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Italian bishops bash 'irregular' liaisons.

No sacraments until irregulars give up sex

ROME -- Unveiling a pastoral directory on the family, Italy's bishops said they were trying to reach out to Catholics in "irregular" marriage situations, while insisting on rules limiting their participation in the sacraments.

Whatever the bishops' intention, the document provoked an uproar when it was published Oct. 8. Many Italian press reports and commentators described the church's policies as outdated and overly harsh.

The directory emphasized that Catholics living in irregular unions -- including those divorced, separated or cohabiting -- still belong to the church and should participate in its activities. The whole church needs to better recognize this fact, it said.

But the bishops said these people are not in full communion with the church because "their condition is in contradiction with the gospel" and with its call for indissoluble marriage.

Much of the attention was focused on policies toward Catholics who have divorced and remarried. The directory said such couples deserve acceptance in the church and understanding by pastors, but can be readmitted to the sacraments only when they repent and regularize their situation. This may mean a return to their original marriage or, where circumstances such as age and care of children make this impossible, a commitment by such couples to "interrupt their sexual life together and transform their tie into friendship."

Translated into Italian headlines the next day, the policy read: "The Church to Divorced and Remarried Catholics: No Sex If You Want the Sacraments." The bishops quickly pointed out that their policy was already part of Italian pastoral norms and was also outlined by Pope John Paul II in his 1981 document on the family, Familiaris Consortio.

In the face of instant and widespread criticism, Archbishop Dionigi Tettamenzi, secretary of the Italian bishop's conference, defended this particular section. "The church is not proposing an outmoded severity," he said. He said he knew of some divorced and remarried couples who had decided to live "as brother and sister" in order to make their full peace with the church. Even those who cannot achieve this ideal will appreciate the church's "coherence" in defending marriage as indissoluble, he told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The directory also gave pastoral norms for other situations:

* Separated Catholics can still receive the sacraments. The church recognizes that grave difficulties may make living together practically impossible. It expects such couples to remain ready to forgive and willing to unite again with their spouses.

* A distinction is made between a spouse who is a victim of divorce and one who has "moral responsibility" for it. Catholics who "suffer" a divorce and who avoid a subsequent union can receive the sacraments, as long as civil divorce was seen as the only way to assure legitimate rights such as the care of children. A spouse who asked for a divorce, in order to receive the sacraments, must sincerely repent and convince the pastor that he or she respects the original marriage bond -- and that if he or she lives separated from the spouse, it is for morally valid reasons.

* Regarding the growing number of Italian Catholic couples living together outside of marriage, or who are married only civilly, the directory plainly states that they cannot receive the sacraments, and encourages sensitive pastoral efforts to bring them to the alter.

* Sexual relations between unmarried couples are unacceptable for the church, even for engaged couples, the directory states. It said pastors should encourage engaged couples to avoid "imprudent" behavior, such as taking vacations together.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has reported that both the pastoral and the pope's new encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, are being met in Italy with a growing backlash of dissent from Catholics who find the directives too restraining.

While the papal encyclical seemed to create the most stir in academic and theological circles, the bishops' declaration hit home. Across Italy -- where most people call themselves Roman Catholic but often diverge from church edicts -- many prominent residents renounced the Vatican's latest directive.

"This sets the church back at least 200 years," said popular television host Pippo Baudo, who is divorced and remarried.

Added fashion designer Laura Biagiotti: "This seems to me to be something from the Middle Ages."

The timing of the release of the pastoral also may have added to the backlash. Only three days earlier, the pope issued Veritatis Splendor, which reaffirmed the Vatican's intolerance of those seeking to amend basic church tenets, such as bans on divorce.
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Title Annotation:unmarried Italian couples
Author:Thavis, John
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 22, 1993
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