The secretary general of the Italian Bishops’ Conference has said that “unconventional couples” suffer “discrimination” and “prejudice” from the Church.
Speaking at a conference on the liturgy in Orvieto organized by the Liturgical Renewal Centre, Bishop Nunzio Galantino gave a clear signal when he said, “The burden of exclusion from the sacraments is an unjustified price to pay, in addition to de facto discrimination.”
“Couples in irregular matrimonial situations are also Christians, but they are sometimes looked upon with prejudice,” he said, according to the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire.
Bishop Galantino stopped short of openly advocating that the prohibition be dropped, saying, “With sincerity, we should also recognize that other believers perceive the discipline of the Church as an exclusion of these brothers and sisters, and, at times, observe them with a look of injury,” an attitude he called “de facto discrimination.” Although, he added, “they cannot receive Eucharistic communion.”
LifeSiteNews contacted Bishop Galantino's office for clarification by phone and email but did not hear back by press time.
A number of prominent clerics have recently placed themselves in a growing camp of supporters for the suggestion that the Church should simply drop its prohibition on distributing Communion to Catholics 'remarried' outside the Church. At February’s consistory of cardinals, German Cardinal Walter Kasper argued the Church should allow Communion for those who have undertaken a “period of penance” but who have no intention of regularizing their situations. The cardinal claims that this would have no impact on Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
The Catholic Church, taking its foundation from the words of Christ in the Gospels, teaches that divorce is impossible and that a person who undertakes a civil divorce and then “remarries” is in reality committing adultery. Adultery being a grave, or “mortal” sin, those in such situations cannot receive Communion until they have been sacramentally absolved and have changed their living situations.
According to Galantino, “Eucharistic celebration should be ‘a place where everyone feels at home,’ including migrants, faithful in irregular marriage situations, the disabled, the sick, the poor, the elderly and children.”
Paraphrasing the title of one of Pope Benedict’s encyclicals, Caritas in Veritate, Bishop Galantino said that the key was an “attitude of charity in truth.” In dealing with those in irregular marital situations, he said that in the Church “we must honestly admit that we have no longer insisted on the truth when we haven’t exercised charity.”
“I speak of that pastoral charity,” he said, “which is the primary responsibility of the pastors of the Church, but also other members and the Christian community as a whole, that pastoral charity which for people facing marriage and family difficulties means acceptance, understanding, accompanying and support.”
He said that those who live in such “irregular” situations “live their condition with great suffering” and “perceive the discipline of the Church as very strict, not inclusive, if not punitive.”
Zenit news service also noted that Galantino said the Christians should follow the example of Pope Francis and adopt the attitude of a Church that “goes out” and “takes the initiative” to be “friendly” and “close the gap.” He held up Cardinal Kasper and the Dominican priest Yves Congar as theological leaders, saying that in the past the Church has looked up on people who were divorced and civilly remarried as “adulterers,” but added that the world has moved on from such opinions.
Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion immediately unleashed a storm of controversy after he presented in February. His keynote address at the consistory received scorching criticism both from lay commentators and high-ranking clerics who have said that such a practice would be “impossible.” Kasper’s speech was intended as a prelude to the deliberations on the various issues surrounding the family at the upcoming Synod of Bishops, set for the Vatican in October.
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Kasper, a prominent and very public theological opponent of Pope Benedict XVI, has given interviews in the US and elsewhere promoting his idea of allowing Communion for divorced and remarried people as a matter of “compassion.” The issue has long been a “hot button” one for the Catholic Church in Germany, whose bishops have spearheaded the movement in the face of falling Church revenues.
Bishop Galantino was hand picked by Pope Francis to fill the position of secretary of the powerful Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a country where the Church still wields considerable influence in secular politics.
In May this year, Galantino angered pro-life advocates around the world when he told an interviewer that he does not “identify” with those Catholics who pray the Rosary outside abortion facilities.
“I do not identify with the expressionless faces of those who recite the Rosary outside the clinics who practice interruption of pregnancy, [‘l’interruzione della gravidanza’] but with those young people who are opposed to this practice and strive for the quality of life of the people, for their right to health, to work,” he said.
He added, “In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”
His comments were strongly criticized by Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life in the US, and by John Smeaton, the head of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Fr. Pavone responded, “When somebody says that the Church has ‘concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia,’ I take it as a compliment for the success of ministries like Priests for Life, which have called and will call upon the clergy, and indeed the entire Church, to sound the alarm about these atrocities more loudly and clearly than ever. Nor will we stop calling for that until the killing stops.”
John Smeaton, in an open letter addressed to Galantino, said, “I thought I would let you know that I do identify with the person outside the abortion clinic praying their rosary, whether or not the person is expressionless.”
“It’s probably fair to say that tens of thousands of unborn children, each one made in the image and likeness of God, are killed every day throughout the world. For example, there are 500 killed daily in Britain, thousands in the US, thousands upon thousands in China, to name just three of the world’s 193 countries.”