Pope Francis has said that the upcoming synod on the family will focus on the “vast” pastoral problems facing families – not specifically Communion for the divorced and remarried.
“We know that today the family is facing a crisis, a global crisis, young people don’t want to marry or they live together. I wouldn’t like us to fall into this question: will it be possible for Communion to be administered or not?” the Pope said at a May 26 news conference during his flight home from the Holy Land.
“The Synod will be on the family, the problems it is facing, its assets and the current situation it is in,” the Pope said, according to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
An extraordinary synod on “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” is to be held in October at the Vatican.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, an advocate of admitting Catholics who have divorced and are remarried to Holy Communion, on Feb. 20 addressed a consistory of cardinals on the topic of marriage and the family.
Pope Francis noted that four of the five chapters of the cardinal’s address “outlined positive points regarding the family and its theological foundation.”
“The fifth chapter had to do with the pastoral problem of separation and the annulment of marriages, and the administration of Communion to divorced people who marry a second time comes into this,” the Pope told reporters.
“What I didn’t like, was what some people, within the Church as well, said about the purpose of the synod: that it intends to allow remarried divorcees to take Communion, as if the entire issue boiled down to a case,” the Pope said, adding that each case “needs to be looked at separately.”
He cited the statements of his predecessor, Benedict XVI; according to Pope Francis, Benedict said that annulment procedures must be examined, and the faith with which a person enters marriage must also be probed.
Pope Francis also said it must be clear that the divorced are not excommunicated.
“So often they are treated as though they have been excommunicated.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has consistently affirmed that divorced Catholics in irregular marital unions cannot receive Communion. In an October 2013 article published in L’Osservatore Romano, he emphasized that this means it is “all the more imperative” to show “pastoral concern” for them.
In April 2014 Pope Francis emphasized the indissolubility of Christian marriage and the need to teach the truth about marriage “with great compassion.”
Cardinal Kasper and many other German bishops have been lobbying to change Church practice. One German archdiocese openly advised remarried, divorced Catholics to receive Communion under certain circumstances, drawing rebuke from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Pope Francis discussed several other topics during his May 26 press conference.
He said that during his meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the two discussed unity, the upcoming pan-Orthodox council, and the date of Easter.
“Bartholomew and I speak as brothers, we love each other and we talk about the difficulties we face as leaders,” the Pope said. “We spoke a great deal about ecology and coming up with a joint initiative to deal with this problem.”
The Pope also commented on his invitation to Israeli president Shimon Peres and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to pray at the Vatican.
“The two presidents and I will only meet to pray and I believe that prayer is important and doing this helps. Then they will go home. There will be a rabbi, a Muslim, and me.”
He stressed the Vatican’s position that Jerusalem should be “a city of peace for the three religions,” though he declined to make specific recommendations for negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
“Courage is needed, and I pray to the Lord that these two presidents have the courage to go on.”
The Pope discussed other matters of Catholic practice; he told reporters that the celibacy of priests is not a dogma of the faith, citing the practice of married priests in Eastern Catholicism.
Though he said “the door is always open” on mandatory priestly celibacy, he stressed that “it is a rule of life that I appreciate a great deal, and I believe it is a gift for the Church.”