After a leading German bishop questioned the Churchâs teaching on divorce and remarriage, the Vaticanâs newspaper today published an essay by Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that called the teaching compassionate and pastoral because it is true to the teaching of Christ.
âAssuredly, the word of truth can be painful and uncomfortable. But it is the way to holiness, to peace, and to inner freedom,â said Pope Benedict in 1998.
âA pastoral approach which truly wants to help the people concerned must always be grounded in the truth,â because âin the end, only the truth can be pastoral,â he wrote, quoting the Gospel promise of Christ that âyou will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.â
The article was republished as some senior clerics in Germany are calling for the Church to review its understanding of marriage, along with its prohibition on remarried Catholics receiving communion.
Throughout his 1998 work, Pope Benedictâwho was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the timeâexplained that the recent documents of the Church on such matters âbring together the demands of truth with those of love in a very balanced way.â
So while at times in the past âlove shone forth too little in the explanation of the truth,â so today, there is a great danger that âin the name of love, truth is either to be silenced or compromised.â
Todayâs republication was carried in six different languages under the explanatory subheading of âconcerning some objections to the Churchâs teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful.â
It comes two months after the president of the German Bishopsâ Conference publicly raised questions over the Churchâs teachings on marriage in a newspaper interview.
âWe are all faced with the problem of how we can help people in whose lives certain things have gone wrong and that includes a wrecked marriage,â Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said on Sept. 5, only weeks before the Pope arrived for a four-day state visit.
âThis is a question of mercy and we will be discussing this problem intensively in the near future,â the archbishop told the German newspaper Die Zeit.
Archbishop Zollitsch was specifically asked about the situation of the countryâs President Christian Wulff, who is a remarried Catholic and refrains from receiving communion.
When he was asked about Berlinâs Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who is also a Catholic but in a homosexual relationship, Archbishop Zollitsch replied, âWe must see how we can find theologically based answers to questions of lifestyles.â
In todayâs article, which was published as part of a Vatican discussion paper in 1998, Pope Benedict explains why the Churchâs teaching is rooted in Scripture, tradition and reason.
From Scripture, he outlines in detail how âthe teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage is faithful to the words of Jesus.â
Drawing on tradition, he explains that there was a âclear consensus,â among the Fathers of the early Church âregarding the indissolubility of marriage,â something that set Christianity apart from Roman society.
At that time, he states, âdivorced and remarried members of the faithful were never officially admitted to Holy Communion after a time of penance.â
He added that the increasingly liberal practice which developed in the Eastern churches that separated from Rome became âmore and more removed from the words of the Lordâ for various historical reasons and was never accepted by the Catholic Church.
âThe Church cannot sanction pastoral practicesâfor example, sacramental pastoral practicesâwhich contradict the clear instruction of the Lord,â said Pope Benedict.
âIn other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible.â
Pope Benedict also addressed the suggestion that the Pope could âpotentially dissolve a consummated sacramental marriage, which has been irrevocably broken.â He replied that âif the Church were to accept the theory that a marriage is dead when the two spouses no longer love one another, then she would thereby sanction divorce and would uphold the indissolubility of marriage only in word, and no longer in fact.â
Finally, he answered those who argue that the Catholic Church is âoverly legalistic and not pastoralâ on such matters.
âThey claim that the human person of today is no longer able to understand such language, that Jesus would have had an open ear for the needs of people, particularly for those on the margins of society,â he wrote.
âThey say that the Church, on the other hand, presents herself like a judge who excludes wounded people from the sacraments and from certain public responsibilities.â
In response, he said that the Churchâs âmanner of expression does not seem very easy to understand at times,â and so âneeds to be translated by preachers and catechists into a language which relates to people and to their respective cultural environments.â
âThe essential content of the Churchâs teaching,â he stated, âmust be upheld in this process. It must not be watered down on allegedly pastoral grounds, because it communicates the revealed truth.â
The Popeâs full text can be read at http://www.osservatoreromano.va