Two Italian bishops are welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics back to the sacraments in an historic break with Church tradition they say has been made possible by Pope Francis.

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Bishops Renato Marangoni of Belluno-Feltri and Corrado Pizziolo of Vittorio Veneto, both in the north of Italy, made the historic step last week in public statements that Italian Vaticanist Francesco Grana described as “important initiatives that mark a change in mentality, especially within the Italian Church”.

Marangoni and Pizziolo’s opening to divorced and remarried Catholics are a sign “that the processes strongly desired and initiated by Bergoglio are beginning to bear fruit”, Grana explained.

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“There is a first word I wish to confide to you: I’m sorry!”, Bishop Marangoni wrote in an emotional November 22 pastoral letter to separated Catholics in “new experiences of union”.

“This word contains our awareness that we have often ignored you in our parish communities.

“Perhaps you have also suffered from attitudes among us of judgment and criticism towards you.

“For a long time, we have also said that you could not be fully admitted to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, while in many of you there was a desire to be sustained by the gift of the sacraments and by the warmth and affection of a community”.

Marangoni went on to admit that the Church had become “rigid in a very formal vision” of the situations facing separated, divorced, civilly married or unmarried couples, with whom he said he wants to open “a relationship of awareness, respect and dialogue”.

“We were wrong not to consider as much the personal situation, the dreams that you had nourished, your vocation to married life with the life plans it entailed, even though you had to face troubled family events, where many factors may have been decisive in hindering all of this.

“It is precisely in these complex situations that personal responsibility needs to be supported and helped in its frailty”.

The Bishop of Belluno-Feltri acknowledged that Catholic couples in ‘irregular’ marriage situations “have been discouraged and left our parish communities”, but he told them “that we miss you and that we feel that we need you and your witness of life”.

“We know the troubled events that you have gone through and that have disturbed and wounded your family relationships, can help us all to consider life as a gift that should never be taken for granted, as a responsibility that never ends, as a way to begin again”, Marangoni wrote.

The bishop concluded his apology with an invitation to a “friendly and familiar” meeting with Belluno Feltre family pastoral care workers December 1, to listen, among other things, “to the Word of Jesus and also rediscover the encouraging words of Pope Francis, that he wrote in one of his exhortations: Amoris laetitia“.

Marangoni was referring to the papal text that made possible his invitation to divorced and remarried Catholics to return to the Eucharist and to Confession.

Why it matters

Also referring to Amoris laetitia, Bishop Pizziolo said in a November 24 interview with Vittorio Veneto diocesan paper L’Azione that the Pope’s 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family was an invitation “not only to pay attention, but also to act operatively, both in ordering the announcement of the Gospel, and in the attention, care and integration of wounded families”.

The Bishop of Vittorio Veneto made the most of the interview to announce a new set of diocesan guidelines on accompanying Catholics in ‘irregular’ marital situations back to the sacraments.

Those guidelines, Pizziolo said, are entitled “Accompany, Discern, and Integrate” and have been written “in filial obedience to the indications of the Pope”.

Pizziolo admitted that “Amoris laetitia does not intend to take away any ecclesial or canonical discipline and to therefore admit all possible situations of couples to all ecclesial acts”.

But he explained that Francis has indicated “the most burdensome and tiring path: that of discernment case by case, at a personal and pastoral pace”.

“Many couples have long conveyed their suffering in living a difficult communion with the ecclesial community: a communion which they desire to live in fullness and from which they feel separated, due to the disciplinary norms which regard the divorced and remarried”, Pizziolo admitted.

The bishop added that the “concrete pastoral experience” priests and lay agents had gained from observing those couples – as well as the desire of those couples to be “newly reintegrated” into the Church – had led him to extend new opportunities to access the sacraments to “couples who do not fully live Christian marriage”.

It is important to help those couples grow closer to the Church, Pizziolo concluded, honouring at the same time the “strength” of traditionally-married couples and holding their unions up still as the Catholic ideal.

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