Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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March 16, 2008


Last month Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg was elected Chair of the German RC Bishops' Conference. He succeeds Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, who had held the office for twenty years. Lehmann encountered disapproval in Rome for his favoring optional priestly celibacy, admitting to Holy Communion divorced and remarried Catholics, and for a program of counseling centers run by the German church for those seeking abortions. The Vatican ordered that this program be shut down. Both the Vatican's position and that of the German bishops could be readily understood. Before state permission could be given for a woman to have an abortion, she was required to undertake a counseling program that fully explained the nature and effects of an abortion. The center would then issue a certificate that the woman would present to arrange her abortion. The bishops authorized the establishment of such counseling centers. The women went through the counseling. If they decided to proceed with the abortion, the center would issue the necessary certificate. The bishops were of the mind that here was an opportunity to dissuade the woman from having the abortion by presenting the moral, psychological, and other consequences of an abortion. If the woman continued in her quest for the abortion, the center would certify that she had been counseled as required by civil law. The Vatican disagreed with the bishops and, seeing the issuance of the certificate as cooperation, ordered the program shut down.

Archbishop Zollitsch, on his election, stated that he was of the same mind that characterized his predecessor as regards priestly celibacy and Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried.
In various Synods of Bishops over recent years, and notably in the Synod for Oceania and in the Synod for Asia, formal proposals were made for permission to ordain marred men, citing the shortage of priests. One Oceania bishop told how he had to send consecrated hosts out to large islands by airplane because he did not have enough priests. In neither of those Synods did the proposals made by the bishops make it to the list presented to John Paul II. They had been screened out by the Synod Secretariat.

Both of the above named Synods, and others as well, have petitioned the pope to work out a way for the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. Any individual in pastoral work knows full well many wonderful families, living lives of faith and bringing their children up in the faith, but barred from Holy Communion by one spouse having been divorced. Bishops in the Asian Synod told of the small minority of Catholics in their countries, surrounded by people of other faiths -Muslim. Buddhist, Hindu - with a complexity of intermarriages and prior unions that the most skilled canon lawyer could ever unscramble. But Catholic spouses want the sacramental union with Jesus in the sacrament of His love! Archbishop Zollitsch, Archbishop Lehmann, and Cardinal Walter Kaspar, formerly archbishop of Stuttgart and now a Vatican official, have persisted over the years in seeking the admission to Communion of the divorced and remarried.
They have not been successful.

Note: Those of us Catholics, priests and lay, who at times disagree, as do the bishops named
above, with various policies of the Vatican, revere the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, the iron band, if you will, that holds the barrel together. To seek stronger roles for local churches, as was the situation with the ancient patriarchates, over the ever increasing centralization of authority in Rome, does not make the seeker a dissident, a trouble-maker, a burr under the saddle. When Japanese bishop Bernard Oshikawa strongly objects to liturgical texts being sent to Rome for translation into Japanese rather than being translated under the Japanese bishops in Japan, he is not trying to shake the pillars of the Church but to insure better translations.


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