Vatican City

Communion for divorcees mulled before papal conclave

Hot-button issue to face future pontiff

Communion for divorcees mulled before papal conclave

(By Giovanna Chirri) Vatican City, March 8 - The sensitive issue of whether or not to administer communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is likely to be on the agenda of the cardinals meeting in the pre-conclave general congregations this week. The office of the pope had been tasked with finding a new approach to the matter even during the congregations leading up to then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election in 2005, as Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini has written. And though Ratzinger granted constant attention to the issue during his papacy as Benedict XVI, he failed to find a solution before stepping down last month; thus, thousands of couples risk leaving the Church once and for all. Bishops the world over are well aware of this. The matter was brought up in every bishops synod during Benedict's papacy, including the last one in the autumn of 2012. While the Church would like to prevent Catholics in their second marriages from feeling excluded, the couples have nevertheless violated the indissoluble pact of marriage. Cardinals from countries with an ancient Christian tradition that has been secularized over the centuries, such as Europeans and North Americans, have been grappling with the issue for some time. The oldest bishop of the upcoming conclave, Walter Kasper, is in his eighties and was one of a group of German bishops who sought to get Catholics barred from communion more involved in the Church. Kasper, who was at the time the bishop of Stuttgart, signed a declaration alongside Freiburg bishop Oskar Saier and Mainz bishop and head of the German Episcopal Conference Karl Lehmann recommending that communion be administered to divorcees after a pastoral and penitential process. The declaration was opposed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith then under Cardinal Ratzinger's leadership. In the first summer after becoming pope, at a meeting with a number of priests from the northwest region of Valle d'Aosta, the German pope spoke of the 'suffering' of divorcees who had remarried, saying that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had received many reports from episcopal conferences on this issue. In particular, Benedict cited the case of those wed in religious ceremonies due to cultural conventions, but who later separated and grew closer to religion and then remarried. In meeting with the Valle d'Aosta priests, Benedict XVI noted the experience of Orthodox churches, which do allow second marriages, but said that at times the cases were not treated with sufficient seriousness. Clear at a theological level and in all of its practical implications, the issue of the divorced and subsequently remarried is one to which European episcopacies are especially sensitive. It is a 'pastoral' one par excellence, and will be a priority for the new pope, even if he is not known as a 'pastor' and even if he is not European.

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