Manchester, England — Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster urged priests to end debating the upcoming synod on the family in the press after more than 450 priests published a letter calling on the Catholic church to retain the prohibition on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving holy Communion.
"Every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the synod discussion. It is my understanding that this has been taken up in every diocese, and that channels of communication have been established," Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said in a statement Wednesday.
"The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press," the statement said.
Set to appear in the March 27 edition of the London-based Catholic Herald, the priests' letter explained that it was written partly to counter "confusion" over the moral teaching of the Catholic church as a result of some synod fathers pushing for a relaxation of the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.
It was signed by 461 priests and also appeared on the website of the weekly magazine on Tuesday.
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"We wish, as Catholic priests, to restate our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the word of God and taught by the church's magisterium for two millennia," the priests wrote.
"We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord's compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society," the letter continued.
"Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the church's traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony," the letter added.
The priests concluded their letter by urging all participants of synod on the family Oct. 4-25 at the Vatican "to make a clear and firm proclamation of the church's unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed."
Signees included parish priests, members of religious orders and prominent English theologians Dominican Fr. Aidan Nichols and Fr. John Saward.
One signatory, Fr. John Johnson, who serves as the dean of Wigan in northern England, told Catholic News Service on Wednesday that it would be a "scandal to the community" to allow people who have deserted their spouses to set up home with another partner to publicly receive Communion.
"It is a very delicate matter ... but you can't teach the indissolubility of marriage if you allow all and sundry to go to Communion," he said.
The final report of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family last October committed the church to "further theological study" on whether divorced and remarried Catholics could have access to Communion as well as "fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion."