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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 17, 20055VOL. 43, NO. 18Oakland, CA

Synod debates controversial Church issues

Eucharist – who may or may not receive it – was one of the main topics of discussion during the first week of the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome. Should Communion be denied to those individuals who vote for pro-abortion political candidates and should it be offered to divorced and remarried Catholics? There were some of the questions that arose during the free discussion and individual speeches that took place Oct. 3-8.

Also occupying the bishops’ agenda was a forthcoming Vatican document on homosexuality, which is expected to restrict gay men’s entry into the priesthood but does not ban them outright, providing they have been celibate for at least three years and have not publicly disclosed their homosexuality.

Other discussions touched upon the shortage of priests and whether married men might be ordained, at least in areas where priests are lacking. This last suggestion was put forth by Coadjutor Bishop Arnold Orowae of Wabag, Papua, New Guinea, who asked the synod how Catholics in remote villages could make the Eucharist the “source and summit” of their lives if they don’t have access to Mass, according to a Catholic News Service story.

Regarding Catholic candidates’ views on abortion, top Vatican cardinals appear divided as to whether it is sinful to vote for politicians who defy Church teaching on moral issues. A synod working paper states that Catholics who support candidates “openly in favor of abortion” are living in a state of mortal sin and are unfit to receive the Eucharist at Mass.

But following a recent appeal by Archbishop William Levada, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for wider discussion regarding Catholic politicians who defy Church teaching on moral issues, the Synod participants debated whether the act of voting for wayward legislators also constitutes a sin.

In an interview published Oct. 6 in the Milan daily Correire della Sera, Cardinal Mario Pompedda, the retired head of the Vatican Supreme Court, said that voting for an abortion rights candidate was not inherently sinful.

“I would be cautious in using the concept of sin, which implies intention,” Pompedda said, adding “whoever votes for a pro-abortion candidate must take responsibility, but that doesn’t mean we’re talking about sin.”

Cardinal Pompedda said that Catholics could support an abortion rights candidate who represented a “lesser evil” when measured against his or her rivals.

His judgment, however, seemed to contradict the view of Cardinal Javier Lozana Barragan of Mexico, the Vatican health minister, who told the Rome daily Repubblica that “a Catholic cannot support a politician who presents abortion as a general norm.”

Cardinal Barragan also indicated that Catholics who vote against Church teaching were flirting with sin, and therefore unfit to receive Communion.

Discussion around reproductive issues segued into debate over the “morning after pill”, following an article in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, that referred to it as “really and truly murder.”

“Murder refers to man, while here the reference is to the embryo,” Cardinal Pompedda said, adding, “Should we suddenly erase this distinction?”

Whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics should receive the Eucharist came to the floor on Oct. 4, when Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, said that bishops have “a pastoral duty and an obligation before God to discuss and debate the question.” Archbishop Dew urged an assembly to reconsider the Church ban, referring to it as a “source of scandal.”

“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,” Archbishop Dew said.

Catholic teaching holds that faithful who divorce and remarry under civil law are unfit to receive Communion unless they abstain from sex. Those who obtain an annulment and remarry can receive the sacrament.

Archbishop Dew said that “the scandal of those hungering for Eucharistic food needs to be addressed, just as the scandal of physical hunger needs to be addressed.”

During a press conference, Bishop Pierre-Antoine Paulo of Haiti suggested the Church could give Communion to remarried Catholics as it does to some non-Catholic Christians under special circumstances.

Pope Benedict was not present at the Synod when the question came up, but in a 1972 essay, as Father Joseph Ratzinger, he argued that under special moral circumstances “it seems that the granting of full Communion, after a time of probation, is nothing less than just, and is fully in harmony with our ecclesiastical tradition.”

But decades later, when Joseph Ratzinger became head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II, he struck down a proposal from several German bishops to admit remarried Catholics to the sacraments.

Archbishop Dew did not offer suggestions as to how the Church should resolve the problem of remarried couples, but some churchmen have argued for loosening the requirements on marriage annulment.

Cardinal Angelo Scola called on participants to “further delve into and pay great attention to the complex and diversified cases” of marriage annulment, suggesting that tribunals overseeing annulments should be streamlined. But Scola also said that Communion was “neither a right nor a possession,” but a “gift” to Catholics and reaffirmed Church teaching on divorce.

By Oct. 7, media reports on a forthcoming Vatican document on homosexuality said the Vatican is expected to restrict gay men’s entry into the priesthood but did not ban them outright.

Italy’s leading daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, which first reported on the new guidelines, said that candidates must “show an adequate capacity for self-control” and must “live in chastity” for three years. The report did not say how seminaries are to determine who fails to meet these criteria.

However, candidates who participate in gay rallies or associate with other forms of “gay culture” including books, film and Internet sites, will not be ordained, the newspaper said.

According to the Italian newsweekly, Panorama, the document’s release will come next month following the conclusion of the synod and will be accompanied by the commentary of an “internationally renowned” psychologist in L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

Father Anthony Figueiredo, a theologian at Seton Hall University who is assisting Pope Benedict during the synod, said the document aims to counteract the growing influence of “gay lifestyle” on the priesthood.

The U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter said the pope approved the 16-page document, known as an Instruction, on Sept. 15 during an audience with Archbishop Levada, Archbishop Angelo Amato, Levada’s deputy, and Cardinal Zeonon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

NCR reported that the pope gave his approval in “forma specifica,” which means the document carries his personal authority, making it the Church’s most definitive teaching on homosexuality in the priesthood to date.

Word of the document’s contents comes as the Vatican begins a
nationwide investigation of U.S. seminaries that will look for “evidence of homosexuality” among other signs of illicit activities.

The norms do not represent any fundamental change in Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality, which it regards as “intrinsically disordered.” Homosexuals were technically barred from the priesthood in 1961, but many seminary directors appear to have relaxed that policy over the decades.

(Stacy Meichtry of Religion News Service contributed to this report)





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