[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome] The small-group reports from the synod’s final crucial final week show that while opposition remains determined, most bishops are open to continuing to explore the possibility of communion for civilly remarried divorcés.
But there is little agreement on what that might look like, or how to proceed, with most groups suggesting further discernment or kicking the ball to the Pope.
It was obvious from the small-group reports that divisions over the issue went deep and were not easily resolved. Speaking to journalists after yesterday’s press briefing, Cardinal Daniel Sturla, the Archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay, told me that in his Italian-language group “there were very clearly two completely opposed positions” with “heavyweights on both sides speaking with well developed arguments in favour of one position or the other”.
He said the overwhelming desire of his and other groups was “to be able to assist the Holy Father by offering elements that would assist in him in taking a decision, rather than boxing him into ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Two groups out of the 13 came to a clear view in favour, while two objected to any movement at all.
The adamant opposition — although it was not universal — came from the English-language group headed by Cardinal George Pell as well as the French-language group headed by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Both are curial cardinals; Cardinal Pell heads the Secretariat of the Economy and sits on the Pope’s “Council of 9” cardinals, known as the C-9.
Pell’s group said that “a majority without full consensus affirmed the current teaching and practice of the Church regarding the participation in the Eucharist of those who are divorced and civilly remarried”.
Sarah’s group said that they needed to be better informed about the many ways they could participate in parish life, but “in regard to their access to the Sacraments, the Circulus has pronounced in favour of maintaining the current discipline.”
The most clearly in favour was the Spanish-speaking (mostly Latin-American) group moderated by Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez de Maradiaga, the Honduran who chairs the C9.
His group called for remarried divorcees to able to be readmitted to the sacraments by means of a via caritatis pathway “which allows for doors to be opened and to be close to those who are wounded”.
The Church “has to do everything possible and necessary to attract those who are alienated”, said the Hispanicus-A report.
The other clearly in favour was the German-speaking group, which is moderated by Cardinal Christophe Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna and one of the leading exponents, together with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of an opening. But the group also contains one of the strongest opponents of the move, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Marx at yesterday’s press briefing stressed to journalists that what was in the Germanicus report was “unanimous”, and therefore the fruit of negotiation within the group.
“Every text [released by] the German speaking group … is unanimous, no vote against it,” said Marx. “That’s very important, I think.”
Marx said they were conscious in the group that others in the synod were looking to them. If the Germans, with their diverse views, could come together, “maybe it would be a good sign for the others,” he said.
Because of this negotiated settlement, the ‘German solution’ might find broad acceptance if it is incorporated into Saturday’s final report following discussion today.
Germanicus says that the Church might be able to develop the “internal forum” to allow some remarried persons to take the Eucharist on a private, case-by-case basis after seeking guidance, advice, and then permission from priests or bishops.
The internal forum is different from the so-called ‘penitential path’ outlined by Cardinal Kasper, who is also in the group, in that it would essentially rely on a bishop’s or a priest’s discernment, and would not be seen as a ‘general pathway’ for the divorced and remarried. The penitential path has been criticised as undermining the Church’s witness to indissolubility, which Pope Francis has throughout the synod stressed is non-negotiable.
The Latin-Americans have also objected to the Kasper solution as too complex and elitist. “If the Church is the Church of the poor, then the responses we give need to be clear and simple, that Juan Pueblo (‘Joe Bloggs’) can understand,” Cardinal Sturla said yesterday.
Germanicus notes that the debate on the matter had shown there were no simple or general solutions, and that the issue required further discernment in the light of the Gospel and church doctrine. However, on the basis of paragraph 84 of Familiaris Consortio, which called for pastors to distinguish between various situations, and for those involved to examine their consciences, Germanicus outlines what that process might look like, concluding:
This path of reflection and penance, examining the objective situation in dialogue with the confessor, can contribute, in the internal forum, to a greater awareness and clarity of the extent to which access to the sacraments may be possible.
At least two groups suggested the creation of a commission to further study the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Anglicus-B, the English-speaking group moderated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, proposed what it called “a pathway of discernment or ‘reverential listening’, attentive to the story of those who seek understanding and support.” The initial purpose of this “attentive accompaniment” was “to foster discipleship” rather than addressing the question of admission to the sacraments.
Having outlined the “process of reverential listening” — similar to the kinds of questions suggested by the German group — Anglicus-B then asks the Pope to consider establishing during the Year of Mercy a “Special Commission to study in depth the ways in which the disciplines of the Church which flow from the indissolubility of marriage apply to the situation of people in irregular situations”, including polygamy.
Anglicus-C, moderated by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said there was “little enthusiasm” for the penitential path proposal, and the group was “equally divided” on whether there should be further study of the question.
The fourth English group, moderated by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, was even less keen. “Members voiced significant concern that whatever is done should not lead to greater confusion among our people”, it said.
The three French groups were inconclusive, with one fairly definite ‘no’, while the three Italian groups were more positive. Italian-A called for the issue to be dealt with at a local level, with the bishop in charge of discerning cases; Italian-B, too, called for a “case-by case” discernment, while Italian-C had a proposal similar to the Germans for an internal forum solution under the guidance of the bishop.
Overall, the upshot appears to be that the issue remains on the table, but much will depend on what Pope Francis chooses to do.
But there is a consistent theme throughout the groups that outreach and pastoral accompaniment of the divorced and remarried are poor and need to be improved.
Since the 1981 encyclical Familiaris Consortio first identified the problem of the alienation of the divorced and remarried, the Church has in principle sought to ensure that they feel part of the Church and parish life, even if they are unable to receive Communion.
In all of the synod small group reports there is a strong commitment to bolstering this effort.
Cardinal Rodríguez’s group said the synod must produce more than “nice words.”
“We have to propose a generous movement, removing many obstacles from the path so that the divorced and remarried can participate more fully in the life of the Church,” the group said, observing that currently they cannot be godparents or catechists.
“We need to show that we’ve heard the ‘cry’ of so many people who suffer and cry out, asking to participate as fully as possible in the life of Church,” the group said.