La Civiltà Cattolica: Synod 'Opened Door' to Communion for Divorced-Remarried

Editorial in influential Jesuit journal says ordinary synod on the family 'laid foundations' for access to the sacraments

Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ
Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ (photo: Europa)

The editor of an influential Jesuit periodical whose content is allegedly vetted by Pope Francis has penned an important new article on last month’s Ordinary Synod on the Family in which he controversially claims the meeting “laid the foundations” for civilly remarried divorcees to be admitted to the sacraments.

Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica which is screened by the Secretariat of State, said paragraphs 84-86 of the synod’s final report relating to pastoral care for remarried-divorcees underline the importance of pastoral “discernment” on a case-by-case basis, “without putting any limits on integration, as appeared in the past.”

Noting that the report says such discernment would be guided by a priest in the “internal forum” (in the confessional), Father Spadaro said that “concerning access to the sacraments, the ordinary synod has therefore effectively laid the foundations, opening a door” that had been “closed” at the “previous synod”.

He added that “one may rightly speak of a new step” because last year the issue failed to attain a two-thirds majority of synod fathers. The issue would therefore normally have been rejected had Pope Francis not insisted the issue be carried over into last month’s meeting.

Father Spadaro’s comments, first brought to wider public attention in an article by the Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister, run contrary to many assurances from other synod fathers who stressed that no door had been opened at the synod to holy Communion for remarried divorcees as the sacraments aren’t in any way mentioned in the relevant paragraphs.

But the Jesuit priest, noting that some synod fathers saw the door as "closed", said others saw it as "open" or “open for different reasons” on the general grounds of “an essential pastoral attitude.” Furthermore, he argued, the Pope himself used the image of the door in his homily at the opening Mass of the Synod, urging the Church to "be a ‘field hospital’ with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support.”

Elsewhere in the article, Father Spadaro discussed the controversial issue of synodality, saying that a pastoral solution that is “good for New Zealand is not so for Lithuania, an approach valid in Germany is not so for Guinea.”

Quoting Pope Francis, he said that “beyond the dogmatic questions” fully defined in the Church’s magisterium, what can seem normal for one bishop on a particular continent can “appear strange, almost a scandal” to another, and “that which is considered the violation of a right in one society can be an obvious and inviolable principle in another; that which for some is freedom of conscience, for others can be only confusion.”

Critics of this model of synodality say it would lead the Church towards a quasi-Anglican structure in which the magisterium would be interpreted differently depending on local pastoral situations. Father Spadaro views the Pope’s approach as understanding Catholicism as the “universality of the Church” that is neither “depersonalized” nor in “uniformity.”

The Jesuit also said the “key to the work of the synod” and an “important element to understanding the process the Pope has started” is to look at two quotes from Francis that he gave at the beginning and at the end of the synod.

For the first, he quoted the Pope in his opening address to the synod: that the Church should be one that “questions herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.”

For the second, he quoted the Pope’s homily at his daily Mass in the Casa Santa Martha on Oct. 23, in which Francis said: “Times are changing and we Christians must change continually. We must change whilst remaining fixed to our faith in Jesus Christ, fixed to the truth of the Gospel but we must adapt our attitude continuously according to the signs of the times.”

As well as every edition of La Civiltà Cattolica passing the scrutiny of the Secretariat of State and, during this pontificate, apparently Pope Francis himself, Father Spadaro is also one of the Holy Father’s closest advisers. This has lead Magister and others to conclude that he essentially speaks for Francis and is therefore giving clues as to the probable contents of the Holy Father's concluding document on the Synod on the Family, expected to appear in a few months.

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