Vatican City — Puerto Rico’s representative at the ongoing Synod of Bishops has poignantly called for some sort of penitential path towards taking Communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried, saying the current practice does not allow them a “full encounter” with Christ.
San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves told the 270 prelates at the gathering that the practice of remarried Catholics entering the Communion line with their arms crossed to indicate they wish to receive a blessing, instead of the Eucharist, demonstrates that “spiritual communion is not enough.”
“This gesture shows and suggests several things,” González said of that practice during his 3-minute address to the synod. “It is a manifestation of the desire of sacramental communion and they humble themselves before the community by making clear to all their illegal status; as if to say: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!”
Saying he wanted to present proposals to “enter into dialogue with the complexity of the pastoral reality and the salvation of souls,” González suggested to the synod that certain divorced and remarried persons might enter into something akin to an "order of penitents" through participation in "places of encounter with Jesus Christ."
With a citation to Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, the archbishop said such a journey would be “gradual and proportionate” and take such persons “step-by-step in the most profound and sincere moral life of faith.”
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Each of the participants in the Synod of Bishops is allowed to make at least one short speech during an open meeting of the group. While the speeches are not being published by the Vatican, González has made the full text of his intervention available at his archdiocesan website in Spanish.
One of the discussions known to be taking place at the synod, being held behind closed doors, regards the church's stance towards divorced persons who remarry without obtaining annulments of their first marriages. Such persons are currently prohibited in church teaching from receiving the Eucharist.
Identifying places of encounter with Christ as scripture, prayer, liturgy, Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, González suggested a penitential pathway could offer divorced and remarried persons a kind of “second baptism” where they can resolve a “conflict of values” between the indissolubility of marriage, human dignity, and salvation.
Quoting from Pope Francis’ homily during the recent Mass in Washington to canonize 18th-century Franciscan missionary Fr. Junipero Serra, the archbishop said the pope reminded Catholics that Jesus “did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message and his presence.”
“Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it,” González quoted the pope’s homily. “It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken.”
“Without going into the details of the moral responsibility towards their children: Would it be right that in a couple one spouse leaves with the pretext to live in chastity?” the archbishop asked the synod prelates.
“Where is the dignity and responsibility towards the person abandoned?” he continued. “If we believe in the efficacy of the penitential sacrament as a sacrament of conversion, then: why deny it to someone, who we can guide to meet the Lord who can convert him/her?”
“This penitential journey, with renewed purpose to bring back to the right path these brothers and sisters, will have the conditions of possibility for which, extraordinarily, they may progressively assume the gifts of God and its requirements,” said the archbishop, quoting again from Familiaris consortio.
“This implies that in the penitential journey these brothers and sisters resume their ecclesiastic union through the Eucharist, when the conditions established by the Church are verified,” said González.
“This will not be a prize because they are good, but it will be their strength in weakness … an aid to help them continue on the journey,” said the archbishop. “The consecrated host is the medicine for the soul, and whoever has a wound looks for medicine, says St. Ambrose.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]