues. The idea of finding ways to readmit divorced Catholics to the sacraments has been brought up in past synods, he said, but never with any resolution.
Regardless of the issues it takes up, NOM’s Brian Brown sees the synod as an opportunity for the Church to make clear the truth about marriage and the great good it does for society.
“To be pastoral is not to go with the times,” he said. “Nothing has changed on that front. It wouldn’t have been right for the Church to embrace what was going on in Rome in the early periods of the Church or any culture that clearly contradicts the truth. It’s a misunderstanding to think that pastoral means to fit in; to be pastoral is to stand up for the truth in and out of season.”
Judy Robertsis Legatus magazine’s staff writer.