Synod on the Family 52-53: Access to Penance and Eucharist

window from insideRead the full synod document here. Here come two of the three sections that did not meet with the two-thirds’ approval. Pope Francis insisted they be included in the report anyway. You can read for yourself if they are the end of sacramental doctrine, as some complained. Or if they did not go far enough in mercy, and thus were rejected by the other side of the discussion:

52. The synod fathers also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried  access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

  • Some synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present regulations, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as the teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage.
  • Others expressed a more individualized  approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop.
  • The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).

The bullet points are my additions to the text. Three parts to notice here. The first two just tell the world faithfully that two positions emerged in the synod. The third point suggests a thorough examination of the matter, and grounds the “individualized approach” in the catechism. Wasn’t that a kick?

The tally: a majority of bishops, 104, agreed. 74 voted against. 5 abstained.

More reporting here:

53. Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access “sacramentally”. As a result, the synod fathers requested that further theological study in the matter might point out the specifics of the two forms and their association with the theology of marriage.

A few more bishops signed on: 112. 64 weighed in against it. Seven did not vote.

This is an interesting point of discussion, the difference between a spiritual and a sacramental communion. Maybe the reality is that people in sin have no hope for any communion at all with God.

While I know that St John Paul in Familiaris Consortio 84 spoke of the scandal of weakening the public view of marriage. But he missed the problem of scandal on the other end: presenting Christ and his Church as heartless and unmerciful.

Take a stab at the discussion, folks. You won’t be alone.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to Synod on the Family 52-53: Access to Penance and Eucharist

  1. Melody says:

    “Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion.”
    I have always wondered how they figure that a person who is so beyond the pale of sacramental communion due to a state of serious sin is capable of spiritual communion. Or perhaps they are saying that a “de jure” state of sin is different than a “de facto” one; that perhaps someone who hasn’t dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s isn’t quite in the category of obstinate wickedness of those in danger of eternal damnation.

  2. I find it significant, especially in this context, that the sacrament is named “Penance” rather than “Reconciliation.” Is that a vagary of the translation, or was it in the original, do we know?

  3. FrMichael says:

    I’m glad that the five cardinals wrote the book they did, since it covers the requirement of this paragraph for further study.

    • Todd says:

      Five voices down, thousands to millions more to go.

      • FrMichael says:

        Yes, but their work stands out as the most scholarly and historical for the time being. Anybody can shriek and moan: that doesn’t count for a lot in my book.

      • Todd says:

        I’ve read Walter Kasper’s 1977 book on the theology of marriage. It has also struck me as the work of a serious scholar addressing issues (not reacting politically) with a full grasp of history. I am interested in the Work of Five, but the truth is the Church’s approach has serious holes. One I’ve cited here is how non-Catholics unfamiliar with Church doctrine can be held liable for grave sin and prevented from full Communion even if they have married only once. Grave sin has certain requirements.

        There’s also the problem of giving scandal by lacking mercy in well-deserved individual situations. It seems either way the Church has a problem. We can appear to be unlike Christ by embracing rigor to its limit. We can appear soft on marriage. The former turns away seekers, perhaps those on the fence, balancing toward being the lost younger siblings. The latter bothers the elder siblings, who should know better that Christ abides.

        Interesting times to live in, eh? We give scandal either way we go. Seems like a very serious discernment is in the air. For the very first time on this issue.

  4. FrMichael says:

    “Seems like a very serious discernment is in the air. For the very first time on this issue.”

    What are the Church Fathers? Spiritual roadkill? The Patristic Church existed in a pagan ambiance of easy divorce similar to our own. Its decisions and debates on how to combat the prevailing un-Christian social mores on marriage were not “unserious” in the least.

    • Liam says:

      “The Patristic Church existed in a pagan ambiance of easy divorce similar to our own. ”

      That’s facile. The historical reality was more complex, and Roman attitudes towards divorce became more conservative before Toleration. Moreover, divorce was never easy for women because children were the property of the father, and women had no right to the return of dowry unless the husband initiated the divorce without cause. There were also complications depending on the legal/customary form of marriage, which were several in ancient Rome. The Roman marriage-divorce culture was not easy, except for those whom the system favored.

      And divorce today is not quite as easy as all that, unless the spouses are mutually inclined. If one is not, divorce can be hell. No fault, for all its faults (pun intended), did reduce the likelihood of people resorting to extortion physical violence and murder to get out of unhappy marriages.

      • Todd says:

        Thanks for this commentary, Liam. I can certainly add my +1 to the observation that divorce can be, and usually is, hell.

        My main problem for folks like FrMichael and Cardinal Burke is their total lack of accompaniment of people who sincerely suffer and are wounded by broken relationships. Seemingly, they have tragically little to offer but platitudes from thrones, offices, desks, and such. Real pastoral ministers walk with such people, grasp hands, shed tears, and acknowledge human weakness and frailty.

        Many prelates offer a deeper scandal: their lack of perception, companionship, and yes, mercy. Tough love is needed at times. But it is not an indiscriminate tool. All pastoral tools require discernment. The alternative is ordained hierarchs who are little better than adolescent boys in fancy dress.

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