Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Bishops back pope with document


Catholic bishops on Saturday called for a more welcoming church for cohabitating couples and Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried, endorsing Pope Francis’ call for a more merciful and less judgemental church.

Bishops from around the world adopted a final document at the end of a divisive, three-week synod that exposed the split in the church between conservatives and progressives over how to better minister to Catholic families today.

In a win for the progressive camp, the document emphasized the role of discernment and individual conscience in dealing with difficult family situations, especially the vexing issue of whether civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.

Conservatives had resisted offering any wiggle room on the issue, since church teaching holds that such Catholics are committing adultery and are therefore barred from receiving the sacraments. While the document does not chart any specific path to receiving Communion as originally sought by the liberals, it opens the door to case-by-case exceptions.

“We are so happy that we could give this to the pope,” said German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who spearheaded the progressive camp on the issue. He called the document a “historic step.”

James Martin, a Jesuit author, said discernment and the examination of one’s conscience in spiritual direction have always been part of the church’s tradition, “but its encouragement by the synod is notable, and should be seen as a welcoming gesture.”

Martin said that discernment — a key concept in Francis’ Jesuit spirituality — “relies on the idea that God can deal directly with us, through our inner lives. It is another encouragement to remind people, especially remarried Catholics, that an informed conscience is, as the church has always taught, the final moral arbiter.”

The three paragraphs dealing with the issue barely reached the two-thirds majority needed to pass, but conservatives could not muster enough votes to shoot them down. The most controversial paragraph 85 — which says a case-by-case approach is necessary when dealing with remarriage, since not everyone bears the same responsibility for the preceding divorce — only cleared by a single vote.

However, the document’s passage overall will give Francis the room to maneuver that he needs if he wants to push the issue further in a future document of his own.

In a final speech to the synod, Francis took some clear swipes at the conservatives who hold up church doctrine above all else, saying the church’s primary duty is not to condemn or judge, but to proclaim God’s mercy and save souls.

Francis said the synod had “laid bare the closed hearts, which frequently hide even behind the church’s teachings and good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”

“The synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulas but the free availability of God’s love and forgiveness,” he said.

However, in a bit of levity, Francis also included an acrostic in the footnotes of his speech — perhaps a papal first — spelling out famiglia, family in Italian, with poetic descriptions for each letter.

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