WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Church officials in Germany defended plans by the country’s bishops’ conference to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, insisting they have the pope’s endorsement.
“We already have our own guidelines, and the pope has now clearly signaled that certain things can be decided locally,” said Robert Eberle, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Freiburg.
“We’re not the only archdiocese seeking helpful solutions to this problem, and we’ve had positive reactions from other dioceses in Germany and abroad, assuring us they already practice what’s written in our guidelines,” he said.
Eberle’s comments followed the disclosure by Bishop Gebhard Furst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart Nov. 23 that the bishops’ would adopt proposals on reinstating divorced and remarried parishioners as full members of the church during their March plenary.
In a Nov. 27 interview with Catholic News Service Eberle said “many points” in the pope’s apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) suggested the German church was “moving in the right way” in its attitude toward remarried Catholics.
Uwe Renz, spokesman in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, also defended the bishops’ stance. He said he believed the bishops were acting “in the spirit of the pope’s teaching.”
“Our own dialogue process has shown this is a major issue for both lay Catholics and priests,” Renz said.
“Pope Francis has called on bishops to exercise a wise and realistic pastoral discernment on such problems, and our bishops want divorced and remarried Catholics to be a full part of the church community, with full rights,” he explained.
Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reaffirmed in October church teaching that prohibits divorced and remarried Catholics from the sacraments without an annulment. His announcement came after the Freiburg Archdiocese issued guidelines making holy Communion available to divorced and remarried parishioners.
In a 4,600-word article in the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano Oct. 22, Archbishop Muller said the “entire sacramental economy” could not be swept aside by an “appeal to mercy,” adding that if remarried divorcees were “convinced in their conscience a previous marriage was invalid,” this should be “proved objectively” by a church tribunal as required by canon law.
In an Oct. 8 letter to Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German bishops’ conference, the prefect said the archdiocese’s guidelines contained “unclear terminology” and violated church teaching by suggesting remarried Catholics could take a “responsible decision in conscience” to receive sacraments after consulting their priest.
However, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, one of eight members of the international Council of Cardinals advising the pope on reform of the Roman Curia, criticized the stance. He said Archbishop Muller could not “end the discussion.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier told the Trierischen Volksfreund daily Nov. 21 the sacraments offered a “chance for reconciliation and a new beginning.” He said the church needed a “more intense and honest account of the concrete reality facing many couples and families.”
Several German church leaders earlier welcomed the Freiburg guidelines, including Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Berlin. He told KNA, the German Catholic news agency, Oct. 9 that divorced and remarried Catholics were “welcome in our parishes” and “belong to us.”
In a Nov. 23 speech to the lay Central Committee of German Catholics, Bishop Furst said a commission of six bishops had been drafting guidelines since 2010 for faithful couples to “gain readmission to the sacraments in justified individual cases,” and would present them for approval at the bishops’ March meeting.
He explained that the commission had drawn on the Freiburg Archdiocese’s document as well as a 1993 pastoral letter on the subject by three other bishops.
The bishop told the central committee to applause that he would “make arrangements” in his own diocese if the bishops’ plenary failed to “agree a common line.”
Speculation about a change in church practice has grown since Pope Francis told reporters in his plane back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July that a Synod of Bishops in October 2014 would explore a “deeper pastoral care of marriage,” including the eligibility of Catholic divorcees to receive Communion.
In his apostolic exhortation of Nov. 26, the pope said the magisterium should not be expected “to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the church and the world” and cautioned against “a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance.”
He added that the “doors of the sacraments” should be not “closed for simply any reason,” and said the Eucharist was “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
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For Rocco, and those who think like him: Would you throw a dinner party, warmly welcome your guests, and then proceed to tell some to come to the table and others, “Sorry, you’re welcome to be here, but you can’t eat?” That is what our Church has been doing for centuries. Canon law? How about this “law:” “Come to me, ALL you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.” How about this “law:” “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” How about this “law:” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” St. Paul wrote extensively on how faith in Jesus Christ has freed us from “the law.” Those who divorce and remarry outside the Church have sinned. Let them confess their sin just like any other, and be absolved just like any other, and leave them in peace. If they want their new marriage blessed, let them get the first annulled and the new one con-validated. It’s time we get a little less “Roman” and a little more “Catholic!”
Who do the Conservative Catholics hold as their highest authority since they obviously don’t like or follow the dictates of Pope Francis ? The Conservative Catholics clearly don’t understand that the College of Cardinals elected Pope Francis UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
I love our Archdiocese and the Church, and usually the things from the Catholic News Service like CNS are excellent, especially Cindy Wooden’s pieces, but why did you guys run this article? (And why did CNS publish it, I wonder?)
Regardless of how one feels about the issue, and while it is certainly one of those hard things to deal with, this article shows internal division in the Church even at the tops of its hierarchy, i.e. between CDF’s Muller and Cardinal Marx. I think it would have been better if we held off on an article about these internal arguments such as this for now, considering that the Canon Law on this issue is clear. Unless and until the Canon Law is changed, negative commentary on it from anyone — freewheeling bishops included, on Pope’s Gang of 8 or not — can’t be endorsed at the diocesan level.
See http://www.osservatoreromano.va/portal/dt?JSPTabContainer.setSelected=JSPTabContainer%2FDetail&last=false=&path=/news/cultura/2013/243q13-Sull-indissolubilit–del-matrimonio-e-il-di.html&title=The%20Power%20of%20Grace&locale=en and also http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/is-pope-francis-going-to-let-the-divorced-and-remarried-receive-communion.
Pope Francis himself referred to Holy Communion for divorced and remarried persons as an “impossibility.” Something that is “impossible” isn’t the same as “disallowed now, but possible down the road.” “Impossible” in the life of the Church means just that, “impossible.” By the way, as the first second article from the National Catholic Register points out, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carries a lot more weight than a lone Cardinal from a disobedient diocese — no matter how much he objects.
We must put our best foot forward in showing unity with the *universal* Church and the Holy See. We cannot confuse the faithful right now, through this or any other media.
Finally, let’s remember the stories that circulated about how so many bishops, even a couple Cardinals, wanted Pope Paul VI to “change” the Church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception. It didn’t work then, no matter how important or influential the cleric, and I doubt it’ll work this time.