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Benedictions: The Pope in America

An item in the current edition of The Tablet of London hints at a possible opening for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion–even though many do, obviously, their ban from the altar under church law remains one of the sorest pastoral points in the US church. It is also a sore point in Austria, a once uber-Catholic country, whose flock has grown increasingly disillusioned with its leadership.
Now one of those leaders, Cardinal Christophe Schonborn of Vienna, a close ally of Pope Benedict, seems to have suggested that there may be a way to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to remain in the church’s good graces. According to the article, Schönborn “has said it is essential to ‘broaden the perspective’ of the Church’s treatment of remarried divorcees, hinting that he could see circumstances under which they should be allowed to receive Communion, such as if they acknowledged their guilt and attempted to reconcile with family members.”

Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, where one in two marriages ends in divorce, made his comments in an interview with the Austrian daily Die Presse last weekend. He suggested wronged partners deserved different treatment from those who have been unfaithful. “And then there is the question of the abandoned partners who often have a far more difficult time than those who have already found new partners,” he said. He said he would like to see attention distributed more evenly and the problems of “those who have no one to stand up for them in public” included.

Cardinal Schönborn’s own parents separated when he was young. “True compassion lies first of all in discussing what is to blame and not promising a quick cure by means of a sacramental sticking plaster.” He said that only if and when each case had been honestly appraised, which involved a period of grieving, remorse and perhaps also reconciliation, was it possible to assess, at a diocesan level, whether it made sense to allow people to receive the sacraments again.

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