Synod on the Family calls for changes in Catholic pastoral practices over divorce/remarriage

The Roman Catholic Synod on the Family wrapped up its work last week without recommending changes in church doctrine, but urging a softer line on church discipline.

The Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church called by Pope Francis to discuss the theme of “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world” wrapped up its work last week without recommending changes in church doctrine, but urging a softer line on church discipline. It recommended adopting a more welcoming approach towards the divorced and remarried and those living together who were not married, as well as urging local autonomy in addressing these pastoral concerns.

Meeting from 4-25 Oct 2015 in the Synod Hall in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican 270 cardinals, archbishops, and priests from around the world, joined by lay and ecumenical observers, debated the issue of allowing divorced and civilly remarried couples to be allowed to receive Holy Communion. By a vote of 187-72 the synod upheld the current discipline that that divorced and remarried Catholics should not receive Communion, but asked the Pope to find a way to include divorced Catholics into the life of the Church.

The synod further recommended that divorced and remarried Catholics not be made to feel excommunicated, and that consideration be given to the plight of their children. Section 84 of the statement said: “They are baptized, they are brothers and sisters, and the Holy Spirit pours out gifts and charisms on them for the good of all … taking care of these people is not a weakness in its own faith and its witness as to the indissolubility of marriage; indeed, the Church expresses its own charity through this care.”

Section 85 of the document, adopted by a vote of 178 to 80 acknowledged that when addressing cases of divorce and remarriage, the parties to a divorce may not be equally to blame, distinguishing between those who tried to save their marriage and those who destroyed their marriage “through a grave fault.”

Section 86 of the document, adopted by a vote of 190 to 64 recommended the issue of allowing individual divorced and remarried Catholics to be addressed by an “internal forum” of priest and penitent that would explore ways of allowing “fuller participation in the life of the Church” — the document was ambiguous, however, if “fuller participation” could mean admission to Communion.

Section 70 of the document addressed the church’s response to unmarried couples living together. The bishops acknowledged that some people chose to live together for economic reasons, because “getting married is perceived as a luxury” that they could not afford, while others lived together and rejected the “values of marriage and family.” The synod recommended the church adopt a softer pastoral line, not leading with condemnation but seeing it as an opportunity to point couples to the “fullness of marriage and family.” The paragraph was adopted by a vote of 231-47.

The synod rejected any change to church practices concerning same-sex marriage,holding they were not even “remotely analogous” to traditional marriage by a vote of 221 to 37. The synod fathers rejected Western government and NGO policies that conditioned foreign aid in Africa upon the acceptance of gay marriage. However, they restated the church’s teaching that all persons, irrespective of sexual orientation, must not be subjected to “unjust discrimination.”

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