Francis' letter is eagerly awaited © Ettore Ferrari
"Joy of love": with these words the Pope begins his message on marriage and the family. The letter summarizes the results of the two synods of bishops on the topic. And is eagerly awaited by.
The content is not yet known, but the first words are. On 8. Pope Francis' message on marriage and family to be published in April. The letter, which has a binding character and summarizes the results of the two world bishops' meetings in the fall of 2014 and 2015, is entitled "Amoris laetitia" – "Joy of Love".
Wide range of topics
According to reports, the document comprises 200 pages. And is likely to attract a great deal of attention worldwide. How does the Catholic Church feel about remarried divorcees, what does the pope say about sexual morality, does he say anything about dealing with homosexuality? The range of opinions on these and other questions was wide among the bishops of the universal Church and will probably remain so after the publication of the "post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation".
At last fall's synod, the German-language group, which included Cardinals Walter Kasper, Reinhard Marx, Gerhard Ludwig Muller and Austria's Christoph Schonborn, had made forays into renewing Catholic marriage theology through the Magisterium. And strives to mediate between advocates of reform and preservationists of the status quo.
Mixed mood in Germany
At the "grassroots" in Germany, the mood is mixed. "We hope for greater convergence between pastoral practice, which has long been going differently, and the Magisterium," says the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg.
In concrete terms, the highest body of the Catholic laity in Germany is in favor of allowing remarried divorcees to receive communion. This question could also be decided by the national bishops' conferences; it is not a dogmatic problem that can only be decided in Rome.
Stephan Goertz, a moral theologian from Mainz, puts it this way: "Perhaps the Pope is opening up the possibility that remarried people – after a process of reconciliation with the Church – will no longer be described as living in a state of irregularity." At the same time, he warns against exaggerated expectations. A further development in the area of concrete commandments, for example on contraception or homosexuality, would be morally theological in his view, according to Goertz, "but obviously the time is not yet ripe for it".
Remarried divorcees take communion?
As for remarried divorcees, quite a few of them already take communion in German parishes. "It is not my place to deny someone the sacrament," say many pastors. Wolfgang Picken, dean in the south of Bonn, is more concerned about another aspect: "Of course we have to think about the failure of relationships. But at least as pressing is the question of how we can prevent just that and strengthen the success of marriage and family again."
Jesuit Father Hermann Kugler of the Contact Point of the Catholic Church in Leipzig for questions of life and faith sees the significance of the papal message for his own concrete work very soberly: "For the non-Christians who come to the Contact Point with their concerns, the family synod is completely irrelevant – for their way of life it is about as significant as the question of whether there are gophers in Australia or whether the number of stars is even or odd."
But with what feelings do those "affected" look at the Pope's letter?? Anna and Bernhard Richter (both names changed) are remarried divorcees – she Protestant, he Catholic – and have been involved in both parishes for years. Of course they would be happy about more acceptance on the part of the Catholic church leadership, they say. "But we continue to live our lives, no matter what the message says." Bernhard Richter would never take the path to annulment of the first marriage, which is also repeatedly brought into play by Francis. "After all, I loved the person I married at the time, too," he says. "I do not want to undo that."