Addressing a national conference on the liturgy on Wednesday, Bishop Nunzio Galantino said the Church must make everyone feel at home, including “unconventional couples”.
“Couples in irregular matrimonial situations are also Christians, but they are sometimes looked upon with prejudice,” he said, according to Italian news agency ANSA. “The burden of exclusion from the sacraments is an unjustified price to pay, in addition to de facto discrimination,” the prelate maintained.
Avvenire reported that he said the Eucharist “is and must remain a ‘universal assembly’”, and that it must also be an “eloquent sign of the divine and his free gift for the ‘uninitiated’.”
The Italian prelate, who was appointed by Pope Francis, said a merciful Church is embodied in a merciful community in which “anyone can feel at home,” whether it is the poor, people with disabilities, migrants, or those who cannot receive Communion such as the divorced and remarried.
He stressed the importance of taking an “attitude of charity in truth”, but added that when faced with such situations, “we must honestly admit that we have no longer insisted on the truth when we haven’t exercised charity.
“I speak of that pastoral charity,” he continued, “which is the primary responsibility of the pastors of the Church, but also other members and the Christian community as a whole, that pastoral charity which for people facing marriage and family difficulties means acceptance, understanding, accompanying and support.”
To help gain a better understanding of the merciful Church put forward by Pope Francis, Bishop Galantino pointed to two theologians: Cardinal Walter Kasper and Yves Congar.
Although the bishop did not advocate communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, his comments point to a change of pastoral practice to make them more welcome in the Church.
The Church has always denied Holy Communion to Catholics who have divorced and then “remarried” because it has viewed such relationships as adulterous, in accordance with Scripture. But in light of widespread divorce in today’s societies, pressure has grown for the Church to change its teaching on the matter.
The issue has become central to a debate ahead of an extraordinary synod on the family, to be held at the Vatican in October. Cardinal Kasper opened up the discussion earlier this year with a keynote address in which he hinted that allowing communion for the divorced and remarried would be acceptable. His speech was widely critiqued by cardinals, bishops and theologians.
Bishop Galantino has courted controversy over the past year. In May, he said that he hoped that Church leaders will “listen without any taboo to the arguments in favor of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”
He also appeared to criticize Catholics who pray the Rosary outside abortion clinics.