2015 Synod of Bishops: Archbishop Says 65/35 Against Communion for Divorced, Remarried

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, at the Vatican in 2013. (Paul Haring/CNS)
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, at the Vatican in 2013. (Paul Haring/CNS)

An Australian archbishop taking part in the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family says that if the idea of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion were put to a straight up or down vote right now, it would probably lose by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent.

That proposal is most associated with German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and although Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane said he can’t personally support it, he also finds some of the criticism of Kasper for his position “scandalous.”

Coleridge stressed that his estimates of how a hypothetical vote might break are simply “intuitions,” and that things could change before synod’s end. He also emphasized that ultimately the only vote that matters belongs to Pope Francis, since the synod’s role is simply to make recommendations.

Coleridge said that if the question on the Communion ban were rephrased to allow local bishops or bishops’ conferences to make decisions for themselves, the split among the 270 bishops taking part in the Oct. 4-25 synod might be closer to 50/50.

Coleridge also said there’s strong support in the synod, something on the order of 70/30, for a “less condemnatory” language about gays and lesbians.

Although the 67-year-old Coleridge did not take part in the first Synod of Bishops in October 2014, he does not lack for Roman seasoning. He studied at the Biblicum, the prestigious Jesuit-run institute on scripture, and later worked in the all-important Secretariat of State.

During the synod, he’s posting his own reflections on his archdiocesan blog.

Coleridge sat down on Wednesday for a talk about this year’s three-week synod, which is just in its third day. He emphasized that although it’s possible to do some preliminary political handicapping, he also has a sense that the synod is capable of surprise.

He also cautioned against “conspiracy theories” about behind-the-scenes manipulation of the event, saying he finds such speculation “unhelpful and even un-Christian.”

The following are excerpts from the Crux interview.

Crux: What’s struck you about the synod so far?

Coleridge: What the pope has done is to move from a synod as an event to a synod as a process. In that sense, he’s made it more like the Second Vatican Council where much of the action was between the sessions. … I think this synod is radically linked to the journey and even the ongoing agenda of the Second Vatican Council.

The way the process was presented was that the one-year interval between the 2014 and 2015 synods would allow consensus to emerge. Judging from the outside, it doesn’t seem consensus on the more controversial questions actually has taken shape. Is that right?

I think that’s true, and I think it was naïve to expect that there would be a consensus achieved in a short space of time. I suspect it’s a kind of Vatican-speak … I worked here for some years, and I know Vatican-speak, and there’s a tendency to downplay controversy … everything is fine, calm. In fact, the issues brought up go to the heart of things and stir deep passions.

I don’t think there’s open warfare, but it was certainly clear in the year between the two synods that despite the papal plea for unity at the end of the first synod, there were rival camps established. That was, to put it mildly, unhelpful, but probably also inevitable.

Those rival camps still exist?

They still exist, including in the synod itself, but I don’t think it’s going to lead to a shipwreck.

What’s clear even now is that trying to make universal pronouncements about the issues concerning marriage and the family is so tough as to be almost doomed. I think there will be strong pressure, and there are already signs of this, for local consideration of issues that are heavily shaped locally.

Bishop [Johan] Bonny [of Antwerp, Belgium] yesterday made a plea for certain pastoral decisions with regard to people in difficult situations to be referred to local bishops …

At least in part, he was talking about allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion?

Absolutely, that wasn’t hard to see, but there are a whole array of other issues. The pope has pointed in this direction by allowing some things to be referred to the local bishop. I think in Pope Francis’ mind, he would like to see a decentralization where more authority is passed to the local bishop or the bishops’ conferences.

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John Allen

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