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VATICAN CITY – While not specifically mentioning the controversial proposal of a path toward full reconciliation and communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, members of the Synod of Bishops on the family handed Pope Francis a report emphasising an obligation to recognise that not all Catholics in such a situation bear the same amount of blame.
The 94-paragraph report approved Oct 24, the last working day of the three-week synod, highlighted the role of pastors in helping couples understand church teaching, grow in faith and take responsibility for sharing the Gospel. It also emphasised how “pastoral accompaniment” involves discerning, on a case-by-case basis, the moral culpability of people not fully living up to the Catholic ideal.
BIshops and other full members of the synod voted separately on each paragraph and the Vatican published those votes. The paragraphs dealing specifically with leading divorced and remarried Catholics on path of discernment passed with only one vote beyond the necessary two-thirds.
As Pope Francis said at the beginning of the synod, church doctrine on the meaning of marriage as a lifelong bond between one man and one woman open to having children was not up for debate. The final report strongly affirmed that teaching as God’s plan for humanity, as a blessing for the church and a benefit to society.
While insisting on God’s love for homosexual persons and the obligation to respect their dignity, the report also insisted same-sex unions could not be recognised as marriages and denounced as “totally unacceptable” governments or international organisations making recognition of “marriage between persons of the same sex” a condition for financial assistance.
The report also spoke specifically of the changing role of women in families, the church and society; single people and their contributions to the family and the church; the heroic witness of parents who love and care for children with disabilities; the family as a sanctuary protecting the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death; and the particular strain on family life caused by poverty and by migration.
The Catholic Church recognises a “natural” value in marriage corresponding to the good of the husband and wife, their unity, fidelity and desire for children. But the sacrament of marriage adds another dimension, the report said. “The irrevocable fidelity of God to his covenant is the foundation of the indissolubility of marriage. The complete and profound love of the spouses is not based only on their human capabilities: God sustains this covenant with the strength of his Spirit.”
But human beings are subject to sin and failure, which is why synod members recommend the need for “accompaniment” by family members, pastors and other couples. “Being close to the family as a travelling companion means, for the church, assuming wisely differentiated attitudes: sometimes it is necessary to stay by their side and listen in silence; other times it must indicate the path to follow, and at still other times, it is opportune to follow, support and encourage.”
Synod members promised greater efforts to be with couples in crisis and praised divorced Catholics who, “even in difficult situations, do not undertake a new union, remaining faithful to the sacramental bond.” Such Catholics, they noted, can and should “find in the Eucharist the nourishment that sustains them.”
Those who have remarried without an annulment of their sacramental marriage must be welcomed and included in the parish community in every way possible, the report said. “They are baptised, they are brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit gives them gifts and charisms for the good of all.” Priests must “accompany interested people on the path of discernment in accordance with the teaching of the church and the guidance of the bishop,” the report said.
While the report makes no explicit mention of absolution and the return to Communion, it seems to leave some possibility for such a solution by quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s affirmation that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified” because of different conditions. Just as the degree of guilt will differ, the report said, “also the consequences of the acts are not necessarily the same in all cases.” – CNS