ONE of the three German Roman Catholic bishops who will attend the RC Church’s Synod of Bishops on the Family next month has proposed that the RC Church might offer “private blessings” to same-sex couples (Comment, 28 August).
The Bishop of Osnabrück, the Rt Revd Franz-Josef Bode, said that it was possible to see strengths as well as weaknesses in both gay relationships and cohabiting heterosexuals. He said that the RC Church could not accept gay marriage because it understood marriage as a union between a husband and a wife which was open to the procreation of children.
But, the Bishop said, since the Church was bound not to discriminate against homosexuals by The Catechism of the Catholic Church, it should do more to support those who were in stable unions: “With prayer and a private form of blessing, you will be able to accompany their way.”
His comments were made in an interview with KNA, a German RC news agency that has close ties to the German Bishops’ Conference.
In the same interview, Bishop Bode also raised the prospect of allowing Roman Catholics who have married after divorce access to the sacrament, even if they had not repented and changed their way of life.
Divorced people could “come to a new relationship which is more mature than the first, but which does not have the same sacramental value”, the Bishop said, before asking if “this new reality — which perhaps corresponds in a better way than the first to the Covenant of God with men — always has to have as a consequence the exclusion from confession and communion.”
Bishop Bode is one of three German prelates elected by the German bishops to serve at the synod, which runs from 4 to 25 October. The other two are Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising and Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin.
Another German, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has spoken in favour of liberalising reforms to the rules on the reception of communion for those married after divorce, will be attending at the invitation of Pope Francis.
The remarks of Bishop Bode will fuel suspicions that the forthcoming “ordinary” synod will be as controversial as the first “extraordinary” synod on the family last year. This was marked by disagreements between reforming and conservative groups, and by allegations that its proceedings had been manipulated.
These have been made in an ebook, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? (Ignatius Press), by Edward Pentin, a journalist based in the Vatican who is a contributor to the Catholic Herald. Mr Pentin believes that the forthcoming synod could witness “subtle attempts to circumvent Church teaching”.
He writes that unnamed leaders are planning to impose “an agenda to emphasise ‘innovative’ pastoral practice that many others see as being at odds with the Church’s doctrine”.
Anxieties over the possible direction of the synod surfaced in March, when more than 450 priests signed a letter to the Catholic Herald in which they called on those attending it to retain the prohibition on divorced and remarried Roman Catholics’ receiving communion.
“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.
They urged participants in the synod to “make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed”. Signatories included parish priests, members of religious orders, and prominent theologians such as the Dominican Fr Aidan Nichols, and Fr John Saward.
But it won them a rebuke from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, one of two prelates attending the synod from England and Wales: he told them that such a dialogue should be between “a priest and his bishop”, and that it was “not best conducted through the press”.
Nichols: Synod is not a PR exercise for 'messy' Church
THE Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has indicated that he expects the Vatican Synod on the Family to consider changes in the RC Church’s pastoral approach towards RCs who have entered into civil marriage after divorce.
Cardinal Nichols said that one of the most signficant challenges facing the synod was how to identify a pattern of conversion which would allow them back into full communion.
Although The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that such people are in a situation of “public and permanent adultery”, some cardinals have proposed that they might be admitted to communion in certain circumstances.
Cardinal Nichols, who will attend the synod from 4 to 25 October, said that he believed admission to communion must be accompanied by conversion because the eucharist was not “simply as a badge of acceptance”.
“One of our great issues, without a doubt, is to see what is the pattern of conversion for people who have experienced failure in their marriage and have found a precious new partner,” the Cardinal told a press conference in London on Tuesday.
“That can only be answered one by one,” he said. “Divorced people are not a category, and there can be no categorical solution, because they are not a category: they are people on a pilgrimage, like all of us.”
A summary of responses to a consultation undertaken by the RC Church in England and Wales on family life, The Call, the Mission and the Journey, was released at the press conference. In 28 pages, it documents some of the opinions expressed, including descriptions of the Church as being “misogynistic, controlling, self-opinionated” and “pharisaical”, as well as discriminatory and corrupt.
The summary notes that the admission of remarried RCs to communion was consistently contentious; one diocese said that it was the principal concern. “Many are disturbed by the legalistic and punitive response of the Church to those who cannot live up to the standard.”
"A Synod like this and consultations like this are not PR exercises," said Cardinal Nichols. "It’s not about wanting to put in front of you something that says how good we all are – this is a church of sinners. We make a mess of things. It is messy."