After a leading German bishop questioned the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, the Vatican’s 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.
“Assuredly, the word of truth can be painful and uncomfortable. But it is the way to holiness, to peace, and to inner freedom,” said Pope Benedict in 1998.
“A pastoral approach which truly wants to help the people concerned must always be grounded in the truth,” because “in the end, only the truth can be pastoral,” he wrote, quoting the Gospel promise of Christ that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
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 Benedict—who was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time—explained that the recent documents of the Church on such matters “bring together the demands of truth with those of love in a very balanced way.”
So while at times in the past “love shone forth too little in the explanation of the truth,” so today, there is a great danger that “in the name of love, truth is either to be silenced or compromised.”
Today’s republication was carried in six different languages under the explanatory subheading of “concerning some objections to the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful.”
It comes two months after the president of the German Bishops’ Conference publicly raised questions over the Church’s teachings on marriage in a newspaper interview.
“We 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,” Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said on Sept. 5, only weeks before the Pope arrived for a four-day state visit.
“This is a question of mercy and we will be discussing this problem intensively in the near future,” the archbishop told the German newspaper Die Zeit.
Archbishop Zollitsch was specifically asked about the situation of the country’s President Christian Wulff, who is a remarried Catholic and refrains from receiving communion.
When he was asked about Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who is also a Catholic but in a homosexual relationship, Archbishop Zollitsch replied, “We must see how we can find theologically based answers to questions of lifestyles.”
In today’s article, which was published as part of a Vatican discussion paper in 1998, Pope Benedict explains why the Church’s teaching is rooted in Scripture, tradition and reason.
From Scripture, he outlines in detail how “the teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage is faithful to the words of Jesus.”
Drawing on tradition, he explains that there was a “clear consensus,” among the Fathers of the early Church “regarding the indissolubility of marriage,” something that set Christianity apart from Roman society.
At that time, he states, “divorced and remarried members of the faithful were never officially admitted to Holy Communion after a time of penance.”
He added that the increasingly liberal practice which developed in the Eastern churches that separated from Rome became “more and more removed from the words of the Lord” for various historical reasons and was never accepted by the Catholic Church.
“The Church cannot sanction pastoral practices—for example, sacramental pastoral practices—which contradict the clear instruction of the Lord,” said Pope Benedict.
“In 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.”
Pope Benedict also addressed the suggestion that the Pope could “potentially dissolve a consummated sacramental marriage, which has been irrevocably broken.” He replied that “if 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.”
Finally, he answered those who argue that the Catholic Church is “overly legalistic and not pastoral” on such matters.
“They 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,” he wrote.
“They 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.”
In response, he said that the Church’s “manner of expression does not seem very easy to understand at times,” and so “needs to be translated by preachers and catechists into a language which relates to people and to their respective cultural environments.”
“The essential content of the Church’s teaching,” he stated, “must be upheld in this process. It must not be watered down on allegedly pastoral grounds, because it communicates the revealed truth.”
The Pope’s full text can be read at http://www.osservatoreromano.va