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Three ways to allow divorcees back to Communion
Possible solutions to a troubling question
Picture: Religion News Service
- David Gibson for Religion News Service
- November 1, 2013
While the first months of Pope Francis’ pontificate have been marked by his attention to the poor and his “Who am I to judge” attitude on homosexuality, his pledge to tackle the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics could have the biggest impact for Catholics in the pews, especially in the U.S.
The current policy has caused what some call a “silent schism,” and bishops around the world concede that the ban has alienated untold numbers of Catholics and their families....
....So can this knotty problem finally be resolved? And how? Here are three possibilities that have emerged:
One: The “Orthodox Option”
Francis himself cited the practice in Eastern Orthodox churches of allowing, for various reasons, a second or even third marriage — and thus access to Communion — while still considering the first marriage sacramentally valid. Adopting that practice would require a change in Catholic practice but it could help avoid what is now a pastoral roadblock.
“There would be a sympathetic view among most laity, clergy and bishops for something like that,” Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton told The Times of London.
Two: Let your conscience be your guide
Catholics have always had recourse to what is called the “internal forum,” that is, following their conscience on whether they are eligible to receive Communion even if they’re in an “irregular” marriage.
This is not intended as a “get out of jail free” card and should involve “a moral judgment of conscience that calls for serious personal reflection over a period of time,” as the Rev. James A. Coriden, a canon lawyer at the Washington Theological Union, put it in a detailed analysisin Commonweal magazine last year.
But if next October’s Vatican synod highlighted the “internal forum” option, church experts say it could go a long way toward teaching Catholics how an appeal to conscience can work, and could help remarried Catholics take part in church life without feeling like second-class citizens.
Three: Streamline the annulments process
Annulling a marriage in a church court can be a tortuous and expensive process that varies so widely from country to country that it raises questions of basic fairness. Indeed, two-thirds of the nearly 55,000 annulments granted by church tribunals around the world each year are in the U.S., even though American Catholics account for just 6 percent of the world’s Catholic population.
As Francis himself said, the process for annulments must be reviewed “because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient.”
While the bishops who gather next fall could choose to adopt one or more of these three solutions, there are also powerful currents for maintaining the status quo.
For example, Roman officials have for years been trying to rein in annulments, not expand them, saying that tribunals — especially in the U.S. — are too quick to grant them.
Another warning sign: Amid rising speculation that change is coming, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, published a lengthy article in the Vatican newspaper on Oct. 22 that cast serious doubt on any prospects for reform.
Source: Religion News Service