"Remarried divorcees belong to the Church," says Synod's Relator

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“Divorced and civilly remarried persons belong to the Church” but in the case “of a (consummated) sacramental marriage, after a divorce, a second marriage recognized by the Church is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.” In any case, “what is being discussed at this synod of an intense pastoral nature are not doctrinal issues, but the practical ones — nevertheless inseparable from the truths of the faith.” This is how the Synod’s Relator General, Cardinal Peter Erdö – who is also President of the Hungarian Bishops’ Conference as well as President of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) presented the controversial question regarding the possibility of allowing remarried divorcees to receive communion. This is just one “among the great number of pastoral challenges keenly felt today, but it features prominently in Erdö’s speech.

During a press conference held in the Vatican Press Office following the Synod’s morning session, the Hungarian cardinal pointed out an element which is new compared to other Synods: the “Relatio Ante Disceptationem” already includes a summary of the Synod Fathers' written discourses, sent in advance to the Secretariat General of the Synod, “by the end of September”. Another thing that is new about this Synod is Francis’ decision to have the introductory report written in Italian instead of Latin. “This helped move things along quicker as, in the past, listening to Latin for an hour was not easy,” Erdö joked.

The Church must offer faithful the “truth cure”, i.e. the “crystal clear and whole truth of the Gospel” “so that it can be recognized in the present moment as a “remedy” or the many problematic, oftentimes burdensome, family situations.”

“In other words, without detracting from the truth, this must also be proposed from the perspective of those who “struggle” to recognize it as such and to live it,” Erdö stated, highlighting “the witness of many happy marriages and Christian families. These positive experiences are not to be overlooked, despite the widespread serious and irregular situations.”

Before pointing out the possible solutions to the thorny issue of the ban on communion for remarried divorcees. Erdö wish to highlight two points: “The teaching on the indissolubility of marriage as such is not questioned. Indeed, it is unchallenged and for the most part observed also in the pastoral practice of the Church with persons who have failed in their marriage and seek a new beginning. Therefore, what is being discussed at this synod of an intense pastoral nature are not doctrinal issues, but the practical ones — nevertheless inseparable from the truths of the faith.” “This means that, in the case of a (consummated) sacramental marriage, after a divorce, a second marriage recognized by the Church is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.”

The Archbishop of Budapest then offered two solutions: “Divorced and civilly remarried persons belong to the Church. They need and have the right to receive care from their pastors (cf. Sacramentum charitatis, 28). They are invited to listen to the Word of God, to participate in the Church's liturgy and prayer and perform the good works of charity. The Church’s pastoral care must be extended to them in a very special way, taking into account the unique circumstances of each person.” Erdö said. So the first proposal the archbishop makes, is that the Church should facilitate marriage annulment by reviewing the following: “in the first place, the obligation for two appeals of confirmation on the declaration of nullity of the marriage bond and proceed to the second instance only if, within a defined framework, there is no appeal from either or both parties or from the defender of the bond.” Secondly, “according to authoritative proposals, the faith of those to be married needs to be evaluated in ascertaining the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage, according to the general principle that the validity of a sacrament requires that the party intends to do what the Church does.” Thirdly, “resolving certain cases can possibly be done by reverting to the “Pauline Privilege” or the “Petrine Privilege” (in marriages of disparity of cult).” Finally, Erdö repeated the proposal made by Cardinal Walter Kasper at the Consistory of February 2014: to further examine “the practice of some of the Orthodox Churches, which allows the possibility of a second or third marriage, marked by a penitential character. Examining this matter is necessary to avoid any questionable interpretations and conclusions which are not sufficiently well-founded.” Erdö also touched on a number of other subjects but without going into as much detail. He talked about the Humanae Vitae, homosexuality (“no” to discrimination but also “no” to same-sex marriage), education, evangelisation and the relational context.

In another briefing which followed, Mgr. Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti and the Synod’s Secretary General answered a number of questions, underlining what John XXIII said at the start of the Second Vatican Council: this Council will focus on pastoral aspects. He then added that souls need saving. The same goes for the Synod. This does not mean doctrinal aspects are to be ignored but they do not need to be hammered in constantly. If we had to repeat what the Church has always said, then there would be no point in holding another Synod. If we do hold a Synod though, our approach needs to be one of “tenderness”, because speaking about remarried divorcees in abstract terms may be easy but sometimes people carry a lot of emotional baggage, a lot of suffering... When you meet such people, you see their suffering and so you need to be gentle and merciful when delivering the doctrine.”

Cardinal André Ving-Trois stressed that “today the Pope told us to speak out and not keep our thoughts to ourselves for fear of displeasing him or to please him. One of the main objectives of men today is to get the Pope to like them. But he comes to hear our thoughts.” The Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict XVI was not expected to attend the Synod: “The Pope Emeritus is not expected to participate in the long and demanding Synod.” Joseph Ratzinger, he said, “continues to live a life of prayer, remaining out of the spotlight” but “we all hope to see him at Paul VI’s beatification ceremony.” Mgr. Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepantla (Mexico) and President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), also spoke during the press conference. He highlighted the differences and similarities between the Synod and the gathering of Latin America’s bishops in Aparecida.

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By Iacopo Scaramuzzi