Catholics who remarry after divorce should have access to sacraments, says Cardinal

A senior German cardinal has said that Catholics who remarry after divorce need not be celibate in order to have access to the sacraments.

Cardinal Schönborn was speaking as the controversial Synod on the Family in Rome draws to a close this weekend.

Under traditional Catholic teaching on marriage, any Catholics who have had a civil remarriage after divorce without an annulment are denied Holy Communion and other sacraments because of the Biblical teaching that marriage is for life.

But asked by the influential Vatican Insider if the only appropriate method of access to the sacraments for such couples was to live as "brother and sister",  refraining from sexual intimacy, he said: "We do not believe that is the only way." He added that he believed there was a  "need for discernment".

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn speaks at the Vatican, October 24, 2015. The document expected soon is not expected to break major new ground on how the church should minister to gays and to divorcees who have remarried.Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Cardinal Schönborn, who has moderated one of the German language groups at the three-week synod, said that "objective requirements" of children born to a second marriage had to be considered. He indicated they should not simply be considered "illegitimate children", as technically they are by the Church.  

It could not be said that the whole situation was "of grave sin" because there was also a demand for justice. "This calls for this discernment able to look to the different realities of the people," he added.

"Jesus was moved with pity for human suffering, we read in the Gospels. And now Jesus embraces and in this embrace of mercy, the person feels loved and recognises his sin."

Radical Catholic criticised Cardinal Schönborn as being guilty of "plain and open rejection" of Catholic teaching.

Pope Francis waves as he leaves after leading the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 24, 2015.Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

The final document is now being fine-tuned and will be voted on by the bishops soon.

At a press conference following the morning session, Fr Federico Lombardi was joined by  Canadian Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec to talk about their hopes for the outcome of the three-week meeting.

Vatican News reported there had been more than 1,350 proposals for changes to the original working document put forward by the Synod's small groups as well as more than 50 further comments made in the Synod Hall on Friday on subjects ranging from biblical quotations, to pastoral formation to the crucial question of the relationship between the Church's moral law and the individual's right to follow his or her own conscience.

Cardinal Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana revealed that in his small group some bishops and cardinals had shared experiences of having gay members of their families, according to a Catholic News report. 

Belgian Archbishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent said a key word of the synod was "tenderness", heralding a new attitude of the Church to stop judging and start journeying with people in whatever situation they may find themselves. "It could be the start of a new church that welcomes, accompanies, listens and also speaks clearly about God," he said.