"Divorced and remarried persons are entitled to receive communion."
At the seminar in Salzburg by Austrian Catholic Action, the German theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff, a professor of moral theology at the University of Freiburg, has launched an appeal for a "theological re-evaluation " of divorced and remarried persons and a new way to interact with them by the Church.
According to Schockenhoff, the Catholic news agency Adista reports, the Church must emphasize its readiness for reconciliation in the spirit of the biblical sources and the practice of the early Church, breaking away from an attitude of "moral condemnation" that provokes in the interested parties a "painful feeling of exclusion".
Benedict XVI himself admits that communion for divorced and remarried persons is an open question. He spoke about it in a meeting with the priests of the diocese of Aosta on July 25, 2005 and, more officially, in his speech to the Roman Rota, on 28 January 2006. Both times, the Pope urged them to "deepen" a particular case: the possible invalidity of a marriage in the Church celebrated without faith, for those who, having passed to a second union, have returned to the practice of Christian life and request communion.
Schockenhoff in recent years has studied the problem well enough to devote an entire book to it, whose title was taken as the theme of the day of study: "Opportunities for reconciliation? The Church and divorced and remarried persons."
Moreover, "separated persons, divorced persons and those who are remarried are not at the margins of the Church, but belong to her as do many other Christians who stray or have made mistakes."
His proposal, Adista specifies, is a radical one: the Church can and must give communion to divorced and remarried persons.
First of all, it is a "pastoral emergency": the number of these Catholics, currently excluded from the sacramental life, is increasing and the problems related to their participation in Church life cannot be further delayed.
Secondly, there is no reason that bars this step, either in the Scriptures or in the practice of the early Church. The reference to Jesus' words on the indissolubility of marriage before God, says the theologian, cannot simply be treated as a canonical norm, while in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and in the writings of St. Paul there would be "counter-tendencies" and "exceptional circumstances" in which divorce could be tolerated.
And if the indissolubility of marriage remains "the only valid yardstick," this does not mean, Schockenhoff argues, that from a biblical point of view there cannot be "emergency situations" as an exception to this standard.
This "flexibility in rigor" also characterized the practice of the early centuries of the Church. Similar positions were expressed, the German theologian points out, by Joseph Ratzinger who, in a 1972 essay, wrote that underneath or within the classical magisterium "there has always been, in practical ministry, a more elastic practice that has never been regarded as entirely consistent with the true faith of the Church, but that has never been totally ruled out"; regulated admission to the sacraments of the persons concerned, Ratzinger said, "is fully in line with the tradition of the Church."
Another element in favor of admission to the sacraments, says Schockenhoff, is fact that even in a new civil union there may be present "all the elements that, according to the Church, are constitutive of marriage": fidelity, the will to total dedication to the partner, openness to children, etc. Consequently, a second marriage not recognized by canon law could no longer be considered a non-marriage or cohabitation.
The current discourse of a "continuous adultery" or "state of grave sin" is, in the light of these considerations, "totally unacceptable". From this theological re-evaluation of a new civil marriage, the theologian of Freiburg affirmed, comes "in a binding way the fact that the divorced and remarried are not excluded from communion permanently or until the death of their first partner," "out of respect for the judgment of conscience made by the persons concerned" the Church should therefore invite the divorced and remarried to participate in community life and in Eucharistic communion. Only in this way, in fact, can it offer a real "opportunity for reconciliation."
Such a step, "pronounced by the Church publicly," would represent the correction of a "catastrophic effect": that is, a Church that is merciless and disinterested in this category of people.
In 2006 the Theological Faculty of Milan suggested that divorced and remarried persons be admitted to the Eucharist without having to give up sexual relations.
The "way" proposed also implies both the permanent validity of the previous marriage and the full continuity of the second convivance, including sexual relations. And this is the real novelty of the proposal. The rules currently in force, in fact, allow communion only to those who, while continuing to live with a person other than the one to whom they are validly married, renounce sexual relations.
A proposal not intended to create an exception to the indissolubility of marriage, but a "wise ecclesiastical practice" for those who present themselves in an irregular situation to an ordained minister of the Church, requesting the sacraments.