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German Archbishop Says The Catholic Church’s Stance On Divorce Makes People ‘Doubt God’

Archbishop Heiner Koch CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALESSANDRA TARANTINO
Archbishop Heiner Koch CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALESSANDRA TARANTINO

A German archbishop is calling on the Catholic Church to reconsider its practice of barring parishioners who have divorced and remarried from receiving communion, saying the practice makes people “doubt God.”

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch addressed the issue during the ongoing Synod on the Family, a gathering of roughly 270 Catholic elite convened by Pope Francis to discuss family issues such as homosexuality, divorce, and priestly celibacy, among other things.

Koch dedicated the majority of his allotted three minutes of speaking time to the subject of divorced and remarried Catholics who kept from receiving the Eucharist. He said the Church’s traditional arguments to support the ban “do not silence the questions in the hearts of people,” and called for the assembly to rethink its stance.

Is there no place at the Lord’s table for people who experienced and suffered an irreversible break in their lives?

“Is there no place at the Lord’s table for people who experienced and suffered an irreversible break in their lives?” Koch said, according to an English translation of his remarks. “How perfect and holy must one be to be allowed to the supper of the Lord? … It becomes clear to me every time that the question of allowing divorced and remarried people to the Eucharist is not in the first place a question about the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage.”

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“Many people question the Church and her mercy in this regard,” he added. “More than a few people concerned leave the Church with their children on the basis of what they see as rejection … For many, the question of admittance to the Eucharist makes them doubt God.”

Some conservative Catholics see Koch’s position as tantamount to apostasy, arguing it abandons centuries of Church teaching. Yet the archbishop’s charge echoes Francis’ own conciliatory take on the ban. In August, Francis lamented the harsh treatment of couples who remarry without the Church’s blessing, saying in a papal address, “[they] are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”

“They always belong to the church,” Francis said, sparking applause. “The church is called to be always the open house of the Father. … No closed doors! No closed doors!”

Francis has also taken steps to amend the process of procuring an annulment, which is when the Church dissolves a marriage by declaring that it was never valid to begin with. The pontiff announced in September that he will streamline the notoriously complicated system, removing some of the Vatican red tape and empowering local bishops to rule on annulment cases where the result of the request is “particularly evident.”

“The impulse for reform is fed by the enormous numbers of the faithful who … are too often alienated from the juridical structures of the church,” he said.

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The Synod on the Family is the second such meeting in two years, and is scheduled to continue throughout the month of October. Francis opened the gathering by making remarks that appeared to condemn same-sex relationships, but called for the Church to “welcome and accompany” those who fall short of its theological standards.

Although the Synod is influential, it cannot in and of itself alter Church teaching. It can only put forward recommendations to be considered at future Church gatherings.