German bishop claims goal is 'dialogue' on Communion for remarried

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Amid apparent opposition to the Vatican's doctrine head, a German bishop who supports admitting those who are divorced and remarried to Communion says his aim is to promote dialogue on the issue.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the emeritus archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau, was interviewed by German daily Die Welt in an article published Dec. 29.

Portions of the interview were translated into English at “In Caelo et in Terra,” adaptations of which are used here.

In October, the Freiburg archdiocese's pastoral care office wrote a document suggesting that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion under certain circumstances.

Since then, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, has several times reaffirmed that those in irregular marital unions after divorce cannot receive Holy Communion, while noting the necessity of pastoral care for such persons.

In November, he wrote to Archbishop Zollitsch, instructing him that the Freiburg draft text “is to be withdrawn and revised so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned with are in opposition to Church teaching. A careful reading of the draft shows that it does contain correct and important pastoral notes, but the terminology is unclear and does not coincide in two points with the Church's teaching.”

In his interview with Die Welt, Archbishop Zollitsch replied, saying, “that is the judgement of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Müller’s position corresponds with the Tradition he represents.”

“But the majority of people who have approached us were positive about the proposal. That tells me that we are pursuing an important issue and that it is important to find a viable solution.”

He cited Pope Francis' desire that the Church be “close to people.”

“I think that that can be a good direction in dealing also with those civilly remarried.”

The archbishop, who remains apostolic administrator of the Freiburg archdiocese, asked, “how can this topic be off the table? 35 to 40 percent of marriages end in divorce these days. As the Church we ask ourselves: How should we relate to those concerned? This is the question that our pastoral care office’s proposal asks.”

He said he feels “much strengthened” by Pope Francis, discussing the synod on marriage and family to be held in October. “There we want to present what we in Freiburg have drafted.”

Archbishop Zollitsch noted that, as president of the German bishops' conference for nearly six years, he has several times traveled to Rome “to explain our position” supporting the admittance of the divorced and remarried to Communion.

“If a prefect of one the various Congregations would then oppose this position, I would think to go slowly. A Prefect is not the Pope. I look for dialogue, and for me that is the way of collegiality and the dialogue in the Church.”

The Die Welt interview also touched on his retirement; his time as head of the German bishops' conference; and subsidiarity in the Church. He believes his time as head of the national bishops' conference was notable for strong measures to prevent sex abuse.

Asked about reform in the Church, he suggested that the Church will “continue in her tradition” on such topics as priestly celibacy and women's ordination, but urged greater independence for bishops' conferences on such issues as liturgical translations and inculturation of certain rites.

“I wonder, for example, if the Vatican must be asked about the translation of the Missal into German, or about the appointment of a professor to a university theology faculty.”

Archbishop Zollitsch, who retired last September, said his successor in Freiburg would be appointed in March, and that once he is able to step down as apostolic administrator, he looks forward to to no longer being governed by a busy schedule, having more time for walking and reading. 

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