by MICHAEL OTTO
Could Catholics in irregular marital situations who cannot licitly receive Communion nonetheless be godparents, lectors, catechists or special ministers of the Eucharist?

Archbishop Bruno Forte Cardinal Angelo Scola
Archbishop Bruno Forte Cardinal Angelo Scola

Recently, two senior Italian prelates have signalled there could be discussion and maybe movement in the Church’s praxis in this regard.
But a New Zealand canon lawyer spoken to by NZ Catholic foresees difficulties with aspects of what is being suggested.
In an article in the July 4 issue of The Tablet, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan discussed pastoral approaches to those in irregular marital situations.
“The impossibility of receiving Holy Communion is understood as a significant part of a positive spiritual journey in communion with the whole Church,” Cardinal Scola wrote.
For those in such situations, not receiving Communion could be seen as a sign of a “serious, compelling, penitential journey”.
“When an effective path of conversion has been followed, it is appropriate to give the faithful person in question the opportunity to perform some services and to hold offices in the Church
for the benefit of the Christian community in some precisely defined circumstances and after appropriate pastoral discernment,” Cardinal Scola wrote.
“I am referring, for example, to the fact they may serve as lector or catechist in the community, and under suitable conditions, act as godfather or godmother of a candidate for Baptism or Confirmation.
“Until now, the guidelines of the Magisterium and pastoral practices recommended not allowing the faithful who are in canonically irregular situations to perform such duties,” Cardinal
Scola noted.
“Nevertheless, this precaution can fairly be set aside once these lay faithful have sincerely begun to amend their lives.”
Writing in the Italian magazine Famiglia Christiana, Archbishop Bruno Forte suggested that this topic would be one of the key issues to be discussed at October’s synod on the family.
He reportedly referred to a likely synod discussion about allowing those who have divorced and remarried outside the Church to become “godfathers or godmothers, catechists, extraordinary
ministers of the Eucharist”.
Archbishop Forte is the special secretary of the synod.
Among the requirements for being a godparent, Canon 874.1.3 states such a person must be one “ … who lives a life of faith that befits the role to be undertaken”.
Regarding other liturgical ministries, the Congregation for Divine Worship’s 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum stated that “the lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations . . . must be those whose Christian life, morals and fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium recommend them”.
“No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation to the faithful,” the instruction continued (RS[46]).
A canon lawyer spoken to by NZ Catholic said there are different levels of concern in having those in irregular marital situations perform such ministries.
“For instance, a person of integrity, who, himself or herself, was in an irregular marital situation, and whose name was presented as a godparent … there may well be room for a bit of manoeuvring if circumstances are looked at carefully, particularly if the person originally was an innocent party.”
But for a person who cannot licitly receive the Eucharist, presenting himself or herself as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist would be “bizarre”, the canon lawyer stated.
Similarly, appointing such as person as a catechist or lector would be problematic, “because you are expected to hand on the deposit of faith, and to do that, you have got to be prepared to say — I practise what I preach”.
Another canon lawyer spoken to by NZ Catholic said it would be unusual for parish priests in New Zealand to be “digging into” people’s marital status, especially regarding their being godparents.
As a general norm, priests try not to put people into ministries when their marital status would give scandal to the community, he said.
But he added that it is likely that some priests in New Zealand don’t follow the Church’s law or guidelines in this area very carefully on every occasion.
“Maybe we have progressed to this understanding that what happens in people’s homes, in people’s bedrooms, is their own business and we don’t want to be seen as so rude or intrusive to ask them about it,” he said.
The first canonist noted that if there is a gap between law and the praxis of some on these issues, “even if the praxis is illicit, it doesn’t render the actions that they perform invalid”.

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