The National Catholic Review
Report argues the exclusion of divorced Catholics was "no longer comprehensible" to many priests

Germany's Catholic bishops have published a report detailing their views on marriage and family; it suggests most bishops now believe sacraments should be available to divorced and remarried Catholics who do not have an annulment.

"This document contains reflections only and has no juridical power," said Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the Bonn-based bishops' conference. He said the German bishops' conference hopes "to offer its own theological contribution in this area. While we can give no information about any follow-up, the majority of bishops agreed with the timing of its publication."

In late December, the bishops published "Theologically Responsible and Pastorally Appropriate Ways for Accompanying the Divorced and Remarried," on the bishops' conference website.

In a Dec. 30 Catholic News Service interview, he said the bishops had decided to delay issuing the report, prepared for the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, until the end of 2014. He said the bishops now would concentrate on preparing a formal submission to the worldwide synod assembly in October.

The report, drafted by a working group and approved by the German bishops' permanent council in June, appeared Dec. 22 alongside official translations of recent synod documents and German responses to an October 2013 Vatican questionnaire to dioceses worldwide. It said most of Germany's 66 bishops now favored allowing divorced Catholics living in new civil unions to undergo confession and receive Communion in "particular justified instances."

While a minority of bishops still believed such Catholics "on principle, could not be admitted to the sacraments," the document added, all now agreed on the need to "intensify pastoral care" for them.

The report said the exclusion of divorced Catholics was "no longer comprehensible" to many priests, some of whom deliberately disregarded church rules in their pastoral work.

"For many Catholics engaged in church life, the pastoral care of faithful with a civil divorce and living in new unions is a test of the church's credibility," the document continued. "The church's teaching and pastoral work must uphold Jesus's instruction on the indissolubility of marriage, but also his invoking of God's mercy on those who are sinful."

In a statement on the bishops' website, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, conference president, said the report had been approved by a "large majority" of German church leaders.

He added that the search for pastoral approaches to the divorced and remarried was "one of urgent challenges facing the Catholic Church in its evangelization worldwide.

"Civil divorce and remarriage often cause people to distance themselves from the church, or widen the distance they already felt before divorce," Cardinal Marx said. "It is not uncommon for this evolution to lead to the abandonment of the Christian faith, and this is why the German bishops' conference wants to step up its pastoral outreach."

German church spokesmen have previously defended bishops' conference proposals to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive sacraments, citing clauses in Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium."

In 2013, the Freiburg Archdiocese issued 20-page guidelines for making Communion available, although these were rejected in in an October 2013 letter by then-Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

German newspapers said several bishops had distanced themselves from the latest conference report, with Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau telling the Passauer Neue Presse daily Dec. 22 he saw "currently no theological possibility" of enabling remarried Catholics to receive communion without "simultaneously undermining the teaching on marriage's indissolubility."

However, in his website statement, Cardinal Marx said most now concurred that the question of re-admitting them to sacraments "could not be excluded" from pastoral discussions "if Jesus' message of love is to be heard."

"For the German bishops, it would not be just to admit all believers whose marriage has broken down and who've remarried without distinction," the bishops' conference president added.

"By reason of their pastoral experience and on the basis of their theological reflection, they are pleading above all for differentiated solutions, which will respond equitably to each case and permit readmission under certain conditions."

The accompanying summary of Vatican questionnaire responses said most Germans viewed Catholic views of family life as "too idealistic and unrealistic," while church teaching on premarital sex, homosexuality, divorce and contraception were "virtually never accepted."

It added that a third of marriages ended in divorce in Germany, with around half involving minor-age children, and said Catholic marriages were only slightly "more stable than average."

The summary said most divorced Catholics considered their separation and new relationship "morally justified" and viewed their consequent exclusion from sacraments as "constituting unjustified discrimination and being merciless."

Many also saw the church's current canonical annulment procedures as "dishonest," the document added.

Comments

Carlos Orozco | 1/7/2015 - 1:41pm

I guess that playing with language is the first step to justify what reason does not.

My mistake. This was meant as a reply to Rouhana's comment.

Rouhana Mansour III | 1/7/2015 - 1:09pm

Help me understand: These German bishops now favor allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion after going to confession. Please explain what they are supposed to confess. They are either living in a state of sin or they are not. If the former, how does going once to confession absolve them of the same future sinful acts? If the latter, they have nothing to confess.

The article also states that the exclusion of divorced Catholics from the sacraments was incomprehensible to many priests. Surely these dissenting priests comprehend the Church's stance, though they may not agree with it. Else they are either ignorant, stupid, or both. Even the layperson with average intelligence like myself can comprehend the reasoning.

Gef Flimlin | 1/6/2015 - 7:48pm

Exactly how do we know that Jesus preached the indissolubility of marriage and not some scribe under Church leadership way after? IMHO, he would have reached out to people whose life together was torn apart by drugs, or alcohol or infidelity and brought them to him. And if there were real sacraments when he walked on this earth, he would have shared them with them. Let's not confuse what the message of the Christ was with what other words people may have put in his mouth centuries later to increase Catholic guilt. Staying married can be a challenge, and sometimes it REALLY is hard. Divorce is usually not taken lightly, and what some divorced people need is acceptance not distancing.

Joseph Manta | 1/6/2015 - 8:28pm

How do we know what Christ taught except through the "words people put in his mouth" i.e. the Gospels and Sacred Tradition? Unless you mean we should just pick and choose what we like from the Gospels and reject what we don't like or is inconvenient.

Gef Flimlin | 1/6/2015 - 9:22pm

Yes, Joe, that's pretty much what I was getting at. I believe Christ's intent was two commandments....Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. And probably #3.....don't judge other people. Coincidently, this kind of sounds like what the current Pope is saying. So, Joe, I won't judge what you believe. It gives you faith, hope and compassion. Hopefully it allows you to be non-judgemental about people who have become divorced and want to remain connected to the Church. BTW, I have been married for over 25 years and have no intention of getting divorced.

Joseph Manta | 1/7/2015 - 12:46pm

I am not being judgmental about anyone. That is between each person and God. I am talking about the teaching/prophetic function of the Church. Will the Church no longer have teach a moral code to help inform the individual conscience? If that is a function of the Church, what is that moral code in this situation? Yes, Jesus did say that loving God and loving neighbor, or at least "someone put those words in his mouth" (as you like to say) But is the Church not to offer its historical insight into how to do this in particular situations. If it does not teach a moral code then I assume anyone can believe anything they want about right & wrong.

Gef Flimlin | 1/7/2015 - 5:49pm

Joe, as I have learned, you don't need a church or a religion to have a moral code, and so the logic of your last sentence does not hold water. Regardless of how rich the German Catholic Church is ( as I have been informed about in other comments below), the point here was allowing people whose moral code was changed by horrible marriages to feel welcome in the Catholic Church. They began their marriages with the moral code that it would last forever. But it didn't. So the change in the German thought process would be that they could feel the love and compassion of the Christ through the clergy and laity with whom they had shared much before they had to separate themselves from destructive relationships.

Joseph Manta | 1/6/2015 - 5:20pm

I must confess to being totally mystified by the effort of some Bishops on the issue of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. I hope someone will explain where I am going wrong. Jesus said that a spouse who divorces his/her spouse and marries another commits adultery. So to allow them to receive communion means on, or both, of two things: 1) Either living in sin,with no resolve to repent is no longer a sin, or 2) It is no longer necessary to be free of mortal sin to receive communion. I don't see any other conclusion. And there is no reason allowing divorce and remarried Catholics to take communion would not apply to cohabiting single persons, or to a serial and unrepentant criminal, even a murderer. I see no there explanation. If there is, please explain it to me.

Rosemary McHugh | 1/5/2015 - 1:46pm

My husband chose to divorce me after 15 years of marriage. I feel that denying him communion would be inappropriate and vengeful. Communion needs to be for all of us. Communion is meant to bring us to a closer relationship with Jesus and to healing. Why do people want communion to be a litmus test and to be given only to those who are considered worthy to receive Jesus? I guess in truth, none of us are worthy to receive Jesus and yet, Jesus has made us all worthy to receive him. I am glad to see that the German bishops are revisiting this issue.

It is also time that the pope and bishops revisit the misguided theory that every act of intercourse between a man and woman must be open to the possibility of a pregnancy. This theory of the pope and bishops belittles the practical intelligence of couples to plan their own families, and ignores the many couples who are not able to do natural family planning for various reasons.
Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., M.Spir.

William Rydberg | 1/5/2015 - 5:05pm

God bless you Rosemary. I can't blame you for having a true heart in the face of sorrow. And I read that you are an highly educated person and undoubtedly a seeker of Truth.

One can't blame you for saying what you are saying in the foregoing especially in light of the fact that billions and billions of Euros are currently being spent on the faith and look at the results (read on below). Even high German Bishops in my opinion are missing the Gospel truth here.

That truth is simple enough said. It's also a Mystery in the best sense.

That the Eucharist which we all are standing over and arguing for access to is Jesus Christ, God come in the flesh.

A real Person (who also happens to be our Creator and Sustainer as well as our Brother) who has rights and since he is consubstantial with each one of us, should have personal autonomy as we do because he is not absent as some may think. But rather fully alive and well with us even now.

We really ought to know by faith that the Church is his body.

In my opinion the German Bishops are really messed up. A symptom of too much money. When you look at a website like the one mentioned, in my opinion so many signatories is symbolic of an act without sacrifice. Nobody sacrifices anything signing on. Real love is Sacrifice. Look at the cross.

This may be your cross.

Francis Martin | 1/6/2015 - 1:51pm

I agree, Holiness Being First rather than the Body of Christ forcefully dragged down further saying "Jesus is Merciful" when in reality "Who God Unifies let no man break" .... Our Creator Sees Marriage Sacred As His Oneness.

Modern men must convert unto The Holiness of The Father Almighty !

God's Swift Time Comes

<3 +

William Rydberg | 1/4/2015 - 9:33pm

In my opinion, why is anyone surprised by the position taken? The writing was on the wall with the public pronouncements posted on Kirche 2011 http://www.memorandum-freiheit.de "Memorandum von Theologieprofessoren und -professorinnen zur Krise der katholischen Kirche".

If you have been following the German Catholic Church you might know that it is the richest national Church (after the Lutherans) in Europe. In my opinion, a too rich Church is not usually a healthy one...

It's also a fact that German Law and ancient German Legal Tradition supports an autonomous Catholic Church and strongly supports the Bishops Authority over the Church. Recent legal cases won by the Church in Germany prove this, to the chagrin of top men like Archbishop Marx.

Vaguely reminiscent of a rich American Church circa late 1980's and early 1990's when Archbishops like Bernadin, Mahoney and Weakland ruled the episcopal "roost".

I have confidence in the Pope. Things will work out in the end.

Michael Dremel | 1/7/2015 - 2:31pm

Though no longer a Catholic (by virtue of divorce when my wife left me), I am most respectful of His Holiness Pope Francis. He has reached out to many, tried to live by example for all of us without regard if we were Catholic or not. Given the faith tenet that on matters of faith that His Holiness is infallible, what might fervently conservative Catholics do if in fact the Pope changed a major ruling of the Church, such as allowing priests to marry, or women as priests, or divorced/remarried Catholics Communion, etc.? Would the inherent anxiousness of such a change, given by papal order, be honored or would Catholics accept it? Certainly, if one believes in a more conservative paradigm than they can follow that course in their own lives, but how might they react if they were to take Communion alongside someone who is a friend who is divorced? Would they accept it unbegrudgingly, unjudgingly, as Christ would? I recall as a young lad when deacons were authorized to give Communion out after they were vetted, trained and sanctified by the Church. Yet, at one mass when there was a husband and wife deacon team giving Communion, my parents, loving as they were, and staunch Catholics, refused to take Communion from the wife, making a very obvious move to not stand in her line. A few others did as well, but at the time I applauded the change, and stood my ground in line to receive Communion from someone who was now devoted part of their lives to Church service and duly blessed by the Church to give Communion, without regard (at least, as far as I could tell) to gender. My father and I had a rather loud discussion about this after Mass, but i finally invoked the "we agree to disagree without threatening the relationship" axiom. Years later, at my grandmother's funeral, when my cousins and I (most of us were either non-practicing Catholics or had left the church) were debating about taking Communion at her funeral Mass to honor her, my father made a point of stating rather loudly that if we had to debate it, we probably should not take it. It was clear that if we attempted to do so, even if the priest gave sanction, there would be a price to pay. I love the Church in which I was raised, but its rejection of me by priests and edicts led me to finding another religion in which to worship Christ and His Sacraments. So my question still stands: if the Pope gave a holy rendering that a previous tenet of the church was now changed, how might you react? Would you accept it on father that His Holiness had reason, perhaps even divine inspiration to do so? Or would you fight it, perhaps even leave the church?

Blessings and Peace to All in 2015,
Your Brother in Christ's Love,

Michael J. Dremel

Francis Martin | 1/6/2015 - 1:56pm

Talk about The Divine Right of God, His Kingdom ... He Being Rich, For He Owns all and He Shares Divine Life, His Very Being: Eternal Love.