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Review communion ban for divorced, bishop says

October 5, 2005

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A Roman Catholic prelate at a
Vatican synod advising the Pope has boldly challenged his
Church to re-think its rule that bars divorced Catholics who
remarry from receiving communion.

Archbishop John Atcherly Dew of Wellington, New Zealand
compared the plight of Catholics who wanted to receive
communion but were barred from it to hunger in the world. Dew
spoke on Tuesday evening and the Vatican released the text on
Wednesday.

The Church does not recognize civil divorce and only allows
annulments, rulings by Church courts that say a marriage never
existed because it lacked prerequisites such as free will or
psychological maturity by one or both partners.

Millions of Catholics around the world who have divorced in
civil courts and remarried outside the Church still consider
themselves good Catholics.

But they are banned from receiving communion, which the
Church teaches is the body and blood of Christ, because they
are considered to be living in sin.

“As bishops, we have a pastoral duty and an obligation
before God to discuss and debate the difficulties burdening so
many of our people,” Dew told the synod of more than 250
bishops who will draft final recommendations to the Pope at the
end of their three-week meeting.

“Our Church would be enriched if we were able to invite
dedicated Catholics, currently excluded from the Eucharist, to
return to the Lord’s table,” he argued.

“There are those whose first marriages ended in sadness;
they have never abandoned the Church but are currently excluded
from the Eucharist,” he said.

BENEDICT HINTS AT CHANGE

There are up to seven million divorced and remarried
Catholics in the United States alone.

In Germany, another country where the problem is often
discussed, the bishops asked the Vatican in 1994 to consider a
reform, but were rebuffed by Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger was then the Church’s top doctrinal authority.

“This synod must be pastoral in approach. We must look for
ways to include those who are hungering for the bread of life,”
Dew said. “The scandal of those hungering for Eucharistic food
need to be addressed, just as the scandal of physical hunger
needs to be addressed.”

How to deal with their plight has been one of the most
persistently debated issues in the Church in recent years.

Under current rules, those who remarry outside the Church
can only receive communion if they abstain from sexual
relations with their new partner because the Church considers
their first marriage still valid.

While the late Pope John Paul was firm on their exclusion
from the Eucharist, Pope Benedict has indicated that he might
be more flexible.

He told priests in July that the plight of the divorced and
remarried should undergo further “study” because theirs was “a
particularly painful situation.”

The Pope said at the time that such Catholics should be
welcomed into parishes even if they could not receive
communion.