ROME — In Pope Francis’ Spanish-speaking backyard, the idea that the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops might produce a change in church rules barring divorced and remarried Catholics from the sacraments, such as communion and confession, has produced hope in some quarters and alarm in others.
According to La Barca [The Ark], a Spanish-speaking on-line community with members in over 70 countries, the bishops gathering in Rome next month need to deliver on expectations of a breakthrough.
“If the church doesn’t adapt its teaching to an ever-changing society and fully welcome the divorced and remarried, it will be a major mistake and a profound and unmerited deception,” the site recently opined.
Marcos Fernández of Colombia, on the other hand, represents the kind of divorced and remarried Catholic who’s content with the status quo.
Fernández married his second wife, Laura, 19 years ago, in a violation of Church rules. Yet he said their relationship with the Church is a “constant one”, actively participating beyond the customary Sunday Mass and feeling welcome in their local parish.
“It’s a small town, not easy to hide the fact that you’re divorced and in a new union. But not once did we feel left alone or discriminated,” he told Crux.
“We love the Church and we support its teaching,” said Fernández, who had two daughters with his first wife.
His spouse, Laura, shares that view.
“Is it hard not to be able to receive communion? Undoubtedly,” she said. “But we also believe what John Paul II said: we’ll obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that we persevere in prayer, penance and charity. Not receiving the Eucharist is our penance,” she said.
Fernández was quoting a document called Familiaris Consortio [“Of Family Partnership”], a document issued by Pope John Paul II in 1981 that has a section, article 84, devoted to the divorced and remarried.
It affirms the communion ban by stating, “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.”
Julio and Adriana Frutos of Argentina take a less radical stance in favor of change than La Barca, but they have the same basic hopes.
“It’s undisputed that not being able to access the Eucharist is like living in constant fasting, and the impossibility of confessing your sins is equally or even heavier, and together (the sustained guilt and the constant hunger) constitute a weight that no one should carry too long,” Frutos said.
The couple met 16 years ago, when both were divorced and Adriana had pursued an annulment in a church court for seven years, a process she described as “painful.”
“During the annulment process, you risk losing the possibility of actually rebuilding your life,” she said.
Those looking for a clue to Pope Francis’ approach might look to a group called Camino a Nazareth (“Road to Nazareth”), a pastoral movement founded in Argentina in 1995 by a divorced and remarried couple, Silvia and Jorge Castello, and a priest named Fr. Francisco Ronconi.
In essence, the group tries to find ways of helping divorced and remarried couples to live with the present rules, rather than pressing to change them. It currently operates not just in Argentina but also in Chile and Venezuela, with plans to expand to other Latin American nations.
From the beginning the movement had the support of a big part of the Argentinian Church hierarchy, including the former Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who in 1999 sent it a letter in which he stated: “I share with you the pain you refer to. You set a clear and hopeful path, inviting those in this situation to find their own place in Our Mother Church.”
After becoming Pope Francis, Bergoglio sent another letter expressing support to the movement, which offers a nine month of formation process and then invites couples to involve themselves in their parishes.
The Castellos, who are involved in the movement, embrace Church teaching.
“People come to us saying ‘the Church won’t allow us to receive communion’,” Silvia said. “But it’s our way of living that makes it impossible to receive the previous step: reconciling with God.”
They concede that many divorced and remarried Catholics, including some inside their own movement, have different point of views.
Noemí and Roberto Rivadeneira, also from Argentina, have been together for the past 22 years, joining the group in 2003. They believe that there should be a careful admittance to communion, considering each case individually, and with the help of a priest.
“Not everyone should be admitted, but not every divorced and remarried should be banned from it either,” the couple said.
Eliana Oñate Maldonado and Carlos Núñez Salazar, from Chile, have been together since January 2004. Also members of Road to Nazareth, they embrace the responsibility of participating actively in the Church, but they feel marginalized because they can’t take communion or go to confession.
“We need for the Church to really become our Mother and to embrace God’s mercy and love,” the couple said. “As divorced and remarried [Catholics] asking to participate in the sacrament but being denied, we aren’t witnesses of that love.”