“Don’t treat divorced Catholics as outcasts”. Pope Francis
Pope Francis told priests on Wednesday to be more merciful to Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Church, saying they should not be treated as if they had been excommunicated.
The delicate subject of how the 1.2-billion-member Church should treat divorced Catholics will be a major issue at a meeting of world bishops at the Vatican in October.
Current Church teaching says such Catholics cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sexual relations because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the Church.
Progressive bishops have been pushing for change and Francis has been dropping hints that he too favors more accommodation and wants the synod to come up with proposals.
Speaking at his general audience, Francis said it was urgent that the Church develop ways to offer a “real welcome” to Catholics who have found happiness in a second marriage after their first ones failed.
“These people have absolutely not been excommunicated … and they should absolutely not be treated as if they had been; they are always part of the Church,” he said.
He said it was particularly important for priests to be welcoming to the many children of such couples.
“They (the children) are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. How can we urge these parents to do everything to raise their children in the Christian life … if we keep them at a distance from the life of the community as if they had been excommunicated?” he said.
The children of Catholic parents who have remarried outside the Church should not have to bear the “additional weight” of being made to feel like outcasts in local parishes because of their parents’ failed first marriages, he said.
The official version of the comments as reported on the Vatican Website is a little more restrained and staid;
Dear Brothers and Sisters: We return now to our catechesis on the family, by reflecting on the situation of our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union. Though their unions are contrary to the Sacrament of marriage, the Church, as a Mother, seeks the good and salvation of all her children. As these situations especially affect children, we are aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For how can we encourage these parents to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of Christian faith, if we keep them at arm’s length? I am especially grateful to the many pastors, guided by my Predecessors, who have worked diligently to let these families know they are still a part of the Church. There is no easy solution for these situations, but we can and must always encourage these families to participate in the Church’s life, through prayer, listening to the Word of God, the Christian education of their children, and service to the poor. As the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so the Church as a Mother gives her life for all her children, by being always the “house of the Father, with doors wide open”. May everyone, especially Christian families, imitate the Good Shepherd, who knows all his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love.
Parsing the words of Pope Francis is a notoriously hazardous undertaking, as he tends sometimes to say things that seem almost deliberately open to multiple interpretations — remember “Who am I to judge?” — and then play his cards close to the vest in terms of what policy implications, if any, may ensue.
That’s a caution worth reiterating as his words at Wednesday’s general audience on divorced and remarried Catholics make the rounds. The bottom line is that while what the pope said was interesting, it didn’t signal any specific policy choice.
At the moment, the Catholic Church is gripped by a debate over whether Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church ought to be allowed to receive Communion. That was the hot-button issue at last October’s Synod of Bishops on the family, and it will be front and center again at a follow-up synod this October.
Currently, Church rules bar the divorced and remarried from Communion. One wing of Catholicism, up to and including several cardinals, supports flexibility in inviting such people to the sacrament on a case-by-case basis. That view was summed up by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich last October as, “Not for everyone, and not for no one.”
Another wing, also including several cardinals, believes such a move would be a betrayal of traditional teaching on the permanence of marriage.
Although there are no hard figures for the number of such Catholics worldwide, they form a pool estimated at 4.5 million people in the United States alone. As a result, this is an issue that isn’t merely symbolic, but packs real-world pastoral significance.
In that context, anything the pope says on the subject is bound to generate reaction. On Wednesday, he took it up in a brief 660-word reflection, the gist of which was to call the Church to greater compassion for people in this situation.
Francis said from the outset that marrying outside the Church after a divorce “contradicts the Christian sacrament.” At the same time, he insisted that such people remain part of the Church — they are not “excommunicated,” he said — and need to be cared for, in part for the sake of their children.
“If we look at these new unions through the eyes of small children … we see even more the urgency of developing in our communities a real welcome towards people who live in these situations,” the pope said.
The welfare of the children seemed the pope’s paramount concern.
“How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith,” Francis asked, “if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Francis said there are no “simple recipes” for the right way to embrace the divorced and remarried, but nevertheless said it has to be done.
Francis also insisted on the need for “discernment” in individual cases, citing the difference between someone who “suffered” the break-up of a marriage versus someone who “provoked” it.
He pointed to the need “to demonstrate openly and coherently the disposition of the community to welcome and encourage” the divorced and remarried, “so they can live and develop ever more their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, listening to the Word of God, attendance at the liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity and service to the poor, [and] a commitment to justice and peace.”
So what does that mean for the Communion debate?
One could read the pope’s call for welcome and encouragement as an indirect boost for the reform position, a way of preparing Catholic opinion for an eventual change. That’s an especially tempting conclusion in light of his emphasis on discernment in different situations.
Just as easily, however, one could read his language as a way of preparing people hoping for such a change for disappointment. Francis could be saying, “Even if we don’t budge on the Communion ban, that doesn’t mean we’re abandoning you.”
It’s notable that Francis explicitly said that remarriage after divorce “contradicts” the sacrament. Moreover, in ticking off ways in which divorced and remarried believers can still be part of the Church — through prayer, attending liturgies, etc. — Francis didn’t say anything about Communion.
Bottom line: Both sides could read what Francis said Wednesday and feel encouraged, but neither can claim a papal endorsement.
In the end, perhaps that was the point.
Perhaps what Francis really wanted to say is that whatever he does about the Communion question after October, no one should pretend that the hard work of outreach and reconciliation with divorced and remarried Catholics will be finished.
The story as reported in Euronews;
Pope Francis continues to make waves as the head of the Roman Catholic church.
His latest announcement, previously made in more intimate surroundings and in personal terms, has come in front of a general audience in a formal setting.
Pope Francis is calling on his priests to no longer refuse to give communion to people who have been divorced.
“How do we take care of those who, after the irreversible failure of their marriage bond, have taken up a new union? These people are not at all excommunicated. They are not excommunicated, “ he insisted, “and they must not be treated as such. They still belong to the church.”
His call comes just ahead of this autumn’s General Synod on the Family, when cardinals from across the world will gather in the Vatican to debate the church’s future direction.
And the same story as per the National Catholic Register;
Pope: ‘By No Means Excommunicated,’ but Divorce and Remarriage Contradicts the Sacrament
In his Aug. 5 general audience catechesis, the Holy Father emphasized the need for a welcoming pastoral outreach to Catholics in such circumstances.
VATICAN CITY — Echoing his predecessors on the need to care for divorced and remarried persons, Pope Francis said Christians should help these persons integrate into the community rather than treating them as though they are excommunicated.
“The Church well knows that such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament,” the Pope said in his Aug. 5 general audience at St. Peter’s Square. Nonetheless, he added, the Church should always approach such situations with a “mother’s heart; a heart, which, animated by the Holy Spirit, seeks always the good and the salvation of the person.”
“It is important that they experience the Church as a mother attentive to all, always disposed to listen in encounters.”
The community is to welcome persons who have divorced and entered into new unions, the Pope said, so that “they may live and develop their adherence to Christ and the Church with prayer, listening to God’s word, frequenting the liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity, service to the poor, and a commitment to justice and peace.”
Pope Francis made these remarks in his first general audience since his summer break, picking up where he left off in his ongoing series of catecheses about the family.
Since last autumn, the Holy Father has been centering his Wednesday catecheses on this theme of as part of the lead-up to the World Day of Families in September, and the Synod on the Family in October.
In stressing the complexity of the pastoral care of those who have entered unions without having received an annulment of their marriage, Pope Francis turned to his immediate predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both of whom had addressed this problem.
Pope Francis went on to stress how in recent decades, under the guidance of his predecessors, the Church has come to an increased awareness of the need for “fraternal and attentive welcome, in love and in truth” of those who have entered a new union following the failure of their marriage.
For instance, the Pope cited Benedict XVI who, in a question and answer period during the 2012 World Meeting of Families, acknowledged there were no “simple solutions.”
He also cited St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio, calling on pastors to “exercise careful discernment of situations” (84) in caring for couples who have attempted to remarry without having obtained an annulment — giving the example of the difference between someone who caused the separation, and who suffered it.
One of the areas of particular concern, the Pope said, pertains to the children affected by such complex family situations, for they are who suffer the most.
“If we then look at these unions with the eyes of the small children,” the Pope said, “we see the even more urgency for developing, within our communities, a real welcoming of persons who live in these situations.”
“How can we entrust these parents to do everything to educate their children in the Christian life, to give them the example of convicted and practiced faith, if we keep them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated?”
“These persons are by no means excommunicated,” the Holy Father stressed, “and they should absolutely not be treated as such: They are always part of the Church.”
Excommunication is a medicinal penalty, and an excommunicated person cannot have a ministerial participation in worship; celebrate or receive the sacraments; or exercise ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions.
The divorced who have remarried cannot, however, be admitted to Eucharistic Communion because “their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist,” St. John Paul II taught in Familiaris Consortio.
Pope Francis said that in caring for people who are divorced and remarried, Christians should take their example from the Good Shepherd, an image which, he said, summarizes Christ’s mission to “give his life for his sheep.”
“This attitude is also a model for the Church, who welcomes her sons as a mother who givers her life for them.”
The Pope stressed that “all Christians are called to imitate the Good Shepherd.”
“Christian families can collaborate with him in taking care of wounded families, accompanying in the community’s life of faith. Each must his part to assume the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows every one of his sheep, and excludes no one from his infinite love!”
This Year’s Synod
This year’s Synod on the Family, to be held Oct. 4-25, will be the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”
The 2014 meeting became the subject of widespread media attention, largely owing to proposals by a small number of bishops to rethink the Church’s practice regarding the admission to Holy Communion for divorced persons who have remarried without having had their marriage recognized as null.
And finally RTE;
Speaking ahead of a global meeting on family life in October, he said “awareness that a brotherly and attentive welcome… is needed towards those who… have established a new relationship after the failure of a marriage, has greatly increased”.
“In fact, these people are not excommunicated – they are not excommunicated! And they absolutely must not be treated as such.
They are still part of the church,” the pontiff said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
“No closed doors! Everyone can participate some way or another in the life of the Church,” he said, in a clear call for Catholic bishops and priests to treat those in so-called “irregular situations” with greater compassion.
The issue of remarried divorcees is likely to be addressed during the upcoming synod of bishops on the family, which Francis hopes will help reconcile Catholic thinking with the realities of the lives of believers in the 21st century.
A first synod on the family last year saw some conservative bishops mobilise to block the approval of language heralding an unprecedented opening on the treatment of divorced Catholics, who are currently not able to take communion.