Catholic divorce debate heats up
New Zealand’s senior Catholic believes the church is ready to change its hardline stance on divorcees – something he began lobbying for almost a decade ago.
Archbishop John Dew is among bishops worldwide pushing for a liberal reform of church rules which ban Catholics who divorce, then remarry, from taking Communion – effectively excluding them from church life.
Dew returned from the Catholic Synod – the worldwide council of bishops who advise the Pope on church policy – on Friday, having been among many leading Catholics to speak of their desire for reform on divorce.
Dew was almost a lone voice when he broached the same topic at the 2005 Synod, where he admits he “didn’t get much airtime”, but says he was far from alone at this year’s gathering.
“It was spoken about by a number of bishops and that was a very big change, in the fact that it was spoken openly about,” he said.
“Maybe that’s because at the beginning of the Synod, Pope Francis said people should speak openly and honestly and say what they needed to say in order to look at the situation for families in the church today. It is an issue the church needs to continue to look at, and will continue to look at during the process of this Synod.”
Dew said he was among those who would like to see rules relaxed so those who married a second time could be involved in the church, talking of those “whose marriages broke up through no fault of their own, who have I suppose in some way been abandoned by their spouses who have met someone else . . . then they meet someone else and are looking for company and companionship, but they want to stay a part of the church – we need to find some way to help those people.”
Dew was aware lay Catholics were “deeply concerned” about the issue. He has previously told Catholic media he feared divorcees in strict sectors of the Pacific community in New Zealand could face a stigma, but he said the issue was also clearly one affecting the entire church in the Western world.
The issue stands as a real test of the Pope’s liberal reformist agenda. Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University in England, told the Guardian last month she saw the debate as an “epochal-defining struggle”.
The debate is a contest between liberal pragmatists in the church and hardline conservative theologians.