Three divorced Catholics, three viewpoints on whether the bishops attending next month’s Synod on the family should loosen the rules to let Catholics who divorced and then remarried without an annulment receive Communion.
One thinks the current policy is simply unenforceable, unless the Vatican starts hanging wanted posters of divorced Catholics around town. Another believes in following the rules, but didn’t like it when they were applied to him. And the third wants no change in doctrine, but says local churches desperately need counselors for Catholics going through a divorce.
So when the bishops tackle this thorny issue, they will be faced not just with a divided flock, but also with a pope who has hinted that the Church should reconsider its approach.
What a discussion this could turn out to be.
Mary Jane Stevenson, 60, of Dallas
Don’t use Communion as a stick
Stevenson believes that divorced and remarried Catholics should be welcome to receive Communion.
She went through a divorce and annulment in 1992 that she called “quite onerous,” but believes there is a place for such a process in the church. However, the current policy is unenforceable, in her view.
“I’ve always said that unless the Vatican puts out ‘wanted’ posters in post offices, and every priest around the world checks all these posters before Mass, how would they know?”
“I really don’t see that Communion should be used as a weapon, as a stick,” she said.
She has read the synod documents, and her impression is that bishops “have very little concept of what it’s like to be a layperson.” She hopes they consult some laywomen as an official part of the synod.
Greg Mills, 64, of Ft. Worth, Texas
It takes courage to be divorced and Catholic
Mills believes the bishops deserve credit for being willing to tackle a difficult topic, and believes “it takes courage” for a divorced person to remain an active Catholic.
He went through a divorce about 8 years ago; today he volunteers with the Catholic Divorce Ministry. He said he can see the bishops’ point of view, even though he “didn’t necessarily like it when it was applied to me.”
And while he can understand why people hope for doctrinal change, he said it’s important “to remember that nothing has changed as of today. The rules are in place, and we have to remember that.”
Rose Sweet, 63, of Palm Desert, Calif.
Divorcing Catholics need more help
During her divorce nearly 20 years ago, Sweet said she could not find the help she needed to cope with her situation at her parish. As a result, she wants the Church to throw more resources to pastoral care at the local level.
“Positive change would be somebody at every parish, who, like me, knows the teachings of the church, is completely committed to sharing the beauty and the truth of that to help other people, and who is capable of dealing with divorced people,” she said.
Sweet, who writes and speaks on divorce for Catholic audiences, called current Catholic teaching on divorce “beautiful,” though largely misunderstood, and believes that following church teaching does not hinder freedom, but yields in greater “humility, virtue, patience, understanding, endurance, a bigger capacity to love, a greater capacity for forgiveness, and really a deeper love for the church and for the sacraments.”
Which is why, she said, “Communion isn’t something we just go and demand, or that we have a right to get because we were baptized. That’s like saying, ‘I married you, and I have your wedding ring, so we’re doing it tonight even though you’re not in the mood.’ ”