“Theologically well founded”

The Catholic moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff from Freiburg sees the new pastoral guidelines of the Archdiocese of Freiburg as a significant step in the Catholic reform process.

CBA: Mr. Schockenhoff, how do you evaluate the new handout on pastoral care for divorced and second-time married Catholics?

Schockenhoff: It is an outstretched hand to people who, after divorce and entering into a civil second marriage, have so far found it difficult to keep in touch with the church. An open invitation now goes out to them to participate without restriction not only in worship but also in sacramental life and to receive communion, which the Church calls the culmination and source of Christian life. And in the future, remarried people will no longer be rejected out of hand when they ask for the Church's blessing for their life's journey.

CBA: But what is really changing now? In many places, what the new guidelines formulate was already common practice?

Schockenhoff: This is true, but because it is now also proposed in a handout of the Pastoral Office, it takes on a completely different public dimension. Those who receive communion in this life situation now know that they are officially invited to do so, and that they are not claiming for themselves a special path that should actually be denied to them. This is an important, significant step. With this, the Archdiocese of Freiburg has taken on a pioneering role in the Church in Germany. It is to be hoped that now many other dioceses follow this step.

CBA: So far, however, many German dioceses have said that we cannot do anything without Rome or even against it…

Schockenhoff: But Pope Francis has changed the relationship between the Vatican as the center and the local churches. Francis obviously wants to give the local churches more freedom to make their own decisions – also in the area of pastoral care. And now it is important that the local churches and the bishops are also prepared to use this freedom responsibly. They should stop being in each other's way and thereby blocking important reform steps. They should go this way together, which is now preceded by a diocese.

CBA: 20 years ago, there was already a similar initiative of the then Bishop of Freiburg, together with his bishop colleagues in Rottenburg-Stuttgart and Mainz, which was stopped by the Vatican. Could it come to that again today?

Schockenhoff: There can always be headwinds. It is also not yet entirely assessable how far Pope Francis' initiatives will find support in the Curia. But you have to stand up to any headwinds you encounter. If something is theologically well founded and has proven itself many times over in pastoral experience, then the time is simply ripe to take a step forward.

CBA: One ie where the new guidelines refer to the federal level of the Bishops' Conference is ecclesiastical labor law. How could it continue here?

Schockenhoff: Here I hope that the new guidelines will have a catalytic effect. Because church service law has so far provided for automatic termination for employees who enter into a civil second marriage – or even a same-sex partnership. Precisely because it is argued that this contradicts the duties of loyalty that require an ecclesiastical employee to adhere to the moral teachings of the Church in the conduct of his or her life. But if the church in its inner sacramental life no longer rejects people in this life situation, then this should surely also apply in the outer areas of service law, and a breach of loyalty obligations should no longer automatically result in dismissal.

CBA: The bishops' conference has appointed a task force to address these ies…

Schockenhoff: Yes, and I hope that there will now be tailwind for changes. But organizations such as the sponsors of church hospitals, which are not directly dependent on the Bishops' Conference and have their own responsibility in this area, can now feel encouraged to refrain from dismissals in the future.

CBA: Critics, however, might object that the handout damages and softens the Church's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

Schockenhoff: I don't see it that way, just the opposite is true: only by making it possible for the Church to deal with failure and guilt in a way that doesn't simply mean the final end of participation in Church life, only by showing mercy, only by making the ideal of indissoluble marriage attainable and practicable. And thus she takes away the shyness of many to dare a marriage at all. The tension between a moral ideal, an indissoluble principle, and its concrete realization is always part of life and morality in a reality that is also characterized by fractures and difficulties.

CBA: Do you also expect the innovations to have a signal effect for further reform demands in the Catholic Church?

Schockenhoff: An important step forward has now been taken with regard to remarried divorcees. But I don't want to make an automatic connection between individual reform demands. Nevertheless, atmospherically, not least due to Pope Francis, a departure in many areas is noticeable. And there is reason to hope that further steps will be taken in other areas as well.

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