From the synod (17): Cardinal Nichols on pathway for divorced and remarried: ‘It’s their decision’

Cardinal Nichols at the synod

Cardinal Nichols at the synod

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome] The Archbishop of Westminster has defended the freedom of the divorced and remarried to reach a decision in conscience on the Eucharist after following the ‘pathway’ described in the final synod document.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the synod had “quite deliberately set aside the question of admission to the Eucharist, because that had become a yes-no issue. And the very nature of this is that it’s not as simple as yes-no.”

“It’s a pathway,” he added. “And it is not for me or for the priest who is doing the accompaniment to pre-empt or foreclose that pathway.”

The cardinal was speaking to journalists yesterday at the English College, following the conclusion of the three-week synod. The synod’s final report has generated a furious discussion about whether it has further opened the possibility of the divorced and remarried receiving the Sacraments, or simply reaffirmed the existing practice of the Church outlined in Familiaris Consortio.

Although the final synod report talks about a pathway of discernment — involving conscience-searching questions — to enable the divorced and remarried to be better integrated into the life of the Church, it does not mention the possibility of sacraments at the end of the road (see CV Comment here).

Cardinal Nichols suggested that the studied ambiguity of the report was a deliberate decision to prevent prospect of sacraments affecting the freedom of the discernment.

“No one will set out on this pathway with the single aim of receiving Holy Communion. And nobody will be accompanied on this pathway with the single principle that they can’t,” he said. “So it is, precisely, a pathway.”

He said the intention of the those paragraphs relating to the divorce and remarried was to help them live and mature as members of the Church. He said that meant firstly making clear that they are members of the Church and not “external” to it:

So it’s not a question of walking them back into the Church. But it’s saying: you are our brothers and sisters, and  the pain you’ve gone through is the pain of the Church.

Cardinal Nichols led one of four English-language small groups, Anglicus-B. His group, along with the German-speaking group, had set forward in their third-week report the idea of “a pathway of discernment or ‘reverential listening’, attentive to the story of those who seek understanding and support.” (see previous CV Comment post).

Yesterday he said Pope Francis had warned at end of the October 2014 synod against two temptations: of reducing everything to issues of doctrine, and of bandaging wounds without first treating them. He said this synod had clearly avoided the first, while the  pathway for the divorced and remarried outlined in the final report had avoided the second.

The discipline and the steps that are laid out in this pathway of discernment are precisely to help us to avoid that temptation of slapping on a quick plaster and then underneath something is still festering away: the pain, the hurt, the resentment, the damage done. This pathway of discernment is to help them look through all those things with they eyes of faith and the eyes of God’s mercy.

He said the pathway was open-ended.

You don’t where it goes. I know people who have done this and have come to the conclusion themselves — to their mature conscience decision — that they should not receive the Eucharist, because they want to give a witness to the stability of marriage. But it’s their decision. That is not pre-judged or pre-empted. If anyone wants to walk this way, come, and we will walk with you.

Sitting alongside Cardinal Nichols was Bishop Peter Doyle, the other England and Wales delegate at the synod. He said the doctrines were clear and there had always been a pathway for discernment in such situations. But “the synod has opened the pathway a bit more”, he said.

Speaking to journalists yesterday at the North American College, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is president of the US bishops’ conference, also said the synod document had not specified what “fuller participation” meant. “It doesn’t get into what paths that fuller participation will go”, he said, adding: “They don’t get specifically get into Holy Communion. They get in to what it means to walk with and accompany people.”

Giving his overall sense of the synod, Cardinal Nichols said its main achievement was to produce new ways of thinking about the family and of accompanying family life in all its stages and difficulties.

He said he had come away seeing that “the family is the flesh of the Church” and that the two were “inseparable”. Therefore, “a wound in the life of the family is a wound in the life of the Church”.

He said that some in the synod had been “quite determined that at the heart of this synod would lie doctrinal issues” and that “one way of trying to do that was by trying to make everything into a doctrinal issue.” But the synod had been “decisive” in saying: “what the Church needs developing now is its pastoral pathway. Not everything is a matter of doctrine; not everything is decided by doctrinal dispute.”

He said there was “a richness in the tradition of the Church in its pastoral practice which we have to recover and make central again. It means concrete, specific ways of putting into practice the mercy which is the heart of God.”

He added:

I think this synod will prove to be a very important moment, when definitively the Church has said: our response to all sorts of difficult situations is not, as the Pope said [on Saturday night], simply to repeat doctrine, but to pick up a pathway of accompaniment, with discernment and listening, and trying our best to walk with people on paths that have become smoother and that lead to living water.


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