http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350098bdc4.html?eng=y No Communion for Outlaws. But the Pope Is Studying Two Exceptions The ban on Eucharistic communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is increasingly contested and disobeyed. Benedict XVI is standing firm. But he is republishing an essay from 1998 that opens two loopholes, the second entrusted to conscience. by Sandro Magister ROME, December 5, 2011 – During Benedict XVI's recent visit to Germany, many were expecting "openness" from the pope to divorced and remarried Catholics: with the attenuation, if not the revocation, of the ban on receiving communion. This expectation was expressed by the president of the German federal republic himself, Christian Wulff, Catholic and remarried, in the official welcome he extended to the pope at his arrival in Berlin. Neither during the four days of his voyage to Germany, however, nor afterward, did pope Joseph Ratzinger say anything on this issue. But it is well known that this question is very close to his heart. He has spoken of it repeatedly in the past, and has said that "the problem is very difficult and must be explored further." Last November 30, Benedict XVI returned to the issue in indirect form: with the republication in "L'Osservatore Romano" of a "little-known" essay of his from 1998, supplemented with a footnote presenting his remark on this issue to the clergy of the diocese of Aosta on July 25, 2005. An important footnote, because it concerns precisely one of the points on which Benedict XVI maintains that an exception could be opened in the general ban on communion. * In the first part of his essay, the pope reiterates that this ban is not an invention of the Catholic Church. The Church has no choice but to adhere to the teaching of Christ, who expressed himself with absolute clarity on the indissolubility of marriage. But of what kind of marriage? Saint Paul – the pope recalls – recognizes the absolute indissolubility only of sacramental marriage, between Christians. For marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian, the apostle admits the possibility of separation, if the purpose is that of safeguarding the faith of the baptized spouse. And the Church also does so today with the "privilegium paulinum," when it permits the dissolution of a non-sacramental marriage. * In the second part of the essay, pope Ratzinger addresses the objection of those who maintain that the Catholic Church should imitate the more flexible practice of the ancient Church and of the Eastern Churches separated from Rome. The pope recalls that in the first centuries, some Fathers "sought pastoral solutions for rare borderline cases," and mentions the name of Saint Leo the Great. But overall, he says, "divorced and remarried members of the faithful were never officially admitted to Holy Communion," not even after a period of penance. In the following centuries, however, the pope says there were two opposing developments: "In the imperial Church after Constantine, with the ever stronger interplay between Church and state, a greater flexibility and readiness for compromise in difficult marital situations was sought. Up until the Gregorian reform [of the eleventh century], a similar tendency was present in the Gallic and Germanic lands. In the Eastern churches separated from Rome, this development progressed farther in the second millennium and led to an increasingly more liberal praxis." In the West, however, "on account of the Gregorian reform, the original concept of the Church Fathers was recovered. This development came to its conclusion at the Council of Trent and was once again expressed as a doctrine of the Church at the Second Vatican Council." * In the third part of his essay, Pope Benedict replies to those who demand that the Catholic Church respect the choice of the divorced and remarried when "in conscience" they believe it just to receive communion, in contrast with the juridical norm that bans it. Benedict XVI begins with a consideration that seems to close any sort of loophole: "If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception." A norm, the indissolubility of marriage, that is of "divine law" and "over which the Church has no discretionary authority." But immediately afterward, he adds: "However, the Church has the authority to clarify those conditions which must be fulfilled for a marriage to be considered indissoluble according to the sense of Jesus' teaching." And, he writes, the ecclesiastical tribunals that should ascertain whether or not a marriage is valid do not always function well. Sometimes the processes "last an excessive amount of time." In some cases "they conclude with questionable decisions."In still others "mistakes occur." In these cases, therefore – the pope recognizes –, "it seems that the application of 'epikeia' in the internal forum is not automatically excluded," meaning a decision of conscience: "Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false. Others maintain that exceptions are possible here in the internal forum, because the juridical forum does not deal with norms of divine law, but rather with norms of ecclesiastical law. This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions". cont.