Polish, Eastern Catholic Bishops Stand Firm on Pastoral Care for Families

By Andrea Gagliarducci

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and other Eastern Catholic bishops gathered at St. Peter's Square, Nov. 27, 2013. Credit: Kyle Burkhart/CNA.ROME, Jun 9, 2015 (CNA/EWTN News) -- During recent meetings which were held separately, both the Polish bishops and the Eastern Catholic bishops from Europe have discussed the family in view of the upcoming Synod on the Family, and are likely to uphold Catholic pastoral care for families.

The bishops from Poland will be on the front line at the synod, giving an overall view of the family and not focusing merely on the contentious issues of access to Communion for the divorced and remarried, and pastoral openings to homosexual relationships.

A source in a congregation at the Roman Curia told CNA that “the feeling of the Polish bishops is that John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and family has been betrayed” by the “shadow council” led by some German bishops at the Pontifical Gregorian University on May 25.

The lecture delivered the last week of May to the Polish bishops' conference's general assembly by Fr. Dariusz Kowalczyk, SJ, gives one to understand the issues at stake for the Polish bishops.

Grounded in St. John Paul II's pastoral care and speaking about granting access to Communion for the divorced and remarried, Fr. Kowalczyk indicated two criticisms.

“The first question we should ask ourselves,” he said, “is this: Does the Church have the authority to give sacramental absolution and Holy Communion to divorced persons cohabiting in non-sacramental unions? This question of Communion for those people is comparable to the issue of the mandatory celibacy of priests, or on another the level, to that of ordaining women.”

He then continued: “If we answer the question of Communion for remarried divorcees by saying that a change in the Church's current doctrine and practice is possible, then a second question can be asked: From the pastoral viewpoint, would the new, proposed sacramental practice be useful? Would it edify the Church or not? After all, the fact that something could be possible from the doctrinal point of view, does not necessarily imply that it would be good for the Church from a pastoral point of view.”

Fr. Kowalczyk then concluded that “We have two arguments here: one is doctrinal and the other pastoral – a risk of confusion on the indissolubility of marriage. Both concern the sacramental sign, which has theological, anthropological, and didactic meanings.”

The doctrinal argument, he said, “can be considered from two perspectives: that of sin, which contradicts sacramental Communion (understood both as a sacramental sign and as grace), and that of the relation between the meanings of each of the sacraments.”

The arguments presented by Fr. Kowalczyk – that admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion would contradict the nuptial significance of the Eucharist, and it would also confuse people about the indissolubility of marriage – will be core issues at October's Synod of Bishops.

In addition to the Polish bishops, the Eastern Catholic bishops of Europe have also held a meeting regarding the family and its pastoral care.

The more than 40 bishops met in Prague June 4-7 to further develop their responses to the many challenges facing families. Among the participants were Archbishop Cyril Vasil', secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Archbishop Vasil' contributed a chapter to Remaining in the Truth of Christ, in which he argued that there is no coherent position among the Eastern Orthodox Churches which favors oikonomia – a practice which some, including Cardinal Kasper, have cited as a justification for admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion.

At the conclusion of their meeting, the Eastern Catholic bishops stated that the Church, including particularly Eastern Catholic Churches, “gives its yes to the family, the fundamental cell of human society where every person becomes more and more him / herself.”

“The family, the domestic Church spoken of by Saint John Chrysostom and repeated by the Second Vatican Council, as workshop and training ground for humanity, is not just the place where the transmission of faith happens, but where the fundamental principles of living together are learned … husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters are called to love each other: everyone in the family has a unique and important role.”

The Eastern Catholic bishops added that “in preparation for the Synod of Bishops … the episcopal participants at the meeting were committed to promoting an evermore careful preparation for the sacrament of matrimony, so that husband and wife, with the strength of grace, might generate a true communion of life welcoming children and educating them.”

The Eastern Catholic bishops also discussed “the on-going situation of external aggression” in eastern Ukraine, where Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists are fighting the national government. The bishops “demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Ukraine, above all the Greek Catholics, exhorting them to pursue the path of dialogue and unity between the country's Christian churches which a particular attitude of misinformation – especially at the international level – aims to undermine.”

Finally, the bishops discussed the "too ‘discretionary’ attitude – bordering on discrimination" toward Catholics by local governments in southeastern Europe “which seem to want to attack the Catholic Church under the administrative, economic and financial profile.”



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