On Divorce, Remarriage and the Sacraments, Church Leaders Are Split

Opposition to the pope's 'love' message may mean there is much healing still needed in the Catholic Church

by Leah Jessen | Updated 19 Apr 2017 at 7:53 AM

There’s talk of a division among the faithful in the Catholic Church — though the severity of it is unclear.

Conservative opposition to the views of the pope on divorce and remarriage could create a schism in the church, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Citing Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, some conservatives have insisted the rules are fixed.

Pope Francis holds modern views about integrating the divorced and civilly remarried Catholics into the church — which is not the belief or practices of many, nor the church’s current teachings. And many people have speculated what it might mean for the remarried to partake of Communion.

“I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say, ‘I want Communion,’ as if joining in Communion were an award,” the pope said in 2016. “It’s a work towards integration; all doors are open.”

“But we cannot say from here on they can have Communion,” Francis continued. “This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration.”

Related: The ‘Religious Left’ Is on the Move

While Francis has seemed open to the possibility of the Catholic Church’s recognition of remarriage, some bishops and cardinals oppose the viewpoint.

“Church teaching holds that unless divorced Catholics receive an annulment, or a church decree that their first marriage was invalid, they are committing adultery and cannot receive Communion,” noted the Associated Press. “Citing Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, some conservatives have insisted the rules are fixed and that the only way these Catholics can receive Communion is to abstain from sex.”

Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation in 2016 entitled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love.” On pastoral care for couples, Francis noted: “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments … I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'”

"Francis' opening was part of his mercy-before-doctrine drive, which welcomes outcasts to the church rather than use dogma to keep people out," as The Los Angeles Times noted.

The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of viewing those who remarry as living in sin. Some bishops have allowed remarried parishioners to take communion.

Related: Jesuit Priest: No One Tape Recorded the Words of Jesus

"The Maltese bishops have gone even further than the pope, saying the Eucharist cannot be denied to civilly remarried or divorced Catholics if, after a path of spiritual discernment, they are at peace with God," AP reported.

German bishops apparently have been divided on this issue for years. Some German church leaders have pushed for a case-by-case basis in these situations.

"The Vatican so far has played its cards close to the vest."

Other leaders don't agree. "No power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it," Gerhard Müller, a German cardinal and the pope's doctrinal chief, told Il Timone, an Italian Catholic publication.

In certain cases, the German bishops' conference allows for remarried individuals to take Communion, the council noted in February.

The division surrounding these doctrinal beliefs on marriage could have a major impact on church unity. "The Vatican so far has played its cards close to the vest, though it's making no secret of the fact that it wants reconciliation," Cruxnow.com noted.

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