by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
If Communion for the divorced/remarried is seen as a sacrilege in Poland, for example, how can it be a meritorious act in Germany?
Wednesday is often referred to as a "hump day" because it's the middle of the work-week and everyone is looking forward to the weekend for some much-deserved rest and relaxation. However, Wednesday, October 21, was not quite the "hump day" of the Synod's final week because there is obviously a great deal of work left for the Synod Fathers to do even this coming Saturday before the Closing Mass of the Synod to be held on Sunday at St. Peter's Basilica.
Now that the work of the small language groups ("circuli minori") is finished, the enormous input (over 500 so-called "modi" or amendments) of those various groups must be collated, while the ten-member Commission, appointed by Pope Francis, gears up for writing the "Final Synod Document," known in Latin as the "Relatio Synodi" or "Relatio Finalis."
The Synod Fathers (as Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, has officially stated) will be able to vote on all of the final "proposals" ("propositiones") to express their approval, disapproval or abstention. What the Pope will do with the Synod's "Final Document" remains to be seen. It has been customary for previous popes to produce what is called a "Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation." Regardless of whether or not Pope Francis decides to take this next step, we know that the "Final Document" or "Relatio Synodi," is not intended as a magisterial document.
This point Cardinal Reinhard Marx (Archbishop of Munich and President of the German Episcopal Conference) made eminently clear in the Vatican Press Briefing on Wednesday afternoon. To say that Cardinal Marx was at the center of the journalists' attention on Wednesday would be a gross understatement. Cardinal Marx, having served as a "Relator" for one of the German-speaking groups at the Synod, told the Vatican Press Corps that the German bishops worked very hard to come up with a group document ("Relatio") that reflects doctrinal unanimity on key issues like the Indissolubility of marriage.
In his remarks, Cardinal Marx explained that although the Synod is a primarily a "pastoral" synod (meaning one not intended to decide on doctrinal matters, as would perhaps an ecumenical council), the German-speaking bishops nonetheless felt it necessary to hold lively doctrinal and theological discussions in their small group sessions. In the process of their small group discussions, those bishops even quoted from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas in order to delve more deeply into the central themes of the Synod.
Cardinal Marx made an important distinction between doctrine and theology, noting also that there are many different levels of doctrine ("doctrinal notes") according to which defined dogmas must be distinguished from doctrines which, though not dogmatically defined, are nonetheless to be believed by all Catholics as an integral part of Divine Revelation.
Furthermore, reflecting on the discussions held in the German-speaking groups with noteworthy theologians like Cardinals Gerhard Müller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Christoph Schönborn, O.P. (Archbishop of Vienna, who was the General Editor for the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and Walter Kasper (President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity), Cardinal Marx said that there cannot be any dichotomy or contradiction between Church doctrine and pastoral praxis.
While the Church certainly wants married couples to follow through on their "dreams" of living the ideals of Christian marriage, noted Marx, she must also be realistic and present to those married couples who fail in their noble endeavors. The Church, he said, must accompany the divorced/remarried and cannot in any way alienate or abandon them, treating them as outsiders to a closed "club." Therefore, as Cardinal Marx explained, the German-speaking groups have proposed that the Synod Fathers and the Pope take into consideration the possibility of allowing diocesan bishops to come up with certain criteria by which divorced/remarried couples who are unable to obtain a declaration of nullity (commonly referred to as an "annulment") will be able to be accompanied in a private way (in canonical terms, through the "internal forum") by their parish priests, so that, at the proper time, to be determined by the local Ordinary, they will be allowed to return to regular sacramental communion. Once again, how this proposal will be received by Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers remains to be seen. It should be noted, however, that such a solution was roundly rejected by both Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
Furthermore, not a few bishops have expressed grave disapproval of "local level" solutions to the question of Communion for the divorced/remarried, including Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, as well as the bishops of Africa and Poland. Their objection is simple: If Communion for the divorced/remarried is seen as a sacrilege in Poland, for example, how can it be a meritorious act in Germany?
An unexpected element entered into the Briefing as Fr. Federico Lombardi (Director of the Holy See's Press Office) began the session on Wednesday afternoon by denying Tuesday's late-night report leaked to the press by an anonymous source in which it was claimed that Pope Francis had been visited by a Japanese doctor who was flown into the Vatican by helicopter from a hospital in Pisa. The supposed purpose of his medical visit was to diagnose the Pope's small but benign brain tumor that can be treated without a surgical procedure. Fr. Lombardi vehemently denied the story. The official denial from the Vatican calls the story "gravely irresponsible and unworthy of attention." It continues: "Furthermore, as is clearly evident, the Pope is carrying out his very intense activity in a totally normal way."