Church Should Welcome 'Unconventional Couples': Top Italian bishop says 'irregular' couples are 'also Christians'

Pope Francis greets people as he visits Cassano allo Ionio, in Italy’s Calabria region, June 21, 2014. On his left is Bishop Nunzio Galantino of Cassano allo Ionio. (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

The Catholic Church should make “unconventional couples” feel at home instead of making them targets of “de facto discrimination,” the leader of the Italian Bishops Conference and an ally of Pope Francis said this week.

“Couples in irregular matrimonial situations are also Christians, but they are sometimes looked upon with prejudice,” said Bishop Nunzio Galantino, an apparent reference to divorced and remarried Catholics.

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“The burden of exclusion from the sacraments is an unjustified price to pay, in addition to de facto discrimination,” he said on Aug. 27 in an address to a national conference on liturgy in the Italian hill town of Orvieto.

Galantino was Francis’ choice in March to lead the fractious Italian hierarchy, and from the beginning the bishop has adopted the pontiff’s inclusive approach. That has often landed Galantino in hot water, as he has spoken about the need for the church to welcome gays and to consider optional celibacy for the priesthood.

But Galantino has not softened his views, which are especially newsworthy because in October the Vatican will host a major conference of the world’s top bishops, called a synod, to discuss issues facing the modern family. How to deal with gay and cohabiting couples is a likely topic of discussion, but the question of whether Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment can take Communion has emerged as a focal point of disputes among bishops.

That’s because the issue is a test case of whether the church under Francis will, or can, change its policies relating to the central sacrament of Communion. Some say such a change is impossible, while others say that changes are not only possible but imperative given that so many couples have divorced and remarried and feel alienated from the church.

Galantino’s remarks were widely reported in Italian media, including Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian hierarchy, and were translated by the Italian news agency ANSA.

In his talk, Galantino, who is secretary-general of the Italian Bishops Conference, stressed that everyone should “feel at home” in the church, and especially at Mass—including migrants, the disabled, the poor and those in unconventional relationships.

He spoke about the need for churches to make their buildings accessible for those with disabilities, for example, and said Catholics should take care that the poor are not treated differently from the wealthy at Mass.

But he appeared to send a strong message about divorced and remarried Catholics who are excluded from the sacraments.

“They live in their situation with great suffering,” he said, “and they perceive the church’s regulations as very severe, not compassionate if not punitive.”

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Bruce Snowden
4 years 1 month ago
I have two close friends who fit the "unconventional couple" category and believe me matrimonially from the Catholic point of view they are really messed up in multiple ways. At one point they tried to unravel the irregularities, involving an annulment process but the Deacon ministering told them the cost of that process in a Southern Diocese was $2,000. That killed the whole thing for them and so they continue "living in sin" as old school says, but I think they are for the most part morally non culpable. But I'm no theologian, just someone who understands a little the human condition wrapped in the mercy of a God whose Divine mercy "understands" far better than any moralist can,.
J Cabaniss
4 years 1 month ago
If we believe the restriction against divorced and remarried individuals receiving communion is a "church regulation" then it is easy to understand why so many people would oppose it. If, however, it is recognized as a restriction God himself commands then that puts the issue in an entirely different category. This distinction (or lack thereof) between "church regulation" and "God's command" lies at the center of most Catholic disagreements on ethical matters. People oppose the church's position on contraception, homosexuality, etc because it is seen as just that: the church's position. If the church is to be faulted in any of this it is for failing to make clear that the stands she takes in these matters are not of her own invention.
Roberto Blum
4 years 1 month ago
How can we know whether it's God command or the Church's? Probably the best way would be to try to find what is commanded by "Natural law." Natural law as it pertains to universal human nature is possible to attain through reason and cannot be against the Divine law. Positive law, whether Moses' or Christ's commandments may be close to what is God's law, but since they were expressed in human language, we rational men have the responsibility to search for the kernel of truth in those commandments, compare them with our findings in Natural law and then interpret them according to the "Law of love." The Church should also interpret all commandments -- God's or Church's without losing sight of the greatest commandment of all.
Michael Barberi
4 years 1 month ago
This issue was debated at length earlier this year in another related article. Below is a comment i posted. I am glad that Pope Francis has selected another Bishop (Bishop Galantino) to carry forth this message. This is not surprising but a cause for much hope for the divorced and remarried Catholics worldwide. What Pope Francis has done, if we believe what has been reported, is not dissimilar to the pastoral practices of many priests. The book is not closed forever on such teachings but open to development, in particular in the pastoral application of the moral norm. Below is an part of a recent speech given by Cardinal Walter Kasper, prefect emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and a close theological advisor to Pope Francis. You can read the entire article at: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/cardinal-kaspers-speech-on-divorce-.... Noting that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 wrote that those who are divorced and remarried can make an act of spiritual communion, he asked, “Why, then, can [such a person] not also receive sacramental Communion?” He claimed that, in the early Church, when someone entered a new relationship even though their spouse was still alive, “after a period of penance, had available … a life raft through admission to Communion.” Suggesting a “way of conversion” involving the sacrament of confession, he asked, “Is it also the path that we could follow in the present question?” When someone who is divorced and remarried “repents of his failure in the first marriage”; if he cannot return to the first marriage; if he “cannot abandon without further harm” the responsibilities of his second marriage; if “he is doing the best he can to live out the possibilities of the second marriage on the basis of the faith and to raise his children in the faith”; and if “he has a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength in his situation,” Cardinal Kasper said, then “should we or can we deny him, after a period of time of a new orientation (metanoia), the sacrament of penance and then of Communion?” He clarified that this is not “a general solution,” but is “the narrow path of what is probably the smaller segment of the divorced and remarried, those sincerely interested in the sacraments.” “Life is not just black or white; there are, in fact, many nuances.” Cardinal Kasper emphasized the need for “discretion, spiritual discernment, sagacity and pastoral wisdom” in these cases. “This discretion is not an easy compromise between the extremes of rigorism and laxity, but, as is every virtue, a perfection between these extremes.” Let us pray that the Synod on the Family will follow both Pope Francis, Cardinal Kasper's and now Bishop Galantino's reflections.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
If the divorced and not remarried hear this, they may remarry. What then? What about more than one divorce and remarriage? This rule, I think, hasn't been to exclude the divorced and remarried, but to put an obstacle to be considered in front of those who would choose to do it so that they would be less inclined to do it. It may be working as intended in a lot of cases.
Michael Barberi
4 years 1 month ago
Marie, To marry or remarry is a personal decision. Some Catholics that have been divorced have chosen not to remarry. In other circumstances, some have remarried. Often, the circumstances of divorce are complex and many times sorrowful and burdensome. Sometimes mistakes have been made because of immaturity, ignorance or misguided judgment; sometimes one spouse was the cause of the divorce. The causes for divorce and the reasons for remarriage are innumerable. I believe the exceptions or developments that we are speculating about (that might occur) are not intended for Catholics who have divorced and remarried for purely selfish reasons, in circumstances where they have no remorse for their actions, and who do not sincerely seek God and forgiveness. I tend to believe that most, if not all Catholics, enter marriage with the intention that the marriage will be permanent. Most strive to make their marriages work. However, we are a fallen and redeemed people and we stumble and fall in circumstances. Pope Francis wants the doors of the Church to be open and a welcoming place for all that seek to love God and neighbor and want reconciliation, forgiveness and mercy. Far too many divorced and remarried Catholics have left the Church or remain Catholic in name only because they feel they are treated as second-class Catholics. They are told that they are Catholics living in mortal sin and are refused the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception. Many of these Catholics want to reenter the Church and become faithful Catholics once again. From what we can speculate so far from bishops who reportedly reflect Pope Francis's intention, it is to allow Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried provided that certain conditions are met. There are many moral issues that must be addressed here. However, I think any development in the pastoral application of the moral norms that govern the doctrine on marriage (and divorce and remarriage) would have to address multiple divorced and remarried Catholics and their circumstances. This teaching development, if it is the result of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family, can be a good thing for the Church and I don't view it as pandora's box.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
I think it sounds like they will replace the annulment requirement with a Sacrament of Reconciliation requirement. The annulment process essentially declares the marriage invalid based on one or more conditions within that marriage. If this is replaced with going to Confession, what sin would be confessed? I believe this will come down to technicalities that some will find to be offensive and distortions of the actual facts. I personally do not think that access to the Sacraments should be denied to anyone. I do, however, think that people should suffer through their marriages if things do not suit them, because that is what they promised to do.
Michael Barberi
4 years 1 month ago
Marie, I always enjoy our interchanges even if we disagree on some points from time to time. In this case we agree for the most part. For example, I would agree with you that a revision of the annulment process as the moral rationale for gaining access to Holy Communion for the divorced andy remarried would be very weak justification. Since the annulment process was significantly revised in 1983, I think the annulment process will remain largely the same. See below for my reasons. From: Catholic Divorce: The Deception of Annulments, by Pierre Hegy and Joseph Martos (2000): "New guidelines for annulment were introduced by Paul Vi and later institutionalized in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. To the traditional grounds for annulment were added psychological grounds such as the inability "of assuming the essential obligations of matrimony due to causes of psychological nature". Also, in an important decision of the Rota, they called this "emotional immaturity"; it consists of "gross and sustained impairment in social relationships, e.g., lack of appropriate affective responsibility, inappropriate clinging, sociability, lack of empathy". But with such vague terms as "emotional immaturity" or "lack of empathy", no marriage is safe anymore. Because of the above, the Synod on the Family will likely develop a new moral and pastoral rationale for the divorced and remarried. Nevertheless, they will have to contend with many related theological issues. These will be challenges and hurdles to overcome, but they are not insurmountable. In the end, I hope to see the doors of the Church open wide for the divorced and remarked, including access to the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception under certain conditions. Having said that, I do agree with you that couples should do everything then can, including carrying a reasonable heavy burden, to keep their marriages together. However, as we know, this is not always feasible, practical or reasonable.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Michael, it appears that Catholic marriages are only "safe" from annulment due to the monetary cost at this point, given the new guidelines! Perhaps the Synod will end up producing the Catholic equivalent of the "no fault" civil divorce, which was instituted to reduce the cost of divorcing.
Michael Barberi
4 years 1 month ago
Marie, I never heard or read anything (e.g., an article in a theological journal or published book) that said or argued that Catholic marriages are only "safe" from annulment due to the monetary cost..given the new guidelines. I don't understand what you mean by "safe from annulment". Did you mean that many Catholics who could qualify for an annulment are precluded from electing this process because of the expense involved? My opinion is that most Catholics that could qualify for an annulment under the new rules don't pursue it because of ignorance, some type of fear of the outcome or the exposure of marital facts, etc. I guess some Catholics do not have the money either, if this expense is significant which could be a reason for not pursing an annulment. As for the Catholic equivalent of a "no fault civil divorce", I doubt this will happen. I believe people deserve a second chance and this will likely make its way into the doctrine/teaching on divorce and remarriage under certain conditions. The idea of 3rd or 4th chances is problematic. However, how they will deal with this is anyone's guess.
Marie Rehbein
4 years 1 month ago
Michael, I got "safe from annulment" from your comment "no marriage is safe anymore". I recall one of the Kennedy's getting an annulment over the objections of his ex-wife. He was the Catholic, and she was not, but her position was that theirs was a legitimate marriage until the divorce, while the Church was good with finding it illegitimate probably due to the grounds you say are more recently acceptable. On the whole, though, I do think that people do not feel this is a worthwhile expense whether they can afford it or not, though many cannot.
Michael Barberi
4 years 1 month ago
Marie, My comment that "no marriage is safe anymore" referred to the description and application of new guidelines on annulments. To many people familiar with these guidelines (few are), it would not be extremely difficult to secure an annulment. Your Kennedy example is a good example of how lenient the annulment process can be. Nevertheless, it is quite reasonable to say that many young couples enter marriage who are not psychologically mature or do not fully understand the responsibilities and obligations of marriage, nor do they fully understand the seriousness of the vow taken before God. The new guidelines are vague and ambiguous from the standpoint that it may not be difficult to justify an annulment. Thus, the statement "few marriages are safe"…because of the new guidelines on annulments. I do not want to focus on the above because I don't believe the Synod fathers will use the annulment process as a primary means to change the pastoral application of the moral norms underpinning marriages. It is my opinion that the most likely scenario that the Synod fathers may take is to revise the teaching on marriage (relative to divorce and remarriage) and give married couples a "second chance" under certain circumstances emphasizing mercy, love and understanding. You are probably correct that many couples may not believe the annulment process is a worthwhile expense, whether they can afford it or not. However, this may be largely due to a conditioned belief that the Church's pastoral application of the teaching on divorce and remarriage is rigid, unreasonable and irreformable.
Michael Barberi
4 years 1 month ago
Marie, I never heard or read anything (e.g., an article in a theological journal or published book) that said or argued that Catholic marriages are only "safe" from annulment due to the monetary cost..given the new guidelines. I don't understand what you mean by "safe from annulment". Did you mean that many Catholics who could qualify for an annulment are precluded from electing this process because of the expense involved? My opinion is that most Catholics that could qualify for an annulment under the new rules don't pursue it because of ignorance, some type of fear of the outcome or the exposure of marital facts, etc. I guess some Catholics do not have the money either, if this expense is significant which could be a reason for not pursing an annulment. As for the Catholic equivalent of a "no fault civil divorce", I doubt this will happen. I believe people deserve a second chance and this will likely make its way into the doctrine/teaching on divorce and remarriage under certain conditions. The idea of 3rd or 4th chances is problematic. However, how they will deal with this is anyone's guess.

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