The group of German speaking prelates at the ongoing Synod of Bishops has presented a way that certain divorced and remarried Catholic persons might be allowed to take Communion in the church.
The prelates made their suggestion Wednesday with the release of the report from their small discussion group at the synod.
The bishops suggest in their report that the church might be able to use what is called 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 German-speaking group, which notably includes a diverse range of intellectual backgrounds, states that they are making the proposal unanimously.
Among those in the group are: German Cardinals Walter Kasper, who originally proposed the idea of the “penitential path" for the divorced and remarried; and Gerhard Müller, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known previously to oppose that path.
Co-leading the group are: Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and German Archbishop Heiner Koch.
Following is an NCR translation of the relevant portion of the German-speaking group's report. The original report, in German, is available at the Vatican's website.
It is a well-known fact that at both sessions of the Episcopal Synod there was an intensive struggle over the question of whether and in how far divorced and remarried people who want to take part in the life of the Church, may receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist under certain conditions.
The debates have shown that there are no simple or general solutions here. We bishops experienced the tensions connected with this question just as much as many of our faithful whose worries and hopes, warnings and expectations accompanied us throughout our consultations.
The discussions clearly showed that certain clarifications and in-depth study were necessary in order to further deepen the complexity of these issues in the light of the Gospel, of the Church’s teaching and with the gift of discernment.
We can, of course, name certain criteria that help to differentiate. Pope St John Paul II states the first criterion in [his 1981 encyclical] Familiaris Consortio, paragraph 84:
Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.
A pastor’s task is therefore to accompany the person concerned on the path towards this differentiation. In so doing, it will be helpful to proceed together in an honest examination of conscience and undertake steps of reflection and repentance.
Thus the divorced and remarried people should ask themselves how they treated their children during their marriage crisis. Were there attempts at reconciliation? What is the situation of the abandoned partner? What consequences has the new partnership had as far as the extended family and the community of the faithful are concerned? What example is it for the younger members considering marriage?
An honest reflection can strengthen the trust in God’s mercy, which no one who brings his or her failure and need before God is refused.
In view of the objective situation in the talks with the confessor, such a path of reflection and repentance can, in the internal forum, contribute towards the formation of conscience and the clarification of whether admission to the Sacraments is possible.
According to the words of St Paul, which apply to all those who approach the Lord’s table, everyone must examine themselves:
"A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." (I Corinthians 11, 28-31)
As with the procedures for the first two parts of the Instrumentum laboris, the procedures of third part were handled in a good synodal spirit and unanimously approved.
[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is the Austrian correspondent for the London-based weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet. NCR Vatican Correspondent Joshua J. McElwee contributed to this report.]