AT THE opening session of the Synod of the Family in Rome this week, a senior cardinal ruled out any reversal of a ban on holy communion for Roman Catholics who marry after divorce.
A liberal faction, led by German bishops, had been confident that the synod would alter pastoral practices to permit married divorcees to receive communion.
But the Relator General of the synod, the Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, in a powerful introductory report that he read out to the delegates on Monday, emphasised that any pastoral approach to the issue must in no way compromise “the truth of the indissolubility of marriage as taught by Jesus Christ himself. It is not the shipwreck of the first marriage, but the living together in the second relationship, that impedes access to the eucharist.”
He said that the “penitential path” proposed by the German Cardinal Walter Kasper, to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, must be in harmony with the teaching of Pope John Paul II that marrying after a divorce was “an evil”.
Such couples, he suggested, could receive communion only if they abstained from sexual intercourse, and lived relationships “of mutual help and friendship”. Remarried Catholics who “were not ready to change their way of life, but still felt the desire for conversion” could still go to confession, he said, but without receiving the absolution that would allow them to receive communion.
He also steered the synod away from greater accommodation for same-sex couples. He said that “there is no foundation” for making any “analogy, however remote, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family”.
Observers reported that Cardinal Kasper looked shocked on hearing the speech, and refused to applaud. Vatican commentators have in-dicated that a synod father of the position of Cardinal Erdo could not have delivered such a report without the blessing of Pope Francis, who may be conscious of the danger of plunging the Church into a schism if the outcome of the synod resulted in increased confusion and dissension.
Pope Francis indicated his own position when he opened the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Sunday with a clear reaffirmation of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that marriage was a lifelong union between a man and a woman.
During his homily at the opening mass, Pope Francis said that Christ joined couples together “in unity and indissolubility . . . to love one another for life”, even though the Church should also “seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy”.
By the third day of the synod, which runs until 25 October, delegates were asking whether the address by Cardinal Erdo had superseded the working document, or if it was to be studied in tandem with it. Other bishops were reported to be upset by the suggestion that the issue of marriage after divorce was no longer seen as negotiable.
They included the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and a synod father, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who publicly declared that he believed it remained open for discussion. “If everything was concluded with the report yesterday [by Cardinal Erdo], then what are we doing here?” Archbishop Celli said.
The director of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, told reporters on Tuesday that the Pope had taken the microphone that morning to emphasise that “Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched or put into question” by an earlier “extraordinary” synod on the family, held in October last year. Fr Lombardi also told reporters that the Pope had said: “We should not . . . reduce the horizons of our work as if the only problem were that of communion for the divorced and remarried.”
The synod’s conclusions will form the basis of a document written by the Pope and released during the Year of Mercy, which will be opened on 8 December.