(John Thavis) It took a few days, but the proposal of a “penitential path” toward readmission to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics has arrived at the Synod of Bishops, and sources said the idea has a good deal of support.
The synod’s session Thursday evening dealt in some detail with the proposal, which was outlined last February by Cardinal Walter Kasper. Several synod fathers spoke about it not only in general terms, but outlined how such a process might work.
The “penitential path” presupposes repentance and the sacrament of Reconciliation, and could involve an in-depth reflection on the consequences of the divorce, for example the harm it may have caused children or the other spouse. This type of “examination of conscience” could take the form of a jubilee year of penitence, culminating in readmission to Communion in a communitarian service.
Such an ordo penitentium might be modeled on the practices of the early church, the synod was told. Sources said the idea had its critics in the synod hall, but that they did not appear to be in the majority.
One bishop said a “penitential path” would show the merciful side of the church and respond to the many “walking wounded” who are suffering the effects of both divorce and exclusion from the sacraments.
Before dividing into circoli minores for group discussion, the synod also heard more discussion about streamlining the annulment process, which seems already to have obtained a consensus in this assembly.
This morning, the bishops issued a strongly worded appeal on behalf of families that are suffering from conflicts around the world. They urged particular assistance for Christian families of Syria and Iraq who have been forced to flee “barbarity” and persecution because of their faith.
The prelates also were addressed today by more than 20 lay auditors, who made a number of points:
-- The church has to listen more carefully to lay couples, especially when it comes to sexuality in marriage. At the same time, many of the auditors explicitly defended the teaching of Humanae Vitae, and said the greatest need was for improved education about natural family planning.
-- Young people don’t need theological theories about family life, but above all witness by Christian couples who live the faith daily.
-- The church should show particular attention to widows, orphans and those who have lost family members and need pastoral help to get through tough periods.
For the most part, the couples chosen to address the synod have been from Catholic lay movements, often involved directly in marriage spirituality programs. They have endorsed church teachings, saying sexuality should reflect the “plan of God” and not the consumerist and selfish model of the world. No one doubts their sincerity, but perhaps the synod might have invited some other voices as well.
An Australian couple, Ran and Mavis Pirola, were the exception to the rule when they told the synod the story of friends who had welcomed a son’s gay partner to a Christmas gathering, and suggested the church should show the same welcoming attitude.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Apostolic Signature who has become the “Dr. No” of this synod, has now voiced his objections to that approach in an interview with the U.S.-based Lifesite News.
“If homosexual relations are intrinsically disordered, which indeed they are … then what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living in a disordered relationship with another person?” Burke said.
Burke said Catholics should not give children the impression that such relationships are alright, “by seeming to condone gravely sinful acts on the part of a family member.”