OTTAWA (CCN) — Pope Francis has deliberately avoided precision on the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried and welcomes the ongoing debate, says the Archbishop of Gatineau, Que.
“My feeling is that he wants to see where the Spirit will lead the church in this,” Archbishop Paul-André Durocher told a Theology on Tap in Ottawa July 20. “Obviously this has led to controversy in the church and areas of strong opinions that were expressed.”
“There are still strong opinions, and the pope is saying ‘That’s OK, we’re adults, we can continue discussing this, we can continue having strong opinions on this and seek what God’s will is,’ so that’s where we are.”
The former president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) attended both the 2014, and 2015 synods on the family, first in his role as CCCB president, and second as part of a four-man delegation elected by the Conference.
“This issue of the pastoral care of divorced and remarried couples was a very hot issue during both synods, because there were very strong opinions on both sides,” he said.
Durocher said he would listen to one person argue “Yes,” giving all his reasons, and think, “He’s right!”
But then he’d listen to someone saying, “No,” and giving all his reasons and think, “He’s right!”
“I personally felt very, very split about it,” he said.
Durocher said he suggested during one of the discussions that maybe we could learn from St. Paul’s answer in 1 Corinthians when he was asked if it was permissible to eat the meat that has been sacrificed to the Greek gods.
“Corinth was a city of Greece, with all sorts of temples to Greek gods,” he said. “People would bring an animal to offer as a sacrifice. That meat after sacrificed to the God, afterwards the priest would sell it on the market to make money. People would buy that meat and cook it and eat it.”
Some argued it would be sacrilegious to eat the meat; others argued the meat was not sacrificed to real gods, “what they’ve done is a kind of empty religious ritual, so I can eat it.”
St. Paul responded that while everything is permissible in Christ, “not everything is constructive,” Durocher said. “You might feel eating this meat, there’s nothing to it, there’s no harm, but the person next to you might not be at that level in that faith or might have a different approach and you are scandalizing them and you are breaking the unity of the community.”
“So it is good to do that?” he asked. “Maybe it’s permissible but maybe it’s not constructive.”
The archbishop said the overall message of chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia deals with accompanying and supporting people who may not be living the ideal; helping them to discern where God is leading them; and helping them to integrate into the church.
In chapter eight, the pope “kind of opens up” the possibility of communion in a footnote to a discussion on how accompaniment, typically by a priest, can help people grow in their faith, in their relationship with God, the archbishop said. The footnote says, “these can include on certain occasions access to reconciliation and communion, but the pope doesn’t say what those circumstances are; he doesn’t say what that situation would be.”
Durocher stressed that, a couple of months ago, Pope Francis said this is not a question of saying all divorced couples can now come to church and receive communion.
“So it’s at the level of a personal discernment, trying to find where the Spirit is leading us, and the pope hasn’t given more precision than that,” he said.
Asked what can be done to address the loss of a marriage culture in that province, where only a third of marriageable age adults are married, and of those who are married, only half have married in the church, Durocher said the Quebec bishops are focused “100 per cent” on evangelization.
“The real challenge is the new evangelization,” the archbishop said. “I think we need to bring people to the Gospel before we bring people to marriage.”
“People have lost a sense of God in their lives,” he said. “We need to bring them to that if we want to help them discover their relationship as being bound up in their relationship with God.”
Durocher’s presentation covered the whole document, highlighting the parts that would be especially inspiring and encouraging for the audience of predominantly Catholics under 35.
He said the CCCB will be releasing later this year nine video clips of about five minutes in length presented by different bishops to discuss various chapters of Amoris Laetitia. Durocher said he would be presenting on chapters four and five.