Friday, June 26, 2015

Interchurch Families and the Upcoming Synod on the Family - *Updated*

*Update* The Instrumentum Laboris has now been published in English

The Instrumentum Laboris was published last week by the Vatican, albeit only in Italian. This is the working document for part II of the Synod on the Family this October. There are, of course, many issues to be discussed at the Synod, and most people are focused on what the Synod will have to say about divorce and remarriage, as well as about same-sex relationships. Less attention is paid to an issue that is important to me as someone married to an Episcopalian: interchurch families.

The report issued at the conclusion of the Synod last October was disappointing on this issue. Only after warning people in 'mixed marriages' that they are in danger of 'relativism and indifference' did the document suggest that people in interchurch marriages may have something worthwhile to contribute ecumenically. Nothing was said about the possibility of intercommunion for those in interchurch families.

In April, the Interchurch Families International Network (IFIN) released an open letter to the Synod delegates, which you can read here. One of the issues to which IFIN draws attention is the possibility of greater Eucharistic sharing for those in interchurch families. The 1993 Ecumenical Directory, published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, opened the door to greater Eucharistic sharing between interchurch couples, but the directory is not widely known nor does it provide much guidance regarding the difficult issue of Eucharistic sharing for children in interchurch families.

So I was delighted to see that the Instrumentum Laboris devotes more attention to the issue of Eucharistic sharing than seen in previous Synod documents. Of interest to me particularly is paragraph 128. The Italian is below, followed by a translation graciously offered by Dr. Thomas Bolin at St Norbert College (the translation below is now the one from the official English translation. Thank you Thomas for the previous translation!):
Alcuni suggeriscono che i matrimoni misti siano considerati tra i casi di “grave necessità” nei quali è possibile a battezzati fuori della piena comunione con la Chiesa cattolica, che condividono però con essa la fede circa l’Eucaristia, essere ammessi alla ricezione di tale sacramento in mancanza dei propri pastori (cf. EdE, 45-46; Pontificio Consiglio per la Promozione dell’Unità dei Cristiani, Direttorio per l’Applicazione dei Principi e delle Norme per l’Ecumenismo, 25 marzo 1993, 122-128), tenendo conto anche dei criteri propri della comunità ecclesiale alla quale appartengono.
Some suggest that mixed marriages might be considered as cases of "grave necessity," in which it is possible that a baptized person who is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, yet shares the Church’s faith in the Eucharist, be allowed to receive the Eucharist, when their pastors are not available and taking into account the criteria of the ecclesial community to which they belong (cf. EdE, 45-46; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 25 March 1993, 122-128).
There are two significant features of this paragraph. First, canon 844 §4 refers to whether sacraments can be given licitly to non-Roman Catholic Christians. It reads:
If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed (italics mine).
One of the arguments made by those in the interchurch families movement (including by canon lawyers involved with the movement) is that it should be considered a 'grave necessity' that family members in interchurch families are out of communion with one another, and therefore that the sacrament can and should be given licitly to non-Roman Catholic family members. The 1993 Ecumenical Directory actually implies this reading of canon 844 §4, though this is not made explicit enough, at least in my reading. It is therefore very significant that the Instrumentum Laboris indicates that the Synod delegates are going to take this argument seriously.

The second significant feature of the paragraph is simply that it cites the 1993 Ecumenical Directory. My experience has been that this important document is far too neglected by pastors and laypeople, and that more attention needs to be given to the pastoral guidance provided in it.

The pastoral realities facing interchurch families are very real to me. I have an essay forthcoming in America magazine that speaks personally about the kinds of challenges my wife and I face as an interchurch couple trying to raise our children in a way that exposes them to the depth and beauty of both of our ecclesial traditions. I'm thrilled that the upcoming Synod on the Family is going to take these challenges seriously.

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