vatican Bishops call for more-open church
Catholic bishops called Saturday for a more welcoming church for co-habitating couples and Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried, endorsing Pope Francis’ call for a more merciful and less-judgmental 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 therefore are barred from receiving the sacraments. Though the document doesn’t 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.”
The Rev. 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,” he said.
Martin explained 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.”