Opinion: Repairing the Relationship Between Catholicism and Divorce

I am a huge fan of Pope Francis. I have been rooting for him since his inheritance of the papacy in March of 2013.

At that time, Francis had quickly begun to pursue many new and exciting initiatives as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He wasted no time at all in expressing a steadfast resolve to transform the ways of modern Catholicism. Pope Francis seemed to bolster an untraditional and refreshing agenda, and he exhibited a great determination to move the Church from a sort of conservative coldness to a more contemporary inclusivity.

But on Saturday, October 24 of this year, Pope Francis was handed a discouraging defeat from the Catholic bishops, who decided by majority to withhold support for his most recent proposal about the relationship between divorced and remarried Catholics and the Church.

A synod, or council of clergy members, gathered to discuss a more complete integration of divorced and remarried Catholics within the mass. The propositions of Pope Francis, which were central topics at the assembly, aimed at creating a pathway for such men and women to eventually restore their standing as disciples.

The final report of the bishop’s meeting maintained that while divorced and remarried Catholics can and should remain members of the Church, they cannot be excused from established restrictions. Currently, divorced and remarried members will continue to face obvious exclusions, such as the inability to receive communion, serve as godparents, and perform special duties during the mass.

I find the council’s conclusion and their underwhelming support of compromise and healing to be rather disheartening. This discussion, initiated by Pope Francis himself, could have been the first step in crafting an inclusive future for members of the Roman Catholic faith who have been affected by divorce; yet, it was a step the clergy members were still not ready to take.

The relationship between wounded families, divorced or remarried persons, and the Catholic Church is one that desperately needs attention. While these people may want to turn to their faith as refuge from such heartbreak, the sort of marginalization imposed is quite contrary to the welcoming, universal ideology that truly makes the Catholic Church what it is.

As the separation of married couples continues to be a commonplace component of modern life, the Church could more effectively address this recurring issue, instead of simply refusing to deviate from ancient traditions of Church teachings. Divorce isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, and it affects a lot of people.

As a Roman Catholic myself, I can understand the notion that the Church is a historical institution of religion; however, it has experienced evolution as a result of centuries past and should continue to do so in the future. The present-day proposals of change by appointed church leaders like Pope Francis deserve sincere, open-minded consideration. I believe the pope’s work to continue facilitating this positive evolution, especially regarding divorced or remarried believers, will result in a more accepting and inclusive religious atmosphere.

I have personally watched many close friends struggle with their commitment to the Church as a direct result of the sidelining consequences of divorce. The exclusive nature of the decrees regarding divorced or remarried people was both negative and deterring in their religious lives, and even drove some of them to completely leave the Church.

Likewise, already in my time at Boston College, I have encountered fellow students from distinctly different families and situations. A huge percentage of the BC student body is likely touched by the reality of divorce, and the related exclusions could similarly serve as a disincentive in their faith formation at BC.

It upsets me to think that people I care about felt so unwelcome in a religious community that I love. It saddens me to think that fellow students at BC, from diverse backgrounds or differing family situations, could possibly have similar experiences.

So I will continue to cheer for Pope Francis from afar, as one of his biggest fans. Let us not stop the Pope from challenging the viewpoints of the past, but rather work with him to create a more inclusive Church.