- Catholic News Agency - Saturday, May 2, 2015

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops began receiving in April responses to a questionnaire that had been sent to dioceses the world over in preparation for October’s Synod on the Family.

The results from Germany indicate that most Catholics there hope for an openness to divorce and remarriage, as well as homosexual acts.

The synthesis of responses from Catholics in Germany was released by the nation’s bishops conference on April 16. The 17-page document, provided in an English translation, summarized the responses, which filled some 1,000 pages.

According to the German bishops’ conference, most comments dealt with the issues of the divorced and civilly remarried, cohabiting couples, and same-sex unions.

The consultation “has led to considerable expectations among many faithful with regard to the Synod of Bishops, which they expect to provide a further development of the Church’s teaching and pastoral care in questions related to marriage and the family.”

The document’s introduction noted that “after having consulted the People of God, the German Bishops’ Conference is pleased to present its answers … which are implicitly intended to set the thematic emphasis.” (emphasis added)

The statements reflect the German bishops themselves, in consultation with their laity, as well as with official representatives of religious superiors, theologians, marriage and family pastoral offices, and priests councils.

“A large number of faithful would like to see clearer steps being taken towards overcoming the ‘divide between the reality practiced in families in our parishes and associations and the Church’s teachings,’” the document said.

It noted that there is “criticism … of the lack of a really appreciative language for forms of relationship which neither conform to the Church’s ideal nor take marriage and the family as an exclusive orientation.”

Catholics in Germany also criticized the lack of “discussion of contraception methods.”

There is “a longing for successful relationships,” the bishops wrote. But at the same time there are fewer marriages, more divorces, and “several aspects of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, partnership and marriage are hardly understood, even among church-going Catholics, and are also not practiced.”

German Catholics continue to agree with some of the Church’s teachings: the values of monogamy, faithfulness, fertility, and marriage itself, as well as a rejection of abortion, the bishops said.

The document had positive notes for pastoral care of marriage and families regarding the importance of marriage for people and the Church, marriage preparation and the accompaniment of young couples, the transmission of life, and the family’s role in evangelization.

It said pastoral care should not be too harsh on those who are violating the teachings of the Church.  

While discussing civil marriage and cohabitation, the German bishops emphasized that “a further development of the Church’s sexual morals” is needed. “This entails an enhanced appreciation of individuals’ ability to shape their lives in following Christ on their own responsibility and to form a personal conscience-based judgment.”

Turning to the cause celebre of the German bishops since the 1970s — the divorced and civilly remarried, and their admission to the sacraments — they said this question “was answered by everyone, and in most cases also in a very detailed manner. It is a concern for many faithful, far beyond the group of those whose marriages have failed.”

“There can be no doubt that this remains a pivotal issue for the credibility of the Church. There is a very high expectation among the faithful that the Synod of Bishops will open up new paths for pastoral care in this respect.”

In June 2014, the German bishops approved a resolution to admit the divorced and remarried to Confession and Communion even if they do not resolve to live in continence.

They added that several dioceses and associations want a consideration of the Orthodox practice of second marriages after divorce: “it is also proposed to consider blessing a second (civil) marriage, which should however be quite distinct from a church marriage in liturgical terms.”

Furthermore, a streamlining of the nullity procedure, which has been much discussed and is being undertaken by a Vatican committee — was received as “certainly welcome,” though ineffectual, since most people who divorce and seek a second marriage don’t bother with annulment anyway.

Continuing an expansion of the admission to Communion, the German bishops then turned to the issue of marriages between a Catholic and a Protestant: “Considerable scope is attached in the responses to the question of the possible admission of the non-Catholic partner, particularly of a Protestant partner, to sacramental communion.”

“The exclusion from communion of the partner who belongs to a different denomination is regarded as an obstacle particularly for the Christian upbringing of the children and of the faith life of the family … in the interest of strengthening sacramental marriage, and when it comes to the Christian upbringing of the children, the question thus needs to be asked as to how the non-Catholic spouse is to take part in the life of the parish and under what circumstances he/she can in fact be admitted to communion. Do inter-denominational marriages which are bound by the dual sacramental tie of baptism and marriage not constitute a grave spiritual need permitting the admission of the non-Catholic partner in an individual case?”

Turning to pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies, the bishops noted that Germany has a broad consensus welcoming civil unions, which is “shared by a majority of Catholics.”

“Only a small number of respondents fundamentally reject homosexual relationships as constituting a grave sin. The vast majority expects the Church to carry out a differentiated moral theological evaluation which takes account of pastoral experience and of the findings of the humanities. Most Catholics accept homosexual relationships if the partners practice values such as love, faithfulness, responsibility for one another and reliability, but they do not thereby place homosexual partnerships on the same footing as marriage … Some of the statements also favor a blessing for such partnerships which is distinct from marriage.”

The document concluded that “pastoral care that accepts homosexuals requires a further development of the Church’s sexual morals which incorporates recent findings from the humanities, as well as from anthropological, exegetic and moral theology.”

The German bishops’ document, highlighting the expectation of Catholics there that the Synod on the Family will result in “development” of Church teaching, echoed a comment made Feb. 25 by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the conference, who said there are “certain expectations” of Germany in helping the Church to open doors and “go down new paths,” and that “in doctrine, we also learn from life.”

Cardinal Marx had added that “we are not a branch of Rome. Each conference of bishops is responsible for pastoral care in its cultural context and must preach the Gospel in its own, original way. We cannot wait for a synod to tell us how we have to shape pastoral care for marriage and family here,” explaining that the German bishops would pursue its own program of pastoral care for marriages and family regardless of the outcome of October’s Synod on the Family.

The Archbishop of Munich and Freising’s comments were promptly responded to by two fellow German prelates who now find themselves in Rome: Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, and Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Mueller said Cardinal Marx’ understanding “an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the Catholicity of the Church, adding that bishops conferences “are not a magisterium beside the Magisterium, without the pope and without communion with all the bishops.”

Yet the response of the German bishops to the synod questionnaire ostensibly affirmed that “there is no doubt that the local churches agree ‘cum Petro et sub Petro‘ in dogmatic questions regarding marriage and the family,” while continuing that “some of the responses favor regional agreements on pastoral guidelines at local church level.

“The basis could also be formed by diocesan discussion processes on the topic of marriage and the family the outcome of which would be discussed with other local churches.”

Cardinal Cordes said in March that only 16 percent of Catholics in western Germany believe God to be a personal being, adding that there is thus “no reason to pride ourselves on our faith if we stand in comparison to other countries.”

“If [Cardinal Marx] wanted to express that Germany is example in leading the faithful to a giving oneself up to Christ, then I think the bishop is fooled by wishful thinking,” Cardinal Cordes wrote.

“The existing German ecclesial apparatus is completely unfit to work against growing secularism.”


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