The Vatican's International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, has recommended that the Catholic Church give "full pastoral care" to divorced and remarried Catholics, even though they may not receive the sacraments of matrimony and holy communion.
Such persons "are not to be excluded from the action of divine grace and still have a bond with the Church," a recently completed document from the 30-member commission stated.
According to Belgian theologian Philippe Delhaye, secretary for the commission, the document repudiates "a rigid pastoral stance" of former times in which divorced and remarried people were "ostracized and abandoned unto themselves, like sheep without a shepherd."
The document, approved by majority vote, states that divorced and remarried Catholics "must not be ignored but rather helped equally with all other Christians who are trying to free themselves from sin with the help of God's grace."
"Still open to them are the paths of Christian prayer, both public and private, penitence and apostolic activities," it asserted.
The commission recommended that priests refuse to officiate at weddings of nonpracticing Catholics who make a request only for ceremonial or family reasons.
'In all honesty," Delhaye said, "one can only refuse to perform a ceremony which, in sum total would be a comedy."
The commission also urged priests to help prevent divorces through better premarriage preparation of engaged couples.
The international commission, made up of leading Catholic theologians, includes two U.S. scholars, Jesuit Priest Walter Burkhardt, of Washington, and Passionist priest Barnabas Ahern, of Chicago. Established by Pope Paul VI in 1968 following a recommendation from the world Synod of Bishops, the commission forwards its deliberations to the Vatican's Doctrinal Congregation for consideration and action.
In its statement on marriage, the commission restated Catholic Church teaching that valid marriages may not be dissolved. It also recommended that "the church could further define the concepts of sacramentality and consumption, explaining better their meaning so that the whole doctrine of indissolubility of marriage can be presented in a deeper and more exact way."
"The commission also recommended that the new church laws and liturgical rites should be drawn up for Christians living in non-European cultures, intimating that a European perspective dominates current Catholic practices.