Pope reaffirms traditional views
March 13, 2007
By FRANCES D'EMILIO
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI rebuffed calls to let divorced Catholics who remarry receive Communion in a new document Tuesday and told Catholic politicians they are expected to wage the church's fight against abortion and gay marriage.
Putting his conservative stamp on his nearly 2-year-old papacy, Benedict also reaffirmed that priests must be celibate and included a nostalgic call for Latin use by rank-and-file faithful.
A worldwide meeting of bishops, held at the Vatican in 2005, endorsed the celibacy requirement, and Benedict embraced their call, despite shortages of priests in some places.
The 131-page "exhortation" is part of the pope's vigorous campaign to ensure bishops, priests and the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics strictly follow church teaching.
Before becoming pontiff in April 2005, Benedict, a German theologian, led the Vatican's drive to safeguard church teaching from doctrinal error.
Laced throughout the document are calls for more "sobriety" during Mass, including an endorsement of celebrating some parts of the Mass in Latin on certain occasions.
Russell Shaw, a conservative Catholic writer in the United States, described it as "certainly consistent with the pattern of this pontiff to date, a highly intelligent, highly thoughtful document which says nothing surprising, but which reaffirms the traditional positions of the church."
The question of whether Catholic politicians whose policies conflict with church teaching should be denied Communion grabbed attention during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said he would deny the Eucharist to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights.
Benedict wrote that public witness to one's faith was especially required of politicians who decide matters such as abortion, euthanasia, "the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman ... and the promotion of the common good in all its values."
"These values are not negotiable. Consequently Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature," Benedict wrote.
He indicated he was leaving the matter of wayward Catholic politicians to local bishops.
"Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them," the pope said.
Referring to Benedict's leaving the matter to bishops, Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theologian at Boston College, said liberals might be "grateful he's not more aggressively insisting that pastoral flexibility be curtailed."
The plight of divorced Catholics who remarry is a concern for many faithful in the United States, where divorce and remarriage are common.
While Benedict acknowledged "the painful situations" of those remarried Catholics, he also reiterated the church's stance that they cannot receive Communion because the church holds they are living in sin if they consummate their new marriages.
The church "encourages these members of the faithful to commit themselves to living their relationship ... as friends, as brother and sister," Benedict said.
Benedict sounded rueful about some of the changes in the Mass since the liberalizing reforms in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council, including a switch from celebrating Mass in Latin to local languages.
The pope wrote that he agreed with bishops at the 2005 meeting that parts of Masses on international occasions should be celebrated in Latin.
Faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, Benedict wrote.
Lately, on Wednesdays when the pope meets with thousands of pilgrims and tourists, the faithful have been invited to recite the Lord's Prayer in Latin, with the text printed in the audience's program.
The 1960s reforms also inspired some congregations to replace somber hymns with foot-tapping folk music and, in the name of peace, to exchange kisses or energetic hugs during Mass.
"Certainly, as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another," wrote Benedict, who plays classical music on the piano.
He suggested the "Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed" at Mass and said gestures of peace should be "restricted to one's immediate neighbors" in the pews.