POPE-QUESTIONS Jul-27-2005 (910 words) xxxi
Divorced Catholics must be welcomed in parishes, pope tells priests
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who suffer because they cannot receive Communion must be welcomed in parishes as Catholics who witness to the importance of the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI said.
At the same time, he said, if a priest, acting out of compassion for their suffering, gives them the Eucharist, he risks undermining the dignity and indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage.
"We all know that this is a particularly painful situation," the pope said July 25 during a meeting with about 140 priests, religious and deacons from the Valle d'Aosta region where he was vacationing.
The pope added that he knew the issue could get complicated and said, "Given these people's situation of suffering it must be studied."
The meeting, which was closed to the press, lasted about two hours. The pope's opening remarks and responses to questions from the priests were transcribed and published July 27 in the Vatican newspaper.
"The pope is not a prophet," he told the priests. "He is infallible in very rare circumstances, as we all know."
Therefore, he said, in trying to find ways to spread the Gospel, to strengthen the faith of Catholics and to help the suffering, "I share your questions. I, too, suffer."
Asked specifically about ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, Pope Benedict told the priests, "None of us has a ready-made solution, including because each person's situation is different."
"I would say that a particularly painful situation is that of those who were married in the church, but were not really believers and did so just for tradition, and then finding themselves in a new, nonvalid marriage, convert, find the faith and feel excluded from the sacrament," he said.
Pope Benedict said that when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he asked several bishops' conferences and experts to study the problem, which in effect was "a sacrament celebrated without faith."
He said he had thought that the church marriage could be considered invalid because the faith of the couple celebrating the sacrament was lacking.
"But from the discussions we had, I understood that the problem was very difficult" and that further study was necessary, he said.
Pope Benedict said that Catholics must keep two things in mind: First, that even if divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist, they are part of the church and are loved by Christ; and second, that suffering out of love for God and for the church is "a noble suffering."
While participating at Mass without receiving Communion is not optimal, he said, "it is not nothing; it is involvement in the mystery of the cross and resurrection of Christ."
"Given that it is the sacrament of the passion of Christ, the suffering Christ embraces these persons in a special way and communicates with them in a different way," he said. "They can feel embraced by the crucified Lord who falls to the earth and dies and suffers for them and with them."
Priests and parishioners must share the suffering of those excluded from the Eucharist, he said, but they cannot act in a way that casts doubt on the unbreakable bond of sacramental marriage.
"We know that the moment we give in out of love, we harm the sacrament itself, and its indissolubility appears weakened," Pope Benedict said.
In his opening remarks and in response to several questions, the pope focused on the need to help people understand the dignity of suffering when it is undergone out of love for God or for others.
The Christian faith, he said, involves giving oneself to the community of the church, a community that promises each believer that he or she will never be left alone in suffering and that calls each Catholic to reach out to others.
The pope said he understands the exhaustion of priests who care for numerous parish communities and the suffering of those who continually encounter people who do not seem to want or need to hear the Gospel they preach.
But the Gospel call is to continue to preach, to spread the word and have faith that God will bring it to fruition, he said.
The modern Western culture of "rationalism closed in on itself" has made it very difficult for people in those countries to believe in God and in the church, he said.
"And if it is difficult to believe, it is even more difficult to offer one's life to the Lord to be his servant," which accounts for the lack of priestly vocations, the pope said.
"This certainly is a suffering tied to our moment in history, a moment when generally we see that the so-called mainline churches appear to be dying. This is happening especially in Australia and also Europe, but not so much in the United States," he said.
Pope Benedict said faith is not "a package of rules that we load onto our shoulders like a heavy backpack."
"In the end, faith is simple and rich: We believe that God exists, that God is important. But what God? A God with a face, a human face. A God who reconciles, who defeats hatred and gives the strength of peace which no one else can give," he said.
Pope Benedict ended by thanking the priests for their questions, "which help me to reflect on the future."
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