Will the Catholic Church change its stand on marriage and divorce?

Pope Francis blesses new spouses while celebrating marriage rite for 20 couples during Mass  at Vatican
c. 2014 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church,” will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

Contributors to the book include German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican body responsible for church doctrine, and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s top court.

The cardinals were unwilling to discuss details Wednesday (Sept. 17) and left comments to the book’s editor, the Rev. Robert Dodaro, president of the Patristicum Augustinianum Institute in Rome.

“The authors of this volume are united in firmly supporting the New Testament that shows Christ prohibiting any ambiguity on divorce and successive marriages,” Dodaro said.

Dodaro, a theologian, said the cardinals were not offended by the pope’s participation in Sunday’s marriage rites and were more concerned by any move to relax church doctrine. Specifically, they oppose any move to offer Communion for those who remarry after divorce.

And the book’s contributors make no secret of their desire to counter Cardinal Walter Kasper’s recent call for greater mercy from the church toward those who are divorced and remarried.

“Sin is nothing new in the Catholic Church,” Dodaro said. “Jesus encountered irregular marriages. We are talking about a change of doctrine which has a totally different magnitude.”

The changing nature of relationships — from marriage to divorce, cohabitation and gay unions — will top the agenda at the global Synod and also figure prominently at next year’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

“We are going to deal with realistic issues,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput told a media conference at the Vatican on Tuesday.  “The issues of family life will be part of this.”

Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, has expressed tolerance on a range of issues, famously asking “Who am I to judge?” about gay relationships.

In a worldwide survey earlier this year, bishops showed they were looking for new ways to deal with unmarried couples, divorced people and single parents disillusioned with the church, while opposing same-sex unions and abortion.

The first survey of 114 bishops’ conferences on family issues said many Christians “have difficulty” accepting church teachings on key issues such as birth control, divorce, homosexuality and cohabitation.

But for many Catholics, the question of Communion for the divorced remains the key issue and there is plenty of division even among conservatives.

Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin told his diocese he doesn’t know what the answer is but said any change should be adopted at a global level to stem the tide of Catholics abandoning the church.

“I often think about and truly agonize over the many divorced Catholics who have ‘dropped-out’ of the church completely, as well as those who attend Mass faithfully every Sunday, sometimes for years, without receiving the consolation and joy of the Holy Eucharist,” Tobin says on his diocese site.

“The status quo is unacceptable. For the spiritual well-being of the divorced and remarried members of our Catholic family, for the salvation of their souls, we’ve got to do something!”

Religion News Service

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Wes Andrews

I hope not. They actually have been a leader in protecting the family. They have avoided all this silly debate because all along they always understood that cultural marriage (starting with weddings outside the blessing of the church) was not necessarily the same as Biblical marriage. They never apologized for it or compromised. If the state did something unBiblical, they have a long grasp of history and know that what the state “blesses” is not what the church should bless. But “denominations” have tended to cozy up to culture (at the expense of trusting Scripture) especially over the past 60… Read more »

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